Baby to Be: Our Pre-Baby Down Under Medical Experience

Little Aussie

Yesterday, I happened upon this article about a woman opting to have her baby in Mexico after receiving a $16,000 bill early on in her pregnancy in the U.S. It made me think about how vastly different the medical systems are from country to country and, moreover, how different attitudes and expectations towards pregnancy care and birth are, both from country to country and family to family. Never having had a baby in the U.S. – or anywhere else, for that matter – I can’t compare the process in the U.S. to my experience so far here in Australia, aside from what I know from friends. But, given that health care is a topic that impacts everyone, it occurs to me that our experience might be useful or interesting to some of you.

30 weeks.

I am now at 32 weeks, so still a few weeks off from labor and delivery, but here’s what we’ve experienced and chosen so far:

In the beginning of my pregnancy, I received care from my GP. Here in Australia it is common to see your GP for most regular things, including routine things you’d see your OB/GYN for in the U.S. So, my GP had already been working with me on all of my “family planning” questions for the past year or so. She ran the first round of blood tests (done at the pathology lab that is inside her office), sent us to our first ultrasound at 7 weeks, and counseled me about all of our options for maternity care.

Australia has both public and private health care, so the biggest choice was which system we wanted to use.

As a public patient, you don’t pay for treatment, but you must receive care from the public hospital in your area, and follow whatever system they have in place (depending on the hospital, this may mean seeing a different midwife/doctor at every appointment, waiting longer, having your baby delivered by whoever is on duty, and sharing a room afterwards).

As a private patient, you can choose your hospital and doctor/midwife, who will be with you the whole time and presumably receive more “Cadillac” style treatment. My GP quoted us a range of between $3000 and $8000 if we opted for private.

Considering that we didn’t have an existing relationship with any private doctors, and have thus far had good experiences with the public system, we decided that we would go forward with public care.

(My GP is covered by Medicare and she bulk bills, which means that I never see a bill. The tests and ultrasound were also covered. So, total cost for the first 11 weeks = $0).

Well before I was pregnant, and Partner-in-Crime and I were still in the thinking-about phase, I saw the documentary The Business of Being Born, which focuses on the medical industry and birth in the U.S. It’s a controversial movie, but it really resonated with me, and, though I wasn’t up for having a home birth like most of the women in the movie, I felt like I wanted to try to have a labor that was as non-medicalized as possible (I won’t use the term “natural birth” because I hate that it somehow implies that births with intervention are not “natural”). I immediately started researching and found a birthing center through a local public hospital that was exactly what I wanted. My GP, who is not so hippie granola as me, was not 100% in favor, but I had a strong hunch that I wanted to follow, and we booked in at 11 weeks.

The program is exclusively for low risk pregnancies, and I’ve been lucky enough to consistently tick all the right boxes. We see the same midwife for the entire pregnancy, and if all goes well, we will never see a doctor. Our midwife is so lovely and practical. We hit it off right away because she was struck by my resemblance to a young Ina May Gaskin, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of modern midwifery (she lent the book at right to me, and I must admit that I did find it a little weird looking at my doppleganger on the cover). Our midwife has been delivering babies for well over 20 years, so I feel completely safe with her, like she’s seen it all. At each visit, she mostly talks to us, listens to the baby’s heartbeat, and checks my growth. She has yet to do a vaginal exam (sorry guys, but we have ’em!) or even weigh me since our first visit. We never wait for appointments, she answers all of our many questions and we have her mobile phone number to call with any questions or problems that arise between appointments.

(Our midwife care through a public hospital is covered by Medicare, and we don’t see a bill. We’ve had two subsequent ultrasounds, one of which we opted to have done at a private clinic – cost was $145 and $85 of that was reimbursed by Medicare. I had some hip pain for which our midwife suggested I see a chiropractor, which is not covered under Medicare. Total cost for five visits was $285. We also paid $100 for our four-week birthing classes at the hospital. Total cost up to 32 weeks = $445).

As long as it is not our midwife’s day off when I go into labor, she will attend our birth. We were invited to a “meet the midwives” meeting so that we could meet all the midwives in the program, in case one of them ended up attending our birth, instead. Should I opt for medical pain relief, we have the option available of saline shots, gas or morphine, but not epidural. They have lots of “props” in the birthing room, including birthing stool, ball, chairs, a mattress on the floor and a birthing pool. They tell us that most of their mothers end up having water births, as they find it most comfortable, but we don’t have to decide until we’re there and see how we feel. If anything does go wrong and we need medical intervention, we will be transferred by ambulance to another nearby hospital with full medical facilities and NICU, where we are already pre-booked in. But, if all goes smoothly, then the expectation is that we will stay in the hospital for about 4 hours before we are discharged to recuperate at home. We will receive regular home visits from our midwife over the next couple of weeks to make sure that everything is going well with mom and baby’s health, breastfeeding, adjusting, etc.

So far, the experience of the midwife program has been everything I’d hoped for. Everyone’s baby journey and circumstances are different. This is ours. I plan to report back after baby is born to finish the story of our baby entering the world in Aussie-land.

2 thoughts on “Baby to Be: Our Pre-Baby Down Under Medical Experience

  1. Jenny @ Practically Perfect...

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience 🙂 Like you, I’ve never given birth in the US so I can’t compare, but I’ve been really pleased with how things have gone and are going over here in NZ with both of my pregnancies and I’m planning on writing another comparison post here soon. I haven’t seen that documentary you mentioned yet, but from what I hear it can be pretty compelling!

    1. C. In Oz

      Our midwife spent a lot of her career in NZ, and I guess that this style of care is much more common and accepted there than it is here. Glad they’ve begun to import it!
      I’d be interested to know your opinion of the documentary from a nurse’s perspective – everything, including what birth actually looks like, was all new information to me!

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