Baby Down Under #2: The Public Hospital

Little Aussie

12 days ago, Baby #2 entered our family. Here she is, the little squish face!

When Hushpuppy (Baby #1) came along four years ago, I wrote about our amazing experience with a public birth centre, and though her birth didn’t go exactly (even close) to plan, it was still overall an experience I wish I could have repeated and would recommend highly. But, because Hushpuppy ended up being a C-section, I wasn’t eligible to go back to the low risk birth centre, and instead we opted for the public hospital option.

So, for any of you expats or parents to be who are considering your options (or, for any of my Americans who wonder what “public” health care is really like), I thought I’d share the experience we had this time around with our local public hospital. Of course, this is just one story among many.

The Choice

Here in Australia, we have the option of having maternity care through the public or private system. Anyone with a Medicare card is eligible for the public option, at no additional charge (everyone pays into Medicare through taxes). Public patients are seen through the public hospital in their area, do not have a choice in doctor, and may stay in a shared room, depending on the hospital. Private coverage requires private insurance (often with a year of maternity cover, in advance), plus fees of around $8 – 10,000, depending on your doctor and hospital. The benefits of private care are consistent care from a doctor you’ve chosen at your preferred hospital.

Key factors that guided our decision to go public were:

1. Total confidence in our local public hospital, which has exceptional maternity facilities and a NICU, should anything have gone awry
2. We weren’t concerned about choosing our own OB (personal preference – I wanted to primarily see midwives).
3. Bonus: Our local hospital has done a major upgrade to the maternity ward since we had Hushpuppy, so there was a good chance that I’d get to stay in a private room. Room sharing was essentially the only complaint I had about our first experience.

Pre-Natal Care

My first call, once the 2nd line appeared on the test stick, was once again my trusty GP. She did the initial round of blood tests, and gave me a referral for the hospital. At my request, she also gave us a referral for the Harmony Test, which was the only thing we had done privately. It is completely optional genetic testing, and cost $500 out of our pocket, with no Medicare rebate.

I was booked into the hospital for my first appointment at 12 weeks. A lovely midwife (they were seriously all lovely) took my medical and family history, explained that I would see midwives, aside from two visits to the doctor’s clinic because of my previous C-section, and had an initial conversation with me about my birth preferences. I left with all of my appointments booked for the duration of the pregnancy. Too easy!

All went along swimmingly, with regular checks at 8 to 6 week intervals (closer together once we got nearer to the date). The doctors and midwives walked me through my options regarding scheduling a C-section (an option because of my first) or trying for a VBAC. I was firmly in camp VBAC, though this time a little more realistic about how birth happens as it will, regardless of your best plans.

Around 34 weeks, we took a tour of the maternity ward, which is a very well worth it optional, for a cost of $8 per adult – so, $16 for the husband and me (Hushpuppy hitched on to our coattails, complimentary). That was our only other out of pocket cost, so total cost to us for the whole pregnancy was $516.

Things started to get more complicated at my 36 week appointment with a doctor. My main concern going in was that the baby had been breech, and I was worried that if she hadn’t turned, I’d have little choice but to schedule a surgical delivery. Turns out the little champion had flipped herself, but then – completely unrelated – my blood pressure reading came up much higher than normal. My routine appointment turned into a battery of tests for pre-eclampsia – which I didn’t have – and instructions to follow up with the maternity clinic after the weekend.

I’m not going to lie. I went into a bit of a frenzy at that point. I more or less fasted for two days, hoping that would somehow lower my blood pressure, though I’m sure that the stress level I’d worked up by the time I walked into the clinic did nothing to improve my still elevated results. Again, I had no other markers for pre-eclampsia, but I was asked to come back again the next week. And then, again the next week. This whole exercise was stressing me out to no end, but meanwhile, I made it through my mini baby shower and Easter. Hushpuppy was so excited about the Easter Bunny, my main objective was to keep the baby snug inside until after the Bunny delivered his chocolate eggs.

The Birth

The following Friday, I was in for more tests and an ultrasound to monitor baby’s growth. While nothing was seriously alarming, there were enough borderline markers between my blood pressure and a couple of things on the ultrasound for the doctors to counsel me that it was baby time. And so, after dropping Hushpuppy off with a friend, we were at the hospital at 8a.m. the next morning for a birthday. My last ditch attempt for a VBAC through having my waters broken was a no-go, and so, after I cried my tears, I was in surgery for my second C-section by 11a.m.

Everyone has their own experiences of birth, and a planned C-section is not something I would have ever chosen for myself. Hushpuppy’s emergency C-section seemed to fly by, with little fanfare, but I can’t say that I found much to like about this

experience. The doctors and midwives were all professional and caring, but the operation was much too uncomfortable, clinical, and jarring for my taste. I suppose what I’m saying is that if anyone tries to tell you that C-section is an easy way out of birth, I’d give them the dirtiest look you can muster. There’s no easy way out of birth.

The baby came out shrieking like a wildcat, so I had no question that her lungs were functional. The doctors held her up for me to see, and after a quick check by the midwives, they placed her on my chest for a skin to skin session. In the recovery room, they helped with her first feed, and then popped her under a heat lamp to warm up while Dad sang to her, and I drifted in and out of sleep.

The Hospital Stay

The hospital recommends a stay of 48 hours for a vaginal birth and 72 hours for a C-section, which they’ll vary on a case by case basis. Big score for us – we did get one of the private rooms! In fact, the ward was extremely quiet over the weekend, and I’m sure everyone there was in a private room, with beds to spare. That privacy made every bit of difference to my mental well being between this stay and the last. I did hit a spot of overwhelm on Monday morning, when the quiet weekend ward suddenly came alive with weekday traffic, and it seemed like my room was Central Station with, not just the regular midwives and doctors popping in, but the photography lady … some guy doing a research study … a volunteer selling newspapers … a nice old lady with knitting from the Anglican church, who couldn’t quite get to her point … We mentioned it to the midwife on duty who promptly saved the day by finding us a “Do No Disturb” sign. Sanity restored, and the remainder of our time there was about me, the baby, Dad and big sister.

I don’t feel like I’m an overly picky eater, but the hospital food was at least as horrible as expected, so thankfully Partner-in-Crime came armed with a giant bag of snacks and a steady stream of meals that sustained us for the 3 day stay. Oh, and lest I forget his daily coffee delivery. I had the worst heartburn during my pregnancy, to the point that, even with medication, I’d given up many foods, and all drinks, aside from water. That first flat white he set down on my tray was like an affirmation of why I married this man in the first place.

Going Home

We went home on Anzac Day, after 3 nights in hospital. I mourned the good drugs they’d been giving me in the hospital, as I suddenly felt like I’d been hit by a freight train when I got home (again – C-section – not easy – ooof). Maximum doses of Panadol were on the menu for the next week.

The following day, a midwife from the hospital came to visit us at home to check on our settling and weigh the baby. We ended up having two more visits from the midwives, who determined that baby was growing well, and we didn’t seem to be losing our minds (the gift of the second baby, everyone tells me). They will come or call for up to two weeks, depending on each family’s needs.  Next, we’ll have a visit from our local Early Childhood Centre for baby’s first health check, and from there on out, we’ll visit them for routine visits. And of course, we’ll always have our family GP available for illnesses and medical concerns.

So, once again, I had a baby whose arrival was nothing like I planned. They laugh at my plans, these babies! But, however she came, I’m grateful for the care we received that brought her to our family safely and with respect. She’s settled her little self right into our home, and I can’t wait  to share our ongoing adventures, now as a Down Under family of four.



25 thoughts on “Baby Down Under #2: The Public Hospital

  1. Jennifer Herb

    She’s so amazing and perfect! Any delivery story that ends with everyone healthy and happy is a good one!

  2. Yvette

    Okay, I’ve been pondering this for *almost* the whole time it took to read your post … Does VBAC mean “vaginal birth after c-section?” That said, thanks for the info. Even though I do not plan on having a baby in Australia, I still found it quite interesting. I’m always interested in stuff like this.

  3. Bryan Higgs

    Wonderful story! And a better advertisement for universal health care I could not imagine.
    I trust Mum and baby are still doing well, and that the need for Panadol/Acetaminophen/Tylenol has diminished?

    1. Cristin Post author

      Thanks, Bryan. Yes, all are very well. Still a little pain, but manageable now.

    1. Cristin Post author

      Thanks, Amy. Yes, this is our last baby, so last chance for the vaginal birth I always wanted, which is a bummer, but mostly I’m grateful for great care and healthy babies.

  4. RD

    Congratulations! She is beautiful, I’m sorry it wasn’t the vaginal delivery you hoped for. TBH, my first child caused some, erm, complications that I won’t post on here for polite company, but I have no doubt a c-section would have been an easier recovery.

    Thanks for your honest description of using the public healthcare system. If it wasn’t so important to me to be close to my family, I would seriously be looking at moving to a foreign English-speaking country. The US makes me sick these days.

    And we have situations like this in the richest country in the world:

    1. Cristin Post author

      I am just so grateful that I’ve never had to consider the cost of maternity care, especially at those inflated and seemingly nonsensical U.S. prices.
      I’d love to move back one day but unfortunately, health insurance is one thing that makes that nearly impossible for us to consider right now.

  5. Amy H

    Gorgeous bubba congrats! We pondered over public and private and in the end went public. Thst was our decision and it turned out we didn’t have time to go through the one year wait with private health insurance anyway. Very happy with my public hospital experience but my pregnancy and birth were ‘easy’ and smooth sailing.

    1. Cristin Post author

      I think it’s great that we have generally good options, whichever we choose.

  6. Helen K

    It’s quite a wonderful miracle, however it happens, isn’t it? Btw – mine also ended up being C- Section and then, despite trying for VBAC, like you my waters broke pre-labor and a few little issues later I had to have another C-section. But all pretty smooth – and we are lucky with the health system options here. Congratulations!

    1. Cristin Post author

      Thank you! Funny, I had the waters breaking early with my first – quite the strange experience. You never know what your pregnancy is going to throw at you!

  7. Lauren

    Congratulations on your newest little family member. I always find it interesting to read other people’s birth stories. We went private for both kids, first one emergency caeserean and second one was elective. Both so different! And absolutely loved our hospital stay – it felt like a week in a hotel!

  8. Zita

    Congratulations on your new baby! May she and your family be happy, healthy and blessed 🙂
    And thank you so much for sharing what pregnancy and giving birth are like in Australia. My husband, 18 month old son, and I will probably soon be expats in Sydney too, and we’re definitely thinking about having another child at some point. So this birth story really put my mind at ease, it doesn’t seem to be too different from what it was like at home in Germany. (And you have such a wonderful blog btw, thank you for all the great and helpful information you put up here)

    1. Cristin Post author

      Thank you, and good luck with your move! Give a shout if I can answer any questions. And, yes, I think Australia’s a great place to have a baby and raise children.

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