Let me just say from the get-go that – for me – having a baby in the Greek national health system was not like having a baby in the UK. Look, I made a little comparison chart for you.*
When I went into hospital to have my second baby, I knew some of the above, but not all of it. I think I was expecting something relaxed and intimate like my first birth, and what I got was something very clinical. The doctors were professional and the nurses kind, but I did feel like a piece of meat.
My waters broke on Good Friday and, true to form, I waited until all our guests had left before I mentioned to my husband that he ought to drive me to the hospital. I also took time to chow down an enormous dinner, remembering my experience last time! At the hospital, I followed the nurse through The Doors, leaving my husband and father-in-law outside. First they took my blood pressure and some blood, then they made me take off all my clothes, even my underwear, and my jewellery (in front of two male doctors and a female nurse) and put everything in a black bin bag. Like I was going to jail. Then one nurse asked me lots of questions and, while I was trying answer, another one shaved me and put something up my bum to make me go to the toilet. Not cool. Then they carted me off to a pokey room and hooked me up to a machine that measured my contractions. And left me.
That was the longest night of my life. I was nervous, in pain, and alone. I felt miserable. Eventually, a doctor came in and told me she wanted to do a Caesarian section because my waters had broken over 10 hours before. I told her I didn’t want one unless it was absolutely necessary. She went off to talk to my husband (who was still waiting outside somewhere, but wasn’t allowed in). I knew he would back me up, though, and Dr C Section didn’t come back. The shift changed and a skinny consultant appeared and asked if I wanted to see my husband. If he had been closer, I would have kissed him!
My husband came in five minutes later in green scrubs and a hat, with blue plastic bags over his shoes. I laughed so hard I had tears running down my face, although it was partly relief that I wouldn’t have to do this alone any more. Then the consultant’s partner appeared – a man as wide as he was tall, in green scrubs with a gold dollar sign hanging around his neck. “OK! We’re gonna have this baby naturally,” he shouted (in English), “and we’re gonna have some fun! Well, maybe not you,” he said to me. “But me and your husband, we’re gonna have fun!” I know some women wouldn’t want a doctor like that. I loved him.
They put me on a drip with something to make my contractions stronger, and some antibiotic to stop any infections. It turned out the baby had the umbilical cord around her neck, but the consultant got it off with some pushing and acrobatics from me. Then we went into the delivery suite. I remembered my first child’s birth and decided I was too tired for all that, and I got her out in one push. They let me hold her for a minute, but then they took her away “to warm her up” they said. They gave me a local anaesthetic and a few stitches, then wheeled me off to another room. I was alone again.
Worse, I could hear my baby crying. I knew it was her. It was Easter Saturday and the hospital was practically deserted. I lay there, feeling so frustrated, until a nurse came in and looked and my stitches. “Oh my God!” she (rather unprofessionally) cried. “I think it’s a blood clot!” And she rushed off to find a doctor.
Strangely enough, I didn’t feel that worried. When the doctor arrived, it turned out not to be a blood clot anyway, but an allergic reaction to the anaesthetic. They gave me an ice pack and left me alone again, staring at the wall. Without my baby. Over three hours after I gave birth to her, they finally took me to my room and brought her to me. I fed her and she slept, but I had missed those first beautiful hours of skin-to-skin contact and that didn’t help my mental state. I hadn’t expected that to happen.
The rest of my stay in hospital was fine. I had a beautiful room, daily visits from a doctor and a pediatrician, kind nurses, plenty of visitors and good food. I fed my baby, read my books and slept. But I wanted to go home – so badly. I was constantly worried about my other daughter at home with her dad or her grandparents. (She was four-and-a-half and, as I’m writing this, I can’t for the life of my remember why I was worried about her). I asked the doctors and nurses constantly if I could leave, and I was always upset when they said I couldn’t. Five days is the standard stay in hospital here, but it felt like an eternity to me. I was so miserable, despite being next to this wonderful new baby I had made, but I thought if I could just go home everything would be all right.
As you’ll see, I was very, very wrong about that.