First, can I say how lucky I feel to live in a country where you don’t have to hand over a penny for good-quality maternity services. I didn’t have to pay for my ERPC in April and got great care. Now, as a public patient at the same maternity hospital for my pregnancy, I still won’t be charged anything at all. Yes, there is overcrowding and a lot of waiting around at times, but the staff are fantastic and I can handle the minuses. I have heard some horror stories about scary labour experiences due to shortstaffing but so far I have no gripes.
My first appointment at the hospital was last Thursday and I simply could not believe I had actually made it to that point. It was amazing to be sitting there among hordes of other pregnant women.
The appointment kicked off with a visit to the midwife, who took my height and weight and was there to answer any questions. I had two. The first was whether I qualified for the community midwives system, which involves visiting a midwives clinic instead of seeing a consultant. As suspected, I don’t qualify because of my age and the fact I had IVF. The second was about the nuchal translucency test for Down syndrome. I was prepared to pay €250 to get this test done in the private arm of the hospital but, in view of my age, the midwife made a call and scheduled a (free) scan for me in the public part the following Wednesday. They are very understaffed, so this was very nice of her. She also arranged for bloods to be taken to be used in conjunction with the scan to provide an overall result.
She passed me onto a colleague to take my medical history and it was then off to provide bloods (checking mainly for STIs I think) and urine (for protein and sugar). The latter was fine and the bloods were sent off to the lab. Unlike the condolences I received in April, pretty much everyone I encountered congratulated me on my pregnancy, which was very uplifting.
The preliminaries were all sorted fairly quickly and I then sat in the completely packed waiting room surrounded by bellies until my name was called out to see the consultant, probably about 50 minutes later. I was in no rush, the perk of being self-employed, and it was fascinating watching the pregnant women of various shapes and sizes and taking note of maternity wear choices. Being called to the consultant felt very “1984” or “Brave New World” – your name is called over the intercom and you are told to go to “Room 1/2/3/4/5”, entering one of five narrow wooden doors set in a row along an anonymous, institutional-looking corridor.
Waiting for me in Room 2 was a young trainee doctor (male), who immediately told me I didn’t look 42 (tell my ovaries that) and so endeared himself to me from the get-go. I asked if I would be scanned and he said I might be. The consultant, female, arrived and was lovely, insisting that we had met before. She took my IVF history and asked what drugs I had been on – she had to prompt me about the intralipids and I neglected to mention the Metformin and Neupogen. How soon you forget. She said I was obviously a determined lady and got me to pull up my top for a scan – my first non-transvaginal scan, the moment we all wait for! Jelly on the belly. All was fine – a strong heartbeat and a great size. We could see liquid in his stomach, showing that he was swallowing.
I said I was going for the nuchal translucency scan because of my age and because we had found that my miscarriage this year was caused by trisomy 14. The consultant mentioned the Harmony prenatal test, done in the private arm and costing around €600. She said that whereas the ordinary scan combined with bloods was about 80 per cent accurate, the Harmony scan was 99 per cent accurate. It tests for trisomies 21 (Down syndrome), 18 (Edward syndrome) and 13 (Patau syndrome) by analysing DNA in your blood and isn’t invasive. I had heard about this from a friend who was given a scary result last year from the nuchal translucency scan but, on follow-up with the Harmony test, found that the baby (since born and perfect) was happily Down-free and fine.
The consultant gave me a prescription for baby aspirin, because of my age, as older mothers have a higher risk of pre-eclampsia. She asked about diet and exercise and advised yoga, pilates and walking – I mentioned getting back to spinning and she cautioned not to get the heartbeat over 140 bpm. They run yoga courses at the hospital, which I might try.
Finally, I asked if I was a candidate for combined care, which means that you visit your local health clinic and GP in alternate goes instead of having your antenatal visits in the hospital. Happily I am, so my next visit won’t involve traipsing into the city centre but will be with my local doctor.
I have a raft of appointments lined up. Flu jab on Friday at my local pharmacy, only €20 for pregnant ladies. GP in October, health clinic four weeks later in November, a dating/gender scan in the hospital the following week and an Anti-D injection in January because I’m Rhesus negative. The hospital runs sets of six antenatal classes that begin from weeks 28-32, so I’ll start these in January hopefully. There are girls-only classes, which I’m relieved about, as I’ve always dreaded being in a room with lots of couples cooing at each other. I’ll probably also take advantage of the hospital’s antenatal breastfeeding classes too.
After thinking about it at the weekend, I caved and booked a Harmony scan. I figured my nuchal translucency scan in the public hospital would probably be inconclusive and stress-inducing because my age will be factored in. I was going to cancel it to free up their stretched resources but because they’ve already taken the bloods I will go ahead, less confusing for all. So, now I am in the slightly ridiculous situation of having the (99 per cent accurate) Harmony test in the private arm of the hospital tomorrow, followed a couple of hours later by the (80 per cent accurate) nuchal translucency scan in the public hospital. Nobody can say I’m not being thorough.
I imagine most people do these scans just for peace of mind, blithely assuming they will get a good result. I will bet that many have not followed through to thinking about what they would do on receipt of bad news. I did venture into Top Shop to buy a couple of pairs of maternity jeans on Saturday and bought a winter coat in Benetton that will allow for some expansion around the bump region, but I will admit that I haven’t really allowed myself to connect with this baby yet. I won’t do so until I know everything is alright.
If the Harmony result, which takes about a week to 10 days to get back, is fine, I think I will finally begin to enjoy this experience and believe that I belong in that waiting room with those other bellies.