Last week Irish Times Abroad asked Irish parents who have had their babies abroad to share their experiences. The response was immediate and sustained, as readers sent accounts of their experiences of welcoming a new addition to their families in hospitals – and homes – across the world.
Here we reproduce an edited selection of these accounts, and photographs of some of the happy families who shared their stories.
STEPHANIE IRWIN, gave birth in France
Getting pregnant and having my daughter in France was the single best decision I ever made for my family.
As a working tax payer in France, I am entitled to a Carte Vitale, which meant that even without private insurance I could have top of the range maternity care and it cost, all-in, about €800 for five days in a luxury private clinic with 24-hour care, private room, custom meal plans, and an amazing obstetrician.
Every care professional I saw pre-birth and post-birth was considerate of the fact I was not French and took time to ensure I understood every detail of my care. Let’s not forget too that the French government gives all new mothers a gift after birth of €1,000 to help with expenses. That money paid for prams and supplies and was a great help.
CLAUDINE ACHESON, gave birth in Perth
I am nurse and mother of two from Waterford. Myself and my partner Keith moved to Perth, Australia, six years ago. In 2013, having just become permanent residents, I gave birth to our first child Evan. Being a nurse, I was happy to go through the public healthcare system. I had Evan at Osborne Park hospital in Perth’s northern suburbs.
I had a very complicated pregnancy, with hyperemesis, and was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia at 37 weeks, while having a routine check up. They rushed me from the clinic to the ward as I was medically unstable. I was induced and had Evan the next day, naturally, without pain relief. Thankfully the staff were extremely supportive of my choices. The pre- and post-natal care was great and breastfeeding was encouraged and supported.
The care we received was free, covered by Medicare, which is the Australian version of the public system healthcare in Ireland. We opted to have our second child Lily in the same hospital.
VIVIENNE HEFFERNAN, gave birth in The Netherlands
I’m married to Joost, who is Dutch and I gave birth to a baby boy called Max, eight months ago. I love the Dutch approach to pregnancy, birth and post-partum care. It’s totally midwife-led, so for the entire pregnancy, I did not see a doctor. Pregnancy and birth are treated as a totally natural occurrence and giving birth at home is not unusual.
Max was born at home, about eight hours after my waters broke. There was a knot in the cord and it ripped as Max was being born. There were some concerns that it may not have been serving him in the final minutes, so my midwife had to perform a few extra checks.
One score – oxygen saturation – was very low; it should be above 95, it was 65. Emergency services were called, and a baby ambulance and a separate ambulance for me arrived, while a specialist doctor was helicoptered to our nearest hospital and brought by ambulance from there, all within about five minutes. Max was checked and almost immediately given the all clear. Turns out the saturation test was taken too early.
The care we received after the birth was also amazing. For the eight days after babies are born in the Netherlands, a specially-trained nurse comes to your house to look after the baby and parents.
So the total experience here was great, and we paid about €500 for it, between the nurse (insurance covered most of that) and some extra scans we had done.
NIAMH RAMJUTTUN, gave birth in Mauritius
I have been living in Mauritius for five years with my Mauritian husband, Vick, who I met in Ireland almost 10 years ago. We had our first baby Steven in April 2016. We were lucky to be able to go private due to my job.
The service was incredible. I was initially induced, but in the end we decided to have a Caesarian. The kindness and professionalism of the doctors and nurses was brilliant. From a nurse holding me and comforting me during the epidural, to the paediatrician allowing my husband give baby Steven his first bath, the whole experience was wonderful.
I found it very intimate – my husband stayed with me during my five days in the hospital and we were given as much time as necessary to rest and bond with our new baby.
In Mauritius, all public healthcare is completely free, right down to the prescribed medicine. But the hospitals are overcrowded and understaffed. Men are not allowed in the gynaecology/obstetrics building at all, and fathers can only meet their newborns during visiting hours.
AOIFE WHITE, gave birth in Brussels
Three out of four women who give birth in Brussels are foreign. I was one of them, speaking English with patient French- and Dutch-speaking doctors and midwives struggling with my Irish name.
“Crazy!” said the midwife who’d worked in Donegal, of Irish women who give birth without an epidural. Gas and air is rare and most women get an epidural here. I did without the first time, more by accident than design, too late for the water bath or the anaesthetist, mad dash to get the doctor there in time ...
Visiting the newborn in hospital is most definitely a thing in Brussels. We had fizzy wine in the fridge, and sweetie boxes, and unexpected number of passers-by [coming in] to see frazzled mum and squashed baby. We walked home, slowly, only a few streets away, when we were finally discharged.
MARGARET BRODERICK, gave birth in Cologne
I found out I was pregnant a year after my mum died, so we decided to stay in Germany for the baby, and for my own mental health. After a difficult pregnancy, my little man was born in Cologne. To be honest, it was horrible birth ... we where minutes away from having C-section. And then I was pushed and pushed to breastfeed, when my son had jaundice and couldn’t latch. I was made feel like I was failing him already. We spent five days in the hospital.
In Germany, you are allowed 10 sessions with a midwife who comes to your home after the baby is born, and she saved us. She held my hand when I cried that I couldn’t do it without my mum. She would tell my husband that he had to do the housework, that my job is the baby and the baby only! She took so much pressure off me.
LEAH DOYLE, gave birth in Toronto
Myself and my husband moved to Canada five years ago and I gave birth to a baby boy in February of this year in Toronto. My pregnancy, like many other women’s, was not planned and came as a bit of a surprise. But the services and resources available in Canada were fantastic. Health care is free in Canada.
My situation was a little complicated as I was taking a cholesterol medication and birth control pills while I was in the first few weeks of pregnancy. My doctor had told me to contact Mother Risk, which is a resource available when there may be complications in pregnancy. They had done some background work into studies of people on my medication and said I was fine.
Following that, my doctor kept a close eye on me. I had ultrasounds at 6, 12, 20, 28 and 35 weeks (this was pretty standard practice). I saw my doctor regularly too – towards the last trimester it was once a week, and then at 35 weeks I developed pre-eclampsia and was seen twice a week.
I gave birth naturally to a 7.14 lb boy. I wanted to breastfeed my son and had difficulty at the beginning. The hospital had a lactation consultant who I saw three times. She determined my son was tongue-tied and sent me to a specialist at the International Breastfeeding Clinic, where he had a small procedure to fix the issue.
LOUISE FITZPATRICK, gave birth in Sydney
I gave birth to my three sons in Sydney and all were very different. My first son Sam was born nearly 15 years ago at the Royal Hospital for Women in Randwick. This is great hospital but it was very busy and with self-service meal times and noisy nights, I left early.
My second son Callum was born nearly 13 years ago in Prince of Wales Private next door, which was a much more relaxing option with far greater comfort and lots of attention when required.
My third son Luca was also born in Prince of Wales Private, seven years ago, however when he was born we were given the option to go to the Crowne Plaza in Coogee to recuperate. This was the best experience of all. There was always a midwife available. Recuperation was so easy, tucked away in a lovely hotel with all meals delivered. Having visitors was easy too, as you could meet them in reception for coffee rather than overcrowding a room. For problem-free births, this is by far the nicest [option].
Private Health Insurance isn’t a requirement here, but with the tax deductions provided, we are no more out of pocket based on our incomes than if we went public using Medicare.
SHARON SWAN, gave birth in Florida
I was born and raised in Dublin until I was 19 and have been in Florida since then. I am now 37. I have had two children here. One almost five years ago and another almost 16 years ago.
My prenatal visits were all in the doctor’s office, which was close to my home. No need for hospital visits unless I wanted to tour the facilities. They ask that you sign up for the epidural beforehand (to get the paperwork out of the way) and I was able to get that on the day, no problem.
The nurses were amazing, respected my wishes and didn’t force me to breastfeed. They took my daughters as soon as they were born to let me sleep. They would have taken them as long as I wanted.
Insurance companies here like you to leave the hospital as soon as possible, provided there are no complications. I left after two nights on both, although they would have let me leave after one. They will only pay for two nights after a healthy vaginal birth, more for C-section.
I paid around $2, 000 for the birth of my oldest daughter and $4,000 for my youngest. This included everything – all the prenatal visits, blood work, hospital stay, epidural etc.
RUTH JOHNSTON, gave birth in Luton
Odhran was planned as a home birth in Luton where I had lived for 11 years, after moving there for college at 18. Community midwife services are fantastic there and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to guide me through my first pregnancy.
All went well at home until baby decided he’d much rather stay inside and had wrapped himself up in the cord. Baby was delivered healthy and then due to infection we had to stay five days while he had antibiotics. He was with me on the ward the whole time, apart from a two-hour observation right at the beginning.
Having moved back home to Ireland when Odhran was six months old, and now two years later expecting our second baby in July, we are again going for a home birth, this time under the HSE out of Portiuncula. Already I’ve encountered some obstacles. My GP can’t do my combined antenatal care with the midwife (as per the HSE guidelines) as his insurance company won’t cover him.
JOANNE O’KANE, gave birth in The Netherlands
Both of our children (now aged 1 and 3) were born here in Haarlem, the city where we live. They were both born in the same spot in the upstairs bedroom of our house. In both cases a midwife was present, and for the final 30 minutes a maternity nurse was also present.
I had specifically chosen to have a dedicated midwife and had planned a home birth. The home birth option here is very well know and supported. Some weeks before the birth, a box is sent by the insurance company to your home. It contains all the hygiene and medical equipment that might be needed.
LUCY HAYES, gave birth in South Africa
My first baby was both in Nelspuit, South Africa, close to the border with Mozambique, where we were living at the time. Private healthcare in South Africa is good, with lots of well qualified doctors, but there is hardly a midwife in sight and C-section rates are high – 70-90 per cent in private clinics. The first gynaecologist I saw liked to schedule women’s births around his weekend golfing schedule! Put off by this, we discovered Dr Barry, hugely experienced and totally supportive of normal delivery. Coupled with a great mid-wife and a doula, we were set. Gus was born in September 2011 in the Bella-Rose Birthing Centre, on the edge of the Kruger National Park.
The second time I got pregnant we were living in Sierra Leone, which has the highest maternity mortality rate in the world, and with next to no neonatal special care, it wasn’t worth the risk. So instead I convinced my (Belgian) partner we would go home to Ireland.
I decided on a home-birth – not straightforward given the limited number of community midwives and high demand. The short version of a long story, was that our daughter Lara was born at home in Brittas Bay in October 2014, supported by two wonderful community midwives.
FIONA MURRAY CHAPPELL, gave birth in Toronto
My husband and I, both from Waterford, are living just outside Toronto, Canada. We have had two baby girls here, Cara and Cait.
OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan) covers the maternity medical costs from OBGYN to delivery. Once you are living and working in Ontario for at least three months, you are entitled to OHIP coverage. Beyond OHIP, your insurance covers extra costs such as a private room at the hospital, prescriptions and so on.
I found the prenatal care was wonderful and I was well looked after. They don’t hesitate to run extra tests or ultrasounds if there are any concerns. I found the post-natal care to be a little underwhelming. My six-week follow-up appointment was optional, I opted for it, but it was not with my obstetrician.
However, where there is tremendous support here is in the area of breastfeeding. This is definitely a pro-breastfeeding society and it is very much encouraged. In addition, the maternity/parental leave in Canada is 12 months, soon to be 18 months.
ELLEN WARD, gave birth in Massachusetts
I live in Massachusetts with my American husband and our son Jack, who was born in Plymouth, in March 2016. While pregnant, I was part of a Centering programme, which meant that instead of having private prenatal appointments with my midwife, I had group sessions. There were eight couples in our group. Each couple would have individual time with our midwife and then we would all talk together in the group and discuss pregnancy/birth related topics. I am still very close to these couples and have formed a strong friendship with them.
My maternity leave was basically non-existent. I took unpaid leave and returned to work when my son was about five months old. I am considered fortunate to have been able to do that.