Saturday, September 8, 2007

A Hospital Tour

This afternoon Mark and I went to visit the hospital where we’ll most likely give birth. We went as part of a regularly scheduled maternity tour and joined a group of couples and young families. It was a varied group –including Africans, Hispanics, Indians and Caucasians – with the women’s stomachs in various stages of protrusion. All however were couples and it seemed a single woman would probably stick out in such a group.

With three months to go, we’re in the stage of starting to have to plan and prepare more actively. We’re slowly collecting a few baby possessions, we have to decide what kind of classes, books and other education we need, and we need to make decisions as to who will be involved in the process and how.

Given the impersonal nature of medical care in the U.S. (we have a 20% chance of getting our own doctor during delivery, and the nurses rotate according to their shifts), we are seriously considering using a doula, something I’d never even heard of a year ago, much less ever imagined using. But we think it could be helpful to both of us to have someone with us the entire time who knows us and our preferences and can be a continual, supportive presence.

Touring the maternity ward made the process seem more real to both of us – both in an exciting and a scary way. It was helpful to be able to familiarize ourselves with the environment, so we won’t be surprised on the day we show up. The hospital offers the helpful service of pre-registering up to two months in advance, so we can check right in on the day of delivery and not be held up by paperwork.

I suppose it’s a nice place by most standards. I haven’t spent much time on maternity wards anywhere in the U.S. It’s certainly nicer than most of the places I’ve visited overseas. Every patient has a private room with a phone and TV and a pull-out bed for the spouse or partner. A menu is available next to the bedside with a full selection of Indian entrees, as well as other special foods. They hold an ice cream social every afternoon to celebrate the new births. There is a single room available with a Jacuzzi and birthing balls, though I don’t know how patients are supposed to get back from there to their rooms to give birth.

Despite these amenities, it still had an institutional feel. The furniture was rigid. We were told that women who give normal, vaginal births usually stay two nights. Those with c-sections stay 3-4 nights. But this depends, “on you, on your doctor, and of course, on your insurance,” she said. The hospital’s c-section rate is 30%, at the national average, but a number I find quite scary.

Maybe it was a slow day, but things seemed pretty quiet. There were only two babies in the nursery (they seem to push mothers pretty hard to keep the baby in her room at all times) and most of the staff congregated at the desk, eating leftover ice cream from the day’s social in their blue and green uniforms.

I’ve been lucky to live several decades without ever spending a night in a hospital. I suppose it’s quite a privilege to be allowed to take a tour of the facilities before I enter for the first time.

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