Even in these straitened times, families are increasingly prioritising wellbeing – and when it comes to the all-important experience of pregnancy and childbirth, some are looking to private healthcare to provide what they need when they need it. Whilst the cost means it clearly isn’t an option for everyone, many women find that private healthcare offers the reassurance of consistent one-to-one care at a time they often feel most vulnerable.
There are many benefits: having the continuity of a team of known midwives; a consultant that is personally familiar with every aspect of your medical history; privacy and comfort in your surroundings and an increased sense of choice and control over your care in general.
For Natalie Bond, the delivery of her second son, Benjamin, at The Portland Hospital for Women and Children was a different experience to the traumatic birth of her first child.
"My first little boy arrived 11 days late. A large baby, delivered in hospital normally. Everything I wanted. However not everything went according to my grand plan – his size and the speed of delivery had caused a postpartum haemorrhage; I lost two litres of blood and also sustained the worst kind of third-degree tears. There was a further stay in high dependency for me and several days in neo-natal for my son. It took me months to recover, and it certainly wasn’t the textbook birth I had imagined. But we were looked after when we critically needed it and I was so grateful for my healthy boy.
A year later and pregnant for a second time, I felt slightly more anxious about my impending arrival as the weeks passed. Would the events of last time repeat themselves? Did I have a greater risk of permanent damage with a second vaginal delivery? How could I avoid it? Increasingly, I needed reassurance, so at 30 weeks we decided to transfer into the care of the Midwife Led Delivery (MLD) team at The Portland Hospital.
The major factor in our decision was that we would be looked after by a very small team of midwives who would hold our hands in the lead up to the baby’s arrival, and I would have the sole care of a midwife delivering our child. We also had access to a obstetric consultant, who would oversee any concerns that arose during pregnancy, but ideally still allow us to go ahead with the midwife-led birth we wanted.
The facilities and staff at the hospital are first class. We were reassured by the presence of high-dependency and neo-natal units, which crucially meant that if the worst happened we wouldn’t need a panicked transfer to the nearest NHS hospital. I’d be lying if I said that the comfortable, private rooms weren’t also a draw. We didn’t actually manage to turn the TV on or get in a birth pool, but the food was fantastic, and I’ll never forget the threecourse dinner the night our son arrived!
From the start, the level of personal attention was remarkable. There were no queues or lengthy waits, and every one of the experienced midwives on the team knew exactly who I was whenever I’d call. During my first appointment, my worries were listened to at length and we started to put a plan in place. It was at this point that I began to breathe a sigh of relief. Whatever happened from this point on, I felt incredibly well cared for.
The baby of course had other ideas and at my second appointment a fortnight later, the baby had turned the wrong way and was lying transverse in my uterus. The midwives reassured me that he was unlikely to stay this way and that time was on my side.
Fortunately he proved them all right and a subsequent scan revealed that he was finally head down and ready to go – but most definitely on the large side. As a result, we were monitored carefully and I was advised not to go much over our due date, as I had done the first time around. I didn’t need very much persuading since already I was feeling incredibly large and uncomfortable. Together with Ray, the supervisor of midwives, we put together a detailed plan for the birth, taking into account all of things that were important to me, as well as the ‘what-ifs’. The fact that I could ring up at any point just to reiterate my anxieties to someone who actually knew me, was so important at this stage.
As ‘D-day’ neared we agreed to start sweeps a few days early, to give the baby the best chance of arriving on time. His weight was already estimated at nine pounds, nine ounces – and frankly I was more than ready for proceedings to kick off since my older son was teething badly and sleep was once again a figment of my imagination.
On the Tuesday night I awoke to those familiar tightenings. I rang the delivery ward and was told to come in. As a second-time mum with a history of fast labour, no one was taking any chances. So we set off into central London, bags packed and hoping this was to be it. We were met by Sian, one of the MLD midwives. Annoyingly, my contractions had started to tail off and on examination she confirmed that I was still only slightly dilated and the baby wasn’t quite low enough to set things off. It was likely these were false contractions and the real thing was yet to happen. A few hours later, disappointed, we decided to head home and wait for labour to start properly.
We had a further sweep with Sian that week, and she joked that this was definitely going to do it and she wanted to be the one to deliver our baby! And true to her word, strong contractions started that night at approximately 2am. I lay in the dark, counting and wondering. After about 45 minutes I knew our baby was coming and woke my husband, and we set off, driving through the empty streets to the hospital.
By 8am I was finally four centimetres and in active labour. Sian was amazed at how ready my cervix was, but the baby’s head was still relatively high and the contractions weren’t quite intense enough to bring him down. I was really beginning to flag by this time after a week of limited sleep and decided to opt for an epidural to help with the pain.
The anaesthetist was there in minutes and talked me through the procedure, ensuring that I was immediately pain-free – amazing. Although I was hooked up to a drip, I was still mobile and for the next few hours bounced, walked and went to the loo as I pleased. It was a welcome change from the fast and furious agony of my first birth.
By the afternoon, Sian pronounced me ready to push. I could feel every contraction but none of the pain, and didn’t have any problem in feeling where to direct my efforts. Encouraged by my husband, Sian and Frances – the second midwife – our little boy’s delivery was the most awe-inspiring experience. Sian was fantastic, never leaving my side and coaching me through every second – telling me to pause and breathe as he crowned – and finally delivering Benjamin onto my chest. It was a moment I will never forget.
After the birth we were left to admire our newest arrival – also devouring tea and toast (me) and a celebratory beer (my other half). I was helped to shower straightaway, and we moved into a double room so my husband could also stay the night with us. After several hours of nursing my son, I was exhausted, having been awake for over 24 hours by this point. We took advantage of the nursery where the nurses would look after the baby for a few hours allowing us some much-needed shut-eye.
The next day I was astonished at how good I felt and we were given the all clear to return home so Benjamin could meet his brother. I felt so fortunate to have received such good care, I could almost think about having number three now... almost.”