expat life // an american pregnancy in london

theromantic

I’ve shared plenty about my travel experiences while pregnant, but I didn’t write too much about my actual pregnancy — mainly because, well, this is a travel blog, and being pregnant isn’t really travel-related. My pregnancy experience, however, has been greatly influenced by my life as an expat.

Being pregnant for the first time is already a learning experience, but doing it in a new country — with different resources and without the same support network you’d have at home — adds a whole new layer of “WTF am I DOING?”

SO, with fellow Americans in mind, I thought maybe a quick round-up of things I learned over the past 10+ months, from the start of my pregnancy to Margot’s big arrival, would be helpful.

maternity - flytographer

[ photo via jackie king for flytographer ]

the birth options are endless // From the start, we were confused about the actual birth — where, how, with who?! My first resource was this post on the NHS website, detailing the (free) public options. The midwife-led birth centres were (and still are) the most appealing to me, but I was turned off by the fact 1. if you have the slightest complication, they’ll move you to the hospital, and 2. post-birth, with any NHS option, you apparently share a dorm-style set-up with up to 6 other moms and their newborns. Private rooms are available for a fee but aren’t guaranteed, and just thinking about this arrangement gave me anxiety.

If you don’t go through the NHS, you can go private, and once we found out that our insurance fully covers private births, my NHS research stopped pretty quickly. Our closest private hospital is The Lindo Wing at St. Mary’s, so our choice was easy. Lindo is all consultant-led (consultants = OB/GYNs here), and that consultant sees you through your entire pregnancy. You’re encouraged to book your consultant early, because they accept a limited number of patients, spaced out by due date, to ensure the consultant is there with you the day of the birth. You see your consultant for all antenatal appointments, whereas with the NHS, you see a midwife. We were also offered a few more tests, scans and check-ups than we would have gotten through the NHS, which gave this paranoid first-timer lots of reassurance.

During the majority of labor at Lindo, as with public care, you’re looked after exclusively by midwives, and the consultant only comes in for the actual delivery, unless he or she is needed sooner. With only two minor exceptions, all of our midwives were amazing.

margot - hospital pic

chilling in our private suite, nbd

Postnatal care is also entirely handled by the midwives — and yes, in your own, private room, which felt much like a hotel room. My consultant did stop by the next morning to see how I was feeling, and I’ll have my 6-week check-up with him, rather than my GP.

Choosing a consultant was a bit overwhelming, but Lindo sent me a full list of options that I cross-referenced on Netmums and Mumsnet (super creative, Brits), before emailing a handful for more info. In the end, we only met with one in person and ended up going with him. I can now say that he was the absolute best, so if you need a recommendation, let me know.

Fair warning: with lots of options comes LOTS of opinions. If you’re up in the air, feel free to reach out with any questions about going private. I have a lot more I could share on the subject based on my experience, which I’m more than happy to do off le blog.

the postnatal care is amazing // Whether you go public or private, starting on day 5, you have a community midwife who comes to your home regularly to check on both you and the baby over the first two weeks. You can also request a breastfeeding consultant (which we did, because why not?), and on day 10, a health visitor comes. This person will check on your baby regularly for his or her first five years.

We also have the added benefit of postnatal support from one stinky pug, who seems to enjoy his new buddy.

margot & the bug

[ photo via jackie king ]

I’ve heard some negative stories, but we lucked out and everyone was amazing — sweet, supportive, and only offered advice when asked. It was so reassuring to talk to a medical professional in our own space during those first days when we were a constant ball of “are we doing this right?!” and “is this normal??” worries.

Also. Breastfeeding is hard and stressful at first, so I’d pay someone to come over and give me words of encouragement. To have the NHS offer that for free? You get on board with this, America. All moms deserve it.

take an NCT class // Everyone told us to sign up for an antenatal NCT class, but they left out one fact: these classes are solely for making local friends, not for learning invaluable information. As soon as we got that idea in our heads, we enjoyed it MUCH more.

The classes are run by NCT volunteers, often out of their homes, who are trained by the NCT. Our teacher, as kind as she was, wasn’t the most, um, empowering. She was extremely anti-epidural, yet told us that the pain will make us feel like we’re being torn apart from the inside… all while passing around disks to show us what 10 cm dilated actually looks like.

NCT dadsJeff’s fellow dads are blurred since I didn’t get their permission for this…
but I think you can still tell they’re RIVETED by the hubs’s presentation on the birth canal.

The plus side? It’s great to have a group of new parents all going through the same thing as us, at the same time. Plus, our whatsapp group chats are FAR more insightful and helpful than Dr. Google.

…who I’m also not allowed to consult anymore anyway, so whatever.

shop til you drop // It’s true that babies don’t need much when you first bring them home — but that doesn’t mean it’s not really fun to buy everything in miniature! Our main issue was that we didn’t know where to go for the essentials, like a crib and a stroller (or a cot and a pram, as the mummies say).

margot's room

scenes from Margot’s nursery! mostly from graham & green; wooden animals from pedlars
[ photos via jackie king ]

Here’s where we spent most of our sterling on lazy baby:

Mamas & Papas | We had a free in-store consultation here, and price-shopped elsewhere after. You can do that guilt-free in the UK, by the way, because they don’t have sales commission here (though we did get a few things here anyway).

John Lewis (and Peter Jones) | I have such a love/hate relationship with John Lewis, but I can’t deny the convenience. I prefer shopping at Peter Jones, both because the layout is better and the insanity levels are lower than Oxford Street.

Huggle | We ended up here because they carry the Stokke bassinets, and I wish we’d known about them sooner. Dealing with Stokke’s shipping team in the Netherlands was a pain, but it was another resource that I appreciated and a good excuse to go to Primrose Hill for the afternoon!

Aside from baby stuff, I could only get by with shopping up a few sizes at Zara for so long. Unfortunately, maternity clothes are FRUMP.

a&j - cheval

Seraphine | For the quality, their stuff is pretty overpriced. However, I went here for a pair of jeans, over-the-bump leggings, and a winter coat, and it was perfect for staples.

Figleaves.com | Free shipping and returns, lots of maternity and nursing options, and everything I got is stupid comfortable. I do hate that their maternity brands are called things like “Hot Milk” and “Mamalicious” because ew, but whatever. Comfort is key.

Topshop Maternity | My maternity-wear savior. Limited things with ruching (gross), and now, post-partum, everything I bought can still be worn without a bump!

tell the world there’s a baby on board! // After we shared our news and before I was really showing, fellow Londoners exclaimed, “You need a ‘baby on board’ pin!” Each time, I thought it was just something weird that people said to pregnant women… but no, no. Baby on Board pins are real and free and offered by the TFL for women to wear to let other riders know they should be kind and give up their seats.

To be totally honest, I ordered one just for the novelty of ordering one — I don’t ride public transit during rush hour, so getting a seat is rarely a problem. Also, because Londoners notoriously do not look at one another on the tube, I have to wonder if they’re even that effective in the first place?

have someone else find you a photographer. // Being in a new city means limited resources — and since none of our friends here had hired a maternity photographer before, I wasn’t sure who to ask. I started to poke around online a few times, but I was always overwhelmed… when your only requirement is “NOT CHEESY,” Google doesn’t really deliver the goods.

After one too many websites full of photos of hand-hearts on bumps in cornfields (you know the ones), I realized that DUH, I didn’t need to find other personal recommendations — Flytographer already has access to some of the best photographers in London. We booked a 30 minute shoot, and as soon as we met Jackie, it was like hanging out with an old friend. Best of all, she didn’t ask Jeff to kiss my bare belly ONCE.

Obviously, it was a no-brainer to ask her to take our newborn photos, too.

jackie king photos

She came on Margot’s 11th day, and I cried when we got them on her 22nd day because she’s already so much bigger!!!

(Being a parent makes you insane.)

treat yo’self // Because this is our first baby, I definitely took advantage of my last stretch of childless “me” time. I have no delusions that I’ll be able to be this indulgent in future pregnancies… and it didn’t just stop at three different prenatal massages over two trimesters.

yoga | I took yoga classes for the majority of my pregnancy, and tried a few different studios until I found a teacher that I loved. Lolly Stirk came recommended by my consultant, and I saw her weekly until about 33 weeks, when she went on holiday. It turns out, pretty much anyone involved in prenatal care in Notting Hill knows Lolly, and with good reason. She’s amazing.

There’s a waiting list, so if you think you’re interested, definitely drop her a line as soon as you’re nearing 20 weeks — the earliest she prefers moms to start her class.

hypnobirthing | I was curious about hypnobirthing from the start, but when Lolly said she teaches a monthly class for preggos and their partners at Triyoga Chelsea, it seemed like the perfect thing for Jeff and I to tackle together. It was! When we walked out of the 8 hour class, he told me he felt like he’d just crammed for an exam and wanted to take it that second so he didn’t forget anything (I was 31 weeks along, so I was less enthused about this plan).

After the class, I downloaded Maggie Howell’s Hypnobirthing for Birth in a Hospital or Birth Centre, and found practicing it just before bed in those last few weeks to be extremely relaxing. When we put it on during labor, however, I wanted someone to bring Maggie Howell to me so I could crush her skull.

Results may vary.

osteopathy | I never knew too much about osteopathy, but it’s consistently recommended as an alternative to the physio (what we call a chiropractor back home). After my first appointment with Dr. Ferguson at The Notting Hill Osteopathic Practice, I felt like a new person. Best of all, our private insurance also fully covers both the physio and osteopathy! I never would have expected this, so if you have insurance, be sure to check with them.

reflexology | About a week before Margot was born, one of the NCT moms strongly suggested making a reflexology appointment with Helen Mead at The Life Centre during our last few weeks. I know it’s kind of controversial, but I did reflexology a bit when we lived in France, and was amazed by how much it helped my jaw pain (previously, had gnawed through two night guards, not joking). I think this would have been good to do a few times before the birth, but Margot showed up three days later, so instead it was just a super relaxing hour before things got officially crazy!

make a post-birth to do list // Things we had to do immediately after Margot arrived:

  • Register her birth
  • Sort her American citizenship and passport (and get her passport photo! Thanks, Snappy Snaps)
  • Apply for her UK residency visa
  • Register her for preschool, because London is insane

Luckily, the hubs took these over, and handled everything so that during the first two weeks, he just had to tell me where to go and what to bring. Turning my brain off was a luxury, and it wouldn’t have been possible if he hadn’t gotten all our ducks in a row before she arrived.

And there you have it! Since I’ve never been pregnant in the US, I obviously can’t compare the two, but I certainly don’t have any complaints about my experience here — and find the postnatal support the most incredible and inspiring part of the British system. Don’t even get me started on their maternity leave.

If you have any questions at all, feel free to send an e-mail (info at the lazy travelers dot com). More than happy to discuss my consultant, the weird judgments about private births, whether or not gas & air even works, etc etc.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled, travel-focused programming!

xo!

the romantic

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12 Comments

  1. February 11, 2016 / 13:55

    Congratulations again on Margot – so cute! It sounds like you had a great experience overall and I agree with you “get on board” comment wholeheartedly!

  2. February 12, 2016 / 23:27

    Congratulations on Margot!
    I had to laugh when I read the part about your experience with hypnobirthing: I have a good friend who shared a very similar story with me about it helping before the birth but not quite cutting it for her DURING the birth. Results may vary, indeed!
    Raphaelle recently posted..Large Intestine Health: Affected By Diet and EmotionsMy Profile

    • February 15, 2016 / 11:01

      i REALLY thought it would help in labor because i found it to be so, so relaxing when i tried it at home! but if that lady told me to picture myself on a goddamned beach during one more contraction… asdgldhjakjdhaskj
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..expat life // an american pregnancy in londonMy Profile

  3. Katherine Redo
    September 13, 2016 / 20:50

    Thank you for this blog. I’m moving to London in November and hope to have my 2nd baby in London. We’ll begin trying in December. I had a c-section with my first child here in Chicago and hope to have a c-section again (instead of vaginal birth) since I’ve already experienced it. Are c-sections common there or will they make me have a vaginal birth even though I’ve already been cut? Thanks in advance for your feedback.

    • September 14, 2016 / 04:43

      hi katherine! i have a friend who had an elective c-section through the NHS, and it did require some persistence on her part (this was her first baby), but they eventually agreed. i believe she had to go through some counseling so the midwives could feel confident she understood the differences in recovery for her & baby, but in the end it wasn’t an issue. if you go private, then i’m sure your consultant would be happy to accommodate — especially because you’ve already had one. i hope that’s helpful!
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..the lazy girl’s guide to choosing the perfect villaMy Profile

      • Katherine Redo
        September 15, 2016 / 16:09

        Thank you so much for your reply. We’re opting for the private insurance too. So, hopefully, that increases my chances of having a 2nd c-section. Thanks again. 🙂

  4. Paige Webster
    October 11, 2016 / 17:56

    Hi! My husband and I will likely be starting a family in England, too. We are both from the US, but luckily I have a UK passport since my dad was born in England! I’m curious why you need to get your daughter a UK residency visa when technically she is a British citizen and doesn’t need a visa? Did you get her both a UK and US passport? This has been one of the most helpful posts in figuring out how/what to do about starting our family in the UK. Thank you so much! 🙂

    • October 20, 2016 / 05:37

      i’m so glad you found it helpful!! unfortunately, margot isn’t technically a british citizen, because the UK doesn’t observe naturalization like the US — meaning, she doesn’t automatically have citizenship just because she was born here. surprisingly few countries do, which i never knew! instead, if we’re still here when she’s 5, she’ll apply for her british citizenship the same way we can after 5 years of residency. but lucky for you, it sounds like that won’t apply since your future baby will be considered british by birth! best of luck to you & your husband!! xox
      Lazy Travelers recently posted..style spotter // #LTgreekweek: mykonos editionMy Profile

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