A grey nylon holdall.
A North Shore logo drinking cup.
A large pack of newborn Pampers.
Three packs of maternity towels.
A pair of mesh knickers.
A pair of beige socks with treads on the bottom (which I may have been supposed to return, actually).
A pink and blue striped baby cap.
Hand breast pumping equipment.
A nipple shield.
Two boxes of made-up baby milk formula.
A book, Heading Home with Your Newborn.
Paracetamol, ibuprofen, stool softener, witch hazel pads, painkiller spray, haemorrhoid cream, Lansinoh nipple cream.
A squeezy water spray bottle.
A rectal thermometer.
A bulb syringe.
Souvenir birth certificates with footprints.
And… two folders full of miscellaneous advice and paperwork.
This haul seemed to me to compare quite favourably with the Bounty bag that British mothers get when they leave hospital. All the same, I found it odd. We had bought a thermometer for the baby. We have a number of bags and drinking vessels at home. Why was my insurance (not to mention our $500 copay) shelling out for such a profusion of stuff?
What I’d heard about Evanston hospital before I went in was all about the celebration steak or seafood dinner that they serve you as a post-birth treat. Again, it seemed a bit over the top, though not in an especially bad way. The dinner itself was an anti-climax: baby A cried throughout; the Caesar salad was nasty; and a cleaner came in halfway through and insisted on removing the specially supplied dining table that M and I were eating from. But what I did like was the normal room service. You could call and order as much as you liked from an extensive menu at most hours of the day. I had pancakes with blueberry compote, oatmeal and fruit for breakfast; I had chicken fajitas with a side of macaroni cheese and a fruit won ton dessert for lunch; pan pizza with tricolore salad followed by chocolate brownie for dinner – and so it went on. (In my defence, you will recall that I had been in labour for 54 hours – and I only wanted to eat for about the first 8.) At the end of every phonecall to room service the woman on the other end would say – in a well executed tone of sincerity – how much she had enjoyed taking my call.
There was also a huge number of visitors coming in and out of my (private) room, despite the fact that we had no friends or family to pay social visits. At every shift I had a named nurse and primary care technician (aka auxiliary nurse, I suppose), who gave me the vague impression that I was underemploying them. When they took A away to the nursery for tests they would laboriously check her wristband number against mine before she left the room, and do it again when she came back. In fact, we each had three wristbands, one pair of which played a tune when we were reunited after time apart. On the second night of A’s life I put her in the nursery for the night so I could get some sleep – something I’d originally thought I didn’t want to do – and the PCT took the opportunity to file all A’s nails.
We saw two ob-gyns from my practice, and two paediatricians. I hadn’t been at all sure that naming the doctor we fancied having for A’s paediatrician on the electronic hospital registration form would bring her to the hospital to carry out A’s newborn checks, but indeed it did. All the doctors would settle into the armchair for a five- or ten-minute chat after doing their observations: it felt nice and relaxed.
Then there was the funky perinatal social worker in a cool black dress, summoned by one of the nurses after I had a sobbing episode. She spent most of her time with us apologising for the inferior community care standards in the USA (home health visits, she felt, were much better done in Britain), enthusing about innovations in mental health care treatment modalities, and sympathising with the difficulty of making a transition from career-woman to new mother. She was full of tips on baby hangouts in the Evanston area; M and I ended up wishing she could be our new friend.
There was the mysterious woman who collected birth registration forms if she was around, but whose sense of urgency about our filling in the form was rather undermined by her disappearance on Monday afternoon. (To actually get a birth certificate you have to post off a cheque a couple of weeks later; this appears to be optional, since the legal bit is the record in the central Illinois registry.)
There was the baby-mad volunteer, who had been babysitting, fostering babies, and hanging out at the maternity ward for more than sixty years, and who got our room temperature turned down, made us drinks to very exacting ice/liquid specifications and set up a changing area in a corner.
And there were the lactation consultants. The first of these was somewhat demented, and pushed a line at the daily on-ward class about how it was harder to get breastfeeding going with your right breast because ‘left is the feminine side’. (At the class I also got to watch an educational breastfeeding video made in Bristol, which was nice.) The second, F, was funny, calm and pragmatic, and shuttled in and out of the room all day on Monday trying to get A to latch on for more than a couple of seconds at a time, until we finally got it sussed and felt safe to go home.
Two nights in hospital seemed a long time in prospect, but it passed in a blur, and we were being gently nudged out of the door before I’d even read through the papers in the folders. We never did get round to switching on baby TV, which had 24 hour programming on baby health and development.
You could see all this as a partial explanation of why the US spends twice the share of its GDP on healthcare that more moderate countries do. Or you could believe, more charitably, that all this overload – of food, medical supplies, and people – was a way of easing us into the truly overwhelming experience of being in sole charge of a new baby…