Birth in Bulgaria
Expecting a baby is an exciting time for most women. Maternity care in Western Europe consists of pampering and good quality care for every mother-to-be with regular check ups, scans, exercise classes and counselling should problems arise. Yet imagine being in another country, Bulgaria, where you don’t know the language and have never had any dealings with the health care system. What care is on offer and what preparations are in place for the actual birth, we talk to one lady with first hand experience of giving birth in both the UK and Bulgaria...
Lisa Browne, 28 is the mother of two children, Phoebe (7) and Alex (8 months). Phoebe was born in an English state run hospital in Hertfordshire, whilst baby Alex was born in a private hospital in Varna. Lisa’s experiences whilst very different were both positive. She was already expecting Alex when she moved to Bulgaria in March 2008. She recalls, ‘I was worried about having my baby in Bulgaria and originally had planned to fly back to the UK at the latest date possible so that I could have him there. I was particularly worried that the standard of health care would not be very good and that the fact that I had no idea about the language would only hinder the process.’
Looking for the Right Bulgarian Health Care
Being only four months pregnant when she moved over, she knew that regular check ups in Bulgaria were essential to the well-being of her unborn son, she explains, ‘When I first moved over we stayed in a hotel and the hotel owner took me visit three facilities in Varna. The first was a small doctor’s surgery where I was supposed to have my ante-natal check ups. I was appalled by the conditions of the surgery and decided to look further. The second place I visited was the state hospital where the birth would take place. For me the standard was extremely poor, to the point where I would have preferred to give birth at home rather than have my baby in such primitive conditions. The third hospital was another state-run hospital, which was no different.” Lisa decided that the hospital conditions were not satisfactory for the birth and that she would have to fly back to the UK, however there was still the pressing issue of regular check ups.
After two months with no need for any urgent checks, Lisa and her husband learnt from their estate agent that there was a private hospital in Varna known as Maichindom (Mother’s House). The agent explained that the standard of health care was second to none thanks to its private status. Lisa continues, ‘We went to look around the hospital and I was so happy. It was just perfect, so clean, really modern and hi-tech.’ She was introduced to the doctor who would care for her right through her pregnancy and at the birth and feeling calm in his presence, she decided to make an appointment for her 20 week scan.
After seeing the hospital and meeting the staff, Lisa decided that there would be no need to go home to the UK to have her baby. She attended her first appointment and received a scan and the doctor confirmed the dates for her son, Alex’s arrival. The doctor did not speak fluent English but several of the staff did and they often attended her appointments. The doctor explained that from now on he would be the only doctor to see Lisa and that it would be him delivering the baby. Lisa was happy she says, ‘This was great news, it meant that my notes would not be passed around as they are in England. It gave me such peace of mind that this man was taking the time to get to know me and that I wouldn’t have to explain anything to him. In the UK I had never met the doctor who delivered Phoebe until I was taken into hospital and she was due to be born.’ Lisa noted that the equipment used to scan her was on a par with the UK if not better and clearer. On each visit she was given her scan pictures as is common practice in the UK. Lisa had the same number of appointments that she would have had in England prior to the birth, but unlike the UK she was scanned at every appointment to check Alex’s progress. There were no complications with Alex’s progress unlike the pregnancy Lisa had with Phoebe she recalls, ‘Just before I was due to give birth to Phoebe, I felt something was wrong. I made an appointment with the midwife who was somewhat patronising. She told me everything was progressing normally, her head was engaged and everything was fine but Lisa could not escape the feeling that something was wrong. The midwife who didn’t bother with a scan told her that she was wrong and her inexperience couldn’t compare with 20 years of experience in midwifery. Undeterred Lisa made an appointment at the hospital. They scanned her and found that Phoebe was lying the wrong way round. A Caesarean section was recommended and had to be brought forward when Lisa’s contractions started. The Caesarean was done immediately and little Phoebe was born without further complications. ‘I honestly think this would never have happened in Bulgaria because of the regular scans and the way that the doctor listened. Lisa told her Bulgarian doctor about the problems she encountered in the UK and he was surprised that the only way a baby was checked was by touch outside of the two NHS scans at 12 and 20 weeks.
Lisa’s doctor suggested that she have another Caesarean given her history with Phoebe and she was asked to choose the date that she wanted her baby to be born on; again something else that would not happen under the NHS system. A date was set for early September and as the day drew closer, Lisa felt very calm in the knowledge that if problems were to occur she could visit her doctor without an appointment. On the day set for the birth, she attended hospital at 9 am, her blood pressure was checked, blood taken and she was weighed then scanned. The baby was measured and she was told that they would deliver him at 1.00. She was taken to a private room to watch TV and relax with her husband. ‘My room was lovely; there were two single beds a private bathroom and a TV and it was beautifully decorated.’ She was visited by the anaesthetist who introduced herself and spoke fluent English and asked Lisa if she wanted to be awake of asleep for the birth, a choice not offered to mothers to be in the UK. Lisa chose to be asleep. When the time for the Caesarean arrived Lisa walked into the theatre on the arm of her doctor who hugged her and reassured her that it would all be OK. Lisa’s husband Paul was given a surgical gown and mask and made very welcome. Paul was able to take pictures of the whole process, something else not allowed in the UK. Paul was involved in the whole process and even lifted his wife back into her bed. ‘When I woke up there was a picture of my new baby boy by my bed. Alex was in the nursery, which was standard practice so that I could come round fully from the anaesthetic.
Post Natal Care
When Lisa was totally conscious, they brought Alex to her to hold. Paul was allowed to stay overnight in the hospital with his family. The midwife gave Alex a bottle for the first night so that his body would not be contaminated with the anaesthetic. Lisa stayed for four nights in the hospital she was extremely happy with the care, for the second and third night her daughter came to sleep over. She was even able to get good nights sleep on the first night because Alex slept in the nursery. Everything was done for her by the nurses; the baby was bathed and brought to her at 6 am each morning and left with her for the whole day until 11 pm. On the third night he slept in her room under the recommendation of the midwives. During her stay, the paediatrician came and introduced herself telling Lisa that she would be responsible for Alex’s care from now on in. Once she left the hospital Alex had an appointment each week for the first four months and after this period the appointments were fortnightly and then monthly.
Lisa paid a total of 2,200 lv for the ante-natal care, the Caesarean and her stay in hospital. In the UK this service would cost somewhere in the region of GBP 9,000 – GBP 12,000. The downside of having a baby abroad was that she was not inundated with friends and family visiting after the birth’ however, Lisa says, ‘I think the care I received was better because I got to know the people who were with me throughout the treatment and I built up a good trusting relationship with them.’ Lisa’s advice to foreign mother’s who are due to have their baby in Bulgaria is to check out the health care first, ‘Shop around well in advance and go private, it is a lot less than in the UK and the care is just as good if not better.’