Giving birth in the UAE
Time Out Kids teamed up with experts to discuss what you need to know before you have your own baby here
1. Joanne Hanson-Halliwell
Briton Joanne started Small and Mighty Babies, a support group for parents of premature babies, because of her own experience when giving birth in Dubai. She is the winner of the Time Out Kids Special Recognition for Pre-
and Post-Natal Care in 2016.
2. Elizabeth Bain
Elizabeth, of Dubai Doulas, is a certified birth doula and a qualified midwife. She works to empower women in childbirth.
3. Daisy Liberty Mulligan
British expat and mum-of-three, Daisy had her first two little girls in the UK and her baby boy Loughlan was born in City Hospital in Dubai four months ago. She really enjoyed her birthing experience in Dubai and found the prenatal care very thorough.
4. Emer O’Doherty
Time Out Kids staff writer and mum-of-two. Emer’s eldest was born in Ireland, where she had a family support system and a health system she understood. The youngest was born six weeks prematurely in Muscat, Oman.
5. Lily Kandalaft
Lily is the founder of Malaak, a nursing and childcare support service, offering maternity care for newborn babies, breastfeeding and sleep routine support, as well as babysitting.
6. Diana Lombardi
Owner of Kidz Palooza Entertainment Centre, Diana is a mum of two with one on the way. She has created a space where tots and parents can play in a welcoming, safe environment.
7. Chloe Rees
Australian Chloe had her first baby in Dubai earlier this year. She runs her own PR agency while bringing up her son Hudson.
8. and 9. Muriel Woum and Sophie Medway
Both midwives at Health Bay Polyclinic. They work as part of the midwifery team to offer mums-to-be gentle and helpful advice as they journey towards motherhood.
Emer O’Doherty: When you find out you are pregnant here, what are the most important things you need to know?
Sophie Medway: Your first pregnancy can be scary. We [the midwives] are not there for the delivery, but we can chat about the birth and what you want out of your delivery. Ladies get to know us very well and can give us a call. They’ll share what information they got from the doctor and ask our advice.
Daisy Liberty Mulligan: What needs to be taken on board is that the phenomenal healthcare system here is working. I will never not be on the [UK’s] NHS, it’s incredible, but it’s underfunded. Here I could give birth how I wanted to, I had more ultrasounds than usual. I felt like I knew my baby before he was born. I had the same obstetrician and midwife throughout the whole journey. I didn’t for the other girls – the comparison between there and here is phenomenal. It’s working. They want this to be a beacon of global healthcare excellence and it’s happening. My friends ask me if I’m coming back to have my baby in the UK and I’m like “no way!”. I say, “Girls, get on the plane and have your baby in Dubai”.
Elizabeth Bain: It’s about your choices, it’s about what you want. It’s about how you want to give birth. Build your network carefully. When you find yourself pregnant, write a list of what you want and not what the guidebooks tell you. Do you want to have a water birth? A natural birth? Do you want your husband there? Do you want your mum there? Dubai has done absolutely fantastic things, but we have a high rate of C-sections here. Pick your obstetrician well. It’s not going to work if you want a natural birth and you go to a doctor with 70 percent C-section rate. You are the one who needs to be empowered. Know your stuff. There are lots of fantastic Facebook groups. Go to yoga, exercise, swimming, antenatal classes; get to know your body and your baby. It’s about your experience, your husband’s experience and your baby’s experience.
Emer: We always think about the baby when we come home, but who looks after the mum?
Lily Kandalaft: A lot of us are lucky to have our parents and many will fly over to give you support. Or you have a big group of friends. You don’t get sleep at night, you aren’t able to manage during the day. Another option is to get a maternity nurse. Have a discussion about what you’re looking for, what you’re comfortable with. The second time around mums will have a better idea of what they’re looking for in terms of routine and what support they need, whether that’s at night or during the day. It’s a nice option to have and there are a lot of services out there that provide maternity nurses to come round so you can have rest, especially while breastfeeding.
Chloe Rees: I didn’t really have a tribe or support network. I actually had Sophie [from HealthBay Polyclinic] as my midwife. My parents flew over a week or so after, but I had a horrific 12 days after giving birth. I had an emergency C-section. I couldn’t breastfeed and I needed someone. I was naïve to think I could just breastfeed. It was really physically demanding for me. I was sick, I lost seven kilos, and I could have really done with support then. Now I have a nanny. I also sent my first email for work from my post-delivery suite. It isn’t a situation every woman would be in, but when you have your own business then you have to, otherwise you don’t get paid. I would have really loved support from a maternity nurse, because breastfeeding was worse than the birth! I will be looking into proper help the next time around.
Diana Lombardi: When I had my first baby nine years ago there weren’t those options in Dubai. They had great care in the hospital, but once I was at home I was alone and I needed support. I’m really happy we have those options now. Dubai has really changed. Now, with my third baby, I’m really happy to approach one of those services.
Sophie: It’s about having that confidence to reach out and say “I need help”, which is really hard. Just to get checked and get the baby’s weight checked. I think the hardest thing is reaching out. The services are here, but it’s about networking. Perhaps we need to get everything in the hospital. It’s hard to go private and there’s a link that’s missing. It’s important that mums reach out and find these services. At the moment there’s a little boundary. Especially the premature babies who go home really small.
Emer: Yes, what about premature babies?
Joanne Hanson-Halliwell: I learned the hard way. [Voice breaks.] One in ten babies is born premature. Looking around the room, that’s at least three or four of us. I have a brilliant relationship with 90 percent of the neonatal units here in Dubai, and that’s because I am this feisty Northern person who doesn’t take no for an answer. I bang on the doors of the medical directors of the hospitals because the parents I work with and what happens to them when they get home is shocking.
The healthcare system here is phenomenal, but private hospitals are expensive. I know women who go home with millions and millions of dirhams in bills and this can be life changing. I have a tribe of women who have delivered as early as 23 weeks. But it’s not all doom and gloom. We have the most fabulous people and their babies do go home.
Small and Mighty Babies became my calling. Someone kept saying to me “Maybe you had a premature baby for a reason”. I am not the first and I am not the last. None of us plans to have a premature baby. What I went through was honestly a privilege and the biggest lesson in life. I saw life before you’re meant to. It’s so valuable to sit with someone and say “I know what you’re going through”. It can be simple, like just turning to people for help. If you know someone whose baby comes to soon, then know there is a fabulous support system here.
If I can help one person in one year, then I’ve done my job.
Emer: What kind of births are available?
Elizabeth: I’ve been here 11 years. I’ve worked as a doula for eight of those years and in a past life I was a midwife. I think the choice we have is really important. Water births are available, there are hypno-birthing classes and the majority of hospitals do want you to have a natural birth. They facilitate all births, from planned C-sections to emergencies and they also and offer breastfeeding support. The majority of birth types are facilitated here. Get a doula – research shows in countries with low C-section rates, they have doulas and midwives. Powerful evidence shows another woman at your birth can really help you. That’s why we are all here today, we believe in the power of women and we can support each other.
Emer: Thank you so much ladies. Now we’d like to open up the discussion to the floor and invite everyone to ask questions.
Audience member one: I’m pregnant with my second baby and I just found out it’s a girl. I am with HealthBay PolyClinic and had a really good support system and a good nanny the first time. While that was an interesting dynamic, there’s a huge amount of trust here. What I’m concerned about this time – I’m 22 weeks – is that last time my birth was easy. What will it be like this time?
Sophie: Generally your second labour takes half the time your first labour did. Most people, if the position of the baby is right and everything is okay, say their second labour is the best labour and best birth. Sometimes it’s like a roller coaster one, because it’s so quick.
Daisy: It’s easier than number 3!
Audience member two: With me, I have to say the situation was a bit different. I am trying to have a second baby here, but my first experience was not good. I had an emergency C-section under general anesthetic, so I wasn’t even there when my baby was born. I was sent home when my baby lost 12 percent of her birth weight and I had no clue what to do.
My first baby, I had fertility treatment to have her, and I just came from the clinic as we want another. I think there is still a lot of support lacking and support for ladies going through fertility treatment.
Joanne: Within Small and Mighty Babies I have a large amount of mums who had IVF babies, especially multiples. Within the last couple of months we’ve had two multiple births delivered, some really early. We’re lucky with have a big demographic in the group. There was a woman who had triplets and it took her five years to get to that point and she delivered them early. That’s where I came in, but I already don't understand her entire journey. Maybe that’s a calling for you?
Audience member three: When I moved to Dubai from the US, it was a completely different world. We had low expectations when we came here of what we can get from specialists. I just had my twins and I feel like I’m going through a roller coaster. From the moment we found out, we got really scared to the point we almost lost both of them.
Now that we are out of the woods and I have my twins at my home, we are dealing with the second part of this story. Now they have to grow healthy, I need to get sleep, manage hormonal changes. I’m trying to figure out who I need to see now. How do I continue and how do I keep myself sane?
Sophie: We run The Well Baby Clinic on Fridays from 9am to 1pm. That runs for babies up to 18 months.
Chloe: When I had Hudson I didn’t have time to ask lots of different people the answers to questions for back pain and so on. I go to the baby clinic at HealthBay PolyClinic. It’s not a lot of money. I’ve been going for four weeks and sometimes I just sit and talk to them. It’s nice just to talk about something other than my baby if I don’t want to.
But I also ask any questions about how to fix myself and where to go. These guys at HealthBay – and I don’t work for them by the way! – suggested three pediatricians not at the clinic when Hudson was having a tough time. I’ve told two or three of my friends to go there just to keep your sanity. You leave feeling like “I’ve got this”.
Audience member four: I had two pregnancies here. The first one, everything was okay – I had a C-section. My second pregnancy was fine, but changed dramatically in 24 weeks when I discovered I had a medical condition. My doctor said it was fine, but at 26 weeks I started having a lot of pain. I thought to go for a second point of view from another doctor, then I discovered that my baby has anemia and a condition called hydrops, which I had never heard of. At this point, I found out that here the hospitals can’t take care of a critical condition like this. I went to many hospitals and they kept sending me to another hospital. They kept telling me “Her condition is critical, you could lose your baby at any time, you should go to the public hospital”. In the end, I went to the public hospital and had my baby at 27 weeks. [Voice breaks]. She lived only 24 days and she passed away. I always feel guilty, I always think if we found this out before, maybe it’s my fault for being ignorant or because I had trust in my doctor. Now I don’t know what’s next.
Joanne: I’m so sorry for your loss. [Voice breaks.] Firstly, I have a lot of mums who come to me and this is why I’m so grateful to Time Out Kids for the award. More people have come to me in the last three weeks who have read about me in Time Out Kids. I have mums who come to me at 23 to 24 weeks and their doctors find an issue with the baby or mother. A lot of mums will fly back to their home country. No-one realises how incredible the government hospitals are here. The neonatal unit at Latifa Hospital is incredible. Go and register at a government hospital straight away when you’re pregnant or as a mum who arrives.
I only wish I had met you before today. I would have done everything in my power to get you to the right neonatal unit. Will it happen again? I asked the same thing when I had a George. My doctor said lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice. Life is a lottery. We think it’s going to happen again. Why we’re here today is to support each other.
Yes, there won’t be a porter at the door to carry your bag and there might be more noise in the evenings, but the government hospitals have some of the best doctors in the country.
Chantal Ariens, The Blossom Nursery
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