• Jane Copson, a full-time mum from Hampshire in England, has two children: Edward, four, and Will, two, both of whom were born here. The family live in the Meadows and have been in Dubai for four-and-a-half years.
• Originally from Aberdeenshire in Scotland, Helen Gillespie has two grown-up children: Ross, 27, and Abigail, 24. Helen is a nurse at Infinity Clinic who looks after families with new babies. She has lived in Dubai for five years and currently resides in the Meadows.
• Occupational therapist Femida Hirji has been in Dubai for 18 months and lives in Festival City. Originally from London in the UK, she has a one-year-old son named Omar, and is expecting her second child in June.
• Hailing from Kent in England, full-time mum Samm Thompson lives in Mirdif and has been in Dubai for 15 months. She is mother to Dubai-born Dylan, 13 months, and Sophie, two, born in the UK.
What got us talking…
Even for a seasoned pro, giving birth for the first time in a foreign country can be scary. Rightly or wrongly, we are riddled with preconceptions which, more often than not, turn out to be completely unfounded. So what is it really like giving birth in this dusty city we live in, and how does it compare to other countries? Is there enough ante- and postnatal care available here? Why do pregnant women see ob/gyns (obstetrician/gynaecologists) instead of midwives, and is it better this way? We tracked down three mums who’d been there and done it and a practice nurse specialising in aftercare. Bribing them with coffee and pastries, we took them to Vintage in Wafi and grilled them on their experiences.
Were you pleased when you found out that you were going to be having a baby in Dubai?
Femida: I was pregnant when we decided to move, so I had a choice of whether to have Omar here. I thought it would be a lot harder to move abroad with a three-month-old baby. I was lucky because I had family living here already, and the minute I got here and looked around the hospital I was fine.
Samm: I was seven months pregnant with Dylan when I moved out here. We were on a short time frame so although I was anxious, I didn’t really get much chance to think about it.
Jane: That was exactly the same with me, I was seven months pregnant with Edward. What with all the packing and finishing my job, I almost forgot I was pregnant!
Is there a good provision of antenatal care here?
Jane: Even in the two-year space between having Edward and Will, things got better. I did struggle to find an antenatal class, and when I found one it was way too big. Having said that, the classes themselves were fantastic and I’m still in touch with people I met there.
Helen: Your obstetrician will often have access to antenatal classes. Regardless of whether it’s your first birth or not, they’re a must, not only because you meet other women but because it prepares you for what will happen after the birth.
Jane: I was surprised that I always saw an ob/gyn rather than a midwife.
Helen: Here you’ve got more of an American system of litigation meaning more malpractice lawsuits, so doctors are on the scene to make sure nothing goes wrong. Plus, while in the UK you’ve got nurse-led clinics with specialist nurses, here not all the nurses who work in ob/gyn are ob/gyn-trained.
Samm: Although I found it very strange not to be seeing a midwife, when I went to the ob/gyn, she actually noticed a medical issue that wasn’t picked up in the UK when I was pregnant with Sophie. I had to have a C-section, but because she’d spotted the problem, it won’t get any worse.
Did the fact that you saw a doctor rather than a midwife during your pregnancy affect your relationship with them?
Samm: The initial process, urine checking and so on, was like being on a conveyor belt with lots of other women. But once I was with my doctor, I felt she had time for me. In the UK, though, I felt like more able to speak to the midwife because I was in that mindset that it’s easier to discuss personal women’s issues with them than a doctor. I know gynaecologists are trained in that area too, but I didn’t come from that culture and I found it hard to open up to the doctor at first.
Jane: I felt because she was a doctor, I didn’t want to take up too much of her time. Medically speaking I was a very low-risk, no-complications patient, but personally, I had a lot of issues – how would I be when the baby came? How do I breastfeed? I wished I had someone I could talk to.
Femida: I’ve built up quite a close relationship with my doctor because I’ve seen her over such an intense period of time – she actually told me, ‘I don’t want to see you here again soon!’
Samm: I had the same ob/gyn doing my C-section that I saw all the way through, and that gave me confidence.
Did you go into childbirth feeling fully informed and confident about what lay ahead?
Samm: Unlike in the UK, where I was given too much information, I really had to push for information here.
Jane: Because it was my first time, any information was welcome! My doctor always answered my questions, so I was as prepared as you can ever be when doing something for the first time.
Femida: I was pretty anxious because I’m the sort of person that wants a lot of detail, and my doctor wasn’t used to giving that amount of detail.
Helen: But you shouldn’t be given too much detail because it’s very scary.
Femida: Maybe it was that. She kept saying to me, ‘You need to trust me, I know what I’m doing, I’ve been doing it for 30-odd years.’ So I didn’t have much information but what I did have was trust in her. When you’re in a different country and you’re not used to the way things work, a part of you has to let go and just say, ‘I’m going to give it over to these people, they know what they’re doing.’
Samm: It’s funny how you think that it’s going to be… not worse, but different from back home. In reality, it was probably a lot better. Here, I had my own, immaculate room which got cleaned twice a day, while in Maidstone [UK] I didn’t dare step in the bath because there was other people’s blood on it.
Jane: My sister had a baby a year ago. She kept begging for me to tell her what the labour would be like but I refused because her birth might be very different from mine. And it was – she literally sailed through, no pain relief, nothing. Had I told her about mine, which was very different, what would that have done for her? Nothing.
Helen: People are very keen to pass on terrible labour stories, which do nothing to reassure pregnant women.
What was the hospital care like after you’d given birth?
Samm: I had issues with breastfeeding that I wanted to talk to somebody about, and the nurse who was there during the day was fantastic, she sat with me for ages, but it was pure chance that I had that. Nobody from the midwife team came round to see me.
Femida: I fluked it because there happened to be a lactation nurse working nights when I was there – she happily spent time teaching me how to breastfeed. But that week just happened to be the week when she was working nights, when nurses have more time on their hands; had things been different I might have given up a lot earlier.
Jane: After my second birth I was very much left to my own devices. I had to keep buzzing for help, I felt like such a diva. I didn’t really feel that I was cared for as well.
Samm: I felt like I’d been in hospital for an operation, not to have a baby, and the follow-up was about recovery from the surgery. I also found the culture out here of keeping your baby in a hospital nursery very bizarre. They would just come and say, ‘We need Dylan.’ They could be hours and I’d sit up thinking: Where is he? I would buzz them and say, ‘Can I have Dylan back?’ And they’d say, ‘Oh, you want him in the room with you?’
Femida: Again, because you were able to compare it to the UK, that seemed odd to you, whereas I had no clue – so when they said to me, ‘We need the baby,’ I was like, ‘OK, take him.’ To be honest, I was glad of the respite!
Did you have any at-home aftercare?
Jane: I had to search high and low for someone who could come to the house; I couldn’t cope with going out too often.
Femida: There are baby clinics, but I had to trek all the way to Jumeirah because there weren’t any in my area – travelling with a baby was so stressful.
Samm: I’d heard there was no postnatal care, so I was very pleased I’d already had a baby so I had a rough idea what I was doing. But there were little things like: OK, I’ve had a child before but she’s a girl, and this time I’ve had a boy, and he’s got different bits – how do I bathe him?
Helen: There’s a massive demand for health visitors here because people are discharged so quickly. There’s no information on how to sleep the baby, how often to feed him, what to do with the umbilical cord… nothing. But, as well as that, parents need reassurance that it’s all going to be alright.
Femida: That’s what you need as a first-time mum especially, just to be told it’s going to be OK and it’s normal for your baby to be screaming at 3am.
Samm: My health visitor said to me, ‘If I come round and you’re dressed, I’ll know there’s something wrong. If the house is a mess, you’re still in your pyjamas and the baby’s screaming, I’ll know you’re OK.’ People expect you to have baby blues for the first six weeks, but you’re probably still on adrenaline then, and it’s after that when you need help.
Helen: Although people see health visitors as carers of babies, they’re actually carers of families. Especially if the birth has been a negative experience, mums need time to get over the grief; they need to talk about it.
Jane: Labour isn’t easy by any means, but it’s a piece of cake compared to the baby!
Helen: Yes, we forget that the labour only takes a set amount of time. The day you take the baby home, that’s when it really begins. You go home with a little baby who you are solely responsible for, and it’s a huge shock to the system. Some studies show that up to 33 per cent of women suffer postnatal depression. Women can be diagnosed a whole nine months after giving birth.
Femida: Also postnatal depression is less common in cultures where there’s extended family around to help out. In expat communities like this, it’s higher.
What’s the best thing about giving birth in Dubai?
Samm: Having your own room.
Femida: Yes, and the fact that your husband can stay overnight.
Jane: I loved the food – I gave birth at 1am and I ordered room service.
Helen: The best you’d get in the UK would be tea and lukewarm toast.
Jane: People in Dubai are quick to criticise, but actually it’s only another country just like anywhere else, and the service provision is generally fantastic. I wouldn’t hesitate to have another child here.
Femida: Yes. People have been saying, ‘It’s going to be so hot, why won’t you go back to the UK?’ But I feel settled here; this is home.
Samm: I’d definitely have another one here, no hesitation at all. The UK’s too cold! If you’d had your first child here and then you went back to the UK, you’d get a horrible shock.
Femida: I also think it’s quite exciting for Omar to have been born in an exotic place.
Jane: It’ll be a chat-up line one day!
Helen Gillespie practises at Infinity Clinic, Al Wasl Road (04 394 8994). If you’d like to participate in the next great debate, email email@example.com.