Being an expat and pregnant in covid-19 lockdown
Updated: Nov 5, 2020
Finding out I was pregnant was an emotional time, as expected. Well, as emotional as it gets for us Brits! It was more a "F**k is this happening?" followed by a burst of happiness and a "Good swimmers Sam!" It came with uncertainties not only due to having PCOS but because we found out amidst the covid-19 lockdown. But a bigger uncertainty I had was being an expat in New Zealand, on a work visa and not knowing the system here.
Although I have never been through pregnancy before in the UK, I feel like I know the NHS maternity care so well because I went through (one of) my sisters first two pregnancies very closely with her.
Here in New Zealand we don't have the NHS and you have to pay for some healthcare such as doctors appointments and medical procedures that are not accidental. Therefore I wondered if maternity care would be free in general, or for me who is an expat!
My experience during level 4 lockdown
When I found out I was pregnant it was a few days before New Zealand (and most of the world) went into lockdown. Luckily, I made an appointment to see my local GP and wanted to ask lots of questions. She was quite helpful, but I couldn't get a lot of information because with lockdown I could only stay for a short while. She told me what supplement to take, gave me a flu jab, plus referral forms for bloods and a scan. She also gave me a pregnancy book to read and sent me on my way. I read up on maternity care and found out it was free in New Zealand, which was great.
Because of my PCOS I needed 2 ultrasounds a week apart when I first found out, to detect the fetus size and to estimate my due date (as my ovulation could have been any time in February). Both of these scans cost $60 each as regulation changed in recent years and they now charge for scans. The scans took place at a radiology centre which I booked in myself with the GP referral form. I also attended both of these alone due to lockdown, whereas you can usually take one support person.
Finding a midwife in New Zealand is like finding a Tinder match
When my due date was confirmed I was encouraged to find a midwife. This is also something you don't find on your own in the UK, you usually contact a local midwife appointed to you from the GP. The process here was like tinder for midwives. I was directed to a website named find your midwife and had to select which ones in my area suited my birthing needs!
It took me almost a week to speak with various midwives I had contacted. I just never heard back or when one did she stopped communicating. I assume it was a very busy time with anxious mothers to be, so I stayed patient and hopeful. I tried again the following week (I was 6 weeks pregnant at this point) and eventually found my midwife, Roz who booked my first antenatal appointment for when I was 8.5 weeks. I chatted to her a little about symptons I had been having (such as headaches and light bleeding), but it was a very short call. First appointments usually won't happen until around 8 weeks of pregnancy because you are at a higher risk of miscarriage beforehand.
Having a foreign maternity care system was quite hard if i'm honest. The first 2 months of pregnancy was pretty lonely because all I had was the internet for answers. I so badly wanted to confide in my family for support who have all been through multiple pregnancies, but Sam and I didnt want to jinx it.
Having no midwife to turn to until I was 8.5 weeks made me feel a little uncertain in the system. I knew I could call my GP if I ever needed to, however I never felt confident with her. If I was back at home in the UK I feel I would be a little more comfortable keeping it to myself at first, because I knew the NHS and my local doctors would support me, I knew where I stood in terms of cost and I understood the system.
Spilling the beans at 8 weeks for some sympathy
At 8 weeks pregnant I ended up telling our family over video call. I had suffered with a 3 week long headache, as well as the constant nausea which I knew was more common than the headache. I was so happy to tell them and also confide in them. All of the women in our family said they never suffered from headaches, but they sympathised with me and all agreed that the headaches could be caused by the supplement I was taking (Elevit). I stopped this for a few days and my headaches slowly vanished. I spoke with my local naturopath (who luckily worked at an essential grocery store) and she showed me a folate tablet to take which worked wonders!
A few days later I had my first telephone appointment with my midwife and all was fine. She asked some standard questions and we went through my medical and family history. She also prescribed me some iodine to take each day for baby's brain development, as well referrals for my 12 week combined test.
Bloods are taken from a lab company and scans at the radiologists. With the bloods it is a drop in service, so you just turn up when you're ready. The scans are booked in and I've not yet had any booking issues.
Level 3 and onwards of lockdown
Most days up to 11 weeks pregnant I would feel sick most of the day, vomit a few times a week and sometimes found it hard to roll out of bed. I remember thinking I just wanted night time to come so I could sleep it all off again. In the day I could never be without my water bottle and mostly ate bread & butter to Sam's horror.
When I was about 10 weeks pregnant New Zealand changed its lockdown level to 3. I could return to work as a Nanny and help with distance learning. This gave me purpose each day and I felt a lot better.
Fast forward to today. I am 14 weeks and lockdown is pretty much over. Everyone has returned to work and school. Sam and I could both go to my 12 week scan, where we saw baby moving around like an acrobat! My combined results came back fine with very low risk of downs syndrome etc. I also met with my midwife this week and I couldn't be happier. Roz is very personable and made me feel extremley comfortable and confident in her care.
Since normality has returned I truly appreciate the system here. Things just get done quickly! I also am so happy I will have the same midwife with me the whole way through. I meet with her every month, she will be with me at the birth and until baby is 4 weeks old. In the UK using the NHS, the experience my family has had is visiting the GP's registered midwives, which may be different each time. When you give birth you have the midwife on duty at hospital and whoever is assigned to you when baby is born. Some women choose to go privately, but this is the most common situation. Please let me know if any of Brits have had a different experience to this.
On the whole it has been an absolute rollercoaster, but we are out the other side with a healthy looking baby and a safe environment here in New Zealand! The care provided is everything I could need and fingers crossed the rest of our journey goes well.
If you have any questions about my maternity experience so far as an expat in New Zealand please do ask away. You can comment below or click the email button on the home page :)