Like most Mums-to-be I followed a simple process when deciding where to give birth – which is my nearest hospital and does it have a birthing suite (with birthing pool and the works please). Bosh – done. That was until I happened to overhear my Yoga instructor talking about the Barkantine Centre in the Isle of Dogs, East London.
Apart from the immediate attraction that its name included a pun (the Barkantine in the Isle of Dogs – geddit? Arf), it sounded like a wonderful place to give birth. Now having given birth there, I can confirm that it is, and I am inspired to shout from the rooftops of the interweb about how great it is.
Before I launch into the positives, let’s start with the cons. The Barkantine is a standalone midwife-led birthing centre. Therefore it is not part of a hospital. This means that they will only accept mothers who are low risk (this is assessed at 36 weeks). If there are any significant complications during the birth, you will need to be transferred to the nearest hospital – the Royal London. They have a special arrangement to ensure that the transfer is as speedy as possible, but obviously it won’t be quite as quick and convenient as getting wheeled down the corridor from a hospital birthing suite to its labour ward. As of 2009 data, the chances of transfer are 28% for a firstborn child, and 5% for women who are already mothers.
So those are the cons – what are the pros? The Barkantine has a birthing pool, en-suite, double bed, birth aids and access to a large balcony in each room. So far, so similar to the birthing suite in many hospitals.
So what makes the Barkantine special?
Firstly, there is no postnatal ward. From the birth stories I have heard, no-one seems to have anything too positive to say about postnatal wards. The impression I have is that they are noisy, depressing and rather lonely as your partner gets swiftly dispatched home just when you need them most.
Once you arrive at the Barkantine and are given a room, that room is yours until you leave. This means you can recuperate and get to know your new baby in a calm peaceful environment. More importantly it means that your partner can stay with you.
The hours after the birth of my baby were truly magical. My Husband was able to support and help me as I recovered from a lengthy labour, and his assistance was key to finding the right position for Baby’s first breastfeed. We even had a romantic meal of takeaway Fish and Chips together. Being able to take the time to recover and bond in the privacy of our own room was priceless – quite literally as the Barkantine forms part of the NHS. So even though it feels like a privately run service for people of wealth, it’s free! It was like we went away to a nice hotel and came back with a baby.
We could also enjoy calling friends and relatives with our news and updating pictures of our little one to Facebook. As it is not a Hospital then it’s fine to use phones and electronic equipment – a nice bonus!
Aside from the novelty of a rather dashing male Midwife, the other thing that makes the Barkantine stand apart is the standard of care. The Midwives and staff are not only consummate professionals, but they are warm, friendly and welcoming. Of course the staff at my local Hospital are also caring and professional, but you often got the feeling they were reading from the NHS textbook, and were more focussed on explaining what should happen, as opposed to listening to what we wanted.
In contrast, the approach at the Barkantine is much more personal – the Midwives are there to support you to have the birth experience that you want. It felt like asking an incredibly knowledgeable friend for advice. It was comforting to know that while options of intervention were always available if needed, we would not be pressured into taking steps purely to speed up the process. By the end of our stay there, we knew the names of everyone we dealt with and hugged them goodbye.
It was telling that, in discussion with a Midwife at our local hospital, she admitted “I don’t like the way we do things here – it’s efficient and it works well, but it’s like a production line. It has to be, because of the number of babies we deliver. In an ideal world, all maternity services should be like the Barkantine”