A girlfriend of mine recently gave birth in a private hospital. She had been fit and healthy throughout her pregnancy, with no complications. Her weight gain was average, her bump lovely, and she was expecting a little girl. A week before she was due, her obstetrician asked if she would "like to have the baby before the weekend," and if so — he'd induce her that Friday.
Interestingly that weekend was a long weekend.
My friend said yes — she was eager to meet her baby — and the induction went ahead that Friday, a full week before her daughter was due.
Her labour was hard, short and painful and she opted for an epidural although she had planned for a natural birth. Her daughter was mostly fine, but had some breathing difficulties that may have been prevented from spending longer in the womb.
There was no need for my friend to be induced. She wasn't even at her due date, let alone past it. She had this experience because her doctor wanted the long weekend off. And it's likely she had this experience because she birthed in a private hospital.
Stats back this up. More on those later.
Let me be clear: this isn't a judgement call on women who need these procedures to deliver their babies safely. But it is a judgement call on the medical fraternity who subject their patients to the unnecessary risks that come with intervention.
If an intervention is necessary to help keep mother and/or baby healthy: fine. But if the intervention is being used so an obstetrician can spent a long weekend on the golf course, well I'm not okay with that.
A study of 650,000 low-risk births taken over eight years in Australia found women who birthed in private hospitals were more likely to have caesareans, more likely to have epidurals, more likely to be induced.
I am all for a woman's right to choose: but these are serious interventions, which can have serious medical implications.
It doesn't make sense that private hospitals should be outperforming their public cousins in all these areas when they are servicing the same types of women.
And it doesn't make sense that these women choosing to birth in private hospitals, choosing to fork out thousands of dollars to deliver their kids into the world are essentially paying a premium for intervention.
Private hospitals have their place. And if you can afford them, and they make you feel better about your birthing choices — go for it. But go for it with your eyes wide open, with your choices known, with your facts understood.
The original meaning of private is to deprive. And that's what our private hospitals are doing. Depriving new mums of the best possible birthing experience, and cashing in on the process.