Becoming an expat is one of the most exciting, challenging and life-changing events imaginable. This description could also apply to having a baby…. so, combining the two within the space of a few months must certainly be interesting.
This was the case for the Buxton family who moved from Cheshire in England to San Rafael in Argentina in September 2010. Billy, Jenny and their four year old daughter Elarosa welcomed Ruben into the world on the January 31st. Ruben is a beautiful, healthy baby boy, totally content to doze the hot days away in his mum or dad’s arms. I asked Jenny about her experiences of giving birth here in Argentina compared to how things were in the UK when she had Elarosa.
KK: Jenny, how would you compare the care you received from the medical profession here in Argentina with that in England?
JB: Overall it was excellent, though obviously there are some differences in the way things are done. In England I had a birth plan and I met a team of midwives beforehand. Here they don’t have midwives as such, you choose a gynaecologist and they work with you for your ante-natal care and the birth itself.
KK: Was it easy to get the information you needed as a new arrival? How did you find your gynaecologist?
JB: I did contact people living here before we came and got a bit of information that way, then when we got here I asked lots of questions. I found the gynaecologist through a friend’s recommendation – she had had three babies in San Rafael so I thought her advice was worth listening to!
KK: And you were happy with him?
JB: Yes, definitely, he was very nice and very professional.
KK: How is your Spanish – are you fluent?
JB: No, not by a long way – but I can get by.
KK: And was the language a problem for you at any stage?
JB: No, I wouldn’t say so. Though I might have had difficulty if I’d needed to ask any complicated questions but as it was all quite straight forward there was no problem. My gynaecologist did speak a little English so that helped.
KK: You seemed very relaxed about it all, was that because it was your second baby or because you were confident that the care you would receive here would be as good as or better than in the UK?
JB: A bit of both I think. I was definitely more relaxed than when I had Elarosa – I think with second babies you always are- but also I felt the care was good, I didn’t have any worries about it.
KK: What was your ante-natal experience like?
JB: It was a bit different from things at home because you have to make all your own appointments. They give you a lot of tests which all have to be done at individual clinics, then you have to collect the results and take them to your gynaecologist.
KK: It sounds time consuming.
JB: Yes it was and towards the end when I was feeling tired it was a bit exhausting – compared to ante-natal care in England where you go to one place and you get any tests they need done there and then. Also they have a lot of holidays here so I wasted a few trips when I went to get tests done or pick up results and the clinics were closed.
KK: They didn’t tell you?
JB: No, I suppose they just think everyone knows the dates of the public holidays.
KK: That must have been hard when you were just getting used to how things work in this country
JB: Well obviously there are pros and cons of both systems, now I know more about the medical system it is fairly straightforward, it’s just when it’s new that it can seem confusing.
KK: Yes. So how was the actual birth?
JB: It was quick! There was no messing around! After a day in labour I phoned my gynaecologist and he said he’d meet me in at the clinic in twenty minutes. He pointed me directly to the delivery room where there was an old fashioned table with leg stirrups. They were quite proactive, much more so than in the UK, one doctor was pulling down on my belly and as soon as they could see Ruben’s head they reached in and grabbed him. It was quite funny really; the gynaecologist kept urging me on saying “Come on Jenny!” and “Now”! Like it was a rugby game or something. It was almost as if he wanted it done as soon as possible so he could go home!
KK: It sounds a little brutal – how did you feel about that?
JB: Well actually in a way it was better than my experience with Elarosa. In England you are constantly being given choices about how you want the birth to be, do you want this or that. You don’t really know what to expect if it is your first child and it can actually be quite stressful to be asked all the time what you want, especially when you are tired, because you don’t really know what the answer should be. This way it was quite forceful and I felt I was being told what to do but the advantage was it was over really quickly, and I did feel they knew what they were doing so it was fine.
KK: It is interesting that you mention choices…what did you think about the choices available to you here for the location of the birth, which staff would be present for the birth and so on?
JB: Well, we looked at different options – we could have had Ruben in the public hospital which is apparently quite good but we just felt that we should pay because we have only just come here and we didn’t want to take advantage of the public system when we can afford to go private. So we chose the location on that basis. We weren’t offered any of the options we had in the UK such as a home birth or water birth, but that was ok. I think the whole process of having babies here is a bit “old fashioned” and there certainly aren’t all the different choices available that there are in England, but as I said before having too much choice can sometimes be a bit overwhelming. And you can feel pressured into having as natural a birth as possible which isn’t always best for everyone.
They don’t have midwives here at all, you just have this gynaecologist but for us that worked better as we saw the same person for all my ante-natal care and he was on call for the birth, in fact I could call him anytime which was very reassuring. In the UK you have a team of midwives and every time I had an appointment before I had Elarosa I saw a different person. Sometimes shifts change when you are in the middle of giving birth and the staff can change at that crucial moment which is not that great as it’s nice to have people there that you know a bit.
KK: Yes I understand that – how interesting then that all this talk of choices in the UK might not actually be in the mother’s best interests! So, to summarise, did you feel there were any limitations or influences put upon you in the decisions you made about Ruben’s birth??
JB: Not really, only in the sense that everything is a little more basic here and there just aren’t so many options.
KK: But that worked well for you in your case?
JB: Yes, I did actually find it less stressful to be directed through the process rather than having to be responsible for everything.
KK: Was Billy present at the birth? What was the attitude at the hospital to fathers being there?
JB: Yes, he was right there with us and that was no problem at all.
KK: And what about pain relief?
JB: We did get a bit of a shock when we saw the delivery room and there was no gas, only oxygen to help me breathe.
KK: Were you offered anything else?
JB: No! I found out afterwards that if I had needed it I could have asked and they would have given me an epidural but they certainly didn’t offer me anything. I was alright because the whole thing happened so fast.
KK: Yes, I have heard that pain relief isn’t a big priority in Argentine health care and that patients often take along their own medication. How long did you stay in hospital?
JB: Just the one night. We got out at midday after they had checked Ruben over and everything was okay.
KK: Did you feel pressured to leave? Would you have liked to stay in longer?
JB: No, we were keen to get back home; I just wanted to get back to normal as soon as possible.
KK: What do you think about the post –natal care here?
JB: It is all down to you as an individual. They did say I should take Ruben in every week but there’s no pressure to do that. I took him to the first check up at the local health centre and the nurse told me to take him to the hospital because I had told her he was a bit constipated. I thought that was unnecessary because I know my own baby, it was only a temporary thing. Obviously if I had been worried I would have take him to hospital but I didn’t feel there was a need, and I haven’t taken him for any more checkups because he is doing fine.
KK: In the UK they are constantly weighing and measuring babies – is it the same here?
JB: Yes they did say to weigh him every week but I don’t see the need. A lot of my friends at home said the same with their second children- it’s only with your first baby that you have to go through all that.
KK: And has anyone checked up on you since?
JB: No, and that is very different from the UK because there you are contacted if you don’t turn up for post- natal appointments. Also there the midwife or health visitor comes to your house. If I did attend these appointments here it would mean driving into town with Ruben in the heat and trying to park and all that – it is quite difficult with a new-born, you just want to be as tranquil and settled as possible for the first few weeks.
KK: So no one has checked on you from the point of view of post-natal depression or anything like that?
JB: No, not at all. The responsibility is all on me. Post natal depression was never mentioned once.
KK: I remember they make a very big deal out of that in the UK…..You certainly don’t seem remotely depressed! And what about feeding Ruben? Did the medics have much to say on that subject?
JB: Well I wanted to breast-feed but I couldn’t. It was the same with Elarosa and this time I just decided I wasn’t going to put either of us through the agony of trying for weeks. Elarosa actually got dehydrated so there was no way I was going to risk that here in this heat. The medics were okay. The nurse I saw the other week did seem a bit surprised and kept saying how expensive the formula is but when I explained that I really couldn’t she was ok. I find it funny that everywhere I go women ask if I am breast- feeding. I was a bit sensitive about it at first but now I am fine about it.
KK: Of course. Yes, people here can be very up-front in their questions – it takes a bit of getting used to, with our British reserve and all that! How did you think the whole process was in terms of value – obviously you can never put a price on having a healthy baby -but in comparison with totally free treatment in England, what are your thoughts?
JB: We think it was actually good value. When we first came over we looked into getting medical insurance which is what many people do here but because I was already several months pregnant it wouldn’t have covered me for the birth so we just went private. We paid seventy pesos (around eighteen dollars) for each appointment with the gynaecologist, then his fees for the birth were 1000 pesos (approx two hundred and twenty five dollars). The accommodation at the hospital was the same again, so we thought it was very reasonable although we realise that to people here it might seem expensive.
KK: That’s great that you felt that way. Now I have to ask you…..Ruben’s birth means that you and all the family automatically qualify for residency here. Obtaining residency is something a lot of ex-pats have problems with; having Ruben has made it much easier for you – what are your thoughts on that?
JB: Yes it’s handy isn’t it! But it definitely wasn’t planned that way! It was just a happy coincidence. We don’t know yet what our long term plans are but wherever we end up we reckon it will be nice thing for Ruben to be able to say that he was born in Argentina!
KK: Absolutely! So you don’t have any regrets about the experience of having a baby here?
JB: No definitely not, all the medical staff we dealt with were professional, helpful and friendly, the whole thing went smoothly and I would have no hesitation in saying to someone else in the same position that they shouldn’t worry.
KK: It is good to hear such a positive story. Ruben is a lovely name – is it Argentine?
JB: Yes it is. We were planning on calling him Euan but there is a lot of bureaucracy here about naming babies – you have to choose a name from an official list. I think you can apply to get different names added but we liked Ruben too so we just went with that.
KK: Many thanks Jenny, and good luck to all of you.
As I watch Elarosa proudly cuddling her new little brother it occurs to me that giving birth here is actually a very good way of integrating into society as Argentina is a fantastically child-friendly country and everyone loves a new baby – especially when they are as gorgeous as Ruben!
About the Author: Kate Kirby is a mother, partner, ardent foodie and artist. Originally from Scotland, she has lived with her family near San Rafael in Argentina for three years. In her former life she worked as a cook, a teacher, a cleaner…anything to keep the wolf from the studio door. For more information on her painting and the art holidays she runs in San Rafael please see her website: www.kate-kirby.com
Links to useful resources on Argentina
Vacation Rentals in Argentina
Medical Tourism In Argentina