THE whole health system has always baffled me. Public versus private, health insurance, treatment purchase schemes, the endless HSE controversies. I don't really understand how it works and who's entitled to what.
But just before Christmas I had an up-closeand- personal view of just how undignified and under-resourced our health system is with the birth of my first baby.
I opted to have my baby at the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street after canvassing endless opinions from mothers. Some of them assured me that if anything went wrong it was the best place to be, that if anything serious goes wrong with other labours and births in other hospitals, the babies are always whisked in there.
I have been paying a hefty health insurance premium all my working life (my last annual premium was more than ¤700) and naively thought that this would cover the extra private care that I wanted. It doesn't.
If you want to attend a private consultant, you must pay for that separately. It was €4,000 in my case, but I believed it would be money well spent. If you're lucky and privileged enough to be able to afford it, why wouldn't you spend your money on something as important as your health and the health of the most precious thing in your life?
The €4,000 meant that I attended the same consultant that I chose, for antenatal visits during my pregnancy. Hopefully she would be there for the birth and hopefully I would get a private room after the birth.
To be fair, my consultant explained to me that there were no guarantees about her either being there or about getting my own room. You don't get your money back, by the way, if you don't get your own room. It's a roll of the dice.
When I went into labour and was admitted to the hospital, I sat outside an office, a nightdress and robe in hand, waiting to be brought to a room to be examined before I was brought into a delivery room.
A lovely young midwife came out and apologetically said to me that they were very busy that day and that there was no room available. I actually thought that I was going to be brought to another hospital.
Wrong. I was put on a trolley in a corridor, outside a delivery ward.
We could hear the cries of a newborn baby as I was hooked up to a machine to monitor my contractions and the baby's heartbeat.
A curtain rail pulled round, my husband holding my clothes, a new mum and her new baby were wheeled out of the delivery room past me, dad walking alongside. As soon as they were out, the cleaners went in.
Meanwhile, my waters were broken on the trolley. Any woman who's had this done will tell you how uncomfortable and painful it is.
Hopefully most hadn't the indignity of having it done on a trolley in a corridor. Because my baby had a bowel movement inside me, they also had to insert a tiny monitor on his head. All of this happened on the trolley, the midwives apologising, my husband doing his best to reassure me.
Hours later, in the delivery room, my consultant wasn't available as I was about to give birth. Another appeared briefly before rushing out of the room after her beeper went off. In the end, a registrar delivered my baby boy by ventouse, after my temperature went up, with a team of mighty midwives encouraging and helping me all the way.
Nikki and Helena, the midwives from heaven, who had spent the day with me, were as good as their word and stayed with me until my baby boy came into the world, even though their shift had ended. After my little boy was whisked off to ICU, I was told that there was no private room available.
I spent the next two nights in a room with five other women and their five crying newborns. I didn't sleep the entire time I was there. I can't believe that any woman in the room did. By day three, I just couldn't cope with the lack of sleep and decided to leave early.
I packed my bag and was waiting for a prescription when a nurse popped by to tell me that a room had become available. And so I stayed for a third night, finally in my own room.
I still don't know how they decide who gets a private room, if there are more who paid for it than there are rooms available.
Is it first come, first served? Are you more likely to get one if you had surgery or twins? What are the chances on any given day? Why bother paying if the odds are bad?
Women often talk about the pain of childbirth and how they could never go through it again. In my case, the birth itself was verging on pleasant. I literally couldn't feel a thing, thanks to an epidural administered by a fantastic anaesthetist.
Neither the pregnancy nor the labour itself would put me off or make me anxious about having another baby. What would put me off, was the lack of dignity and privacy of being examined and having my waters broken on a trolley in a corridor.
Private or public care aside, it is an indictment of the shambles of a health system that any woman is forced into a situation like that at a time when they are so vulnerable.
That day, every time I got upset or panicked, I focused on my little baby, and that's what got me through. Oh and those mighty, mighty midwives...