Spoilers: It’s colder. And much, much cheaper.
I waddled into the hospital clutching my belly and my husband’s arm in the early hours of the morning. After a long walk through a quiet hospital, my husband left me in the maternity ward and ran back to move our hastily parked vehicle.
He had to pay for parking, but that was the only money that would come directly out of our pockets.
I’m Canadian. I was giving birth in a Canadian hospital and, yes, I know I’m lucky.
According to a report by Save the Children ranking the best and worst countries to be a mom, #20 Canada is doing better by moms than #33 United States. I certainly came to appreciate that high ranking during my experience, but it doesn’t mean maternity care in Canada is without downsides.
I started planning my birth the day I learned I was pregnant. I knew I wanted a midwife who could assist me in a water birth at our local hospital, which wasn’t a big issue: In my province, both midwives and OBs are covered by health insurance.
However, there is a long wait list for handful of midwifery services in my area. I put my name down with the local midwives the day of my first positive at-home pregnancy test—and they still didn’t accept me as a patient due to their mandated 40-patients per year limit. It’s fair to say I was crushed.
With my midwife dream dashed, I ended up as a patient at an overworked OB’s office where two- to three-hour wait times were common due to the relative shortage of obstetricians in my city. I quickly caught on and started bringing my laptop and plenty of snacks.
Labor and delivery
When it came time to give birth, my experience totally made up for the slow prenatal care.
After being rejected by the midwives, I’d basically given up on a low-intervention birth—so an epidural was the first thing I asked for at the hospital. Although the nurses were respectful of my request, they encouraged me to try a few alternative pain mitigators until the anesthesiologist was available. I was given nitrous oxide (which did nothing) before being helped down the hall to a little bathroom and a warm bath tub just slightly larger than the one in my own bathroom.
It wasn’t long until I was ready to push. Back in the delivery room, I met the OB who was to deliver my baby for the first time. (The one I saw during my pregnancy wasn’t available, but did follow up the next day.)
The doctor arrived not long before my son—then the room cleared but for one nurse who brought me cheese and a ginger ale and tried to help my baby get a good latch. In fact, the supportive nurses were everything I’d imagined a midwife would be.
Eventually, our new little family moved to a maternity room where we were separated from another mom and baby by a curtain. We spent a day and a half in there, but the ward was very busy and I was thankful when I was given the all-clear to go home and finally sleep in silence—at least until the baby got hungry.
The hospital wasn’t exactly a peaceful oasis, but it was free: Thanks to , my husband and I didn’t have to pay for all the services we would use during my post-delivery stay. (Including the upholstered hospital chair I ruined when I threw up on it.)
My American friends told me how lucky I was to have : Through federal employment insurance, I was technically eligible to spend almost a year at home with my baby while still bringing home about half of my previous income.
There was just a catch related to my line of work. Because I resumed freelance writing a few weeks after my son’s birth (and therefore making money in the eyes of the government), I was largely ineligible for parental leave benefits. Meanwhile, most parents who claim no other income during the 35 weeks of parental benefits get about 55% of their salary—up to a maximum of approximately $400 per week.
I did however benefit from —a tax-free monthly payment to help with the cost of raising children—which started showing up in my mailbox when my son was a few weeks old and will until his eighteenth birthday if we remain eligible as determined by our tax returns.
This is meant to help families with child care decisions, but hardly makes a dent in the monthly $1,500 average it costs to have a toddler in daycare around here. (Although there is promising news for families in some regions of Alberta, where the government recently launched a $25 per day program.)
I also benefitted from follow-up care—to an extent: As is the standard practice, a public health nurse came by a few days after our return home to check on the baby, offer tips on breastfeeding and make sure my husband and I were aware of mental health resources should signs of postpartum depression emerge.
At the time, all seemed to be well. (She even joked she was impressed by my full face of makeup.) However, when I did struggle with postpartum depression later, I had to access my husband’s supplemental health insurance plan because therapy with a non-physician therapist isn’t covered by my provincial plan.
Was my experience giving birth in Canada without its flaws? No. Yet, I am thankful for the benefits I did receive—especially the privilege of never seeing a hospital bill.