Once you become pregnant, there's no shortage of advice, opinions, questions and stories from family, friends, colleagues and, my personal favorite, complete strangers. I heard my fair general share and, in light of my move back to New York City, I also received many an email and Facebook message offering specific New York baby tips. Among the OB, pediatrician and night nurse recs, in between the strollers suitable for city streets suggestions and infant class preferences, was a note from my cousin's wife who'd recently delivered in Manhattan. She divulged that in order to maintain a private hospital room, my husband and I have to be on "the list."
Only in New York City! Forget entrance to trendy night clubs, nevermind admittance to elusive city schools, apparently now hospitals are requiring VIP access to provide standard treatment. What's worse, to get on said list, you have to sign up as soon as you arrive at the hospital. As if there won't be other things on our mind in that manic moment! Apparently, even if we do recall to add our name, as I'm likely experiencing contractions, worrying about my child's health, the delivery itself, what I forgot to pack in the hospital bag, our car being towed, there's no guarantee we'll get one.
That's not all. If you actually do secure one of the few coveted rooms, you evidently have to pay upwards of $900 per night. Nine. Hundred. Dollars. This is in addition to all of the other exorbitant fees you're charged in the business that has become a New York birth.
It gets worse. If you're not blessed by the list gods, can't or don't want to pay the crazy fee and choose or have to share a room, at most hospitals, your spouse or partner is not allowed to spend the night and must abide by regular visiting hours. If my husband, father to our newborn daughter just a few hours old that he's waited his entire life for and I just pushed out after, what I assume will be, an intense labor is not allowed to stay with his recovering and delirious wife and vulnerable child, the hospital will have bigger problems than not enough private rooms. They don't want to pick this battle with this new mama, trust me.
I can't help but reflect on the times I visited my sister in the hospital in rural Virginia after she delivered her two boys. The birthing "suite" resembled a luxury hotel. There was plenty of room to roam, have visitors -- and not of the foreign, neighboring, using your bathroom kind. Who wants to share noises, smells, routines and bodily fluids with strangers during one of the most intimate times of your life?
The stellar NYC birthing experience continues...
Once I arrived in the Big Apple, I signed up for all the rite of passage rituals: parenting classes, a hospital tour, etc. Now, one thing about NYC is we have the best of the best; our instructor for the class wrote the book on parenting. Literally. the book. However, we paid a pretty price for her wisdom yet were crammed in the basement of a dated building, sitting in the most uncomfortable folding chairs imaginable. A dozen nine-month mamas fidgeting and squirming their way through a three hour breast feeding class with life-like babies. But the ones fussing the most? The dads. You've never seen grown men bitch so much. As their wives and partners negotiated the negative space in stride, the men were the ones complaining. Typical.
The hospital "tour" wasn't so much a tour as an auditorium lecture. They packed 200 expecting couples into a theater, giving a virtual walkabout on the big screen. I envisioned my sister on her intimate, guided tour with just a few other pampered parents-to-be sipping complimentary refreshments, being led through the birthing suites, feeling the bed sheets, checking out the equipment, asking one-on-one questions, all the while envisioning their cozy, solo stay there.
I thought back to my own personal prenatal experience in Los Angeles prior to leaving third trimester for New York. My doctor practiced in Santa Monica, which meant I had a view of the coastline while I was being examined. At least if I had to put my feet in cold stirrups, I could watch the waves. In NYC, if you're lucky enough to get a window, it's of another brick building, a parking lot or an air-conditioning vent.
In California, we had a 4-D sonogram at every visit in which we could see our sweet baby girl's developing face and features. There, I gave a urine sample by way of a sealed, sanitary cup with a personalized, printed and ready made label that I then placed into a secret, discreet cubby hole in the bathroom, never to be seen again. The urination gods did away with it so I could feverishly scrub my hands and pretend it never happened.
In NYC, it's a heartbeat monitor from the 70s, no more advanced from when my parents had me. At my city OB, I go into an unsealed, plain old Dixie cup that I scribble on with a Bic pen and walk out to the nurse amongst other patients, their spouses and staff. Dozens of waddling women roaming the halls with their uncovered and scantly labeled pee not. Is it even legal? I know it's not sanitary!
My husband and I can't help but laugh at the discrepancies that are oh-so-New York. The alternative is to become angry and, trust me, we've let this city do its fair share of that to us. We remind ourselves that what matters is, at the end of all of this, new neighbor, fancy sonogram or not, we'll have a precious little girl. And she'll be a New Yorker. And that's pretty freaking cool.
I'll just advise her, when the time comes, not to give birth here!