The other day I was having a “get to know you” lunch with a group of other British moms who have kids the same age as my 4-year-old daughter. Somehow the subject of childbirth came up — who had C-sections, who had a water birth — and then one amazing mom mentioned she did it all with just “gas and air.”
We were all suitably impressed, apart from the American mom who looked at us like we had three heads.
“What on earth is gas and air?” she asked.
We explained it was laughing gas, and she was shocked. Apparently when she gave birth in the U.S., she was only offered an epidural, a spinal block, or narcotics (opioids). She was also stunned that this “gas and air” mom was allowed home three hours after giving birth, as she admitted that she stayed in the hospital for two days minimum after her birth.
It got me thinking, what other differences we Brits have to our American counterparts. Here are nine more things we do differently on our side of the pond!
1. We don’t do baby showers.
The British believe that in doing so, you could be “jinxing” your pregnancy. The first I heard about baby showers (And why “shower”? Is it because the person is “showered” in gifts?) was in the movies. It made me wonder if people weren’t tempting fate — getting gifts before a baby is born?
2. We don’t have to pay for childbirth.
Which means I’ve had two C-sections and never paid a penny. This is thanks to the National Health Service (NHS), which is the greatest thing in the U.K., in my opinion. And as long as it isn’t dismantled by the Tory government and privatized, we’ll continue to receive great maternity care, screenings, and midwife appointments. (This is in stark contrast to America, where the cost of having a baby can reach upwards of $8,000.)
3. We get home visits from midwives after giving birth.
Under the NHS, for the first 10 days you are home with your baby after giving birth, a midwife comes and visits you to see how you’re getting on in your own home. By day 10 you want to scream, “Please come back, don’t leave me!” they are so brilliant.
4. We get up to 39 weeks of paid maternity leave.
Well, sadly, I never did because I was freelance at the time and if you aren’t working when you are self-employed, then you simply don’t get paid.
But the majority of U.K. women are entitled to “Statutory Maternity Pay” (SMP), which is paid for up to 39 weeks. With this, you get:
- 90% of your average weekly earnings (before tax) for the first 6 weeks
- £136.78 ($200) or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower) for the next 33 weeks.
Many of my friends who have staff jobs have taken leave for 6 to 9 months, and some have even taken a whole year off because they saved up vacation days to add to their maternity leave, too. This is in stark contract to the U.S., which guarantees no paid maternity leave.
5. Our kids can take a transfer test at age 11 to attend a better public school.
The British are very class conscious, and nowhere more so than in your choice of schools.
Here, you go to primary school (the equivalent of U.S. public elementary school) until you are 11 years old and then attend the local senior school (equivalent to a U.S. public middle/high school).
However, there is much talk of the local public schools not being “good enough,” so people rush to put their children through a transfer test known as the 11-plus. If your children pass, then they can attend grammar school, which is known to have much better educational programs. This is by no means an easy test, and most parents hire a tutor for an entire year to prep their kids for it (at the cost of $250 a month!). And of course, that doesn’t guarantee your child will even pass the test.
The other alternative is sending kids to private school, which costs on average about £15,000 ($27,000) a year. Private schooling is seen as upper class, and often those whose kids attend look down on those parents whose don’t. It’s all quite snobbish and exhausting and makes me hanker to move back to my home country of Ireland.
6. Starting at age 13, kids can get free condoms.
In an effort to limit unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, in various NHS programs across England, kids aged 13 to 24 can sign up for the “C-Card” program at schools, libraries, health centers, and pharmacies — which gives them access to free condoms.
The tweens and teens are required to have a one-on-one discussion with a health professional or trained youth worker and are encouraged to talk with their parents before being given the free condoms. Underaged children are assessed and given a C-Card only if they were at risk of having unprotected sex. Those aged 16 and over can use the card six times before it has to be renewed.
7. At kiddie birthday parties, our children don’t open gifts in front of the guests.
Kiddie parties are usually held in a rented hall, and instead of the kids opening gifts then and there, they keep them until they get home. We don’t have piñatas, nor do we serve ice cream with cake. The birthday cake is sliced, wrapped in napkins, and sent home with the guests.
8. We don’t have summer camps.
That’s right, we have no opportunities to send our little rugrats away during the long summer vacation. This is devastating for both parents and kids. Instead, we have some classes they can go to, the odd event or party, festivals, and maybe something happening at local clubs — but that’s it. It makes summer vacation a nightmare for working parents and a struggle for any SAHM.
9. At the start of every school year, you’re invited out for “Moms’ Drinks.”
The pub culture is huge in the U.K., and everyone likes a drink. When your child starts school, you get invited out for “Moms’ Drinks.” There, you try to find out if you have anything vaguely in common with the women who just so happen to have a child the same age as yours. If you’re lucky (like I’ve been this year), you meet some like-minded, fun people and then — hoorah! — you have a bunch of fab new friends.
10. We’re more conservative when it comes to discussing parenting wins.
The British can be very aloof and are generally quite reserved and keep to themselves. I’ve noticed my mom friends here in the U.K. are far more shy in discussing their ambitions and desires, as opposed to my American friends. This also goes for parenting wins. Very rarely do I hear my friends discuss how well they’re doing, how good their kids are, or how their lives are going well. While my Irish and American friends tend to be able to laugh at themselves more, the Brits are much more conservative.