'My son’s birth took me from a private to a public hospital within 24 hours. Here are the differences I saw.'

I’ll be honest here: when I first fell pregnant, I didn’t give the whole private versus public thing much thought at all. 

I was lucky enough to have had the forethought (and funds) to pay for private health insurance, so I booked in with an obstetrician, registered at the local private hospital, and that was the end of that. 

Well, that was actually only the start of that, because I was admitted to that private hospital at 31 weeks after being diagnosed with preeclampsia, and ended up in a public hospital very shortly afterwards to give birth to my son. 

Watch the trailer for The Delivery Room, Mamamia's podcast on all things birth. Post continues after video. 

Video via Mamamia.

Of course, the decision to go public or private is an entirely personal one, based on your own circumstances and preferences. Both systems have huge advantages (and some disadvantages), and there’s no “right” choice. But I hope, by sharing my experience, that I can help give some additional context that might make that choice a little simpler. 

The lodgings.

My private hospital room was, with no exaggeration, nicer than some hotels I have stayed in. There was a private bathroom, and even a little “living area” to hang out in when I didn’t feel like sitting in bed. Guys, I had a view! 

I felt like a million dollars (except that I had preeclampsia so also had a hideously swollen face, a very bad headache and upsettingly high blood pressure. Nonetheless, every time I visited my toilet and thought about how I didn’t have to share it with anyone else, I felt like at least a hundred dollars!). 


Image: Supplied.

Because of my various conditions, I moved between a few different public hospitals, and public hospital rooms, prior to giving birth. The best of these was a private room where my husband could “sleepover” (on a… gym mat?) and the worst of these was a shared room where my neighbours, plural, were all in active labour. At the point where I needed to wee in the middle of the night and my roommate’s partner had to pull her, BY HER LEGS, out of the path to the toilet, I did not feel a million dollars, or a hundred dollars, or any dollars (and let’s not even talk about how my neighbour was feeling).  


The rules.

This may have been COVID-specific, but the “rules” during my private hospital stay were significantly stricter than the during my public hospital stay. Most importantly, my partner wasn’t allowed to stay in, or even visit, the private hospital while I was an antenatal patient (I understand he would have been allowed in at the point I was giving birth, but we didn’t get there in the private system). Having to navigate my own health crisis alone was unbelievably stressful, and felt needlessly cruel under the circumstances - especially since, the moment I entered the public system, my husband was allowed in too. 

The food.

Look, is it the most important thing of all? Of course not! But let me tell you, you’re going to be hungry at some point during the birthing process, and there’s a dramatic difference between menus. 

Image: Supplied.


At the private hospital, there were a wide range of choices for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and they were all really, unexpectedly good. As an example, my breakfast one morning was Eggs Benedict, an ambitious dish for anyone, but very well received by the hungry pregnant lady (me). I mean, there was an afternoon tea service! With scones! Need I say more! 

At the public hospital, the food options were, well, bad. 

I was delivered a single breakfast before I decided I would be taking my business elsewhere (to the hospital cafe or Uber Eats). When I explained this to the nurse she was very quick on the uptake, giving me the impression that I was not her first non-repeat customer. I did not embarrass myself by asking if there were any scones. 

Listen to this episode of Hello, Bump – all about birth plans. Post continues after podcast.

The cost.

Oh, right, yeah, staying in a private hospital costs an arm and a leg! The actual stay was paid for by my insurance (so, a ludicrous monthly figure), but in order to actually deliver there, which was the plan, I also had to pay my obstetrician’s out-of-pocket fee (in the thousands) and fork out for every single scan since I wasn’t originally in the public system. 


Let’s put it this way: a private hospital stay costs significantly more than the price of some Eggs Benny and a couple of scones. You could pay a private chef to cater three meals a day for the duration of your public hospital stay and still come out on top. Or at the very least, send someone to a nice bakery for some scones. 

And the public hospital stay? Well, that was… $0. Totally free. 

The medical facilities.

Fundamentally, the reason I was moved from my cushy private hospital room into a shared room at the local public hospital is because the private hospital couldn’t offer the facilities that my premature baby would need. All jokes aside, ensuring that you and your baby are best placed to have your medical needs met in the event of an anticipated, or unanticipated, emergency is obviously the only thing that really matters. Based on my own experience, I would never plan to give birth in a situation where I didn’t have access to the facilities of a public hospital – they literally made the difference between life and death for my son. 

The care.

Without sounding too trite, the healthcare we have access to in Australia is exceptional. 

The care I received in both the private and public systems was near faultless, from the gorgeous private nurses who brought me extra scones when I felt loneliest (look, scones can’t fix all your problems, but they certainly do take the edge off!) to the phenomenal NICU nurses who helped our baby through his first days and weeks. 

Please rest assured that no matter where you end up, you and your baby are in wonderful hands. 

Image: Supplied + Mamamia.

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