Some babies more equal than others
Bet on it, the media will be doing all it can in the coming months to draw comparisons between the recent birth of HRH Prince Louis of Cambridge and the arrival of the first child of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Clarke Gayford, due on June 17.
Earlier this year, there was a good deal of speculation about how the prime ministerial birth might affect the 2020 election. Merely by giving birth, Ardern seems set to inherit the Mother Of the Nation title formerly held by newscaster Judy Bailey – but conversely, the nation may also cast a withering critical eye on how Ardern and Gayford raise their first born.
One thing that Prince Louis and Baby One do share in common – besides a lack of material want – is the great good fortune of not being born in the United States. As Foreign Policy magazine recently pointed out, the US does not provide free maternal care and delivery of high quality, to the American people.
Reportedly, the average cost of a no-frills delivery in the US is $US12,290, a caesarean clocks in at $US16,907 on average, and in the extreme case of premature triplets, young American parents could well be looking at a bill of around $US870,000.
Oh, and the quality of care in the US for those big bucks is still pretty dire, generally speaking. The US infant mortality rate for 2017 was 6.1 deaths per 1000 births, which is three times the rate in Japan, and notably worse than the 3.58 rate in this country. As for maternal deaths, the US rate of 26 deaths per 1000 births is reportedly triple the rate in Britain, and more than double the 11.58 estimate for New Zealand in 2015, which is the latest figure available.
One of the main reasons for New Zealand not replicating the US pattern of maternal deaths comes down to the dedicated work of the country’s 3150 underpaid midwives. Last week, midwives were marching in eleven of our cities in support of a 13,000 signature petition calling for better pay and conditions.
The lack of compensation for overtime – midwives are on call 24/7 – is only one of the bones of contention. While a few midwives have a high gross income of circa $100,000 (achievable by juggling many, many pregnancies over an 80-hour week) the nominal income is routinely halved by factors like the considerable travel costs. Faced with high rates of burnout, many midwives are leaving to better paid, less demanding work conditions overseas, or are leaving the profession altogether. Already, chronic shortages are being reported in rural areas, some of which have seen population increases associated with tourism, and its related building projects.
Overall, what midwives were calling for last week was a redesign of the methods for setting their pay and conditions. Like other stress points in a public health system systematically underfunded since 2010, the midwives will be looking for relief in the May 17 Budget. Already, though, Health Minister David Clark is promising some relief, but not a panacea for all of the midwives’ legitimate concerns.
Unwittingly, Baby One could well become a pawn in this debate.