My name is Nick Balfour, and I have been working to bring Mermaid to life since 20th June 2007. I remember exactly the date, as it was the day that my third daughter Olympia was born. I was in the delivery room with my wife Stephanie, waiting for labour to move into its final phase.
From experience, I knew that Steph was going to be exhausted after the birth, and that anything I could do to help her sleep during the first few days would make an enormous difference to her, the speed of her recovery, and her strength and ability to cope with the added responsibility of another child. We were lucky enough to have an insurance policy that covered for a private birth, so we had the option to stay a few extra nights in hospital.
I was discussing this topic with our wonderful obstetrician, Professor Eric Jauniaux, when he told me that the NHS was beginning to adopt a new policy of discharging women within hours rather than days of delivery. I couldn’t imagine how women could cope with so little time to recover and get their bearings, so being an entrepreneur, I had an instant feeling that there was a missing service, and therefore an opportunity. I started to pester Eric with questions.
Before long we had stepped into the corridor, and were discussing the reasons for the high cost of private care, the implications for the insurance industry, the need for registration with the Healthcare Commission (now CQC), and other pros and cons, when an angry voice from inside the delivery room reminded us we were there for another reason.
Twenty minutes later, we had our lives turned upside down when the tiniest little blonde baby girl emerged, and I was a proud father once again. The idea, though, had planted a seed, which took hold and began to grow, and Eric became my partner on this journey.
During the last 5 years, (it will be six by the time we open in July), Eric & I have had to overcome an extraordinary succession of hurdles, each of which threatened to kill the project, including an endless search for the right property, difficult negotiations with landlords (not our current landlord – you are great!), the greatest financial crisis in history, raising money for a start-up that isn’t technology, getting planning consent for something that has never been done before, back surgery (me), and having yet another daughter (me again).
During the same five year period, it has now become standard practice across the country to discharge women who have had a normal delivery after 4-6 hours. To illustrate this, consider the following statistic: in 2012, 77% of all women in the UK who had normal deliveries were discharged within the first 24 hours – many within just 6 hours; and 55% of all women who delivered by caesarean section were discharged within 48 hours. I find this staggering in one of the richest countries in the world.
Many women are glad to get out of hospital because of the lack of support on the recovery ward, and also because of growing fears about infection.
I believe that as a civilised society we owe our women much more than this. Whilst it can be argued that the hospital has done its job once the life of the mother and baby are no longer in danger, the reduction in services provided by hospitals has left a huge gap in the service-mix available to support new mothers in the critical first few days after birth.
Since the needs of new mothers are essentially non-medical, it makes economic sense to provide these services in a non-medical setting. Not only does this mean a more pleasant and enjoyable experience for the mother, but it also allows us to provide the service at a much lower price than that offered by the private hospitals (where you can stay as long as you like as long as you have paid to deliver your baby there).
Mermaid brings together all the key non-medical services that are known to improve a mother’s experience through pregnancy, childbirth, and the recovery afterwards, for the first time under one roof. We believe that our approach can not only make the journey into parenthood as smooth as possible, but it can even affect clinical outcomes such as rates of readmission to hospital, and incidence of postnatal depression. With help from our Advisory Board we will be tracking these indicators and look forward to publishing our findings.
Now, with great pride, and gratitude for all my team, my investors, my advisory board, and my wife and children, I am delighted to welcome you to Mermaid Maternity Retreat. Our sales office at 123 Sydney Street is now open, and the retreat opens in early July at 234a Kings Road, above Heals.