Mia, my youngest, turned 5 years old a few months ago and I had a few moments of remembering her arriving in the world and my first experience of that in a country that was not my home country.
My previous two children were both born in England and although we may not actively investigate the pregnancy and birth process when we are younger, we take it all in and there's less sense of intense trepidation than there is if you are in another country and everything is happening in a language that is not your mother tongue.
Right from the start Andre, my partner, and I had decided that Mia would be born in Norway, but I was still very nervous. What would it be like? Would we be OK? How much intervention would there be? Giving birth to your first baby is always the most frightening. You have very little idea what to expect and even if you attend every single birthing and parenting class possible you are still not quite as ready as you want. Despite having had two children and being much calmer, I still had those niggling doubts and I remember searching endlessly on the internet for anything that would tell me what being pregnant and giving birth in Norway was like and what I could expect.
And so in that spirit I want to share what it's really like to be pregnant and give birth in Norway (from my own point of view as it's different for everyone).
I will spare you too much detail, don't worry. We are being very Nordic in that sense and we don't need to share everything!
It is very much driven by the mother to be
This is fairly European wide thing. The mother-to-be is in control of how her pregnancy and delivery will be unless there are particular medical reasons why not. We are actively encouraged to make sure that we are being heard by all the medical professionals involved.
The midwife is your main point of contact
The midwife (jordmor in Norwegian) is the person who has the most experience of pregnancy and labour and usually far more than your family doctor. A specialist doctor will only be involved if there is a problem and the midwife is the main point of contact and someone y0u see every month until the final few weeks when you see her or him every week.
The medical professionals follow your instruction to the letter
In England I had made birth plans for both my older children (the first one of which was ignored!) and I did the same in Norway although it was never mentioned and I was never asked. I wanted to be certain that my wishes were followed as much as possible at a time when you are not always able to express yourself very well. As it happened the midwife in the labour ward, took my birth plan, scanned through it and followed it to the letter.
You are encouraged to give birth as naturally as possible
When I was pregnant with Brendan (my eldest) I had a long list of things I wanted when I gave birth. I wanted ALL the things - epidural, all the anaesthetics, TENS, the whole shebang. When you reach labour you (usually) realise that those things are not that important and incredibly you know what to do.
In Norway you are very gently but firmly encouraged to do everything as naturally as possible. Of course, it's all available if you need it, but your midwife encourages you to try the natural approach first.
Maternity suites are VERY calm and quiet
This was one aspect of being in labour and post natal that I loved! Giving birth to my two older children in an English hospital was slightly chaotic. The maternity ward was noisy and seemed to be full of all kinds of random people visiting. Everyone from the fathers to grandparents to neighbours (or at least it feels like that!). Norwegian maternity units have very strict rules. No-one is allowed across the threshold unless they are the partner of the mother or siblings of the baby. There are no visits by grandparents or friends. Those visits can take place, but they must be in the hospital cafe or public areas. The peace and quiet of mothers giving birth is strictly protected and it is wonderful.
You are invited (and often expected) to stay in hospital for 3 nights
This surprised me a little because elsewhere there is a scramble for beds and you are almost rushed out of the door. In Norwegian hospitals there are quite surprised when you say you want to leave. It's a great idea to stay because day 2 of having a new baby is always the hardest. The baby suddenly realises he or she is in the cold world and screams a lot and you are more tired than you have ever been. It's a blessing to have someone around who is patient and experienced and to not have the pressure of doing all those things that you would normally feel you needed to do. You can simply relax and be with your baby and get to know each other a little before you go home.
It's all free
Yep, you heard me! All of it. Everything from the very first appointment to the birth process, to the hospital stay. And whilst you are in hospital the maternity unit has it's own little canteen where you can eat whenever you want, make tea and coffee and snacks. Something you need if your baby arrives at midnight like Mia did! They also include nappies, bedding, baby wipes, towels, in fact everything you might need.
Partners and siblings of the new baby are invited to every appointment
Almost every appointment Andre and I went together and on quite a few I also took Millie and Brendan. My midwife got both kids involved with little models, listening to the baby's heartbeat and looking at scans.
My own labour with Mia was most the calm I could ever have expected. We arrived in the middle of night after calling the maternity unit to find a midwife waiting for us at the door of the maternity unit. She showed me to labour suite which was a haven of tranquility. She had turned down the lights and lit electric candles. Everything was ready with a little unit set up for the baby and bed welcoming. Rather than sitting on the bed you are encouraged to move around, stand up, walk, take a bath. All those things that women for thousands of years have been doing and less of the drugs and intervention. The thing that struck me the most was that a few minutes after Mia was born the midwife took her to a bench to weigh her and do the usual APGAR test, but when she handed her back to me she had already dressed her in a nappy, a tiny little hospital babygro and woolly hat. It was a lovely, caring, intuitive gesture (and something that they always do, but not anything I had previously experienced) that I have always remembered it.
Once you have given birth you are never rushed, but encouraged to take your time, eat. relax and then helped to a maternity ward if you and the baby are staying alone. If you have arranged to have your partner and children stay you can take a dedicated private suite for a small fee.
When you are ready to leave, the hospital paediatrician checks the baby over and if all is well you are given the all clear.
I hope you've enjoyed reading this very personal post and if you are expecting a baby yourself in Norway I can assure you that you will get the best possible care.
I'd like to invite you to join me and Andre in our Facebook group, Living a Nordic Life. We won't be talking about having a baby I promise (unless you want to), but we do talk about Nordic living, Nordic habits and the ways in which we can make out lives simpler, cosier and more intentional. We are joined by thousands of other like minded people from around the world and we would be delighted to welcome you there too.