This belongs to a series of 5 articles dealing with child birth and the medical system in Sweden – from both a man’s perspective but also from a woman’s perspective, thanks to direct input from my wife. The reasons for writing the series are presented on the start/summary page^ where all 5 articles are linked.
Regarding the birth itself, Crina’s opinions changed quickly in Sweden. In our home country of Romania, C-sections are very popular. That is not surprising because C-sections are fast and can be scheduled at a doctor’s whim. There are even wealthy Romanian mothers and trend-setters who consider natural childbirth as something primitive. This is the society we came from and I’ll leave it at that.
Sweden is at the completely opposite end of the spectrum. Here, if a mother asks for a C-section, it is not uncommon for the midwife to recommend some therapy sessions with a psychologist in order to address fears and misconceptions about natural childbirth. Luckily, Crina didn’t need that. She had renounced her fear of natural childbirth after her first few years of life here.
After the first couple of appointments, midwives will begin to talk to parents about their birth plan. They want parents to envision and think about this as early as possible, so that all concerns can be addressed well before the time comes.
The birth plan will be sent to the hospital where the woman gives birth, so that the midwives there are fully aware of what is the intended course of action, from the parents’ side, before the birth even begins! The birth plan is not only a very practical thing to do, but is also a powerful statement regarding the fact that the woman is entitled to have the birth she desires.
The birth plan contains things such as:
- how to set up the room where the event will take place (light intensity, music to play, emotional support props such as clothing, items with emotional meaning, pillows and blankets)
- decisional frameworks, such as the very useful BRAIN^ (what are the Benefits, what are the Risks, are there any Alternatives, what does your Instinct tell you, what if you do Nothing)
- what to do if the baby is late to come out (we considered natural birth-inducers such as raspberry leaf tea)
- what if the baby is in the wrong position (this is not a valid reason for a C-section in Sweden: there are midwives who are trained in changing the baby’s position through massage)
- what pain relief methods to use. We were particularly interested in natural pain relief, that is, not based on heavy drugs. Here is an excellent list of natural pain relief options^.
- what to do after birth? For example, what to do with the placenta? Some mothers keep it^.
When WinterKid was around 3 months old, we found out about hypnobirthing^. This method of childbirth consists of adopting and maintaining a state of calm throughout the birthing process. This allows the body to do what it can naturally do since forever, before humans started to interfere in the process and, worse of all, encourage interventions.
Don’t get me wrong here, we’re vaccinated adults. We’re totally not against well-documented medical procedures. But even though C-sections and other interventions have saved lives, they’ve become over-used due to cultural bias. We connected very well with the message of a calm, natural birth, so we went on this route from the very beginning.
Hypnobirthing is based on the undeniable fact that the human body is, in general, naturally equipped to deal with childbirth safely, and perhaps even painlessly. And speaking of painless, were you aware of birthgasms^?
Crina started and completed an excellent hypnobirthing course by Australian Kathryn Clark^. The first chapter of her Hypnobirthing Home Study Course has amazing value even for those that don’t care about hypnobirthing. It tackles one of the most terrible cultural trends that is currently very popular in our so-called developed countries: the very fact that having a baby is handled as some sort of disease.
In popular culture, childbirth is advertised as a horribly painful experience. Nowhere is it mentioned that perhaps a woman’s screams during child birth could be a pure manifestation of her primal instincts. Spoiler: they usually are, but more on that in Part 2 of this story.
Crina listened (often together with me) to audio tapes containing visualization exercises. These harnessed the power of imagination with the purpose of removing negative thoughts and reaching a state of deep calm. In the book I mentioned above there’s also a very useful chapter for the mother’s birthing partner.
Important: having a child is not a sickness. In several developed countries they support home birthing and they discourage the intervention in the natural process. Sweden is one of those countries. Here, there are no doctors present during childbirth unless warranted by a complication. It is just the mother and her offspring, usually the husband, and a midwife (sometimes two). There are, however, changes in how the mother is advised by the midwife throughout the birth process, depending on the hospital one chooses. We went to Information Evenings for two of the main hospitals here in Stockholm. At the large Southside Hospital, they were quite balanced in their approach, while at BB Stockholm, they seemed to be slightly biased towards natural childbirth (they try to refrain from interventions unless there are insurmountable difficulties).
Because hypnobirthing taught us that the more one intervenes during childbirth the less control the body has, we decided to have the hospital in Danderyd as our first option. There is no guarantee that there is room for a mother to give birth at a given hospital, in which case she will have to go to another hospital. Danderyd actually has two maternity wards: a state-owned one and the privately-owned BB Stockholm (which we picked), located in the same building.
Now let’s discuss the sensitive topic of interventions. The most important thing that we learned after attending our first and only birthing course in Stockholm (focused on hypnobirthing) was that it is risky (if not outright dangerous) to interfere with the body’s management of the birth. There is something called the cascade of interventions^). It often happens that the more humans interfere with the process of birth, the more chaotic it gets.
There is proof that the child signals^ that the birth can begin. Therefore, when humans try to hurry this up through invasive procedures, there is a higher probability of things not going well, because the child is, of course, taken by surprise.
When it comes to heavy anesthetics such as the epidural or spine injection, these heavily interfere with the body’s ability to trigger and direct waves and surges (aka contractions) with the right timing and intensity. They decrease in frequency and the mother also cannot feel how much to push. What doctors do then is to administer artificial oxytocin^ in order to speed up the waves and surges. That leaves the mother pretty much in the hand of chemicals and circumstances out of her control.
Don’t get me wrong: it is very important that the mother can go ahead with the birthing, so these chemical remedies do have their uses. But because of the cultural influence I mentioned earlier, people today have become rather trigger-happy when it comes to interventions. I am happy to be able to base my “non-intervention statements” on the official stance of Sweden and several other developed countries when it comes to childbirth: let the body do what it does best and don’t mess with things if you don’t have to.
Important: the female body is built to give birth. Special cases aside, most women are equipped to give birth naturally, sometimes painlessly. There are cases of even having an orgasm during childbirth. The most important thing during childbirth, by far, is for the woman to trust her body and to have next to her proper emotional and professional support.
Another major plus for Sweden is that they suggest mothers to breastfeed rather than rely on dubious commercial products. During the autumn we attended a breastfeeding course. Much to our surprise, the instructor was none other than Erika, our first midwife. We were happy to meet each other again. She told us that her daughter had experienced some serious heart problems, which is why she had been on extended sick leave.
The course was quite useful, given how important it is to breastfeed correctly from the very beginning. We knew that the first weeks of the baby’s life are critical for building healthy feeding habits. Both Crina and I wanted to be well-prepared for the challenge. Even if men can’t breastfeed, as partners, we can at least absorb as much information as we can.
As our due date approached, we tried to not care about due dates. Studying natural birthing methods had taught us that the concept of being “overdue” is often applied wrongly. If the child takes its time to come out then it is perhaps for a reason and the woman shouldn’t be treated as some sort of product that has exceeded its shelf life. In Sweden, they wait up to 2 weeks for the birth to start before even considering to interfere.
Throughout the 9 months we obviously talked to a lot of people about children. Friends, work colleagues, family, random people. I was slightly annoyed with the general tendency to warn parents about the upcoming child as if some sort of professional catastrophe is about to happen. This usually comes in the guise of various jokes, but through repetition, it transforms into a sort of nasty noise. I soon learned to block the transmission of such experiences. I often interrupted such people and told them that I choose to see things differently.
Important: surround yourself and your family with positive energy. All parents around you want to share baby stories, but try to focus on the positive ones while you are withbaby and perhaps even after birth. Return the favor: tell a future parent only the best of what you experienced, build hope, build confidence!
Winter arrived and we set up our home for Christmas. The first snow came and melted in a week or so, but Crina still managed to go together with WinterKid for a few walks through snow-chocked sidewalks.
Because we had chosen a hospital that was in another area of Stockholm, we were slightly worried that traffic might be a problem when driving towards that location. The motorway towards the hospital is chocked during rush-hours (roughly 6 hours per day). We were discussing this on a Friday evening, during late January, when we were returning from a beautiful dinner in Uppsala, also located north of Stockholm. We had enjoyed some spicy African food in the company of some of our closest friends here in Sweden. Spicy food is rumored to induce labor. There was one week left until the due date.