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.
Like most parents, I’ll never forget the day when we found out we’re pregnant. Yes, we were pregnant. Throughout this story, I’ll be using several expressions that we’ve coined during my wife’s pregnancy. It was Crina who came up with “we’re pregnant”.
Then, it was me who forged the word withbaby, and you’ll get used to it, because my wife wasn’t pregnant (and this is the last time you’ll read this word here). Crina was withbaby. Language is powerful. Language matters. We don’t use cold, distant words to express giving life to our child.
And if “having been impregnated” sounds too scientific, there are even worse expressions for withbaby in other languages. In our own native Romanian, they call women withbaby “însărcinată”. Ad-litteram, it means “tasked”, as in “having been given a task” (the root is “sarcină”, which means “task”).
On the 21st of May 2016, on Crina’s name day, we found out that we’re withbaby. Men usually start to be called fathers only after the child is born. When Crina learned that she’s withbaby, I already started to think, and talk about myself as a father. The fact that I couldn’t interact much with the baby didn’t make a difference to me. I now see how important that was, because it helped me shift to being a partner for my wife faster than I would have otherwise done.
After my wife confirmed the “yes” result using several pregnancy tests, the first practical thing we had to do was to find a midwife. We went at a nearby state-owned health center and there, we met Erika, who we instantly liked. I thought she had a good approach towards being withbaby: keep your life balance, exercise, don’t lose intimacy, eat healthy. Unfortunately, Erika was quitting, so that was the first and only time we met her there.
Important: In Sweden, everything related to childbirth is free. This includes all routine checkups and treatments, all advice and all appointments. The quality of state-owned health centers is similar to the private ones. In Stockholm, there are a lot of private-owned health centers. They are also paid for by the government, hence the “free-for-all” healthcare. Waiting times to get appointments related to childbirth is usually short (a couple of days).
We wanted to follow our midwife Erika to privately-owned BB Stockholm, but could not get an appointment because she was on extended sick-leave. We therefore transferred to another privately-owned health center called Mamma Mia (with whom we had a rather unpleasant experience about two years ago). They have multiple locations across town, pretty much like their main competitor, BB Stockholm.
Just like the previous time around, our experience with Mamma Mia was rather sour. The midwife was professional and… and that’s it. She was professional. Just like our previous obstetrician appointment there, we were treated like objects on the conveyor belt. I’m exaggerating here in order to highlight the fact that we saw a very clear pattern with Mamma Mia.
The clinic is geared towards getting as much money from the government as possible. They do this by handling as many patients as they can in the shortest possible time. And it shows. Our three appointments there were rushed and lacked any emotion. I am generally a warm and pleasant person and I tried to connect with the midwife but she was like an ice block. We therefore decided to switch to BB Stockholm when my wife was in her 3rd month withbaby.
Important: Needless to say, having a baby is an important event. In order to facilitate a smooth and pleasant journey, it is good to have around you people that you can relate to, people that can give your family not only good quality care but also love. We would have gone through five midwifes if necessary.
Luckily, the 3rd time was a charm in our case. At BB Stockholm we met Solveig, a midwife who was close to retirement age. She was not only very experienced and professional, but also gave us a good feeling every time we went to see her.
Now, a few words about Sweden’s healthcare system. This country has an extremely professional way of documenting everything. In time, this has resulted in a huge amount of data about pretty much any imaginable situation that can occur during childbirth. It’s a two-edged sword, because if you have requests that are outside of their comfort zone (the much-loved procedures), you need to either strongly justify it, or pay the costs by yourself (if the request is even possible).
Such a situation occurred for us because my wife had learned that in our native Romania they perform a special kind of test for something called the Rh factor^. An Rh mismatch^ between mother (if Rh negative) and baby (if Rh positive) can lead to complications. We wanted to have this test done but the obstetrician told us that they will only perform such checks if there are such complications and that she sees no reason to worry yet.
In other words, they were willing to expose us to risk simply because we asked for something that wasn’t in their “to-do list”. What’s worse is that the obstetrician (we were at Mamma Mia at that time) wasn’t even sure if the risk prevention treatment (a shot) for having this blood group mismatch was available in Sweden. We took a leap of faith and left it at that.
Sweden is also totally not crazy about ultrasounds, and with good reason^. In our home country, Romania, they do ultrasounds during almost every checkup and the number of investigatory sessions can go up to more than 10 until birth. In Sweden, they do one (!), and even that one is entirely optional. They recommend two if the woman is older than 35 years old (when the chances for Down syndrome increase). Since Crina was soon turning 34, she was offered two ultrasounds.
During the second ultrasound, we got the impression that the baby wasn’t exactly happy with the procedure (showed signs of agitation). Despite the common view still being that the ultrasound is not harmful, it is invasive. We’re talking here about a high-energy vibration that is used for imaging tissues. The developed human ear can’t pick up ultrasounds, but I am curious about how the hearing range transforms during the development of the ear. In any case, I couldn’t agree more with Sweden on this one.
We didn’t want to know the gender of our child so we asked the examiner to not tell us. We had named our baby WinterKid (since he or she was due in January). To us, the only important thing was that our child is healthy. We also don’t believe in gender stereotypes, so for us preparing for a boy or a girl wasn’t an issue. No bias towards certain toys or colors. The only thing that we couldn’t buy (given that we don’t live in Scotland) was skirts, and that wouldn’t be an issue ‘til long after the child’s birth.
Important: the ultrasound is an invasive procedure. We met midwives in Sweden that were well aware of this fact. Not all doctors are of the same opinion yet, so what I’d like to share is the science behind ultrasound^ and recent discoveries^ about the risks it carries. Ultrasound imaging consists of a high-energy vibration that pierces through tissues in order to produce echoes that the sensor can pick up. We know extremely little about the very fragile mechanisms of cellular development; therefore, it is naturally better to have less interventions.
During our time withbaby, we went on two holidays: Portugal^ and Scotland^. Crina had quite a pleasant time withbaby (her words!). She only had a couple of episodes of morning sickness and was able to do a lot of hiking during both vacations. In Scotland, during the 5th month withbaby, she climbed mount Cairn Gorm^. It’s a medium difficulty hike but I can tell you that all Scots we met were surprised to hear she pulled that one off all by herself (and with a bit of baggage too).
She also managed her diet very well. There are some people that believe that “the mother eats for two”. That’s a dangerous myth^. Please consider replacing that with “the mother should eat twice as healthy”. Years ago, we had switched to eating almost only organic food, but we compromised during holidays and, as the midwives here correctly point out: what’s good for mother is (generally speaking) good for baby. If she had an “unhealthy” craving such as ice-cream, fries, chips or large quantities of biscuits, she would go for it. Although this happened quite rarely, it was perfectly fine because…
One thing all midwives here agree on is the importance of physical exercise during being withbaby. Crina followed this advice well: she went to yoga classes, Pilates, daily walks and exercised at home as well. We know mothers that swim, do weight-lifting and go to the gym.
We loved our time withbaby. We were happier than ever before. I think the reason is not only due to the awareness that a new life had started, but also because of the hormonal changes that undoubtedly affect behavior. And even though women experience the greatest body chemistry changes, some changes occur in the man as well – not sure if due to empathy or to emerging paternal instincts.
We kept a general mood of “we can’t wait to meet you, WinterKid”. And the baby seemed to agree. I could feel movement quite early in his or her development: at the end of the second trimester while we were in a bathtub in Scotland. We both felt that Crina is bearing a cheerful being, eager to meet us, eager to explore the Universe. So, we tried to see the best in the world around us, to greet every day with love in the heart and peace in the mind.
Important: if there is a perfect way to prepare for childbirth, that is living as pleasantly as possible. Of course, there are foods and substances that we know are not good for our health; these are even more dangerous for the fragile growing creature. Still, a woman withbaby who continues her life pretty much as usual is keeping her psyche in a good place, and that, the baby feels. Crina hiked, played, worked, helped me paint a room in our apartment during her 7th month and thus, allowed her body tackle day-to-day life. This generates confidence, and confidence is healthy.