Donna Richmond recalls the birth of her twins in Skellefteå and swoons over Swedish healthcare’s ’just the right side of hands off’ approach that left her and her family feeling safe despite complications. Illustration by Jessica Kwan.
You gotta love the Swedish health service. My sambo, Paul, sped me into hospital with complications – my feet swelled up to the size of elephant trotters and my usual freakishly low blood pressure almost capsized the monitor with its relentless upward trajectory.
We were taken straight to the maternity ward, offered a choice of private rooms and told to relax. I was then subjected to a systematic testing process that told the staff exactly what was going on with me. After an overnight stay, two doctors, Rolf and Hannah, came to our room and informed us that they would be performing a Caesarian section the next day to remove our 33-week-old twins a full seven weeks early.
Bonny baby girls!
It was all a little bewildering. But by 1pm the following afternoon, I was holding Caitlin and Leila, two stupendously bonny baby girls. I may have shed a tear or two. I may even have hugged a couple of bewildered doctors, a few midwives and a passing cleaner. But I didn’t care. It was, quite simply, amazing.
The whole process up here in northern Sweden has been terrific. Right from the start the care has been pitched at exactly the right level – just the right side of hands-off. Until the late complications I’d had a simple pregnancy so we mainly saw our barnmorska (midwife) and a doctor every few weeks for an ultraljud(scan).
Born for healthcare
What struck me first about the hospitals up here was how uncrowded and efficient they were. If we had an 11am appointment, the appointment would take place at 11am. In the UK an 11am appointment is purely indicative of the day in which you might be seen. They may as well just offer you an AM or PM slot, like some
delivery companies – it would be just as accurate. There was another remarkable difference between the UK and Sweden. I have had mainly good dealings with the UK’s NHS but some of the staff employed would be better suited to working with delinquent sharks – they’re about as caring as a needle in the eye.
The staff here were born to be in healthcare. They’re compassionate, caring, knowledgeable and, generally, good company. Their people skills are relentlessly first rate.
Some of the nurses, however, are a little too fierce in their advocacy of breastfeeding. One bespectacled bore even advised us to use breast milk to treat skin conditions and backache.
She was obsessed with breast milk. During a conversation about our endless house renovation project, I was a little surprised that she didn’t suggest it as an excellent alternative to exterior paint, and then slip out a little hip flask and take a nip of the ’white gold’. The doctors, though, are more pragmatic – they recommend breastfeeding for as long as the mother is comfortable with it but no more.
We were in the family unit of the hospital for one month. We had our own room with TV, DVD player and private bathroom. The team here wanted to make absolutely sure that the girls were ready to come home with us but also wanted to ensure we had plenty of time to bond with them before.
We know we’re lucky
We picked up tips from professionals on how to look after our children; it’s been invaluable. I have a friend in the UK who has just given birth to a premature baby. Her experience has been somewhat different. “I had my C-section on the Monday and stayed on the postnatal ward until the Thursday. My son was in the neonatal unit and I had to get down two corridors and through the labour ward to get to him. The first day I was taken in a wheelchair but after that I had to walk, or rather shuffle there and back. I then had to leave. I have to deliver his breast milk twice a day and then go home. It’s heartbreaking.” I really do know how lucky I am to be in Norrland.
Charlotte Garbutt also shares her experiences of having her babies in Norrland.
Pregnancy, birth and parenting seem to bring about unsolicited advice almost anywhere in the world. Thankfully, in our little corner of the world, this has not been my experience. No belly touching, sharing of horror stories or people telling me that I absolutely must do ‘baby-led weaning’ with my children. During my midwife appointments I was encouraged to continue skiing; if that is what I wanted to do, I could eat runny eggs, drink coffee (in moderation), exercise, and take naps. As long as I didn’t drink or smoke, it was fine.
I trusted them
When I shared my hopes and wishes for the births of my girls I felt like nothing was too much. Fairy lights, music, no unnecessary vaginal exams and the freedom to move around and eat snacks. The hands off, relaxed approach suited me just fine.
After hearing all about hypnobirthing I knew that it was for me and the midwives fully supported me in that. I trusted them and they allowed my body to do its job.
When it came to giving birth I was lucky enough to have two empowering and more or less straightforward births. With the help of a little gas and air I made everyone laugh, did a bit of swearing and pushed my girls into the world. My children, as it turns out, are completely different from each other, and so were their arrivals into the world. When the pushing was over with my first, Dorothy, I was handed a wide eyed babe, who stared up at us looking just as surprised as we were. My second, Hilda, came out quite differently. While we are both happy and healthy now, the ten minutes that followed her arrival caused me some quite serious trauma, although it took me a few months to fully admit that.
Find your mama gang
Throughout the pregnancies and births I felt completely safe and so well taken care of. The aftercare was no different, and so when months later I asked for help, I was seen quickly. Although I spilled all the intrusive thoughts and scary commentary from my postpartum brain, they didn’t make me feel like the monster I thought I was. I was told I likely had postpartum OCD and catastrophic thoughts, told that it was very normal and that I would be absolutely okay. Spoiler alert: I was absolutely okay.
Skellefteå was the best place I could have possibly become a mum and not just because I was able to drink coffee throughout both pregnancies! Parenting can be a lonely place: my only unsolicited advice would be to embrace the community here and find your mama gang.
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