Wednesday, 20 February 2013


New territories
When I was 6 months pregnant I not only moved houses, I moved to a different country. It was all quite unexpected. Leaving my Shoreditch flat, I packed my bags (and many, many boxes) and flew north, to Norway…to the snow, and pine forests and the startlingly fresh air.

Not only was I waving goodbye to London and England, I was waving goodbye to the British medical system (to which I was so familiar, being a doctor’s daughter and a midwife’s daughter), and, for the time being, waving goodbye to my (beloved) English language.

It seemed as though I was facing what might be the most daunting experience of my life.

Obviously, this whole situation throws up a million ‘how does one cope with…?’ questions. But today, I’ll just be writing about my experience of, and the advice that came from, giving birth in a foreign country.

* * * 

‘Kontroll’ is the Norwegian word for ‘check-up’. It was one of the first words I learnt on my journey through the Norwegian health system. ‘Kontroll’, I thought, was a slightly unsettling word for someone in my situation.

Lost control, and lost-in-translation. That’s how it all seemed at the beginning, and those feelings were probably the most difficult thing about giving birth in a foreign place. It was good to have a Norwegian-English speaker (my bf) at the appointments with me, although the nurse spoke almost perfect English. 

I had been having check-ups in England and had already developed expectations from those. I didn't know if I'd have the same tests or check-ups, and I was worried that I would get to hospital and have something unfamiliar and unexpected thrust upon me. So I tried to ask as many questions as possible, even about the simplest things, just to get an idea of how things were done over here. Whilst there were differences, it actually turned out that there were many things I preferred in the Norwegian system. They were very keen on trying to encourage natural birth, and were on my side when it came to my wish not to be induced at day 11.

Whilst I needed to manage my homeland expectations, that’s not to say that they weren’t useful in some way. In the Norwegian health centre, they loaded me up with leaflets, all of them in Norwegian, and none of which I understood at the time. Luckily I also had a folder of all the stuff I was given in England. Getting hold of English resources (NHS guides, books, magazines) helps you to learn about what to expect. You could ask a friend back home to send you these things, or contact your old doctor directly.

As it got closer to due date, I was invited on a tour of the maternity wing at the hospital. This helped to familiarise me with everything there. The tour was in Norwegian, but I had my boyfriend/translator with me. Even though it was useful, I still had a few niggling doubts at the back of my mind. 

Forest for miles and miles (hospital view)
Afterwards, I went to the midwife office, and asked if I could meet up with the water-birth midwife (they have to be specifically trained so there were only 2 in the hospital) and I did so a few days later. I had written out a simple birth plan in English and Norwegian and I wanted to discuss if it was all ok with her. She was an older lady, experienced, and mostly spoke Norwegian. I seemed to understand what she was saying and I think it’s because we just clicked on an intuitive level. She offered that I pop back the next day and she do acupuncture – it was almost like being in a spa, and I’m pretty sure that you can’t get acupuncture so readily on the English NHS. So I was very open to trying new things! Fate would have it that she happened to be on duty when I turned up to have Lyra, and delivered her.  

When it came to the birth itself, I didn't even notice that the language being spoken around me was foreign. My birth plan had to go out of the window at one point, and when this happened I called my dad (who's a doctor and has worked as an obstetrician) in England and asked him if I should let them do it, and he just said to me 'you have to trust whatever they're telling you', and from then on I did. 

So, my advice for giving birth in a foreign country:
  1. Take a translator to your appointments (partner, friend, in-law)
  2. Ask questions to familiarise yourself with the new system
  3. Get hold of homeland resources (NHS guides, books, magazines)
  4. Go to visit the maternity wing if you plan to give birth in a hospital
  5. Organise to meet up and speak with a midwife a while before giving birth, and ask her all of the questions you have
  6. Write out your birth plan as simply as possible, in both languages, and discuss with a midwife
  7. Be open to new things, and make it a task to discover something new and better
  8. Trust the midwives who are with you during the birth

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