Giving Birth in Denmark



    First of all, I’d like to say “Ha!” and “Double Ha!”, for the entire pregnancy I’ve been saying that I didn’t think Walter was born 2 weeks early by coincidence, that I may just gestate babies more quickly and that for some reason I thought Thwompy was a girl. Now admittedly I had like a 53% chance of the baby being a girl, so I can’t take much credit on that one, but I will point out that my little Beatrix Opal was born exactly 2 weeks before her due date to the day!

    Now I know you want all the details…So I was supposed to have an obstetrician appointment on Friday at 2:30 PM. I got a call Thursday saying that there had been a cancellation and could I come in a day early. I was more than happy to do so. Like my last appointment, the waiting room had lots of toys for Walter and there was even in a selection in the actual appointment room. They took me right away, which is standard and awesome, seriously after the appointment I let Walter play in the waiting room and a horrified receptionist came out to see if I had perhaps been waiting 30 minutes for my appointment. 

    The doctor had a wry sense of humor and told me point blank she thought I was insane for moving when we did and wanted to know if I wasn’t scared to give birth in a foreign country. I told her that I was statically 6 times less likely to die giving birth in Denmark that the USA, so no I wasn’t scared at all. Also like my last appointment, the doctor actually trusted me to give accurate information to the point that at the end when they wanted the standard urine sample, she gave me a test strip, told me how to use it and said I should flag someone down if the results were positive, otherwise I could go. I can’t imagine how much money this saves the system as well as just using disposable plastic cups instead of medical grade sealed containers. When I told her we didn’t do it that way in the U.S. she laughed, looked at me and said dryly “You look pretty smart; I think you can handle this.” Also, apparently in Denmark they use a urine test to check if you’re Strep B Positive as opposed to the invasive vaginal test performed in the U.S. Very cool. She expressed skepticism at my theorized due date, confirmed that Thwompy was head down, waaaay down in my pelvic girdle and commented that there was no way this one was an eight pounder. She was almost apologetic, commenting that generally second babies are bigger than the first. I shrugged, said I didn’t really care when the baby came and I would be perfectly happy to have a smaller baby this time around, all that cute baby clothes I’d been given would actually fit.

    I walked home with Walter, I don’t know if I’d mentioned that I’d been walking an average of 4 to 6 miles a day, which unlike all the other exercise I’ve tried while pregnant is something my body actually adjusts to and recovers from remarkably quickly. No matter how tired I am, the next day I haven’t had a single sore muscle and been ready to do it again. Michael has pointed out that extreme fertility and an ability to walk for miles would be an evolutionarily advantageous mix, because if you kept getting knocked up and then were laid up for all of pregnancy, you probably didn’t survive long enough to pass on your genes.

    I made tapas sausages with pasta for dinner. Around the end of the meal I had my first contraction. We put Wally to bed, an affair that lately involves strapping him into his car seat and telling him he gets to ride off to dreamland. Without a baby proofed room or a door that can be locked, this is the only way we can assure that he goes to sleep. We had some really rough nights while we figured out this makeshift strategy. We watched a couples hours of TV and my contractions were 6-7 minutes apart lasting about 45 seconds. We thought we’d be going to the hospital that night, but they didn’t get any closer together. In the end I called the hospital and then went to bed. I kept being woken every 15 to 30 minutes by contractions. It wasn’t so much the pain as the shot of adrenaline I got with every one. When I had Walter, my water broke before I had any contractions and then they had me on a very painful antibiotic drip and then pitocin, so in short I had so many other distractions I never even knew that contractions gave you adrenaline. By morning, I was feeling disheartened. The contractions weren’t getting stronger, I wasn’t sure I was really in labor and the hospital said that there was nothing they could do aside from suggest I take Tylenol. The labor would progress when it progressed. 

    Mike took the day off of work and at 9:30 AM we walked to the big grocery store to get newborn diapers. By the time we’d strolled the 25 minutes there the contractions had strengthened to 3 minutes apart. They didn’t seem that close, but we were using a stop watch app with laps on my iPhone. Michael pointed out that adrenaline makes time move slow, so it wasn’t surprising that I hadn’t realized they were so close. We decided to just walk the 30 minutes more to the hospital. We kept having to stop while I did the contractions dance and by the last ten minutes, Mike had to push the stroller so I could massage my belly when everything clenched up. We weren’t sure exactly where to go, it seemed like too much trouble to get the directions out of the stroller, but a woman with a newborn watched me have a contraction and pointed immediately to the right corridor. They asked for my CPR number at the reception desk and that was it, we were admitted. It was about 11:30 AM at this point. We were assigned a couple midwives, one just finishing up her residency and an older more experienced one. The less experienced one was named Una, which I got a kick out of, because that’s the name of one of the main characters in a favorite show of Walter’s, Puffin Rock. It turned out Una’s kids watch that show too. We apologized for having brought our toddler, but explained that we were so new here we didn’t know a lot of people and everyone we had asked was out of town that day (I’m not kidding, the head of the Chabad house had offered and was in the countryside, my Danish aunt had offered, but she as at a family retreat and my third option as aged 13 and still in school). The staff was totally unbothered. When we went into the birthing room they even brought snacks for Wally and some medical supplies he could use as toys. It was pretty impressive. At one point they even apologized for having newborn diapers, but none in his size. Naturally we’d brought some for him. We had never expected them to accommodate him, we were just hoping they wouldn’t refuse Walter admittance!

    At any rate, we set up Walt with a few new iPad games while they examined me. The cervix was fully effaced and 3 centimeters dilated, which meant I was over halfway to the point where I got to push. They put us in a huge birthing suite and told us we were welcome to poke in all the drawers and make ourselves at home. There were three beds of different types, a mobile NIKU unit, a bathroom with toilet and shower and an adjacent birthing tub room being shared with another suite. They then left to read the massive pile of records I’d brought from the ‘states about my pregnancies and have some lunch, though they assured us that all we had to do was pull the red cord and they’d be there in a jiffy. They left a monitor on my belly just to make sure Thwompy was doing OK. I ended up having to take it off to use the bathroom. Last time I gave birth I was too distracted with the monumental contractions to go pee and since they were pumping me full of fluids for more than 12 hours straight my bladder was so full it wouldn’t empty and I had to use a catheter to empty it. Not an experience I’d ever like to relive if I can help it. So this time I was going to be more mindful and after I told the midwives about it they also kept on me to keep eliminating. Mike and Walt drank fruit juice and digestive biscuits. I continued to endure contractions and try to find a comfortable position in the room. I really wish I’d made finding a chiropractor here a priority here. My tailbone was seriously out of alignment and I feared I was going to break it giving birth. It caused me a lot of pain with each contraction.

    Oh yeah, that’s the weird thing, last time I gave birth, because I maxed out the pitocin dosage they ended up giving me a light narcotic so that I could relax. I remember it being like a shot whiskey. What I didn’t realize it that it gave me retrograde amnesia. Intellectually I know labor was painful, but I have absolutely no memory of what it felt like when I gave birth to Walter. The memories just don’t exist. So these contractions were both very painful and a very new sensation. 

    The midwives came back in about an hour. I had to puke, which happened last time too. Though last time when I announced I had to vomit they gave me a tiny horseshoe shaped cup and I ended up getting disgustingfluids all over the floor. This time I used the toilet and I was impressed that one of the midwives put a cool hand on my forehead and back and even held my hair away from my face. The fruit smoothie I’d gotten at the grocery store thankfully tasted just as good coming back up. Like last time, tossing my cookies, or in this case gummy bears and pureed fruit, was an indication that I was near the end of the process, almost fully dilated.

    The midwives ran a bath for me. It should be noted that both Walter and Michael were fabulous during this whole thing. Mike was both there for me and kept the boy distracted and little Wally was mildly interested, but also in no way distressed by what was going on. The bath was heavenly. In Plymouth, I didn’t have the option of a water birth, they were too worried about infection with my water already broken and there was only one tub for the entire floor. Here, there was a tub for every two suites. It took me three tries to get to the tub, because I kept having contractions. By this point I’d taught the midwives a new word “ephemeral”, because I kept chanting “Pain is ephemeral” every time I had a contraction. It’s something I tell Walt every time he bumps his head or scrapes a knee. The midwives were very encouraging and kept telling me I was doing great, something they seemed to sincerely believe. They were like doulas and doctors all rolled into one. The tub was big enough I could just close my eyes, float and let my body do its thing. They never had to tell me to push, I just had a particularly painful contraction, my water broke and Thwompy’s head was uncomfortably crowned. That misaligned tailbone was exquisitely painful, but as Mike pointed out the end was literally in sight.  Not that I could see, no mirror this time, but the midwives guided my hand, so I could feel Thwompy’s silky hair waving in the water, which was actually cooler. Unlike last time, they urged me to push slowly, which I’m sure was a contributing factor in why I didn’t need stitches this time. An unknown amount of time and excruciating pain later (adrenaline really messes with your ability to judge length of time, every second seems like a minute, which is great when you’re doing a kendo duel, not so fun when you’ve got a tiny human stretching your most sensitive areas to the breaking point), little Beatrix Opal Skiba was born, named for my paternal Great Aunt Saydee and my mom’s best friend and my spiritual aunt Jane Heart. She was all purple, which is normal with water births, and they don’t do apgar scores, but she seemed to be in great health. The water birth seemed less traumatic, because little Trixie didn’t realize she was in a whole new world until we took her out of the water. This is the only time I wished I had a doula, because I bet the pictures would have been very neat. In the US they made a big deal about the gender and making sure Wally was OK. Here the focus was on getting mom and baby together as soon as possible. They didn't even check the sex, I looked at her undercarriage after cuddling her for a bit.

    I held Beatrix and they helped me out of the tub and onto the bed. She wasn’t as adept at nursing as Walt, but after a bit of fussing got a good latch and fed 5 times in quick succession. They didn’t towel her off, just wrapped her in a quilt and left her on me for more than two hours before weighing her. Since people assume you are honest here, she didn’t have a Hep B shot, or Clamydiaeyedrops, though they did do the vitamin K shot and gave me a pitocin shot to help shrink my uterus. When the placenta came out, Mike cut the cord, they do delayed clamping as normal practice, they showed me how the placenta looked like the tree of life, it was fascinating and asked if we wanted to bury it under a tree. I told them to the best of my knowledge that was a Native American practice and we were Eurasian transplants.

    We tried to introduce Walter to his sister, but this was not the baby dinosaur he was expecting and the mewling, wrinkly wizened thing clinging to mama just kind of freaked him out, so we let him go back to drinking juice and spinning on an office chair. We were brought a delicious repast of sandwiches, toast, cookies and other easy the tummy goodies, all festooned with little Danish flags, because this was a birthday celebration after all. Beatrix got a CPR number immediately, which was a relief after all the hoops we’d jumped through for ours. 

    Mike took Wally out for a walk down the halls. A tall woman with ash blonde hair greeted Walter by name, much to Mike’s surprise, and turned out to be my doctor from yesterday who was much more surprised that I had indeed gone into labor two weeks early. She popped by the room to say hello. We had a good laugh over how I was right about the due date and she was right about the size of the baby. Like everyone else we’d met working in the hospital she was just thrilled to be part of this momentous day. It’s an interesting thing that in a country where birth control and abortions are all readily available and thus every birth is a planned wanted birth, everyone is much more giddy about them and treats them with a degree of reverence I just haven’t experienced in the ‘states.


    When 3PM rolled around I called up the teenage babysitter the head of the Chabad house had found for me. She took the bus to the hospital and whisked Walter away for a couple hours of fun, so Mike could get a break and we could prepare to check out. It’s nice that for a second child, you’re treated as an outpatient and the standard stay is four hours after giving birth. The midwives thanked me for letting them be a part of my birthing process, congratulated me on a job well done and told me I did so well that for the next one I could consider just delivering at home. When I gave birth to Walter, my macho streak was fully engaged, because almost every health care professional had been mocking me for saying I was going to do it without an epidural. They kept telling me they knew the contractions weren’t that bad, because I looked too happy, which made me determined to smile all the way through giving birth. This time around the question of pain killers never even came up. No one tried to tell me what I was or wasn’t feeling and as a result I felt much more relaxed and able to just ride the experiences. However in both cases, I felt a bit like a super star when the whole process was over. In the case of Walter, the whole staff kept congratulating me on doing it au natural and talking about how tough I was. In the case of Beatrix, everyone was impressed at the American couple who came to a strange land so close to the baby’s due date, who seemed so receptive to the way they do things and, I guess, was so easy going. I really don’t know what impressed them so much, just that they seemed impressed.

     It's worth noting that my blood pressure before and after the birth was monitored pretty closely despite being reassuringly low. I only remember being checked once in the US. Hypertension is one of the biggest killers of new moms in the 'states. 

    In the US checking out involved them inspecting our car seat, which was a process, because we’d gotten a 2-60 lb convertible instead of one of those cumbersome infant baskets, so it couldn’t be removed from the car, which meant they had to wheel chair me out to the car to inspect it and they didn’t seem to want to wait in the room while I changed Walter’s diaper and kept leaving just in time to come back when he’d pooped again. Here, we just packed our bag, walked out the door, waved to the staff, took a few more congratulations and left.

    It was 6PM at this point. We walked 15 minutes to the train station, being Walter’s bedtime and him having played hard for the last two hours, he conked out in his stroller almost immediately, half eaten cup of pecans and cranberries cradled in his lap. Mike had Beatrix strapped to his chest and people immediately got up to give him their seats when they saw the tiny baby nestled against him. We had freezer pizza for dinner and settled in for the night. 

    This has been a hard transition, especially for me. Mike goes to work and has his routines, but I’ve been stuck in limbo. We’ve had an endless list of conditions we needed to fill to be fully in the system, one of them being Beatrix’s birth, so I haven’t been able to get a library card, we’ve been in temporary housing, it hasn’t seemed worth it to try making friends when we’re moving soon, I’ve had to concentrate on moving stuff instead of Walter’s needs…really tough. The temporary housing has been like a game of “It could always be worse” and there’s a part of me that just keeps thinking of our cozy house in Pembroke, the three weeks paid paternity leave Mike would have had, all my wonderful friends and their children, my veggie garden and ducks, the cats, family that was far, but within driving distance, all those comforts that would have made this time so easy…but on the other hand, I never would have had a birthing experience like this in Massachusetts.  Pretty much the first piece of advice I give to new mothers-to-be is don’t expect the fairy tale, something will go wrong and all that matters is at the end of the day both Mom and Baby are healthy and safe. However, I got it, the rosy, story book quality birth experience I never dreamed of. This makes it all worth it. If ever there was an indication we’ve moved to a culture that is a better fit, this is it. We are so very happy.