Friday, April 15, 2016

Stitch by stitch

Rhino Romper knit baby onesie  |  Stitch by stitch on afeathery*nest  |
While some things have noticeably gone missing from my daily routine—and will most likely stay missing for quite some time to come—since this handsome fellow arrived (e.g., I haven't done any yoga since just before I gave birth and a proper cocktail is a distant is a full night of sleep), one thing that has resurfaced is my knitting bag.

With the mental fogginess and physical exhaustion that comes with caring for a wee, helpless, and infinitely adorable baby, knitting is my only form of "meditation" right now—a more involved alternative to my calming (and frantically-executed on steamy NYC subway platforms) practice.

It's my (very necessary) way of taming the frazzled, sleep-deprived brainwaves jolting through my mind. Of rinsing the day's small trials and losses of patience from my conscience while replaying its spectacular moments of delight in baby laughs and gummy smiles, in a rounded tummy and a sweet little tush.

Rhino Romper knit baby onesie  |  Stitch by stitch on afeathery*nest  |

Stitch by stitch, breath in by breath out.

It's also much easier to manage than rolling out my yoga mat and contorting myself into positions that are now precarious thanks to my new lack of coordination (thanks to my new lack of sleep).

Rather than sitting on the sofa after dinner while watching something with R and knitting away as I used to, I find my crafty moments during the day when RF is napping snugly in a wrap tied around my chest and I can peer over the curve of his cheeks to see what I'm doing. It's the coziest thing to listen to his little snuffles while I rock back and forth and click my needles in rhythm.

Dulaan Baby Jumper  |  Stitch by stitch on afeathery*nest  |

Dulaan Baby Jumper  |  Stitch by stitch on afeathery*nest  |

I came across this recently and it perfectly encapsulates why, aside from ensuring a small measure of sanity for myself, I knit:
"For many knitters, the small act of creating a sock, a hat, or a scarf is an act of love. Of community. Of creativity, of soul saving, sometimes a rebellion against the constraints of everyday life. Knitting is an escape, a haven, a hidey hole that restores us and gives us a bit of control when many things in life are beyond our reach."

As does this:
"The essential thing about knitting that I will never get over is here you have these sticks and this string, and then you look down and you have this object. It’s a very small act of hope, especially when the person you’re knitting for isn’t even here yet."
It's true, I can't control when we'll find a new, more permanent place to live or when RF will learn to connect his sleep cycles or where we'll be able enroll him in dagis. But I can choose the right needles and yarn and pattern, and I can choose to spend a few quiet moments at the end of the day with yarn gliding through my fingers as I create something from nothing—my own small act of hope that all will be well.

Dulaan Baby Jumper  |  Stitch by stitch on afeathery*nest  |
Lately I've been working on a little "spring collection" for my winter baby, although I think it will begin and end with these two pieces. I've realized after much newborn knitting that perhaps it's better to knit garments for a baby that can sit up and crawl, or for a toddler that can toddle, because knits (even non-bulky ones), aren't as easy to maneuver onto a baby and when said baby is picked up and carried quite a bit or spends most of his time prostrate, thicker textiles that can bunch up is probably a little irritating for him, as well as for the person who is constantly tugging his clothes into place.

...Which is why I had the idea to knit a onesie, but even so, I'm going to start knitting a few sizes up from now on and have a nice little wardrobe ready for him for this coming autumn and winter.

P.S. The onesie was originally a romper, as seen in the first picture, but I didn't like how the shorts legs looked when I finished so I unraveled the hem and reknit it as a onesie (as seen in the second picture).

P.P.S. Ravelry notes here and here.

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Straddling three countries

Norr Mälarstrand, Kungsholmen, Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden  |  Straddling three countries on afeathery*nest  |

If figuring out our own citizenship requirements for each others' countries wasn't enough, we had to go through the same procedure for RF (which I've been mentally preparing for...for a while), albeit a much simpler one, as he automatically took our three nationalities at birth.

The Swedish registration was done for us via the baby's birth center registration, and the Italian one just required taking one form, one notarized document from the tax office and a copy of our passports to the consulate, but the American one? That required an entire folder of documents, plus a hefty fee.

When I looked into it last fall and saw what my birth country required, I began putting everything together well before my due date so all we would have to do in our newborn haze was take a picture of the baby and make a few appointments, and so before he was three months old he was already officially registered as a citizen of the US, Italy and Sweden, and had his American and one EU passport ready to go.

I had thought that that would be the most strenuous thing I'd need to think through this year, but then it came time to begin his vaccinations and I realized our little tri-national baby would need a modified vaccine schedule.

Before Sweden began attracting such high numbers of foreigners, this country was fairly isolated, so the vaccine schedule wasn't (and still isn't) as wide-reaching as the U.S. and Italy's. Given that we plan on spending time in both of those countries, and with family that live in them that will be visiting us here in Sweden, I went through each one's vaccine schedule to figure out what we needed for RF.

During his regular (free) appointments with the baby nurse, he's already getting the Swedish schedule of vaccines, which is the same as both the U.S. and Italy's, with two exceptions: chickenpox/varicella (which the U.S. gives around 12 months, and Italy much later, during pre-teen/teenage years) and meningitis (the U.S. gives the A, C, W, and Y strains during teenage years unless a risk factor calls for an early dose, and Italy does the same with the C strain).

Sweden generally has a low risk for meningitis so the vaccine isn't part of the schedule; and the thinking here is that children shouldn't get the chicken pox vaccine, but rather get infected with the virus and heal from it on their own when they're young.

But we want to get RF vaccinated on the early side because of his exposure to Americans and Italians that have been vaccinated and because we've had a meningitis scare (in Sweden!) in the family—and also because we've decided that when it's time, we'd like to send him to one of Stockholm's international dagis (daycare), where the primary language spoken is English and the children that attend are generally from expat families (and will have been vaccinated against chicken pox and meningitis, for the most part).

The vaccines that are not included in the Swedish schedule seem to be easy to get on one's own—all throughout Stockholm there are standalone vaccine clinics (I'm assuming that given all the international travel that Swedes do there's a pretty big need), one of which we'll be heading to around RF's first birthday to get his supplemental vaccines.

Stadshuset, City Hall, Kungsholmen, Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden  |  Straddling three countries on afeathery*nest  |

Speaking of dagis, even though RF is only a few months old, we've already started looking into them, because like the crazy housing situation in Stockholm, the dagis queue is just as frustrating.

The way it works here is that children are eligible to begin daycare when they're a year old, but they can be put in the queue to enter their chosen dagis as soon as they hit 6 months—and most people generally still have to wait a few months (or years) to get into the school they want even though they'll be guaranteed a place somewhere in their city within 2 months.

Like in other Scandinavian countries, the concept of a full-time, stay-at-home-parent for all of a child's childhood is very uncommon in Sweden—most parents return to work at least part-time by the time their child is 2 years old so the dagis world is something nearly every parent in Sweden experiences. To encourage parents to stay in the workforce, dagis is very affordable—parents pay a percentage of their income up to a max of about $150 a month for the first child (and progressively less for each subsequent child).

While it translates to "daycare", dagis is really more like pre-school in that they all adhere to a pedagogical style (Reggio Emilia, Montessori, Waldorf, etc.) and children learn social and mobil skills and about the world around them—but the emphasis is not on reading (in fact, most children here don't learn to read until they're 7 or 8), but rather on how to function in the world. The kids learn about other cultures (a big reason why we want RF to go to an international school—there's a larger focus on this), table manners, how to share, and about nature (a LOT of time is spent outdoors, regardless of the weather).

Children can attend dagis from one year of age until they're 5 years old, and then there's the option to do a preparatory pre-school year at age 6 to get ready for compulsory schooling, which begins at age 7 with the equivalent of the U.S.'s first grade.

While we haven't figured out the daycare situation for RF just yet, I'm completely in awe of what I've seen so far of the system that's in place here.

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Monday, March 7, 2016

Tootsie toppers

Knit baby legwarmers  |  Tootsie toppers on afeathery*nest  |
After I bound off the final stitch on the last knit goodie I'd planned to make for RF before his appearance, I decided to spend the last few weeks of my pregnancy making something for myself. I'd stopped in at two local yarn stores near Odenplan on the hunt for a particular shade of red for a gift, but rather than leave empty handed when I didn't find what I was looking for, I was enticed by a beautiful, variegated alpaca yarn (on sale) and a teensy pair of double-pointed knitting needles made specifically for knitting socks.

As so often happens, I gave into the temptation of something new (the yarn and the needles) and managed to forget that I don't particularly like knitting socks. They can be a bit tedious because when you finally finish one, there's still another whole sock to do. And while I've knit the kind of socks you use as slippers at home, I'd never knit proper socks to wear with shoes, which are finer and more delicate (and thus take more time when using teeny needles).

But forget all of that I did, and I scooped up a hank of the alpaca yarn and a new pair of needles and made my way home where I cobbled together my own pattern using one person's broken seed stitch pattern, another's interesting heel technique, and Purl Soho's general guidelines from their Pixel Stitch socks.

I managed to get 1.5 socks done before RF's grand appearance, and needless to say, the insanity that is life with a newborn means that I didn't get around to that last half a sock until recently.

Handknit wool socks  |  Tootsie toppers on afeathery*nest  |
Handknit wool socks  |  Tootsie toppers on afeathery*nest  |
Luckily Stockholm has been cooperating with the continuation of winter weather into March so there was/is still time for me to to make use of them this year and I have to say—hand knit wool socks (even ones with a few cosmetic irregularities here and there where I made mistakes but didn't have the patience to fix them) feel amazing inside winter boots.

(Amazing feeling aside, I don't think I'll be making another pair anytime soon.)

Once I'd finished these I needed a quick hit—something easy, fun and interesting to knit so I could recover from the monotony of those socks. Enter RF, who had finally put on enough weight to be able to wear the POOPS! cloth diapers we'd purchased from a local Swedish company for him.

Even though he's now big enough to wear them without fear of leakage, he's still small enough that we have to button them on at the smallest setting, which creates quite a bit of bulk around his tush and makes comfortably wearing the pants for his actual size a bit tough. So rather than cram him in his pants (and since we're still using disposables when we're out for long periods of the day), I realized I could keep him pantless at home if I knit some legwarmers to pop on his little legs.

Knit baby legwarmers  |  Tootsie toppers on afeathery*nest  |
I found a pattern for boot cuffs that I repurposed into legwarmers and voilà, comfy and warm and cabled while still being pantless.

(Note: those legwarmers are actually worn higher on the leg, but I didn't pull them up all the way so his tickle-able thighs could be in the picture.)

P.S. Ravelry notes: socks + legwarmers

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Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Sunday on the farm at Resta Gård

The view from Resta Gård Örsundsbro Stockholm  |  A Sunday on the farm at Resta Gård on afeathery*nest  |

I've long had an affinity for rich, farm-fresh milk in (reusable) glass bottles, but the closest thing I've found in Sweden to my beloved Hudson Valley Ronnybrook Creamline milk, which is pasteurized, but not homogenized, so the cream rises lusciously to the top, is lantmjölk, or gammaldagsmjölk (country and old-fashioned milk, respectively). But the most accessible one is from the biggest dairy supplier, which is not inherently a bad thing at all, I just find the notion of drinking local milk to be so much more romantic.

So when we were wandering through Gamla Stan in January and came across Resta Gårdsbutik, the city outpost of a farm an hour north of Stockholm, I was intrigued. The urban storefront is teeny, but beautifully set up with inviting chalkboard signs outside proclaiming lovingly-grown produce and milk and meat from well-cared for animals. We stepped inside and after one sip of their milk (and one glance at the beautiful glass bottles), we bought one to take home.

We were so enamored with the charming experience in Gamla Stan that we Googled the actual farm to find that not only is it an ecological farm, but a visitable one, too, so we began to plot when we could make it up for their weekend open hours, especially after seeing all their cozy homespun pictures and posts on Instagram and Facebook.

One gorgeously sunny Sunday work schedules and transportation availability aligned and we were finally able to make the drive up to visit the farm. We wandered around the property, accompanied by the owners' dog for a bit, and said hello to the sheep, the pigs, the piglets and the horses. The farm has only been up and running for a very short time, but the owners told us that they're already planning big things in the coming seasons (including hens, a B&B, etc.) for the property, which is nestled among open fields an easy drive from Stockholm.

Sheep at Resta Gård Örsundsbro Stockholm  |  A Sunday on the farm at Resta Gård on afeathery*nest  |
Roasting Korv at Resta Gård Örsundsbro Stockholm  |  A Sunday on the farm at Resta Gård on afeathery*nest  |

After visiting the animals and walking about we tucked ourselves into the small farmhouse shop to purchase korv (sausages) to roast over the open fire pit that had been lit outside. An afternoon spent with our faces turned toward the (surprisingly blazing!) sun, munching on piping hot sausages and listening to the livestock nuzzle around was the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon—and a lovely first excursion out of Stockholm for our little guy. We drove away completely refreshed from our romp in the country air—and with a trunk full of sausages, cuts of meat, and bottles of milk to take home.

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Giving birth in Sweden: Labor, delivery, and the cost

Gamla Stan & Södermalm, Stockholm, Sweden  |  Giving birth in Sweden: Labor, delivery, and the cost on afeathery*nest  |
Now that our little guy is just over two months old, I've finally had a little time (and brain power) to think back on giving birth to him with something less akin to panic and more akin to fondness.

I mentioned before that I didn't put too much thought or preparation into the particulars of going through labor and delivering, but there were a few things that I wanted to have happen, namely, the use of water therapy, the avoidance of medical intervention, and no need for stitches (all of which I've been thinking about for many years).

Instead? No bathtub, lots of medical (read: chemical) intervention, and: stitches.

+ + +

My contractions began the evening of the day after my due date, but we didn't go to the birthing center until 24 hours later, after I had been experiencing contractions at home for an entire day. I had been in contact with the midwives at the birthing center ever since I first saw signs of impending labor, which happened 15 hours prior to my contractions starting, and we stayed in contact until I was finally told to come in.

I first called them (excitedly!) at 4AM when I lost my mucous plug—they talked me through what would happen next and how to manage the latent phase contractions when they started. Since my labor progressed so slowly, we ended up calling them quite a few times (each time a little less excitedly and a bit more frantically) before actually going in, and each time a patient, supportive woman reassured me and—thinking back on this now makes me a little emotional—made sure to tell me that I was strong and doing great.

Stockholm apartment buildings  |  Giving birth in Sweden: Labor, delivery, and the cost  |

Even after 24 hours of contractions had passed, they were still not close enough (i.e., 3-5 minutes apart, mine were 7-9 minutes apart) to warrant leaving the house, but when we called the midwives (again) to update them on my condition, they suggested I come in to be checked given how tired I said I felt and how far away I still was from active labor.

We called a taxi, grabbed our bag and headed in around 10PM. A midwife greeted us and did an exam, after which she related the (frustrating) news that I was only 2 cm dilated—you aren't admitted until you're at 4 (out of 10 cm) dilated, but I couldn't face the thought of going home as I was exhausted and nervous because of how slow my labor was advancing and R knew that, so he spoke with the midwives on call and they allowed us to spend the night in the "new family hotel", even though we were clearly not yet a 2+ family.

As the pain accelerated I took a dose of Alvedon (like Tylenol), a hot shower, and had a round of acupuncture, but by 3AM I couldn't breathe through the contractions anymore, so we pressed the call button for the midwives. Another painful check revealed I was almost 5 cm dilated and we were finally ready to be admitted to a birthing room. We quickly put our things together and moved to the room where we'd meet our little one.

Stockholm apartment buildings  |  Giving birth in Sweden: Labor, delivery, and the cost  |
I hadn't expected the pain to be so intense at that point—or rather, I had expected to have a higher pain tolerance, but whether that was just wishful thinking or my exhaustion at having experienced contractions without end for 30'ish hours had weakened me, or a combination of both, I immediately asked to try the lustgas (laughing gas), one of the natural pain therapies available. And when the midwives saw, as by then I was strapped to a monitor, that I was experiencing double contractions (overlapping ones, fun!), they had me hooked up to the gas in no time.

(There was absolutely no way I could have gotten into a tub at that point, which is why my hoped-for water labor didn't happen.)

The laughing gas worked well for a few hours, but not enough that I was able to rest before I would have to begin pushing so R and I talked with the midwives and made the decision that I would begin to get a small dose of an epidural—the one thing I'd hoped to avoid (given what I'd read about how it can make it hard for a woman to feel the final contractions and push effectively and how it can affect when your milk comes in*), but I knew that in order to get our baby out I'd need to rest, so I acquiesced.

The anesthesiologist came, prepped me, and began the dosage, which (luckily) in Sweden is done gradually, in very small amounts, versus one huge one, which helped me make the decision to have it. It did the trick and I was able to sleep for a few hours, which meant that R finally could, too.

+ + +

Our son's birth day had dawned beautiful and blue-skied, and dozing off in a sun-filled room while staring out picture windows to the greenery outside was a teensy bit magical (and not just because of the drugs).

Gustavs Kyrka, Odenplan, Stockholm, Sweden  |  Giving birth in Sweden: Labor, delivery, and the cost  |

When we woke up around mid-day it was go time.

In Sweden, women are encouraged to try multiple positions and apparatuses to help the baby descend. I tried a few things: sitting on an exercise ball, standing with a birthing "walker", and sitting on a birthing stool with R positioned behind me.

None of those did the trick, so I moved to the actual birthing bed and rather than laying down with knees bent as you see on T.V., I tried pushing while on all fours with R standing behind the bed and facing me, but still no baby.

By then my energy level was nonexistent, so the midwives helped me lay on my side while one raised a leg, another applied warm compresses, and the third, most senior one, guided our little boy out.

Not even two seconds had passed between him emerging and the midwife laying him next to me so that both R and I could stare down at the wondrous little being we'd created. I would go through everything again just to relive that singular moment of joy we shared when we first locked eyes with our son and were transformed from wife and husband to mamma and papà.

+ + +

It wasn't until a few moments had passed that I realized we didn't know if the baby snuggled up to me was a boy or a girl—in another departure from what you see on T.V., the midwife didn't call out what she saw (or didn't see) when she delivered the baby and handed it to me. I had the delight of peeking down below myself to see what was what and excitedly proclaim to R, "it's a boy!".

We stayed in our birthing room for a few hours while I was cleaned and sewed up—and unlike what I've heard about the majority of post-birth activities in the U.S., our baby stayed in my arms the entire time. He wasn't taken away to be cleaned up or even weighed.

A good two hours passed before I was able to sit up and then R, who had taken off his shirt in preparation, was finally able to cuddle with his son warm against his chest while I showered and dressed.

Then a midwife brought in the Swedish spread I had been promised—flutes of sparkling cider, coffee, open-faced sandwiches and a wooden Swedish flag tchotchke taking center stage on the tray. After we'd had our little bedside feast, another midwife came back to measure and weigh the baby and help R to give him his first bath.

View of Gamla Stan from Norr Malarstrand, Stockholm, Sweden  |  Giving birth in Sweden: Labor, delivery, and the cost  |
At that point we were ready to be moved to the Patient Hotel, where new parents and their brand new babies can stay for up to two nights (for births without complications) to recover and get to know their little one while all their needs are taken care of and midwives are on call in case any help is required.

When people back home saw photos of our room they were astonished—it contained a queen-size bed (with two mattresses and separate adjustment controls so both the mamma and papà can choose whether to lay down or sit up), night stands, a table and two chairs, a closet, and a private bathroom with a shower. Throughout the room small red buttons were installed, and pressing any one of them would bring a midwife to the door.

It happened that we were at the hotel over the Santa Lucia feast day and in true Swedish fashion we were treated to a Santa Lucia procession at dawn. I was nursing the baby when I said to R, "do you hear singing?". A few minutes later there was a gentle knock at the door and then someone poked their head through to ask if we'd like to have our door opened so we could enjoy the procession. Of course we said yes, and we soon saw the preceding glow of candlelight from around the corner before a group of ladies dressed in white robes, clasping candles, and with green crowns on their heads came to our door to serenade us.

As they moved on to the next room we were brought mugs of glögg (warm spiced wine, but ours were nonalcoholic) and lussekatter (saffron buns). There's no way we could have had a more perfect first morning with our winter baby—snuggling with him and R in the glow of candlelight and the scent of saffron made everything about the previous days' labor vanish from my memory ( least temporarily).

+ + +

The biggest and perhaps best advantage of giving birth in Sweden is the incredible care provided by the midwives. No matter where you give birth in this country, the pre-natal maternal care and actual delivery are all handled by midwives. You'll only see a doctor if there's a serious complication.

We chose to give birth at BB Stockholm, one of the birthing centers within a hospital (Danderyds Sjukhus) in Stockholm. There's a stand alone birth center in the center of the city (BB Sophia), but we opted to be close to a hospital, just in case. (One of the Swedish princesses gave birth to her son there last summer, not that that's why we chose it, but it was nice to know that it met royal standards.)

Stadshuset City Hall Stockholm, Sweden  |  Giving birth in Sweden: Labor, delivery, and the cost  |

I'm sure that all of the birthing centers and hospital labor and delivery wings provide amazing care, but we both felt that the care we received at BB Stockholm was incredible and could not possibly have been better anywhere else.

Despite not getting to have the birth I wanted, I never once felt scared (at least for my health or safety, for my pain, yes) or alone or helpless. At every step of the way there was a midwife offering encouragement to me, explaining everything to us that was happening (in perfect English!), laying a calming hand on my forehead or on my arm, and always being warm, chatty and sympathetic. There was a level of intimacy and kindness that I can't imagine having somewhere else (certainly not in NYC if I'd given birth at a hospital that accepted whatever insurance I happened to have). And when our son was finally born even the midwives were moved (I saw a tear!) and gave us both big hugs.

While the three teams of women that saw us through from my admittance to us taking our little boy home (plus the ones who answered our phone calls for the day-and-a-half prior to us even walking into the birthing center) officially carry the title of midwife, we'll always think of them as the angelic, blue-smocked shepherdesses who helped me bring our son into this world.

+ + +

And the cost of the tremendous care we received?

Gamla Stan from Norr Malarstrand, Stockholm, Sweden  |  Giving birth in Sweden: Labor, delivery, and the cost  |
Not only did I not pay a single thing over 40 weeks of prenatal care (nor are we paying anything now for our son's initially weekly, now bi-weekly checkups), but the actual price of giving birth in Sweden was zero.

The only thing that comes with a cost is the stay at the Patient Hotel—mammas pay 100 kronor, or ~$12 per day for care and all meals, while the papàs/the other partner pay 500 kronor, or ~$60 per day. For the two-and-a-half days we were at the hospital, the total cost we paid upon leaving was $144. Not too shabby for giving birth and recovering in the 5th best country in the world for maternal health.

Although that midwife care? We could never put a price tag on that.

+ + +

More on Swedish healthcare, prenatal care and giving birth in Sweden:

* Whether it was an effect of the epidural or not I don't know, but in the last moments of delivery I did indeed (terrifyingly) have trouble "feeling" when to push, the result of which was a painful-to-recover-from set of stitches. My milk also came in "late". (But even if I'd known that that would have been the case for me, I'd still have taken the epidural.)

One year ago: The end of the year festivities & A wintry sunset walk
Two years ago: 2014: the beginning & Week 1
Three years ago: Postcard from Honduras & A sheaf of the past

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