Monday, November 23, 2015

Giving birth in Sweden: The parent preparation course

Flickorna Helin & Voltaire cafe on Djurgården, Stockholm  |  Giving birth in Sweden: The parent preparation course on afeathery*nest  |

When I'd registered us for the information night at the birthing center we'd chosen, I also signed us up for the 6-hour (!) "parent preparation" course, which covered a litany of topics related to the actual labor and delivery, as well as the days and weeks after. As we've both gone into this adventure with our eyes wide open but without our brains jammed full of information from every possible source, the relatively brief, but comprehensive, afternoon course was the perfect choice for us.

And what I mean by sans information overload is that we've purposely chosen a "light" form of preparation for this little one's arrival next month. We've got the big, necessary stuff ready, a few purchased onesies and clothing sets in varying newborn sizes (the plan is to get more once we actually know how big or small the baby is on arrival), and a few each of some of the smaller things, like swaddling blankets. But that's it. We have a minimalist, simple approach to purchasing things for our home and while it's a little hard to hold strong to that when a baby is on the way, we're doing our best.

We took the same approach when it came to "mental" preparation, in that we've talked a lot about the kind of parents we want to be, how we'll handle diapering and breastfeeding and food choices and the like, but apart from figuring out what I should and should not eat during pregnancy, we didn't get too bogged down in loads of information about each week of the pregnancy. Similarly, I've decided not to watch any live birth footage on YouTube and we didn't do a Lamaze course.

There's a chance I'm about to have the shock of a lifetime in a few weeks, but also the chance that practicing yoga for many years and going into this without all the potential what-if's flashing before my eyes will mean a calmer, saner birthing experience (during which I'll already know how to breathe through the pain, theoretically).

So—the one-shot overview of what to expect and how to prepare worked well for our style and we arrived at the auditorium to find it completely jammed with expectant parents. And while the schedule said it was a 6-hour situation, once we'd had a break for lunch and a fika, it was just four-and-a-half hours (whew).

But of course, all in Swedish.

Here's the thing with me and Swedish: if someone asked me to explain to them in Swedish or write down in Swedish what we'd learned, I wouldn't be able to, but given how I process languages (using lots of context clues and educated guessing), following along wasn't too much of an ordeal, as long as I didn't let me my mind wander. And since the lecturing midwife was a great speaker (lots of jokes and a personable style), that was easy to do and I ended up understanding about 80%.

(Even so, when we filed our birth plan we asked that the attending midwives speak English during key moments, because I'm pretty sure I won't be able to handle Swedish right then.)

As for what the course actually covered, she talked about:
  • How our lives will change as parents:
    She reminded us to make sure we do a lot of solo things now, like dinners out and spontaneous plans, etc., telling us to be as selfish as we can, because once that baby comes "every moment of our lives until we take our final breath will be consumed with wondering how our child is". (Her poetic phrasing naturally made me tear up).

  • How our relationship will change once we're parents:
    Then she spoke about how we're about to have a sweet, charming little baby in our midst...who's also a master manipulator. She talked about the importance of working together as a team and warned us not fall into the trap of becoming roommates or transforming our relationship into that of siblings.

    I was impressed that these kinds of reminders were included, and in general, that the course wasn't solely about the women and the physical changes and obstacles we're going through to bring our babies into the world, but also about the mental and emotional changes we'd both go through as equal partners in this. (Yay, Sweden!).

  • The psychology and physiology of birthing:
    The hormones that are released and how they instigate contractions, help move labor along, and signal to the body to begin producing milk. And how the baby actually descends and is pushed out (also the different ways that it can come out).

  • The phases of birth:
    Latent contractions—manageable contractions (you can sleep during these).
    Active contractions—when your body is dilating to 10 cm (i.e., painful).
    Transitional contractions—when the baby comes out (i.e., super painful).

  • When to call the birth center and when to go in:
    We were advised to stay at home as long as possible before coming in, as it's easier and more relaxing to be in your own cozy home than a hospital (assuming you're not the type to panic).

    And, that there's no need to call the hospital if your mucous plug comes out, but as soon as your water breaks we must call as the baby must be delivered sometime within 48 hours from that point (so as not to get an infection).

    What's great is that the midwives who answer your call listen to how you're breathing and talking and use that to recommend when you should come in (speaking on the phone during a latent contraction is fairly normal, whereas it's very difficult to speak through an active contraction).

  • Pain relief methods and options:
    Sweden offers lots of options and don't push any of them, which is another one of the reasons I wanted to and looked forward to giving birth here. The main choices are taking a shower/bath in your private birthing room's attached bathroom, massage, acupuncture, laughing gas, and an epidural.

  • The last moments before birth:
    This is where I learned one of the most amazing things. The midwife was telling us that when asked what they fear most about giving birth, women's #1 response is that they'd have an "accident" on the table (it happens, the midwives expect it), and #2 was that they'd tear or require an episiotomy.

    Not only would the latter be painful during the birth, but recovery from it (with stitches) means a very painful first few weeks at home (with problems going to the bathroom, walking, sitting, and laying down), when you're already dealing with everything else that comes with being a new parent. Then there are also the effects that the French tend to worry about (I'll let you Google that), but the midwife didn't mention that part of it at all.

    In an attempt to avoid this very uncomfortable ordeal, midwives take monthly refresher courses on how to coach a birthing woman through each contraction so that she's not pushing when she shouldn't be (which can also cause a tear), but in addition, there are always two midwives present during the final moments of birth: one to guide the baby out and one to apply warm oil and warm washcloths to make the skin more flexible while she uses her own hands to, essentially, hold the woman together. (Amazing.)

  • The first moments after birth:
    We were told there's no reason to include in our birth plans that we want to be sure the baby's cord stops pulsing before it's cut (something that happens quite often in the rest of the world), as standard practice is to place the naked baby on the mother's chest immediately. Cleanup and cutting of the cord comes later—another difference with some parts of the world that cut the cord and clean the baby before it's placed (wrapped) on the mother's chest.

    She told the partners present that they'd have to wait their turn to hold the baby as in the first hours after birth it's essential that mothers have the babies with them not only for the emotional bond and contact, but the smell of the baby and the hormones it releases also help get the flow of milk going.

  • What to bring with you to the hospital
  • Complicated births
  • Breastfeeding
  • Going to the "hotel"
  • Taking the baby home

Once again we left feeling very, very glad to be here in Sweden for this part of our lives. And while the fear of giving birth hasn't quite descended on me yet, going through how it's all going to play out and learning so much about the care the midwives provide, I'm fairly certain that when those feelings of panic set in, I'll have something to remember that will calm me down.

One year ago: A taste of the familiar
Three years ago: Some tweaks & (Out of the) ordinary

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Rogue pantaloons

Knit baby pants |  Rogue Pantaloons on afeathery*nest  |
These knit baby pants weren't exactly a labor of love.

And since hate is a strong word to use, I'll say this: I intensely despised every stitch I knit of them and I came very, very close multiple times to ripping it all apart (and I had ample chance to, since I made so many mistakes I had to keep undoing large sections).

After I had finished everything but one leg from the inseam down, I was completely prepared to pull each stitch out and save my yarn for something else, but for some reason I kept at it and forced myself to finish, despite everything I'd learned from Economics 101 and sunk costs.

Why was this such a disaster from beginning to end? The problems were three-fold:

(1) I couldn't find a single pattern that incorporated all three design aspects I wanted, namely: something knit top-down, in the round (so I wouldn't have to seam up the sides at the end), and that incorporated short rows (a technique that allows you to selectively knit certain portions of a garment to create a 3-D "pocket", like one you'd need for a women's top to accommodate her bust, or socks to fit around the heel of a foot, or, in my case, a little extra room in the tush to allow for cloth diapers).

(2) Since I couldn't find a pattern that encompassed all three, I decided to combine parts of multiple patterns to craft my own, which wasn't too bright since I have only ever knit pants once before (see further down).

And (3), the final "pattern" ended up violating some of my own self-set rules, like not knitting straight stockinette (Rule #2), as well as violating what are now two new ones:

I shall not knit larger projects on small needles. Baby pants are considered large in this case, especially when knit on size US 3 (3.25 mm circumference) needles.

RULE #5:
I shall not do Magic Loop projects on small needles, especially if using low-ply yarn (in this case, 4-ply fingering weight yarn, which translates into one of the finest categories of yarn and is characterized by only having 4 strands of fiber).

Magic Loop is a technique that means you don't necessarily need to have multiple sets of the same size of double-pointed needles, but in varying lengths, or, multiple versions of circular needles in the same size circumference, but with different lengths of connecting cables. You can just have the one set of circular needles with the longest cable and then manipulate the cable to be shorter should you be working on a smaller project.

It's an extremely efficient and effective technique—it's also highly annoying when working with finicky thread and smaller pieces, as it seems that every other stitch you have to re-adjust the cable.

Knit baby pants |  Rogue Pantaloons on afeathery*nest  |
If it hadn't been for these charcoal pants—my first attempt knit a few days earlier (which came out well, were finished in a day, and knit from one of the four skeins R picked out at Wincent)—that I'd completed between the sweater that annoyed me and these cream and heather gray pants that really annoyed me, I might have been forced to take a break from knitting for a good long while.

But now that these are done I'm ready for something completely different. Something not baby-related, not knit in-the-round, and NOT knit with super fine yarn.

P.S. Projects notes are on Ravelry—Rogue Pantaloons + Baby Bumpers

One year ago: 
Across an ocean (Happy 1st birthday!)

Two years ago: 
It all melts away (Happy birth day!)

Three years ago: 
Wistfulness & Latte pappas (just a few weeks until we have one in the family!)

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Monday, November 16, 2015

Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II)

Pestsäule, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |

I don't think it was Vienna's fault—at least not really. But after our magical visit to Prague I don't think that any city could have compared.

(The rain certainly didn't help, though)

We'd both been to Austria as children, but to smaller, more idyllic towns like Salzburg and Innsbruck, which we remembered as enjoying, but Vienna? I'm not sure if it was how commercial and modern the Old Town was or that we had the wrong idea and were expecting something more quaint and atmospheric (a la Prague). Whatever it was, we didn't quite click with Vienna.

But we did have one truly amazing experience.

On our first evening in town we went to a Classical (Mozart) and Baroque (Beethoven) string quartet concert held in a small church in the Old Town. I knew that we had to see some sort of live music while in Vienna, but I wasn't quite interested in a bigger todo, like the ones at the Opera house or the concert houses. Then I came across St. Anne's intimate concert series, which seemed perfect for us.

St. Anne's Church Mozart concert, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |
St. Anne's Church Mozart concert, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |

And it was—an hour of lovely music, sitting a few feet away from the musicians, in a beautiful church.

Our second day found us wandering around Old Town looking for the charm, for Old European flavor unmarred by McDonald's and Starbucks, and sadly, we didn't quite find it, although we did have a proper Viennese coffee break, so that's something.

By the next morning we were ready to go home, but Vienna had a little surprise for us.

Innere Stadt/Old Town, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |
Innere Stadt/Old Town, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |
Innere Stadt/Old Town, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |
Innere Stadt/Old Town, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |

We arrived at the airport and put ourselves in line to go through security and were shocked when the security guards insisted I go through the X-ray machine. Based on the two airports I've departed from while pregnant (Stockholm Arlanda and Catania Fontanarossa), I knew that it was within my rights (as it is for everyone) to ask for a physical pat-down from a security guard rather than go through the X-ray machine because of a medical condition. In fact, there were little curtained cabins right behind the X-ray machines precisely for that purpose.

Rather than be accomodating, the security manager put us through quite an ordeal, speaking rudely to us and saying, "Ma'am, just because you're pregnant doesn't mean you're special. This is Austria and everyone goes through the X-ray machine".

As he insisted that it was not harmful to the baby, I rationally asked him to show me where on the machine it says that or some form of documentation to confirm. He refused to, and instead called over the military police.

If you thought R might have been upset with the man's behavior before, you should have seen how livid he became when the two armed guards came over and began yelling at us in German (which of course was 100% unhelpful). I stood firm, R stood firm, and the Austrian security manager and military police stood firm.

Finally the head of security came over and pulled the others away so they could have a pow-wow in private. A minute later a female security guard was called over to them and then she came to me and said, "Ma'am if you'll follow me, I'll perform a physical security check in the curtained-off area".

Innere Stadt/Old Town, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |
Wiener Staatsoper, Innere Stadt/Old Town, Vienna  |  Postcard from Vienna (a.k.a. the last hurrah, part II) on afeathery*nest  |
Now really, why didn't that happen 10 minutes earlier? What was all the posturing and peacocking about for?  The absurdity of their insistence on making me do something that we felt was unsafe and that they couldn't prove was safe was infuriating. Especially after the wonderful treatment I received in Sweden and in Italy.

In the latter's case, the security agent at the head of the line gently "chastised" me for waiting in line to go through security, saying that as I was pregnant, I didn't have to. Then she led R and I both through to the family line, where he walked right though the X-ray machine and I was immediately led to a woman for a pat-down.

Clearly, Vienna has no intention of waiting for us.

(I still love that song, though.)

One year ago: The first snowfall
Two years ago: Travel tweaks
Three years ago: A bit more on AIRE & Frissons

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

My kind of morning

With a whole morning free a few weeks ago, we spent a few hours doing a condensed version of one of my all-time favorite pastimes: a stroll through town, a flânerie, if you will. An aimless wander to soak up the sounds, rhythms, flavors, and sights of the city.

We started at Kaffeverket, a cafè in Vasastan I came across just before we moved from there to Minneberg, although that hasn't stopped me from still going every chance I can. Not only is it a perfectly cozy place for a fika, given their great pastries and coffee, but as they also have matcha tea, juices, raw milks, coconut water, and full-on breakfasts and lunches, it's a great place to work (if working at a laptop in solitude is your thing), since they have free wi-fi and enough outlets.

Also? Their carrot cake is the absolute best I've found so far here...or anywhere, really. They load in the spices, lace their frosting with tart lemon juice, and sprinkle chopped pistachio and slivers of fig on top. Just look at this tasty little wonder*. I have an obsession with it, so much so that one day recently when I went a bit overboard with cleaning and then had to lay flat on the couch for a few hours to recover, R snuck out and came back with a slice for me (which naturally made me tear up before I devoured it).

After we'd had our morning fika, we walked from Sankt Eriksplan to Odenplan and along the way we stopped in at our bank and then at a baby store to ogle the stroller we'd picked out. Then I remembered hearing about Wincent, a yarn shop on Nortullsgatan just north of Odenplan, so we headed there next.

The boutique is small and quaint—when you enter you see one wall lined with pretty bolts of fabric, while the rest of the shop is lined with wood shelves heaped with yarn. The friendly owner (seems to be a theme here in Stockholm) chatted with us while we looked at all the lush colors and soft skeins of beautiful yarn. I didn't technically need anything, but when R handed me 4 balls of beautiful wool (2 in indigo blue and 2 in charcoal gray) saying, "can you use these?", I took them to the counter immediately.

Turns out he'd picked, purely by how they felt in his hands, 100% organic wool from Lane Mondial, an Italian brand that's been around since the 1940s with a family-run sheep farm just outside of Brescia, which the boutique owner had just visited.

After leaving with my bag of goodies we swung by Akadamiebokhandeln, a book store on the south side of Odenplan (a block away from Café Pascal). We didn't need anything in particular there either, but I can never resist the chance to meander around bookshelves, especially lately when I've been drawn to beautiful (and hilarious) Swedish children's books. While last time I found a wonderfully absurd title, this time I found an equally hilarious illustrated book cover. I laughed, but R was not quite so amused—in fact his Sicilian sensibilities were a tad bit offended.

Luckily he was soon engrossed in a book about whisky so I was free to have myself a proper, un-hurried wander around, which led me to the hobby section and the most ingenious book: Sagornas Stickbok.

It's book of fairytales interspersed with knitting patterns for the clothes the children in the stories are described as wearing. For example: "Pappan, katten och flickan i den röda klänningen" (The father, the cat and the girl in the red dress), which is then followed by a pattern to make the little girl's dress, collar and bib.

How amazing is that? If only I could read fairytales in Swedish with as much enjoyment as I read them in English I would have snatched it up. The problem for me is that fairytales use so many fanciful terms and there are always numerous woodland creatures, which are completely necessary for a children's story, but, my language repository doesn't include many of those words just yet, meaning I can't quite comprehend, much less pronounce them, although I am practicing with my wee friend.

Maybe someday, though.

(*image from Nancy Elmira)

One year ago: Postcard from Andalucía: Sevilla
Two years ago: A Derby Bourbon
Three years ago: Winter oil concoction & Trekking in tights & Farewell fall

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Giving birth in Sweden: The birth center info night

Skeppsbron in Gamla Stan, Stockholm Sweden  |  afeathery*nest  |

A few weeks ago R and I headed to an information night at the birthing center we chose for where we'd like me to give birth. Having never given birth here in Sweden nor anywhere else, I had us sitting in our seats and was mentally shushing people around me 10 minutes before the midwife was scheduled to begin talking.

(Let me tell you, it's not easy to digest important information in a foreign language, especially when you're anxious and someone is repeatedly crumpling and un-crumpling the opening of their bag of candy while bouncing a toddler on their lap.)

The majority of the women that were there (each, amazingly, were accompanied by their partner) are also due in December, which made me a teensy bit nervous as the birthing center doesn't have that many rooms available (I believe around 20), and if when we call to let them know we're coming in we find out that they're full, I might have to give birth elsewhere, but, I'm trying not to think about that.

Anyway—when I found out that I was pregnant I decided to go with a private midwife group here in Stockholm for my prenatal care, and that private group is connected to private birthing centers located at all of the major hospitals in the area (there are stand alone birth centers, too, but we wanted to be near an emergency room just in case).

I've yet to figure out exactly what the difference is between private and public facilities (aside from aesthetics), as both have the exact same costs for pre-natal care, labor and delivery, and post-natal care for mothers and babies, which is: 0.

The evening began with the midwife going over the birthing center's philosophy—how the midwives work together to make the parents comfortable, how their goal is for both parents to feel mentally, physically and emotionally safe and taken care of, the process for checking in, and the sequence of activities that will take place from when we arrive to when we leave, including what happens after the birth, when we can elect to be moved from the birthing room to the "hotel" where the parents and baby can stay together for two days, assuming everyone is healthy.

(We're definitely taking advantage of that, because having someone else take care of all our needs for the first two days while we get to know our little one, and having midwives on call for any questions or help we might need, especially when it comes to breastfeeding, sounds incredible.)

Being a visual person, I loved when the midwife began flipping through step-by-step photographs in the presentation of the building entrance, the elevator bank, the entrance to the birthing center itself, the birthing room (which has a birthing bed, an L-shaped sofa, chairs, a table, and a private bathroom), pain relief apparatuses (yoga balls, bathtubs, a wooden coatrack-like structure that you can lean into and put your weight on, etc.), and examples of various birthing positions (on the birthing bed itself, on a birthing stool, in different positions on the couch, and even on the floor).

Perhaps the best photo of all, though, was of a smiling midwife carrying in a tray with two flutes of bubbly and two open-faced sandwiches topped with little Swedish flags on toothpicks for the new parents to enjoy after the birth.

While the information didn't go into super-detailed medical specifics (that was covered at another meeting at the birthing center—more on that later), it was a great introduction to how everything's going to play out, especially since neither of us have ever had any experience with Swedish hospitals.

We left two hours later feeling happy that not only had I picked that particular midwife association to be with us for my pregnancy and the birth of our baby, but incredibly relieved that we had waited to leave NYC and move to Stockholm before growing our little family from two to three.

One year ago: Postcard from Andalucía: Cadíz + Medina-Sidonia
Two years ago: Craving a cozy cappuccino
Three years ago: Tension with the Times & Fondue femmes

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