Musketeers Oath

Denmark is proud of the work-life balance of its people. The generous parental leave, sick pay,  good pensions,  decent working hours are part of the advertising copy for Denmark. Explanations of how they get to be the “happiest” people often centre around how good they have it here.

And yet, Danes did not get all these workers’ rights and perks just because they are more compassionate or more generous. Paid leave for childcare did not fall out of the sky onto Danish heads on an Estonian battleground. Danish workers fought for these rights.

In the 1800s, there were running battles between employers and employees. There were strikes (where employees do not work) and lockouts (where employers prevent workers from working) over and over, after each other. The eventual solution to this deadlock came to be known as The Danish Model.

All the good stuff that you see in the Guardian came from regular negotiations between employee organisations (unions) and the employers. It is a source of national pride but it sort of goes on in the background. There are negotiations every few years and everyone just lets their union get on with it and then there is incremental change. Sometimes to the favour of one side or the other, but usually a bit of give and take from both. These negotiations are called “OK” and then the year they take place. They usually take place every 2-3 years. OK stands for overenskomst, a peculiarly Danish word meaning “terms and conditions”. Whatever is agreed applies to everyone, union or not, in the sector. Union members can vote on whether they agree with the new agreement, or not. If they do not agree, then it can mean strike action. Individual workplaces can agree “local” solutions with union reps if the national terms and conditions do not work in their context but employers cannot otherwise change the agreements in place. If they work outside of the “overenskomst” they can be taken to employment tribunals.

Except in OK-13, the administration did not follow this model. They wanted to press ahead with school reform in the “folkeskole” sector and could not pay for it without changing the terms and conditions of teachers. They knew teachers would not agree to the changes. Incremental change would be too slow.

The “employers” in this case are a group of “kommune” borough council representatives called KL. This is because “folkeskoler” are managed by the “kommuner”, rather than the central government. The government has nothing to do with the negotiations. Or at least, they are not supposed to. Except, in this case, they stage managed the entire thing.

(Point of order: Also involved were workers under the same heading, for example, teachers in the independent sector, teachers of adult learners and those working at language schools. Their employer is the “state” and the employers organisation is called “Centralorganisationernes Fællesudvalg”, or CFU for short. This means that workplaces in different sectors can have tailor-made terms and conditions relevant to their working conditions.)

In 2013, teacher unions met with employers and almost immediately it was called a deadlock by the employers. Teacher representatives at the negotiations reported being blindsided by how quick the employers were to call off the talks and threaten a lockout. The press went a bit overboard to appear balanced so the impression was given that there was fault on both sides.  The Finance Ministry put a lot of pressure on the media to do this. No matter how much teacher organisations tried to get the message out that the Danish Model was being ignored and that the government had prevented the employers from compromising, it was not until 2017 that it was officially confirmed that the negotiations were not performed in good faith.

If there is going to be conflict (either a strike or a lockout), the relevant side needs to give four weeks warning. The terms and conditions tend to “run out” on 1st April, so if nothing has been agreed to, that is when the conflict starts. A conflict means that union members cannot come to work and they get no pay, (even those on parental or sick leave). The unions give out “conflict support”, either as salary or as a loan. This puts unions in precarious positions because they only have access to so much cash. Non-union members can still come to work but they cannot do the work of union members.

In April 2013, the employers had a lockout. It lasted almost a month. There were three ways it could have ended: teacher organisations agreeing to everything suggested by the employers without reservation, employer organisations compromising on some aspects or the government, as an independent party, stepping in and making a new law which would be fair to both sides.

As the government was not independent of the negotiations, as they should have been, this was not fair for both sides. Law 409 is rather technical but what it meant in essence was that teachers were now expected to perform all the work in working hours, at school, and there was no limit on how many lessons they could have a week. Then the “folkeskole” reform was introduced which increased contact hours, amongst other changes. Law 409 had to apply to all teaching sectors, even independent schools who were not party to the changes from the “folkeskole” reform.

At the next OK round, (OK-15) working time was off the table, and there was no appetite for conflict, so Law 409 carried on. As in: working time for teachers is not part of a negotiated “overenskomst”, it is decided by law.

Then the news came out that the government had not been independent of the negotiations and the whole chaotic mess had been planned to happen so that working time negotiations could be bypassed.

So, this year, the entire public sector who should be negotiating in their OK-18, (that is anyone who works for the “kommune”, the region or the state; not just teachers), have said that they will not start negotiations for their terms and conditions until the question of working time and Law 409 is addressed properly. Their demand is that teacher organisations be allowed to negotiate their working time and drop the law entirely. If these sectors do not get anything in place by 1st April 2018, then it could be, in effect, a general strike or a lockout that impacts the entire public sector.

They call this the “Musketeer Oath”, as in one-for-all-and-all-for-one.

The employers have so far refused to address teacher working time properly. Negotiations were halted for “thinking time” in mid-February as the representatives for public employees felt that the employers were not negotiating in good faith. The negotiations are due to restart today (Saturday 17th) and the deadline to agree something is the end of February.

With any luck, the employers will negotiate in good faith and they will be able to sort something out. Keep your fingers crossed.

Mothers’ Groups

A little caveat before we dive in. Loads of my foreign friends in Denmark have liked their mothers’ group after they had a baby. It’s the luck of the draw.

In my kommune, the health visitors set you up with a group of local women who have given birth within a few weeks of each other. They leave you to it after that. My health visitor asked if I wanted to be part of one and although I was hesitant, I thought it might be nice to meet some of the local families with babies of a similar age to mine.

Usually, they try to match up first time mums and have second (or more) timers in their own groups but that didn’t happen with ours, so half of us were first timers. This changed the dynamic a bit. There was never any “omg, I don’t know how to make baby work!” for example.

My expectations versus the reality were probably what did for me. I expected that we would meet up, go to the couch and have one drink and one cakey/pastry snack whilst chatting for about an hour and then go home.

How long have I lived here?

The reality was this: we met, went to the dining table and then had Danish breakfast for three or four hours. Of course we did.

On the very first meeting, we were having the suggested group discussion of our birth stories and stuff about our families. When it was my turn to talk about the birth, half of the mums walked away to change their babies/prepare a feed. I tried waiting until they got back, that did not fly at all.

During the second hour, I went into a panic. I could never have them at my house. There was no way I could lay on a spread like the first mum had done. Danish breakfast consists of bread rolls (several types), cheeses, hams, jams, juices, hot drinks etc. I might have half of that in the house at any one time and I don’t drive so I could never just pop to the bakery and pick it all up. I would need to do it in advance and at that stage of newborn life, I was barely doing things on time let alone before I needed to.

Her house was immaculate. All of their houses were immaculate. My house was far from a disaster zone but getting it up to spec would have taken several hours. When would I find the time? My front windows looked like we had used privacy film on them. Our back garden looked unkempt and unloved.

Plus, I have a clingy dog. If I had any chance of keeping her from howling the place down if kept separate from the new guests, I would need to tire her out before they came. When would that happen? I was breastfeeding all the damn time. The baby took unpredictable cat naps.

Where would they put their prams? There was nowhere to put them! I didn’t really use ours and certainly not for outdoor naps like they would expect to do. Where would they put their carrycots inside?

I explained to the group that I would not be able to host but could we instead meet in town? Have a coffee? See a movie at the babybio? There was a mixed reception to the idea but in the end, I swapped “my” day with the mother with the youngest baby who was not feeling up to it which was totally understandable. But then they acted like it was never my turn and we would always meet up at their houses. I was starting to go invisible.

I skipped a few meetings here and there too. I had just had a baby, a baby who woke up several times in the night but slept in sometimes until 10am. They always met at 10am. Obviously, I would be using my second language. On no sleep. Although they were all in my village, it was a good 30 minute walk to any of their houses each time. And I’m foreign, so I cannot just jump in with a witty interjection, I have to really weigh up my words and think about what I want to say for ages which means I do not do a lot of talking at all because the conversation moves on. A group of six is too much for me, even in English sometimes.

One mum was super kind and sweet, and texted me to say I should not feel like I could not come because I could not host and I was always welcome at hers. That meant a lot to me.

But whenever I came, I would just end up talking to my baby. If they were showing photos on their phones, it never got passed to me. If my baby was trying to interact, it was only ever two of the mums who would reply to her. The cloak of invisibility was extending to her too, and I did not like that one bit.

The final straw was after coming one week, they decided to take the group photo of all the babies the next week when we were not there. It is such a little thing. Trivial. But it stung and the message was received and understood. She was not part of the group. Because of me. Again, the super kind and sweet mum texted me to say she was sorry I was not coming back. She is a good egg. And that’s not to say that the other mums in the group were not. They were fine. They just did not know how to be inclusive. They did not know how to deal with diversity.

It seems to me that Danish mother’s groups inadvertently enforce certain standards of being Danish. If your house does not fit, if your face does not fit, if you are not using the “right” brands (they all had the same baby monitor, for example and no one was surprised), if you don’t do the same things with your baby (within a set tolerance range of acceptable practices), then you can start to become unwelcome.

In contrast, my international mother group is still kicking along. We meet in cafes and library playrooms and the cinema and bars. We meet semi-regularly and no one is on the outs if they cannot make a meet up or three.  Everyone has their own way of doing things and inasmuch as we discuss it,  it’s basically to get inspiration material. For example, did you know, you can cut your child’s fingernails more easily if you put a pre-schooler show on the tv? Did you know you can make porridge fingers with oats and bananas if your baby does not enjoy eating porridge from a spoon?

My Danish mothers’ group were not openly judgemental about me but they also had nothing to talk to me about because I was so different. I did not even tell them that I had been putting the baby on the potty when I thought she needed to go, with great results. We were already too different, you know? They were probably all going to start weaning at four months, and I was going to wait until the NHS recommended six months. These tiny differences that make my international mothers’ group so enjoyable, were massive chasms that separated me from the Danish mothers.

And that’s just my impression of it. I am sure they have their own impressions of me and why it did not work out.


There was a “class” about breastfeeding in the birth prep they offer you. They told us this: newborns have tiny stomachs, very very few mothers can’t make enough milk, trust your instincts.

The baby came out and after a brief consultation with a doctor was put at my breast. It stung a little bit but it was manageable. It seemed to be okay if a bit ouchy.

In Denmark, first-timers are offered a couple of nights in the “patient hotel” as a couple (free for mum, a few hundred kroner a night for dad/co-mum), but we had planned a homebirth and made our peace with the idea we would not have the chance to stay. We compromised and stayed for one night.

The first night, the baby wanted cuddles and to feed the whole time. The nipple pain was much more by then and every time she indicated she was hungry (which was a lot), I would cringe. I had a lot of adrenaline but I did need at least some sleep. I think I dozed off in the nursing chair with her in my arms and maybe caught some zz’s in the patient bed as well with her in the cot beside me.

To get discharged, the nurse had to come see her feed. She fed for one nurse, then another. They were satisfied but kept trying to flip her top lip out like a fish with her pinky finger and called it a “bad habit” that her top lip was not curling. No one checked her for lip tie. They kept going on about “hamburgers”. I could not get the hang of anything they were saying.

We went home. I fed on demand.  My nipples hurt like billy-o. She was voracious. It was full on. But she had a tiny tummy and almost everyone could do it. So I thought it was going okay.

On day 3, we had to make a special trip into the hospital to have us both checked out.

She had lost nearly 10% of her birth weight and was extra sleepy. Even the heel prick test was barely annoying for her and it took ages to get all the blood out. The midwife checked my breastfeeding and said “she’s not drinking”. “Does she always fall asleep so quickly?” Apparently you can tell by the sounds they make and see swallowing behind their ears. No one had told me that. And by telling me that they had small tummies, I had expected her to fall asleep super quickly, I didn’t realise I needed to keep her awake for a full feed. I thought that was it. We asked about her snake tongue, shaped like a heart. An obvious sign of a tongue tie. The midwife rummaged around the mouth and said she was fine because it was only a slight tongue tie.

In the evening, the midwife called to check on me and based on what I was saying about nappies and how sleepy she was, recommended topping her off with formula.

I had been told this was the death of breastfeeding. I had been told that I would lose my supply. She would get nipple confusion. Everything was over before it started.

The midwife called a nurse to double check her advice and rang back. I gave the phone to my husband. He was sent on a mission and he came back from the all night pharmacy with hypoallergenic formula, “medicine shot glasses” and a hospital grade pump. We had nothing to sterilise anything, so we ended up sterilising a teaspoon and a glass coffee cup in our biggest saucepan. We made her some formula and I felt like a complete failure.

My husband gave her it drop by drop from the shotglass while I pumped. It was still colostrum at this stage, so basically nothing was coming out of me and that was normal. But we had strict instructions to pump as much as we put in, so I was there for ages. And no one told us that you didn’t need to turn the pump up to the highest setting to get the most out. My nipples bled and spoiled a batch. I cried and cried.

I had to sit down on my stitches to pump. I had no back support. I could not sleep while the baby slept. All the time, I tried to get her onto my breast but she was refusing. Hungry and crying but not latching on.

The health visitor came and I cried again.My milk was starting to come in, so I was extra emotional.  She was so kind and gentle. She could see that my husband had had enough of the shotglasses, so she gave us a recommendation for bottles that would not be too confusing for the baby. She recommended using a nipple shield. And that is how we had to do it. The baby could suddenly latch and get milk out of me. But we were afraid it wasn’t enough, so she had a couple of bottles of formula every day. I pumped and pumped to try to encourage more production. We gave her that milk too.

There was no nipple confusion. She loved bottles and she loved boobs.

I read all the internet sites about breastfeeding, over and over while I pumped. And at the time it felt like the most important thing in the world. I felt like a total failure because I was still supplementing. The “supportive” websites that I was consulting for help with latching were telling me that formula was literally poison and that I was hurting her by feeding her.


And then I hit my stride. I fed her with the shields. She catnapped. I pumped. Over and over all day and all night. Sleep when the baby sleeps! Like hell. One evening feed, I could hand over to my husband because I had banked enough milk. It got easier. One day at 6 weeks, I tried giving her the boob without a shield after pumping and she took it. Another time, a few days later, it worked again and I could ditch the shields for good. I stopped pumping.

Occasionally, I would get this feeling of intense creepy crawly itchy unease when my milk let down. Thank god that didn’t last very long. It would be several minutes of just wanting to run away. I couldn’t stand my own clothes against my skin and had to peel my socks off so I could feed. No one tells you that about breastfeeding.

Now breastfeeding is the easiest thing. I was walking back with shopping yesterday with the baby in the carrier. She let me know she was hungry, I pulled over, did some adjustments and then I could carry on walking to the bus stop whilst feeding her. I can get her back to sleep at night without much effort. But those first few weeks were a nightmare and I don’t understand why organisations set up to promote breastfeeding need to make mothers feel guilty about using formula. It’s just food.

If I had decided that it wasn’t worth it and I would prefer to feed my baby with formula, in some ways my life would be less convenient and in others it would be more so. I don’t think her health would have been affected much in either direction. I also realised that the midwives and health visitors here give just as bad advice about breastfeeding as they do back home.

The most important takeaway from the whole experience was that things seem life and death close up but almost inconsequential even a few weeks later. It was also a masterclass in motherhood. You get a lot of contradictory advice. You get a lot of bad tips mixed in with the useful stuff. You get told to NEVER EVER by one person and ALWAYS EVERY TIME by another. And you have to make your peace with making it up as you go along. You cannot follow all the advice. You cannot align what you do (or want to do), with your identity. You have to go with the flow. You have to mix and match. You have to find the compromises you can live with. That is how you get through it.

The Birth

I was sure I was going to give birth a bit earlier than my due date. This is because I had a lot of Braxton Hicks (practice contractions), and some mild real contractions. Every so often, in the evening, I would throw up or have a massive tummy clearout from the other end. And every time I would think “whelp, here it comes!”

Nothing doing.

I wanted a homebirth and they don’t recommend that after 42 weeks. In fact, just before 42 weeks, they recommend an induction. This is because births after 42 weeks have poorer outcomes and inductions don’t always work straight away.

We weighed it all up and decided to wait to see if she would come by herself before the magic cutoff date. Nope.

So, on 42+0 we went back to our home-away-from-home, Skejby Hospital. Once you get to a certain point, they want to see you every day and do an hour or so of fetal monitoring but you’re not exactly an emergency so there is a lot of waiting around if you get bumped by women in genuine need of the midwives/facilities available. We had spent a lot of time in the waiting room downstairs and read all the Scientific Americans cover to cover.

They gave me pills with a hormone called prostaglandins in them and sent me on home. Finally the contractions started to get regular and settle into a pattern around dinner time. Finally it was happening. And I thought, yeah these are painful but women are crazy for going on about the agony of childbirth if this is it. Maybe it’s all the hypnobirthing I had been doing. Or because my labour started essentially a month ago, maybe the pain was all spread out over the weeks.

We called the midwife when the contractions got to the magic 3-5 minutes apart. She told us to keep taking the pills and call in 2 hours. We did and she had (we found out later), called in sick after talking to us, and we spent about 45 minutes trying to figure out what to do next with the on-call midwife who obviously didn’t know anything about me or my notes.

The contractions were regular and frequent. The on-call midwife said it was up to us whether we wanted to come in but we would probably be sent back. I did not feel safe in case I was one of those who barely feel childbirth and I ended up having an unassisted birth. We went in and my contractions dried the fuck up. When they came, they were painful but they were no longer regular. And my cervix was closed up and I almost cried with frustration. My cervix had surgery on it a few years ago, and several midwives had said that the chances were nothing would happen with dilation for ages and then POP all at once. I was so sick of bringing it up to new midwives, so I did not say anything.

We went home and I got really angry. If I wasn’t allowed in when my contractions were 3 mins apart, lasting 1 minute, then did they want an unintended unassisted? PEOPLE OF THE WORLD!?

We tried to get some sleep, as recommended but with contractions of a minute every few minutes only one of us was successful at that. I was dozing between contractions and I felt a little pop. Went to the bathroom fully expecting my waters to have gone but instead it was my bloody show/mucus plug thing.

Then shit got real. The contractions went up a serious number of notches. The pain was excruciating and it was mostly in my thighs. None of the birth prep exercises I had done allowed for thigh pain and I was completely lost.

Two hours from being sent home, we were on our way back to Skejby. We left the bags in the car because I assumed I was going to be sent home again.

Get examined. 100% effaced but not even 1cm dilated. But the midwife said (and I’ll love her forever for this) “you’re obviously in active labour, so I’m not going to send you home”

Four hours later, I was at 10cm. I had tried a bath, gas and air, kneeling up, the birthing ball and an epidural. None of it did much. The epidural took the edge off, I guess but I was also in transition once it was placed and maybe I was always going to have a quiet, spacey time.

When the pushing phase started, I thought it would be a matter of a couple of hours, if that. In the event, it was almost the same length as the “opening” stage. She wasn’t in the right position so they were getting me to labour down and pant instead of push, only I hadn’t bloody realised that was their plan and was sort of pushing at the same time as panting. Not consciously but I wasn’t holding back either. We tried all sorts of positions but my pelvis and thighs were so sore, I ended up on my back.

I also “needed” a catheter which was incredibly painful and had to be abandoned. This suggests to me that the epidural did not bloody work at all. I went to the loo but the fetal heart rate went scary with all the pushing so they got me out of there.

These signs of fetal distress on the monitor meant we had to test the baby’s blood pH every 20 minutes. This meant, every 20 minutes a team of a doctor, a senior midwife and a SOSU would show up to take the measurements and I’d have to get on my back to help. It’s all a bit of a blur 5 months on. I do remember the SOSU trying to help by moving my leg into a stirrup and I screamed in pain (I had SPD, which is where your pelvis takes the relaxin hormone a little too seriously and basically detaches from itself).

They really wanted the catheter in. I think they thought a full bladder was the only thing between me and getting the baby out? I only consented if the midwife went and got some local anaesthetic. She seemed surprised that this was even a thing but went and got something from some cupboard. She remarked to the student that it was only a couple of drops after all that (thankfully, I didn’t hear this, and heard about it afterwards from my husband)

My “birth wishes” had that I was not interested in ventouse or forceps and if docs were worried about either of us, just get us into theatre and c-section me. The doctor was talking to me about that just before the very last contraction. Did I really mean it? She wouldn’t use forceps, she wouldn’t need to cut anything and it’d be as invasive as these 20 minute checks had been (annoying but not painful). So, I said I changed my mind. This conversation was apparently enough for me to get the baby out without use of forceps or ventouse.

The next contraction came and as was usual I greeted it with “oh no, not NOW” because as was usual someone was doing something to my vagina at the time. The midwife told me it was PERFECT timing and just to go for it. I did scream at the crowning and was duly told not to “waste energy” which was a damned cheek considering that I tore actual muscle. But then the pain/ring of fire subsided because oxygen was cut off to the perineum, isn’t evolution great?

Last contraction and I got her out. They put her on my chest and she weed all over me. “Oh, nice to meet you TOO” I said. She also had pooped inside me and was coughing a bit, so they got my husband to cut the cord and whisked her away for a check.

The midwife checked in with me to see if I was ok. “Oh yes, I’ve had her inside me for nine and a half months, time for someone else to have a go, frankly” The SOSU said “See, no pain now!” And I noticed that it was all gone “Oh my, even the pelvis pain. The second she came out!”

The paediatrician came to check over the baby and then brought her over to me to nurse. She was fine but she might feel a bit sick because she swallowed some of the meconium that was in the amniotic fluid. The paediatrician was the only medical health professional that spoke to me in English.

There wasn’t exactly a rush of love, I felt a bit confused and dazed for all that. But I did feel something, a big whoosh of something. But also a bit blank, like “insert emotion here” I asked if I needed to push to get the placenta out but I didn’t need to, it just plopped out. I asked to see it and they said they would as soon as they knew it was all out. They showed it to me later while I was nursing my baby and I replied “ew, gross, lovely, thanks”. I called my mum who asked who the baby looked like. The baby looked like a chimp/alien crossbreed experiment but I could hardly say that so I replied “she looks like a white person, I guess” which made the midwife laugh.

They told me that I had tore around my urethra (I had NO idea this was possible), and the muscles of my perineum. “Will it heal by itself?” I asked hopefully. Nope, stitches times.

And I felt great. They wheeled me down to the mother and baby unit because the patient hotel was full. I was full of adrenaline and barely slept at all. I felt great about the birth, they had kept me in high spirits and I felt listened to and respected. It wasn’t until a few days later that disappointment crept in. My baby’s birth was exactly like the births on One Born Every Minute that I hated. I was coached to push. I had to HOLD MY BREATH to push. There had been a cascade of interventions. I had been on my back for fuck’s sake. And there was guilt. The baby was very sleepy for the first few days and I felt like I did that to her. All the breastfeeding books that I turned to for help with latching on were very much anti-epidural. I felt like I had done something awful to my infant daughter in trying to get through a medical induction. She had been in distress. There had been meconium in the water. And I had so wanted a homebirth and I felt like all the people who had told me how dangerous homebirths are would be smug as fuck that I’d been in hospital and taken all the meds.

Five months on and I don’t give a fuck anymore. It was eight hours of my life almost half a year ago. My baby is fine. More than fine, she is in the rudest of health. I did what I had to do and everyone got out alive. My vagina has definitely seen better days but it too is on the mend. Maybe I could have done things differently and had the same outcome or a different outcome or a worse or a better one. But I didn’t. I did what I needed to and we all got through it. Maybe I would have enjoyed a homebirth more but I don’t think we were remotely prepared for all the mess! We had got all the waterproof sheets and towels, sure, but jesus. Humans didn’t get the idea of a ‘blood sacrifice’ from the depths of our imaginations. I remember asking the SOSU “is there usually this much blood?” and she said “Oh yes, don’t worry, it’s all yours though, not hers”

The memories are fading and I cannot remember what the pain was like anymore. I could for ages but it’s receding like the tide. The first pics of the baby in the delivery room don’t make me feel sad or regretful anymore. I feel proud and nostalgic for the experience. I guess that’s how people manage to have more than one baby.


Birth Prep Danish Style

As a first time mother, I was invited to three birth prep modules which were run by my team of midwives.

The first module was about the mechanics of birth. The second was about the first few days. The third was about my relationship with the baby’s father and mental health following birth.

The mechanics of birth module was Just The Facts, Son. They went through the different stages of labour and discussed what could be expected. There was a tour of the labour ward and a rundown of all the pain relief options. They also gave out enemas to women that were planning homebirths and wanted to use them before the midwife got there.

Mostly, what I took away from the module was that they didn’t want the dads to feel useless. Indeed, much of the discussion centred around “remember! you’re playing an important role, dads! Mums say they couldn’t have done it without you afterwards”

Have to admit, it sort of grated on me. Can’t a guy go for a few hours not being the centre of things without needing his ego plushed up like a flat cushion? Seriously.

The second module was really about breastfeeding. I found it interesting that all the other mums were up for trying breastfeeding from the get go. In my country, there are plenty of women who already know breastfeeding is not for them. Or maybe it is the same in Denmark but they know better than to voice this in public? There was a little bit about how bonding takes place and the different types of poos to be expected in the first few months.

The third module was basically a plea from the Danish state (which planned the module and made the resources), to the parents “not to keep score” about who was having the least sleep or doing the most work. (There was also some stuff about spotting post-natal depression)

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that there are three ways that a relationship can divide labour with a newborn: equally and unequally at the expense of one of the partners. As most women in Denmark appear to be up for breastfeeding in at least the first few weeks/months, I am going to surmise that either the lion’s share of the childcare is performed by the mother or the couple manage to balance the duties out fairly. Cases where the father is doing so much more than the mother that he wants to start a fight about it are going to be very rare.

So, if there are heated discussions amongst hetero couples about this topic, it is almost always going to be the mother asking the father to do more. And the Danish state thinks this is such a bad avenue of conversation that it needs its very own module in childbirth prep class to serve as a warning against.

Fine, keeping score is a rotten way to run a relationship but it is not like the Danish state, via my midwives, offered an alternative schema. Just a blanket injunction against arguments about a lack of cooperation.

Anyway, the end of the session came and they asked if there were any questions. A course mate raised her hand

“I know this is off-topic but I was just wondering, how many hours a day/night should my baby sleep on her belly so she doesn’t get a flat head?”

The midwives reacted with shock

“Goodness, no, babies should never sleep on their bellies! It is associated with sudden infant death syndrome!”

“Alright, on her side then.”

“No! They have to lie on their backs! Their backs!”



And it highlighted for me how strange it is that the UK’s sleep advice for newborns is completely at odds with the Danish.

One big difference is that the UK recommend babies do not sleep separately from adults (even for naps in the day) for the first 6 months, where Danish families happily pop their babies outside alone in all weathers for naps.

Another is that the UK recommend that newborn babies do not have duvets (overheating risk). Danish hospitals actually put baby duvets on the the “hospital bag” list for expectant parents.

Meanwhile, we get a whole session on avoiding conflict with partners in the first few months but only get told to put the baby on its back to sleep if we specifically ask?


New Adventure

So, I’m 21 weeks pregnant.

What has been interesting so far has been the difference in advice that preggos get from British, Danish and American sources of information.

I get the Danish information at my medical appointments, British information online on the NHS website and from forums, and American information from the apps I’ve downloaded to my phone.

One would assume that as this is based on Science and all three countries are reasonably similar, that the advice for those in the family way would be the same.

Not quite.

The best book I read (and one that I recommend to anyone considering starting a family), is “Expecting Better” by Emily Oster. This is a text where an economist goes through the advice given to American pregnant women, examines the evidence for claims and presents the statistics. Some of the stuff we are told is based on practically nothing at all. The injunction against coffee, for example, might be a simple misunderstanding of cause and effect. (Women who cannot stand coffee in the first trimester tend to have better outcomes than women who don’t find its bitterness completely disgusting. So, was it the caffeine that harmed the foetus or was the pregnancy not viable which led to less morning sickness?)

This is how you can have regional variations. A lot of what we are told to Never Ever do is based on cultural standards and prejudices, rather than hard science.

One example: in Britain and the US, we are told to stay away from pâté. This is for two reasons:

  1. Liver pâté has high levels of animal-based vitamin A, an overdose of which is harmful to foetuses
  2. It may contain listeria which is particularly bad if you are pregnant

In Denmark, where liver pâté is a way of life, “Du kan godt spise leverpostej”. They even go as far as to say it has low levels of vitamin A.

What about alcohol? In the US and Denmark, the answer is “hell no, even if you don’t plan on getting pregnant but are having unprotected sex, no no no”, whereas Britain, the advice is “not in the first trimester. Take it real easy in the second. One or two won’t hurt.”

In the UK, they offer whooping cough vaccinations to women at my stage of pregnancy. In the US, they offer it in the third trimester. In Denmark, my midwife had to look up what ‘kighoste’ even was, and looked like I was asking about getting a smallpox vaccine. (Though she did say “it’s not really a thing here but if you’re going back to the UK with the baby before it has the standard vaccines, maybe it’s an idea to talk to the doctor about getting the vaccine here”)

Gestational diabetes in the UK is screened for if:-

  • your body mass index (BMI) is above 30
  • you previously had a baby who weighed 4.5kg (10lbs) or more at birth
  • you had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
  • one of your parents or siblings has diabetes
  • your family origins are south Asian, Chinese, African-Caribbean or Middle Eastern

In the US, if you

  • Had a previous pregnancy with gestational diabetes
  • Had a baby born weighing over 9 pounds.
  • Are overweight or obese.
  • Are more than 25 years old.
  • Have a family history of diabetes.
  • Are African American, Hispanic, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander.
  • Are being treated for HIV

and in Denmark, if you

  • previously had gestational diabetes
  • have a family history of diabetes (type 1 and 2), in grandparents, parents, siblings or own children
  • had a BMI over 27 before pregnancy
  • had previous delivery of a large child (over 4.5 kg)
  • are diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome
  • are pregnant with multiples

The advice is similar but not identical. All this reminds me of the saying “The man with one watch always knows what time it is, the man with two watches is never completely sure.”

In some ways, it has helped me get through everything with less stress and guilt. Each government is trying their best to interpret what they know but for all their injunctions and pronouncements, they aren’t completely sure. This means if I inadvertently do something that is considered harmful in one territory, I can take the advice with a pinch of salt, and skip the guilt.




Where do you meet these people?

I have instituted a foreigner-bubble to protect me from the shit going on in the news. Fact is, I have enough on my plate with stuff that I cannot blog about.

Still, in terms of integration, things are going alright. Aarhus is way better than Fredericia in terms of opportunities to socialise and relax. I feel a bit more at home here than I did in Fredericia. At-homeness would peek in at the weekends when I went to the neighbour-baker and got some pastries. That was it though.

Some people have asked me how it was to integrate. What it was like to come here seven years ago and settle down. And I tell them about the high points and the low points. If they are Danish, they will make a comment on the low points. Where do I meet these people? How unlucky I was to meet such unkind people! How I must be focusing on a few outliers because they surely were not the norm.

But in Fredericia, it was about 50/50. Half of the time, the people I met were friendly and helpful and the other half, they would not have pissed on me were I on fire.

Of course, friendly kind people cannot imagine someone being so rude or so unwelcoming. It’s like when women talk about street harassment and regular men are incredulous and think she is exaggerating or making it up entirely.

What would be easy, now that things are fine, would be to gloss over the details and just focus on how good things are now. This would make my conversations less awkward. It would mean I wouldn’t have to defend myself against the implication that I did something to deserve it. But I don’t. I talk about it because this is a missing piece of the integration puzzle.

Every time the news or the politicians talk about the dirty foreigners who do not even speak Danish properly, they never talk to one of them to find out why. Why is easy: I tried to practice and people were hostile and so I limited my interactions to things I knew I could do. Having a conversation with me in Danish is possible but unpleasant because I had a difficult decision

Through Door One: I could have tried to socialise with Danish people I liked with my shitty Danish. But I liked them. I didn’t want to put them through it and I wanted them to enjoy my company.

Through Door Two: I could have tried to make more small talk with strangers to level up. But I was flipping a coin every time to see if they were total shits about my accent. I’m resilient but I’m not that resilient.

So I didn’t go through either door. Which meant that when I went to my union rep training last year all but about two people were total fucking pricks about my accent for the first three days. Let’s focus on the two, on the outliers: one was a foreigner and therefore easy going. The other was actually famous for some talent show and was just effortlessly cool and awesome. He talked to me like a human being. A few of them warmed up over the next few sessions but only because I had decided ‘fuck em’ and if they gave me any shit, I blocked them out. I brought a book for the coffee sessions in case they were ignoring me and I read chapters and chapters. I tried though, in the first 3 days. I broke down in tears after trying so hard.

Though, it’s not the ignoring that gets me. I am so used to it. Honestly, I have learned that the types of people who ignore people at their table who are nodding, giving eye contact and smiling because they assume that they don’t understand Danish because they heard a foreign accent usually have nothing of consequence to say. These people lack the critical thinking needed to realise I understand more than I can say and thusly lack the critical thinking necessary to contribute anything of note to the dialogue.

What gets me, is the vinegar face when they hear my accent. And the repeating back what I said with a singy-songy accent. And the discounting of ANYTHING I have to say unless a Dane repeats it.

So, why do so many foreigners like me have such bad accents? Well, it’s simple. A clear majority of people I have ever spoken more than transactional Danish with (as in “Can I have a sandwich?” “Where is the post office?”), are not able to listen without making me feel uncomfortable.

You want accentless-foreigners? You have to start talking to the ones with the thick accents in such a way that makes them want to keep talking.

Snak- a review

Last night, I went and saw Sanne Søndergaard perform her new show Snak at the comedy festival in Aarhus.

I really enjoyed myself. It was the first time I have seen stand-up in Danish and by the end of it, I don’t mind admitting I was exhausted!

She is really good. She has a good mix of silly jokes, toilet humour and biting political satire. There’s not much more you can ask for.

I find it really exciting to hear Danish voices talk about the state of feminism and anti-racism here. I feel a lot less of an outsider when insiders have come to the same conclusions.

If you like fun, and I am sure you do, you should try to get tickets to see her or download her show Mandehader.

We need humour to get through the next few years of this joker in charge again:

Pretty much…

Transcript for non-Danish speakers

“What happened Danes? What’s wrong? We thought you liked us or something. And then that happened in the election. It was bloody weird. The second biggest party… and how can it be the third biggest party is the one that gets to be prime minister? It’s bloody weird. It ought to have been the first biggest party… Oh bro, I just had a thought! Listen, bro. It’s going to be alright for Denmark. Stay calm, it’s going to be alright! Where we come from if some [..](didn’t get that word) comes into power, the Americans come and get rid of him. They say ‘you’re a [..] and get rid of him. So, soon the Americans are definitely coming to remove him. It’s going to be good. It’s okay, we can walk on the streets, whatever. I’m going out, bye!”

Danish Election ’15

Here are the results of the election of 2015 in Denmark.

1. Social democrats (26.3%)

2. DF: (Danish people’s party) (21.1%)

3. Venstre (Liberals) (19.5%)

Plus 6 other parties getting between 3 and 7% of the vote:- Red/green alliance, liberal alliance, the alternative, radicals, socialist people’s party and conservatives, in order from most popular to least.

Now, in Denmark, no one party is ever in a position to rule alone. They would need something like 50% of the popular vote to do so, as far as I can tell. They must make coalitions.

If you add up all the ‘red team’ parties and all the ‘blue team’ parties, blue team wins.

Now, looking at those results you would think “Fair enough, blue team wins, headed by DF obviously” but you would be wrong.

The DF don’t want to rule. They don’t want to rule because they know their policies actually can’t work and the second they get to try them out, it will become abundantly obvious and then they will never ever be voted for again. They are happy for Venstre, who came third to rule so they can sit at the back and boo.

Why did they come second?

If you want my opinion, and I’m assuming you do if you have read this far. If you want my opinion, it is because of the work all the other parties have done in promoting them.

I am not even joking. The DF’s election adverts had NOTHING of substance in them. Nothing. Their first slogan was ‘trust and peace of mind’, their second was ‘you know what we stand for’.

Meanwhile, almost every other fricking party had something about the immigrants ruining everything. The Social Democrats had something about how they wanted to reduce crime, specifically burglary. Despite this being an overwhelmingly Danish crime, they still managed to blame the immigrants in the 50 or so words on their billboard.

The tactic must have been ‘let’s beat the DF at their own game, xenophobia works, let’s do it!’ but it’s the same thing that happens when I see a Burger King advert: I want to go get a McDonalds. They advertised the joys of xenophobia perfectly and people responded by voting for the market leaders in xenophobia.

Meanwhile, after what the red team did to the teachers during the lockout, there were a lot of red team voters who had to find red team parties that did not screw them over. I assume a lot of the red team vote was split by the decidedly un-red team policies the incumbents had been enacting.

Sidebar: Have you noticed that these parties quite cheerfully expend all their airtime on talking about how to tame Johnny Foreigner but spend all their power on dismantling the welfare state?

What I think should have happened, again, not even joking, is that the Social Democrats should have joined up with the DF and one other party and led a new ‘orange’ coalition.

The DF are socialist, the DF blame foreigners and seek easy answers to difficult questions. I am struggling to see the difference with the current SD.

I am pretty much done with Danish politics now.