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!”

“Really?”

“Yes!”

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.

 

 

 

Play Parks and Dog Forests

Once, on a warm spring day, I suggested to my friend that I take her kid to the play park. It was lovely weather and my friend was sick. The kid had recently become very difficult, a reaction to the divorce.

Picture it: a childless woman in her late twenties with a 4 year old in a playpark. I kept her entertained with see-saws and swings and helping onto climbing frames. We played some hide and seek in the woods around the equipment. We had a good time. Until the little one was in the mood to push in the line for the climbing frame.

The kid she wanted to push in front of was about 2 years old. If she pushed him out of the way, it would hurt him. I tried using my words but she was not in a listening mood. I tried to explain how important looking out for each other is. I tried going over the concept of ‘turns’ again. Nothing. So, I held her back. She screamed bloody murder, cursed my name, cursed my family. And then once the boy had made it up to the top, I let her go and she forgot all about her anger and asked me sweetly to help her up.

I looked around for adult moral support. The park is lovely but not very busy even at peak times. The only other adult was the dad of the 2 year old and he avoided my eye contact like one avoids staring at the sun. I was doing something wrong. Was it my accent? Was it the way I was hands on? Should I have let them work it out for themselves, even if his kid inevitably came off the worse? There was no way of knowing because he refused to acknowledge my existence.

I put her on the swings and sat on a bench. Other kids came to play, their adults sat on benches too. Nowhere near me. Not making eye contact. Not looking my way at all. Not interacting with their kids either. Just letting them get on with it.

Ahh, the Danish way, making kids more independent. Allowing them to discover their own limits, negotiate their own boundaries. Not for me, but that is not really for me to judge for others. Not for me to judge either, this bubble around Danish adults making friendly informal temporary contact between others impossible.

Fast forward four years and I have a puppy now. She is 6 months old and in some ways has a better sense of propriety around turn taking and interacting with her dog peers than that small child back then. She knows when to back off and when to play and she respects the limits of smaller and younger dogs. This isn’t something we have taught her, particularly, she figured it out in her litter. We reinforce, of course, at home but dog body language is not even our second language and we mimic imperfectly. We take her to the dog forest so she can play with other dogs and run around in a stimulating environment.

Our dog is a scaredy pants and if a bigger dog, no matter how friendly, interacts with her, she squeals and lies on her back. She does this for about 15 minutes, gains confidence and then plays nicely with them. I can see the other dogs are playing nicely: body language, facial expressions, vocalisations all add up to “Hello little dog, let’s play fight, ok?” But she’s crying out like she is being killed until she gets used to them which is a little disconcerting for anyone that does not know her. The owners call their dogs off. “He’s not usually like this! Would you like me to tell him to stop? Messi GET DOWN”

They interact with their dogs and teach them right from wrong, not just about play fighting but all types of play. They ask how old our dog is, tell us about their dog and interpret the body language of all the participants. No one sits on a bench and ignores their dog at any point. Only once has my accent been interpreted as a cloak of invisibility. The dog park is intensely social for the humans as they trade dog tips and stories.

Dogs are not trusted to work out their limits for themselves and the humans feel no problem with telling them off when they step out of line.

What happened to Danish society that the adults feel like giving structure or boundaries to their children is inappropriate when they understand that their pets need gentle reinforcement of how to play nicely? Where do they imagine their children are learning these skills if not explicitly from adults? Why is chatting to other parents in the park verboten but to other dog owners de rigeur? It makes no sense to this outsider.

Jantelov: A primer

Once a Danish-Norwegian wrote a satire sending up small town Scandinavia. It was called “A Fugitive Crosses his Path” and I read the first half when I could speak rudimentary Danish and can report it is about poverty and things “suddenly” happening every new paragraph. I may be one of the few people who have read even this far but everyone likes to quote the best bit.

In Aksel Sandemose’s jaded vision of Scandinavian village life, anyone who tries to stand out is smacked down. There are eleven rules that, I have to admit, I have read so many times that my eyes slide off them like they are covered in bacon grease. They’re basically “You’re nothing special so who cares”

In other countries, the same thing is known as Tall Poppy Syndrome or by the delightful analogy of crabs in a bucket pulling each other down if they try to get out. These rules have been used to justify everything about Danish society from queue jumping, to racism, to poor school performance, to ‘jokes’ where you upset your friends and back again.

Practically, what Jantelov does, is make everyone in Denmark a fucking nightmare to be with in public unless you know them personally. Since the informal laws of this fictional village in a book no one has read tell the average Dane that no one is above anyone else, this is naturally expanded to the following world-view:-

“No one is special, so get out of my fucking way.”

You see it on the mouth breathers getting onto buses before everyone has got off: you’re nothing special so why should you be able to get out of my way so I can get on? You see it in Ikea when people stop dead in the numerous chokepoints around the store: you’re nothing special, so why would I turn my head 45 degrees to see if you are in danger of collision with me if I stop suddenly. You see it in supermarkets when people shove you aside so they can get at the bread slicer you are still using. You see it in department stores when people let heavy doors slam in your face. YOU ARE NOTHING, ME FIRST.

Most of the Danes I know personally are awesome people, so I am not talking about them and I am probably not talking about you even if I haven’t met you yet. But even the Danes you regard as decent human beings can be affected by Jantelov when they make ‘jokes’ about what an asshole you are. This is fine because you can respond in kind. But they might expand it to make you remember your country is nothing special, especially if you are from the USA. If you respond in kind, they will cut you. That’s just how it is.

Jantelov makes bragging very difficult. You cannot be proud of your achievements or mention them at all, lest you make one of the other crabs in your bucket feel jealous. No great loss to the conversation. But you cannot talk about lah-di-dah ‘elitist’ stuff either, in case people feel like you’re being pretentious. So, you’re only allowed to talk about meatballs, how hard Danish is for foreigners and how difficult the word ‘hygge’ is to understand. I mentioned I was reading A Fugitive Crosses his Path at a dinner party and one of the guests looked like he was going to be aggressively sick on me. Also, you cannot brag in a job search situation either, you have to know people in Denmark who employ others and play badminton with them until they ask you personally if you want to work with them.

In many parents’ evenings, it is common for the teachers to tell the parents to stop worrying, the kid is good enough and shouldn’t we care more about their social skills? Coming from a culture where the parents just want to know their kid is making progress, this seems like a bit of an undershoot. ‘Good enough’ is not the issue. That is set by the average and the average moves with the group. Learning something new and getting better every day, how is that too elitist?

There are people who resist Jante for the most part. They are ‘most people in Denmark according to themselves’. But even if they refuse to pull down other crabs, they are still in a bucket trying to get out with claws around their ankles.

A friend of a friend was at a job interview where they were asked “How do you feel about your customers being  the upper middle class of Danish people… like me?” This story is passed around with amused disbelief by Danes. Who is this person who would consider themselves above someone else AND then share it with another person? Then again, the foreigners who hear that story think it is a pretty ridiculous question to ask. Then again, it’s not ridiculous if you want to employ someone who won’t try to pull at your customers’ crab legs.

Though perhaps I am not being fair. I believed I could tell the dinner party guests about reading Aksel Sandemose without making them feel sick to their stomaches at my presumption because the librarian that issued the book did so with a wry smile (he then went on to being one of my friends). There are plenty of people out there who are not threatened by intellectualism or individualism and of course there are plenty who know how to move through a crowd without inconveniencing every other person. Still, it’s got a lot to answer for.

Danish Winters I have Known

2008-9: My First

The nights drew in, the skies got overcast and it stayed like that until March. There was rain and wind but mostly it was dark. It snowed once and my students insisted on being let out to play. I refused them saying the snow would be there at the end of school.

“No, it won’t. In Denmark, it snows for a couple of hours, melts and that’s it.”

As someone who thought they were coming to Scandinavia, this shocked me. That sounded very much like England.

The lack of sunlight got to me, I remember being confused about patches of sunlight coming in through my living room blinds. “What’s wrong with the floor?” I thought.

I went away for a trip around Europe in February and came back to reasonably deep snow.

February snow
February 2009 

2009-10: My Second

So, I had my Christmas holiday tickets all booked, all ready to go for the evening of the last day of school. Then the night before the last day of school, there was a snow storm. I walked to work in it, it was crazy. The snow came up to my knees in some drifts, something that had not happened since 1986 and my knees were substantially closer to the ground. One driver got snowed in taking a corner and he leapt out with a shovel and dug himself out efficiently. I got to work, feeling like a boss, and they cancelled school. They said it was exceptional and many of the teachers out in the suburbs of Erritsø, Børkop, Brejning et al couldn’t get to work. We had bread rolls and took down Christmas decorations and then went home.

I decided against flying out until later in the weekend.

When I came back in the new year there was still snow everywhere. I asked when it was leaving. Spring, they said.

December 2010
December 2009

The weather regularly got below freezing point, sometimes to double figures. I felt a lot better about the winter, despite the hardships of trudging through snow that had not been powder for quite some time. Every journey was a happy hormone dispensing trip because it was physically such hard work. Plus, it was not as dark because the snow reflected what little light there was.

2010-11: My Third

The winter was incredibly cold and there was quite a bit of snow. The snow fell and then stuck around until March or April. By then, I knew how to deal with it. Tights under legs, lots of t shirts as vests and gloves. I would get hot and sweaty as I tackled the packed snow but I would only feel the cold in my thigh muscles and on my face. I took to wearing a scarf around my face to keep my asthma in check.

I stayed in Denmark for Christmas, having learned my lesson about trying to fly in winter.

December 2010
December 2010

2011-12: My Fourth

The winter was at an almost subtropical 2˚C most of the time, except February when it was proper brassic and snowed a little bit. This was also the month that I moved in with my boyfriend, so we had to negotiate a metal spiral staircase with sofas in freezing, icy conditions.

2012-13: My Fifth

Really cold. Really really cold. There was snow still at Easter.

Easter 2013
Easter 2013

2013-14: My Sixth

Relatively warm but there was snow and it stuck around for a little while. There was a massive storm that messed up all the trains.

Autumn 2013 "We cannot drive the trains"
Autumn 2013
“We cannot drive train”
April 2014
April 2014

 

2014-15: My Seventh

Moved up north so in a slightly different microclimate. Started out pretty mild but woke up on Christmas day to a thick blanket of snow. This melted but was replaced a week ago. Now they are saying it will stay cold until spring.

January 2015
January 2015
A few weeks later in January 2015
A few weeks later in January 2015

All the while, people keep telling me Danish winter is ‘typically’ like my first and all six of my other winters are outliers. Seems suspicious to me. I think this is how winters are in Denmark now.

 

 

News Translation: Satire Edition

This is a very special translation of the news, being as it is translated from several almost identical opinion columns in Danish newspapers.

Muslims are not just folks

In recent weeks, it has been almost impossible to avoid the news that some clearly disturbed individuals had killed a group of unarmed civilians. Clearly, enough column inches have been expended on Boko Haram’s massacre of over 2000 people, we need to talk about the events in Paris.

Of course, we know that two out of 1.6 billion is a very small minority. Still, those 1.6 billion people are sort of responsible, if you think about it. If it wasn’t their responsibility, then whose would it be? Ours? What?

You can’t say that every Danish person is responsible for foreign policies that disenfranchise and enrage, contributing to disturbed people snapping and committing mass murder. That is preposterous. Some of those Danish people actually disagree with their politicians or haven’t given the policies much thought. Some of these Danish people would deny that there is any link between radicalisation and the way power is kept in the hands of the Western world, of which Denmark is a part. How can it be the fault of moderate Danish people that radicalisation happens in the modern world? We’re just folks.

No, it’s the Muslims that are the problem. While we agree they are not a homogenous bloc, that is because they have two sorts. The peaceful ones who we are pretty sure we’d like if we ever met any and the radical ones who cut your head off soon as look at you. The peaceful ones should prove to us, once and for all, that we definitely would get on with them, if only we met socially, by stopping all extremism and bad behaviour of the second group.

We know that the Muslims (both groups, so all Muslims ever), might now claim “Well, Danes, you have not succeeded in stopping murder, extremism, violence etc in your ranks”. The very simple answer to that is “That is impossible to do because we are all individuals and the reasons for violent conduct are as numerous as the violent individuals themselves and are usually very complicated, difficult to unpick and even harder to solve.” We are folks, remember, and the members of our group that behave badly can no way reflect on us and we are absolutely not responsible for their actions. Anyway, back to the main point, good Muslims should really make sure that bad Muslims never happen.

Who do they think they are, anyway, having a different religion and really caring about it? If a good Muslim comments on being provoked or disrespected, they are really saying that bad Muslims are acceptable. Bad Muslims do not like being disrespected either, so it makes it harder and harder to tell the difference. Why can’t Good Muslims just let massive provocation go? We certainly do whenever people provoke us about things we care about, like Danishness. Every time a foreigner says anything critical or in jest about Denmark, we just shrug and laugh. “Interesting point!” or “Hahah, foreigner, good one,” we always say.

This is not like it is a new policy, this one of telling entire groups what to do when a couple of exceptional individuals from a related group do something horrific.

Remember when Breivik killed all those people? We really held the Norwegian people’s feet to the fire. “Rein in your far right, you’re the only ones who can, moderate Norwegians,” we advised. We even got on to people who spoke languages similar to Norwegian, such as Swedish and Danish, and told them pretty much the same thing. We are only doing the same thing now by telling moderate Muslims that they need to do something about their fringe elements. Fair is fair. Remember all that child abuse in the Catholic Church? We told that group to get it sorted and fair do’s, child abuse by priests is completely at an end now. All the moderate Catholics took responsibility for their fringe elements and sorted the problem out easily by telling them to stop it in a clear, firm voice.

In conclusion, there is no point looking at the complex interplay of power distribution in foreign policy and immigration politics to figure out what exactly is driving a tiny minority to violence.

Let’s just tell the Muslims it’s their problem for being different.

International Women’s Day

Seems like the women’s movement is still in need of shoulders to the wheel.

Here’s are some ways you can take action in the local community:-

Support LOKK network and Danner crisis centres with money or time

Do some background reading at KVINFO

 

Support Reden International with money or time

Find out about human trafficking in Denmark

Volunteer for a Girls’ Club

Support Danish Women’s Society with time or money

Protest lower wages for women

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