I have a small confession to make. I was a little wary of giving birth in a hospital . Mainly because most of my research was US-based and occurred in the American medical context, and after watching documentaries like The Business of Born, I was put-off by the cold, highly medicating and economical approach to standard childbirth that the majority of medical institutions subject their clients to. In an effort, however, to make an informed decision and see both sides of the hospital/home birth debate, I came across some research against midwife assisted home births. The two impressions I came away with are:

 1. There is an enormous difference between presenting facts and blatant blame game fear-mongering.

2. The ‘appropriate’ way to give birth is a highly political, contentious issue. (This one doesn’t surprise me in the least, but I mention it anyway since it’s still so glaringly the case).

While I am certainly not discounting the presence of medical support and intervention, especially when complications arise during pregnancy and labor,  what I do stand for is a mother and child-centered approach to labor. An understanding that women should be encouraged to trust their own bodies and minds in every way; that, under normal, healthy circumstances, they are naturally equipped and qualified to go through pregnancy and labor; that they should not be made to feel scared and uncertain; rather, that they stand in the natural authority that befits a laboring woman; that everyone around her, medical experts included, are there to guide and support her, to the best of their abilities. And I most certainly wish to see that the decisions being made in hospitals, first and foremost, have the woman and child in mind; instead of the  bottom line, which is, all to often, quite sadly, getting people in and out of hospital doors as quickly as possible, thereby keeping the wheels of the medical institution turning profitably.

Much to my relief, I discovered that having a hospital-birth in Finland was rather a different story all together. Even though my personal preferences and instincts were leaning towards a midwife assisted water-birth at home, with both a mid-wife and a doula who would have met with me throughout my pregnancy, I felt well-taken care of with the mother and baby-oriented approach to childbirth at the Helsinki Midwives Hospital (Kätilöopisto Sairaala). I’ll admit that I was pretty disappointed not to have had the chance for a water-birth, but what to do? Someone else was using the tub, so that’s just how it had to be. I also feel that in such intimate and dramatic circumstances, having a mid-wife whom you have met and talked with beforehand, ideally, throughout your pregnancy, would make a huge difference in the comfort and trust level during labor. It’s a hard job, for all involved, to go from breaking the ice to all-kinds-of-up-in-yo-biz-ness… 

Despite these reservations, most of what I had specified in my birth plan, like rooming-in and cord clamping, to name a few, are standard procedure at Kätilöopisto. Rooming-in, as opposed to nursery care, is when the baby stays in the same room as mum during the routine postpartum care and procedures. This way, mum and baby have a chance to bond during that ultra-sensitive ‘golden hour’ when both are extremely receptive to the other. One huge benefit of this is that the mum-baby team can bond and get the flow of hormones (mainly oxytocin and prolactin) moving, which, in turn, can make breastfeeding happen easier and quicker. Cord-clamping means delaying the cutting of the umbilical cord for a few minutes after birth, until all blood has ceased to pump through it. It is said to be better for the baby’s health, especially for healthy iron and hemoglobin levels.

The main reason why I am curious to have a home birth is that hospitals in themselves are funny places. Sterile and functional, which are actually good things for a hospital to be, no doubt. However, with a little bit of attention to detail and empathy for those using its services, small changes could make any kind of hospital stay much more relaxed and comfortable. Less institutional and indifferent. Not to mention a more palatable place to work, which could only make employees happier and, therefore, more productive. Anyway you spin it, it comes out as a win-win situation for all.

Let’s start with the lighting. What’s with the harsh, ubiquitous fluorescent lighting? Sure, keep the strong light for the areas where medical procedures call for it, but can we substitute a few soft, yellow lamps around the room? Luckily for me, there was one of those pinkish orange salt lamps in my birth room which we used and were able to keep the overhead fluorescent lights to a minimum.

Up next: bare, white walls? I mean, would it hurt to put up some pictures, or apply a fresh coat of happy-color paint, to cheer everyone up once in awhile?

A bit of well-chosen furniture here and there would go a long way; nothing elaborate mind, just as a few extra chairs with some degree of cushioning to make dad, the doula, or some other support person, much more comfortable. 

This next one up is a biggie: Blankets. Hospitals are cold places and that little sheet that’s supposed to pass as a blanket just ain’t cuttin’ it. The most useful thing I packed with me to the hospital was one of those sofa blankets, which we bought at Santa’s Village in Rovaniemi last December. Not only did it keep me warm, but I found it snuggly and comforting and it worked nicely to wrap around myself while I breastfed little Sesam (and for all the yogis reading this, these throw blankets also work well to keep warm during final relaxation pose). 

Putting these personal touches aside, at the end of the day though, it’s going to be the people, and the general approach to mother care at the hospital, that will most directly influence your birth experience. I felt I was attended by perfectly competent midwives during my delivery, who respected my wishes for a natural birth and provided alternatives when my Plan A didn’t work out.

However, I thought that the Midwives Hospital really shone and excelled in the postpartum care unit. Why?Throughout this post, one word keeps popping up…comfort. I cannot underestimate the power of feeling comfortable and well taken care of, and in my eyes, Kätilöopisto really did deliver in the immediate after birth care of both mother and baby.

My little guy was born weighing in at 2,720 kgs (5.984 lbs.) which I guess is considered a little low by today’s standards. This was one of the greatest ironies of my pregnancy. My baby bump was diminutive in size and my baby took only close to 3 kgs of the weight I gained. In the spirit of being brave, I’ll have you know that, at my final few check-ups, the highest weigh-in showed that I had put on over 20 kgs! Eeek! The mystery of what accounted for all the weight gain still remains unsolved. I guess giving myself the green light to eat those smooth red velvet cupcakes over at Brooklyn Bakery might, just might, have something to do with it. I’m still not sure though 😉 I prefer to think that weigh-ins are pretty arbitrary and, as we all know, weight fluctuates greatly depending on the time of day you step on the scale. I guess my water (and cupcake) loving kapha-type self just happens to retain a lot of liquid, since about 10 kgs miraculously disappeared shortly after delivery. Half-way done! 🙂

Anyway, since baby Sesam was considered low in weight, the staff wanted to check on his blood-sugar levels and make sure they were stable, so we stayed at the hospital for three extra days. And I must say, those three days were a crucial support for my family. It was kind of like checking into a Club Med, where everything that one needs is available. Quite literally, all one has to do is convalesce, bond with baby and become familiar with the art and skill of breastfeeding. I mean, who knew, right? Who knew breastfeeding took skill? Doesn’t the milk just come and everything flows naturally? Well, yes and no. Hopefully all goes smoothly from the beginning, but even without unforeseen issues arising, some practice is required. One needs to get familiar with different techniques and holding positions in order to establish a ‘good latch,’ in addition to other considerations we assume just happen automatically. It’s funny how so many things deemed ‘natural’ and as part of our intrinsic biological make-up, which although they are, actually require lots of practice and repetition for them to become second-nature.

At the postpartum ward, Petri and I were lucky to get a family room, which meant he could be with Sesam and I throughout, instead of leaving for the night and coming back in the morning. It goes without saying that it was much nicer having his help and support whenever it was needed, not to mention his presence.

Besides the scheduled blood-sugar tests and the occasional check-in, the staff really did let us be and gave us space and time to bond with baby. My fondest memory at the ward was the routine leading up to meals. There were four daily scheduled meals/snacks, and at the appointed time, we would hear a soft, welcoming voice on the intercom summoning us gently, “Lunch time. Help yourselves.” Shortly after which, women, clad in hospital garb and in various stages of recovery, and their silent, stoic companions, would quietly shuffle out like obedient, tranquil sheep, towing their brand-new packages in those clear, incubator-type baby carriages. Newborn infants, despite the occasional peep or wail, are actually very quiet, as what they do most during the first 48 hours of post-womb life is sleep. It was really quiet in the ward. Brilliant. 

24 hour medical support. Supplies and clothes for both mother and baby. Food and shelter. Lactation consulting. While Finland may have high taxes, it’s reassuring to witness firsthand this tax at work. Every time I came back from the lab or a check-up during my pregnancy, I kept expecting exorbitantly high bills to arrive in the post. The only bills that did come were from Kätilöopisto, and considering all the services provided, the out-of-pocket, overhead costs to us were quite reasonable.

To sum up, when it comes to providing for mothers and babies, I feel well-supported by, and appreciative of, Finland. And while the only three countries to cover the cost of midwife-assisted home birth are the UK, the Netherlands and New Zealand, my experience with a midwife-assisted hospital birth, and postpartum treatment, in Finland has been an all-round positive one. Yippee!

The final post in this birthing experience series will follow over the next few weeks. If you liked what you read, please subscribe to my blog. Until next time, dear readers, I’ll leave you with a few pictures from our stay at the hospital.

Family portrait Sesam sleeps Sesam&daddy 1 Sesam&mummy 3

Baby Sesam, Wambui and Petri; Kätilöopisto Sairaala, Helsinki, March 11-14, 2014.

Stay blessed and enjoy the life you live. Om!

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