Giving Birth in Sweden: A Personal Story*

Monday, 3rd of December 2018, I woke up with severe pain in my abdomen and my lower back. ”This is it. Labor had begun,” I thought. But I wasn’t entirely correct. The contractions started but it took two weeks for my baby to arrive. What a journey it was. These are the highlights of my giving birth journey in Sweden:

Hospital visits over and over again

As my first contraction was way before the due date (14 days before, to be precise), I was a bit uncertain about when to go to the hospital. In Lund, the procedure is to call the Kvinnokliniken first, talk to the midwife and they will asses if you need to go to the hospital right away or later.

My first call was on Monday (3/12) afternoon. The midwife said I’m not in active labor yet so it’s unnecessary to go to the hospital at that stage. Besides, the labor ward was full so even if I insisted to come, I would need to go to the hospital in Malmö or Helsingborg. So I agreed to wait at home.

However, in the middle of the night, the pain got stronger so I ringed them again and they allowed me to come. I rushed to the hospital and met the midwife and the nurse. They checked the baby’s heartbeat and my contractions interval and…

I wasn’t in active labour!

The midwife said I was doing great, my body was preparing for the actual labour but the dilation was merely a fingertip despite the pain. So they just gave me painkillers and sent me home.

Wednesday (5/12) morning, the same thing happened. I felt a lot of pain and called the hospital. The midwife did the same procedure and yet, I did not make significant progress. I was soon on my way home again.

At that point, I felt brokenhearted. I was physically and mentally exhausted already. It wasn’t healthy anymore to just wait at home and check the pregnancy app to calculate the contractions. So my husband and I decided to go back to our routine. He went back to work and I went back to my Swedish course.

During the weekend, another sign of labour appeared. I started to have a mucus plug. Having had the previous experiences, I didn’t want to rush this time so I just called the hospital and talked to the midwife for some tips. The midwife emphasized that even though I was having another labor sign, the most important ones to be admitted by the hospital are: strong and persistent contractions every 3-4minutes, water break, excessive bleeding, and 4cm dilation. If none of those exist, just try to relax, take painkillers and practice the breathing technique.

Days passed by without any other labor signs. The contractions were still there and getting stronger but I tried to ignore them. I even took the Nationella Provet to distract myself from the slow labour I was having. It wasn’t easy but luckily I passed!

Due date

Then the due date came. Nothing really different happened except some bleeding. It’s started with a tiny brown clot then it got more and more each day. I talked to the midwife via phone (again) and this time, they let me decide whether I want to go to the hospital or not. They asked me not to be disappointed if they had to send me home again after check up if there’s no sign of active labor. I decided to stay at home and wait for yet another labor sign.

Tuesday (17/12) the contractions were more often and more painful so I called the hospital again and went there right away after they gave me the green light. The midwife did the regular check. I could see in the monitor that the contractions I had were stronger and more frequent than before.

“Maybe this time they will let me stay,” I wished.

But no, the midwife said that dilation was still 2cm and it’s better to wait at home in a familiar environment instead of the hospital. I sighed but had no energy to argue so I just nodded and asked my friend to drive me home.

Two hours after I had arrived back at home, I felt a lot of pain in my abdomen, my pelvic area and my lower back. The contractions were on a different level and I couldn’t bear them anymore. I called the hospital again and tried to explain my condition. I was barely able to even say my personnummer. Realizing that I was in real pain, the midwife only said: “Okay, just go to the hospital now.”

But I was just by myself. My husband was working in a different city so I called my friend and asked her to drive me to the hospital. When I arrived, all I could do was trying to breathe and not scream out loud. My friend was so kind she asked me to squeeze her hand whenever the contractions came, which I did. The midwife did the checkup as usual and this time, I was 4cm dilated.

Finally. They let me in.

My husband made it just in time. He arrived at around 5 pm and one and a half hours later, my baby was born.

They might be “random” people but they’re all there for you

Knowing that the midwife who’s helping you works on defined shifts, so she might be changed anytime, doesn’t really ease the pain. I was a bit annoyed at first with the fact that I had to meet a different midwife every morning and night. I had to repeat the same things over and over again: introduce myself, explain my situation or how I was doing. Back home, a mother is assigned. One can even choose who we want to work with from early in the pregnancy. It’s common to give birth in one particular hospital or clinic where the midwife/obstetrician works. So I wasn’t really prepared for this kind of system.

But after meeting several midwives (and nurses) during my recovery time in the hospital, I realised that they are all professionals who try to look after you as an individual based on your personal needs. Even though they hand over to colleagues at specified times, they keep your records. Every midwife who works with you will leave notes so they all know exactly what to do.

There is nothing to worry about, you will be well taken care of.

It is possible to have a natural birth after a c- section (VGAB) in Sweden

My first kid was born via c-section due to fetal distress. And for some reasons, I wanted to have a natural birth for my second child. Mainly because I don’t have the support system here in Sweden as all my family and relatives live in Indonesia. I wanted to recover soon enough to be able to take care of my baby. And from what I know, natural birth takes less time to heal.

Fortunately, it is possible to have one after a c-section (VBAC) in Sweden. In fact, Sweden is pro natural birth as long as there’s no complication or high risk to the mother and the baby. From the very beginning, my midwife had been really supportive of my choice. She gave me some tips and taught me pregnancy yoga to help me have a healthy pregnancy. Even though I live far from home, I found the support and encouragement that I needed from vårdcentralen as well as from the hospital.

What happened in the labour ward?

It’s hard to remember the details to be honest as I was ”pretty occupied” with the contractions. But, as far as I can remember, once I entered the labour ward, the midwife monitored the baby’s heartbeat and my contractions. Then, she took my blood pressure and put an Intravenous Cannula (IV) just in case I needed an injection or transfusion. After a few minutes, she offered me some painkillers. She started with Alvedon (of course! ), then lustgas and morphine injection.

If you can’t bear the pain any longer, she will offer you an epidural. Timing is important for this kind of pain relief. It can’t be given too late. In my case, the midwife asked if I’d like to have an epidural when the cervix has opened 8cm. I decided to go without epidural, but if you want to have this pain relief, it’s generally safe and you can talk to your midwife to understand better the pros and cons of it.

Fika after giving birth. Why not?

Once my baby was born and the midwife checked everything, she left the labor ward to give me some moments with my husband and our newborn. Before she left, she said: “I’ll be back with fika.”

Yes, fika is a must in Sweden. Even after childbirth. It’s actually a symbol of celebration after a baby is born. And it’s really a good thing for the mother (and the partner also). Trust me, you will feel really hungry and tired after labour.

So when the midwife brought us fika with tea, sandwiches, and non-alcohol apple cider (with a Swedish flag as an ornament), I was really excited. It was the best fika I ever had in my whole life.

A happy story

My giving birth journey wasn’t all smiles and rainbows. To give birth far away from home is not that easy, frankly. But, I found that familiarising yourself with the system and believing that you’re in good hands are quite helpful. At least, these will give you some peace of mind. So try to get all the information about giving birth in Sweden before the delivery and whenever you’re in doubt, ask! I’m sure the midwives and the nurses are more than just happy to help.

Anyway, here is my story as a newbie mom in Sweden. For those who are going to give birth, I wish you and your baby the best of luck.


*originally published for The Newbie Guide to Sweden on January 3, 2019. For the version in Indonesian, click here.

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