Illustration: Tori Lind Kjellstad, all rights reserved.
- Learn pregnant-Norwegian. You learned Norwegian, nynorsk or bokmål, but now that you are pregnant, words you’ve never heard before pop out of nowhere. In my case despite living and working here for 10 years and speaking fluent Norwegian, I had never heard the word bekkenløsning (pelvic pain in English, which in Norwegian is “lose pelvic floor”). I also believed for a long time that barselgruppa was a group of women gathering after the birth of their children to talk about poop (bæsjegruppa). Turns out “barsel” – another unknown word to my vocabulary prior to be pregnant- means “maternity” or post delivery period. Other Norwegian words suddenly take a new meaning, like jordmor – “Earth-Mother or midwife, morkake “Mother-Cake” or placenta.
- Smile. Despite all the symptoms you might feel during the pregnancy: not feeling so well, throwing up every day, being dizzy and wondering how on Earth you will survive 9 months in this state, always give positive feedback about this experience. People around you would rather hear “Guess what? It’s a boy!” than “Guess what? I pee every time I sneeze!”.
- Don’t complain: Back home I could easily complain to my friends and family about all the rough patches and symptoms one feels during pregnancy. Here in Norway you are expected to be the happiest person alive, and complaints are taken with scepticism. If you complain there is always this doubt that you don’t actually love your child. You have not even given birth yet and already being a bad mother. There are two things one is socially allowed to complain about during pregnancy in Norway though, so make sure you note those ones down: pelvic pain, and morning sickness. Even though we all know that does not only happen in the morning.
- Learn the Norwegian health system: Another about getting to know the Norwegian health system and specifically how they follow up pregnancies. While other countries have a hyper-medicalised pregnancy follow-up, Norwegian system is more relaxed. Unless you have some complications you will most probably not see a single gynaecologist during your pregnancy, and maybe not even during delivery. All follow up is made by general practitioners as well as midwives in the health station. Many things which can be very tough such as miscarriages, or mental health issues during pregnancy can often be overlooked by the system who considers “pregnancy not to be a disease”. Sure, but it can certainly lead to a whole lot of serious issues for women. While this system makes a lot of sense to Norwegians, many foreigners can feel abandoned by the health system, especially when not speaking the language.
- Pregnancy follow up is free but ideologically tainted. Pregnancy follow up is free, but only if it is exactly what the Norwegian health system decides for you. You get a single ultrasound paid by health services, at week 18, and if you want an ultrasound at week 12 like in most countries to check that the foetus is in good health, check for Downs Syndrom, for twins etc., you will need to go to a private clinic or abroad. Even in a private clinic in Norway you might not even have a doctor doing the ultrasound but a midwife who will not run all the tests. In Norway due to abortion being a huge debate, it is very hard to get any kind of political agreement to give women the right to ultrasound at 12 weeks because of bunch of Christians are sure that will rise the abortion rate. They are convinced women finding out about Downs Syndrome will abort, so nobody gets to even know whether their pregnancy is extra or intra-uterine before week 18, with higher medical risks for both mother and child. Believe me that is a long time to wait. Lat year the Christian Democrats entered the ruling government and traded an even stricter abortion law in exchange for giving the Prime Minister (a woman by the way) a parliamentary majority. Yey to women’s rights! Also if you want to see a gynaecologist because you feel you have a pathology, and your GP does not see as necessary, you will have to go private too. If you need a psychological follow up you might also end up going private. This can get very frustrating, especially if your own health system in your home country is more caring.
- Choose the right name: Choosing a name for a child is a struggle in itself. One has the great responsibility of naming a human being who will probably keep this name all his or her life. But as a foreigner in Norway (or a foreigner anywhere actually) the struggle is real. We need to find a name that works in many different languages, and which our families back home can understand. Since I have been living in Norway for 10 years I started looking at old norrøn names, but they were so strange to my French friends and family that I gave up. “Brynjulf? Is that the name of a pregnancy disease in Norwegian language?”. No that is a little boy, but never mind. Other regular Norwegian names mean or sound like something entirely different in other languages. For examples the female name Gro means “fat man” in French. Now you know why Eva Joly changed her name from Gro to Eva when she moved to Paris! Other names sound very strange such as Gaute (sounds like Goat), Bård (sounds like Bored), Askil (sounds like Ass Kill) or Hildelgunn (sounds like Hold the Gun). In other words, we’re having fun up here.
- Super woman: In Norway it is usual to meet these super women who still ski 40 km per day when 7 months pregnant – maybe with another child in a baby carrier on skis behind her, or say things like “I don’t understand why we need to stop working 3 weeks before the due date, I could have worked until the night before the delivery. I was SO bored at home”. Yeah, so you just need to ignore those women. I had to, just to keep sane and not feel like a complete loser. Women are different and pregnancies are different. I was very ill for the first 5 months and am still mildly ill as we speak. Low blood pressure, fainting, extremely tired and nauseous, not sleeping at night due to acid reflux and vomiting. I mean, some of us actually need not only the 3 weeks before delivering to be at home in bed but much more. The key here is to smile back to these super women, and lower your expectations to what you can achieve, not towards what they are managing. Right now, if I manage to get out of bed without any pain, work a few hours and eat 2 different types of vegetables a day I feel like 100% of my goals have been reached.
- Norwegian habits: While common people like you and me get pregnant when it just happens, or when God or Mother Nature has decided it was the right time, Norwegians usually get pregnant at very specific times of the year. Such times are for example the month of July during what they call “fellesferie” (summer holidays). Those are April babies. Others get pregnant on New year’s eve or any other office Christmas party when people get very drunk. Those are usually September babies. In Oslo timing is even more of the essence since there are strict deadlines as to when one can register a child for kindergarten. So couples plan pregnancies very carefully so that their child is born between May and August, or June and September. In any case a December or January baby is seen as a disaster, as that means you are without a spot in kindergarten or a salary for up to 9 months.
- Prepare for the wonderful parental leave: In Norway the parental leave is 49 weeks in total if paid 100% of your salaries, or 59 weeks if paid at 80%. See on NAV for details, as the mother has a certain amount of fixed weeks and the dad/partner has too, plus a number of weeks to share. In any case, it is way more than most countries (all?) especially being paid your salary. This gives you time to take care of your baby and take a break from work. Enjoy, because in Norway retirement is at 67 years old, so do not worry you will be working a few more years after this baby break.
- Get lost on Finn.no. Back home many find it appalling that I buy almost everything second-hand, but here in Norway it is completely normal. Go on Finn.no and find amazing clothes, prams, and anything you need for much cheaper than the market price and in very good condition. Some things you will buy new, but for the planet and your finances, you might want to check out used baby stuff.
I dedicate this blogpost to all women who are reading this and wish they were pregnant. I know it can be tough when other women complain about all the symptoms and nuisance around being pregnant when all you want is to feel nauseous and tired if that means you will soon bring a child into this world. Hang in there, and I hope you get what you wish for very soon.
A shorter version of this article was published in the Norwegian daily paper VG on the 12th of October 2019 under the title Åtte tips for deg som blir gravid i Norge.