In 1997 Annette Sorensen, a Danish actress, was visiting her Brooklynbased husband in New York City along with their 14-month-old daughter. One sunny afternoon they decided to frequent a popular restaurant in the East Village. As it is socially accepted both in her country and Scandinavia, Sorenson left her baby safely tucked into their stroller located right outside of the restaurant. Moments later she and her husband were arrested and imprisoned by the New York City Police Department for child neglect and endangerment. Their baby was taken away and placed in foster care for several days.
This “fish out of water” scenario is unnerving to think about as a soon-to-be mother living in a foreign country. When I found out I was pregnant my heart could not really contain the pure enjoyment of carrying a child. However, once the initial excitement and celebration faded, the realities of being pregnant away from my home settled in. My mind created a bank of questions constantly streaming in one after another. Is the medical care going to be adequate? Are the hospital staff going to understand me in the delivery room? Should I just go back home and have the baby? My nagging questions were clearly motivated by a fear of the unknown, however, as time passes my pregnancy qualms are beginning slowly to disappear as the birth of my child draws closer.
My concerns started when I was told by my neighbourhood medical clinic that I wouldn’t be seen until I was at least two months pregnant. Shocked and appalled, I proceeded to debate with the midwife about the responsibility of the medical community to educate and inform newly pregnant women about taking care of themselves and any other critical aspects of pregnancy. Does the Icelandic medical community assume that every newly pregnant woman knows exactly what to do during the course of her first trimester of pregnancy? Thank you for the vote of confidence, however, if a woman wants her pregnancy to be validated by a professional as soon as the little blue cross appears on the stick then I think the medical community should be open to that.
Being directly communicated with and understood during the course of my pregnancy has also been a bit of a roller coaster ride. Every time my husband and I would visit the hospital for a routine visit or sonogram, I found that the staff directed all of their insight and professional opinions to my husband simply because of the shared language factor. Yes, I understand it may be difficult to translate medical terms to English and explain the procedures; however, I am still the one that’s actually going to be carrying and delivering the child. If my husband were the pregnant one, we’d be rich and currently starring in our own reality television show. It infuriated me to listen to an 8- minute stream of Icelandic dialogue about our baby and then get the 45 second briefing afterwards.
Although I do seem a tad bitter about some elements of the professional care of my pregnancy thus far, I do appreciate many aspects of how the Icelandic system views the importance of motherhood. For example, the maternity leave policy alone is making many of my American friends wish they had made the move along with me. Being able to stay home with your child for a significant amount of time during such a critical period is crucial. In America, shipping your three-month-old off to a new face in a new environment is quite customary. Many parents have no choice but to immediately go back to work in order to financially take care of their newborn child. Having nine months available between my husband and I gives the impression that child rearing is a priority in the eyes of the government. In addition, the feeling of safety and trust among the culture is also a plus in raising a child in this nation. Even though my New York mentality will simply not allow me to leave my child outside in a stroller in any country, I still admire the level of trust that exists among individuals.
At the end of the day, wherever any woman decides to have her baby, she needs to be mentally and emotionally mature enough to handle all that comes with the process of having a child. Any woman can have a child; however, that doesn’t automatically make her an equipped mother. Children are a gift from God and need to be treated as such from the time of conception. I’m hoping that my “fish out of water” experience will make me a better mother and endow me with the wisdom that will assist me with many future gifts from above.