Motherhood in Norway

Hello folks!

How have you all been? I'm so excited to bring to you the second interview on motherhood around the world series. Today's interview features Priya Balasubramanian, a young and vivacious mother living with her husband and three-yrs old daughter in Norway. Priya was my college classmate during graduation and then we proceeded to study in the UK at the same time which is when I got to know her better. I have always found her and her husband to be once of the nicest, most grounded couples I've ever met (total couple goals!) and their daughter seems equally delightful! I'm so happy to be speaking to Priya today:

 Could you please tell us a little about yourself
My name is Priya! I was born in Chennai and raised in Hyderabad. If you would ask me what is home for you in India, my answer will always be Hyderabad and I carry its memories and spirit with me wherever I go! I moved out of India 13 years ago when I chose to do a Masters in the UK where I lived for a few years before I moved to Norway and settled here for good.
I work in the software industry in Oslo and have a background in sales and customer success. The man I am married to is the guy I befriended in Edinburgh while I studied my Masters. We have been together for just over 12 years now. We have a daughter together who was born on a cold winter day in Norway. 
Norway has been considered one of the best countries in the world to be a mother, how true is that? 
Yes, I will agree with that. I can also add that it is one of the best countries in the world for women.
What was being pregnant in Norway like?
What I learnt very soon after being pregnant was that pregnancy is natural and absolutely normal and the Norwegians treat it the same way. This is a society where personal matters aren’t discussed openly and personal questions are almost never asked in day to day life unless you know the people really well. So no awkward questions will ever come your way from a local when you are pregnant. Most people are polite here and will most likely offer you their seat when you look pregnant and are travelling in public transport. Breastfeeding is considered absolutely natural and normal - one can breastfeed in any public space without feeling uncomfortable.
On becoming pregnant in Norway you get assigned a midwife (close to home) who monitors your pregnancy and gives you all the information and guidance you need based on where you are in your pregnancy and supports you until you get into labour.
In Norway you do all of the work yourself - cooking, cleaning, laundry etc. Having family support locally would definitely make a huge difference in these circumstances as you have somewhere to go to when you need a break once in a while and don’t feel too lonely or overworked. On a positive side you tend to stay much more in control of your pregnancy and your child and end up really fit as you don’t get to laze around during and after your pregnancy and naturally stay active.

How was your experience of childbirth in a Norwegian hospital?
Norway has state-run medical care. All expenditure pertaining to pregnancy and childbirth is covered by the government. You can also say that as residents/citizens we indirectly contribute towards this by paying extremely high taxes to the Government.
Once it is ascertained that you are pregnant, the closest hospital to your residence is automatically assigned to you. The emphasis is always on having a natural birth and to be honest these are not options that are even discussed. C-section is taken up when there are strong reasons for it, otherwise it is the natural way. 
I arrived at the hospital after my contractions were more frequent (my husband was timing it) and the nurse over the phone had confirmed that I could come over to the hospital. I was in a pre-ward initially where my contractions were measured and once I was ‘labour ready’ I was moved into a labour room. Soon after labour came in a new nurse who taught me how to feed and extract milk out of my chest. It was almost like a task - she gave me work to do and came back later and monitored how I was getting along. 
The best thing about the Norwegian system was that I was kept thoroughly engaged in the entire process. The nurses/doctors were constantly talking to me and telling me what they were up to and in certain critical instances sought my approval before they did anything. 
One of my strong memories from this day includes the moment when the nurse asked me if the father could cut the umbilical cord and if I approved of it. Only after I said “yes” did my husband also get to carry his child for the very first time. My consent was critical and I was the ‘mother’ in the room, felt powerful and I loved it! 
What kind of post-partum support is available for new mothers?
Upon child birth you are quickly assigned the nearest health centre (Helsestasjon) for your child. Health centre is for children between 0-5 years and their parents. The ground staff consists of midwife, health nurse, physician and physiotherapist.
Here is where the growth and development of the child is monitored, vaccination/immunization happens and you can seek help anytime you need during working hours as you can drop in. You can talk to the nurses about all matters pertaining to parenthood including questions on bathing a child/how often to feed/introducing solids/baby stool challenges/your mood swings as a mother/getting the child acclimatized to sleeping in their own room and co, etc.
Baselgrupper (mom groups) I would say is one of the best systems here in Norway. Once you give birth you are paired with all the fellow mothers that have had babies at the same time as you in your neighbourhood. The local health centre brings us women together and creates a group and sets the introductions. This group becomes an integral part of one's maternity leave where the mothers and babies meet once every week for a 10 month period and do an activity together such as meeting for lunches, going on long walks, treks together etc. Some of these friendships last a lifetime!

How long was your maternity leave for? And what support or benefits do new parents get from the government/community/employers?
Norwegian society encourages people to work and does its best to make sure people don’t find reasons to sit at home as that can be a source of most problems.
Maternity leave is offered for up to a year to only those that have been employed and need a break from work. There is close to 80% to 100% salary coverage if your salary is an average Norwegian salary. The father gets his own share of 10 weeks of paid paternity leave too which he can take up until the child turns 3. In addition, working and breastfeeding moms are also entitled to paid breaks to feed their babies. 
The nursery is heavily discounted as the Govt takes a big chunk of the fee and education/schooling for children is free as well.
Most places in Norway have baby changing facilities that are extremely clean with disposable changing liners, diaper bins and are free of charge. In some of the malls you have what is known as an ‘Ammerom’ (feeding rooms) where you have seating to sit and feed your hungry ones in a quiet space.
A typical Norwegian meal - baked trout/salmon with steamed veggies

What is your and your partner’s parenting philosophy?
I don't know if we have any specific philosophy pertaining to parenting. We go by our instincts and try to not do things our parents did to us that we didn’t like. The goal for us is to create good memories for the child for her to look back to when she grows big, create a space that she will always call home and mould her in a way she is able to make good decisions for herself.
We give a lot of importance to ‘communication’. We treat our daughter as a young individual and ask her opinion and thoughts on everything that involves her and us as a family. When we say ‘NO’ to anything we tell her why this is not OK and the reasoning behind it. This is also an influence from the Norwegian culture even though not all locals practice it.
Do both parents have an ‘equal’ role to play in the Norwegian society?
This is one of the best things about the Norwegian society! Parents are equal and they have equal responsibilities when it comes to managing and bringing up their children. Most Norwegian fathers cook well, do grocery shopping, drop kids to the school and do the home chores as a part of their daily lives - there is no gender differentiation here as to who does what. The idea is to share the workload equally between the parents.

We’ve all heard about how Norwegians (and other Scandinavian countries) emphasize outdoorness among their kids ever since they’re born. What is it all about? E.g. In India, I wouldn’t take my newborn son out or even now would not send him out if the temperature drops even by 5 degrees).
Norwegians are very outdoor people that love nature and are usually out walking/running or doing some form of sport. The nursery has a policy where the children should play outside for a few hours everyday throughout the year. It is also common practice for babies to sleep outside in their prams during the day in the nursery unless it is less than -5 C. 
It is perfectly OK to leave the babies sleeping on prams outside coffee shops while the parents go inside to get a meal/coffee for themselves - the pram is usually in their view from inside. This, I would say, was the most difficult aspect of the Norwegian society for me to come to terms with. I had to do this several times to get used to the practice before I could do this with ease.

Do you have any message for all the moms out there?
All I have to say is, enjoy motherhood and treat yourself well!

Thank you so much, Priya!


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