Having moved from the UK to The Netherlands at the age of 22 with no job, nowhere to live, and a partner who’d never even visited the place, I figured that moving to Sweden thirteen years later would be easy.
Sure, I didn’t speak much of the language, but I could understand some, and yes, I’d miss my amazing friends A LOT, but I figured I’d meet other mums at the playground and make friends that way.
Of course I could do this all over again!
Relocating as a family is hard(er)
I soon realised, however, that moving to a new country at 22 with only myself to worry about was very different than moving somewhere aged 35 with two small children and a baby in tow.
There were no mums in the playground to become coffee buddies with and I missed being familiar with how things worked.
Doctor’s appointments, vaccinations, BVC visits, where to buy those things you stick on chair legs to protect the floor…I felt a bit helpless and pretty isolated, and I didn’t really like feeling that way.
I slowly figured it all out and it was a huge help having both a Swedish husband and English as my mother tongue, but it was still more of an adjustment than I had expected.
Now, four years later, I feel settled, and although nobody is going to mistake my Swedish as native, I speak it pretty well. My children are older and are in school and pre-school and I have a much better grasp of how stuff works.
Oh, and those chair protector things? Try your local supermarket.
Becoming a doula
I have also realised my dream of becoming a doula and supporting Swedish, international, and mixed families in their birth journeys.
Growing and birthing a whole new person is really a big enough task without having to do it in a new country.
For someone moving to Sweden, having to navigate, well, everything, as well as a completely different maternity system is a huge challenge.
There can be so many barriers, the language is an obvious one, but others exist too.
Maybe you come from a country where pregnancy and birth are under the care of doctors rather than midwives, where you receive scans and tests at each prenatal visit or where open conversations with your care provider are not really a thing.
Or perhaps the Swedish system is fairly similar to what you are used to, but it’s the little differences that are throwing you off.
A doula relieves some of the emotional and informational load
More and more people are becoming aware of how helpful it can be to have the support of a doula during pregnancy, birth and into the postpartum.
From the moment you find a doula you really click with (and that’s key) they will be there to support you.
They will help you find evidence-based information to help you make decisions, they’ll be with you during labour and birth to help with physical support and provide comfort measures and ideas on various positions.
But most importantly, they will be there for YOU.
Your doula is someone you can turn to when things feel overwhelming.
They are someone to talk with openly who will not judge or tell you what to do.
Someone who will listen to everything you have to say and ensure you know that anything you are feeling is valid and that it’s ok.
A doula is there to create and hold a safe space for you throughout your pregnancy, birth and beyond.
A doula will not tell you what to do
It’s good to note that a doula is not someone who plays any kind of medical role.
She is not there to push you towards one kind of birth or another and, unfortunately, she cannot guarantee your perfect birthing experience.
What she can do is to work with you prenatally so that you are as prepared, informationally and emotionally, as possible for any situation that might arise.
Birth, as we know, is an organic process and although you can read all the books and do all the things, you cannot have complete control over exactly how things will go down on the big day.
Your doula will be your advocate
Ok, I cannot emphasize this next part enough:
In terms of seeing your birth experience as positive, playing an active role in it rather than letting your birth happen to you, seems to be even more important than whether or not your birth went exactly to plan.
Being prepared, so that you can continue to be the driver of your own experience and have the final say in any decisions that need to be made, is vital.
I truly believe that a doula’s support can be incredibly beneficial for everyone. However, for someone expecting a baby in a foreign country? It’s invaluable.
Your doula can help you navigate the local maternity system and help you know what to expect.
They can work with you to create questions for your midwife so that you have all the information you need to feel confident and positive.
Outside of your prenatal meetings, they will be available over the phone, text message, email or messenger, as often as you need them.
A conversation with your doula can be incredibly helpful as she (or one of her fellow doulas!) will have had experience in all of the local hospitals and can help you feel out which one will best fit you and the birth experience you want.
Perhaps you are just overwhelmed with the whole thing and either don’t yet have close friends to turn to or prefer to talk to someone who will listen without judgment or agenda.
I’ve heard doulas referred to as sherpas, and I can see why. Doulas act as a guide through the tricky terrain of birth.
However, I believe that you should be leading the way on your own birth journey and that your doula should walk alongside you, offering ideas, options, resources, and support but, ultimately, following your lead.
I have also heard doulas called birth fairies and while that’s lovely, a doula is not there to wave a magic wand and grant you the wish of your perfect birth. She can’t.
What she can do is be a steady presence throughout your journey and support you in navigating everything from medical interventions to emotional overwhelm and everything in between.