Sunday, April 17, 2005

Selecting Peanut's Ride

Selecting the baby carriage for Peanut turned out to be more of a challenge than we had expected. The choices in Finland are very limited. Here are some of our impressions...

What's available in Finland
At the top of the line we found Emmaljunga. This Swedish brand builds baby carriages like they used to build Volvo's. They are sturdy, big and heavy carriages - specifically suited for the cold Nordic climate with thick insulation. The design is stylish, but not necessarily modern.

Also at the higher end of the market is the German brand Teutonia. These seem to be particularly popular with the well-to-do in the Helsinki area. They look robust, but are quite low. This means that every time you need to interact with the baby, you'll have to bend down quite far. Especially for Peanut's dad, who is rather tall, this is not desirable.

At the lower end of the market you'll find Brio and various Italian and Polish brands. The construction quality looks shotty and especially for the Italian models it looks like the design hasn't changed significantly in the last 50 years or so.

What we want and got:
On a visit to the Netherlands, a new world opened... In the Netherlands they have some of the coolest baby carriages. After we came back, we decided we wanted the following from a baby carriage:
  1. Good build quality - you'll use it for 2-3 years.
  2. Small transport size - so it fits in the back of the car
  3. Light weight - you'll have to lift it frequently
  4. Maneuverable - city shops have narrow aisles
  5. Four big wheels - needed to plow through the snow
  6. Height adjustable - Peanut's dad is much taller than her mom
  7. Nice looking - There are 13 dark blue baby carriages in a dozen
The only store in Helsinki who was able to deliver something close was Bambami. They offer the Bugaboo, a very trendy Dutch brand. We didn't go for the Bugaboo because it seemed a bit small to us and we were afraid it's smaller wheels would not be able to cope with snow.

Finally, we ended up going for a Mutsy Urban Rider. It met almost all of our requirements. Fortunately, Peanut's grandparents live in The Netherlands and they offered to buy one as a present and ship in to Finland. Thanks! If you plan to pick one up - you can get them from Prenatal. I have also left this as a tip at Bambami - so maybe they will start importing them.

Some lessons we learned:

Especially in cities and shops, you'll want something that is maneuverable. Most models on the market in Finland have four fixed wheels. They wont steer unless you lift two wheels of the ground. Especially with heavier carriages and when the child gets heavier this can become a real back-breaker. We recommend you go for something that has a lockable steering mechanism so you can choose between directional stability and maneuverability based on where you are. That is of course assuming you can get it here.

Choice of wheel configuration
Three-wheeled carriages are trendy, but can suffer some stability problems. They can tip over to front left or front right when hitting an obstacle. There are carriages that have four wheels in the three-wheeler configuration. The two front wheels are positioned close to eachother.

These carriages look really cool, but in a country with snow 6 months a year they make you work hard. When riding through the snow every one of the three or four wheels is forming a path. This is done with the energy you put into pushing the carriage.

So, we believe that four wheels with the distance between the wheels in the front being equal to the distance between the wheels in the back is the best choice for Finland. This allows the rear wheels to ride in the path that the front wheels have already created - saving you energy and back-pain.

Four big wheels will probably cope better with snow and mud as we have here often. For longer distances, bigger wheels create less drag, so take less effort to roll.

Height adjustement
Peanut's dad is much taller than her mom and quite tall by any standard anyway. So we were specifically looking for a baby carriage that has an adjustable handlebar. If the handlebar is too low, a tall person will suffer back pain from having to walk and push while bending down. If the handlebar is too high, a shorter person will not be able to control the carriage well.

Most carriages on the market here solve this problem with a knee-like joint in the handlebar. With this you can adjust the height by swivelling the last part of the handlebar up or down. This is bad design if you are tall. Swivelling up will bring the handlebar up higher, but will also bring it closer to the carriage (circle geometry). You will be kicking the carriage all the time. Better is to have a handlebar that extends with two pipes sliding over / into eachother. In Finland we have only seen this on the Emmaljunga.

We believe we have done a thorough analysis of the situation and that we we made the choice that was best for us. Have a look at what is important for you before you make your choice on looks only. Budget may be a serious constraint though. Expect to pay in the 700 to 900 euro range for the higher end models and 300 to 500 for low-end.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Peanut born

Peanut was born on April 14th. She's 3.6kg and 50cm. Peanut and her mom are doing well. We are very happy. Peanut's mom will be back with an update early next week.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Where to find advice - books, websites and more

Though it seems one thing that is not in short supply during pregnancy is ADVICE, I've tried to collect a broad range of resources for myself. There are so many different philosophies and approaches to every topic, I've enjoyed having a variety of opinions to chose from depending on the situation. Plus, I've found that my local health center (Neuvola) has not provided much details unless I've specifically asked, I think I would have been very much in the dark without my own "library".

In general, I'd describe the Finnish approach employed by the midwives and doctors I've seen is that pregnancy is a very natural process that usually progressives without serious medical incidents. I've felt confident that solid medical practices are employed, but only to the degree they are needed. I haven't felt over-tested or treated. We chose to use the public health care system, rather than private clinics (except when we wanted to find out Peanut's gender!).

My bookshelf holds:
(Rated on my scale of 1 -5 with 5 being an absolute must - though I wouldn't recommend using just any single book)

Your Pregnancy Week by Week by Dr. Glad B Curtis & Judith Schuler
A practical, US-take on the weekly progress in pregnancy along with all sorts of possible dangers and missteps. I liked the weekly pictures of what the fetus looks like, how it was developing and what was most likely happening to my body! Though I felt there was a little too much focus on all the 'what might go wrong' topics. For first timers, its a good guide.

Planning Your Pregnancy and Birth by the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists
A bit more like a textbook, it is clearly written in straight-forward language. Also contains some useful checklists and a more medical view on pregnancy related procedures that were helpful in understanding what was happening and what questions I should be asking. Nearly half the book is dedicated to 'what to do once you get home with baby!' - a section with details on how to change diapers and bathing. I'm sure we'll be looking at this again.

The Complete Book of Pregnancy & Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger
An invaluable part of my collection because it brought in a view that was more 'natural childbirth' than the others. At first, I found the book too graphic and 'earth-mother like', but as the pregnancy has progressed, I've learned to appreciate its straightforward approach and alternate view. Again, very useful in reminding me what are the options and what questions to ask. It also covers several non-medicinal approaches to pain relief during labor and delivery.

The Rough Guide to Pregnancy and Birth by Kaz Cooke
This is a week by week diary of a 30 something in the UK covering what's happening each week along with sometimes amusing descriptions of her own reactions and incidents. It had a couple of good checklists and a UK-view on aliments and events.

What to Expect When You're Expecting by Eisenberg, Murkoff and Hathaway
The classic, month-by-month pregnancy guide. On occassion it brought in information that I didn't find in the others. I know its been bashed by many, but I enjoyed it and found good info in it.

Journey into Parenthood by the Hospital of St. John & St. Elizabeth in London
RATED: 2.5
The guide provided by this birth unit in the UK hospital which encourages natural childbirth and active labor. I found it a rather scattershot approach with bits of good info hidden here & there. Personally, I skipped the chapters on such as 'getting in touch with your inner child".

We're Having a Baby by Stakes (the Finnish Nat'l Research & Development Center for Welfare & Health)
The freebie, light weight phamplet from my local health center, this was mostly useful for understanding various benefits and for translating key words from Finnish to English.

Though bought for Peanut's dad - I also enjoyed reading through
The Expectant Father by Armin A Brott & Jennifer Ash
A month-by-month guide for father's about what's happening - especially to their partners.

The New Father - A Dad's Guide to the First Year by Armin Brott
Same concept as above with large focus on the first week and month.

Additionally, there are plenty of virtual guides. A few websites I regularly visited:
Provides a weekly e-newsletter and plenty of bulletin boards and expert Q&As
in Finnish with lively bulletin boards
another local bulletin board tied to baby publications

And - extremely valuable advice from many, many friends who are mothers around the world - in Helsinki, in New York, in Rock Hill, in Florida, in Fredericksburg, in Toronto, among others!

If you have more advice or comments on any of the resources, I've listed - I'd love to hear about it - make a comment!

How overdue babies are monitored

Week 41 + 3 days

So, we're not officially overdue until week 42 according to the doctor today.

In Finland, once you are 10 days past your due date, you are sent to your maternity hospital for observation rather than your usual health center (neuvola). We are registered at the Kätilöopisito (Midwife University Hospital) or "Kättäri" in Helsinki.,32,660,546,960

When I called to make my appointment last Friday, I was told it was very busy today and was asked if we'd be willing to have an intern participate in the interview and ultrasound. I agreed since I know its an important part of their education and was assured that the students would be supervised in the interview by the head doctor.

We first met with a midwife who used an external heartbeat monitor for about 20 mins to see if the baby was under stress. She also handled the usual clinic-visit tests: blood pressure, urine analysis and belly palpatations to check on the baby's position.

We were then passed down the hallway to wait for the intern -- or what turned out to be interns. First, a group of three males who were then joined by another two female students! It was quite an audience, but they were all very pleasant. One was acting as the examining doctor and ran through a routine list of questions about my current and past condition. The doctor himself came in towards the end of the interview and listened as the intern reviewed what he had learned.

I then moved onto the examing table - fully clothed since this was just an external exam and ultrasound. I found it interesting to listen to the doctor as he explained to the students what he was doing and why. He also did the routine palpatations to check the baby's position and head position (degree of engagement) and measured the size of the uterus.

He introduced a 'potato sack' move for guesstimating the weight. With his hands cupped on either side of the belly, he gave it a moderate shake to see how much moved and how much resistance it gave him. One of the students, later tried the 'milk carton' method where by eyeing how many liter sized milk cartons would fit across the belly, he came up with his own estimate.

Following the doctor, the interns lined up to have a turn nudging and measuring my belly. I had to draw the line at three of them as I began to feel a bit dizzy from laying down on back so long. They were all most concerned about having cold hands -- and one of them must have really been rubbing his hands together to warm them up before touching me :-)

Next up was the ultrasound examination. This was performed entirely by the doctor with him occassionally posing questions to the students. He first checked for the amount of amniotic fluid by scanning the four quadrants of the uterus for pockets of it. Next was a review of the health of the placenta which evidently begins to calcify and become porous as it ages. He then checked for 'breathing motions' - either by actually watching the diaphragm or stomach move. Following that was a review of the heartbeat and bloodflow through the heart. Last up was a birth weight estimate based on the circumfrance of the head, length of the femur and most importantly - the size of the stomach! This was a surprise to me, but evidently, its one of the most reliable measurements for babies and adults, alike. The ultrasound's automatic calculations were throwing up very odd estimated due dates and the doctor explained that the earliest ultrasounds are actually the most accurate and the later it gets, the less accurate this estimate becomes.

We picked up all sorts of extra details and information from the lecturing the doctor did during the examination, but it was a bit strange sitting there feeling more like a case study sub ject than the actual patient. I've decided against having any students attend the actual delivery and birth because of this - no need for an audience or anything that will take the concentration from us. After sharing this part of our pregnancy with a group of interns, I can with a clear concious refuse :-)

At the close of the visit, we as group discussed how ineffective estimated due dates actual can be. Only a very, very small percentage (around 6%) of babies are actually born on their EDD, yet the anxious parents-to-be (not to mention the equally excited relatives and friends) often watch the date come and go. Though we tried to prep ourselves that its plus/minus two weeks from the due date, being on the minus side was definitely easier. And, even if 'overdue' doesn't officially kick in until 42 weeks, we find ourselves constantly talking about Peanut being late and answering curious inquiries from family & friends who wonder if we've just forgotten to inform them about her birth. The doctor was proposing a 'birth month' as guidance for expectant parents rather than a date to be circled on the calendar. I think it would have relieved me of some anxities and the feeling of somehow being off schedule.

At this point, the doctor said no internal exam was neccessary because whether the cervix was ripe or not was almost immaterial since there have been no contractions and everything looked normal. He went on to explain to the horror of the students that the US, they most likely would not let a pregnancy carry on so long and would force the cervix to ripen manually with a balloon sort of instrument.

In the end, the prognosis was that Peanut was doing just fine still and there was no reason to help her out yet. We have another appointment in three days for a similar examination.

Total cost = 22 euros

Sunday, April 10, 2005

All packed with nowhere to go - yet!

Its 40 weeks + 9 days - we're still waiting for a reason to head to the hospital.

In the meantime, our bags have been packed for a few weeks. We have two bags - a backpack with the items we think we'll need during the actual labor and delivery and a big duffle bag for the hospital stay. Oh - and the bag with the videocamera tripod - NOT to be used for the delivery, but afterwards so we can get video with all three of us :-)

Here's what in our bags:

BACKPACK for labor and delivery
  • 2 pairs of socks for Peanut's mom
  • washcloth
  • water sprayer - like the one you'd use for spraying a mist of water on plants
  • L'Occitane Olive Oil lotion for massage
  • a paperback for both Peanut's mom & dad
  • 2 techies magazines for Peanut's dad to flip through
  • 4 CDs - mostly quieter tunes
  • notebook and pen
  • copies of the birth plan (in English) + a list of key words in Finnish/English
  • hard candies - Werther's Originals and fruity lollipops
  • a bar of Fazer chocolate
And, mainly to sustain dad
  • peanut & raisin mix
  • box of instant soup mixes
  • salty crackers
All topped with a note to remember to bring:
  • the camera
  • eyeglasses
  • sports drink bottle for water or juice
  • Peanut's mom's slippers and
  • to put out extra catfood & water
The duffle bag for the hospital stay
  • 6 pairs black cotton grannie underwear in my pregnancy size (bought especially for possible ruin) + 3 pairs cotton underwear
  • 2 cotton nursing bras
  • 4 pairs of socks
  • 12 disposable nursing pads (for leaks!)
  • package of night-time strength sanitary pads
  • make-up bag with shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, face wash, etc, etc....and even a bit of make-up
  • 4 days supply of pre-natal vitamins and iron supplements that I've been taking through pregnancy
  • 3 PJ sets - one in extra pregnancy size, one with button-down top and one with a big t-shirt top
  • sweatpants with drawstring, nursing t-shirt and sweatshirt. I imagine this will be my dressy outfit to receive guests :-)
  • going home outfit for mom = maternity pants + maternity top - I'm trying to not have any delusions of being slim or trim at this point!
  • socks & underwear for dad
  • Oh Oh - clothes for dad are still missing!! But, I guess he could come home to change - ?
  • slippers for dad
  • dad's toiletries bag
  • going home outfit for Peanut - short sleeve onezie, pj with footies, hat, 2 pairs of socks, outerwear outfit
  • extra hat for Peanut - so dad can bring it home early for the cats to get accustomed to her scent
  • snacks for middle of the night or whenever - granola bars and barley crackers
  • bag of prunes - oh yes!!!

Saturday, April 09, 2005

The three 'S's - sauna, siivous ja seksi

As our due date came and went last week without any indiciation from Peanut that she was ready to head out anytime soon, we gained some local advice from work collegues and friends about how to hurry along the process.

The solution lay in the Three S's - sauna, siivous and seksi.

Sauna - the most Finnish of institutions - its our local steam bath. A standard feature in virtually every home and apartment complex, the sauna holds a mythical place in solving many - almost ANY - problem that we face through life. Even at our wedding party, we were given guidance that our marriage would survive any bump along the way that could be solved with Sisu, Spirits or Sauna (another magical threesome!).

Sauna's also have played an important role in childbirth in the years before everyone lived in cities or near hospitals. It was often the most sterile and cleanest environment in the home, thus serving as the place where many babies were born.

But, I don't know that I'm completely sold on the idea of a very, very hot steamy room in relaxing me at this point. Nine+ months is not a comfortable state to be in no matter the temperature. Heating up above the 60C seems like the wrong way to go. There would be sweat rolling into all those new pregnancy induced wrinkles, dimples and corners. Yewww....

Then again, I have yet to try it. Maybe its just what is needed to relax the back aches and still loosening ligaments. Unfortunately, we don't have a sauna in our apartment so a hot shower will have to serve as my substitute!

Siivous = Cleaning. Yes, I admit the 'nesting' instict took over at some point in the last weeks of pregnancy - for both me and my husband. I've been driven to organize, sort out and rearrange nearly every shelf, closet and box in our home. He's diligently vaccumed and mopped every last corner and put his handywork skills to work building a changing table top and creating a bathtub hanging system. Last week, I found myself ironing everything in my husband's closet and even shining his shoes (they were looking so dusty in the recently mopped hallway!). Now the only thing left are our two kitty-cats who don't realize how close they are to getting a bath.

Evidently, the cleaning is either supposed to get mom moving enough to get baby out or its just a sign of the impending birth. Either way - I'm still in one piece and running out of things to clean!!! Ahh, but, the windows - I haven't washed the windows yet.....

Seksi - yes, sex. When I first heard this idea, I thought this must be a list created by men. Supposedly there is something in the semen that stimulates the hormones that start labor. So goes the wives tale that is not exclusive to Finland.

Now, my husband has shared several males views he has heard about sex with a highly pregnant woman - somewhat incestuous, concerns about disturbing the baby and requires creative navigation. And certainly from the highly pregnant woman's point of view its not too much more exciting since at this point its very difficult to move in any direction in any position . I'm not sure who's idea this was!

And, should all that fail, a collegue of my husband's suggests a PlayStation2 to help the time fly by.....