Keeping little kids busy: “play-room” edition

Finding things to do with the little ones can be tricky, particularly during the week when the majority of kids younger than school age will be in nurseries or kindergartens. If you have your kid at home during the week, consider visiting one of Odense’s legestuer (“play-rooms”). It’s a great way for your kid to interact with other kids and you might get to drink a cup of coffee with other grown-ups.

In Denmark, legestuer are run by churches (kirke). They are literally safe play-rooms, filled with toys. Sometimes there will also be some joint activities like games or songs. Participation is free or for a small fee. Everyone is welcome. 

Below I am listing Odense’s legestuer, they all vary a bit in when they are open and how they are organised. Therefore, I am also providing links to more information for each legestue. 

Legestue Fredens Kirke
Open: Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9.30 – 12.00
Address: Fredens Kirke, Skibhusvej 162, 5000 Odense C
Price: 10kr per family
Find more information here and here

Bolbro Legestue
Open: Monday, 10.00 – 12.00
Address: Sognehuset of Bolbro Kirke, Stadionvej 68, 5200 Odense V
Price: Free
Find more information here

Legestue Munkebjerg Kirke
Open: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 9.30 – 12.00
Address: Munkebjerg kirke, Østerbæksvej 87, 5230 Odense M
Price: 10 kr.
Find more information here

Legestue Lumby Sognehus
Open: Thursday, 9.30 – 12.00
Address: Lymby Sognegård, H.C. Lumbyes Vej 40 B, 5270 Odense N
Price: Free
No further information online

Legestue Sankt Hans Kirke
Open: Thursday, 10.00 – 12.00
Address: Sankt Hans Kirke (in the menighedshuset), Sct. Hans Plads 1, 5000 Odense C
Price: Free
Find more information here

I only ever went to the legestue at the Fredens Kirke. They had so many cool indoor toys that I hoped they would run evenings for grown-ups to come and play. Let me know if you find out more useful information about legestuer. Happy playing! 

From Denmark with Love, 

Julia

Guide to Danish Health Care during Pregnancy

For most of us, it begins with a home pregnancy test. That second line on the stick heralds changes to our lives to profound to fathom. To help with the practical steps, here is a short guide to Danish health care during pregnancy. Please note that this is only a summary and your personal care will depend on your health and pregnancy.

During your pregnancy, you will be offered a range of free examinations performed partly by your doctor (egen læge) and partly by midwives (jordemoder) (find an overview in Danish here). Regular midwife appointments are likely to take place at a health center where midwives hold office hours, while the ultrasound scanning appointments tend to take place at local hospitals.

The first step is to call your doctor to make an appointment. Have your CPR number ready and an idea of when the first day of your last period was. They will use this information to find the right time for your appointment. The doctor will likely want to see you from week 8 of your pregnancy onwards, and pregnancy weeks are counted from the first day of your last period.

During this first doctors appointment, your pregnancy will be confirmed through a urine test. Your general health condition will be examined (blood pressure, weight, etc.) and it will be established if there are any risk factors for your pregnancy (e.g. a family history of high blood pressure or diabetes or unfavorable work conditions). The doctor will also take a blood sample to test among others for Hepatitis B, HIV, and syphilis. She will also calculate your due date.

During the first appointment, you will further be offered prenatal screening for the chromosomal abnormalities trisomy 13, trisomy 18, and trisomy 21. If you agree to this, then they will test your blood for specific markers (called double test). Some woman might not have thought about whether or not they want to have prenatal screening. I recommend saying yes at this first appointment because you can still decline later on to hear the results. However, the blood test for the prenatal screening has more reliable results if blood samples were taken early during pregnancy.

Eventually, the risk for these chromosomal abnormalities is determined statistically based on three different sources of information. First, the results of the blood test, second, known risk factors (e.g. advanced age of the mother), and third, fetal measurements made during the first ultrasound screening.

The first regular ultrasound scan occurs between pregnancy weeks 11 and 13. During the scan, the due date will be confirmed based on the development of the fetus, and it will be checked if the fetus develops normally. As mentioned above, for establishing the risk for chromosomal abnormalities, the nuchal fold (the neck fold) will be measured and the risk for the chromosomal abnormalities will be calculated and shared with you immediately. It is, therefore, a good idea to bring a support person and no other children to the scan in case you will receive negative news. If the calculated risk is deemed too high, you will be offered further invasive tests to establish a diagnosis with certainty. These tests occur later in the pregnancy.

When and how often you will see a midwife depends on, among other factors, whether you are pregnant for the first time and whether your pregnancy is considered low or high-risk. Most women will visit a midwife about 5-6 times during pregnancy. The midwives will take some measurements and talk to you about all topics related to pregnancy and birth. They will furthermore share with you which options of prenatal classes are available to you. In Odense, from the public sector, there is unfortunately only one short course in English at the OUH (Odense University hospital) available. All other classes are in Danish. Promisingly though, a hypnobirthing instructor has recently started to offer classes in Odense (find her webpage here).

Additionally to the midwife appointments, you will be asked to see your doctor in pregnancy week 25 and 32. These appointments you have to schedule yourself. It is noteworthy that you will not receive any internal gynaecological exams, unless it is medically necessary, until the very end of your pregnancy, when the question how far the neck of your uterus has softened and shortened becomes important for further decision making.

Another exciting event occurs around pregnancy week 20, your second ultrasound scan. During this scan, it will be checked again if your fetus develops how it should. And you will learn the sex of your baby if you choose to.

Approaching your due date, the frequency of midwife appointments will increase. If you pass your due date, you will at some point be asked to come into the hospital for scans and CTG readings to monitor the baby and contractions. In Denmark, the recommendation is that babies should be born between 37+0 and 42+6 weeks of pregnancy. Accordingly, you will be offered to have labor induced between 41+2 and 41+5. You do not have to agree to this as you have medical decision power over your body unless you are deemed a medical emergency.

All women in Denmark have the right to give birth at home. That means the Danish Health Care system has to provide you with the support of a midwife to give birth at home. In Odense, you will be sorted into a specific scheme for home birth, run by a small circle of midwives. This increases the chances that you will know your midwife and you will also receive a home visit before to help you set up the logistics for the birth.

I have spoken to many international women who have given birth in Denmark. One observation I often hear is that the coverage of care can appear low with appointments few and far between. In my opinion, this is a cultural misunderstanding. Where some cultures take the route of frequent appointments and tests, the Danish system places more responsibility on the woman to monitor her health and to contact the doctor or midwives if there are any problems. The moment any problems are flagged, the density of appointments and treatments increases to a much higher level. During my two pregnancies, at no point did I have the impression that any risks were taken with my baby’s or my health. Speak up! Change your doctor if you don’t feel heard. And get in touch with me if you need help.

From Denmark with Love,

Julia

Health care during pregnancy and birth is included in general health care accessible to foreigners in Denmark. It is a combination of doctor and midwife appointments and includes prenatal health tests for both the baby and the mother. Pregnancy care can appear low with long waiting times between appointments but this is a cultural misunderstanding. Woman are tasked to report any problems or irregularities, triggering an immediate increase in the density of care. No one takes any risks with the health of the baby or mother. Speak up and make yourself heard by both your doctor and midwife.


Sleep tight, nighty, night!

One of the biggest challenges of motherhood is the lack of sleep. I get too few hours and my sleep gets constantly interrupted. I do not function well without enough sleep. I do things like screw in a new light bulb and declare the lamp broken because it didn’t light up when I switched the light switch. The switch that regulates a totally different lamp, you know. I am just a whole lot dumber than I used to be. But more worryingly, I feel a little angrier, more vulnerable, and less optimistic about the world, feelings that block growth and happiness.

Now, this would be easy to fix since the problem is so well defined. But between my baby waking up every 2-3 hours at night and the toddler having trouble falling asleep in the evenings, I just never get enough sleep. So I try to nap in the day. But then I have to lie down when the baby has fallen asleep and force myself to switch my thoughts off. For me, the moment my head drops onto the soft pillow, my brain starts to dredge up all the thoughts. You know them, the thoughts about the shopping list, and unanswered messages, the internal reminder to empty the cat toilet and to mail the letter for the tax department. Thoughts.

All the thoughts also like to sneak up on me after the 3am feed. It’s the perfect time to worry about how best to sell the car, isn’t it? Now for years, I have been using mindfulness exercises to try to bring on sleep. Sorry to the mindfulness experts out there, I know that’s not the purpose, but mindfulness was long the best tool in my sleep box.

Until I finally tried the Sleep stories on the app Calm. My husband has been using them for ages and has gifted me a pair of sleeping headphones a few Christmases ago. But it took the draw of listening to Matthew McConaughey that finally made me try them. He had just recorded a story and who wouldn’t like to be soothed into slumber by his southern drawl. It worked magic. Maybe 7 minutes in, I was asleep. I have been using different stories for 15 days now, both for nap-time and after waking up for feeds at night, and it works every single time. It’s like I found the sleep switch. What I love about it is that falling asleep has become something passive, I just have to listen to the story and out go the lights. Beforehand calming down was something active to be achieved by me focussing on a mindfulness process. Much more work, much lower success rate.

I have since also played Sleep stories for children to my toddler. After we read to him and the nighttime ritual is over, he can still take some time to fall asleep. While the Sleep stories have not worked quite as magically for him as they do for me, they still send him off into dreamland more often than not.

We are using the app Calm and I can wholeheartedly recommend it, despite the quite steep price tag. We can share it on Apple Family so it’s not quite as expensive. It offers wonderful guided mindfulness exercises and meaningful additions like a breathing timer and some mindful yoga instructions. And of course the Sleep stories. Written by diverse authors and read out by actors, scientists, astronauts, artists, and sometimes the authors themselves. I am already looking forward to tonight’s story.

From Denmark with Love,

Julia

Getting enough sleep is a constant challenge for parents of young children. Finding an easy segue into sleep cuts down on the time it takes to fall asleep and makes napping easier. Here I recommend the use of a modern version of the ancient good night story. Different apps provide “Sleep stories” that just capture the mind enough to avoid the pitfall of thinking too much while trying to fall asleep. Works wonders for this mama and also sends my toddler off to sleep.

Living Abroad Fatigue

I have a big anniversary coming up. This March I will have been living in Denmark for five years. Five years! It’s hard to believe it has been this long. But then when I think about it, I finished a PhD, had a baby, a wedding, another baby … yep, five years sounds about right. The thing about this is: if someone had asked me the famous “where do you see yourself in five years” question when I first arrived in Denmark, I am sure my answer would have differed from my current reality.

Have you come across the model for cultural adaptation after moving to a new country yet? First comes the high, the honeymoon phase, where everything is great, exciting, and life-altering. Then comes the crash, the culture shock, when we realise how difficult life abroad is. At this stage, the constant feeling of not belonging lets our moods plummet to dig-a-hole-and-hide-in-it levels. Finally, we swap the shovel for a ladder and climb out of the hole. This is the adjustment phase. We accept our new reality and define our identities within the changed boundaries.

One would think that five years would see me well into the adjustment phase, if not the following level of having mastered the new life abroad. If you had asked me five years ago, I would have said that by now I will have a family, a career, and a network of friends and colleagues. The three pillars of a happy life. And of course, I would have mastered the language. But if you check in on my life now, you’ll see “work in progress” signs hanging up in quite a few of these areas.

The hardest part for me is the social isolation. The secret to making friends in Denmark seems a time-machine. If you can zip yourself into the past to join a person you find interesting today in their vuggestue group in the 1980’s, then you might stand a chance to make a friend. Ok, maybe you can catch up with them in their kindergarten or school, or maybe maybe at university. But anything after that is no-friend-making zone.

I used to think it was just me but I hear this time and again, even from easy-going, happy-go-lucky people who make their living as networkers. Apparently, it’s also a question of keeping to invite Danish people over or for activities without an expectation of reciprocation. Eventually, they will wear down and let you in. So goes the rumor. I must say I’ve always given up due to the lack of reciprocity. My Danish teacher told me once it takes ten years to make friends in Denmark. Well, I am at half-time now, I’ll report back in five more years.

Luckily, there is a strong sense of community among immigrants or expatriates. We all need people, so my advice is to go and find them among the other foreigners. Comes with the added bonus of getting to know scrumptious food from all corners of the world and learning about new cultures.

I feel I need to say at least five positive things now about living in Denmark. And there are plenty, rest assured! But for a moment let’s just sit with the negative. Maybe one of you has an “I thought it was just me” epiphany when reading this. The feeling of not belonging still gets the better of me sometimes. And I am still silently practicing my soft d’s while walking to the shop or cycling to work. I am mostly convinced that I will beat this tongue-twisting language one day but sometimes I get so tired of being the stuttering foreigner devoid of personality. Grrh. I am actually funny and articulate in two widely-spoken languages, just not in this one. Not yet anyway. The sign reads “Work in progress”.

Today a slightly disgruntled, from Denmark with Love,

Julia