An ultrasound examination has become a regular part of prenatal check-ups. In Norway it is standard to have one around your 18th week of pregnancy. During the examination the doctor will check the size of the baby’s head, legs, spine, etc, and also check organs such as the heart and stomach. You will likely be send a letter from the Maternity clinic with the doctors notes on your scan.
This time round I was very anxious to have my placenta checked. My last pregnancy I had mild placenta praevia (where the placenta was implanted in the bottom half of the uterus) however, it was just high enough not to block the cervix. When a woman is in her mid-thirties (like me) and has had several pregnancies (like me) there is a higher risk of placenta praevia. Fortunately, this time I was given the all clear and was happy for it to be my last ultrasound for this pregnancy.
Norway didn’t accept medical records from London
In my last pregnancy I actually had my 18 week scan in London, where we were living at the time. A month later, we returned to Norway and even though I had all my pregnancy information from my London doctor, the Norwegian doctors ordered for all my tests to be redone – and thank goodness they did. In my Norwegian ultrasound the doctor picked up on my placenta praevia. I was then scheduled other scan appointments so the doctor could monitor my progress.
Experience based on expectations
There were two other women, a Russian and an American, friends of mine, pregnant, immigrants, and very new to Norway, who were going through the same placenta praevia experience as me. We gave each other support and often compared notes. Even though we all had the same doctor for the scans we all had different experiences – two good and one very bad. I found that our experiences depended a lot upon our expectations that developed while in our home countries.
Being an Australian, I am very much into ‘going with the flow’. In the scanning room it was easy for me to flash my bellie. Most times I was also required to strip off my pants an hop into a high chair with stirrups so the doctor could conduct an internal ultrasound to see the placenta properly. The first time I felt awkward hopping up on the chair, being so fat, (wearing only a short T-shirt as I wasn’t aware that I would need to do this – otherwise I would have dressed more appropriately…lol) and the whole situation was quite humorous. I would giggle and then Moose would giggle which would make me giggle a little more. This created an easy atmosphere and being in this type of situation, Aussies always find the need for chatter. The doctor was more than happy to speak Norlish with me (Moose sometimes had to translate too but every thing was light and easy). There was a TV screen so we could clearly see what the doctor could see and he would show us my progress. Of course I needed help getting down from the high chair – my legs had almost become numb – and Moose was there helping me get down, getting my clothes and helping me dress. I got a sense that the doctor was very impressed with my devoted helper and made for some fun jokes. I went through this ultrasound process at least four more times – each time got easier and easier even though I got fatter and fatter and needed more help. (By the end Moose was also helping me walk across the floor and up into the chair!)
My Russian friend had a similar experience to me, with a supportive husband (who was a doctor himself) and an open mind.
My American friend had a different story to tell. It just so happened that her first appointment was directly ahead of my second. When she came out with her husband her face was pale and her eyes all watery. She gave me a hug and said ‘It was horrible, just horrible’ before shuffling down the corridor. I was a little confused. We had seen this same doctor and I thought he was great – he had a really quirky sense of humour and we just clicked. Later my American friend told me about her experience. Even though it was exactly the same as mine, it was also very different. She expected to be given a robe to dress into for the examination but it wasn’t given her. She expected to get undressed in a private change room but there was none. She expected that the doctor would help her up onto the chair but he left it up to her husband to do so (but I don’t think he did). She expected that he would explain to her every little detail but she never asked him to. She expected there would be a cover for her while in the high chair but there wasn’t one. She expected him to talk proper English so she could understand but instead had to rely on her husband to translate. She expected that only the doctor would be in the room with her but there was also a nurse and a trainee med-student. All these unfulfilled expectations made her fragile about her experience. After several appointments she felt powerless over her body and over the pregnancy. Because things weren’t going the way she expected, in the end she just gave up. This made her very scared and she didn’t trust the doctors or medical staff. She went through the rest of her pregnancy shrugging ‘whatever happens, happens’.
Unexpect the Expected
Even though Norway has one of the best healthcare systems in the world you will still face cultural differences. Because Norway and Norwegians are very practical, the medical system has procedures that require minimum fuss and effort. Doctors tell it to you straight, there is no such thing as over-protected privacy and there is no room for time wasting. Norwegians are very free and easy when it comes to the body and are not afraid of nudity in public places. (I’m still trying to get used to the showers at the pool! – but that’s another story.) You can not expect Norway to adapt to your own cultural behaviours and practises. A friend once told me that you have to drop everything you know at the border and just accept Norway as it is. But one thing I have learnt while living through pregnancy and birth in Norway is that Norwegians believe that pregnancy and birth is a wonderful, natural part of life and should be unashamedly celebrated in all its glory. I’m glad to live in a country that knows the beauty of life.
Other posts in the series:
Learn Norwegian: a new Norwegian Language sheet will be posted next week with terms associated with ultrasound examinations.