Saturday, May 1, 2010

So how is my Swedish?
How am I adjusting to living abroad?
I understand some Swedish.....
Like when he says 'Donut!'
When my daughter brought an invitation to a party home from school, she wanted to know what it said so I read it aloud in my phonetic swedish. As I fumbled along pronouncing things the best I could, she quickly proclaimed 'You do not speak Swedish and I have no idea what you are saying, I am bringing this to dad to read!' If your 5 year old says your pronunciation is unintelligible, the grocery clerk will likely think the same.

Coming back from our winter pappaledig trip in Florida required a long settling in period. We had the fun of returning to snow, being the only people out still enjoying snow ball fights in mid February. We came back to the insulating quiet of Swedish winter when people do not feel overly social. But mostly, it has been a period of reckoning for me.

We moved to Sweden in July 2008 after a long and intense stressful time, which required we just unwind and settle in when we arrived. It was fine to not know anyone or feel like doing anything. I was pregnant, in a new country, and burned out from our life in the USA. I began Swedish classes, only to back out 2 months into it, when I realized simply getting used to a new country was plenty without trying to master the language right off.

I recently described moving to a new country as living in a new font. Things are the same, yet everything is just a little It is really something to be where you can not read a single street sign, understand the ingredients in the products you buy, or calculate and understand what something costs. I think in dollars and pounds, not kronors per kilo. And what products are sold here that I am used to, what can I replace with a Swedish option, what should I just live with out, what new delight can I incorporate, and what does my momma need to spend too much money to send me?

After living here a year, I am astonished by how accustomed I am to not knowing what the hell is going on ever. Sure, I understnad things alot more, and can shop now, but so often I do not know what things mean. I am just used to it. But I still snicker and anglisize funny words like Snogleholm.

I am a good outsider though. It helps to have been a home birth midwife in the USA. I had to be an authoritative and tough skinned outsider interacting with the medical system, functioning on my own but along side a system that thought what I was doing - helping people have babies at home- was nuts. Being a midwife gave me a tough skin, I am used to being different and confidently doing my own thing. Knowing it is okay to do it my way, even if most others do it a different way, or outwardly balk at my way. Live and let live....what others think of me is none of my business, as Louise Hays would say. So put that in your Snogleholm, Sweden.

Yes, Sweden is a western country, and many things are similiar, but I do not think a Swede can really grasp the amount of energy required to settle here after coming from the USA. Americans are not used to having any other culture around them....they can drive for miles and days and the politics, street signs, stores, and workings of everyday life are the same. Europeans are used to being immersed in new places, each village is a bit different, and it is not long to travel before you are in a place with a new language and street signs. They have never lived under the illusion their country is the center of the universe, and there is only one way to do things. Americans, no matter how worldly, come from a place that is very large, and very uniform.

When we first arrived, I would not order a coffee by myself, answer the phone, talk to a teacher or neighbor, get gas, or do many basic things by myself. I simply did not know how anything worked. It was very disempowering, but, at first, when I moved , there was huge facade all around me that was just .....different....yes, still gas stations, banks, libraries, and coffee shops, but at any turn there were assumptions and words and interactions expected I did not understand. The first time I was by myself in the city I was going to get money out and go to the cafe, have a snack, and wait for my husband. I went to the ATM, and could not get money out as I did not know which buttons to push, as it was in Swedish with no englsih option. If you are living in Florida and are annoyed everytime the ATM asks if you would like English or Spanish, have some compassion! I ended up stepping away, pretending to fumble around my purse for a receipt, and spyed on the person who was in line after me to see what buttons they pushed. It turns out KLAR, which sounds like CLEAR, which would end a transaction, is the enter button. Another time, I went to the bathroom in a gas station and everyone was looking at me whenI walked out,....what was my fly down, toilet paper hanging off my foot? No apparently, instead of turning on the light, I had pushed the emergency 'I have fallen and can not get up button' (they do not have that in USA!) when I went in the bathroom and everyone was staring to see what my crisis was.

When you first arrive, you never know what you do not know, and every interaction is a chance for something weird and stressful to go on. I coped by insulating myself as much as possible, staying home, and having my SwedeHusband handle the household business. Then the baby came, and I was wrapped up in the care of a newborn, then summer and exploring Sweden, then planning a three month trip back in the USA, then the trip, and NOW. We came home. To Sweden. And here I am.

So it has been two months since we came back and Spring has sprung. Life is full of tiny shoots of potential. I look in my garden, where I have planted seeds and think it is such an act of faith to grow things from seed. I was sure those carrot seeds were bunk, but they are just long germinators, and now 21 days later there are feathery shoots of green poking out of the soil. My life here is like my garden, so many old dead branches recently trimmed and cleared, so many sprouts, and I wonder which will live and thrive and which will die. All those close packed Tuscan kale seeds in my garden can not possibly come to full size, and if you saw the huge number of beech seedlings on the road side fighting for their chance to be trees, you'd hate to be the one to break them the news......And so it is with my life, so many options, and no certainty of what will still be growing next season.

A few things for sure, it is simply time for me to learn Swedish. And make some decent friends, and figure out my working options.

When I left the USA, I made a quick prayer, please god send me just one friend for when I get back. And so I think I found this friend, and she turns out to be an american linguist bent on helping me with my Swedish of all things! The story of how we met touches on another shoot, my birth-y working life. So with in two weeks of returning to Sweden, one single experience got to cover my three main bases.....friend, language, midwifery.

When we got back from USA, I was immediately asked to be a doula for an american woman who has the same name as me, from Florida even. I have not doula-ed in Sweden, but this woman had wanted a home birth and had tried to contact me earlier in her pregnancy to see if I could do it. I have no midwife license in Sweden, and Sweden has said they will not grant me one, so we never met as it was not an option. This pregnant woman was not impressed with the experience level of the Swedish home birth midwives, so hired a doula to be with her children and planned a hospital birth. Her doula unexpectedly had to move near her due date, so they asked me to be the replacement doula. We met and it was a great fit. Two weeks later I answered the birth call and went to her home, only to find her in the middle of booming labor, with no time to get her to the car, but just enough time to help her husband wake the children, gather some towels, and catch their new baby daughter in their dining room. A two hour labor start to finish, and a sweet, wonderful and welcome surprise home birth!

And so several magical things happened at once in this birth- she got her much wished for homebirth, I found myself playing midwife in Sweden, and we became friends. I attended the births of all of SwedeGirls friends in the USA, and it has long been my joke I do not know how to make friends except by delivering someone's baby, and it was, the one friend I had hoped for. And she is a linguist, and part of her gratitude for me helping her with her great birth has been to heap language materials on me. Yes, it is time. I have to learn more than Bort, bort, bort bort now. And I also have someone, an american, ECing, baby wearing, home birthing (with me!), stay at home mom to go to the park with as well now...

The excitement of the birth got me considering my options, I had acted as a midwife in Sweden ,and it was so right!!! This woman got what she wanted, it was wonderful for my skills to be of use to someone, someone here in Sweden! I called the Swedish licesning authority once again about becoming a midwife here. I have a 4 year university degree and a 3 year midwifery degree, and ten years experience working and running my own clinic. Almost 500 births. Sweden says if I have no nursing degree, and a non EU license, I would have to go to nursing school to get a Swedish license. They did not even want to send me the application! I called the university midwifery department to see if they had any ideas, they echoed the same thing.

I looked into becoming a doula (though I hated doula work- going to births and not being in charge of the medical decisions- when I was in the USA), teaching childbirth education (where to find enough people to make it worth the time and money, I hate doing self promotion), teaching water prenatal classes (lots of effort for little money), or baby swim instructor. Perhaps a degree in public health and promoting Mother Friendly Childbirth Initiative in Europe?

On the plane home from USA we sat next to a Danish family coming back from a beach vacation in Mexico. The dad worked in HR in a Copenhagen hospital. I told him about my inability to work in Sweden, and he suggested I apply in Denmark, reassuring me they have a good language program for foreigners and a critical need for midwives. Denmark trains midwives directly and not via nursing, so they are more likely to recognize my education. Copenhagen is only an hour away, and if I work three years in Denmark, Sweden would honor the Danish license and grant me a Swedish one under EU treaties.

So I have the things I need here to apply for a Danish midwifery license.

And a pile of media to help me learn Swedish.

And a mom friend to get out with.

I am no longer phazed by ATMs, gas pumps, and coffee clerks. I can function here, even if I do not know what my child says to her friends or cousin.

I do not know where I am going but here I am.

Which of these shoots will sprout?

Spring has just begun.

I wonder what will come into bloom.


Rose said...

Wow! I don't know what to say. That is all so incredible!

Your package arrived this week and it is awesome! Thank you so much! So do you think it was unused and still starchy, or do they wash and press everything sold in Swedish thriftshops?

SwedeLife said...

No, that special new starchy condition is part of why I had to send it to you, it was so clearly new and fresh from the hands of a nice old lady! And you should know that was the first piece of mail I ever sent from Sweden. I have had SwedeDaddy send a thing or two, but I sent yours all alone, representing my figuring out another aspect of life here I am reckoning with.

lornadoone1972 said...

That made me smile, laugh, cry and really amaze me at you Heidi - as always - you are one amazing woman - and you didn't even have to birth my baby for me to call you friend! ; )