Austerity Gone Wrong: Swedish Women Taught to Give Birth in Cars
Imagine giving birth in a car stuck in the middle of nowhere, on an empty road between snow drifts amid winter darkness with no mobile coverage. Although it might sound more like a survival film, this is a reality for those who live in vast and sparsely populated regions of northern Sweden.
The closure of a maternity ward in the town of Sollefteå in northern Sweden means that expectant mothers are to make a long and potentially perilous hundred-kilometer journey to the nearest maternity ward in either Örnsköldsvik or Sundsvall. To make up for this inconvenience and help pregnant women feel more secure, a course teaching expectant parents how to act if the process of child birth begins during a long car journey was launched.
According to course leader and midwife Stina Näslund, a quick delivery may be needed for a first-time mother, which is a particular challenge given the size of the area left without a maternity ward due to the cutback program. Mia Ahlberg, who chairs the Swedish Association of Midwives, expressed herself in favor of course, but called the necessity for such courses “tragic.” “This is a symptom of hospitals closing down in smaller communities. It triggers anxiety among expectant mothers, which cannot be good,” Mia Ahlberg said, as quoted by Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet. The news of the unorthodox initiative to combat the cutbacks provoked an outcry from outraged Swedes on Twitter and Facebook, where the news piece was provided with commentaries like “No, it’s not April 1, unfortunately” and “Explain to me why we pay the world’s highest taxes.”
Columnist Susanne Sjöstedt of newspaper Allehanda pointed out that Sollefteå in fact paid some of the highest council taxes in the country.
“To pay almost 35 percent of one’s income in council tax is incredibly much, 2.5 percent above the national average. In such cases you have to be entitled to some social service. Without having to attend vehicular birth-giving courses,” Susanne Sjöstedt wrote in her opinion piece.
About 20,000 people live in Sollefteå Municipality, half of them residing in the town itself. The decision to cut local maternity services was part of a cost-cutting measure passed in October in an attempt to save 160 million SEK ($18mln), the Swedish tabloid newspaper Expressen reported. Meanwhile, the routines for personnel at Sollefteå Hospital are starting to become particularly stressful with several hours of overtime work per day, extra work during holidays and no time for lunch, Swedish Radio reported.
In recent years, Sweden’s strained natal services have become a hot topic, following numerous stories related to the scarcity of beds at hospitals and women being denied proper care due to a simple lack of space. In late 2016, Swedish women were sent to neighboring Finland to give birth due to a lack of facilities and patient overload.