New Birthing Centre Aims to Innovate, Empower

A new birthing centre has opened in the capital, Vísir reports. Owned and operated by midwives Embla Ýr Guðmundsdóttir and Emma Marie Swift, the Reykjavík Birthing Centre is a reincarnation of a former birthing centre with the same name, which ceased its operations three decades ago.

Located in the new neighborhood of Hlíðarendi, the Reykjavík Birthing Centre has been open for patient consultation and facility visits for several weeks. On Wednesday, the National Medical Examiner approved the Centre to begin its operations in earnest. It employs four midwives, all of whom have different specialties, and dozens of women are planning to give birth there in the coming months. Emma Marie and Embla Ýr estimate that in the beginning, they will be able to assist ten women a month, although there’s always the possibility they will hire more midwives and expand their facilities in the future, if all goes well.

Focus on continuous care

The Centre aims to give parents more options when planning their births. And given that their services are subsidized by Icelandic national health insurance, the cost to expectant parents is comparable to what they’d find at, for instance, the National University Hospital.

Continuous care is the guiding philosophy at the Centre. “It’s about the midwife accompanying a woman and her family through the pregnancy and birthing process and then for the first ten days after the birth,” says Embla Ýr. The Centre also aims to create a homely environment and parents-to-be are encouraged to visit the facilities and beforehand, to make for a more comfortable birthing experience.

Both Embla Ýr and Emma Marie teach at the University of Iceland and advocate for this style of maternity care in their classes. “We wanted to let the work speak for itself instead of just talking about this style of service and its impact. We wanted to create a place that would give us an opportunity to work in this way,” says Embla Ýr.

Trilingual service for increased accessibility

The Centre has two birthing rooms, as well as consultation rooms and a large hall in which various classes, such as yoga and pregnancy counseling, are held. The courses are taught in three languages—Icelandic, English, and Polish—for increased accessibility.

“We wanted to bring everything together under one roof where the people who come here can be absolutely certain that everything’s being done according to the same philosophy,” says Emma. “That is, to empower, to support natural births, and to support continuous service in such an expanded way.”

Preserving a legacy, but still seeking to innovate

The original Reykjavík Maternity Centre operated on the corner of Þorfinnsgata and Eiríksgata from 1960 to 1992. Emma Marie and Embla Ýr spoke to women who had been patients at the original Centre before opening, and Emma says that most of them had fond memories of it and were eager to see its legacy preserved. And both Emma Marie and Embla Ýr are committed to being just as innovative in the services they offer to their patients today as the original founders were in their own time.

“A lot of things we take for granted today started there and that’s maybe what we’re gesturing at by keeping the name—that we want to be a similar place,” says Emma Marie.

Icelandic State Pays Damages to Pregnant Woman Who Was Deported

The Icelandic state has paid damages to an Albanian asylum seeker who was deported from the country in her ninth month of pregnancy. The woman was deported in November 2019, then 26 years old, along with her husband and two-year-old son despite having a medical certificate stating that “a long flight would be difficult for her.” The woman’s lawyer told Vísir her client is relieved at the outcome and hopes it will prevent the Icelandic state from putting other women’s health and safety at risk, as well as that of their unborn children.

Doctor broke the law in issuing certificate

Despite having a certificate from the National University Hospital stating she had back problems and that a long flight would be difficult for her, the woman was deported on the basis of a second medical certificate procured by police. The woman asserts that she was never examined by the doctor who signed this second certificate.

The deportation was protested at the time it occurred, with the Directorate of Health launching an investigation into the deportation procedure to determine whether it violated health regulations. The Directorate of Health eventually ruled that the doctor who signed the second certificate broke laws applying to healthcare workers and patient rights.

State acknowledges liability

Claudia Ashanie Wilson, the woman’s lawyer, confirmed that the Icelandic state had recognised its liability in the case. She spoke with her client two days ago, and says the woman was relieved that the Icelandic state had acknowledged that it had violated her rights in deporting her when she was nearly 36 weeks pregnant. She declined to state the amount that was paid to the woman.

“This incident will hopefully make the Icelandic authorities reflect and ensure the humane treatment of those individuals who apply for international protection here in Iceland. We seem to forget sometimes that these are people, individuals like us, who are in great need,” Claudia stated.

Woman Arrested for Disturbing the Peace at a Vaccination Site for Pregnant Women

More than 400 pregnant women attended a group vaccination at a site on Suðurlandsbraut in Reykjavík on Thursday when a small, but vigorous protest began, RÚV reports. One woman was arrested for creating a public disturbance.

The vaccinations began at 9:00 AM and continued until the afternoon. The women were organized into small groups according to their birth months, with those born in January and February first to be vaccinated.

The orderly scene was disrupted around 10:00 AM, however, when two women began an extremely vocal protest at the site. One of the women began screaming and became increasingly agitated. She said, among other things, that the vaccine was poison and called pandemic authorities murderers.

“There were two women here who had a different point of view than we do here,” said Margrét Héðinsdóttir, a nurse and vaccination project manager who tried to calm the woman down before police arrived. “She was concerned about the vaccines. But this isn’t the place to protest the decisions of the pandemic authorities. So we had to call the police to help us deal with the issue.”

Police stayed on site until later in the day.

Revision to Racial Terminology a ‘Step in the Right Direction’

An Icelandic woman of color says that there has been “a step in the right direction,” after receiving a formal apology from the Directorate of Health regarding an offensive racial term that was used on her medical chart. RÚV reports that Eva Þóra Hartmannsdóttir spoke to the Directorate’s project manager on the phone on Friday and discussed the incident, and the government’s response, in detail.

“You just get so used to things like this”

Eva Þóra, who is pregnant, went for a 25-week health check on July 2 when she noticed that the word “negríti” had been used to describe her on her medical chart. The word is by no means commonly used in Iceland and carries with it distinctly racist undertones. Although she’d never heard the word used before, “it’s no secret that it comes from the word ‘negri’ [‘negro’],” she explained in an interview with Morgunblaðið.

“I was really shocked when I saw that word,” Eva Þóra said, but when she asked about it, “…was told it had just always been used for my race.” She noted, however, that similarly charged racial terms such as ‘kákasíti’ (an inappropriate approximation of the word ‘caucasian’) would never be used when talking about white people.

Eva Þóra said that at the time of the incident, she received no explanation for why patients were being categorized by race, but that if there were a valid reason, then it should be easy to find a “more professional” word. “I’m a nursing student and I know that there is a new electronic system for the antenatal care department and I’m asking myself why people are being defined this way in a brand-new system.” She noted, for instance, that it would have been easy to use an origin-based term, such as ‘person of African descent,’ as is the convention on Icelandic passports.

It wasn’t until she talked about the incident with her sister that Eva Þóra decided to make it public. “You just get so used to things like this,” she said. “It is such a common part of life that you stop flinching at such things.”

Explanations and an apology

The incident was widely discussed in the Icelandic media and after having been contacted by several papers for interviews, Eva Þóra posted on Facebook that she’d received a phone call from the Directorate of Health on Friday.

“[T]hree days later, so much has happened. All kinds of support, negative comments, interviews with Fréttablaðið, Vísir, Morgunblaðið, and Channel 2 later…Then the Directorate of Health called me this morning and during a 25-minute conversation I not only receive an apology, but am even thanked for having started the conversation. I get a courteous explanation about everything, plenty of time to ask the questions I had, and at the end of the conversation, she wants to be certain that I’m satisfied, which I was.”

Eva Þóra went on to explain that the reason that there is a racial identifier on her medical chart is that she needed to take a glucose tolerance test, as women of color have an increased likeliness to develop gestational diabetes.

Nevertheless, there is not even a historical precedent for the Icelandic word ‘negríti,’ to be used as a racial identifier—Eva Þóra said she was told it had entered the Icelandic dictionary in the 80s. The term had been transferred over to the new electronic antenatal system from an old informational registry with inappropriate terminology. Although there had been a complaint about the term being used in a different situation back in December, not all health centres (including Eva Þóra’s) had been updated with the necessary changes. But the new system has now been revised at all health centres, so that Eva Þóra is now identified as being “of African origin” on her medical chart. She was also invited to take part in a trial group that allows pregnant women to access their full pregnancy records, including test results, sonograms, and more.

“I’m extremely glad to have said something on behalf of a minority here in Iceland and, among other things, to prevent my children, and of course, others of African and Asian descent, from having to see such a thing in their medical records,” Eva Þóra wrote.

“So glad to have gotten such a big response and apology on behalf of the government,” she concluded. “A step in the right direction.”

In Focus: Dropping Fertility

Reykjavík swimming pool Laugardalslaug

Since the 1960s, Iceland’s fertility rate has been steadily dropping. Fertility rates in 2017 were the lowest recorded since record-taking began in 1853. It should be mentioned that despite these historically low numbers, there is a constant growth in population, mainly due to immigration. Though the population may not be declining, it’s worth taking a […]

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Had to Pay for Pregnancy Out of Pocket

Friðjón (left), Aria, and Fernanda.

A young couple in Iceland had to pay for their pregnancy and the birth of their first child out of pocket because the mother is foreign, RÚV reports. Little Aria was born in Iceland one month ago to an Icelandic father, making her an Icelandic citizen. Because her mother is foreign and her residency paperwork is still being processed, however, the pair had to pay for all the medical costs associated with the pregnancy and birth out of pocket. If the child’s mother were Icelandic and the father foreign, public health insurance would have covered the costs.

Months to process paperwork

Friðjón, an Icelandic citizen, and Fernanda, from Mexico, got married last July and moved to Iceland in August. “We would have come earlier, if we hadn’t had to spend three months getting all the papers we needed for a residence permit and to get married,” says Friðjón. “That took three months in Mexico.”

It will take Fernanda eight months to obtain a residence permit and therefore the right to access public health insurance. That will happen in March, some four months after Aria’s birth. As a result, the couple has had to pay for all of their doctor’s visits and medical costs associated with the pregnancy out of pocket.

Risky pregnancy

Friðjón says he has stopped keeping track of the total amount the two have spent. “We’ve maybe spend around [ISK] 900,000 [$7,600/€6,700]. But this wasn’t a smooth pregnancy or birth, it was categorised as a risky pregnancy.” The birth itself cost almost ISK 700,000 ($5,900/€5,200), but the couple has also had to pay for all doctor’s visits and other medical services associated with the pregnancy. “We visited the emergency room twice, for example, and the first time it cost around 65,000 and the second time 100,000,” Friðjón stated. “This has a direct impact on my family’s quality of life.”

Friðjón says the couple avoided accessing healthcare several times because of the prohibitive cost. “It was really hard to make a decision about – should I go now and get an invoice that will come down on the family as a whole, or should we wait and see if this gets better?”

Gender gap in coverage

If Fernanda were an Icelandic citizen and Friðjón foreign, most of the couple’s medical costs would have been covered by public health insurance. Friðjón says this is a flaw in the system that ignores the rights of the father and child. “The child certainly has no rights until after birth,” Friðjón says, adding that he considers maternity service is not only service for the mother, but also the child. “For me, this is a basic human right. This has to be changed.”