Finnish couple Eeva and Pasi Anttila made an unusual choice – their child was born in the sauna.
When Eeva Anttila was 39 weeks pregnant with her second child, she woke up early one morning at 6 am with contractions.
Eeva, 28, a restaurant worker and her husband Pasi, 41, a robotic welding professional have one child, Aleksanteri, who is almost two years old.
Just before noon, Eeva sends a text message to her midwife and Pasi decides to cancel his afternoon shift. Eeva’s mother, Siv Eklund, arrives to drive the family to her house in Pöytyä, a small community in southwest Finland, near Turku. Eeva wants to give birth in her childhood home in its traditional Finnish sauna.
When they arrive at the old farmhouse, Siv begins to heat up the sauna.
Eeva stands in the kitchen leaning against the kitchen counter and breathing evenly. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon, and her contractions are becoming more painful.
"How is it possible to be relaxed in this situation?" asks Eeva, with a smile. Aleksanteri is playing on the floor and she walks over and kisses him.
Pasi carries the child upstairs for his nap. Aleksanteri doesn’t notice anything strange about the situation – he likes it here in his grandparents’ familiar house.
The contractions are becoming more frequent now and at 4 pm the midwife, who has ten years’ experience, arrives.
"How are you doing?" she asks at the door. She steps in and goes to disinfect her hands.
"It hurts", replies Eeva in a whisper.
A new contraction quickly follows the previous one.
Finally there’s a little pause, and Eeva, Pasi and midwife decide to go to the bedroom to check the baby’s heartbeat and the status of the cervix.
Everybody is surprised that Eeva’s cervix is already open 8 centimetres. It’s time to move over to the bathroom, near the sauna.
Eeva decides to take a hot shower to ease her pain. Midwife gives her Arnica, a helpful homeopathic remedy.
At home it’s not possible to ease the pain medically, but each midwife has her own ways to help the parturient. For example, homeopathy and acupuncture can be helpful.
Midwife listens to baby’s regular heartbeat with a Doppler foetal monitor. The midwife is constantly monitoring how mother and baby are doing and tries to anticipate any potential problems. Eeva is not nervous because she knows that she can get to the hospital at any point if need be.
A sacred place
It’s time to move to the sauna. Eeva stands in the hot, dimly lit room with her legs slightly apart, leaning on the benches.
She breathes strongly through each contraction. Every now and then she complains at length.
The midwife advises her to listen to her body and to push whenever she feels like it. The baby is still quite high up. The midwife presses the acupuncture points on Eeva’s back to ease the pain.
"Bring me something to hold on to", says Eeva.
The midwife advises her husband, Pasi, to move over to the benches, so that Eeva can squeeze his hands.
The sauna’s heater is full of burning wood now. It crackles and sputters.
Eeva is breathing heavily. Pasi holds her hands. He looks out of the small window occasionally. A thick mist covers the fields around the old farmhouse.
The final hour
Suddenly Eeva curses. Her legs start to shake. The midwife is sitting on the stool and praising Eeva in a soothing voice. Every now and then she listens to baby’s heartbeat. It’s still regular.
Eeva cries out again. Her mother, Siv, arrives in the bathroom bringing more clean towels and a jar for the placenta.
"I feel like crying now", she says and wipes her eyes.
It’s hard for her to look at her own daughter in pain, even though Siv knows there is a good reason for it.
The midwife shows Eeva how to use her voice to ease the pain.
It’s almost five o’clock when her waters break. The towels on the floor get wet. Eeva’s pain is at its peak now. She is still standing, and soon she starts to push. Midwife supports her perineum with a warm, wet towel.
"She is doing fine. Respect", whispers Eeva’s mother, Siv.
At that moment Siv’s husband, Matti Eklund, comes home. He stays outside the bathroom and listens. He hopes that Aleksanteri, who’s sleeping upstairs, won’t wake up.
Just a few pushes more and the baby’s tiny head comes out. It eyes and mouth is still shut.
"It’s going well. Just push wherever it hurts the most", the midwife encourages.
At the same time she notices that umbilical cord is around the baby’s neck, so she expertly moves it aside.
"Thank God you came"
Just one more push and the baby is out and in the midwife’s hands. She glances at the clock on the wall – the exact time of birth is 5:11 pm.
Soon the baby starts to cry.
Eeva gathers her strength for a moment and descends slowly to the bathroom floor. Her thighs are still trembling. Soon she has a brand-new human being in her arms.
"Thank God you came", Eeva whispers and looks at her newborn.
"Is he Hugo?" grandmother Siv asks. She is wiping her eyes.
The ultrasound scan had promised a boy, and a boy it is. Little Hugo is here. His grandfather, Matti, steps in. He wants to see the newcomer too. It’s getting crowded in the bathroom now.
"You’re an incredible woman, that’s all I can say", the midwife says to Eeva, and everybody nods in admiration.
"You did it", Siv says and hugs Eeva.
Source: Vauva-magazine 4/2014
Planned home birth – a controversial matter
In Finland, where the annual birth rate is about 60,000, planned home births are still rare. It’s estimated that only 10 to 20 women a year choose to give birth at home. In many other European countries home births are more common.
"For example in the Netherlands about 60 per cent of mothers give birth at home, and in Great Britain the aim is 30 per cent of all parturients. It’s just as safe as childbirth in the hospital,” says Piia Jokela, the chairman of a registered association Aktiivinen synnytys ry. (Active Birth).
Many doctors oppose planned home births.
One of them is Dr. Outi Tammela, head of the department at Tampere University Hospital. She works at neonatal intensive care unit.
"Childbirth is safe in hospital only. In a hospital there is day-and-night preparedness for emergency caesarean sections and an option to resuscitate newborns", says Tammela.
The sauna’s significance
In Finnish culture, the sauna or steam bath is a place of physical and mental relaxation. Before the advent of the modern healthcare system, it was common for Finnish women to give birth in saunas as they’re considered to be both a hygienic and sacred place. There are approximately 3.3 million saunas in Finland, which has a population of 5.4 million people.