Wednesday, September 22, 2010

First Doctor's Appointment

Today was my first pre-natal doctor appointment in Helsinki. I think the best way to sum it up is "it will be different, but it will be OK."  We are lucky enough to be able to use a private medical system while we are here.  The public system is very good, but with the private option, you get the choice of scheduling with a doctor instead of a nurse or midwife, more doctor choices (you don't just go to the assigned clinic in your neighborhood), and shorter wait times for appointments.  There will be aspects of my care that are through the public system, including some of my pre-natal care, all of my labor and delivery, and some post-natal care.

The doctor was referred to me by an American friend who has seen her once.  That was good enough for me.  I know lots of us have picked a doctor out of a book from our insurance company or from a website, so it is always nice when you can get some type of referral.  The doctor thought it was very kind that my friend had made the referral.  Mike and I met with the doctor for 40 minutes for our 20 minute appointment (I never said that the private option meant longer appointment times!).  I was very thankful she took the extra time with us.  It really helped allay some of my fears and concerns. 

Almost the entire appointment was spent as a discussion.  She reviewed my records, told us about what care we can expect from her and from Mehilainen, the health care group she belongs to, and what our expectations should be regarding the care we will receive from the public system.  She also checked my vital signs and did some blood work.  All standard things and so far, so good.

We will see her throughout my pregnancy, but she also encouraged me to go to my local maternity clinic in my neighborhood.  At those clinics, nurse midwives handle most of the routine pre-natal care.  This person is called a neuvola.  If there are any issues or concerns, there is always a doctor on staff that will be brought in to consult/treat.  Nurse midwives here are required to be educated and trained as RNs (or the Finnish equivalent), and then take additional schooling to become a neuvola.  The clinics also offer education to the soon-to-be parents about pregnancy and birth and then after the baby is born, they will also come to your home and do checks on the mom and the baby.  When was the last time you heard of a doctor in the US coming to your house?!

When we go to the hospital to deliver the baby, we will be assigned a neuvola when we check in.  This will be someone we have never met before.  That is the part I find the most disconcerting.  Another American friend I have made here had a baby on Saturday.  This is her second child, so she was able to compare this experience to giving birth in the US.  For the most part, she thought her experience in Finland exceeded her US experience.  The thing I find most interesting is your neuvola stays with you throughout almost the entire time you are in delivery.  At the beginning when you aren't in active labor, she will come and go a bit, but as soon as things start to intensify, she stays in the room the entire time.  She actually has a desk set up in there where she also does her office/paperwork.  Once you start to deliver the baby, she is the one who does the delivery. She does have an assistant come in for that portion, and an anethesiologist comes in if you have an epidural, but no one else if you are having a complication-free birth.  Of course, if there are complications, there are two or three doctors there that will become active with the delivery.

That brings me back to my overall assessment.  "It will be different, but it will be OK."  We're not doing this in a field in some third world country.  We're doing it in the number one country in the world (according to Newsweek), the country with one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world (and well ahead of the US), and one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world (again, well ahead of the US).  It will be different, but it will be OK . . . 


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Last night's journey

Mike and I took a walk last night to an area of town called Ruoholahti.  It's a new area that has a lot of big corporate offices, new apartment buildings, and a few shops and restaurants.  Mike said parts of it remind him of Bethleham, Pennsylvania, because they have taken old factories and redeveloped them into a new, hip, current area.  It's about 2 kilometers from our an apartment, so easily walkable.

You may recall a few posts back that I said the Finns love all things American.  Within two minutes of stepping outside our front door, we saw both of these cars.  The first is a Chevy Impala, and it needs a bit of work, but overall, it's in pretty good shape.

 The second is a mid-60s Volkswagen Bug.  Now, I know that's a German car, but think of how often you see Bugs of that vintage in the US.  I suspect this one actually came from the US and not Germany.  The reason I have surmised that is because when we picked up our car a week and a half ago, the shipper told me that they actually import more old cars from America than current ones (there were a bunch of old cars waiting in the parking lot to be picked up).  Finns love to get cars from the US and restore them.  The most popular?  1967 Ford Mustang.  I haven't seen one, yet, but I am keeping my eyes open.  Maybe you see more of them in the summer when the weather is better.

Our first stop on our walk was at an electronics store called Verkkokauppa.  I HATE this store.  The store is set up unlike any store I've ever seen.  Almost the entire store is set up by brand, instead of by product.  So, you want to buy a washing machine?  You have to go to the Samsung area and look at their washing machines, then you have to go to the LG area and look at their washing machines, etc.  Coffee pots?  They were in about six different places.  The Finns have a reputation for being horrible at customer service, which has not been our experience, at all.  Except this store.  It is not designed for the customer, yet there were lots of people shopping.  Mike suspects that each of the product manufacturers actually lease space from the store and that is why it is designed this way.  Of course, Nokia has a large section, so I told Mike he needs to find the person at Nokia who manages the relationship to find out WHY!  I also said we will not buy anything there unless the product is not available anywhere else in the country in an effort to not encourage the business model!!  My first Finland boycott, joining the list of In 'n Out, Wal-Mart, etc.  I guess I feel like I am at home :)

 Avoid this store!

We also visited the hardware store in the same mall.  Smaller than a Home Depot, but bigger than an Ace.  We found a store very similar to Home Depot in Espoo, so we're in good shape if we need to build anything!  Our final stop was at a gym called Elixia.  We signed up and bought some personal training sessions.  We're really looking forward to getting back into the routine of going to a gym and training.  The gym is brand new and much nicer than the Planet Fitness gym we belonged to at home (and the price tag shows it).  I am sure the personal training won't be as fun as with Ray and George at the The Training Floor, but we'll have a go at it.  Time to pump some iron!  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Tour of Helsinki

When Mike and I were here 3 years ago, we took a bus tour of the city.  Yesterday, I was able to join some parents and friends of the International School of Helsinki (ISH) and do the same tour again.  It was a good refresher.  Though a European capital with close to a million people in the metropolitan area, Helsinki is one of those cities that you can feel like you can see in just a few days. 

The highlights of the tour are the Rock Church (Temppeliaukion Kirkko) and the monument to the composer Jean Sibelius.  The Rock Church is amazing.  The site for the church was selected many years ago and instead of quarrying the rock out of the hill and then building the church, the church was built into the rock.  Many of the inside walls are the actual rock and the roof is made of copper.  The acoustics are supposed to be excellent and there are often concerts performed there.  I picked up the schedule and hope we'll be able to go to a performance this fall.  Read more here about the Rock Church.

Outside the Rock Church on a very dreary day

Inside the Rock Church

The other stop on the tour is a monument to composer Jean Sibelius (read more about Sibelius).  He is Finland's most famous composer and his most famous composition is called Finlandia.  He is definitely one of Finland's favored sons.  The monument consists of hundreds of steel pipes welded together.  According to the info on the tour, the monument is designed to recall the trees in the forest.  According to Wikipedia, the monument's design is to capture the essence of Sibelius' music.  Also, an interesting fact from Wikipedia is that a very similar work by the same artist is at the UN headquarters in NYC.  One of my tri-state area readers will need to go and check it out!

Monument to Jean Sibelius

After the tour, my new friend Jaime and her son Brayden and I had lunch at Cafe Strindberg on the Esplanadi.  Cafe Strindberg is another Helsinki institution, but unfortunately, they are in a building attached to a mall and with the mall's renovations that start in a few weeks, the Cafe will close.  Apparently, this summer, there were many protests and even several country politicans got involved to save the Cafe.  Time marches on though, and the Cafe is due to close at the beginning of October.  I am glad I have had a few opportunities to enjoy it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Some things are the same, some are not

This weekend was all about driving, shopping (see previous post, we "Said Yes to Boston!"), and unpacking.  Yesterday was my first turn at the wheel since we got the Murano just over a week ago.  Mike has been driving to work each day, but I hadn't yet ventured out.  Yesterday was the day.  We had to start with getting a fill up of gas.  Luckily, we live across the street from a gas station.  We rolled in and filled it up (the gas light was on, so we knew we'd need a FULL tank).  To fill up the Murano (about 18 gallons) we spent 97.49 Euros, which is $123.58 cents.  Are you kidding me???  I could fill up almost 3 times in Stamford for that amount of money!  Mike suggested today that maybe we go for a drive next weekend.  No way, we can't afford it!

Our outing took us to Espoo, a Helsinki suburb and Ikea.  Ikea is pronounced differently than in the US.  The Finns say it like this:  Ick-yuh.  Other than that, exactly the same as home.  Forced path through the store, almost the same food in the cafeteria, and you still can't pronounce the product names!  It's comforting going somewhere that is just the same.  Sticking to that theme, because the line was so long in the cafeteria, we decided to have lunch at the McDonald's across the street.  Mike likes to try McDonald's in different countries just to see how much the same/different they are.  The menu here was pretty much the same, but the number of flies was far greater.  This was not the cleanest McDonald's I have ever been to, to say the least, and I won't be returning.  Ronald would not have been proud.  We then went to the local electronics store called Giganti.  It's like a Best Buy on a much smaller scale.  This was our second trip in a week and we picked up a few necessities.  Like when we are at home, we can always find something to buy in an electronics store.

 Ikea in Espoo, Finland.  It was a very rainy day.

We finished up Saturday evening watching the History channel and some of the documentaries about 9/11.  I bet this is similar to the way some of you also spent time on Saturday.  Hard to believe it has been 9 years.

Today, we got most of our unpacking complete.  Our living room and dining room look very similar to how they did in Stamford.  We have our many of our favorite things and it really feels like home in those rooms.  In addition, we have 3 very small bedrooms with very small closets and they aren't completely unpacked, yet. 

A little info about our apartment set-up (pictures to come soon).  One bedroom will be used as a sitting room and Mike will have full use of that closet.  We have an American TV and DVD player in there (more about that in a future post) and the couch folds out into a bed (visitors welcome!).  The second bedroom, though the smallest, is our master bedroom.  We have a queen size bed with two nightstands.  I purchased this bed set for my Stamford condo and we used it in our guest room at home.  The room is so small, the matching dresser does not fit and is being used as a TV stand in the sitting room.  We are not talking large furniture here, people.  I have full use of this closet (please note, it is smaller than Mike's!).  The third bedroom is going to be an office/baby room.  Right now, we have a desk, chair, and cabinet.  We're going to need to add the baby gear and not sure how we're going to do it.  We have some time to figure it out . . .  I see some Marimekko fabric in here and am really looking forward to decorating it! 

Unpacking the office and all of our clothes is an overwhelming task, at this point.  We both brought too many clothes.  We even donated lots to Goodwill before leaving, but we still have too much stuff.  Luckily, we have a storage area in the basement of the building and can put lots of things in there.  In a bit of irony, we don't have anywhere near the closet space we need for clothes, but I have empty kitchen cabinets with everything in there already unpacked.  Don't be surprised if you come for a visit, go looking for a plate or glass, and find a sweater!

We finished the day with our shopping trip at Stockmann taking advantage of all the "Say Yes to Boston" goodies.  It was fun to stock up, and I know we'll definitely be glad to have some of those treats during winter.  We'll have to work on a ration plan!     

Friday, September 10, 2010

Say Yes to Boston!

The largest department store in the Nordic countries is called Stockmann, and it is located in downtown Helsinki.  It is a quick four tram stops from our apartment and we can also easily walk there.  On the 1st floor of this nine story department store, there is a really nice grocery section, almost a gourmet market, but a lot bigger (think AJ's, Bristol Farms, or Bertucci's).  Each month, Stockmann has a different theme for their products on sale and this month's theme is "Say Yes to Boston."  The ads feature a young woman wearing a graduation cap, and since we can't read the ad we got in the mail, we're guessing it's some type of back to school theme.

The best part of the theme is that they are featuring tons of American products in the grocery section.  Finding American products here is pretty difficult (as one would imagine, since we are not in America!).  All of the big grocery stores have an American shelf or end-cap where you can find a few things that the Finns think the Americans need or want.  You can always find Aunt Jemima pancake mix, Betty Crocker cake mix and icing, Marshmallow Fluff (who knows why!), and Reese's Peanut Butter cups.  And then depending upon the size of the store, there will be some other stuff thrown in.  All of these products cost anywhere between two and three times what you would pay for them at home, so to justify the cost, you really, really have to want them.

"Say Yes to Boston" has a HUGE selection.  Wishbone salad dressing - yep! (salad dressing here leaves a lot to be desired.)  Chips Ahoy and Oreas - yep!  Food Should Taste Good Multi-Grain chips - yep!  Kraft Mac & Cheese - yep!  I met several American women this week and "Say Yes to Boston" was a hot topic of conversation.  Needless to say, Mike and I will be doing some grocery shopping this week.  I have never been so happy to go to Boston!

Food Should Taste Good Multi-Grain Chips

The chips are Euro 4.20, which is $5.34.  Well worth it :)

If you'd like to read more about Stockmann and their take on "North American Cuisine" and Boston, you can read more here.  The text should appear in English.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Helsinki - We've made it!

Mike and I started our Finnish adventure separately, with Mike at the beginning of August and my arrival this week.  No matter, we're here together now!  This adventure will last for at least a couple of years, but who knows what the future really holds.  We're planning to be here for awhile and to enjoy the experience to its fullest.  That being said, this blog will focus a lot on our experiences as Americans living abroad, and more specifically, living in Helsinki, Finland.  And with no further ado, here we go . . .

Right now, we're doing our version of "camping without bugs."  Our furniture and other household items were supposed to arrive earlier this week, but due to circumstances beyond our control (which I think will be a common theme the next few years!), they have been delayed by more than a week.  We are making do with our new IKEA sofa sleeper, our new European TV (full of all sorts of American shows) and some basic kitchen necessities. Needless to say, I'd like my stuff.  And soon. 

Mike has been working this week and I have been recovering from jet lag and scouting the area.  We live in a great neighborhood overlooking a former ship building yard and marina for sailboats and yachts.  We live in a 9 story building that is one of the newest in Helsinki (built in 2003) and  is quite nice.  The first floor includes the S Market, which is a large supermarket chain, a pharmacy and a liquor store.  We can get to all of them without going outside.  As the high temperatures are only in the 50s (and it's the beginning of September!), I think this will prove quite useful in the winter!

 View from our apartment

We have a tram stop right outside that takes us into the city center in about 5 minutes.  I will be able to take the tram to IBM once I start working towards the end of the month.  Mike will take our car to work each day.  Speaking of our car, we picked up my Murano this morning in a small town about an hour outside of Helsinki.  We took the train to get there and then drove home.  We are trying to be really cognizant of the speed limits here as speeding ticket fines are 10% of your annual income.  You may find this story interesting about the highest priced speeding ticket ever in the world.  It just so happens the guy with this claim to fame is Mike's boss, Anssi.   

My favorite story so far is about yesterday's adventure and I think is a perfect example of how two people can look at the same situation and have such different opinions about it.  Mike and I are similar in a lot of ways, but we definitely have some key differences!  Mike had inadvertently left his US cell phone on the airplane when he flew here in August.  He checked with Lost and Found at FinnAir and was told he needed to register a claim with the Finland National Lost Property Service.  If FinnAir found the phone, it would be turned over to this service.  The service is actually used by most companies in Finland as a central Lost and Found repository.  Mike had basically written off ever seeing the phone again.  Lo and behold, we got a letter in the mail this week that said the phone had been found and could be picked up for the cost of 18 Euros or mailed to him for the cost of 30 Euros.  I decided to take a field trip to get the phone.  The Lost Property Service office is amazing.  Hundreds of white bins with people's lost stuff.  There was an umbrella stand that had at least 20 found umbrellas.  I gave them our piece of paper and the woman brought back the phone.  She knew when and where it had been lost.  I paid my 18 Euros and left.  I wonder what other treasures are there and what they do with the stuff that is never claimed . . .

Now for the funny part.  Our take on the situation is very different.  I was going on and on to Mike about how I think it is so great they found the phone and we got it back for only 18 Euros!  That would never happen at home.  Someone would have found the phone and kept it.  (I am sure you can all hear me blathering on.)  Mike's take on the situation - I can't believe that Lost and Found charged me 18 Euros to give me back my phone!

I think that story sums up what our overall experience here will be.  It's different than home.  How we both view it won't always be the same.  There are parts that we will view as better than the US, worse than the US, or just different than the US, and we won't always feel the same.  At the end of the day, though, we'll do it together and I think we'll learn a lot.  Not just about Helsinki and the Finns, but ourselves, too.

On a side note, as if we haven't had lots of announcements already this summer, we do have a little bit more news to share.  In about 6.5 months, we plan to welcome an addition to our family.  We're expecting a baby on March 4, 2011!  This little Sprout, or McBaby, will be a wonderful addition to this our lives and this experience and we are sure it will make it all the more exciting (and overwhelming and scary!!)!  We couldn't feel more blessed.

We hope you stick around to hear more about our adventures - in Helsinki, and as parents.