By all accounts, having a baby in Sweden — or any Scandinavian country for that matter — sounds pretty damn great. They have a government-funded universal health care system. They offer a ridiculous amount of parental leave. They even send parents-to-be gift bags — gift bags! — full of items they might need before the baby arrives. What’s more: The general culture around parenting is very positive too. We spoke to Stephen*, an father of one, who grew up in America but now lives in Stockholm, about what it was like to have his child abroad. As it turns out, it’s even better than one might think.
I grew up in America. I was born in Los Angeles, went to school on the east coast, and spent a lot of time in Boston in my twenties. While there, I met and fell in love with my wife, who is from a small town north of Stockholm. We spent a few more years in Boston and enjoyed our life there. But as we thought about starting a family and settling down we knew we wanted to go to Sweden. So we moved to Stockholm. It was the best decision we ever made. Let me tell you: Everyone having babies in the U.S. are suckers in comparison.
I’m joking. But honestly, I love living here. I love the people, the outdoors. I’ve even learned to love the cold. Most of all is the government support. We wouldn’t have our daughter right now if we still lived in America. My wife and I literally wouldn’t have been able to afford the cost of a regular birth, let alone the procedures she needed to undergo when we had trouble conceiving.
My wife got pregnant with help from in-vitro fertilization. In the U.S., one cycle would’ve cost me, oh, $12,000? And that’s $12,000 we definitely didn’t have. Plus that’s only for one cycle. Most people need at least two or three for it to take. So that costs $36,000? That would’ve crippled us.
Get this: We did a year-and-a-half of IVF cycles, which was considerable. I don’t remember the actual number but it was greater than three. Those cycles, all-in cost us at most, $700. Seven-hundred dollars. That’s it.
Now, there are certainly issues with the healthcare system. There are lines for certain procedures and not enough doctors. And we are all heavily taxed for it. But it’s far better than the alternative in the U.S.
During the pregnancy itself, nearly everything was covered. All the standard doctor’s visits and checkups, all of the tests and sonograms and whatnot. We did do some pre-natal genetic testing, which wasn’t covered. But the cost was minimal. My wife had a few complications along the way; everything was taken care of.
When we delivered the baby, it was kind of funny. Very low-key. Sweden is all about mid-wives during birth. A mid-wife manage the entire process. Our mid-wife basically caught the baby, put it on my wife’s chest, and left us alone. She came back to weigh the baby and take measurements and all that. I don’t have anything else to compare it to but the process was very smooth and casual.
Part of me was expecting a baby box like they get in Finland, which comes with clothes, a nice snow suit, and all sorts of other stuff in addition to the crate for a newborn to sleep in. But that’s not really a Swedish thing and we didn’t get anything like that at the hospital. They did, however, send us a nice tote before we had our baby, which was cool. We got a little tote bag during the third trimester, which contains a bunch of pamphlets, coupons, sample diapers, wipes, and a plush toy or two. They really make you feel like they’re on your side during the entire process.
Now, I don’t remember all the costs of the hospital stay. But it was far, far, cheaper than anything we were anticipating. I checked my bank statement and saw that our delivery stay, which included hotel room and food and all that, was 1,200 kr. That’s about $130. All I cared about was that my wife and daughter were both happy and healthy. They were. When I realized that the average birth in America costs nearly $10,000, I was pretty happy with what we paid.
The best part about my situation right now, however, started after my daughter was born. Living in Sweden, my wife and I receive combined 480 days of parental leave per child at 80 percent of our salaries. It can be divvied up until the kid turns eight. So, right now, I’m enjoying five months off with my little girl. My wife took six. So the only transition we have to worry about was the transition to parenthood.
It’s been fantastic. We found our rhythm. We have a community of other parents around us, too. I get to spend five months — five months! — just being with my wife and my baby and watching her grow. There’s no stress about work or making ends meet. And it’s not the exception. It’s the rule. I talk to friends in America and they tell me about going back to work after just two weeks. I can’t even imagine that. Two weeks? That’s not even enough time to know what the hell is happening, let alone develop a relationship with your child and learn about the new relationship with your wife.
The parent culture here is incredible. No one bats an eye or wonders why I’m not at work. That’s not something that crosses my mind. My brother, who lives in South Carolina and is a stay at home dad, talks about the weird looks he gets when he’s out with his kids. He says he feels like an outlier. Here, dads are seen as co-parents in the strictest sense of it. I go out with my daughter in the stroller for a walk or to get a coffee — coffee and coffee breaks are an ingrained part of culture; there’s something called fika which is a regular break for coffee and a sweet pastry — and there are just other dads hanging out with kids in strollers or strapped to their chest. They’re very stylish too. They call the dads who meet at coffee shops are known as “latte papas” and they’re all well dressed and doing a lot to change the way parents are perceived. I’m not that well dressed. But I’m a a latte papa for sure.