On a summery afternoon in June earlier this year we met Monica Benberg Nordli, the head of Kirkenes Hospital maternity ward, by a flower meadow near the Elvenes bridge (not too far from Oddbjorn’s fish). At the shortest day of the year, right on winter solstice, Monica sheds some light on the birds and the bees of Finnmark.
Working as a midwife has been Monica’s dream ever since she went to Kirkenes Hospital in 1979 to see her new little sister who had arrived 6 weeks early. Monica was 7 years old and got to see her sister sleep in an incubator and listen to her little heartbeat with the head of the ward for a while, until it stopped. The ward knocked on the side of the incubator until her sister’s heart started beating again and told Monica she just needed to be woken up every now and then. That was how she decided to become a midwife.
Monica graduated from nursing school in 2001, and worked 10 years in elderly care before starting her midwife career. She finds the biggest change from working with the elderly to babies and new parents is ‘the overwhelming sensation of joy. Relieving pain also used to be a major part of my job, but now as a midwife I encourage pain.’
Kirkenes Hospital has a team of twelve midwives, two child carers and several interpreters. Around 200 newbies are welcomed to the region each year (a few years back this figure was closer to 400). The midwives are from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and The Faroe Islands and they look after an impressively international crew of mothers, mostly from Norway but also from Somalia, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Finland, Vietnam, Thailand etc. While some mothers in hospitals further south get to stay as little as 6 hours before they have to go home, new mothers giving birth in Kirkenes get to stay pretty much as long as they like after the big push, as there is no shortage of space. Monica is excitedly planning all the logistics of the move to the new hospital. ‘We can’t move everything at the same time, so we might have to have two delivery rooms and two teams in motion simultaneously.’
A good midwife is always a couple of steps ahead and prepared for the unexpected. And the maternity ward is essentially an emergency ward, Monica explains:
‘A normal birth can turn into an extraordinary one in minutes. It is very important that the mother stays calm – if anything unusual happens during childbirth she can be reassured by my calm expression.’
Every now and then a shaky dad needs a glimpse of Monica’s serene face too, and Monica is as calm as a hindu cow.
‘I am grateful for being naturally very calm. Even if my adrenaline is pumping, it doesn’t show and that is very helpful in my profession. Seeing how the parents work through the birth together is incredible and witnessing a baby gasping for air, start breathing and soon after knowing how to get food is nearly religious, that’s how wonderful it feels to observe it’.