Summer is here and with it comes rain (in place of snow). Nuuk mothers are undaunted in their efforts to leave their babies sleeping outside in inclement conditions. I snapped a few photos of babies sleeping in the rain yesterday-- a continuation of my Babes in Nuuk series (if you missed my earlier post, "Babes on the Loose", you can read it here.)
There are a lot of babies in Nuuk. One of the first things people told us when we got here was, “It’s a great place to have a baby.” Though I haven’t probed for many details as to why, I think what they may actually mean is, “It’s a great place to MAKE a baby.” I can’t help but think of something one of my former colleagues (a Ugandan I worked with in Ethiopia) once told me: “The best birth control ever introduced in Uganda was electricity.” His point was that long hours of darkness seem to lend themselves well to procreation. And although Nuuk has adequate electricity, it has very long, dark winters. I have a feeling there are a lot of kids running around here with July-December birthdays.
But back to the babies. The oddest thing about them, apart from their sheer number, is that they sleep outside in heavy duty strollers called “barnevogns” (composed of two Danish words: “barn”- child, and “vogn”- thing that carries). The first few days here, I was impressed at the number of strollers around town. How great that mothers were so active! How wonderful that you could trust your neighbors enough to leave a very expensive stroller outside while you ran errands or met your friend at the café!
Little did I know, as I zipped my down parka more snugly over my face, that almost all of those barnevogns contained sleeping children.
A few days after we arrived in Nuuk, I went to Ken’s office to have cake and coffee for one of his colleague’s birthdays. Morten (birthday boy) and his girlfriend had just had a baby 6 weeks ago, so they were also planning to show off the kid at this little shindig. When I showed up at the office, I saw Morten, I saw his girlfriend, but no baby. It was snowing outside. “Where’s the baby?” I asked. “Oh, she’s outside,” girlfriend answered. “Really????” Girlfriend proceeded to tell me that it is common practice for the babies to sleep outside once they're one week old. Not, however, in temperatures below -10°C (14°F)--although she sometimes cheats on that rule a bit. Thinks they can make it to -15. Other than that, it seems to be a go! Mothers place baby monitors in the strollers, zip closed a special insulated cover, and put on the parking brake so they can go about their business. The barnevogns are also handy places to stow groceries, diaper bags, and the like.
I was amazed. I’m still amazed. I guess the cold chills them into a state of near hypothermia so they lay there, sleeping, all day long. Genius. And in a place like Nuuk that has a strong walking culture, it really makes sense given the barenvogn's extra storage capabilities.
Later on that afternoon, Morten’s girlfriend and I started talking about differences between maternity leave practices in the U.S. and Greenland. Greenlandic mothers get 6 months of paid leave, whereas U.S. mothers generally get 6 weeks. Ken and I told Morten’s girlfriend that in the U.S., many mothers go back to work and place their babies in day care for 8 hours a day when their baby reaches 6 weeks.
“Really?!?!” she asked, incredulous. “But they’re so fragile at that age! I can’t imagine doing that.”
Below, some pics of baby-bearing barnevogns I saw on a walk to the grocery store yesterday. These also give you a feel for what central Nuuk is like.