Iceland, our winter berth and birth

“Visited by only the most intrepid yachts, a passage to Iceland offers an experience difficult to match anywhere else in the world.” 

Our passage to Iceland was epic, riddled with highs and lows.

Iceland feels like it is centrally isolated.

Sitting right between America and Europe it feels central, a stepping stone in our journey across the Atlantic ocean.

Hovering right bellow the Arctic circle it feels isolated, a vastly unpopulated island of stark beauty, an island of ice and fire, of mighty glaciers, live volcanoes, hissing geysers and boiling lakes and rivers.

Iceland feels uniquely isolated as well as centrally located in the globe.

We picked Iceland as the birthing grounds for our next crew member, the extreme contrast to our last birth in the Caribbean appealed to us. Extreme dualities have naturally played out through our lives, so it feels natural to be here in Iceland to traer a la luz our next crew member.

We sailed into Reykjavík harbor in mid-October of 2014. We spent the first four months there in Reykjavík and are now in the northwest smaller town of Ísafjör∂ur. So we have experienced Iceland’s capital city, it’s majestic and vast country side and it’s quaint small town life in the westfjords.

The European-like, fast-paced and modern city life of Reykjavík surprised us. The amount of wealth, new cars, well dressed shopping-craze citizens, expensive restaurants, and the two-hour limit children’s birthday parties were all a big surprise.

The beauty of its countryside was expected. The expansive open landscapes completely covered in white snow this time of the year. It’s grand towering mountains which look as if they have been painted onto the blue sky. It’s rivers partly frozen but still running due to the waters warmer temperature from geothermal activity. All these things we had envisioned but perhaps didn’t expect for it to be as breathtakingly beautiful as it is, truly majestic.

The quiet slow-paced and snow covered streets of the smaller town of Ísafjör∂ur are what we envisioned it being like in Iceland and I suppose the vast majority is this way.

The Icelander is an educated bilingual person. It’s surprising how nearly everyone speaks very good English and many speak Danish and many other languages as well. Family is very important to the Icelander, they have large families, having up to four children is not rare at all, therefore we feel pretty normal here, at least in that regard.

Our two eldest daughters, ages 9 and 8, have been attending public school here in Iceland and for unschooled (non-curriculum based) children they have loved the school here. The educational system in Iceland has been a nice surprise. It is not heavily academic but rather very hands-on allowing the children to learn practical real-life skills suca as cooking, carpentry, sowing/knitting, library/research, community behavior, social behavior, exercise/health/swimming and even chess.

And finally birth in Iceland. On this topic we had no idea what to expect but thankfully birth in Iceland is viewed as a natural physiological process for women to go through. Icelanders believe women’s bodies still work, natural birth is the norm and all births are attended by midwives. Obstetricians are only involved in births if there are complications needing medical intervention. Home births in Reykjavík are gaining in popularity and in numbers but outside of the capital there are less home births, non in Ísafjör∂ur for example. Water births are very common in home births and in hospitals maybe only 10% are in water but they do have pools in hospitals which is great. But of course unattended home births are rare but we have been allowed and supported by midwives to do it our way, which has been wonderful. We formed a lovely relationship with a midwife who specializes in home births in Reykjavík who has been helping us with the necessary paper work as well as loaning us a birthing pool and helping us acquire all the special things we will need for the birth. Now that we are about a 6 hour drive away from Reykjavík, she has put us in touch with another midwife in Ísafjör∂ur who will help us announce the birth to the system once the baby is born so that we can get a birth certificate. I was even fortunate enough to attend a lecture by the world renown Ina May Gaskin, the mother of midwifery, who happened to come to Reykjavík for a lecture.

So yes, we like Iceland, we like it very much, a great place for this nomadic family to stop at and have a birth, a great country with great people to share our lives with for a short time. No regrets on picking Iceland to winter with our boat and as a birthing place, no regrets at all.

Iceland

Welcome to the edge of the inhabitable earth, located just bellow the arctic circle this island’s nature does some pretty unusual things, like putting ice and volcanoes next to each other and shortening the number of seasons to just two: light and dark. As I discover Iceland I begin to understand why the Vikings wanted to keep this island of ice and fire to themselves. Iceland is more unique and amazing than I envisioned it being. On the early morning we arrived by sailboat, when it was still dark, the aurora borealis welcomed us by displaying the most spectacular solar display I have ever witnessed. It covered half of the sky on our port side from bow to stern in an undulating arch form with hues of greens, blues and white. Conditions have to be just right for an aurora to happen, we have been here for 2 weeks now and have not seen it again, so we were extremely lucky to have seen it the one night we happen to arrive.

The geothermal activity is more vast than I imagined. There are pools all over the country, in every city and town. Here in Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital city, there are as many pools as there are StarBucks in big cities in the US. Each place doesn’t have just one pool, it has many different pools, there is an olympic swimming pool and a handful of jacuzzis each one with different temperatures, 38˙C/110˙F, 40˙C/104˙F, 42˙C/107˙F, and 44˙C/111˙F; some with massage jets and others without. The pool house we go to even has a salt water pool at 40˙C/104˙F and a large play pool for children with a giant water slide and an aquatic obstacle course. All of the pools are outdoors which makes for an interesting and intense experience moving from one pool to the other, walking in a bathing suit in freezing temperatures but while you are inside the pools you feel very warm and relaxed as you smell the natural healing minerals that are in the water. Some Islanders go to the pools daily and don’t shower at home since it is actually much cheaper to pay for a yearly membership to the pools than to shower at home. There are lockers and showers and you actually have to shower before entering the pools. The same underground forces that create its volcanoes also create the geothermal steam for Iceland’s radiators and super-heated water for showers and pools, with out a puff of smoke or smog. All power comes pollution-free from nature, electricity is generated by thundering rivers of melting ice.

The public schools are truly admirable. Our daughters were accepted into 3rd and 4th grade without any questioning, prior school records, tests, nothing. They simply said, “it is our obligation and desire to have them for as long as they want and need to”. The school is free but not only admission and tuition, all materials and school books as well, the only thing we need to pay for are lunches. The facilities are amazing, state of the art, modern and super clean; so much so that children are not allowed to wear their shoes inside the entire school, they run and slide around the slick floors with socks, they are always skating. The classes are mostly hands-on and not so academic heavy. They have cooking, sowing, music, art, chess, swimming, sports, library, religion, nature, socialize, community, social studies, math, English and Islandic as a second language, the later as a special class to international students. For unschooled children who are used to sleeping in and running their own daily schedule and interests, they are delighted and do not mind to wake up and walk to school in freezing weather while still dark. On Sundays they say “tomorrow is a school day, yay!”. If a Viking were to reappear today in Reykjavik he could strike up a conversation with any Icelander, their language has remained virtually unchanged for over a thousand years. They have the world’s highest literacy rate, a perfect 100% .

In Iceland you are looking at the true colors of the sky, sun, moon, clouds, rainbows and northern lights, because you are seeing them in the purest air on earth. And because of the gulf stream Iceland in the dead of winter can be warmer than NYC over 2000 miles to the south. In 930 Iceland established the world’s oldest active legislature while America discovered democracy 846 years later and 200 years before Chaucer, Iceland’s fishermen and farmers were already composing rich folk sagas and manuscripts. What has never happened in Iceland is that it’s people have never fought a war. One can feel the peace, security and friendliness just walking the streets.

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