Well hello there, it’s been a few years

I mean … it really has been a few years since my last post. The last time I wrote in this blog, my daughter was still one year old! Today she is a healthy, happy, strong, funny four-year-old. I’m still here in Cholula, now with one more (furry) member of the family, a former street dog named Manchas.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but it feels good to write for no reason. It feels good to know I can still put something out on the internet and be fairly positive that no more than perhaps three people will ever read it. I should be working right now, but I’m trying to get back into the whole work thing after a week off, and it’s hard to start up again.

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It’s the first week of September, and the summer was a bit of a rough one. We changed houses, my husband changed jobs, my job got busier, my daughter got older, and we didn’t take a “real” vacation because moving into the new house took such an enormous amount of time and money. My husband and I have moved approximately five bazillion times as a couple, and before we were together we had each moved around (different cities, same city, different countries, all of it) about ten zillion times. You’d think we’d be total experts at it but somehow it always kinda sucks in new and different ways. The  new house is only a 15-minute walk from the old house, and in most ways it is so much better. I do miss the big yard and the amazing location of the old house, but I do not miss living in an overpriced, not-maintained rental. We are renting-to-own now, and treating this new place as though we already own it – and I love it.

For a million different reasons – none of which are really that great – this past summer I fell out of my almost-daily yoga/exercise routine I had kept up for almost two years. It’s been probably about three months since I’ve done any formal classes and I can’t wait to get started again… though I dread it at the same time. I will be out of shape, it will be hard to manage the time with my work schedule, and I am still “recovering” from spraining my ankle almost two weeks ago (fuck man, I didn’t know it needed weeks to get better!). That means when I start again, I’m going to have to be all super careful and diligent about not re-hurting the ankle and just the thought of that makes me cranky. Generally speaking, I’m not into soft, easy, restorative type of yoga or exercise … but honestly I just need to start exercise back into my life, back into my routine. This morning I took my daughter to school on my bike (it felt ok, wearing an ankle brace – but yes, I was scared about the consequences of “what if I fall today”) because I just simply needed to get out of the house and move my body for the sake of my mental health. I left the house at 8:08am (I checked the time because I wanted to see exactly how long it took on a bike from our new place to the school), and we were off the bike and heading to the classroom by 8:23am. On the way back, I took the back roads – meandering through the corn, being extra careful on the bumpy and unpaved roads, and I got home around 8:50am. I won’t be able to ride my daughter to school so much longer. She’s over 16 kg now and it’s getting to be a tight fit in her bike seat, but I may be able to squeak out another 6 months, possibly a year. When we are just puttering around the town I don’t mind if she’s riding “lose”, in a very Cholula (or Amsterdam) type of way (meaning sitting on the bar of the bike between the seat and the handlebars), but the road I take to get to her school is too busy to do that safely.

So hello again. I think I like this. A bit of a brain dump to start off the day, and now, seriously, back to work.



The sounds of a town

Amsterdam sounds like bike chains. You can always hear it – people use big, heavy chain locks and unlocking and locking a bike is noisy. It’s the distinct sound of Amsterdam.

Cholula sounds like fireworks. Like church bells and barking dogs. Like music and gas trucks and tamales and guys selling and buying furniture. There are so many more sounds here, but the most distinct sound of Cholula is fireworks. Two days ago was December 7th, a Wednesday. I have no idea what was special about December 7th, but the church bells rang constantly from about 8pm-midnight, and the fireworks were extremely loud and constant, rather than scattered. From inside my daughter’s bedroom it sounded as though someone was bombing our front yard. I mean, they were really, really loud. I was convinced at some point the noise would wake her, either in the night or when they started again at 5am. I mean, they kept me awake. But she slept straight through the night, along with her father. Will I eventually be able to sleep through massive firework explosions? How many years will that adjustment take?

My daughter knows the song from one of the gas trucks now and will say “Gaaaaaas” if I hum the song. She shakes her arms and head to “dance” when music comes on, no matter from where. When we cycle along and fireworks are going off so loudly it’s impossible to have a conversation, she happily says “bang bang bang!” When dogs bark at her, I told her that means they’re saying hello. So when we’re sitting outside eating at a restaurant and three dogs go running around, barking like crazy, Ayla waves hello to them. She’s adjusting well to her life in Mexico, and I’m thrilled for that. I’m also thrilled that every single day, we go outside and play at one of the nearby play areas. We never look excuses for places to go that are child-friendly, because the weather is always perfect. With perfect weather and plenty of green, open spaces to play, having a young toddler all of a sudden becomes pretty easy. Literally the only thing this girl needs to be entertained is to play outside. A playground is great, but she’s also ecstatic to go to the soccer fields and watch the people practicing, or to try and run and collect the balls that get kicked beyond the goals.


The playground at the base of the pyramid in San Andres Cholula

Ayla has been in daycare for about a week now, and we are easing into it very slowly. Today we left her for 1 1/2 hours, and Enrique and I did something amazing: we went out and ate breakfast. Together. Without our daughter. We didn’t bring a diaper bag or toys. We just sat, talked, and ate slowly. It’s the first time in over two months that we’ve been out of the house together, alone.

We don’t have internet yet at our new place, so a couple times a week I go to cafes to work. When I entered today at 9am there was one man sitting and eating his breakfast, and the first words that came out of my mouth (without thinking) were “buen provecho.” It’s spanish for “enjoy your meal” or “bon appetit”, but here in Mexico (and other spanish speaking countries) it’s not just something the waiter says to you when your food is being delivered. It’s what you, the customer, says to all the other customers as you walk into a cafe or restaurant. Or when you walk out. And here in Cholula – maybe because it’s a town, it’s not a bustling city – but especially during the day, we all greet each other. We all say goodbye. The baristas and cafe owners ask me how my daughter is adjusting to school, congratulate me on finding a place to live, compliment my bicycle, etc. When the man who was eating his breakfast finished up, he paid, said goodbye to the cafe owners, and then wished me a good day. The difference in the niceness of people in Cholula vs. Amsterdam is night and day. Two days ago I was in a big chain store, in a mall, buying a rug for Ayla. I had searched for days for the right rug, and finally found it – but the only one available was the one on display, otherwise they could deliver one to me in two weeks. “I really want to buy a rug today, now. Is it possible to get the one from the floor?” Of course it was. Three people came out to help clear the rug and package it up. When I thank them all profusely, the response was “no problem, we’re here to help/aqui para servirle.” I hear this all the time.


There is still so much to do to settle in. I am exhausted. I want to snap my fingers and just have my house be furnished, have the curtains hung, the dishes done, the food purchased, and my hair cut. But through the haze of exhaustion, two invitations for posadas came through. Considering we only know about 6 people here, that’s a pretty amazing feeling. The holiday season is very much here, though it’s still hard for me to realize it’s almost the middle of December when I’m wearing flip flops every day. The nativity scenes have palm trees, and the Christmas markets are punctuated with sounds of music and, of course, the bangs and explosions of color from the fireworks.




One month later, and at home in Cholula

It’s been one month and five days since we left Amsterdam. I’m sitting in my temporary apartment in San Andres Cholula, Puebla, Mexico, and thinking about some of the things I learned about long-haul travel, moving, and starting over.

#1 Flying long haul with my then 13.5 month old was exhausting but do-able, and we flew some random cheap airline. Learn from me – if you are flying long haul with a baby/toddler who can walk/climb/etc., – get extra legroom. Get bulkhead if at all possible. Not because you’ll be using the bassinet, but because you can construct some sort of bed on the floor – or at the very least, a play area that is something other than your lap. Also, bring a full-size pillow or a piece of foam or whatever that allows you to construct a bed.

Ayla is a sprawled-out-tummy sleeper. She fell asleep around her normal bedtime without too much of a problem in Enrique’s arms and then across our laps, but after an hour or two she wanted to roll over on her tummy. Try as she might to get comfortable, she couldn’t really find a way to sleep happily on her belly, which meant she was fairly restless. Still, had she been the only baby on the plane it all would have worked pretty well – the one thing that woke her up (over and over) were the other crying babies. Sigh. Not much you can do about that.

#2 We changed locations quite a bit over the past month. Flew to Merida, stayed there 9 days. Went to the beach (Chuburna), stayed there 8 days. Back to Merida, 3 days. Flew to Mexico City and then drove to our new home in Cholula, have been here about 2 weeks. Three very different climates and very different places. Ayla adjusted remarkably easy schedule-wise when we first landed in Merida – by the third night she was already back in her preferred schedule of 8pm sleep/7am wakeup. Then we moved locations to the beach, where we had to share a small bedroom with her – and she woke up every night at least once, and it wasn’t always easy to get her back to bed. Ayla seems to love new places when we get there. She gets all excited to explore and love to run around a new apartment or house. But at the end of the day – I think that moving around does indeed take a toll.

#3 What is fun for adults isn’t always fun for kids. Vacations have changed. Merida, for example. This city is just simply not the place to go to with a young toddler for three weeks. Why? All the fun stuff is at night, when the temperature cools down to a reasonable 27 degrees (instead of 34 which felt like 44). And for as much as we tried to alter her schedule so she would go to bed later, she was having none of it, she wanted to be in bed by 8pm. And in terms of daytime activities, the heat was simply too much. It was incredibly humid, no breeze, not a lot of shade, and no toddler-friendly public parks in the sense of paddling pools or playgrounds. We tried *everything* – museums (not so many, but we went for the A/C!), restaurants and … that was that. Well that, and running around the zocalo chasing pigeons or the little plazas around town. I’d absolutely go back to Merida, but I’d A) go in January or February B) wait until Ayla was at least three C) make sure we stayed in a place that was air conditioned throughout, not just in the bedrooms – or a place that had much better air circulation D) plan to stay about 4-5 days instead of 3 weeks.

#4 It got a bit tedious to just be me/Enrique/Ayla for 3 straight weeks. No other kids, no other friends. I wouldn’t do that again, for that amount of time, at Ayla’s age. I can spend 3 weeks just with Enrique, no problem. But with Ayla in the mix it’s so different. I’m pretty sure she was getting bored of us, and at the same time growing more clingy. When anyone else would give her attention she was all over it and again, I felt a bit bad. She’s at an age where she needs other people to play with that aren’t mom and dad all day, every day. I’m not shy and I can talk to strangers at parks and make a quick friend, but I can’t really do that if the park itself doesn’t exist.

#5 We moved to Cholula, and Cholula is perfect for us. The second we arrived in here, we found a playground. Ayla’s eyes lit up. Seriously. She hadn’t seen a playground with other kids running around in three weeks and she was so. freakin. excited. Then we found more playgrounds. More public spaces with grass and trees. And more kids. The weather is perfect – not too hot, not too cold. Our temporary house is big and comfortable and she has her own room with a new crib. We just got bikes. This town is just so typically Mexican in all the best ways – kids everywhere, dogs everywhere, beautiful views of mountains and volcanoes, random fireworks go off all the time, there’s almost always a high chair available wherever we eat, and there’s no real challenge in how to spend time, either alone or with Ayla. This is the kind of stuff you want if you’re moving away from home with a young toddler.

#6 Changes! We still do a regular bedtime routine, but we’ve dropped a lot of the other seemingly important stuff. She doesn’t sleep in a dark room anymore for her naps – that stopped once the blackout curtains came down in Amsterdam. She now sleeps through barking dogs, fireworks, marching bands, etc. She no longer despises cars (we’ve had horrible times in cars in the past) and now can sit happily in her carseat in the back while I sit up front with Enrique. I credit this a lot to the forward-facing car seat, which I think would be illegal or at least highly not advisable in the US at her age. But man. It’s a game changer.

#7 Speaking of cars and change – it didn’t make any sense for me to bring my (big, forward-facing) car seat from Amsterdam to Mexico. So we got here without one, and while we were in Merida we used uber and taxis almost every day. Ayla sat on my lap, in the backseat, with the lapbelt around us both. If there is any carseat law in mexico, no one gives a shit whatsoever. This was a very, very hard thing for my american/dutch/rule following/new mom brain to handle, but I did it for short distances (no more than 20 minutes) and within city limits (frequent stops, typically not going more than 30-40 km per hour at most). Uber made leaving the house in the heat of the day possible – if we hadn’t used cars, I can’t imagine what we would have done all day. Holding her on public transport (buses) wouldn’t have been any safer.

#8 If I felt like I had no time to do anything before, in Amsterdam, my GOD if you travel/move with a toddler and there’s no one else helping out, any notion of free time is just simply gone. There is soooooooo much to do, logistics wise. So much. And yet Ayla needs to have her day too. So it’s slow-going to look for a place to live, to try to make friends/see old friends, to connect with grandparents, to get a bike, to replace a pair of sunglasses, to get a new phone, to go to the supermarket, to work, to get 10 minutes to myself to just chill out, etc.

The day we got to Cholula, we started making appointments with daycares and putting out the word to find a babysitter. Of course I’m quite picky about anyone that I’d leave with Ayla, but I thought that within 2-3 weeks we’d have found someone and done introductions and whatnot. It’s two weeks later and we haven’t even begun, due to Ayla getting really, scarily sick after we had been here about 4 days – which caused so many more logistics delays. If you move with your kid and don’t have an already familiar family member or babysitter, it will be very, very, very hard to truly accomplish all the little logistical things you need to accomplish. Phones, bank accounts, finding a dish rack, etc.

#9 Seeing Ayla with her grandparents (who live 2 hours away), and walking hand-in-hand with her grandpa: it cemented the idea that we absolutely made the right decision to move back to Mexico. But still – and anyone with kids this age knows this now – you can’t just drop your toddler with a grandparent and head out if that grandparent is essentially a stranger. It’s not fair to anyone. So slowly, Ayla will get to know her grandparents, and pretty soon we’ll be in a place where yes, Grandma and Grandpa can watch her for a few hours while Enrique and I get a break. Eventually. They are also older and slower, so they’re going to be the type to rely on electronics (and hopefully/maybe books?), rather than take her to the park. That’s fine, just needs to be considered that Ayla doesn’t have much attention span for electronics – I’m enormously proud that she has zero idea that the giant TV in our apartment has any purpose whatsoever, as she’s never seen us turn a TV on in her life.

#10 Ayla came down with an infection – from something she ate, drank, or touched. It was bad. Having a very sick child is the worst thing in the entire world. Witnessing Ayla’s clothes fall off her because she had lost so much weight broke my heart in a way that I’ve never felt my heart break before. While Mexico is a foreign country to me, it’s home to Enrique. So he knew how to look for a doctor, and what to look for. We are very lucky to live 15 minutes outside a major city (Puebla), so there are first-class hospitals and we can afford to see private doctors (which doesn’t mean they are any more skilled than the doctors who work in public hospitals – but it does mean a *lot* less wait time, which we were willing to pay for). Had this happened in the US and we didn’t have insurance that covered us there, I honestly shudder to think at what we would have spent. Either way: if you take your kid outside your home country for any reason, even for a day, make absolutely sure you are covered for health care costs.

#11 During the hard times of this whole relocation- either because of sickness, because of exhaustion due to Ayla waking up 3 times a night screaming because she was just simply scared and didn’t know where she was, or because of the days that we literally could not figure out how to keep her occupied in Merida, I must say I grew really tired of the “Babies adapt so easily!” comments I’d hear or read. Did Ayla adapt? Sure. In the long run, did it take her so long? Not really. But does that mean it was just totally smooth sailing and I went my days feeling well-rested and like a proud mama who was showing her child the world? No. It was all worth it, but that doesn’t mean it was always easy and always fun. I think this is an age where travel becomes harder. Not impossible, but harder. I think there are lot of things you can do with babies that are say, 5 months old or kids that are 3 years old that you can’t do with 14-month-olds.

There were plenty of nights, after Ayla was in bed, where Enrique and I would sit around and come up with a grand, fun, family plan for the next day. We’d be so optimistic! And then reality would happen instead: Ayla randomly decided that she was terrified of the pool we had in Merida, and that manifested into hating taking any sort of bath or shower (bath time used to be one of her favorite things to do, she’d cry when we took her out). Or she’d wake up at 5am in Chuburna and just simply not be willing to go back to sleep which meant a seriously cranky morning on her part and exhausted parents. Why did she hate taking baths for three weeks and then decide to like it again? I have no idea. Was it really because we didn’t have the same bath toys we used to have? Was it the fact that we didn’t have a real bathtub? Did she miss watching us fill the tub with water, like she used to in Amsterdam?

Even during our travels, we always had toys around for her (though not the amount we had in Amsterdam), of course. However, a few days ago the grandparents bought us a few of the boxes we had shipped, and one of those boxes included a whole bunch of toys. When I gave Ayla this pink dog that she used to play with in her crib, she squealed with delight, hugged it, and sat right down to start playing with it the way she used to. It was amazing to see. She remembered that dog. I don’t know how much she understands about this move, or what – if anything – she misses anything from home. But I’ll mention something else: she saw a plastic bicycle at the park the other day, similar to what she had in Amsterdam. She went right over and grabbed on to it as if it was hers.

I really need to get her a new bike.

#12 We made the right decision to move to Cholula. I think it, and say it out loud, several times a day. I love this town. I love that I wore sandals and a teeshirt today when I rode my bike to go pick up some zucchini flower quesadillas for lunch, along with a couple liters of fresh juice. I absolutely love the views of the volcanoes and mountains. I love that the weather is no longer an issue, that I can plan on taking Ayla out every single morning and we’ll never be too cold. The people in Cholula are generally friendly, warm, and easy going. The town has somewhat exploded in the past few years with new restaurants, cafes, bike shops, etc. There are enough public places for us to take Ayla where we all have a great time and we don’t need to spend any money. The other day I put Ayla in the ergo on my back and climbed the pyramid, just for fun. When we got to the top, I took her off my back and held her hands as she climbed the stairs, and I thought – wow. She’s going to grow up thinking this is so normal. That you just climb up a pyramid in the mornings to get some exercise, and then eat your tamale at the bottom. That’s just what you do.

We moved at the right time. It was perfect to have Ayla’s first year in Amsterdam – I had lots of support, friends, and took every advantage of living around so many parks. But I’m also so happy that we managed to get out before her second year – before our second winter. In a city where I really couldn’t afford regular childcare, where I didn’t really like the childcare options, and where my apartment was feeling smaller and smaller the more Ayla learned how to run around. I’m thrilled that I’m not dealing with the dark mornings, the super early sunsets, and the constant gray drizzle. Ayla doesn’t have a winter coat at the moment, because she doesn’t need it now – a jacket is good enough for the chilly early mornings. I love that there’s no waiting lists to get into the daycare that I want her to attend – and that we can afford daycare. It’s fun to see Ayla adapt to putting her toothbrush in a cup of water to rinse it off, rather than use the tap water. Or to see her “sing” along with music from the gas truck that drives by. There’s so much to do to continue to feel at home, but so far, so good.

From Amsterdam to Merida

Well, one of the reasons we wanted to move away from Amsterdam is because it’s a cold and rainy country. I’m currently in Merida, Mexico, where the temperature is 34 degrees (and humid) with a “real feel” of 44 degrees. I’ve been living in Celsius for long enough that I don’t really convert back to Fahrenheit anymore, but I had to look up what 44 degrees celcius is and had a small heart attack when I learned that’s 111 Fahrenheit.

So it’s true what every single person says when they talk about Merida: it’s fucking hot. Really, really hot.

First Day in Merida

Backing up a bit. I live in Mexico now. Myself, my 13.5-month-old-daughter, and my partner no longer live in Amsterdam. We survived the long flight(s), we got rid of almost all our stuff – even sold our apartment – and now we live in Mexico. We’re staying in Merida for about 2 1/2 weeks and then moving to our new/old home: San Andres Cholula, in the state of Puebla. So there have been a few changes in the past few months – I really wish I had written about everything as it was going on because looking back, it all seems like a blur. The fact that we really sold our apartment, got rid of our things, and made a very very big decision to officially leave the Netherlands – de-registering from the city of Amsterdam and giving up our residency and working rights – it still doesn’t quite seem real. But once we made the decision, we had to just run with it. Now that there’s a small toddler in the picture, we don’t have the same kind of time to just sit around and ponder and process and go back and forth the way we used to. Decisions happen much more quickly.

We didn’t buy an apartment in June 2015 thinking that we’d sell it 16 months later, but thanks the housing market in Amsterdam, we had the chance to sell at a huge profit versus renting it out. Despite that fact that I just became a home owner and bought a nice couch and bed and got curtains made and all that stuff – it really wasn’t that hard to say “oh well, let’s let it all go.” I briefly entertained the idea of shipping some furniture over to Mexico but that idea was squashed as soon as I realized it would come with a €4,000-ish price tag. Other than the bed, sofa, some kitchen things, and curtains absolutely everything in our house was second-hand. I was sentimentally attached to some of Ayla’s things and MAN I loved our bed, but in the end I either sold off or donated just about everything and didn’t really think twice about it. It started to sound funny to me that people seemed so concerned about our stuff and what we would do with it – this isn’t the first (or second, or third…) time that I’ve gotten rid of just about everything, packed a few suitcases, and moved countries. There are plenty of sofas and beds and bicycles and new toys for Ayla in Mexico, and it just makes sense to mostly start over. Right now we have three big suitcases, three carry-on suitcases, a stroller, and about 7 boxes that were sent via the postal service from Amsterdam to Mexico City. We shipped our books, winter coats, some gifts, etc.

I am very much looking forward to “settling” in San Andres Cholula, Puebla, Mexico. I want to get a nice, comfortable apartment with a great big sofa, a cute bedroom for Ayla, a nice big bed for us, etc. I want a dog, I want to enroll Ayla in some sort of daycare, I want to take regular yoga classes again and join a gym. But I also never want the reason I chose to stay anywhere to be because of stuff. Even if we stay in Cholula for the next twenty years, I always want to remember that if we want to go somewhere else, we can go somewhere else.

Eating in Merida

Basing our lunch options on which places have A/C

So I’m sitting here in this hot, humid city in Mexico and feeling quite free. All of our belongings can fit into 7 boxes and three suitcases. We have absolutely no debt. Enrique will start a new job in January, but until then he’s relatively free – which means I can continue to work easily enough (I work about 10-12 hours a week, remotely) and we can sort out our new life together, slowly and without a rush. And one thing we sorted out for sure is the fact that Merida is way too hot and humid for us to enjoy ourselves as a family, so fuck it, change of plans. We rented a new place at the beach and that’s where we’ll stay for the rest of our time in Yucatan. I’ve been trying to figure out what people in Merida do with small toddlers and all answers lead to “leave Merida and go to the beach/cenotes/etc” so it doesn’t make much sense for us to sweat it out in the middle of a city until the end of the month. I do love that Ayla is living in a diaper or just going naked, but I hate that she has about 15 mosquito bites and a slight heat rash.

One remarkable thing about our trip (and off whatever topic I was on) – we traveled Amsterdam-Milan, 4.5 hour layover, Milan-Merida. About 13.5 hours of flying time and almost 24 hours of travel time. We were all beyond exhausted and jetlagged … but Ayla had herself sorted out by the third night, and she’s been sleeping fantastically. It was a lot of work to do that kind of travel with a 13.5 month old, but no scary stories to tell. While she’s breastfeeding less and less these days, I was still able to use that as a tool during the flight if things ever got rough, and I was so grateful for that. And I wondered if after breastfeeding I-don’t-know-how-many-times throughout the flight if she’d start to go back to wanting more milk during the day, but in fact the opposite happened: ever since our second day in Merida she’s dropped pretty much all daytime feedings and now only breastfeeds in the evenings. She is turning into a little girl, but when I’m breastfeeding her I still have my baby in my arms, and that feels so incredibly special.

One more full day in Merida, and then we’re off to Chuburna Puerto. I can’t wait.


The plan is to leave Amsterdam

“But didn’t you guys just buy a house? And have a baby? And now you’re planning to leave?”

… Yes. We’re planning on leaving October 9th, to be precise.

And it’s complicated. Ending a long relationship with a city isn’t easy. There’s not just one reason to leave, there’s a million little reasons, but I’m going to sum it up as best I can with the top two.

  1. We’re leaving Amsterdam because E’s work contract is up, and will not be renewed (this is not due to anything performance-related).
  2. We’re leaving Amsterdam because the weather is depressing and terrible.

Yes, the horrible weather is really playing that much of a role in the decision. The work stuff is the driving force, but the fact that it’s the middle of July and I had to put socks, pants, and a jacket on my daughter in order for her to play outside, under gray skies – I’ll be perfectly honest: it’s a truly depressing way to start the day. After she had her breakfast and played and crawled around this morning, it was 8.30am and she was BORED. She crawled over to the back door, doing her whiny cry. When I picked her up and opened the door, she instantly stopped crying and tried to wiggle away so she could escape outside. “But it’s really windy,” I thought to myself. “And gray. and chilly.” She cried as I closed the door. I felt bad as I lead her back inside – I mean, it wasn’t actually raining and it’s not like she was “demanding” anything crazy.

So we went out to the backyard, after getting ready. Getting ready, you ask? What do you need to do to get ready to go into your own backyard, when both myself and the baby were already dressed and fed? Well, I had to get a long-sleeve shirt and shoes. I had to find socks and a jacket for the baby. I’ve mentioned she’s not a fan of getting dressed, right? I wiggled her in her socks and jacket anyway as she protested. But once we were out, she was happier – and a quick glimpse of the forecast showed me to expect rain pretty much every day this week, so I figured we may as well take advantage of the fact that it was only chilly, windy, and gray.

I guess the grayness doesn’t really depress a 10-month old (I hope), but it depresses me. I did not wake up happy today. I did not take my daughter to our backyard happily, despite the fact that we have spent a LOT of time and effort to make our backyard beautiful and child-friendly. All last week I think there were maybe one or two days that I happily took her outside. The rest of the time was too cold, too rainy, or too windy (or usually all three at once). We’ve taken her to every indoor baby cafe in Amsterdam, we’ve taken her to cafes and restaurants, and we take her to the supermarket when we need to go just for an excuse to get her out of the house and do something, even though we live between two lovely parks and have a baby seat for the bicycle.

A typical day in July, Amsterdam

A typical day in July, Amsterdam – waiting for the tram in the rain

Now let’s just say you live in Amsterdam and make a pretty decent income (like I used to do when I worked in advertising), and you don’t have a baby. The weather still sucks just as bad, but you probably take a lot more trips to sunny places, because you can afford it. Even with a baby, and without my advertising salary, we’re doing good on the travel front: we spent over a month in California and Mexico back in March and we just did 10 days in southern Italy in June. But we can’t afford to just drop 500€ on a weekend in Barcelona at the last minute the way we used to. In theory, I’m completely fine with this as there’s not a single fiber in my body that wants to return to working in advertising, so I consider having less money but more free time to spend with Ayla a very fair tradeoff. And in theory, I love Amsterdam, and getting to take say, 3 or maybe 4 trips a year isn’t exactly suffering, right?

Well, the reality is that it sucks. It sucks to be stuck in Amsterdam with crappy weather most of the summer, absolutely unable to make plans in advance (like getting together with other moms) that involve being outside. Do you know how much we were looking forward to doing a nice long bike ride through the north this past Saturday? The plan was to pack up a lunch, put Ayla on my bike seat, ride around the little villages looking at cows and sheep and enjoy the scenery. We have a little tent for Ayla, so she could have her afternoon nap as mom and dad lay on a blanket and drink a beer while watching the bikes and water. All we need to have in order to make this happen is a warm, sunny, weekend day, preferably without too much wind (as that makes the biking part a little less enjoyable). It ended up chilly and rainy. So another day spent inside – well mostly inside. We ran out into the backyard anytime it stopped raining enough to let Ayla get a change of scenery.

When we were in southern Italy, it wasn’t that complicated. We went to the beach. Ayla wore a little swim diaper and a hat. She took her afternoon nap in her tent while mom and dad drank a beer and went swimming (one at a time). When she was awake, she played in the sand and the water. It was… easy.

June in Southern Italy

June in Southern Italy

This morning Enrique and I were bitching about the weather, which almost feels like part of the morning routine these days. I told him that it doesn’t depress me, exactly. I mean yes, it’s depressing. But I’m not depressed, I’m angry. I’m pissed. I’m annoyed. And I have started so many days like this, and with each passing gray, chilly, windy, rainy day, I grow more and more annoyed. This deep-down pissed-offness is not going to go away with extra vitamin D supplements or a sun lamp or an extra yoga class or whatever bullshit suggestion people offer. Before there was a baby in the picture, one sort-of-good way of looking at the situation was that Amsterdam is a great place to work. I mean, if you’re inside all day, you may as well be inside all day in Amsterdam. And if you can afford to go out to dinner and drinks a few times a week, to have memberships to nice gyms and cinemas, to go away for long weekends to visit friends in Rome and Barcelona and Lisbon, it’s manageable – and you don’t need to be rich to be able to have a really nice life in Amsterdam. But now there is a baby in the picture, I very rarely go out after 8pm, and going to yoga a few times a week isn’t really bringing about the inner peace that I simply don’t have because parenting is harder when you are confined to the great indoors.

Deep breath.

Back when we bought our apartment (when I was 7 months pregnant), we went into it thinking “this is a five year thing.” It’s a lovely apartment and suits us well, but it’s small and not the kind of place that we’d want to stay for say, 15 years. But for a few years, sure. It’s cozy and cute and in great condition, and we have this amazing backyard that we put a ton of work into and hardly use. We have a place for storage, plenty of bike parking, nice neighbors, a great location near parks and supermarkets and a pharmacy across the street. We were in no rush to leave Amsterdam when we bought our place. We thought we’d enjoy Ayla’s childhood, see how things go with Enrique’s job, and then either upgrade to a bigger apartment after a few years or move outside the country (by the time Ayla was 4 or so). I wanted to see how things went, to allow myself to feel re-motivated to integrate a bit more, to make (yet another) effort to learn Dutch. We were open to the idea of the fact that we might just stick around forever – even though the weather is never going to magically improve, there still are a million reasons why Amsterdam is a wonderful city. Both of us craved things like stability and a chance to work at our careers. We wanted to get a dog. We’ve done so much traveling and adventuring and moving around that stability seemed absolutely lovely. That was the attitude that we had a year ago.

But there was unexpected news, work-wise. Enrique’s contract is up at the end of August and can not be renewed. I am working very part-time (about two afternoons a week), finally at a job I love and feel proud of, but it’s a job that pays me a fraction of what I used to make. In exchange, I get to spend a lot of time with my daughter, which is priceless. Enrique also spends a great deal of time with her – when I’m at work, he’s the one spending time with her. Neither one of us would have changed anything about this arrangement, and there’s no part of me that is willing to quit a job I love to return to advertising, just so we have the money to stick around a city where it rains all the time. My current job is something I can do from anywhere, so I can easily move.

So we’re moving away. And maaaaaaaaan I am nervous, because there is so much more to take into consideration that there used to be. It’s hard to figure out where to start, but we had to start somewhere – so we rented an apartment for three weeks in Merida, Mexico. A city that neither one of us has ever been to. The average high temperature in October is 32C, average low temperature is 22C. Regarding safety, “In Merida security rates are at the level of Europe, even among the levels of the safest countries in the world” (source). I don’t know if this is going to be our new home, but it’s a place to start. We’ll be warm.

When we got the news that Enrique’s contract couldn’t be extended, we made a concious decision to see this as an opportunity to get it right and make the move. We are choosing to leave to find something better, we’re not being forced out. If we really wanted to stay in Amsterdam, we could figure it out and make it happen – but instead it seems that there’s another adventure ahead of us – an adventure to find stability. At the end of the day, I’m ready to go. We both are.







Another first year in Amsterdam: life with a baby

I wanted to pick a more milestone-ish date to post this entry – when Ayla turned three months. Or six months. Or even nine months, which felt pretty monumental to me (nine months in, nine months out!). But I’m writing this on her 10-month “birthday,” which is not marked by any huge milestone other than a lot of teething pain and some very dreary weather.

So I skipped writing about anything during these first few months past the birth story, but I composed a million posts in my head. And now it’s time to write again, but I have nothing clear in my mind. I just want to see what I remember.

I remember the first 10 days so clearly, because they were rather amazing. I had the best two kraamzorgen (maternity nurses) care for me for 8 days following the birth. For that first week, my house was spotless. The laundry was always done. There was always something to eat, I was encouraged to nap and rest and bond with my daughter as much as possible. I was given tips of breastfeeding when needed, but I was also one of the lucky ones: breastfeeding came rather easily and naturally (but it was still exhausting and all-encompassing). I remember the first walk to a nearby cafe, with Enrique wearing Ayla in a wrap. I remember how amazing my hair still looked then. I remember thinking “I just slept three hours, my god I feel amazing and ready to take on the world!” and genuinely meaning it.

I remember how intimidating and scary it was to really go out-out for the first time, when she was about three weeks old. I got Ayla in the stroller, took her on the bus to a friend’s house, fed her, hung out a bit, and came home. This journey exhausted me in ways I never experienced before. I was so insanely alert to everything. The traffic kind of terrified me. I felt terrible for not having a proper rain cover for the stroller because of course it rained. I didn’t know how to properly fold up the stroller so I just left the entire thing in the stairwell of my friend’s apartment. There seemed to be an endless amount of things I didn’t know how to do, but we got out and got back in and were all still alive in the end.

I remember how going out got easier. She napped so well when I wore her. I started finding the stroller really cumbersome pretty early on. I remember one day going out into the center of Amsterdam and going to H&M to buy her a dress – the first article of clothing that I picked out and bought myself – and then hanging around and getting coffee. It was so easy while she slept next to me in the ergo, and I didn’t have to deal with the public transportation rules for strollers or worry about stairs.

I very, very fondly remember weeks 10-18, when she started sleeping through the night. I also remember the first night she slept all night, because I sat awake from 4am onward watching her and checking to make sure she was breathing. During this time in her life, she was the easiest baby. We went out to dinner with her, we’d go to museums, to bars, to exhibits, and we’d all get a full night sleep. She was so cute, she started smiling, and when I put her down she’d stay in one spot. Life was amazing.

I remember hearing about the “four month regression” and man, I remember experiencing it. The waking-up in the night again, the 30-minute naps, the change from newborn to baby. Her nighttime sleep kind of resolved itself within a few weeks, but naps became A Thing. I started wearing her for pretty much every nap, and walking. I walked with her in the rain, cold, dark, everything. I felt grateful to A) have the time to do such a thing and B) that at least wearing her worked. This phase passed as well, but it took longer.

I remember our travels, and how different they became. We took her to Italy (twice), London, California, and Mexico. There were some hard moments in those travels but generally speaking I loved it. She was a great traveler, no major horror stories with the plane (cars on the other hand…) or even with jetlag.

I remember how much I loved seeing her with family from both sides, both when they came to visit Amsterdam and when we bought her to the US and Mexico. It gave me a glimpse into the world of people who raise their children in say, the same country as their family. Here in Amsterdam, Enrique and I don’t have a grandma, aunt, cousin, etc., to help out here and there. Having help/support – and seeing other people who loved Ayla on a very real level – was really eye-opening.

I remember when she started rolling in her crib, when she became a tummy sleeper, when she started crawling and standing and laughing and clapping and saying “Mama.” I remember having to lower the crib mattress and take away the mobile that hung over it, and feeling kind of sad about that. I remember the feeling of putting away her small-baby clothes as she grew more and more, and having no idea what to do with them.

I remember holding her in the night as she screamed in what I’m pretty sure was teething pain. I felt like I would cut off my arm right then and there if it meant she would be calm and happy again, but I’d hold her close and rock her and breastfeed and feel awful yet grounded. As long as she was in my arms, I could try to make her feel better and calm down. I als remember her screaming in her carseat in Italy, and actually crying myself, because I couldn’t pick her up and comfort her. I hated that, it is so far the only time in her entire life that she actually “cried herself to sleep,” and it was absolutely awful to witness. It hasn’t all been sunshine and roses – there are very memorable moments that tear on my heartstrings in a painful way as well.

I remember buying my new bike – my mamafiets, or mama bike. A big, sturdy, beast of a bike with a baby seat up front. I was so ready to stop taking trams and walking everywhere – honestly, without a bike I find Amsterdam such an annoying city to move around. I hate the trams and that suddenly it would take me 45 minutes to get to places that would take 20 minutes on a bike. We started doing short rides around 8 1/2 months, and by 9 months she was a pro.

And I remember the first time she fell asleep on the bike, and how we had become one of those typical Amsterdam sights. Maybe a tourist saw us and marveled (the way I used to when I was a tourist here), but what no one around me knew was how I was squealing on the inside, that I had become a mom with a sleeping baby on the bike.

These days I have a very active little girl, and there are non-stop changes and new firsts every day. She crawls, eats solid food, contorts herself into the oddest positions while she’s breastfeeding, stands on her own, says “Mama,” has upped her decibel level of screaming, and is a true pain in the ass to get dressed about 90% of the time. I wear her on my back more often than on my front. I take her everywhere by bike, as long as it’s not pouring rain. And today, on her 10-month-brithday, it is in fact pouring rain. Well, on and off, but it’s been between a drizzle and a pour all day long. We left the house with the plastic cover over the stroller, long sleeves and pants, and headed to a “baby cafe” not far away. She had a blast while we were there – getting out of the house was essential to survival (for me) on a day like this. I’m really grateful these baby-friendly cafes exist and I have spot to meet other moms and dads and watch Ayla play with different toys and different babies without having to pay anything (well, of course I had a coffee, but that was it).

But the fact that I dressed my baby in socks, pants, onsie, shirt, and jacket – and I made sure to bring the umbrella, plastic rain cover, and all the other normal stuff you should carry around in say, October – this is one of the many, many reasons that we are planning to leave this country. The forecast is the same all week. This is just how it is here. It’s actually kinda perfect if you have a newborn, or an under 6-month-old who doesn’t move around that much – rainy, cozy days inside with a small baby are pretty delicious.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say on that soon, if I don’t let another 9 months go by before I post again. Getting back to things-I-do-just-to-make-myself-happy is critical, and writing is one of those things that is on that list.

The birth story, and another Mexian-American-Amsterdammer in the world

Welcome to the world, Ayla.


20150921_103225It’s weeks after the birth. I did it. I guess that’s the thing about being pregnant, no matter what, at some point it ends, whether you’re ready or not.

I get why women are pregnant for 40 (or more) weeks now – because even for those of us who really loved the whole pregnancy experience, sometime toward the end even I was like “ok, that’s enough now, labor and delivery seems like a small price to pay for being able to roll over in bed again.”

I started meeting with my midwife more often, and one-on-one, in the last few weeks. She came to my house for our meetings, which was perfect. Like most of my prenatal care, 99% of the time I spent with my midwife during those meetings was talking, and then she’d do a check for blood pressure, heart rate, and baby’s position. There were no internal exams, or checking to see if I was already dilating. In the 39th week, my blood pressure started to go up – I think it was 135/85 – and my midwife expressed a small concern that the baby didn’t seem to be growing so much (these are two warning signs that the placenta might not be doing the job properly). A couple days later she returned to check on both of those things, and luckily my blood pressure was down to 120/80 – still up there, but nothing to be concerned about for a heavily pregnant woman. As for the baby, she said “you know what, it seems like you’ll have a small baby. but he/she is fine.” The baby was exactly in the right head-down position and engaged, I felt lots of movement, heart rate was perfect, and all was good.

20150828_163549I went into labor two days after my due date. The days around my due date were pretty fantastic. I never felt very hormonally charged during the pregnancy (maybe I acted hormonal, but I didn’t feel it), but all of a sudden I felt really, really charged. One day I was so absurdly happy and in such a great mood, I was smiling and saying hello to everyone on the street, as if Amsterdam was a small midwestern American town. Another day I felt really, really closed off and introspective. Everything just felt like more. On day 40+1, Enrique and I went out for a long, luxurious lunch. We walked for a couple hours. I felt massively pregnant, but I wasn’t having any contractions.

40 + 1

29 August 2015

On day 40+2, August 29th, I woke up around 5.30am after having slept about 3 hours (sleeping was not easy in the last month of pregnancy)… and saw that I had some pink discharge. Ah! The bloody show! I knew this was a sign that labor could be on the way, but I also knew “on the way” could mean days away. Then I felt…. something. Discomfort, something I might consider a stomach cramp… or was that a contraction? I tried to go back to sleep, but it wasn’t working. It was a warm, beautiful, sunny morning, and I was in a good mood. I went to the bathroom again and saw a more obvious “bloody show,” so I got up and dressed. I felt excited and nervous and tired and calm all at the same time. I took a short shower and a 20-minute walk by myself while Enrique slept. I loved having Amsterdam all to myself – well, all to myself and the fish guys who were opening the store for the day.

And this is where I started taking notes (I jotted everything down in a notebook), which is why I know the precise times.

7am: The shower and walk both felt good. I fixed myself breakfast (oatmeal, banana, juice, one egg, a few sips of coffee). I thought I could tell when a contraction was starting and stopping, but they were only lasting between 15-30 seconds…. and I still wasn’t 100% convinced I was feeling contractions and not just stomach discomfort. You know the feeling of needing to poop? It was like that, except it would come and go.


6am-ish in Amsterdam, 29 August 2015

7.30am: Enrique was awake and happy, but both of us trying not to get too excited that this was the real deal. I was getting tired – I really had only slept a few hours during the night – and decided to try relaxing in bed with my ipad. As soon as I was back in bed, the “contractions” slowed down and then stopped. I fell back asleep from about 8am-11am, which turned out to be the greatest thing in the world.

12:30pm: Awake. Feeling great. Ate lunch (cheese & avocado sandwich) and drank a coffee. Organized the day a bit with Enrique, wrote some emails. Felt incredibly well-rested, more so than I had in days. I was mentally prepared for labor, but I was also ok with the thought that today might not be the day after all.

1.30pm: Enrique left to go do some errands. I hung out in garden, which was super sunny and warm. I noticed I started feeling some small crampy feelings again. It really didn’t feel like period cramps at all, more like needing-to-poop cramps.

20150829_1313392:30pm: Enrique was back home, and I was pretty sure that the contractions had returned. I still felt ok, but around this time it became hard to do other things, like sit down comfortably and read. Enrique and I were both kind of like “ok, so, this is labor? ok, cool. ouch! breathe, breathe. ok. fine.”

3:00pm: went on a 30 minute walk with Enrique. Ran into our neighbors, realized it was getting difficult (and simply not appealing) to have a conversation while a contraction was coming over me. Started to be able to identify the clear start and stop of each contraction, and they seemed… maybe 6 minutes apart or so? All still a bit hard to say, but walking felt good.

4:30pm: First call to my midwife, as I was now pretty sure I was in legit labor, though still not totally convinced. I could still talk through contractions, but I was getting more and more uncomfortable. Sitting or laying down wasn’t remotely an option. The feeling of the contractions was a very low, deep in my body,  type pain. I was still seeing blood and fluid when I went to the bathroom. I turned off the relaxing yoga-ish music that Enrique had put on and started listening to some old pop-punk favorites instead. Much better. I tried to find some sort of comfortable spot in the house, or position. Nothing felt right other than walking and leaning against the wall at times.

6:00pm: Enrique made a small meal – cous cous with veggies. We started timing the contractions, and discovered that between 5:53pm and 6:41pm they were on average 44 seconds long, about 4 minutes apart (thank you, contraction app!). Even though all the evidence was in front of me, I still wasn’t 100% it was real labor. The contractions were very uncomfortable, but I wouldn’t say they hurt, or were so painful. Just very uncomfortable. I walked around my apartment and sang along with all the Mr T Experience songs on the “Love is Dead” album and vowed to call my midwife again when singing along became too hard.

7:00pm: I called my midwife again from the bathtub. It was getting harder to talk through the contractions but I wouldn’t say it was impossible. She kept me on the phone for awhile longer and said I sounded like I was in labor, and that I should just keep doing what I’m doing, and to let her know when I felt like I wanted her to show up.

8:00pm: Called my midwife again with the “ok, come over now” request. At this point I felt like I was no longer comfortable in my apartment, as the only thing that I really wanted to do was to walk. Walking around a small apartment was starting to make me crazy, and I was getting tired – I wanted to find a new position but couldn’t come up with anything. She came right over, and called the birthing center on her way, so they would be prepared (assuming that I was indeed in real labor and ready to leave home).

8:45pm: Midwife arrived at my house and I felt a huge sense of relief. I was ready to give over some control of the situation and take instruction. She checked my dilation, and I mentally prepared myself to hear that I was only 2cm dilated, just in case. After all, it hadn’t been that long, and the pain was still manageable. Turned out I was 5cm!!! Best news ever. She made a few calls, and we all left for the birth center in her car.

9:30pm: Beyond relieved to be at the birthing center. I admit when I got in the car, a part of me was hoping that the whole car trip/arrival at a new location would slow down my contractions, like I had heard. Turns out, nope. Not really. As I walked in, I had to lean over the reception counter and let a contraction pass before I could go any further. Whew.  Once I was in the room I felt so, so happy that I was there. I immediately took off all my clothes, got into the giant tub (which they had started filling with water from the time my midwife called), and felt a huge sense of relief in the water. The setting was perfect, it was just me, Enrique, and my midwife. The room was dimly lit, there were candles, maybe we put on music – I don’t quite remember.

Time started to blur here. I would say I was in the tub for maybe 45 minutes, maybe an hour or longer. The contractions were starting to get pretty serious and much more painful, and I felt (like I had heard it described) as if I needed to take the world’s biggest poop. I decided to get out of the tub and labor on the toilet a while (which was conveniently next to the tub), which worked great. I felt like I was “allowed” to release there, which I think helped unleash all the real action. We weren’t timing anything, but there was much less time between contractions, and they were a lot more intense. Throughout everything, my midwife was monitoring the baby’s heart rate with a handheld doppler, every 15 minutes or so, and Enrique was always right there with me.

Sitting on the toilet became uncomfortable (it was a bit high off the ground), so I switched to the birthing stool. This was perfect. I was on the stool, Enrique was sitting behind me, and I was grasping on to him for dear life and I felt his support. Midwife in front of me. The entire time, she just kept telling me “you’re doing great, listen to your body, go with what you feel, this is going great.” Occasionally she would try to steer me in a certain direction, telling me to try and go toward the pain, and work with it. She was saying this during the most painful parts, when the contractions were really, really intense. Probably around… 11pm. Each contraction was taking over my entire body and just… I don’t know, I felt like everything just wanted to come out, like my eyeballs were ready to pop out of my face and I might throw up. It was a little scary! Her guidance kept me calm between the contractions, and during the contractions, well, I was a screamer.

But I was focused. I could hear her advice, and I could take it. I would repeat her words. “Open, open, going toward the pain,” and stuff like that. I didn’t quite get that I was actually ready to push until she told me a few times in a gentle way “listen to your body, it’s ok to push if you want.” Push? Like push the baby out? Wait, really? After a particularly painful contraction that made me feel like all my limbs were ready to detach themselves from my body, I asked “is this transition?” And she said “This is you delivering the baby, you are ready, just go with what your body is telling you.”

Holy crap. I know, she had said that a few times, but I … I didn’t quite get it! This all hurt a lot, sure, but there wasn’t a single second that I thought “I wish I had pain relief,” and I thought that I should expect even more intense pain than what I was feeling before I would be ready to push. I was using all my energy to be 100% focused on staying on top of the contractions – getting my breathing and mental state ready for when they would come – and I would try to regroup myself mentally and physically during the breaks. There wasn’t really time to think or do anything else.

According to her records, I started pushing at 11:20pm, so only two hours or so after I had arrived. She had me get back in the water around this time, which was exactly the right thing to do. I was able to be on my hands and knees in the tub, which allowed my body to feel like everything was pointing in the right direction. On the birthing stool I had been fighting the urge to throw up, but once I was on my hands and knees, I was 100% focused on pushing and the urge to vomit passed. I am still so grateful that she advised me to do this – because my head was down (there was a towel under my forehead, so I could place it on the edge of the tub against the wall) I was also able to block out looking around at anything else and just focus on the voices of my midwife and Enrique.

I could feel everything so vividly. I could feel the baby’s head come down the birth canal. I could feel the crowning. I could feel her slide back and forth as I tried to push her out – still quite overwhelmed by what I was doing, but feeling incredibly supported and confident with my midwife and Enrique cheering me on. At some point, the midwife had Enrique change his position with hers (they were both outside the tub, leaning over), and put his hands in the water to get ready to receive his daughter. I was aware all this was happening but still completely in disbelief that I was minutes away from delivering.

At the end, I realized I needed to push not only when the contractions were hitting, but also during the “rest.” No one really explained this to me, but I was getting the sense from the way my midwife and Enrique were encouraging me to push that I really should make every effort to get her out, and so I did. Even with all this craziness going on, it was amazing that I still had so much control over how my body was working. Finally, her head came out under the water, and Enrique’s hand was there to catch her. She opened her eyes (this was all told to me, of course) and looked up at him through the water. Two more contractions later, her body came out – god I still remember how that felt. It felt amazing. Painful but… it all felt like it made sense. It was so much to take in and manage, but it was all logical. I know that’s a weird word to use, but that’s the best way I can describe it. And there was so, so much relief.

As she fully exited my body, Enrique’s hands were still holding her. While I tried to process what I just did, the midwife unwrapped the cord from her neck (it was wrapped around one time) while she was still under the water. I turned over into a sitting position, kind of tangled up in the umbilical cord, and it was then that I could exclaim “It’s a GIRL!!” The most perfect little girl, with a head full of dark hair, crying with her amazing little voice. She was placed immediately in my hands, and against my body.

It was insane. I felt like it all happened so fast, but I had no real concept of time, so if someone had told me it had taken 20 hours I would have believed it I believed it.. but in the end my labor was approximately 2.30pm-12.20am, or ten hours. And there I was, with my daughter in my arms, finally meeting her. All I said at first was “oh my god, it’s a girl, it’s Ayla, hello baby.” After just a few minutes I got out of the tub with her, still attached by the cord, and was helped to the bed (which was 2 steps away). Ayla and I weren’t separated at all for the next 2-3 hours. We were both covered with blankets and made to feel as comfortable as possible, and I held her next to my body the entire time. I delivered the placenta with her on my chest. I was checked for tearing with her on my chest (no tearing, and no stitches!). After about an hour or so, we started breastfeeding. It was perfect. The entire situation was just perfect – I couldn’t have scripted it better if I tried.

2015-08-31 19.16.15

An hour or so after the birth, 31 August 2015

We were bought a plate of food and I drank about 15 liters of water and juice (man I was thirsty!) while she laid against me. We didn’t cut the cord from the placenta for a few hours, because there just didn’t seem to be a reason to. The placenta delivery was easy (maybe because I had a wonderful little baby in my arms to distract me!) – I pushed, felt a cramp, and it was out. My midwife showed Enrique and I the placenta, and explained where Ayla had been, and what it had done for us. These hours were amazing.

Around 4am or so, I wanted to get up and shower and move around a bit. I was sore and slightly light-headed, but I was able to get out of bed, shower, walk, get myself dressed (with help), and get back in bed to cuddle with Enrique and Ayla some more. And then we all left, around 5.30am. We could have stayed longer, and it was lovely there, but we wanted to be home. So we packed the bags, called a taxi, put Ayla in the carseat, and walked outside. It was still dark, but just starting to get some hints of daylight. The moon was so big and full. Drunk people were riding by on their bikes, laughing. It felt so perfect to be outside in the fresh air, in the middle of such a beautiful city, on the day of my daughter’s birth.

And then we arrived home, around 6am, and everything about my new life started.

20150907_204537 20150923_140855 IMG_3924 20150919_160838 IMG_3970Ayla Xochitl
Born 30 August 2015 at 12:20am in Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Weight: 2960 grams/6.5 lbs
Length: 50 cm/20 inches

Scenes from the third trimester, summertime in Amsterdam, and some serious nesting

It’s a Saturday morning and I’m online, trying to snag some free things for my new apartment through various groups on facebook. I’ve got one little foot trying to poke between my ribs, and another body part is showing my organs who is In Charge during this, the 9th month of pregnancy. In case my organs were in any doubt, the baby is now doing a little dance and just sort of kicking everything around.

I’m 36 weeks pregnant. Thirty six weeks. Less than 28 days until my due date. This summer in Amsterdam has been hit-or-miss, weather-wise, but today is actually a lovely day, and “Free Stuff Amsterdam” just gifted me panier bike bags and two carry-on suitcases (last week I scored a huge outside storage unit for our backyard). Though careful (read: obsessive) searching, I have managed to furnish our new home almost entirely through second-hand items. A ton of stuff has been free, or I’ve paid flea-market type prices… and we’ve managed to score some seriously good stuff.

We moved into our own 2-bedroom apartment back in June, when I was entering my 7th month of pregnancy. When I say “our own” I mean it – we purchased an apartment. Our former place was an absolutely lovely rental, but with the whole baby-on-the-way thing, we needed something a bit more permanent (and preferably not up 4 flights of stairs). Finding a place to live in Amsterdam (when you don’t have a ton of money) is never fun and never easy, and as we started to look at our options back in the spring, it seemed that the economy or market or whatever had really picked up – we were looking at “free market” (all-inclusive) rentals in the price range of €1,600 p/month in De Baarjes for a 65 sq meter 2-bedroom. Talk about a change from a few years ago. It quickly became obvious that buying was going to be cheaper than renting, so we went down that path. That path was… well … tiring. A bit overwhelming. As if a first-time pregnancy in the Netherlands wasn’t enough of a “here’s a bunch of stuff you never thought of before that you should probably figure out,” buying an apartment was way, way more intense. Actually, if you’re looking for a good distraction from pregnancy, I’d highly recommend buying an apartment.

But we did it. We moved into our new place in Bos en Lommer, and while the buying & moving process came with a lot of stress, I must say I am absolutely delighted with our new little home and our new neighborhood. Everything we need is close by, the neighbors are friendly, and we have a huge-for-a-city backyard! We’re on the first floor (meaning up one flight of stairs) with a front and back balcony, and our back balcony has a staircase that leads down to our backyard (or as the non-americans call it, our “garden”). Adjacent to the garden is a 9 m2 storage room that we’ve renovated to be a guest room/office. We have hibiscus trees, roses, tons of pots to put more plants, and we get sun in the mornings and afternoon. After about a month of work, we also have new floors, a new bathroom (with bathtub), and most of our things are unpacked and have a place. The kitchen was there when we moved in, and I finally have a huge, giant oven. It’s a perfect place for our little family to begin – though if I had to do it again, I would have moved a bit earlier in the pregnancy, if possible. Around 7 months (28 weeks, or the 3rd trimester) it was pretty much exactly when I started to feel more… well, pregnant. I couldn’t keep up anymore. I clearly remember the day when we spent 3-4 hours at Ikea (because of course we had to spend 3-4 hours at Ikea, I don’t know what the hell we got there, but somehow it took that long) and I was heavily relying on the shopping cart to help hold my le upright. I didn’t do any of the harder physical work of moving (thanks to a loving partner and wonderful friends), but the long days of doing stuff were way harder at 28 weeks than it would have been at say, 24-25 weeks.

The third trimester is the real stuff. My belly – which I still really love – is in the way a lot. Rolling over from my left to right side in bed is a way bigger effort. My feet and ankles are more uncomfortably swollen. And heartburn! I never really knew what heartburn or acid reflux meant before, and well, now I do. I’ve had to dramatically change the way I eat – I feel like there is just no more room inside of me for food anyway, and if I eat within 3 hours of going to bed the heartburn will torture me all night. So my meals are much, much smaller (and my appetite is fairly non-existent, which is a huge change from the previous 8 months where I had the ability to eat like a teenage boy). I stopped drinking orange juice and eating tomatoes and other acidic type foods. The heartburn thing started up around week 34 and while I can mostly keep it under control with some dietary changes, I’ve also become rather good at sleeping in a almost-sitting-up position. I can’t lay comfortably on my back anymore – that stopped around week 33 – and I miss that so much. Pre-natal massages are a godsend. I’m still riding my bike, but I have a feeling I’ll probably stop in the next week or two. In terms of exercise, I’m still doing yoga and trying to walk as much as I can.

I had an “extra” scan at 32 weeks which my midwife advised awhile back – she wanted to check on the growth of the baby, and the technician had told me she wanted to make sure my placenta had moved into the right place (it was a bit low during the 20-week scan, but nothing to worry about). My insurance covered this extra scan because it was ordered by the midwife, and I was thrilled to have another look a the baby. Development-wise, everything was perfectly in order. We still don’t know the sex, but at the father’s request, we did see the baby’s head and chest in 3D. I always thought 3D ultrasounds were creepy and the babies looked like waxy aliens, but oh MAN when it’s my own little waxy alien it turns out it is the best thing in the world, and obviously my baby was also already perfectly adorable at 32 weeks old. Assuming the rest of the pregnancy proceeds normally, I’m still aiming to give birth med-free, hopefully in water, and outside the hospital environment.

I’m addicted to watching birth documentaries. Like other natural-birth hopefuls, I’ve discovered Ina May Glaskin’s books and am devouring everything she’s ever written. I’m oddly not scared of the pain, which I credit to the fact that I have no idea what I’m in for. I am nervous, yes… but the more pregnant I get, the more I realize that I am not going to be able to script out my birth. First, again, I have no idea what giving birth is like. I see videos of women giving birth and I sit here with my giant pregnant belly and wonder how on earth it’s possible, even though in theory I’m only a few weeks away from doing it myself. Second, though I still enjoy pregnancy (even with the new aches and pains), I’m getting more excited about meeting this little person inside me and being a mom. However the baby is born, as long as he or she is healthy and I’m in a safe place, it’s all going to be ok.


2nd trimester, centering pregnancy, and some birth options in Amsterdam

Once I started telling more friends about the pregnancy (around the 13th week), things started to get a lot more fun. I was still feeling good physically – and after all the first-trimester paranoia started to subside, I also started to feel a lot more calm. I let the idea go that “something might happen!” and just let myself enjoy the pregnancy fully. It really was so much fun to tell people, and with every “congratulations!” I heard I felt happier and happier. I was feeling really good about my choice of midwife and optimistic about starting centering pregnancy.

Centering pregnancy is the idea that instead of meeting one-on-one with your midwife once a month for a checkup, you meet with a group of women who are all more or less in the same stage of pregnancy as you are – and the group is lead/run by midwives. These group meetings take about 2 – 2 1/2 hours, and while the midwives lead the agenda, the idea is that us pregnant ladies talk to each other and share knowledge. For me, the most important advantage was the opportunity to get to know other pregnant women in Amsterdam. Everything else about the group setting was fine, but choosing this type of environment was a decision I made 90% for social reasons. Still, I was a little apprehensive – first off, I was nervous about the language. I really, really didn’t want to be the only foreigner or be the only one who couldn’t speak Dutch. And I didn’t think it would be fair at all to ask everyone to switch to english just to accommodate me (this happens a lot in Amsterdam), I didn’t even want the idea to be suggested. I also just had no idea if I’d like it, if I’d get along with the people, if I’d enjoy the vibe. But I was optimistic, and I was really focused on all the social advantages.

In the first meeting, we realized that almost half of the group was non-dutch. Other than myself, there’s four other non-dutchies (most women are from other EU countries). The other half of the women are Dutch, and they were all completely at ease speaking English in that way that Amsterdammers are. Phew. We turned out to be a pretty diverse group – three (out of ten) were second-time moms, the rest of us were on our first baby. There are a few married couple, some long-term partnered folks (like myself), and a few who had no intention to get pregnant and had been with their current partners for very short periods of time. I learned some women had been trying for years, others were completely surprised, others had planned it all out and easily conceived when they wanted, others had a history of miscarriage, etc. Really, just in the ten of us you could see all types of pregnancies and hear ten different versions of how our births were going to be. It was yet another reminder of something you hear a lot as a pregnant woman: every pregnancy is different.

Here’s a brief rundown about how it works in my centering pregnancy meetings: There are two midwives (and one in training) for our group – the same two at every meeting. We all get a short exam with a midwife, where they check the position of the baby, listen to the heartbeat with a doppler, ask how we’re feeling, etc. We meet in a big room, so this isn’t a very private affair. This part takes about 5-10 minutes per person, depending. While everyone is taking their turns with the “exam” portion, the rest of us chat, take our blood pressure, and weigh ourselves if we want. In the Netherlands, midwives no longer routinely weigh pregnant women during checkups – there’s a scale available if we want to use it, but it’s not a “must.” Actually, nothing is a “must,” you also have the option to not hear the heartbeat. Once everyone (or almost everyone) has had their check with the midwife, we sit in a circle and start the group meeting. For everyone that didn’t get checked before the meeting, those women stay a bit later and get checked at the end. The meetings will cover about three or four topics, and we inevitably run out of time while we’re still talking. Sometimes we break into smaller groups with a list of questions to discuss, sometimes we’ll talk as one big group about certain topics. In two of our meetings, we decided to invite all the partners as well.

I’m writing this while I’m 25 weeks pregnant, and I’ve been to four centering pregnancy meetings. I had to miss one while I was on vacation, but I was able to “make it up” by having a one-on-one meeting with my midwife when I returned. Overall, I’m really, really happy with centering pregnancy – I think most of the women who chose this sort of thing have some need to be with a group of women, rather than just one-on-one with our midwives. Just having that one thing in common was enough to build upon, and I do indeed feel like I’m forming some real friendships – which will hopefully last until well after our babies are all here.

Cycling in AmsterdamAs for how my city affects my pregnancy? So far – again writing this toward the end of my second trimester – it’s pretty wonderful place to pregnant. I have been very happily surprised to discover that pregnancy and birth are really not exactly like all the stories I have heard. Let me elaborate on that…

The Netherlands is featured in pretty much any documentary or article or show about home births in the “developed” world, and often in a really positive light, making it seem like a home birth utopia from outside. From the inside, foreigners have this idea that everyone has a home birth, and everyone has a midwife, and midwives all do things only one way and if you think you might want to use an epidural everyone will tell you no and you really have to fight for your rights and man, these crazy dutch people and their lack of giving out real medicine, what is wrong with them?

Here’s a bit of how it actually is, from my perspective.

First, the health care system in the NL is far, far from perfect – and I could write pages about why that is – but if you look at the statistics it is true that this is one of the wealthiest counties in the world and the health care is top-notch. Everyone is covered by insurance, by law, and insurance covers full prenatal, birth, and postnatal care. So the NL is already starting out from a place of advantage. Second, the home birth rates in the Netherlands may be the highest in the quote-unquote developed world, but still, in 2009 it was 29% of all births that took place at home (and that number has dropped further, these days I think it’s about 20%). If you ask ten random women on the street in Amsterdam if they had a home birth, most will say no. It’s not an overwhelming majority of women that chose to give a home birth here in Amsterdam, it’s not even a slight majority. It’s a minority. However, it is very true that “midwives are the primary caregivers for all low-risk births….  the system is fully integrated with midwives and doctors working together instead of in competition” (more here). Everyone I know personally has a midwife, not an OB/GYN – but midwife does not automatically equal home birth. Home births are indeed an option, but having an un-medicated hospital birth, an epidural-assisted birth, a birthing center birth, etc., are also all options. Deciding on one thing and then changing your mind is also an option. Deciding on one thing and then having the labor go a different way is of course also something that happens. And there are so many different types of midwife practices in Amsterdam and you are allowed to chose whatever practice you want. Sure, it’s easier to pick one super close to your house. But if you want to bike a whole 3 km (or 5km, or whatever) to a practice a little further away because you liked their vibe more, that is allowed. This is such a densely populated city that it’s really hard to be “far” from a midwife practice that will work for you.

When you’re at the beginning of your pregnancy you may not understand this in such black & white terms (especially if you’re a foreigner who comes from a country where this whole “choice” thing isn’t really promoted): if you decide that you’d like to give birth at home or in a birthing center, you are also deciding to not have any strong pain medication (or medical induction with pitocin) available to you. Midwives, doulas, etc., can not administer epidurals or pitocin. They are not doctors. There are lots of unmedicated ways that midwives will teach you to deal with pain, and at the Birthing Center in Amsterdam they also offer gas (nitrous oxide) to help, but if you think that going unmedicated is not an attractive option, then your option is hospital birth. And that’s totally fine – many, many, many dutch women chose this option. Despite what we (foreigners) might have been made to believe from stories/movies/etc, hospital births with some sort of medication are routinely practiced in the Netherlands simply because that is the choice of the mother. You can be enjoying the most straight-forward, healthy, low-risk pregnancy that once could possibly have, but still deliver in a hospital with an epidural, and no one should tell you that’s not okay. That doesn’t mean you won’t work with a midwife, and it doesn’t mean it will be cold and sterile, and it doesn’t mean … anything, other than you’ll be giving birth in a hospital, where a trained anesthesiologist can give you an epidural shot if you chose to have one.

However, what you may start to feel over your pregnancy – especially if you (like me) are having zero complications, problems, or risks – is that this whole idea of unmedicated birth (at home or birthing center) starts to seem more and more attractive. And maybe that’s because your midwife tells you about 70% of her clients chose to deliver at home. Maybe it’s because you decided to visit the birth center and fell in love with the atmosphere (like me). Maybe it’s because after you’re done with the paranoid stage of pregnancy and you’re 25 weeks along and everything is going super well, you start to have more and more belief that yeah, you can totally pull off an unmedicated birth. Maybe it’s because your midwife is entirely confident (though not pushy! get rid of anyone who is pushy) about helping you through an unmedicated birth and you have built up more and more trust her her over time. Maybe you discovered hybnobirthing and believe that words like “pain” and “contraction” have no place in your pregnancy. Whatever the case may be, the choice is 100% yours. Will your midwife be a bit more biased toward one end of things? Maybe. She’s human. Are you more biased toward one end of things? Probably. Just remember, this is your birth, no one else’s. You make the decisions, and your midwife is there to support, guide, and help when needed. If you do not feel supported, then see a new midwife. Period. The huge advantage to having a baby here in Amsterdam is that you have all of these incredible options available to you – home birth, birth center, incredibly well-rated hospitals – so take advantage of the fact that you have a choice, and do what is best. If something doesn’t seem right, advocate for yourself. That same advice applies anywhere you are in the world, really, so there’s no reason for it to not apply in the Netherlands.

Road trip in Southern Spain, May 2015

Road trip in Southern Spain, May 2015 – 23 weeks pregnant

At the moment, in my 25th week of my (so far) incredibly easy pregnancy, I’ve decided I want to give birth at the Birthing Center in the Oud West. I might change my mind in week 39 – maybe I’ll decide that not having access to an epidural is way to stressful. Or maybe I’ll be so comforted in my own home and I’ll have candles and music and whatever, and I’ll decide I just want to stay home. Honestly, it’s still pretty hard to really wrap my mind around this whole giving-birth thing, and the fact that I really am going to, you know, do that. Whatever I ultimately end up deciding, I will make 100% sure that my midwife has my back and will be wherever I end up giving birth to advocate for me (my midwife practice also offers this, which is a bit more like a doula service). If for some reason I wasn’t getting this type of reassurance from my midwife, I’d probably be looking for a doula – and it seems very easy to find an english-speaking Doula in Amsterdam.

For me, these are good days. I’m getting bigger every day, and I like my belly. I’m still really comfortable cycling, though standing (still) for longer periods of time (longer than say, 3 minutes) is getting rather uncomfortable. I try to get to yoga three times a week and enjoy the nicer weather whenever the nicer weather presents itself in this city. I’ve been wearing a combination of maternity clothes and normal clothes, but I’m starting to have to put more and more of my normal clothes aside. I’m sleeping fairly well, usually getting up about once a night to pee – not so bad. I’m a bit obsessive with soaking up as much information as I can about the whole birthing process, but I’m also insanely distracted by work and buying a house, so I feel pretty balanced. Best part of all: the baby moves all the time inside me, and those kicks and twists are really one of the best feelings in the world. I’m starting to learn his or her rhythms – he/she usually falls asleep if I’m in a yoga class and doing the good, regular breathing, and then will wake up again as soon as class is ending. Sometimes it’s fine if I lay on my back, other times the baby will make it very clear that he/she is not comfortable and I need to roll over. And almost every time I get on my bike, he/she falls asleep for the ride. The idea that some months from now, I’ll be one of those moms in Amsterdam, riding my bike around with a sleeping baby in the “front seat”, makes my heart all warm. That is one of the cutest things, something I noticed 10 years ago when I came to this city as a tourist for the first time. But I get it now, a bit. I get how the babies can manage to fall asleep, even in the rain/wind/whatever, when they ride around on bikes. If they were born in Amsterdam, they’ve been doing it pretty much every day since they were a tiny embryo.


Having a baby in Amsterdam: the first trimester, and how to get started

It was mid-January, and I was hanging out in a small apartment in Brooklyn, eating an absolutely delicious bagel and trying to figure out how one goes about this whole having-a-baby thing. I had probably already eaten a big bowl of cereal as well, I was ravenous and about 7 weeks pregnant. My situation felt a bit surreal – sitting in New York (where I’m from) and trying to figure out how to get started with the whole pregnancy thing in Amsterdam. It wasn’t as if I could ask my other New Yorker friends for their advice, and I felt a bit disconnected from Amsterdam (after being away for almost 7 weeks at that point on an extended vacation). I started with what I knew.

In the Netherlands, the default is working with a midwife, not an ob/gyn. The idea is that doctors are for sick people, and pregnant women (with low-risk pregnancies) are not sick. This sounds painfully practical (in that so-dutch way), and …. well, it makes a lot of sense. If you can get behind this idea without too much effort, the first step – after you’ve confirmed pregnancy – is to pick a midwife. I think the general rule of thumb is that the first visit happens around 8-10 weeks, but you might want to go in for “consultation” meetings before that (where you just learn about the practice, etc.).

But how?? How does one just pick a midwife? Are there rules? Isn’t this a super-important decision? Will I be able to find a midwife that is okay with speaking English? Where do I even begin? This is all covered by my dutch health care insurance, right? What kind of insurance do I have, anyway? Just a few of the question that ran through my mind as I watched the snow fall in New York.

I googled for awhile, and then I gathered up the guts to email one of my non-dutch-mom-friends in Amsterdam to tell her that I was pregnant and had no idea how to get started and to please give me advice. This was well before I was comfortable spreading the news of pregnancy, but really, you’ve got to have a bit of help. My mom-friend responded quickly with all sorts of really helpful information, and google filled in the rest.

The rule about picking a midwife is pretty simple: pick one close to your house that you like. Do some research, see which midwife practices appeal to you, and see if you can have an “intro” no-commitment meeting (that I refer to as a consultation). Very do-able, right? I started researching. I used google Chrome a lot when looking at midwife websites for instant translations. I learned some things that I didn’t like, and decided to stay away from them. For instance, the idea of going to a midwife practice where I would see a different midwife every time? Not appealing at all. 15-minute meetings once a month with a variety of different care providers was not my idea of pre-natal care, and even though some other expat-type blogs had me believe that was The Way It Works, I figured that surely there would be a midwife practice that suits my needs. And indeed there was – I discovered Vive Vroedvrouw, and immediately loved what I read on their english language page. Right there, in perfect english, was a description of “typical” midwife care in the NL (“group practices, usually with around 4-5 midwives …a lot of different faces during your pregnancy … a fair chance of hardly knowing the midwife who will attend your birth … The consultations last 10 to 15 minutes maximum“). And then there was a description of the care that they offer and why. The parts that mattered most to me at the beginning was simply “One personal (primary) midwife instead of various midwives as seen in a group practice….Each prenatal appointment will be 60 mins, ensuring more than enough time to pay attention to any emotional, and where desired, spiritual aspects of your pregnancy.”

I sent an email to their general address, telling them when I thought I was expecting and asking a few questions. I didn’t get a reply, so I sent another email directly to a few of the individual midwives listed on the contact page. I had a reply from within a couple days from a midwife telling me she was available to have a consultation meeting around the start of my 9th week of pregnancy. She would be able to refer me for an ultrasound at this meeting as well, and Enrique was more than welcome to join. I told myself to calm down and be patient (ha!) and that there was nothing wrong with waiting until the 9th week for this consultation meeting, even though in the US the idea is that women go to their OB/GYN pretty much as soon as they find out they have a positive pregnancy test. To be honest, the consultation meeting couldn’t really happen any earlier, since I was out of town. I decided not to schedule any other consultations while I was still in NYC, that it would be better to have the first one and see what it was like.

I flew back to Amsterdam on the 20th of January, and a few days later Enrique and I went together for the consultation. This was all so completely new and weird for us, but I had a really good feeling from the beginning, just being at the WG-plein in the Oud West. Crazily enough, it was at a party in the WG-plein where I had first met Enrique. The Oud West was one of the first neighborhoods that I really knew in Amsterdam. The office was close to my house (1.5 km away – a six minute bike ride or 20 minute walk). So far, so good.

The three of us met in a small, comfortable room. We sat on pillows on the floor and were offered tea. We spoke for a little over an hour, and I asked as many questions as I could think of. She gave me a few books (in english) about the pregnancy process in the Netherlands (this was so valuable!). We didn’t make any commitments that day – Enrique and I went home to think about it, and decided pretty easily that we were quite happy with the practice and with the midwife we had met. Fortunately, she also agreed that we would be nice clients to work with, and the deal was set. I had a midwife. A sweet, Dutch midwife who had worked with many other foreigners before, and who seemed to love her job. I chose to work with her because that’s what felt right at the time – there really isn’t much more to it than that and I decided there wasn’t any reason to over-complicate things by visiting other places. At the consultation, she had written me a referral for three ultrasounds – one at nine weeks, one for 12 weeks, and one for 20 weeks. All ultrasounds in the Netherlands are optional, so if you don’t want them, no one will force you to have one. My insurance covered the first and the 20-week ultrasound, but I had to pay for the 12-week “combination test” ultrasound out of pocket since I was under 36 years old (I  missed the age limit by about six months). The combination test was about €150. But let’s stay on track and go in order.

That first ultrasound… I was so nervous. I was nervous for days beforehand, I was nervous that day, and I was nervous about everything. Like – name the most remote possibility on earth, and I can assure you I thought of it and dedicated time to being nervous about it. I was 9 weeks and 5 days when I walked into the Echo Amsterdam office.

Like most people in Amsterdam, the woman who greeted me at the office was absolutely fine with speaking english. I gave her my referral, told her my name and birthdate, and showed her my insurance card. About 3 minutes later, Enrique and I were called in the room. I don’t remember much about the details – I remember being surprised that it was a trans-vaginal scan (“to see the baby more easily” explained the tech), but later learned that this is entirely normal at the early stages of pregnancy when the baby is still so small. And then I remember holding Enrique’s hand very tightly and seeing up there on a huge screen the evidence I had been so incredibly eager to see: there was the baby! A few minutes later, we heard the heartbeat. We saw movement. The tech took measurements, pointed things out, and told us everything looked perfectly normal. After we wiped the happy tears out of our eyes and collected the printed photos (and digital copies on a USB), I saw another woman who quickly and expertly drew blood that would be used for the combination test in two weeks time. I was on a pregnancy high for at least another week or so – Enrique and I must have stared at those ultrasound photos for hours. It all finally seemed real.

My next midwife appointment took place when I was 11 1/2 weeks along, and this was my first “official” appointment. This time my midwife asked me detailed questions about my health, my history, took my blood pressure, and also took a sample of blood. Enrique joined me again for this one too, and we spent a good amount of time talking about the upcoming combination test scan, what kind of results we may get, etc. By the time this appointment had rolled around, my pregnancy “high” was in a battle with pregnancy paranoia. I saw the 12 week ultrasound as another big benchmark to cross, and looming in the near future was that magical 14-week mark, where the first trimester is over. I doubt I’m the first pregnant lady to feel paranoid about “what if….”, and I bought up some of those “what if” thoughts at the appointment. We chatted about everything, and she listened patiently and assured me that even by 11 1/2 weeks, my chances at miscarrying were already incredibly low. She was entirely unconcerned about my age (35). This appointment lasted well over an hour, and Enrique and I left feeling great. This was exactly the kind of pre-natal care I wanted and needed. I never felt rushed, and I felt that my midwife did care about me as a person, not just “patient 9837.” Again, I’m positive she has heard the same paranoid thoughts from hundreds of women in the past – but she never made me ridiculous or just brushed me off with literature.

I’ll be talking more about how valuable this part of pre-natal care has been through the whole process later on.

I went for ultrasound #2 when I was 12 weeks and 3 days, and everything on the scan was perfect. The baby really looked like a baby, and less like a tadpole (the head was more proportional to the body and we could see legs). They checked for markers of down syndrome and saw nothing visibly alarming about the development. Here’s where I’m going to get a bit emotional: seeing the baby up on the screen moving around and hearing the heartbeat was all I needed to see/hear to know that no matter what, everything was absolutely perfect. It was maybe my first moment of having a significantly strong feeling of just “knowing” something. When we got ready to leave the office, the tech explained that if the combination tests came back from the lab with nothing to be concerned about, the results would be sent directly to be via postal mail in roughly five days. If there was anything at all to worry about, they would send the results instead to my midwife, who would contact me to explain everything. As I mentioned previously, I had to pay about €150 for this test, which included the scan, bloodwork, and lab results. If you are over 36 years old, your insurance plan should cover this test completely.

I don’t know why, but I wasn’t worried at all. I didn’t obsessively check the mail. I didn’t worry that every time my phone rang it was bad news. I knew everything was fine. Just three days later my test results came in the mail (combination testing means a combination of the scan, my blood, and my age), confirming I was right. A 1/5000 chance of this, a 1/2500 of that – basically, we seemed to be in the clear. I very much appreciated that the letters were sent to me in english so I didn’t have to go through the process of translating anything – I never specifically thought to request this, but was grateful that someone along the way thought to put that request in.

Everything I mentioned above is more about the logistics. Now here’s a bit more about how it all felt.

During my first trimester, I didn’t feel so much more tired than I normally feel in the dead middle of winter when it’s dark and cold outside. My “symptoms” included bigger (and very sensitive) boobs and needing to pee a lot more during the night for about 2 months. And sure, those two months of needing to pee 4 times a night weren’t fun – it was pretty annoying to never get a full night of sleep. But that was really the extent of “signs that I am pregnant.” I never really had morning sickness or threw up, just a few weeks of very low-grade nausea  that was usually solved by eating and relaxing a bit. Even that low-grade nausea was gone by my 9th week… honestly, if I had no idea I was pregnant, it was the type of nausea that I might not have even noticed. I thought it was going to be more… intense? I thought I’d maybe feel more? I also had no idea what “feeling pregnant” was supposed to feel like, I just know that I really wasn’t feeling it for the first 12 weeks. I mean really, for the first three or four months, I knew I had this little life growing inside me – I read the weekly updates from babycenter, I saw the scans, I heard the heartbeat. But I didn’t get how there could be a little life inside me with a beating heart and organs and hands and legs without me feeling any different, other than uncomfortable because I was outgrowing all the bigger bras I had bought only 1.5 months ago. I’m kinda over-emphasizing this because if you read The Internet you’ll see a bazilllion articles about morning sickness, tiredness, moodiness, and a bunch of other unpleasant things. All I really had to show for my first trimester was a new collection of bras.

Sometime around 13 weeks or so I finally started to tell my friends and extended family, and everything started to seem more real. All the early-stage paranoia started to fade away and just turn into excitement. Around 15 weeks – once I got into my second trimester – my belly started to look a bit more bump-like (at least to me and Enrique) instead of just bloated. I wasn’t comfortable in my old jeans anymore and lived in leggings and dresses, and this is when I finally started to “feel pregnant.” Even though I enjoyed my first trimester, I also had my uber-paranoid moments, my sessions with google to figure out every single possible thing that might possibly go wrong and plenty of time where I just freaked myself out for zero reason. I think that’s all really normal. The only advice I would have wanted someone to tell me is this “You’re going to be a great mother and I bet all pregnant women feel the same way. And by the way, you look wonderful.”

If you are the friend or partner of a pregnant lady and she is telling you about a feeling that seems completely absurd, please don’t tell her she’s being crazy or give her that “wow, you’re nuts” look. And don’t tell her “that will never happen,” as I promise you, she probably has three bookmarks saved where that thing did happen. Tell her what I said above. I promise that some logical part of her knows she’s being a little nuts, and I promise, this phase will pass.


My next midwife appointment was in my 13th week, and this is where things got interesting. Centering Pregnancy had started.