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.


Apparently, I’m having a baby in Amsterdam

After an amazing six weeks in Mexico, followed by two weeks in New York City, I returned home to Amsterdam in late January. I bought a bottle of Trader Joe’s folic acid pills with me. I was about 8 weeks pregnant – first pregnancy, first baby.

My main residence for the past seven years has been Amsterdam, though my commitment level to the city has waxed and waned over the years. The first 3-ish years, I was super committed. I spent a lot of time, energy (and money) to sponsor myself for a visa that allowed me the right to work as a freelancer, and gathered enough clients to support myself with work. I built up a great community of friends and built a pretty solid home base. Even though I lived in Florence for a couple of months, I always knew that would be a temporary thing.

After about 4 years or so, I was in a slump with Amsterdam. The weather, man. It wears on a person after that many years. Work was going well, but did I really want to work in advertising forever? I never learned the Dutch because I honestly never really cared enough to learn the language – doesn’t that say something? I mean, I left the Netherlands for two months in order to study Italian for 30+ hours a week in Italy for two months (for no real reason), but I don’t think I can say I spent 30 hours in five years trying to learn Dutch. Plus: my partner, the person I was in a committed long-term relationship with, had the exact same commitment issues I did with Amsterdam… only his were even worse. He had been coming and going since the late ’90s, but never really planning to live here long-term (even though one could argue that 12+ years in a city is fairly long term). We both spent a year in Mexico in 2012-2013, and contemplated making that a permanent re-location.

But there was always that thing that Amsterdam could do… give me one beautiful spring/summer/fall day here and suddenly I have no idea why I ever thought about leaving in the first place. The bikes, the friends, the weirdos, the seemingly unlimited amount of things to do which were all completely accessible and affordable, the absurd beauty of the city itself and all those canals… this is what has kept me around, and part of what bought us back. So it’s weird that even now, after 7 years of paying taxes in the Netherlands, I never really integrated myself into the culture. Amsterdam never needed me to integrate in order to give me an amazing life.

The neverending summer skies in Amsterdam. Living around so much water is wonderful.

The never-ending summer skies in Amsterdam. Living around so much water is wonderful.

Summertime in a city park in Amsterdam

Summertime in a city park in Amsterdam

Shouldn’t that be a complete shame? When I lived in Paris, I had french friends (along with a lot of foreign friends, sure). I struggled daily to speak French, but I always did when I was out. I took classes, I learned about the food, the culture, the people, the traditions, the “rules.” I greeted every bus driver with a “bonjour”, accepted that bread, jam, coffee, and juice was a full breakfast that for some reason cost €8, and learned to always inquire on discounts for being under 26-years old, for anything. Later on, during the two months I spent in Italy, I enjoyed learning about Italian culture and adapting to the Italian way of doing things. I traveled on the slow trains to save money, realized it was possible to (at least try) charm my way out of or into situations, and never drank cappuccino after 11am. The more I learned the language, the more doors opened up to me, and I loved it. In Mexico I did the same thing. I ate huge lunches and light dinners, I learned Mexican slang, expressions, and food. I put chili and lime on ice cream. I made friends with Mexicans who don’t have any idea what my personality is like in English. I became interested and involved in Mexican stuff – the holidays, traditions, etc. Every time I moved to a new country, the more I immersed myself in the culture, the richer my experience became.

Mexican Lunch in Puebla - enchiladas

This is about 4x the size of an average Dutch lunch. It was not hard to adjust.

I don’t know why that’s not true in the Netherlands. I have about a million more thoughts about the topic, but for now I’ll just leave it as a fact: my life in Amsterdam is amazing, rich, full of love, but I am in absolutely no way living a “Dutch” lifestyle, if one can even say there is a “dutch” lifestyle in Amsterdam (and let’s be clear: Amsterdam is Amsterdam, and in no way representative of Dutch culture as a whole in the Netherlands). Well, I can ride a broken-down bicycle over a sheet of ice in the rain while carrying a dining room chair, but other than that, I’ve chosen to entirely disregard a lot of the traditions, culture, and customs here.

I do love the poffertjes (small, thick pancakes) available in the markets

I also love the poffertjes (small, thick pancakes) available in the markets.

And yet Enrique and I are buying an apartment and having our baby in Amsterdam. I’m 22 weeks (more than halfway there!) pregnant, and both of us knew from the minute that pregnancy test turned positive that we would have the baby in Amsterdam. So. There was a lot – a LOT – to learn. The reality of having a baby super far from our families started to seem a little weird. What about cousins, uncles, aunts, grandmas and grandpas? I thought about my own childhood, and how much I absolutely adored and loved both sets of my grandparents. I’m used to living abroad, to maintaining my childhood friendships with visits every few years and skype and emails. But I’m completely missing getting to know my niece and nephew (1 & 3) in California, and now my baby will miss getting to know his or her cousins. Whew. But ok, breathe. My kid is also going to have a million advantages. He or she will grow up tri-lingual, in a city where being a tri-lingual six-year-old isn’t really even that weird. He/she will grow up in a really safe, beautiful city where the system more or less works (at least it works better than it would in the US or Mexico) – we’ll always have access to health care and schools. Both Enrique and I have friends with kids, and we’ll make more. We’ll learn Dutch, dammit, this time for real. My kid will grow up with a passport from birth (I got my first passport when I was 21), and will travel to new countries and continents as a normal part of life. He or she will be riding a bike (with me or Enrique) from a few months old. We’ll make visits back to our home countries and our families will come to visit us. We’ll rent out our apartment when we travel to subsidize our plane tickets.

It's stuff like this that can make a place feel like home, even if it is pouring rain outside.

It’s stuff like this that can make a place feel like home, even if it is pouring rain outside.

Those are among the types of thoughts I had in January and February, during my first trimester.

I was nervous. Nervous about approaching the Dutch medical system after spending so many years as an outsider. Nervous, suddenly, that not speaking the language would be a huge disadvantage. Nervous because there are so many stories from foreigners about their (negative) experiences. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was so insanely lucky. This baby was indeed a wanted baby, and I didn’t have any issues getting pregnant. I wasn’t sick at all during my whole first trimester. I knock wood as I write, this, but I’m having (so far) a completely easy, fun, exciting pregnancy… so there’s a huge reason to feel lucky.

Beyond that, I have been abroad for almost ten years now, and I don’t have one idea in my head that “this is the way it works” when you’re pregnant – and I think this is an advantage. I didn’t witness a lot of friends having kids in the US – or if I did, it was from afar. I do not think that the US or Mexico are shining, fantastic examples of countries that Do It Right. So I told myself to be open. Be open to the Dutch Way. See how it goes. Take it one step at a time. Start at the beginning. Wait, so where do I even begin?

Ok, number one: find a midwife.

Holbox, Mexico: the logistics

Where is it and why?

Well, it’s an absolutely beautiful Mexican island with almost no cars whatsoever in the Caribbean sea, so the “why” you should go to Holbox (pronounced: Hol-bosch) is a pretty easy one. But let’s start at the beginning.

Sunset in Holbox.

Eh, looks alright I guess.

Right after Christmas, Enrique and I were spending some time with his family – brothers, sisters, parents, nephews, nieces, in Cancun for four days. We stayed right in the middle of the hotel strip at a nice hotel with a great view. I had a wonderful time with his family and the ocean was great. But to be perfect honest: I really dislike Cancun itself in almost every way. It’s not my “type” of place to begin with, which is fine – everyone has their style – but I was surprised at exactly how much I hated most things about the place. I thought for sure I’d find something redeeming, right? I mean, it’s not as if I am immune to the powers of a nice hotel and clean beaches. It turns out that Cancun is actually even worse than I imagined and had exactly two redeeming qualities: I was with excellent company (Enrique’s family are wonderful people), and the showers had plenty of hot water and great water pressure.

The food was awful and expensive pretty much everywhere, and this is a tragedy. It is a tragedy to be in Mexico and eat awful food. It is a tragedy to ask for an “agua de sabor” and be told there are no flavored waters – not even jamaica – but they can give me a limonada (sparkling water with lime juice and sugar) for roughly 4 euros. I was anticipating the “expensive” part, but was not prepared for eating the same type of “Mexican” food that I could find in the Netherlands. The service in restaurants was also awful, which is another not-typical thing – I’m used to having friendly, quick, delightful service in Mexico (hey, tip culture, that’s what happens). There was no fresh juice on offer anywhere (another unheard-in-Mexico thing for me), only bottled. I’ll make another tragic statement: the best meal quality and service-wise I had the entire time was at a mall. A mall restaurant where some guy was walking around with giant sombreros offering to take pictures with people. The kind of kitchy Mexican restaurant you would except to find in any American mall. Except we were in Mexico.

I detested how tall the hotels were, and how they blocked out the sun after 3pm when I was on the beach. The landscape was ruined, the beaches were tiny and receding. To put it simply, other than hearing Mexican-accented english, I would have no idea that Cancun is even in Mexico. It could be Florida, California, Texas, or any other random place in the world.

Anyway, this is just a bit of backstory to how we ended up in Holbox. I knew we would be in Cancun until the 30th of December, and I knew we wanted to spend New Years Eve on a beach somewhere, and that somewhere should be within a 5-6 hour bus ride of Cancun. I also knew that we were not the only two people in Mexico to come up with the idea of “be on a beach for New Years Eve,” so we started planning this out WAY ahead of time. After a ton of research on places all over Yucatán and Quintana Roo, I found Holbox. It seemed to be the anti-Cancun. A tiny island with about 1,500 residents. Popular activities seemed to include swimming with whale sharks, looking at birds, doing nothing, and chilling out. The Lonely Planet description pretty much nailed what I was looking for. Enrique had never been to Holbox and didn’t really know anything about it. So, that’s the story of why we chose Holbox, and we chose very, very wisely. Go to Holbox if you want the anti-Cancun atmosphere.

One way to kill a few hours in Holbox

One way to kill a few hours in Holbox

Perfect white sand beaches

Perfect white sand beaches and kite flying.

I would personally avoid the Island during hurricane season (if the storms get very bad, even most of the residents will evacuate) and I’d also avoid it during rainy reason. Rainy season will bring a lot more heat, way more mosquitoes, and very muddy “roads.”

How we got there:

Isla Holbox is about 3.5 – 5.5 hours from downtown Cancun, depending on how lucky you are with traffic and bus/ferry schedules. Here’s how we got there:

1. From the hotel strip in Cancun, we took a bus to the downtown Cancun bus station. This was about 40 minutes (more or less, depending on traffic). The bus ride was easy and there’s no reason to take a super expensive taxi.

2. Once at the station, we bought bus tickets to Chiquila – the port city that will get you to Holbox. We had to stand on line for a solid 20 minutes to get tickets, so alllllwwwwaaaaaaaays leave yourself time when traveling in Mexico. Fortunately our bus was ready to leave about 5 minutes after we got tickets.

3. Our bus ride from Cancun to Chiquila was uneventful. Getting there took over 4 hours. The bus stopped several times when we passed through the smaller towns, and a couple times people came on board to sell food (which I welcomed – turns out I was the kind of pregnant woman who needed to eat every 3 hours). There are no bathrooms on the buses and no bathroom breaks along the way. Use the bathroom at the bus station (cost: $5 MXN) before you leave.

4. We eventually arrived at the end of the line and got off in Chiquila. I quickly found a bathroom at one of the restaurants, and then we walked over to the ferries. This is impossible to miss, there’s only one real direction to go, and most people are going the same way, so just follow the crowd. It’s a roughly 5 minute walk, max.

5. We bought a ticket for the ferry (roughly $100 MXN one-way, if I’m remembering correctly). We went with the ferries that had both inside and outside seating, and plenty of space for luggage. There are also small boats that fisherman operate that you can chose to hire. I don’t think there’s really any real “posh” option, but our boat was just fine.

6. We said goodbye to the mainland and took a 30-40 minute ride over the lagoon to Isla Holbox. I didn’t feel seasick at all – these are calm waters, and the boats are rather fast. It doesn’t feel like sailing. I’ve been seasick before on sailboats, and I was a month into pregnancy at the time, so I feel pretty safe saying that unless you are extremely sensitive, you don’t have to worry about sea-sickness.

7. Upon arriving on the island around dusk, we were greeted with palm trees and sand and sun and everything else you would expect an island to have. And absolutely no cars or paved roads. I was in heaven. There were bicycles and golf-cart style “taxis” for transportation. We jumped in a golf cart taxi and got to our hostel (with all our stuff) for about $30 MXN. The taxi drivers seem to know all the hotels/hostels, so there’s no need to worry about that. We traveled down the dirt roads and I immediately felt like I was back in Mexico.

8. To return we basically did the same thing in reverse. There is no need to purchase tickets in advance for either the buses or the ferries.

TIPS: When you leave Holbox to go back to the mainland, there are two different ferry companies leaving from the port. There’s no visible difference in quality between the two (they are both totally fine and offer inside and outside seating), just be sure you get on the correct ferry. They leave once an hour up from about 5am to 8pm or so – you can pick up a schedule when you arrive. You can also buy your bus ticket from Chiquila – Cancun from the port in Holbox, which is what we did.

Enrique checking out the prices to get the ferry back to the mainland.

Enrique checking out the prices to get the ferry back to the mainland.

Here's the other place to buy ferry tickets in Holbox. They are right next to each other - you can see the schedule next to the guy.

Here’s the other place to buy ferry tickets in Holbox. They are right next to each other – you can see the schedule next to the guy.

When you get back to the mainland in Chiquila, make sure you get on the right bus! There might be between 2-4 different buses from different companies, and if you bought your ticket from “Company X” you can’t get on the bus from “Company Y.” I saw this happen to a couple travelers and felt pretty bad for them. You can buy a new ticket for the right bus once you’re there, but who wants to pay double? For the tourists I saw, the problem was that the bus they should have gotten on had left about 3 minutes before hand.

Remember the buses have no bathrooms. A little advance planning can go a long way. Don’t worry about the buses stopping to pick up local passengers as well, that’s all totally legit. They are not luxury buslines that only run from Ciquila to Cancun, but the buses are totally fine and comfortable, the roads are good, and the scenery is beautiful. However, in the smaller town you will be going over topes (speedbumps), and that’s just… Mexico. Strangely after 4 days in the non-Mexican-hotel-strip-Cancun area, I was delighted to roll over my first tope.

How we got around: 

We strolled around on our own two feet a lot, we rented bicycles, and we took the golf cart taxis when we needed to get to and from the ferry port with our bags. The island is really, really small (approximately 41.84 kilometers long and 1.5 kilometers wide, according to wikipedia) and only a fraction of it is inhibited. The rest is totally wild. If you stay for more than 3 days you’ll have it all pretty much figured out, and can easily do it all by bicycle or foot.

Riding on the beach

Riding on the beach

Where we stayed in Holbox:

We spent the first four days at Villas El Encanto Holbox Hostel, and we stayed in the private double room on the ground floor. We shared the bathroom with one other room, which was a family-style room of four people. The plus side about the hostel: The owners and employees were incredibly friendly, fun, and kind. Our room was spacious and cleaned daily, the double bed was comfortable, the A/C worked, and the internet connection was pretty decent in our room (oddly enough, I had to work while there, so that was important for me). It was right off the zócalo and about a 3-minute walk to the beach. The minus side of the hostel: our room was next to a very popular and busy (and absolutely wonderful and delicious) restaurant, and we could hear every single word, shout, etc., from the staff and customers. It was as if they were in the room with us. What can you do about it? Just deal with it, keep the window shut and the A/C on. I kinda hate using A/C and would have preferred to keep the window open, but that wasn’t possible. The other disadvantage is that depending on who is staying in the other room, the bathroom can get a bit scary. Again, hostel life. We were a bit unlucky with inconsiderate neighbors the first two nights who apparently didn’t know how to not put the toilet paper in the toilet (hello, clogging!) and who didn’t really understand the bathroom wasn’t private (hello, mess!). The second two nights our neighbors were much more considerate and everything was fine. One more minus, though I didn’t realize this at first: This hostel isn’t on the beach. Sure, it’s only a 3-minute walk. But trust me, being on the beach is best. Anyway, I would still recommend it, we had a great time there, had lovely service, rented their bikes, used the kitchen, and enjoyed the hot showers.

Immediately upon arriving in Holbox we knew we wanted to spend more than the four nights I had booked. We wandered around the island looking for other accommodation – and while most things in our budget were booked, we found a brilliant hostel/hotel combo right on the beach called Casa Maya. This place offered tents for people to camp, dorm rooms to share, or private bungalows. We went for the private bungalow at $800 MXN per night. On the beach. With access to a huge kitchen. WE LOVED IT. Very friendly, laid-back staff who cleaned the room every day and offered us coconuts to drink. We could leave the window open at night and just use the ceiling fan on low (though each room does have air conditioning), and couldn’t hear any distracting noise. The shower was great. There was a picnic table, hammocks, kayaks, body boards, etc., to use. Casa Maya was simple and perfect and suited us perfectly. Oddly enough, even though they told me the internet only worked well in the large common area, it worked perfectly in our room as well – which had a small table and chairs next to the window. Talk about the perfect work environment!

Casa Maya is there on the left. I almost never had my camera with me, but this is a pretty good representation of a view in Hobox.

Casa Maya is there on the left. I almost never had my camera with me, but this is a pretty good representation of a view in Hobox.

Holbox has accommodation of all types, including super swanky. The true budget accommodation is a tent on the beach, which I’m sure I would have loved when I was younger and in the mood to party more at night (pregnancy does decrease one’s ability to stay up around a campfire, drinking and dancing and drugging). But if that’s your style, that is there. Dorm-room hostels are in abundance as well, and like dorm-room hostels everywhere, they are what they are. What we did – getting a private room in a hostel-ish type place – is more our style of travel these days. We don’t like paying a lot for accommodation, especially if we’re going to be outside all the time. Plus, we still enjoy being able to meet travelers and socialize – we just want to be able to have privacy at the end of the day.

This is why you stay on the beach in Holbox. For these views.

This is why you stay on the beach in Holbox. For these views.

I have to say, if I was going to go on a “splurge” vacation and pay a bunch of money to stay somewhere swanky, I’d do it in Holbox. So many of the nicer hotels are absolutely stunning, and they have very strict rules about being eco-friendly and not building up anything too tall (anti-Cancun!!). I also never felt a snobby/exclusive attitude from any of the nicer hotels – they don’t try to “own” the beach around them in an obnoxious way.

Impressions of Holbox, how we spent our time, and what we ate:

We stayed in Holbox for 8 nights, which was perfect for us. We didn’t partake in any whale-shark swimming, or boat trips, or any excursions, so 8 days was absolutely enough time (I would have been ok with one day less). The industry in Holbox is fishing and tourism, and that’s that. Tourism is really starting to take off – I heard a few times that the island had never been so full, so booked up in advance. What I loved about Holbox is that it was a place full of Mexican tourists as well as Americans/Europeans/Aussies/etc. The people who live and work there are friendly and laid back. It’s a very safe place, with kids and dogs running around all the time – we didn’t even have locks for our bikes. And the food is excellent, so let’s start there.

Street murals in Holbox

Street murals

After 4 days in not-real-Mexico (Cancun), my mouth was watering at the menus outside the restaurants and real street food options. We may have gone a bit overboard at our first dinner, but I drank down my agua de horchata like I had never had one before. Corn tortillas, meat, tons of grilled fish, guacamole, real spicy salsas, queso fundido with chorizo… we ordered pretty much everything at the one place we could find that would accept credit cards (more on that later). We were in a state of bliss – Enrique even more so than me, after polishing off a few beers and some proper mezcal. The next day we spoke with a few locals to find out a bit more about the food. Here’s what we were told:

The fish that comes from the island is whitefish, lobster, octopus, and … maybe the calamari, I can’t remember. The shrimp gets shipped in from Campeche. There is a tortilla factory, so getting fresh, corn tortillas is no problem. Harder to find is local vegetables and fruit. You’ll figure out what fruit is in season pretty quickly, but you may not always see it available in the very small market that is off the zócalo. Coconuts are everywhere (really, all over the ground and the trees). You can buy fish from the fisherman directly, and obviously if you do that, you’ll get much, much cheaper prices. However, you might need to invest a bit of time to befriend a fisherman, figure out when they come in, etc. And of course you’d need a place to cook. Absolutely splurge on a lobster dinner – the lobster is amazing. Splurge on the loud restaurant next to the Villas de Encanto hostel – it was worth it. Service is friendly everywhere. And train yourself to a few eating “rules” of Holbox: breakfast is maybe until 11am, and you’ll have eggs of all types as well as other Mexican-style breakfasts (meaning tacos). Lunch is up until 2pm, maaaybe 2.30pm at the latest (a bit different from the rest of Mexico), and you should get a bigger portion of food. One of my favorite lunches was grilled octopus with rice and beans (and of course, a basket of warm corn tortillas and fresh salsas). Dinner is after 7pm and up until about 10pm (it ends earlier here than other parts of Mexico), and many restaurants seemed to start dinner even earlier and be full of blonde children around 6pm.

There are street food and comida corrida type options around the zócalo, and there is also an amazing, cheap taqueria (that took us until our 6th day to find) with more Mexico City and northern Mexico-style taco offerings. Avoid eating anything that isn’t Mexican food, really. Mexican food is what Mexicans do best (as opposed to say, pizza). Make sure you ask your server for tortillas any time you want – those should be given to you unlimited, and always warm. If you’re a vegetarian who doesn’t eat fish, you’ll have options, but they will be more limited in Holbox versus other parts of Mexico.

Island food: mangoes, coconut, tamales

Island food: mangoes, coconut, tamales

Beyond eating fish to our hearts content, we also spent a good deal of time cycling around absolutely beautiful white, sandy beaches. We watched the sunset over the ocean on New Years Eve on a beach where there were maybe three or four other people off in the distance. I read books, hung out in the hammock. We swam and sunbathed. We had to make really hard decisions like “should I eat a mango or a melon?” “should I buy two tamales or three?” We talked to people and made friends. I must say, if you are a newly pregnant woman, there are few better places in the world to be than Holbox. I had the huge advantage that I had very, very little nausea and could eat just about anything I wanted, and wasn’t affected by the boat ride or bus ride (other pregnant women might find those parts to be torture). I felt amazing to be in the sun all day with the little tiny collection of cells starting to form into a person inside my uterus. I was 100% relaxed, well-rested (even more so when we re-located to the beach), and calm. It was the first New Years Eve where I didn’t have an alcoholic drink in my hand. After the clock struck midnight on the 31st, the Mexicans danced salsa in heels and ironed shirts, the non-Mexicans formed a conga line immediately (to which Enrique wondered “is it something in the genes that makes white people do that?”), the kids broke a huge pinata and screamed and yelled, and Enrique and I kissed and danced and welcomed yet another new year, together.

Late lunch/early dinner on New Year's Eve in Holbox. Not bad.

Late lunch/early dinner on New Year’s Eve. Not bad.

In the Zócalo for New Years Eve

In the Zócalo for New Years Eve

Some final general tips:

Mosquitoes are part of life on an island in the Caribbean Sea. So are ants, cockroaches, and animals in general. Do what you need to do to be okay with all that (one day the cleaning woman killed a roach for me – I had no shame, and she was a pro).

Animal life on the island - in the Holbox cemetary

Animal life on the island – in the Holbox cemetary

Holbox is not really a budget-friendly vacation spot. It doesn’t have to be expensive – if you can manage to make some of your own food and spend your time just enjoying the beach, swimming, cycling, etc., there really isn’t even so much to spend money on. But accommodation – even at hostels – isn’t cheap, and neither are restaurants. However, you can feel good that these really are small, local businesses and many of them take huge efforts to be kind to the environment. Remember as an island in the middle of a hurricane zone, they need to get a lot of things shipped in, and they aren’t that close to a major city. Chilquila is a small town, nothing more. If you’re after a very budget-friendly beach style holiday in Mexico, go toward the Oaxaca beaches on the pacific ocean.

There is one ATM on the island and it runs out of money pretty regularly. Come to the island with cash (we didn’t, and wished we had – we were super lucky we found a place to eat the first night!). Very few places will accept credit cards (though I was able to pay with a card at both hostels).

Remember if you’re going out to eat, try to make sure you’re sitting down somewhere by 9pm, 9:30pm at the latest. During busy times, the restaurants fill up quite a bit. While some stay open late, many don’t.

Make sure you find that taqueria. Just ask around. It’s only open at night.

Be kind to the environment. Limit your waste, absolutely do not litter, and don’t put your toilet paper in the toilet (it goes in the trash can which will be close by – and that trash can is emptied every day).

Mexico City: The Logistics and how to get started

Where does one even begin to talk about the logistics of Mexico City? How can any one person say “here’s how the city works?” The first word I use when describing Mexico City is “big.” It’s huge. It’s full of people. It makes any other city I’ve been to look like a little village. It’s every adjective that you can possibly imagine, all at the same time. People love it and hate it. It would take a lifetime to figure it all out.

Before I get into my own attempt at Mexico City’s logistics – things like how to get around and where to go – it’s important for you to know this: my fiance, Enrique, grew up and lived there until he was in his late 20’s, and his parents still live there. I lived in Puebla/Cholula for almost one year (2012-2013), which is roughly two hours from Mexico City. Therefore I’ve been to Mexico City a lot – as a tourist from Europe (before 2012) and as weekend visitor when I was living in the country, and again as a visitor this past winter (Dec 2014). I’ve been a guest, a host, and a tourist, and I always had the distinct advantage of either being with a Chilango (Chilango = a person from Mexico City) or at least being somewhat close to my chilango somewhere in the city. So. Here we go.

Mexico City food market

Mexico City food market

Street mural in the historical center of Mexico City

Street mural in the historical center of Mexico City

Where is it and what do I really need to know right away?

Mexico City is kind of smack in the middle of the country of Mexico, but a bit more toward the south. It’s inland, not by the sea. The weather is relatively perfect year-round, never getting painfully hot or freezing cold. There is a reliable rainy season and a reliable dry season. The pollution, which used to be absolutely terrible, does not feel different these days than any other big city (NY, LA, Istanbul, London, Rome, etc). It’s not something I would have noticed at all if Enrique hadn’t pointed out one gray day that the grayness was due to more pollution, not bad weather. But overall, I’m used to blue skies and warm sun whenever I’m in Mexico City during dry season. And when I say “dry” season, I really mean dry – my skin and hair are super dry and crave moisture when I’m there, as there is very little humidity. The population of Mexico City itself is almost 9 million, but there are way more people than that in the city on any given day.

Mexico City (Ciudad de México) is officially México, Distrito Federal (federal district of Mexico), which is why you’ll hear everyone call Mexico City “DF”. It’s exactly the same concept of how Americans call Washington D.C. “DC”. When you’re in DF, you’ll hear the Mexicans call their city “day-efay”, which is “DF” in spanish – if you try to say “DF” in english it doesn’t really work (say “ciudad de mexico” if you can’t do the “DF” in spanish). Another thing to know: a lot of people within the country of Mexico will refer to Mexico City, DF simply as “México.” So if you’re in Puebla and driving two hours into DF, you’ll follow street signs that say “Mexico.” You’ll tell people “I’m going to be in Mexico for the weekend, sorry I can’t come to the party.” You can say “Ciudad de Mexico”, but most people don’t. It’s either “DF” or “Mexico.” Got it?

Street food

Selling tacos

The airport is big and international and very well connected to the city. It’s not outside the city limits, it’s really right there (keep in mind, Mexico City’s urban-ness seems to be never-ending). You can get from the airport to any location in the city with the metrobus, metro, city buses (peseros), taxis, etc. If you take a taxi from the airport you should pay in advance at one of the million taxi counters, which (in my experience) are all legal and all pretty much the same price to wherever it is you’re going to go. Expect to pay around 200 pesos if you’re going somewhere within the city. The metrobus that goes from the airport to the city is 30 pesos (instead of the usual 6 pesos) and the normal metro is the normal price of 5 pesos (there was recently a price increase, it used to be 3 pesos). The local buses (called peseros in DF, but also known as collectivos or combis elsewhere in the country) are somewhere between 3 – 6 pesos. If this is your first time in Mexico City, I would stick to taxis, the normal metro, or the metrobus. A Mexico City pesero is definitely advanced level and it’s better to use them once you know the city better.

DF has ugly and beautiful parts. It’s full of all classes of people, from incredibly poor to insanely rich. There are lots of places in Mexico City where you won’t feel a speck of insecurity, and then you might walk into a market that suddenly feels like something wrong is about to happen. It’s hard to answer “is Mexico City dangerous?” with one simple answer. Based on my own personal experience, I’d say no, it’s not. But I only say this because I’ve never seen anything dangerous, I never felt in danger, I was never mugged. I’ve been pick-pocketed in Naples, I’ve seen some violent fights in Amsterdam, my friends in Philadelphia have had guns pointed in their faces, but I haven’t had those experiences in DF. I’ve been sexually harassed way, way more in NYC and Philadelphia and Paris than I ever have in Mexico City, but this doesn’t mean sexual harassment doesn’t exist (it just means that for me, it existed more in other places). I’m (currently) blonde and tattooed, and I wear my normal clothes in DF. I’ve never been a short-shorts kinda girl, but I do like to wear form-fitting tank tops and flowy skirts when it’s warm outside. I think someone did grab my ass once on the metro. I’ve heard catcalls, and those are absolutely annoying, but they didn’t reach the level of crudeness that I’ve heard in the US.

Shopping in the historical center

Shopping in the historical center with a friend – we both dressed for comfort.

I have had the huge advantage of always being able to ask Enrique or other locals “hey, I want to go to blah-blah market with my other female friend, is that cool?” and locals will either say “oh totally, go for it, the tortas are amazing” or they’ll say “nah, I wouldn’t go there myself.” Make asking part of your routine when you’re in Mexico City.

Unfortunately for Mexico, there are a way scarier places than DF in the country. However, dangerous things DO happen in DF, and a sketchy situation in Mexico can be much worse than a sketchy situation in Paris or Philadelphia or Rome. You can get robbed, scammed, attacked, etc., in any of those cities – but there is kidnapping in Mexico. There is so much organized crime run by the narcos. There are disappearances within the whole country – way, way more than make the news. So you should take precautions, not feel bad about it, but also try keep it in perspective (comparing Mexico City to cities in the US is good for perspective, if you think the US is a safe place). You should ask Chilangos their opinion on the neighborhood you want to go explore or the bus route you want to take. Most of the time, the answer will be “it’s fine.” Most of the time, you probably wouldn’t even be close to accidentally wandering into a sketchy area. Most of the time, it’s worth it to go out of your way to find that market or pyramid or cafe or taco stand or party. But ask, and listen, and play it safe. Need a taxi? Ask a local to help if you are confused. “Taxi? un taxi seguro?” means “Taxi, a safe taxi?” and is honestly all you really need to say for a local to know what you mean. Don’t fuck around with taxis and your ideas that you lived in New York and you know what you’re doing. Taxi drivers run some pretty incredible scams in DF, and there are ways to tell what taxis are legit and what aren’t, but before you know 100% how to do that, ask someone else for help. Always, always ask. Ask a woman if it makes you feel safer (it generally does for me). The good thing about DF is there are pretty much always tons of people everywhere you go, because seriously, DF is full of people. And if something doesn’t feel right to you, don’t do it. Enrique has skipped taking certain taxis or going into certain bars or spending more time in certain areas when he’s been with me just based on the “this doesn’t feel right” feeling. There is always another taxi, bar, or area to explore.

This area reserved for women and children (at a metro station in Mexico city)

This area reserved for women and children (at a metro station in Mexico city)

So is it dangerous? It can be, from what I hear. I mean, we all hear things. But for me, I have to be honest, it didn’t feel dangerous. Ever. You will see poverty, you will see people who live on the street, you will be asked for change. I don’t think this happened to me any more in DF than it has in Rome. Keep in mind, beyond the almost 9-million people who live in Mexico City, the population of the metropolitan area is 21 million. Twenty One Million people. And if you’re in the center of the city, or on the metro during rush hour, or stuck in traffic, you will feel it.

How we got there & how to get around:

We’ve gone to DF by plane, car, and bus. I don’t really think it’s necessary for me to explain how to reach one of the biggest cities in the world, so I’ll use this opportunity to emphasize once more how insanely gigantic Mexico City is. If you plan to arrive by bus, there are a lot of bus stations throughout the city, so figure out exactly where in the city you’re staying and plan to arrive at the bus station closest. You can easily spend 2-3 hours in traffic in DF if you arrive anywhere close to rush hour, which can be anywhere from 7am-9am and then 6pm-9pm. There’s also a mini-rush hour around 2-3pm. The traffic is horrible. Terrible. Do not take what I’m saying lightly about the traffic. Plan your entire day around it. Is the metro a picnic in the sun? not at all. Is it better than sitting in a pesero/taxi/car for what seems like forever to go 3 kilometers? Yes it is. Walk. Walk as much as you can, or ride a bike (cycling is becoming more and more popular in DF, so go for it). The other somewhat nicer option is to go around as much as possible by metrobus. The metrobus is an above-ground bus with its own dedicated lane, so it will go much faster than the peseros or cars. The metrobus also gets very crowded during rush hour, but at least it’s overground with windows that open and is somewhat better than the metro, even if you’re smushed.

Mexico City's public bike-sharing program, the eco-bici

Mexico City’s public bike-sharing program, the eco-bici

Chilangos are used to being smushed into public transport and are, by necessity, aggressive about getting in and out before they are killed by the doors closing. You will need to learn how to do this as well, because you will have seconds to get in and out of a crowded metro/metrobus. Rush hour in Mexico City is no joke, and it’s more hardcore than NYC (though they are comparable). On both the metro and metrobus, the front portion is reserved for women, children, and elderly people. You will end up seeing perfectly healthy young men in these parts as well, though by and large Mexican men are the types that will not keep a seat if a woman is standing nearby. The woman/children/elderly thing is a bit more enforced during rush hour times.

You need to take the chaos and hugeness of DF into consideration when planning out your day. There is so much to do and see that you don’t want to get trapped in traffic or rush hour and spend half your day just getting from point A to point B.

Where we stayed in Mexico City:

Enrique’s parents live in the south part of the city, Coapa. When we stay there, we’re close to Coyoacán and Xochimilco, so we spend time hanging around those areas. When we’ve gone to just hang out with friends, we’ve rented apartments through Air B&B in La Roma, Condesa, la zona rosa, the historical center, Coyoacán, or places with friends. I would recommend all those neighborhoods as potential place to stay, all for different reasons. Here’s a super quick breakdown:

Historical Center (Centro historico) – if you’re traveling with a friend/partner and enjoy a bit of chaos. If you want to be close to the famous zocalo (the main plaza), which is one of the biggest city squares in the world where there is always something going on. If you want to get right into the heart of all the action, eat your weight in street food, and become overwhelmed by art and music. It’s intense, it’s fun, you’ll get easy walking access to museums and galleries and amazing food. Do take a bit more caution in this area, as it is absolutely full of people (and tourists) and some of the surrounding neighborhoods are a bit tough.

Street food, DF

Street food, DF

La Roma or Condesa – a great location for single travelers or really, pretty much anyone. These areas have moved way beyond “up and coming” and have full-on gentrified to become trendy, beautiful, fun, safe areas. It feels a little calmer in these parts while still very much being part of the city – the way Brooklyn can feel calmer than Manhattan. You’ll have easy access to artisanal beer and mezcal, these are great neighborhoods to ride a bike, there are plenty of markets and access to public transport, and these are very green areas of the city. The neighborhoods border each other and La Roma is one of my favorite parts of Mexico City.

Bike traffic lights in DF

Bike traffic lights in La Roma

La Zona Rosa – Mexico City’s “red light” district. A very good area if you want to party, if you’re younger and good looking and want to show that off, or if you’re into gay nightlife. It’s also great if you just want an easy location that is within reasonable walking distance to the historical center and close to everything. It’s not a seedy area at all, it’s just full of clubs and restaurants and young people doing young-people things. It has a slightly more “mall” feeling than areas like La Roma – you’ll find more chain restaurants and whatnot. I stayed here when I was in DF with 8 friends, and it was absolutely perfect for our needs just because the location was so great and there were a million bars and cafes close by. Watch your pockets, take a bit of extra precaution at night (and please don’t buy hard drugs off the street, really) but if you want to go a bit wild and you’re under 30, this is a good area to do that.

Coyoacán – I love this area. It’s amazing. It’s like a city within a city – it has its own zocalo that is full of activity at all times. Day markets, night markets, music, dancing, so many bars and restaurants, street food, fancy food… anything. This is where Frida Khalo grew up and where the “blue house” is that she shared with Diego Rivera. This is where you can visit the house where Leon Trotsky was killed. The neighborhood is full of art, families, dogs, kids, old people, poor people, rich people, students… and it’s quite green and colonial, so it’s a lot more beautiful than other areas. The disadvantage is that it’s further away from other parts of the city, and not really well-connected. You’ll find more peseros serving this neighborhood. But remember, taxis are pretty affordable, cycling is possible, and you always have your own two feet.

Bikes have the right of way in Coyoacan (but watch yourself, it's not Amsterdam)

Bikes have the right of way in Coyoacan (but watch yourself, it’s not Amsterdam)

Outside Trotsky's house

Outside Trotsky’s house

Regarding Air B&B: I’ve had both good and bad experiences in DF with Air B&B. Apartments can … vary, let’s say. Water is always an issue. Was the gas tank recently refilled? is the water pressure stronger than a trickle? Is it freezing inside at night? Take the time to read all the reviews. Ask the host if it’s ok to put the toilet paper in the toilet (a lot of the time, you shouldn’t). Central heating is not common at all in Mexico, so even though it’s a warm city, you can oddly enough find yourself more cold inside than outside, if it’s an older apartment.

Some of my favorite things to do in Mexico City

1. Eat. And then eat some more. and then keep eating. This is one of my favorite places in the world to eat food. From street vendors, markets, mid-range restaurants, fancy restaurants, seriously… all of it. I wouldn’t even know where to begin saying “this is where you should eat” because it is so seldom that I’ve had a bad eating experience. But here’s two places I always, always go back to:

Salon Corona in the Historical Center (Av. Filomeno Mata 18, Cuauhtémoc, Centro, 06000) – this is your proper taqueria/cantina style restaurant. It is run like a well-oiled machine. You can just keep ordering tacos here and no one will stop you. Excellent place to see if you really speak spanish, because those spanish classes you took in school aren’t going to help you get through the menu here. Everything comes as a taco (in a small corn tortilla), a quesadilla (small corn tortilla with cheese), torta (a big sandwich) or a torta with cheese (a big sandwich with cheese). “Gringa” means a white flour tortilla (slightly bigger) instead of a corn tortilla.

Part of the menu at Salon Corona, Mexico City

Part of the menu at Salon Corona, Mexico City

Enrique’s in Tlalpan (Insurgentes Sur 4061, Tlalpan Centro, Tlalpan, 14000) – this is your “I want the best mexican food ever in a nice restaurant but I’m not trying to be super formal about it, however I want to sit down at a nice table and eat like a king” kind of place. It’s not cheap (though it’s not overpriced either). It is delicious. Everything. Every. single. thing. The mole, the pulque, the tacos, the soup, the rice… but my favorite is the barbacoa (goat meat). The food is 100% authentic Mexican. Large mariachi bands might start playing while you’re eating. The service is wonderful. They have mezcal.

Arroz con mole

So delicious. Rice with mole at Enrique’s.

Enrique in front of Enrique's

Enrique in front of Enrique’s

2. Drink. And specifically: mezcal and artisanal mexican beer. Dear god, the mezcal options in DF are no joke. Another drink to try: pulque, and if you can find it, pox. If you want something that isn’t alcohol, try the gigantic, fresh juices that cost 10-20 pesos.

Mezcal and a cocktail

Mezcal and a cocktail

3. Look at art. Mexico City is so full of art it’s overwhelming, and so much of it is free or the cost of entry to museums is very inexpensive.

Lost in the crazy artwork of Siqueiros

Lost in the crazy artwork of Siqueiros

4. Play dominoes at cantinas with friends while eating and drinking.

Playing dominoes in a cantina. Me and my partner lost fairly miserably.

Playing dominoes in a cantina. Me and my partner lost fairly miserably.

5. Go to museums. If I started to write about museums this post would never end. Just be sure to leave a lot of time for museums, because it’s an absolute pleasure to museum-hop in DF.

Inside the Museo del Templo Mayor

Inside the Museo del Templo Mayor

6. Go to the Torre Latinoamericana  (Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas 2, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06000), and take the elevator all the way up to the restaurant (tell the elevator operator “restaurant” when you get in, then follow the path until you’re there), which is around the 50th floor. The restaurant itself is pretty bad, so try to avoid eating there unless you really, really only care about the view. Instead, have a drink at the bar at sunset and enjoy the view – it’s up here that you will see how huge the city is (If you’re scared of heights, this isn’t the best place).

View from the top of the Torre Latino at night.

View from the top of the Torre Latino at night.

It's not every bathroom where you want to take photos, but when you go to the bathroom at the Torre Latino, bring a friend and a camera

It’s not every bathroom where you want to take photos, but when you go to the bathroom at the Torre Latino, bring a friend and a camera

7. Go to markets. All of them. Explore them. Some are better than others, there’s probably a million lists online that all talk about the best market for this or the best market for that.

At a market in Xochimilco

At a market in Xochimilco

8. Meet locals. Mexicans are by and large really friendly, and chilangos are no different. The people are a huge part of why I love Mexico City so much (I am obviously biased here!).

9. Go to Teotihuacan. It’s about an hour from DF (remember to plan around traffic!), and reachable by bus. It’s so incredibly worth it, no matter how many ruins or pyramids you may have seen in your life. Bring sun protection (ideally a hat) and be ready to spend the day.

10. Dance. Finding places to dance, to be loud, to drink, to shout… they’re everywhere. Sometimes it feels like the entire city is dancing, shouting, running, shoving, drinking, and kissing. Man, the kissing. you will see so much kissing in DF.

My last trip to Mexico City was mid-December, 2014. Enrique and I stayed mostly with his parents, and enjoyed all the usual things – family, meeting up with friends, drinking and eating, typical stuff. We had been in Mexico for about 3.5 weeks (a little more than halfway through our overall trip) when everything changed: I found out on Christmas Eve that I was pregnant.

The day our lives changed dramatically. 24 December, 2014.

The day our lives changed dramatically. 24 December, 2014.

After over four years of being together, and just over a month of being engaged … we were thrilled. Clearly everything would be different… but this night in Mexico City, we ate dinner with the family, tried to act normal, and I subtly gave my glass of wine to Enrique to drink for me after toasting.