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.
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.
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.
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.
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.