Monday, December 30, 2013

Doing it Again...For the First Time

Yes, I am coming out from hiding, just for a brief moment, to say hello.


We, my family of four and I, are here and...surviving. We are tired, and sometimes hungry, but we are here. It has not been an easy start with dear Ebba who is already 2 MONTHS OLD!!

So what have we been up to? Well, let me tell you that aside from both Simon and Ebba being born early, they don't have much in common yet, which makes this whole parenting thing tricky. Anything I thought I knew, I have quickly learned that I didn't know or wasn't responsible for. It's nature vs. nurture at it's finest, people. Nature is winning right now.
Love her happy face.

It was a bumpy start with our little girl. She couldn't maintain her body temperature and was too small/immature to breastfeed. I spent 3 frustrating weeks pumping 8 times/day, getting up in the middle of the night to pump and then finger feed, bottle feed, or feed her from a feeding tube attached to my breast. I was exhausted and losing hope that she would ever figure it out. And then she DID and now what seemed like an insurmountable problem was really just a little hiccup.

During that time Ebba slept nearly all the time, catching up on that growing that she should have been doing in utero. But then something changed. She became much fussier and started spitting up during and after every feeding. She can no longer fall asleep on her own, or sleep on her own for that matter. I ended up with her sleeping on top of me at night. If I put her down she would spit up all over herself, and I couldn't stay awake to simply hold her. It's still a work in progress, one that I would clearly like to change. Sleep is a big issue for both of us right now. :)
Tea party!

I am trying to find the source of her unhappiness, hoping that it's a food allergy or sensitivity to something that I am eating. I have cut out dairy, but I am not convinced that's the culprit. When I asked the pediatrician here about it, he suggested I was simply feeding her too much. There may have been some truth to that, but that's not all. We have one unhappy little girl much of the time. :(

But all that aside, we are still adjusting pretty well to our new family of four. In order to keep up with Simon, I wear Ebba most of the time. This means I can still help Simon ride his new big bike (with pedals!) and play at the park, while Ebba is snuggled against me under my jacket.
This is how we roll.

And of course we don't do this all without help. BB, one of my Dusseldorf friends, came for 2 nights to help cook and give me a chance to rest. Grandma also came for 3 weeks, and I got to spend Christmas with someone from my family for the first time since 2009! It had been 17 months since we had last seen Grandma, so it was a long overdue visit. And of course she did what Grandma's do best, she held a crying baby with no complaints and only sweet words of solace, while Mama got a chance to nap or cook or play with Simon. We started missing her about 3 minutes after she left. Come back, come back!!
Ebba looking up to her Grandma

We have good days and bad days. There are the wonderful moments when she smiles, and I anticipate all the smiles and giggles and cuddles that are soon to come. In some ways, of course, this is all familiar territory. But Ebba is her own person, she is not Simon, so in many ways we are starting over. We're still getting to know each other right now, and I think that we are going to get along just fine.

Christmas 2013 - our first family pic!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Ebba's Birth Story

Six years ago today, I attended my first birth. I was invited by close friends to be a part of this amazing day of their lives, and it was truly amazing. It was the mama's 3rd birth and her 3rd natural birth. She was brave and she was strong and she inspired me. It is very empowering to watch a live birth, especially a natural birth where you see how a woman's body is built to give birth. Not without pain or pressure or discomfort, but with strength and beauty and power.

I knew for sure from that day that I would seek natural child birth for my own birthing experiences. And I want to share the story of Ebba's arrival to simply share the joy of child birth and her arrival, which was perfect.

Ebba’s Birth Story

When I woke up that morning, giving birth was not even on my mind. The wind had been howling like crazy all night, and I was trying to figure out if I could even stay upright on my bike to get Simon to creche. Luckily, Martin had a dentist appointment that morning and so he dropped Simon and I off near his creche. I decided I would take trams to run a few errands.

I don’t know what would have happened if I had just stayed home, but I didn’t. It turns out that the crazy wind was part of a “code red” storm, with wind gusts of up to 160 km/hour. People were advised to stay home, and stay off bikes. I saw people blow over on their bikes and was very glad that at 8 months pregnant I had decided to stay off my bike for the day.

I dropped off 6 bags of Halloween candy for a community organized Trick-or-Treat Event that we were planning on going to for Halloween. I stopped by the Kraamzorg (home maternity nurse) office to let them know that I was 36 weeks pregnant and still hadn’t done my intake, and then I headed toward the center to run a few errands. I was trying to be productive on the 2 days/week I had without Simon, knowing these alone days were soon to be no more. (I had no idea how soon!)

But after a few minutes the tram stopped and announced that it was not going any further. A tree was down along the tracks so service was suspended. I continued walking to the center with everyone else. I saw a tree down in one of the canals. But I continued walking. Tram lines from the center to my house were still running, but I decided to get one thing done first. By the time I got back to the trams, all tram lines (and all trains in and out of Amsterdam) had been canceled. I had no choice but to walk home. I picked up some lunch and made it home, finally taking notice that I was feeling a bit off. By this time, I had been walking around the city for nearly 2.5 hours...

I had had a lot of Braxton Hicks contractions weeks 30-34, especially when walking, so I hadn’t really paid that much attention to the contractions I was having that morning. But as I sat down and turned on a movie, I decided I needed to pay attention. I downloaded an app for timing contractions, and quickly saw that they were 7 minutes apart. I laid down for a while and then took a bath, hoping this was just false labor brought on by all of the walking that morning.

When I got out of the bath, my contractions were less than 5 minutes apart. I realized I needed to do something, but I was still sort of in denial. I called Martin and told him he needed to get Simon at creche. When he asked what time he had to pick him up by, I told him I would prefer he leave now as I may be in labor. He was on his way.

I called my midwife who informed me she was on her way. This made me feel very good, to know that someone was coming to my house to assess the situation and help us make a decision about what to do next.

I started packing a hospital bag, with no idea what you are supposed to bring. I found the smallest baby clothes I could, a pair of loose pants for myself and some extra socks and threw them together in a bag.

Now I was most concerned with what to do with Simon. I made some calls to see who was available to come take care of Simon, and when they could get here. This was complicated by the fact that the city was in chaos with no public transport, trees down everywhere, and traffic at a virtual standstill. But thankfully my AMAZING cousins Lena and Emma came through, along with our neighbor Ans, and my mind was at ease that Simon would be in good hands.

Somehow I also managed to find a few minutes to Skype with my dad. I did not tell him what was going on, even though I was secretly tapping away at my contractions app to keep track of things.

Martin made it home with Simon, and shortly after the midwife arrived. She checked me and found that I was 2 cm dilated. Because I was only 36 weeks pregnant, this meant that we needed to head to the hospital. We called a cab and finally headed to the hospital at 5:00 pm. I got a hold of our doula, Jennifer, while we were enroute and she too headed to the hospital.

By 5:30 we were at the hospital and they were monitoring me to see if I was “really” in labor. Natasha, the hospital midwife said she would come back to check on me in an hour. However, in the next 20 minutes or so my contractions became considerably more difficult. My midwife contacted Natasha who immediately admitted us to delivery room “Florence.” We got settled in and my contractions continued to strengthen. The hospital midwife checked me again at 6:30pm and I was still 2 cm. While this could have been disheartening, I could feel the way my body was working and I knew that my little girl would be arriving shortly. My midwife from the Geboortecentrum left, as any time a birth becomes “medical” the hospital midwives take over care.

Jennifer and Martin supported me as contractions strengthened. Jennifer gently applied pressure to my back and Martin stayed in front of me, encouraging me and squeezing my hands. I was very focused on breathing, and was soon focused on that alone, blocking the rest of the world out.

At 7:55pm Natasha came in again to check me. I was now 5 cm dilated, and she said she would be back in 2 hours to see how things were progressing. I was clearly well on my way to having this baby.

At this point I decided I wanted to be on the toilet. I labored there for probably 25-30 minutes. I would not let Jennifer or Martin leave my side, as the contractions were almost constant now. Jennifer wisely suggested we move back to the bed, and I am not even sure how I managed to walk that far, but we made it.

I leaned against the bed for support, and things started changing rapidly. With each contraction I could now feel Ebba’s head charging through the birth canal. It was the most intense thing I have ever experienced! Natasha came in and found that I was fully dilated. My waters broke and I was bearing down with each contraction. Everyone helped me up onto the bed and within about a minute Ebba was born! I was standing on all fours, and I wouldn’t even say that I had to push. My body was doing the work and I just let it push her out on its own. I watched her slide right out of was so beautiful! My little girl was finally here at 8:37pm!

Here are some more pics - nothing too graphic!

Simon’s birth was so medicalized, and so far from what I had hoped for from a birthing experience. But it was what it needed to be, and I had made peace with that.
Proud big brother!
However I really wanted something different from this pregnancy. I wanted to experience pregnancy and birth to the fullest, but Ebba decided 36 weeks was her max. (Apparently my uterus is not all that cozy.) Nonetheless, I got what I was looking for. I experienced a totally natural birth, with no interruptions and no interventions. I was surrounded by supportive people who believed in me and my body and made it possible to have this amazing experience.

Most importantly I completely surrendered to my body, and my body knew exactly what to do. I never doubted myself or let fear enter my realm of focus. I have never loved my body as much as I did during those 2 hours! There is no other right of passage for a woman, or a human being, that can come close to the exhilaration of natural childbirth. I am so happy that I experienced it and got to welcome Ebba into the world as gently and naturally as I could!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Waiting for Mike

I am still pregnant and we are still happily waiting for Baby Mike Wazowski to make her appearance. Yes, our baby girl has been named Mike Wazowski by our 3 year old son, who also happens to be a big fan of Monsters, Inc. He has been calling the baby Mike for months, and now he talks to her all the time.

          "Baby Mike, look at the stick I found."
          "Baby Mike, you like ice cream?"

I don't think that we are actually going to name her Mike (not on our list), and I am sure how he is going to feel about it. But (thanks to Grandpa) he already has plenty of Mike in his life. (In case it isn't clear by now, Mike Wazowski is the one-eyed green monster pictured below.)

I am 34.5 weeks now and feeling pretty good. Still enjoying naps with Simon, who almost always opts to join me even though he stopped napping in April.

Love waking up with him.
And I have nothing but good news from the doctor! Last week my doctor told me that I no longer had to come to the hospital to see her for my prenatal care, and I can go back to the midwives who will deliver my baby. This is very good news for me! I am so happy to be back in the care of the midwives, and know that it will be one from a team of these midwives attending my baby's birth when the time comes. The Dutch maternity care system merits an entire separate post, but I am still sorting that out myself. (Coming soon - I promise!)

34.5 weeks!
Silly faces!
So what else have we been up to while we wait for Baby Mike? Well, Simon has 2 days of creche per week, so that provides Mama with a bit of relief. I have been using that time to strip all of our cloth diapers so they are ready for the baby, and sort and wash all of the baby clothes. AND I almost done with ALL of my Christmas and birthday shopping (4 nieces/nephews with birthdays in the next few months).

Last week I was intensely proud of myself when we headed out in the pouring rain for a play group that is a 20 minute bike ride across town. We were all decked out in our rain boots, pants, and jackets (in my case a rain cape - it's so cool!) and we arrived safe and sound with only wet noses and cheeks. I don't think most Dutch moms would think anything of it, but I thought it was a pretty big deal.

And we sing this sweet song to Baby Mike, Take your Time Girl, and we mean it.

Yup, we're doing just fine waiting for Baby Mike!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Grandpa was here!

What an unbelievable treat to have Grandpa here for 3 whole weeks! We hadn't seen Grandpa (or anyone in my family) for more than 14 months. But time and distance had not weakened the bond between Simon and his Grandpa - they picked up right where they left off. Being silly.

It definitely helps that my dad is just a really grandpa fun go who can't say no to hours of bouncing on the knee or flying overhead. The favorite activity was definitely taking out all animals (stuffed, lego, you name it) and having them all play and talk together. That man has some patience, I tell you.

Grandpa dove right in to both the grand parenting and sight-seeing activities. With Simon in creche two days per week, that gave him plenty of time to explore Amsterdam on 2 wheels (the only way) and check out some of the many museums. Like nearly every visitor to this great city, he was fascinated with the bike culture that truly rules the road. He learned his way around (sort of - he was also lost a lot) and could take Simon to school or run to the market on his own. With Simon on board he also checked out the library, the science museum, and the fabulous Artis Zoo. (And probably a lot of other things as he tried to find his way back home.)

He even got to celebrate his birthday with us. Which means....cake for breakfast! We made use of all of the candles we have, he is not quite as old as the cake might indicate. For his birthday I found a book on the history of biking in Amsterdam, so if you've talked to him since his return he is probably spewing all sorts of interesting Amsterdam biking facts your way. You're welcome.

Grandpa's visit also provided me with some much appreciated R&R. While I have been feeling good, I am definitely a bit more tired and have been having a lot of Braxton Hicks contractions (hard tummy), which can be uncomfortable and just annoying. I was very happy to have Simon entertained and be able to just lay low for a few weeks. I know that things will change shortly, so I cherished my down time. I even escaped to Düsseldorf for a day to visit friends and meet a beautiful new addition to this world.

At the apple orchard.
Grandpa also watched Simon for a weekend while Martin and I went to the Ardennes region of Belgium. Belgium is fast becoming one of our favorite countries with good food, delicious beer, friendly people, and a beautiful landscape. We had never really been to the Belgian countryside before and really enjoyed our pleasant B&B and the surrounding small villages. We slept a lot and enjoyed a last weekend away before the baby arrives.
Belgian waffles!
Some of these pictures are a bit deceiving, as it rained for the first 15 days that my dad was here. But in the end the sun came back and we were able to end his visit on some beautiful fall weather.

At the petting zoo.

We miss him very much already! Come back soon, Grandpa!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Very Merry Unbirthday to You, Baby!

It was on this exact day in my last pregnancy that I gave birth to Simon. I was 29 weeks +2 days pregnant - and then, suddenly, a mother! (Read more about that here.)
Pappa's first peek at Simon!
That experience has made this pregnancy very different from my last. When I was pregnant with Simon, I had an easy pregnancy and never thought about what it might be like to have a premature baby. I thought all the normal new mama thoughts like, "Will I ever sleep again?" or "I hope breastfeeding goes well." But, for some reason, Simon had to get out and so he made his grand entrance nearly 11 weeks early.

With this pregnancy, it's hard not to think about my last pregnancy. I don't want to go into preterm labor again. I want a "normal" birthing experience. As a result, I have been forced to see a doctor (as opposed to a midwife) throughout my whole pregnancy and go through more tests and scans. As they don't know why I delivered early, all they can do is watch and see if they find any signs of preterm labor.

Emotionally, it has forced me to relive Simon's early birth and all it's drama. I have not thought back on it much, because I was always looking forward and Simon did so well. But more than 3 years later I am reflecting on it again, and do not want to relive any of it with #2.

I am here today to say that I have never been this pregnant and NOT in labor. It have to say it feels REALLY good.
29 weeks + 2 days!
From this day on, it's all icing on the cake. Of course that may sound strange, as it is significantly better for the baby to stay in that cozy little womb until 37-40+ weeks, but my experiences have given me a different, slightly messed up, perspective. So I am going to take each day as they come, but I am hoping for many more.

I hope she stays tucked in there until at least 37 weeks. That also means that I get to switch my healthcare back to a midwife, which is what I prefer. And go home immediately after birth, with a new sweet baby.

And I know it's too early to say, but here are some other things that I hope to experience:
  • A 3rd trimester - including that big baby bump!
  • Anticipating the arrival of the baby
  • Holding my baby immediately after birth (maybe catch her?!?)
  • Bringing my baby HOME after birth - and the shock and awe of it all
So stay tucked in there, little baby! Let's hold out for a while longer - it's best for all of us.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Torsby 2013

I love spending time in Torsby. There's not much there. Not much to do. It's quiet. It rains a lot. Which makes it the perfect place to totally unplug and really relax. We read more books, took naps, watched a lot of WC Track and Field, and just spent time outside. Living in the city I really appreciate a break from the concrete, and it was nice to be able to open the front door and have limitless green space at our door step.
Nonno (Martin's grandfather) spent the week with us as well and got to bunk with Simon. My favorite memory of the week was waking up at 4am to hear Simon, who apparently woke up and crawled into bed with Nonno, telling Nonno about Mike Wazowski (from Monsters Inc.) Keep in mind that Simon was speaking English, and Nonno does not. It was precious.
Simon requested Nonno comb his hair. Not sure where he got that idea?!?
The boys!
We also "discovered"a huge field of wild raspberries growing right behind the house. Simon and I spent a lot of time picking raspberries and enjoying the view from up top.

On top of Raspberry Hill
Simon also loved building fires and helping collect firewood. I think mostly he liked what we ate when build fires. :)
Hole in one!
I would have enjoyed some more sun, we didn't even make it to the beach. But we had a great time and it was nice to just be together as a family and relax - our last vacation before we become a family of 4!!

Simon's Solo Week

It's been a while - it almost seems like it never happened. But it did. Simon spent a week with his grandparents in Sweden - without his parents!!

It seems it was a glorious week for all. Martin and I enjoyed evenings strolling around Amsterdam, and even had an amazing evening out on the water in the Lakes District, thanks to one of Martin's colleagues.

The week did seem to fly by - and I am not sure what all I did. But I do recall taking naps and reading two books. While I missed my boy, it was nice to have a break from the 24/7 on-call Mama job.

And Simon! Simon had a blast. I talked to him every day on the phone and he told me what he had been up to with Farfar and Farmor. They are far more active than his own parents so they were always off to some theater or local even they had heard of.

At the beach!
Helping out
Our little Viking!

After a week with Farmor and Farfar, Martin and I swooped in to take over the next week, and enjoy some nice Torsby weather (rain and cold). But I think it was a great experience for everyone - even Farmor and Farfar didn't seem too worn out. Simon was happy to see us, but he had also been very happy all week with out us.
4 Generations

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Wedding - Icelandic Style

Done with our touring, we were ready for family and friends and the big celebration! We stuck closer to home for the next few days, attending wedding festivities, touring the family fish factory, and spending time with the cousins. (Oh, and battling the pouring rain and cold!)

Took a tour of the family fishing factory.
Checking out Reykjavik
We had been told that it was an outdoor wedding, with a contingency plan of using the church if the weather didn't hold up. In Iceland the contingency plan was definitely a necessity. The weather seemed ok most of the morning on the big day, but it was cold and windy. When we met in the parking lot to head to the wedding, I still wasn't sure what was going to happen. As all the buses loaded up and pulled out, it started raining. We passed the church. It started raining harder and we drove about 25 minutes into the country, where it was still raining. We all stayed huddled in our vehicles, wondering how this was going to play out. We also wondered what Icelanders might consider bad enough weather to call on that contingency plan. But eventually, the rain let up, and everyone quickly rushed to the ceremony site, wondering why they had bothered with their hair or their nice new dress that covered by a rain jacket.

The bridesmaids in traditional Icelandic dresses, were not cold.

The whole family
The ceremony was short and perfect, with Oskar insisting on being a major part of this big day with his parents. The rest of the night was a big party full of loving speeches and videos and lots of dancing and singing. And just a little bit of drinking.
This pretty much sums it up.
I used my pregnancy as an excuse and bowed out of the festivities close to 3am. The party raged on for a few more hours. In the end, it was a huge success with friends and family coming from all over the world to celebrate Magnus and Olof. 

Then they were off to Hawaii for their honeymoon. Good call after a week in Iceland in the summer. Well played.


Driving north on the two lane highway that circles Iceland, these words stayed in my mind as I admired the stunning views on one of the only days of sunshine during our entire visit. The words vast and desolate have never been so applicable to any place I have visited. With a population of a little more than 300,000, and 2/3 of that living in and around Reykjavik, the rest of the country is very sparsely populated. The landscape is wide open and uninterrupted.

While driving 6 hours (each way) to Akureyri in the far north of Iceland for just 2 nights was a lot of time in the car, it was a great way to see the countryside. I couldn't get over how undeveloped it was. It's only major road is a 2-lane highway. There are very few signs, just gently winding roads through dramatic landscapes. It is a far cry from the wide freeways and tourist attraction billboards that so often litter major US throughways. And it was such a relief from the hustle and bustle never-ending cement of living in the city.

Idyllic spot for a quick nap.
The landscape changes

Kayaking on Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland, at Þingvellir National Park.
We spent Sunday afternoon driving, and the next day headed to Myvatn to check out the famous lake, the geothermal baths, some bad-ass underground ovens, and the earth belching up some seriously hot sulphuric mud and steam. It rained on and off, was quite windy, and the temp was around 40F (4C). But then again no one goes to Iceland for the weather. It was still amazing.
Geothermal baths at Myvatn
Yes, these are ovens and there is bread baking down in the earth.
Bubbly earth
A trooper through all the long hours in the car.

A cafe perched inside a barn full of dairy cows. That was some fresh hot chocolate!
The next day we had planned to do a whale watching tour in Husavik. Unfortunately, we arrived to find out that our tour had been canceled and we had driven 1.5 hours further away from Reykjavik for nothing! We did enjoy our free passes to the whale museum, and then got in the car to head back to the small fishing village of Grindavik, where guests were just starting to trickle in for the big nuptials of my bro-in-law Magnus and his wife-to-be Olof. Exciting!!