20 September, 2012

High on the hill...

...was a lonely goat herd.  Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo.

Raina meets a friendly goat.

The Final Frontier

I've lived here in the Netherlands for more than four years now.  It blows my mind every single time I realise how much time has passed since I arrived.

Around this time last year I wrote about culture shock and how far I had progressed.  I had finally moved into the Adjustment phase and could finally behave like a normal human being again.  It took a long time, but I think I can finally truly say that I've moved into the final stage of culture shock - Mastery.

How did this come about?  In the last twelve to eighteen months I have been living my life outside our home almost entirely in Dutch except in two small but crucial places - the dentist and the hairdresser.  I was semi-confident when visiting the doctor; I could certainly make my ailments known well enough to walk out with more than paracetamol, but the idea of not being understood at the dentist and hairdresser terrified me.

But, it was crunch time.  Four years was long enough to carry the language crutch.  First up, the dentist.  I went in and immediately received a lecture about not going for so long (more than 18 months) and even though I had a lot of excuses to hand, I just explained that they were all that - excuses.  The dentist was happy with that, so it pays to be honest sometimes!  I had to have an old filling replaced, so it meant a second appointment.  Both the dentist and the assistant were reasonably impressed with my grasp of Dutch, so even though I had to go back for punishment I left with a spring in my step.

I still had to go to the hairdresser though.  I have a massive professional crush on my hairdresser, but she is so expensive I have been putting off going since January.  I was in desperate need of a haircut; I was beginning to look a bit like a cave woman, but I just didn't have the spare cash to go to my regular hairdresser.

So, I cheated.  I went into Brain Wash, a walk-in, no appointment salon in Almere.  I knew that the English skills in there are not fantastic, so I would be forced to speak Dutch and it worked!  I could get my point across and she could understand me and I came away very happy with my 15 euro trim!

You know what this means, right?  I'm finally fully integrated language-wise.  I'm not sure that I will ever be completely integrated (I'd still rather pay 2 euros to park rather than walk half an hour), but I think I'm as close as I will ever be.


19 September, 2012

Amsterdam Mamas

Look!  Here I am, over at Amsterdam-Mamas talking about how Adventures in Integration was born. All as part of their Expatica Blog Competition Nominees in time for the i am not a tourist community fair that I talked about here earlier today.

Amsterdam Mamas is a a wonderful resource and has probably been a life-saver for me throughout my pregnancy and now as a new mum living in the Netherlands.  I stumbled upon the Facebook group back when there were about 200 or so members and today the group is staring down the barrel at 2000 members along with a hugely popular website launched earlier this year.

Founder Emmy is even Expatica's Expat of the Year 2012, congratulations and amazing work supporting so many of us Emmy.

Head over and take a look at my profile, featured on the Amsterdam-Mamas site:  Meet the Blogger: Adventures in Integration.

18 September, 2012

I am not a tourist

My husband (bless his soul) has nominated me as an entrant in the The "i am not a tourist" Expat Blog Competition, together with some of the most stunning expat writers here in the Netherlands.

To be honest, I was a bit reluctant to be nominated as I don't really feel as though I'm a 'real' blogger.  I'm only just finding my groove again after a long break away from the keyboard, mostly due to the birth of my daughter.  However, it's lovely to see the reactions from friends and family and even people I have never met.  Perhaps I'm a worthy entrant after all!

However, have you seen the competition?  Wow.  Some of my favourites are featured, including Amanda from Life with a double buggy, Stu from Invading Holland, Alison from A flamingo in Utrecht and Marianne from Like a Sponge.

These are some seriously classy writers and I'm waiting with baited breath to find out who the winner will be...

Check out the competition and order your free tickets to attend the event. Check out the exhibitors and perhaps we will see each other Sunday, 7 October at the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam.

14 September, 2012

The Birth

I've been thinking about writing this for six months or more, but unsure if anybody really wants to read all the gory details.  I've decided that enough time has passed that my glasses have become sufficiently rose in colour and I won't horrify anyone.  So here goes, the story of how Raina popped into the world....

My due date was 12 February and because of my family history (father and cousin born 8 weeks early in the car on the way to the hospital in the middle of winter) and the potential side effects of the surgery I had during the pregnancy I was well and truly ready to have my baby by Christmas time.  A few twinges at the Christmas dinner table made me think "This is it!" but alas, false alarm.  Christmas came and went, then New Year was upon us with a friend reminding me that I would be giving birth to a watermelon shortly.  I was still very active at this time, hiking across Amsterdam visiting museums and eating cake at the incredible Patisserie Pompadour and starting to get a bit anxious.  I still had six weeks to go, but in my head I was over due.

My mum arrived mid-January and fresh off the plane exclaimed "You don't even look pregnant!"  Well, thanks. I certainly looked pregnant when I stared in the mirror, but I guess that's another drawback of being fat.  I just looked even fatter.  Joy.  Pass the cake?

Before I knew it, it was the end of January and my baby shower.  There were soooo many people and sooooo many amazing gifts.  It was an hour-long present opening session.  I've never seen anything like it in my life.  The best thing is that we are still using so many of the gifts and Raina still needs to grow into some of the clothes!  But, still no baby.  My father in law's predicted date: 29 Jan came and went without a twinge and before we knew it we were entering the busiest birthday month in the family and it was turning into a game of "Dodge the Date," as the 6th is my sister in law's birthday and she didn't want to share her day (although she did change her mind in the end), then an uncle, an aunt and two cousins.  I still, after more than four years don't understand the Dutch obsession with birthdays.  Anyway.  Before I knew it, the due date was upon me.  Less than 5% of babies are born on their due date, so I really was not expecting anything.  In fact, by this stage I was preparing myself (not very well) for a 42 week pregnancy.  I just knew that she was in no hurry to come out and my begging, pleading, crying and shouting wasn't making her move any faster.

Honestly, the week after my due date was the hardest of my pregnancy.  And this includes multiple trips to casualty in the middle of the night for mystery blood loss, two hospital stays for vertigo and blood loss, surgery at 13 weeks and an extremely sensitive nose (the smell of raw meat still makes me want to hurl).

What made it even harder were all the helpful comments:  "The baby will come when she's ready," and "It's so nice and warm in there, why would she want to come out?" and my favourite: "Make the most of this time, you'll be wishing for peace and quiet very soon."  Really?  I doubt it.  I was done. D.O.N.E, done.  40 weeks was more than enough for me.  The waiting was so difficult - it was like Christmas Day that never comes.

I was under the care of a gynaecologist and part way through week 40 I started asking about being induced.  The hospital wouldn't do it at 40 weeks, but he was the first person who understood that it was the toughest time and agreed to start inducing at 41 weeks in the least invasive way.  Awesome!

On the Friday, when I was almost a week over due I went with my mum and mother in law to Urk to see the ice flows.  It was a once in ten years experience where the sea ice was breaking up and being swept on shore.  There were mountains of beautiful sparkling ice shards glimmering in the sunshine.  It was beautiful.  Too bad that Urk is the unfriendliest village in a 300 km radius...

Ice flows, Urk
That night, it happened.  I woke up at 3 am with shooting pains in my abdomen. and my excitement knew no bounds.  I started timing the contractions, which were about 30 seconds long every ten to fifteen minutes.  I knew from my child birth session with my good friend Becky that this was pre-labour and usually lasts 6-8 hours.  Sensational, pregnancy was nearly over and my amazing, difficult, rewarding new life was about to start.

But no.  Actually, it wasn't.  The pre-labour contractions continued through the night and well into the morning.  By lunch time on Saturday I was starting to wonder when I would move to active labour and by bed time I was trying not to be too impatient, but I was excited and positive.  You see, Sunday was my birthday and the possibility of me having a baby for my birthday was looking pretty good.

Then it started.  I had managed to get a few hours sleep, and then at around 2 am active labour began in full force.  Contractions for 90 seconds 4-5 minutes apart and gaining momentum.  I woke Maarten who didn't seem to be too interested and instead rolled over and went back to sleep.  By 6am I asked him to call the hospital who weren't ready for me yet.  I had to have contractions two minutes apart for an hour before I was allowed to come in.  You see, in the Netherlands quite a few women give birth at home and even if they do not wish to or cannot give birth at home, it is expected that much of the labouring is done at home.  We are all sent a birth package from our health insurance company to prepare for the prospect.  In the early days of my pregnancy I would not even entertain the possibility of giving birth at home, but after talking with other mums, reading everything I could get my hands on and learning to relax and go with the flow, I decided that if I was to do it all again I would attempt to opt for a home birth.  I would just have to talk someone else into cleaning up the mess....

By morning the pain was reasonably intense ("reasonably" is Australian for "just about unbearable," by the way).  Not sure if it is the most pain I have ever been in or the worst I have ever felt though.  All my yoga practice went out the window.  I am blaming the teacher for that though, she was absolutely rubbish.  All discussion and little practice.  My advice when looking into pregnancy yoga, do your research.  Find a teacher based on recommendations, not a quick Google search like me.

At around 6.30 my mum came in and we decided that I should open my birthday presents as we had no idea when I would get the chance, otherwise.  I remember struggling to rip open the paper and having to stop to walk around and breathe through a contraction.  Mum gave me a beautiful Cow Parade cow and Maarten gave me some lovely opal earrings, then I asked him to call the hospital again at around 7.30.

Surprisingly I was allowed to head in and to say the car trip was a challenge is the understatement of the century.  The only way I had been able to manage the pain so far was to sway and walk, and that ten minute car journey may have been the longest of my life so far.  Maarten had his 2 euro coin all ready for the wheel chair, but it was pointless.  I couldn't sit and cope with the contractions, so I walked to the delivery suite with poor Maarten fretting behind me with an empty wheelchair.

By 8.00 I was installed in a nice room with a bathroom and plenty of space, but no TV.  Apparently all the flats screens from the birthing wing in the Flevoziekenhuis had been stolen!  Seriously, who steals a TV from hospital?  Some extra gauze I can understand, but a TV?!  I had decided by this stage that I wanted some pain relief.  I had thought all the way through my pregnancy that I would go without, but I was also a realist.  I could feel myself slipping into another realm and not coping so well.  I was even less personable than usual and managed to offend the nurse who was going off shift in about 10 seconds.

Amazingly, my own gynaecologist was the rostered midwife (the actual midwife had called in sick), so he got in and had a bit of a look and a dig around and broke the water.  The feeling of that was so bizarre.  Gushing and hot and not at all ladylike.  However, it was all in good time as there was a little poo in the amniotic fluid, but nothing to worry about (although I took some convincing of that).  He also made a big deal about telling me I was six centimetres dilated and how he was proud that I had waited so long before coming in.  According to my wonderful nurse Jeanne, most labouring mothers come in when they are around 2 centimetres!  Then he fixed a heart monitor to the baby's head, helped me get hooked up to the IV, waved and said he'd be back in an hour and a half to two hours to see how I was going.

About this time (maybe a bit sooner or maybe a bit later, I don't really remember), my mum and mother in law arrived as part of my support team.  What I remember most was my mother in law muttering that I should breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, a mantra that Maarten promptly adopted.  I'm sure they honestly believed that they were helping me, but really all I wanted to do was punch them for their helpful tips.  After an hour or so mum and Maarten switched places and mum held my hand, breathing with me and helping me through each contraction.  You see, the pain relief wasn't helping.  At all.  Turns out there was a kink in the hose...

By about this time my body was trying to push.  The effort to compress the urge to push was almost too much to bear.  I kept shouting "I need to poooooo!"  Yes.  All glitz and glamour.  But nobody would listen to me.  Not enough time had passed for the doctor to come back, so I couldn't possibly be ready to push.  After what felt like hours of asking for the doctor and trying to breathe through pushing contractions, finally the nurse came and brought the doctor.  He flipped me over and had another look and declared that I was 10 cm and ready to push.  No shit Sherlock.  I could have told him that half an hour before.

At 10.20 he gave me the go ahead to start pushing and helped me get into position.  God knows where Maarten was at this point. He was in the room somewhere and I think I saw him looking a bit bewildered.  I do remember seeing his mum taking photos (graphic is NOT the word!) but was pretty out of it by this stage.  The doctor told me to push, so I gave it all I had.  Yelling helps, it really does.  I could feel the baby moving down, and filling my birth canal, then with the next push her head was out!  I actually felt her pop out.     Weirdest thing ever.  Becky had described the crowning feeling to be like sticking your fingers into the corner of your mouth and pulling your lips tight and she was dead on!  With the third push I felt her slip out and then she was plopped on my chest squalling.

Our first photo
From then on my memories are really in snapshots.  I don't really remember anything in the first person.  I was pure emotion.  Crying, shaking, overwhelmed.  The nurse asked what her name was and even though we had decided months before, I still wasn't 100%.  It took me a few moments to choke out "Raina."

Maarten cut the chord, the doctor whipped her away to do the reflex tests and then I was stitched up - ouch and phone calls were made and all of a sudden we were left alone.  After the sprint that was the birth and because there were so many people around (both mums, Maarten, a doctor and a nurse) it seemed a bit strange to be just the three of us blinking and wondering what on earth we should do next.

Having her reflexes tested

Papa still managed to find the time to do his hair...
The nurse came back and decided it was time to try and get Raina to latch and begin feeding.  This was not something that I really wanted - I was determined to let her explore and try it for herself, but the nurse was insistent so I let it go.  Some times it just isn't worth the argument.  My birth plan had gone out the window anyway, so what was one more thing?  The nurse also started looking at her watch and told us that because it was a Sunday, our post-natal care at home (kraamzorg) might be difficult to arrange.  However, she said that if we could get ourselves home and on the phone to the service before 14.00 they would send someone over.

This sent us into a bit of a panic.  I wasn't ready to go home yet, but I wasn't ready to go home and not have any help for the first day.  Raina had not really had anything to eat or drink yet and besides, how was I going to change her nappy?!  So it became a mad rush to get showered, dressed and home.  We made it with 15 minutes to spare and a nurse arrived by 15.00.  I had heard stories of new parents being sent home from hospital within four hours of giving birth, but I had not expected to be home within three!

This was when the fun really began.  It was time to learn the ins and outs of keeping a baby alive and who would have thought that this stuff isn't instinctive?  Learning to bath Raina was easy enough once I remembered to hold her head properly, but drying her had never occurred to me.  I had never realised that there were so many nooks and crannies that I had to dig around in to make sure she was nice and dry.

The nurse was with us a week and it was one of the roughest of my life.  I knew that breastfeeding could be a challenge, but never realised how emotionally draining it was when it wouldn't work and we had to supplement with formula while I pumped like a mad woman to try and get some milk flowing.  When it finally all worked it was like a miracle.  It really was.  The relief was palpable.  It was all going to be ok.  Raina started gaining weight rapidly (she lost almost 10% of her birth weight) and we all started coping better.  There were still many tears, very little sleep and I was only holding it together by a thread, but it was improving and I was slowly getting the hang of motherhood.

In the role he was born to play
Now when I look back on those weeks of my life I can't believe that I went through it, that every mother goes through it.  And how easy it is to forget when I don't sit down and make the effort to remember what it was like.  Raina is now almost 7 months old and life has a completely different set of challenges (solid food, crawling, tantrums, and teething), but I love it.  She is such a reward, and like my friend Juliette says about her boys, I'm so happy she picked us.

10 September, 2012

Coping with Grandparents on the other side of the world

Have you been living abroad for what seems like forever and never been visited by your parents?  I have a great solution for you:  have a baby!

I flew the coop back in 2006 (incidentally I was going to England for a year to have a look around and maybe see some of Europe and be home by somewhere mid-2007 to move to Perth and become the World’s Best Tour Guide) and in all the time I had been abroad, I had had two family encounters.  One was my Truly Great Aunt (TGN) who flew from South Africa to deliver my wedding ring.  Actually that is a lovely story all on its own.  The TGN had always worn her grandmother’s (my great grandmother) wedding ring and had promised that she would pass it on to me if ever the time came (which I doubt anybody ever expected) and she decided that the best way to ensure it arrived safely would be to accompany it.  She arrived on a rainy day in December – I doubt she could have picked a crappier time to visit the Netherlands, and stayed a couple of weeks.  It was some of the best times I’ve had in my four year stint living here so far.  I have two TGNs and to be perfectly honest, they are probably my favourite people in the world.  Sorry everyone else, I do love you too!

But, back to the story at hand...  The other family visitor was my grandmother.  We had originally planned for her to come and stay with us for a couple of weeks, but that evolved into a few days one side of a Grand Tour of Europe and eventually into an afternoon in Amsterdam and dinner at our house before swanning off to the Rhineland and beyond with her BFF.

But my parents...  I had never really dreamed that my parents would visit.  My mum has struggled my entire life with her health and my dad is always so busy with work that it was like a dream that was sure to never come true.  Little did I know that all I had to do was get myself pregnant and they would fall over themselves to book flights!  My dad was so keen that he had two fifteen hour stopovers on the way here and back.  My mum had never left Australia and because she is possibly the friendliest person on Earth, made loads of friends on the flight over.  I’m surprised that none of them turned up on my doorstep while she was here!

In the middle of January this year we were so convinced that winter was over (especially after our 14 degree Christmas!) that when Mum arrived we were all hideously underprepared for the icy front that would hit and linger for three weeks.  Some of the coldest weather in Northern Europe in years apparently, people dropping like flies – it was awful.  I’d sent her into my all time favourite store – Kathmandu – to pick up all her winter supplies, but it really wasn’t enough!  The poor woman had to go out and buy a second winter coat to avoid freezing to death.

Anyway.  My parents trekked across the planet upon the birth of Gorgeous Raina, and then eventually had to return home to reality.  Since then we have all had to learn to cope with them being “Skype Grandparents.”  As often as we can we will have a Skype session (thank goodness for my iPad) where they can look at and coo over Raina, but it’s less than ideal.

For everybody’s sake, I miss that they can’t be close by to see her growing like a weed and they miss all of the milestones.  First time rolling over; first solid food (and the related first solid poo!); first time crawling; the list goes on.  And on.  Thank goodness I had the foresight to buy Maarten a fancypants digital SLR while I was pregnant.  The damned thing hasn’t been switched off since February.  If you’re interested there are even some arty* shots of the birth....

And Facebook of course.  If it wasn’t for us being over-sharing STFU Parents (well I do believe I’m slightly less offensive than the majority of submissions on that site) posting about every little meal, smile and poo, my parents wouldn’t get to see anything.  Maarten has told me that on the odd occasion that he hasn’t posted a food photo, he has been bailed up by colleagues to find out why.  Facebook has been by far the best way to share with my parents as much as possible.

All of this is by far the biggest reason that I am counting the days until I go to Australia.  My parents will get so share in some of the milestones, finally!  First Christmas, and hopefully first steps (obviously I have a wonderchild who will walk at ten months).  I’m not sure if they’re too concerned about me returning home to be honest.  I think they would probably be just as happy if I popped Raina on a plane and sent her over by herself for a month or two.

I can't wait for the family reunion that my other TGN is arranging, I couldn't bear to miss out on another family gathering (a gathering that 10 years ago I would have probably done anything to avoid) after I missed the launch of Granny's Snake Yarns that my Great Auntie Vida wrote and self-published last year.  We're going to celebrate 100 years since my great grandmother taught at the school my grandmother went to (years and years and years later).  Most of all, it will be wonderful to take Raina to all my favourite places.  We'll actually visit the safe place that I go to in my mind when I'm struggling to cope...

Here she is, the love of our lives...

How do you manage with having long distance grandparents (or indeed being a long distance grandparent)?

*Arty being practically pornographic

What we are talking about

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