Born on the 4th

Bébé has arrived ! Born on the 4th of July like a real little American!

(Fair warning: I talk about the birth, but not in greater detail than what you’ve probably already seen in a Hollywood movie).

Though I had mixed feelings about him having a holiday birthday, I knew I couldn’t really control when he showed up. However, that didn’t stop me from trying a few “tricks” to see if it would help him make an appearance a bit earlier than scheduled.

So Thursday the 3rd, I ate an entire pineapple. And bounced on an exercise ball. Not violently, just a bit while sending some emails. Better for my back anyway! I walked up and down the stairs a few times. At best, I figured it would mean the fireworks on his birthday would compensate a little for the fact he can never be president of the USA. (Fun fact: Malia Obama is born on the 4th of July. So was Calvin Coolidge). At worst, I got a little workout and some vitamin C.

My husband came home that night to find me crying, upset it hadn’t worked, and on top of that, I had been super bored all week, so I was in a pretty rotten mood. I had this big to do list at the beginning of my maternity leave, and nearly everything was checked off. The nursery was set up. The freezer was stocked. My bag was packed. I had watched so much TV my brain was just refusing any more. I could still drive, but tried not to, since his squirming could sometimes distract me quite a bit, and my hips still hurt, so I was in the apartment all the time. But I prepared myself for another few weeks of the same, trying to think of a big project to keep me occupied a little longer. Maybe I would ask my brother-in-law to drive me somewhere the next day, or make a really involved, long recipe like macarons.

Despite all the pineapple and hoping, I was still a little surprised to wake up at 5am on the 4th with contractions 20 minutes apart. I figured we had a few hours ahead of us at home, waiting for things to either get started or stop completely. So I got out the exercise ball and started making breakfast. However, by 7am the contractions were already at 3 minutes apart and incredibly intense, so off to the hospital we went. It took another two and a half hours to get a room and an epidural, which I had neither wanted nor not wanted originally, preferring to wait and see how things happened the day of. The suddenness and intensity of the contractions, and the fact that I was laboring mostly in my back so I had very little relief between contractions, meant I ended up really wanting one. A few normal but unexpected things (vomiting and legs literally trembling from the pain) really drained my energy very quickly as well. I used the breathing I learned in class, which doesn’t actually help with the pain, but none of the positions we practiced, because of my legs just not supporting me. I mostly just lay curled up on my side. So I don’t regret getting an epidural at all, since I could barely speak those first few hours of labor! My husband had worried the past few weeks that my competitive spirit or American pride would keep me from asking for one, but I assured him I would if the pain meant I couldn’t focus on the actual business of getting him out. I knew being relaxed and focused is key, no matter how you achieve it. I had pictured being able to achieve it with the things I learned in class, but I never ruled out other options. I had an anti-plan birth plan: this way would be cool, but let’s just see what happens and we’ll go from there!

After they broke my water (fun fact: despite what Hollywood would have you believe, only like 15% of women have their water break naturally), things happened very quickly. Bébé was getting a little stressed out, so they called my doctor and he ended up coming in to deliver him by ventouse. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but in France, just a midwife delivers, unless there’s a medical intervention like a cesarian, forceps, or ventouse. I’m glad that at least my doctor was available and it wasn’t the one on call who I didn’t know. Also, I’m glad I had a super nice male midwife who spoke in the calmest voice ever. I pushed for about 20 minutes (still uncomfortable, even with an epidural), then my husband had to leave during the few minutes they used the ventouse (though it might have been a bit longer, I was not really looking at the clock at this point!), then he came back in to cut the cord. He said it was very strange to leave the room with me pushing, then come back to see a baby on my chest!

It took about 8 hours total, from that first contraction to the moment he was in my arms, which, for a first baby, is apparently pretty fast. While my ideas about labor very open, on a practical level I had still prepared more for a longer, natural process (or at least without needing the doctor). But I suppose quick and intense is not the worst way to give birth. There were no scary complications and we both came out of it 100% healthy. While my husband wasn’t there for the exact moment of birth, he was there within minutes and, after a half hour or so of cuddling, was the one who carried him out to go do the different tests.

So now we’re all at home, slowly adapting to a rhythm of living that is controlled by this tiny person rather than our own whims. Though we did manage a spontaneous walk around the park the other evening, the rest of our day is planned based on how much he decides to sleep between feedings (I’m breastfeeding). I’m hoping to catch up on blogs and everything next week! Though if it’s another two or three or more, I won’t stress too much. Just know I’m still reading everything, though probably at 2am and I don’t have an extra hand to type out a comment!

I made a baby quilt!

In addition to my handyman skills, I am a relatively crafty person. I made our wedding invitations and lots of the decorations. I made my prom dress junior and senior year of high school. I knit, though not a lot currently; I tend to go through knitting phases and my last one was maybe two years ago. I like having things around the house that I can say I made besides Ikea furniture (though I’ve been known to paint and personalize that too!). Though like many crafters, I do have a problem with finishing projects. So with the impending arrival of bébé, I figured a baby quilt would be a good thing to try to make, since there is a definite deadline to deal with. I also made (and finished!) some burp cloths before starting the quilt, to get used to the sewing machine I bought a few months ago.

Deciding on a design
Deciding on a design
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Piecing it together

I remember going to a quilting event for church with my mom when I was little, but besides that, I’ve never attempted a quilt before. I think it’s the actual quilting part that scared me, since just cutting and sewing pieces of fabric together is not that hard. And it turns out once you’ve done that, you can actually send it out to be professionally quilted! I guess some people prefer the artistic aspect of putting it together rather than the longer process of actually quilting. Plus there are special machines that make it way easier to do than with a regular sewing machine.

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Adding a border (it looks like polka dots, but it’s stars!)
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Putting the layers together – the super thick batting made it hard to get smooth!

But since it was my first, I did everything myself. I mainly followed this tutorial, though my sizes were different because of the type of fabric squares you can find in France and my inability to cut a straight line even with a rotary cutter. Also, I am terrified of the ladies at the fabric store here. I get so frustrated that I can never find the names for fabrics and I always look like an idiot. Since quilting isn’t really a big thing in France, I was worried they wouldn’t understand what I wanted, or that it doesn’t exist. So I ordered batting (“entoilage”) online, and it was thicker than I was expecting, which made quilting harder, and the end result is puffy and puckered, despite my best efforts to make things tight and smooth.

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Quilting!
Adding the binding.
Adding the binding.

But really, I don’t care that it doesn’t look like it’s “supposed to” because OMG I made a baby quilt!! And bébé certainly won’t care that none of the seams are straight or that the binding isn’t even. All that matters is that it’s soft, it’s warm, and I made it for him.

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All finished!
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The back is striped, so with the star border, it’s “stars and stripes” without being too obvious.

I started in early March, and spent three or four hours at a time working on it during three different Sundays (one day cutting, one day piecing, one day cutting and sewing the border). Then last week I realized that since he could come any day now, it needed to get done, so I kicked it up a notch and spent most of this week working on it nearly every day for a few hours. The quilting part I split into two days of three hours, then there was the binding to make/pin/sew, and finishing the binding by hand took another three hours. So in theory, I could have started it a few weeks ago and still gotten it done “on time,” but I liked having it there waiting for me in my sewing area over the past few months, as a visual reminder of things to come.

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It certainly adds a bit of color to the nursery. He won’t actually sleep with it until he’s much older, but this keeps it away from the cat!

So in addition to all the physical and admin stuff that’s ready to go, now he can definitely show up whenever he wants, since his quilt is finished!

Feelings about going on maternity leave

Today was the first day of my 16 to 20 week maternity leave. I’ll write more later about the more administrative details; today I was having all sorts of feelings about going on maternity leave and legally not being able to work for the next few months.

Since I work in HR, I read A LOT about the different gender equality policies around the country and around the world. Which companies have the best male/female ratio, which country gives the most maternity leave, which countries give parental leave for the father, which countries have quotas for female board members . . .

I don’t think there’s really a “best” answer. I can say that while it’s very reassuring to know I won’t lose my job because we chose to have a baby, and we won’t go into debt because of hospital bills, it’s also frustrating that I can’t continue to work longer when I am perfectly capable of doing so. I’m not sure how imposing a long break for women is supposed to help them gain workplace equality.

Not that I am at all upset to have this break! And it’s something we knew would happen, so it was a deliberate choice (well, as much as timing these things can be deliberate) to have a baby very early in my career rather than wait until I was more established. But I still had a few big projects I’d been working on for a while that I had to pass on to other people, which was extremely hard to accept. It feels like there’ll be this big blank in my CV and I’ll always have less practical experience in the field than others my age. So I really want to use my “time off” to continue developing skills and knowledge (languages, computers, policy, etc.) that I can put to use once I go back. (Those of you who are moms are probably laughing yourselves silly at my naïveté thinking I can study German vocab while sleep-deprived and nursing a colicky newborn. Don’t break my utopian bubble just yet, pretty please!)

I’ll actually be going back as soon as possible, since my husband is going to work part-time for a year instead of me at the end of my maternity leave (this option is made possible thanks to Luxembourg’s parental leave policy). It means taking a step back in his career as well, which we discussed at length before deciding what to do. The way we see it, he’ll get a “break” and get to spend more time at home than he otherwise would with his crazy hours. The housework/baby burden will hopefully be slightly better balanced than what often happens, making us both more efficient at work. (Again, no breaking my bubble moms! Trying to go into this as positive as possible!)

In the long term, we realize it will probably mean less money and less promotions for both of us, but making our family a priority now, before we have to make bigger career choices, seemed to make sense to us. In 20 years, will he really care that it took him an extra year to get a promotion when he was able to be so involved with his son’s early life? And I’m sure in a few years I won’t give two figs about these “empty” months in my CV when it meant being able to take care of our new baby myself instead of leaving him with strangers when he’s just a few weeks old.

I do realize how incredibly lucky we are to even have these options available to us. But the one option that wasn’t available was for me to continue working as long as I could physically, which annoys me. It would have saved the government money, and would mean a higher salary potential over the course of my career as well, which is also good for the government, since it means more taxes. It would have saved my company money since they’d need a replacement for less time. Even the train company would make money from me keeping my commuter pass longer.

Coming back to this idea of equality, maternity policies aren’t even fair to all women, since not everyone has children. If a company doesn’t replace a woman on maternity leave, it means more work for others without increasing their pay. The same goes for men and parental leave. Everyone knows the time isn’t being spent lounging around on the beach, and that having children is just as much work as a full-time job, if not more. (Ok, probably definitely more work.) But that doesn’t mean those you leave behind at the office aren’t feeling a bit of resentment seeing you walk out the door, or that when you come back you won’t feel some as well for all the opportunities you missed. I feel like the only way to be really equal is for everyone to get an extended period off at some point during their career, so that the career advancement and workload issues apply to everyone. (This is an insanely impractical suggestion, I know, but hopefully the reasoning behind it makes at least a little bit of sense.)

Most of these confusing ramblings are the result of the guilt I feel for getting this time off when it seems like I did nothing to earn it other than do what humans have been doing forever, and when so many other women around the world don’t have my options. I am grateful, I am annoyed, I feel guilty, I feel relieved, I want this, I don’t want that, I want everything . . . Basically all the feelings I can expect once I’m a mother, right? So if maternity leave is supposed to help me prepare for motherhood, it seems like I’m off to a good start!

 

Crazy stuff said during pregnancy

I am nearing the end of week 31, which in theory means less than 9 more to go! But it could be as little as 6 or 7 weeks . . . Either way, I thought it was time to write about all the crazy stuff said during pregnancy. By me as well as my husband. I know it’s our first baby, and I know there are no “stupid” questions, but sometimes I think we could have maybe thought things over just a little longer . . .

Him: “We know a few other Franco-american couples, and their kids are all redheads. Does that mean ours will be?” (During one of our first doctor’s appointments. Because obviously hair color is dependant on nationality, not silly things like genetics.)

Me: “Wait, how can we see his brain?? Doesn’t he have a skull?!” (During a sonogram, when he showed us the two hemispheres. He answered, quite patiently actually, that we can see though the skull, just like we were seeing through my belly, thanks to modern technology.)

Him: “So he showed us the diaphragm, it must be a girl! Only girls have those!” (Said in the car after the same, apparently very confusing, sonogram appointment. Biology was not his favorite class in school . . .)

Me: “Since it’s a boy, if you test my blood, will I be both male and female?” (During my most recent blood test. I still feel like this is a legitimate question, but my husband laughed a lot about this. Whatever, I was more into chemistry anyway.)

Him: “When he’s born, he’s all covered in stuff, so what if they give him to me and he just slips out of my arms??” (The other night when discussing our birth plan. I’m sure he’s not the first future papa to worry about this, but it was the motions he did while saying it that were just priceless.)

Me: “He’s been kicking really really hard lately, he can’t like, tear through anything and suddenly burst out of my stomach, right?” (I blame this on Twilight/Alien. He kicks super hard! But again, the midwife was very patient and explained all the physical reasons why this is not possible. So maybe I am not the first to ask this!)

Him: “But if I put the baby in the stroller in the apartment, how will I get him down the stairs?” (This is actually a recurring theme with my husband, wanting to know how he’ll physically manage things like getting both groceries and the baby into the car, or where to put the baby when he’s getting ready for work in the morning. It’s sweet, to know he’s already picturing it, but also funny to hear all the various complicated situations he can imagine for himself. I feel like once bébé is here, it’ll all make more sense to him.)

 

And maybe it’s just hormones, but my doctor has been getting on my nerves lately, because he says stuff like: “Really? You were crying? Contractions don’t hurt that much.”

I realize he was just trying to determine what exactly had caused a very scary pain a few weeks ago, but I am kind of regretting my choice now to stick with my male doctor, even if I’ve been with him for years, since things like this make me want to punch him in the face. At least the midwives are almost all women (notable exception being our patient sonogram guy), and unless something goes wrong, they are the ones who actually deliver babies in France.

 

Writing them all out makes me feel a little better, since they don’t seem as bad as when we first said them and there was an instant “d’oh!” feeling. Everything about the pregnancy is still perfectly normal and boring, so maybe our questions are too, I’ve just never heard them before because I’m not a doctor!

Bank card limits in France

My nesting instinct hasn’t quite kicked in yet (the freezer remains mostly empty and the closets horribly disorganized) but my shopping definitely seems to have picked up a bit this month. So I’ve been having lots of fun, but in the back of my head, I have to keep in mind the spending limits on my bank card.

Since I moved to France right after college, I’m not sure how different things are here, but I know my dad was upset recently that his free checking accounting was no longer free. I’ve been paying a few euros a month since the very first month for my account here, so I couldn’t really sympathize with him. I do know that what I pay is because I have a debit card; the joint account with my husband only has a checkbook so we don’t pay anything for it.

In addition to the monthly fee, there are limits on how much I can withdraw each week, and how much I can spend in a month using the card (there are no limits to withdrawing at the bank, other than the amount actually in the account!). When I first arrived in France, these limits were pretty low, which wasn’t a big deal, since I didn’t make that much. And it’s nice to know that if my card gets stolen and someone tries to buy or withdraw a lot, they won’t be able to. Recently I asked my banker to increase the limits, since my work situation is stable, but I still need to keep that number in my mind when buying big ticket items over the next few weeks.

Both my husband and I are at Société Générale now, but before he was at Crédit Mutuel, and I’m not sure if he had the same limits. I remember the first time we tried to buy plane tickets with his new card, and we couldn’t, because he was close to the monthly limit, and he swore he’d never had one at his old bank. It could just be that he had never reached his limit before, so never knew what it was.

One nice thing is that there re no fees when withdrawing from an ATM at another bank, with, of course, a weekly limit. This is something I loved when I first got here, since there was nothing more annoying to me in the states than paying an extra 2 dollars when I didn’t use my bank’s ATM. 2 dollars is a lot to a college student on minimum wage! That’s like, enough for an essential studying snack or bus fare to the mall.

I’ve been looking into purely online banking for a while, but I’ve been at the same bank since I first got here, and with the same banker for over 4 years. He knows us, knows our goals, and gives good advice. We also manage to get enough “new” services every year that we help him meet his sales quota without him having to call and badger us every few months. So if we called him and asked to up the limit so we can buy a crib, he’d do it, no problem. I don’t feel like I can’t spend my own money how I want to, it just takes a bit more planning. Which, when dealing with budgets, is probably not such a bad thing.

I’ve gotten used to my bank card limits in France just like I’ve gotten used to everything being closed on Sundays and after 7pm. Sure, a part of me feels like this is somehow denying me my freedom of choice, but at the same time, it’s made me more organized and conscious of how I spend my money (and time).

Holiday birthdays

My husband’s birthday was this week, and I felt bad that I wasn’t in the best shape to fête it like we usually do. He was still on vacation most of this week, but went back to work on his birthday, which confused me, since if you have the choice, who wants to work on their birthday? But I don’t really know how people feel about “normal” birthdays, since I have a holiday birthday.

I was born on Christmas, which was a great present for my parents but has not always been easy for me. There are good things, like never having to work, and the food is always yummy, and people are in a festive mood. There are the bad things, like less presents, but as an adult you’re not really allowed to say that because by now you’re supposed to understand that Christmas is about more than just presents, right?

Growing up, my parents always said they would make me whatever I wanted if I didn’t want to eat the turkey with everyone else (though I rarely took them up on it; turkey and mashed potatoes is fine by me any night!) And I was very particular about my cakes (purple strawberry, cupcake cocktails). In France, since we don’t host the dinner ourselves, I have no say in terms of menu and dessert and even cake choices, which has been hard. But again, as an adult, you’re not supposed to make a big deal about things like this. It shouldn’t matter what you eat, Christmas is about being with family and celebrating other things besides whiny little you.

Despite not really knowing exactly when the bébé will come, he could theoretically be born on either July 4th or 14th. At first it seems like this would be pretty cool. But then I really think about it, and there would definitely be drawbacks. Yes he would have fireworks and we wouldn’t have to work, but unless we hosted a party, friends and family would probably already have other stuff planned that day. Or they’d all be on vacation (though this is a problem with all summer birthdays). And any party would pretty much have to be a barbecue. And if we didn’t throw a party, it would be hard to find a restaurant open that day if we wanted to go out. And eventually he would realize that all the celebrations and parades have nothing to do with him.

It seems like little, stupid things to care about, but if your birthday is supposed to be a special day just for you, holiday birthdays are hard because you’re automatically sharing it with everyone else. And it does seem like people try to avoid them as much as possible (though that might have more to do with hospital staffing than the mother’s choice):

(The chart and interactive table are just for the states; I would love if someone did something like this for France!)

In the end, birthdays are something you have very little control over, other than how you choose to celebrate. And holiday birthdays come with lots of built-in celebrations and traditions that you may or may not like.

But for my husband and his “normal” birthday, celebrations this year involved inviting his family over today and cooking for them, followed by a leisurely walk in the sun along the river. And really, when I think about it, that’s the same thing we do for mine: eating, talking, and spending time with loved ones. So no matter what birthday bébé ends up with, we’ll always try and do the same! (And if it is a holiday, and he doesn’t want barbecue, I’ll make him whatever else he wants to eat).

Learning to relax

I am off work for the next two weeks and I’ve decided to treat it as preparation for my maternity leave. I like what I do and get a lot of satisfaction (=feel important) from doing it well.  Any stress at work really affects me and it’s definitely been stressful lately with tons of different projects. So it’s been really hard on me physically and mentally the past few weeks, and on top of that, the guilt/stress of knowing that soon I’ll be leaving for a few months which means more work for everyone else. But I’m learning to relax a little, let go of the stress, and trust that my colleagues are perfectly capable of doing things without me. (Though that didn’t stop me from leaving them my cell number, with instructions to call if they had even the tiniest question about something . . .)

So what does my “relaxing” schedule look like the next few weeks? My husband is off next week so we’re going on a little road trip to Poitiers, where his brother is doing an internship, and Bretagne, because I don’t care if it’s still a bit cold, I haven’t been on a beach in about 5 years and in June/July I will be too far along to go anywhere. But this week, I have a list a mile long of everything I want to get done.

It’s always like that, isn’t it? Even on weekends, you think “finally, I can relax,” but there are groceries to buy, errands to run, people to see, paperwork to fill out . . . And on vacation, you try to cram as much sightseeing in as possible, and end up even more tired than when you started your vacation! Whenever my husband has a few days off (he has tons, thanks to working in Luxembourg banking) I leave him a list of things to do. He did not leave a list for me, or rather, his list was “relax and sleep.” So I made my own list. Mostly to feel like I’m still “working” (why is it so hard to just be lazy??) but also because I do legitimately have a lot of things to get done.

Like start getting the nursery ready! We still haven’t bought a lot of things for bébé, but we’re turning the office into an office/nursery, which means a fair amount of reorganizing has to happen first. And I’ve decided it will happen this week! Besides, getting a space nice and neat and in order can be very relaxing in a way. Seeing stuff in its place just makes everything else easier.

Paperwork is another big thing this week. Papers for the doctor, papers for insurance, papers for France, papers for Luxembourg . . . Not to mention it’s that time of year when I need to start thinking about renewing my residency card in 2 months, which means getting together all the different papers for that. But this is also somehow relaxing, knowing that our (well, mostly my) papers are in order and I won’t have to worry about it later. This goal goes hand-in-hand with getting the office organized, since finding all the papers I need normally takes way longer than it really should . . .

I also hope to do lots of cooking and exercising. The pool is unfortunately closed this week, or I would have gone every day, so it will be lots of walking along the river, which should definitely be very relaxing. And cooking/baking has always been a super relaxing activity for me. Having the time to cook healthy stuff (and maybe some not-so-healthy goodies for the road trip) will be great.

There are a couple of slightly more stressful things on the schedule like doctors appointments and meeting with a few nannies. But since all of that will make what comes next easier, it’s a relief to have the time to do things properly, rather than trying to squeeze in everything after work and on weekends. So I think I should be okay this week, “relaxing” in a very personalized way.

What do you do when you’re off work to relax? To-do lists, total vegetation in from of the television, or somewhere in between?