Back to work...

I'm going back to work on Monday and I'm excited.

I've learned a lot about myself in the past 5,5 months that I've been at home with my little baby Sofia:

- It was a good idea not to go back to work after 3 months. Sofia was still so small and it would have felt very premature to leave her at a daycare at 3 months. Of course I know a lot of women don't have the luxury to stay at home longer but I did and I am so grateful for the time I have been able to spend with her. Every day, pretty much 24/7, except for a few random date nights with my husband. I loved to see that little tiny baby grow into a giggly, curious, standing on her feet, rolling over, eating mashed banana... 5,5 months old babygirl

- It was the right decision to move back to Belgium. I miss Cincinnati, Covington, OTR, the great restaurants, my friends, the simple (and cheap) life we led in the States, the Roebling bridge, the runs along the Ohio river... But nothing beats being with your family and watching your grandparents (Sofia's greatgrandparents!) melt away when they see her and hold her. That is something that unfortunately I know we won't have for decades to come and I love seeing our grandparents being totally in love with our little girl. As well as our parents. What is it with being a grandparent? It is so funny to observe your own parents going stir-crazy about your baby. I guess it's one of those things you only truly understand once you become a grandparent yourself :) But all joking aside, it's great to see them with our baby too, as well as our sisters and the rest of the family

- You can get tired of drinking Champaign. After 5 years abroad, there are a lot of people you want to catch up with and as most of our friends / family hadn't seen Sofia yet, we've been receiving a lot of visitors. Whom we all wanted to offer a glass of Champaign to toast to Sofia, of course! It's fair to say that it kind of loses its special occasion effect when you do that every day ;)

- I have not turned into the perfect housewife. Before going on maternity leave, I somehow thought that maybe, I would take the time to become a decent cook, that I would enjoy cleaning and being at home and being homey and all of that. Well... newsflash: I didn't... I'm still way to impatient to be a good cook, I still dread ironing laundry and I still see cleaning as a necessary evil...

- I do love being a mom. So while I'm pretty sure I won't miss being at home all day every day, I will really miss all of the quality time with Sofia. But, I think I found a job that will allow me to combine both work and family life in a feasible manner.

Here's to hoping it will be!




Unconditional love

What do you think of when you hear the word "love"? For me, the first words that come to mind are: trust, relationship, happiness, respect, values, compromise, silly jokes, waking up happy because of the person next to you, protected, falling in love, butterflies... Something to be treasured, but also something to keep working on.

The moment I became a parent I was introduced to a different kind of love: the most overwhelming emotion I've ever had: the one of unconditional love. To love someone no matter what. It blew my mind, it washed over me and hasn't left me since. I don't expect it ever will.

Actually, I'm not sure who I'm writing this blogpost for as all of you parents out there know this feeling very well. And people who aren't parents (yet), well, I guess it's something you will only truly understand the moment you become one. So I'm probably just writing this for myself - to remind me, when I look back, how beautiful and overwhelming a feeling it was. Not just something that's always been there.

Unconditional love is fundamentally different from love as I knew it before. That type of love, as strong as it may be, was and is based on respect, and some guardrails. We could discuss specifics, but if the person you love cheats on you, or lies to you or ... [insert what would make you walk away] ... If the person you love doesn't treat you with the respect you deserve, you walk away. You both know that, and you treat each other with respect, because you love each other and always want to be together. But no matter how strong and deep your love, it is not unconditional. At least not in my mind.

Unconditional love feels like 100% heart and no reason. I'm guessing it's biological: what other reason could there be for waking up at 4am and not mind because it's.your.baby? It feels bigger than anything else I've ever felt.

Did you feel the same when you became a parent? Do you agree with my "love" description versus "unconditional love" or is it too black and white because my baby is still only 3 months? Does it change over time? I'm curious, let me know!


Being pregnant and giving birth in the States – what surprised me

Would you consider giving birth abroad? Somewhere where people speak a different language, have different habits, procedures… It is a bit terrifying when you stop for a second and think about it.

However, another principle trumped my initial worries and that is that I didn’t want to delay having kids because of our international adventure. Nowadays so many people seem to wait and carefully plan their baby for the moment when they are properly ‘settled down’: married, good job, their own house. While we got the married and job part taken care of, we were living in another country and renting a one bedroom apartment. We decided it didn’t matter.

Being pregnant in the States was… interesting. A few things that struck me as different from what I would expect back home:

1. My gynaecologists seemed to trust ‘tests’ more than their own observations. This resulted in a few weird situations where the doctor would ask me: “do you want me to check you?” and I would always say: “of course” (how else will we know if everything is ok?). There was definitely a preference for doing one more ultrasound or one more extra test. This of course cost money.

2. Medical bills are outrageous. Even with a very good health insurance, I still paid way more than I ever would have in Belgium. This was to be expected I guess. What I wasn’t ready for was how expensive all the medication is that your doctor prescribes. And how long it takes to actually hit your deductible (once you hit it you don’t need to pay anymore). There was actually a very detailed piece on this in Time Magazine a few weeks ago, in case you’re interested to learn more about this.

3. Induction. Our doctors seemed very much in favor of induction and started to talk to me about this around 34 weeks, which led to a few 'interesting' discussions. I was not ready to have that discussion that early on in pregnancy and I still don't understand why you would induce if you're body isn't ready for it (unless there is a medical emergency of course). When I checked the website of the hospital I delivered in there were remarkably more births during the week than in the weekend. Induction = king here?
4. Friendliness of random strangers. This may be the same back home, no idea, but I was pleasantly surprised by how people in Cincinnati would smile at me when they noticed I was pregnant. I never got more compliments than during this period (thank you baby :))

5. People being surprised that I still walked to work right up to the birth of my baby. Walking for 30 minutes is looked upon as a weird thing anyway but the fact that I continued walking to work (sometimes taking the bus) was beyond comprehension for some of my colleagues. As well as the fact that we got a car 2 days before our baby’s birth :) In Belgium, women will walk a lot in the final weeks, to make sure the baby ‘drops’, so it’s not a weird sight

In terms of delivering the baby, I have no idea how it is in Belgium so it’s hard to compare, but here is what I will remember most:

1. Extremely helpful nurses. Very hands-on, they supported me when they had to but never pushed me for any decisions. This was a welcome surprise as I thought they would push for an epidural. But because I had been clear about my preference for a natural birth, they gave me nurses who had experience with that. Without them, I wouldn’t have made it that long without medication. And the moment I decided I wanted it anyway, they were very quick to give it to me.

2. Discharged 48 hours after delivery. C-R-A-Z-Y. While my husband was glad that we could go home, I felt barely human at the moment that I was discharged. The very short stay at the hospital also meant that every 30 minutes there was someone else dropping in (nurses, doctors, admins…). Exhausting (and that was without family dropping by - as they were still back home at this point!)

3. Total obsession with breastfeeding. In Belgium, parents choose to breastfeed or to give formula and it is their own choice. Other people will respect that choice and not think twice about it. In the US, it feels like you don’t really have a choice. I had to supplement my daughter for a day because my milk hadn’t come in and had to sign a piece of paper that I understood that this was just a temporary solution (!). While I don’t give my baby formula right now, switching to formula won't be a big thing when that time comes. I guess we just don’t make that big of a deal out of breastfeeding in Europe.

Finally, what I will always remember is the fantastic support I got from colleagues and friends during pregnancy and after delivery. Uncountable gifts, tips, borrowed baby furniture and clothes… Really amazing! Thank you all :)

All things considered, while it’s probably always easier in your own country, it was also a good experience here. And as a bonus, I now know all of the English “pregnancy/childbirth” vocabulary :)


Pregnancy reflections: the anti-you

The one thing everybody will tell you when you're pregnant is "your life will change completely, 100%, once the baby is born". It's not that I don't believe them, but frankly, right now, I'm more occupied with how pregnancy is changing my life. Right here, right now. Today.

Nobody could have warned me for how pregnancy would change me. And no, I'm not talking about getting up several times a night to go to the bathroom, feeling sick for weeks in a row, ligament pains when you stand up too quickly... Yes, those are the things you read about in books, you kind of expect them and then you just deal with them in the best possible way.

What I didn't know is that you can turn into an anti-you just weeks after becoming pregnant. Sure, books will tell you about how tired you will be, and how your energy levels will be low. But I was not prepared for my very sudden and total lack of interest in anything else but my baby and getting enough rest. A movie festival in Cincinnati? Don't care, my favorite band releasing a new song? Don't care, Writing a blog post? ... You get the feeling.

For the past 4 months, that's how I've been feeling. And in a way, it was very refreshing, life does become a lot easier as you become more disconnected from anything "new" going on. It allows you to focus on what really matters (the baby, getting enough sleep, reading up on pregnancy, trying to eat healthily) and still have enough energy to do what must be done (exercise - this is currently a 30 minute walk to work and back -) and work (after 8 hours, I'm pretty much dead).

So, yeah, I pretty much turned into the anti-social Louise... And while at first it scared me, it has taught me that it's ok to cut back on social activities when you don't have the energy for them. I'm carrying a baby after all, and that is now priority number 1.

Once I realized that it was ok, I suddenly had a bit more energy to start reaching out to the people I really missed and to plan in a few more activities: a girls night in (not out!), a theater show, and a basketball game.

I hope you like it, little baby!


Final thoughts on my live below the line challenge

It's 5h30 on Friday afternoon and I'm close to finishing the challenge.

My final thoughts:
- surviving on $7.50 a week is tough, tougher than I thought it would be
- i had underestimated the impact on my emotional health - you need more food than this to feel good
- it was a great way to raise money, almost 2000 dollar so far!
- i'm so grateful for being able to go back to "normal" and will keep those in mind who don't have that luxury
- we had a great team in Cincinnati, it was so powerful to come together to do this

See you next year...!


Live below the line - Day 3 pain

Day 3 is definitely the worst day so far...

- hard to get up
- feeling weak
- somehow have this idea that I can't eat anything so even when I'm eating my carrot at 4pm for a second I think I'm cheating and am not supposed to eat... (yeah...)

but on the positive side:
- ramen noodles are surprisingly delicious after 2 days of beans and rice
- I'm still going strong, haven't cheated!
- having lunch with the below the line colleagues is encouraging: other people are as grumpy as I feel :)


Live below the line - day 2

It's 9pm on day 2 and here are my observations for the past 2 days

- tap water in Covington tastes really really bad
- people are surprised to see that I can get a full plate of rice, beans and 4 taco shells for less than 1.50 a day
- i'm not really hungry, but more bored with what to eat. very excited about switching to ramen noodles tomorrow for lunch!!
- having a snack was a good idea, i get excited about eating my carrot around 4 pm :)
- my stomach doesn't really hurt but feels like it's shrinking
- your social life pretty much disappears when you don't have money to eat (wanna go for dinner? errrm, no...)
- best idea is to have lunch at your office with other people doing the challenge to encourage each other. today i had a lunch meeting with pizza and it was pretty hard sitting there on my own eating my beans and rice
- i'm glad i don't usually drink coffee, it seems tough for the caffeine-lovers out there!

My dinner tonight was exactly the same as yesterday... but tomorrow I get ramen for lunch and carrots with the rice and tacos for dinner....!