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 :)


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....!


Living below the line this week

So this week I'm living below the line: surviving on $1.50 a day for food and drinks for 5 days... Right now I'm at the end of day one...

You can follow my adventures on my live below the line blog and also support me and my team there: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/louisedejager 

Thank you!



Day 2 in Alabama

Been in training from 8-5, then dinner from 5h30 to 8 and then 2 more hours of discussions.

Fair to say haven't seen anything new.

2 good places for dinner I can recommend though:
http://www.cypressinnrestaurant.com/ Beautiful riverfront views combined with quality southern cuisine and friendly service - all with fresh ingredients. Truly amazing views!

http://epiphanycafe.vpweb.com/Home.html New American farm-to-table cuisine. Try the scallops as a starter, the duck as a main and the carrot cake as a dessert. I promise you won't regret it! No view here, but amazing food! Good cava too :)

Tomorrow same schedule...