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Letting go

A couple of months ago I took emotional stock and didn't quite recognize myzelf. I sort of skipped the whole emotional thing, you know, where the pregnant lady bursts out in tears? Didn't do that. But I was worried, all the time. Worried about giving birth, worried about riding my bicycle through Amsterdam and getting in an accident. Worried when Levi wasn't home, and wondering whether something had happened to him. I am not that girl!

Now, I think that was all a phase, very likely hormone induced (like everything these past months).

Since returning from our holiday in Spain, where I also took time off from the worries about being pregnant and becoming parents, and all the freaking lists of things we still had to organize (there's time! Really! Don't sweat it!), but especially since my maternity leave started, I have started to let go. No more worries. I am so relaxed, I have friends who think I am crazy.

With less than two weeks to go before my due date, Levi and I are visiting his parents in Belgium this weekend. A friend of mine, who just gave birth to her second son a few months ago, said: "Really?? You're going to Belgium?! What if the baby comes? She could be born on the side of the highway?!" But it's our first. It's not going to go that fast. If I do go into labour, I am just going to have Levi drive me back to Amsterdam to give birth. And besides, she's staying put for another two weeks or so, I'm convinced of it.

Also, I was planning on visiting the birthcenter at the hospital, but with every passing day it seems more unlikely that I will actually get around to doing that. The same friend said: "I wouldn't feel comfortable not having been. It's nice to know where to go when the moment is there." But most likely my OB will accompany me to the hospital at go-time. And, I figure if I walk into the hospital in labour, someone will point me in the right direction. I am pretty sure they won't let me have the baby in the hallway.

So... yeah. I've let go of all worries. I'm taking everything as it comes.

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Maternity leave: I finally get it

Yeah, so... Never having been pregnant before, I had no idea what the whole maternity leave thing was about and what it was for. At 33 weeks, I figured things were still going quite well, even in spite of the pregnancy diabetes (or, paradoxically, perhaps because of it), so I told my manager I would keep working until end of week 36, and then take my leave.

Of course, a couple of days after I told him this, my energy levels dropped and my sugar levels soared. With only two more weeks to go, I started working from home. This meant cutting out the 2 hour commute and allowed me to sleep in, which I gratefully took advantage of.

With hindsight, I would have done well to take leave earlier. This being our firstborn however, I figured I would love the extra few weeks at the end of my leave, when the baby was born, instead of... at the end of my pregnancy, when I didn't really know what I was going to do with myself.

But now, I get it! The point is exactly this: not having to work. Not having to do so much anymore. Taking the rush out of life. First of all, you have an enormous belly, so there is physically no way in the world that you could rush anyways. Also, you have less energy, because let's face it, building a child really cuts into your energy reserves.

For the first time since becoming pregnant, I am relaxed. I do have a list of things I am trying to get done. Like packing a bag for the hospital. Washing babyclothes. Deciding on cards. Collecting everyone's addresses for the cards. You know, stuff. And one by one, I am getting these done. In between appointments with the OB, and pregnancy classes, and pregnancy yoga.

Pregnancy leave: I love it!

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Update: pregnancy diabetes

My OB decided to have me tested for pregnancy diabetes. I was on the border of the risk group, but she wanted to be safe rather than sorry. Factors that make OBs decide to have you tested are (possibly among other things): if you are obese, if you have a certain ethnic background (Turkish, Hindustan, Oriental), if diabetes runs in your family, etc. My grandmother and uncle from my mother's side both had diabetes, so I was tested.

The test consisted of having a blood sample taken on an empty stomach. Having to drink a disgustingly sweet drink, laden with sugar. Waiting for two hours in a windowless waiting room. Then having another blood sample taken. I nearly fell asleep while waiting for those two hours. I was nearly overcome with the need to lay my head down. It was like the mother of all after dinner dips. This was a sign, in hindsight.

Tested positive, then what?
Turned out the test was no frivolity. My after-sugar test result came back too high, I have pregnancy diabetes. This meant that I had to change OBs again. You are not allowed to stay with your own OB, but have to go to the hospital instead. Appointments with new OB, ultrasounds, internal specialist, diabetes specialist nurse, dietitian, there's a whole parade of people to see.

There's a risk the baby may grow too fat (up to 9 pounds?!), because of too much sugar in the amniotic fluid. An extremely large baby can harm the mother on the way out, so you get extra ultrasounds to monitor the baby's growth. Huge baby was my first worry, as I am not too big myself. I wasn't sure I would be able to handle a monster baby. Plus, it would have effects on her life as she got older. Tendency towards obesity starts in the womb, apparently. And this would then increase her chances of developing diabetes (TypeII) later in life. Also, she would be born with a sugar addiction, and immediately go into a hypo after birth (suddenly being deprived of the large amounts of sugar she was used to in the womb).

But the ultrasounds showed the baby was fine. Her growth curve was still perfectly on track. One worry down, what was next? Diet, a regular schedule for eating, and measuring my bloodsugar levels.

The diet
The diet entails: no added sugar of any kind. So out with the sugar in coffee and tea. But also, no ice cream, soda, cookies, cakes, candy, etc.

I figured: "I don't have a sweet tooth anyway, so I won't miss that very much." But it turned out that I would still miss that refreshing Coca Cola with a slice of lemon and loads of ice cubes on a hot day. And my occasional half a portion of Ben & Jerry's cookie dough ice cream after dinner. And sometimes, just once in a while, I crave something ridiculously sweet, like a Lion chocolate bar (I only need a quarter of a bar to satisfy the craving!) But alas.

The diet also entails: small portions, spread out over the day, and very limited carbs. General rule of thumb: if a product contains 4 grams of carbs (or less) per 100 grams, it is considered low in carbs. If carbs at all, then the good kind (the kind that slowly releases its sugars: wholewheat bread and pasta, quinoa, etc), not the bad kind (the kind with fast sugars, white bread, white rice, white pasta, for example).

Blessings within restrictions
I was afraid I wouldn't be able to eat fruit anymore, but it turned out that while some fruits were off limits (pineapple, banana, watermelon, grapes), there was still a lot of fruit I could eat. Strawberries, cherries, kiwis, even Galia melon.

After embracing the dietary restrictions resolutely, and struggling daily to stick to the eating/bloodmeasuring schedule (eat every two hours. Measure bloodsugar levels 1,5 hours after each meal. My daily routine is a constant series of alarms), my bloodsugar values were excellent. Immediately. Every time I tried to eat something new, I weighed how much I had had of it, and then measured my bloodsugar afterwards. I can even eat potato chips! (if I schedule it in, in a 2-hours-apart-from-anything-else food-slot).

Here's a list of things that I have added to my diet that I do very well on:
- 'meerzaden pave' from Vlaamsch Broodhuys. Most breads contain sugar, to make the yeast work. This bread does not! Plus, it's delicious.
- wholewheat knackebrod, and wholewheat melba toast
- wholewheat pasta. I like the Honig macaroni, al dente. Must be al dente. If you completely cook wholewheat pasta, it turns too soft and gets yucky (in my humble opinion). (I can eat 40 grams (weighed uncooked) easy)
- 'Senoble kwark' from Dirk van den Broek. Most quarks contain sugar, even the plain ones! This one only contains 3,3 grams per 100 grams of the stuff. Lowest amount of carbs I could find, and it is creamy and delicious.
- nuts. Any nut really, except cashews, as these are high in carbs. I usually mix pecans, pistachios, smoked almonds and macadamias. Walnuts are very good for pregnant women, but I'm not a huge fan ;)
- cheese! Most cheeses, like brie and Gouda, don't contain carbs at all. Cream cheese (Philadelphia) and soft goats' cheese (Chavroux) contain carbs, but I've found I can still eat these, in moderation, with my bread or crackers.
- sliced meats. I have become a regular at my friendly local butcher, where I get 'fricandeau'. They slice the well-done butt-end of the meat especially for me, as I need to avoid the pink stuff. Also: cooked ham (tostis!).
- snack cucumbers and tiny tomatoes. I add them to any bread meal or snack to liven things up.
- 'Albert Heijn Excellent Ambachtelijke Mayonaise'. 99% of all Albert Heijn Excellent products are hogwash. Overpriced and not very excellent. But this is the best mayonaise I know. We used to buy our mayo in Belgium (where Levi's parents live). I love my mayo creamy, slightly tart, never sweet. Most (ALL!) mayonaises in the Netherlands contain sugar. This one, does not. Best. Mayo. In. The. World.
- Tyrell's Veg Crisps. With only 38,6 grams of carbs per 100 grams, it's better than regular chips (Lay's original: 52 grams of carbs per 100 grams).

My food schedule on a typical day might look like this:
7.30: a bowl of fruit: a handful of strawberries, a kiwi, and 50 grams of quark. Also: a wholewheat Wasa cracker with some cream cheese, fricandeau and cucumber and tomato.
9.30: 60 grams of bread, cream cheese, cucumber, tomato and fricandeau.
11.30: a handful of nuts (about 30 grams), coffee with (lots of) milk, no sugar. As milk also contains some carbs, I have tacked it onto an 'eating moment'.
13.30: a tosti. 60 grams of bread, cheese, ham, fresh basil. Fresh tomatoes (no ketchup! Contains shocking amounts of sugar).
15.30: a snack: for instance a packet of wholewheat melba toast with brie, cucumber and tomato.
17.30-18.00: dinner. About 115 grams of potato, any (combo of) veg, meat. (I used to eat a lot of meat substitutes, but as these often contain a lot of carbs, in the form of filler like white rice, I now forego these for actual meat)
20.00: dessert, usually some fruit.
22.00: snack. For instance 30-40 grams of potato chips. Or Tyrell's vegetable chips!! Or some wholewheat melba toast with brie or cheese.

Pregnancy diabetes is doable
In conclusion, aside from the odd craving for something sweet, it's very well possible to live with pregnancy diabetes and still eat well. It takes some adjusting, and if I have a day full of appointments then there's some strict planning of eating and measuring involved. But it's certainly doable. I think I'd feel worse off if salt were off limits.

I've been told that due to increasing hormone levels I can get more resistant to insulin. But there's still room to adjust the diet. I've also been told that chances are very high that the pregnancy diabetes will return during a next pregnancy. And that my chances of developing Diabetes Type II later in life are now 50%. But let's just cross those bridges when (if) we get to them.

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Losing the plot

A scientist friend of mine told us, when we first told him we were expecting, that he had attended a lecture by another scientist recently, who elaborated about the shrinking of brain matter of pregnant women, and it being transferred to the baby in the form of 'brown fat'. Like some sort of start-up capital for the baby's brains. We joked for the rest of the evening, about me being able to say: "It's not me, the baby ate my brain!"

These days, it's a little less funny, as I frequently catch myself thinking: "What the........?" With massive question marks in my eyes and my brain. I am so demented, it's just not funny anymore. I can forget something I did five minutes ago. It's not like I put the sugar in the fridge, or try to keep the milk in the shoe cabinet. It's more like I am extremely absentminded.

I haven't told you yet that we got a car (WE GOT A CAR! YAY!), or that I got two keys with it. And that I put the spare key away, in a logical place, so as not to lose it. A few days later, Levi asked me, seeing only one key, if we hadn't gotten a spare key? And I said: "Yes, we did." He said: "So where is it?" And I drew a complete blank. I started to doubt if there had been a spare key after all. He got mad at me, for forgetting whether there was, or wasn't a spare key, and how could I forget where I put it?! Of course he found it, in the drawer with all the other spare keys..... (See? It wasn't in the fridge or anything!)

Yesterday I did something I still can't believe I did. I went to work, no big deal. I am still, every day, thankful for the car and happy that I am spared the daily 2,5 - 3 hour travel time by public transport. When the workday was over and I approached the car to leave for home, something odd happened. I was unable to find the car key. I was sure I remembered putting it in my bag. But for the life of me, I could not locate it in there. I looked, and looked. I put my other bags down next to the car, and as I bent over, my eyes strayed inside the car... where the key was still dangling from the ignition.

You know that sinking feeling when you know you've done something unbelievably stupid and there's no denying it? I was sinking, fast. Worst thing: I knew I would have to call Levi, at the very least to tell him I would not be making it home in time for dinner. In the end, a really nice colleague, who also lives in Amsterdam, offered to give me a ride home. Meanwhile, Levi took the spare key to the car (thank god he knew where it was, and that we have one!) and made his way to my office via public transport, driving the car back home. I said I'd do it, as it was my fault, but he just said: "You're nearly seven months pregnant, and have trouble making it through the day in one piece, I am not letting you make the hours' worth extra journey."

So yay for lovely colleagues who help you out when you're demented. Yay for lovely husbands, who blow gaskets, but then save your ass (and the car). Not so yay for me, because I have a little over two more months of this insanity to go. I know it's really hard for Levi to understand too. He doesn't recognize the sieve he lives with, that is not the woman he married!

I try, I really do. I try to be careful, and not do stupid things. It's incredibly frustrating, as my memory and my brain were always the things I could count on. I make notes, and lists, and try to leave things in as logical places as I can. And I suppose I'm lucky, this is supposed to all go back to normal once the baby is born. But for once I get an insight into what dementia might remotely be like, and honestly, it's a bewildering experience. I can't imagine what it's like to really lose your marbles to dementia.

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And then she came

Did you read that last post, the one about letting go? I said I was going to visit the in-laws in Belgium. I was convinced our baby girl would take weeks more to arrive. Famous last words. We were all packed and ready to go. I went to sleep with a big belly, and woke up in the middle of night thinking I had wet the bed. Had I completely lost control of my bladder? No, it turned out my water had broken. No pain yet, so I let the OB know and went back to sleep.

The next day we went to the hospital, as it seemed the baby had pooped in the amniotic fluid. 37 hours after my water broke, of which 21 hours spent in the most nightmarish, horrible, excruciating pain unimaginable, our daughter first touched the air. The relief when she finally slithered out was enormous. At some point I believed it was never going to happen.

There really are no words to describe how labor feels, how much contractions hurt. Excruciating really doesn't quite cover it. Soulcrushing perhaps come close. It is a thing not often talked about. Everyone wants children. But really, if you knew how much it was going to hurt, you'd think twice about it. Or three times. And then you'd probably still go ahead and do it.

But then, every woman's pregnancy, and every woman's birth is different. There are so many things that surprised me about the whole pregnancy thing. Like how I saw no pink clouds. I felt no nesting urge, cleaning urge, or a clothes-buying itch. I was practical, but not ecstatically expecting. When she was out, I was glad it was done. Mission accomplished. I did not all at once feel a rush of overwhelming love.

We have a connection though. I get her. I can often guess what she feels or what she needs, and I do believe there is such a thing as maternal instinct. I try to tell her I love her every day. And I love her more every day. And the next. And the next. She works so hard at everything, she is such a happy baby, brave and independent and communicative. I admire her already, eventhough she is not yet 1. It's amazing, being a mom.

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“Cut me some slack!” – Or: A girl, yay!

So, as I was saying, during my first trimester of pregnancy (and a little after), I was a little annoyed with my body, it suddenly not being able to do all the things I had gotten used to it being able to do over the last 38 years. Like making it to the top of two flights of stairs without having to pause. Like going without a peebreak for more than two hours. Like getting through the day without feeling the overpowering need to nap at odd times. Like being able to go out drinking with my friends...

Of course my annoyance was not helping, needless to say. These days, a little over half of this whacky trip behind me, and having just found out we're having a girl, I have changed my mind. I realize that if my body could speak for itself, it would have punched me and said: "HEY! I'm building a friggin'' person here, cut me some slack!" And it would have been right.

Last week's ultrasound taught me that 1. We're having a girl (yay!) (although honestly, I would have said "yay!" to a boy too) 2. She seems to be healthy and doing well. And 3. I did that. Or rather, my body did, with some unhelpful mental resistance from me. I'm starting to feel rather proud of it.

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Changing obstetricians

When we found out I was pregnant, we pretty much had no idea what to do next. Then I noticed that on the pregnancy test (2 for 5 Euro, Kruidvat!) it said: if you are pregnant, make an appointment with your GP. So I did.

While in the waiting room, the assistant told me that something had gone wrong with my appointment, and instead of the female doctor, I would get the male doctor, if that was ok? I said: "That depends, what kinds of tests are you going to do?" And she said: "Did you do one yourself?" I said: "Yes, I did two." (Why waste the extra one, eh?) And she said: "Oh, no, then we're not going to test anything. You can just ask the doctor any questions you might have."

After a few more minutes of sitting dumbfounded in the waiting room (what? No bloodwork? Bloodpressure test? Iron, nothing?), I realized I had no idea what questions I might ask the doctor, so I decided to leave. The assistant said: "You can make an appointment with an obstetrician." And I thought: "Oh, ok."

It turns out that during pregnancy, the obstetrician is your doctor. The GP has nothing to do with it. The first appointment is after around 9-10 weeks, then about once every month, gearing up to once a week close to delivery. In the Netherlands, coverage depends on whether or not your insurance has a contract with a practice, so check with them first, before deciding on one.

First experience
I picked an OB close to home. We waited a few weeks for the appointed day and time. The first meeting was... ok. Nothing more than that. It wasn't that she was unfriendly, it wasn't anything I could put my finger on. But it was very businesslike, and she was more focused on the medical questions than anything else.

The second meeting was with a different person, at the same practice. It seemed standard, the handful of practices I'd investigated were all group practices: you get whomever you happen to get. This woman dove right in, again, very businesslike. Again, not unfriendly as such, but also not very interested.

We almost got into an argument, over something my mother had warned me about (she did not go into labour, even when the baby was ready to come out). She said: "We don't do anything with that information." After a brief discussion, she explained that every birth is different and that these kinds of things are not hereditary. That's all well and good, but I would prefer it if you would simply make a note of it somewhere, and kept it in the back of your mind, instead of dismissing me out of hand, thank you. I just... Didn't have any feeling of connection with these women.

Another experience
My ultrasounds were done at another practice, as the one I was going to didn't offer that. What a world of difference. I think I met about six different obstetricians there (some in training), they were without fail very kind and went out of their way to help me. One of them asked me what I weighed, and I had no idea. She said: "Didn't your obstetrician weigh you?" and I looked at her blankly: "...No....?"

I talked to a friend of mine (also pregnant, suddenly everyone is pregnant, I swear), and she said: "If there's no 'click', then you should switch! Try mine!" I thought about it, and realized: would I want one of these women to stand at my bedside during the most terrifying and least-looked-forward-to experience of my life? The answer was no. So yes, a break-up was in the future.

The switch
A week or so later, it was a done deal. I broke up with the old practice over the phone, and picked up my (thin) file.

The first appointment with the new obstetrician (the one recommended by my friend) was lovely. She explained a lot about what was happening to me, and what was normal to feel and experience during this time. She measured my blood pressure, weight, felt up my womb, and listened to the baby's heartbeat.

At this practice, you get a regular obstetrician during your whole pregnancy. At GO time, there's a chance you get one of her colleagues, but she said: "I know how all of my colleagues work, and can vouch for them as I would for myself." Even after having just met her, that was already good enough for me. It feels right.

All in all, it was surprisingly easy to switch, and I am much much happier for it. So that's my advice: not happy with your obstetrician? SWITCH!

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*Crickets chirping* – Or: Phase two

I know, I know, it's been really quiet here of late. The long and the short of it is: life got in the way. We got married (yay!), we went honeymooning in Sicily (yum!), and immediately after the honeymoon I started a new job, that required me to travel 1:45 hours every day, one way (so 3,5 hours per day)(urgh!). It all left me with very little time to undertake much of anything, or have the time to write anything about it, let alone work up pretty pictures to show you.

And then.... I got pregnant (yay! I think). Let me tell you: being pregnant, no matter how wanted, is no picnic. Somewhere near the end of the first trimester an acquaintance said to me: "Enjoy this time!" And I just looked at her blankly thinking: "Enjoy what exactly? The nausea? The fatigue? The constipation? The painful breasts? The crazy sense of smell? The raging, out of control hormones? The constant hunger, and the idiotic need to pee every few hours (yes, also at night)? Enjoy??? ARE YOU INSANE, WOMAN?" Wisely though, I kept my mouth shut.

It took me 37 years to get used to this body. And now I no longer recognise it. Everything is beyond my control. Thankfully, it got a little better after the first trimester ended (only a few weeks ago now). I'll not bore you with more details (ligament pain? Anyone heard of that? I hadn't, but I have it now!), but suffice it to say that of late, my world has been revolving more around obstetricians, strollers, cots, and the like, than around exploring Amsterdam and blogging about it.

I was actually working on this epic post about the organisation of our wedding, and all the lovely addresses I found in Amsterdam. Seriously, everything from flowers to custommade rings, shoes, underwear and tailored dresses. But it's still photoless, and I'm working up the courage to get to it.

The thing is, as far as hip and happening places are concerned, there are other blogs much more up-to-date and active than mine (like: yourlittleblackbook or Story 154). I think I've landed in another phase altogether. It'll be different kinds of finds, it will be different musings, tips and realizations. But as long as you don't mind, and are willing to grow with me, I'll try to keep this up!

Drop me a line!

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“Your money is no good here”

My mum was visiting me in De Baarsjes. We went grocery shopping (Levi and I are doing rehearsal Christmas dinner today) and our last stop was the Turkish corner market. I walked around, gathering things and putting them on the counter, to be paid in one go when I was ready. My mum got a bunch of spring onions and put them in a separate place on the counter.

I said: "Mum, don't be ridiculous, just put it with mine!" And she said: "No no, you don't have to pay for me, I'll get it myself." Incredulous, I looked at Yusuf, the proprietor, who had been following this exchange with interest. I walked back to the counter, put her onions with my fruit and veg and moved her away from the counter. She struggled, making to move to pay for her onions herself. I looked at Yusuf and said: "Yusuf! Say something!"

And Yusuf, my trusty friend, friendly but firmly told my mother: "I'm sorry madam, but your money is not valid here."


Summer in a glass

Living in De Baarsjes in Amsterdam has its perks. Like our Turkish corner market. We had one near our old place, and we have one right opposite our flat now.

Where it took me four years to coax even the slightest smile from the proprietor of our old Turkish store, the man from our new store I are on a first name basis already. We wave, we smile, we talk about the weather, he sells me fruit and veg. And he gives me tips.

"You should try the water melon, it's delicious." Me: "Neh... I don't really like water melon..." But I did get a piece for Levi, because Yusuf said it was good. And man, am I convinced! Juicy, sweet, refreshing, amazing!

I buy a new piece every few days now. Yusuf cuts me an eighth if I ask, and at around 1 euro a kilo, it's really cheap.

So it's chilled watermelon after dinner, and my best discovery of the Summer: watermelon smoothie. Works well with a banana and anything that has a little tartness to it, like peaches, strawberries or (gold) kiwis. When I told Yusuf about my newfound love for watermelon, thanks to him, he put me onto passion fruit for my smoothie. Summer in a glass, I tell you.

So if the weather is dreary, like it is today, and you need a shot of Summer, make a smoothie!
- 2 slices of watermelon, deseeded
- 1 banana
- 1 peach, gold kiwi, green kiwi or handfull of strawberries
- A big dollop of good Greek yogurt
Blend well. Drink with straw and umbrella!