Tuesday, November 26, 2013

26 weeks and life these days.

I have trouble believing I am already at the end of the second trimester. That means the last stretch is just around the corner. I have been feeling great... I guess I am lucky that pregnancy is treating me really, really well. Or maybe I will be eating my words later. We feel so blessed that it feels all so real now. Mostly, my energy levels are back, I keep craving orange juice like an addict, and there are some days where I really feel like eating meat or fish (which is unusual on me), but I try to keep the latter to the minimum. Other than that sporadically I have what I think is round ligament pain (it feels like a needle or stretching on the right or left lower side of my pelvis) and I have trouble finding a comfortable position to sleep. I supposedly should not sleep on my back, but sometimes I do lay on it for short whiles (and probably when I am sound asleep too). I find it difficult to sleep on my sides, it feels like everything stretches and pulls at the same time and the tension is uncomfortable. Spooning Mark sometimes helps as he can support my back, but if we do it the other way around, little hummus starts kicking like crazy, so I am not sure she enjoys it. And that's the other major thing going on... baby is moving a lot. Particularly late at night, in the middle of the night or early in the morning there's a dancing party in my belly. And she interacts with us. It's the best part. Sometimes we put our hand in the belly and she kicks back. At times I am surprised by how strong she is, I am not sure if it's her head or legs or arms or bum she's using to push herself. I think it was around 23 weeks that the bump stopped looking like a beer belly and I started really showing. It's weird but it seemed to happen overnight. And these days, it appears to be growing exponentially.

This is today, at 26 weeks and 1 day

I had the glucose screening test on week 24 (though they did not give me that famous orange syrupy drink that I so wanted to try). We will get the results later this week. These days we have been mostly researching and trying to score good deals with the baby stuff, as well as trying to figure out things like, 'do babies wear a onesie underneath a sleepsuit?' Also, reading, reading, reading. I have also started driving lessons (there's no way to get the driving license without those, and my Mexican driving license is useless over here). We had a couple of birthdays this weekend, and we have another one coming up on Saturday. This week we are watching lots of documentaries at the International Documentary Film Festival. If you are in The Netherlands, check it out, there's a lot of interesting films. It will be going until this Sunday, December 1st.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

La navidad en una caja (llegó mi AIG)

 This post will be in Spanish (sorry about that). Yesterday afternoon I was thrilled to receive my swap from the AIG (gastronomic secret santa), which I told you about here.

Ayer en la tarde, mientras leía y me daba cuenta que el invierno ya está aquí (el árbol que veo desde la ventana ya perdió todas sus hojas y cada vez tenemos menos luz), tocaron el timbre. Era un chico de TNT (correos) con una enorme caja verde que venía desde Barcelona! A mí nombre! Sólo podía ser de mi Amigo Invisible Gastronómico. Tenía ganas  de abrir el paquete de inmediato, pero decidí esperar a que llegará mi esposo.

Muchísimas gracias a Laura y Carmen, del blog 'Chocolate, Aceite y Sal'. Se trata de un blog escrito por una madre y su hija,y está lleno de recetas que me muero por probar, empezando por esta tarta normanda de manzanas, perfecta para estos días grises. Le han atinado perfecto porque Mark y yo somos un par de golosos. A ambos nos decían cookie monster de pequeños, no por nada.

Fue abrir la caja y recordar la Navidad en España: estaba llena de polvorones, mantecados, almendras confitadas, hojaldrinas, rosquillas, barquillos de chocolate negro y blanco y un auténtico turrón de chocolate Suchard. Este último me recuerda mucho el primer año que estuve en Barcelona de intercambio... con el anuncio de aquella niña que se come todo el turrón antes de que llegue Papa Noel. Y hasta la fecha me acuerdo de la clásica cancioncita pegajosa que Mark tuvo el gusto de escucharme cantar anoche: "En estas navidades, turrón de chocolate, en estas navidades turrón de Suchard".

 De inmediato nos comimos unos cuantos mantecados y otros polvorones, pero optamos por guardar la caja junto con los adornos navideños para disfrutar durante las fiestas de fin de año (a ver si es cierto que duran hasta Nochebuena).

Además nos han mandado unas esferas de madera, unos corazones de tela para decorar el arbolito hechos por Laura y un molde de silicón para hacer mini-tartaletas. Que ilusión! Igualmente aprovecho para agradecer a  Jess de 'Decogalletas' por organizar el intercambio. Enviar y recibir correo es una de esas cosas 'simples' que pueden alegrar cualquier día. A mí me tocó enviarle a Patricia de 'The Yellow Kitchen', haciendo click aqui, si tienen curiosidad, pueden ver los detalles que yo mandé.

Monday, November 18, 2013

What do babies need?

This weekend we went to Brussels, more specifically to the Mothercare* shop (the only one they have in all of continental Europe). I am in love with the variety of products they sell. I might be biased since my mom got everything there for me as a baby, during her pregnancy over there, and later, I remember studying the catalog as a 6 year old waiting for my little sister to arrive. She still talks about the high quality and great prices they had (some of the clothes lasted her for 3 kids and she says they are *still* in good condition), and when I compare to the prices over here, it still seems to be the case.

We do love a weekend day-trip, and believe it or not it was the first time I ever ate an authentic Belgian waffle, from a seller in the street. The chilly weather was ideal for it.

Anyhow, I was mostly hoping to see and feel and touch their assortment of cloth diapers (as we are looking into them, more on that coming later), but unfortunately they did not have anything from that range and they do not send those specific items internationally either. Sad face.

We got a bunch of random things: some muslins, a box of disposable breast pads, a couple of jersey-fitted sheets for the crib, some onesies and a bunch of cute sleepsuits. I couldn't help but feel overwhelmed... and ended up with tons of questions. What are the indispensable things that babies really need? How many onesies should we get (6?), and how fast do they outgrow them? I know I was born meausuring 52 cm. so I think the smaller, newborn sizes won't be of much use if we can expect our baby to be of a similar height to us (Mark measured 49 cm).

All of a sudden the bump popped out. Sometime between 20 and 24 weeks.

Something in me is saying that as long as we have a bed, a bath, diapers and some clothes and toiletries we should be OK? At the same time I am not so certain emergency-running to the pharmacy or shop will be so easy to do on those first weeks, so what should we stock on? Lanolin? Gripe water? Rash cream? Baby Tylenol? I guess what I am doing here is asking all new-moms and more experienced ones... what were the basic things you absolutely needed to have on those first days?

 (I know there are a million lists online, and we also got some from the midwives as well as from some baby shops, but I kind of do not trust them as people seem to be saying: go and buy all the things! Right now!)

*This post is not sponsored by Mothercare, though if they'd like to send me stuff I would be more than happy to review it. I am just writing based on my memories and opinions.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Colorful curtains, finally!

 Remember all the way back in January when I mentioned we were going to attempt to get crafty and make our own rolling curtains? Well, the curtains are finally ready and in place. But, oh, but, we did not make them. The plan was that we were going to teach ourselves how to use the sewing machine. We both tried, but we could not manage it. I can't wait for my mom to come and teach me because when it comes to crafts and handy stuff I am completely useless.  When the engineer-husband could not figure it out either I knew the whole attempt was kind of hopeless. So we took our fabric, measurements and project to the Turkish tailor who did it for us, and voilà curtains.

It was not so easy though. When we picked up the curtains they were way too long (well maybe 25 cm.) and as a consequence, on the biggest window they fell by their own weight. Crazy person that I am, I spent a whole week whining, stressing and crying about it and endlessly bothering the boy wondering how we would get them fixed.  In the end we cut the extra fabric and pasted the ends together with double-sided tape (instead of nicely sewing them, as they were) and when we attached the curtains, they stayed in place (yay!). They are not as smooth as we thought they would be because the two fabric layers tend to separate from each other, and there are some corners where light can go through, but I hope this will not be a problem, as it gets so dark here anyway.

Are you crafty? It is one of those skills I wish I had... since I could be making my own breastfeeding t-shirts* ... among all kinds of other things.

*(what! 55 EUR for a long sleeved t-shirt or 99 EUR for a fleece hoodie just because the design is great and has a zipper under the boobs that lets you nurse modestly while staying casual?)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A rant on so-called natural birth.

We're taking classes. Childbirth preparation classes, that is. Yesterday was our first class, and though it mostly went well, I ended up a bit irritated (and had anxious, bad dreams because of it). We are taking this class in part to meet other couples, mostly expats, in a similar situation to ours, and to be well informed and as prepared as we can. The course covers a bit of everything, from the Dutch health care system, to how to register the birth, to breathing, relaxation, the stages of labour, possible medical interventions, breastfeeding, etc...

The first activity was an 'icebreaker' exercise to get to know each other in which we interviewed another couple on basic things like which countries we come from, how long we have been in Holland, if we are planning to give birth at home or at the hospital, if we are being followed by a midwife or a gynaecologist (which is not actually a choice you make, rather a situation that depends on whether or not there are risk factors in the pregnancy), our expectations for birth, if we have thought of using medications...

At some point the teacher made a comment, in a mocking, ironic tone saying how "some people like to say they want a natural birth with painkillers". I tried to shut up, but I could not stop myself from retorting out loud: "but, it is still natural". This "division" and qualification of birth in 'natural' or 'normal' (both words she used at different moments) versus a birth in which pain is managed medically really annoys me, because it implies that if you dare use any pharmacological product you are somehow less valuable, less brave, less a woman??? (And it saddens me to see these discussions all over the place, as if there were camps, as if it was a matter or you're with us or you're the enemy.)

Whatever strategy anyone chooses to cope with labor, whether it is breathing, hypnosis, a hot water tub, gas and air, pethidine or yes, an epidural, if you push the baby out it is a natural birth. I don't see any intrinsic value in enduring pain and I don't think it is something to be particularly glorified or proud of, and specially not something which should be used to make people feel "less" (what?) (But that's just my opinion). Yes, I know my body is perfectly capable of doing this, I trust my body. This does not have to do with that trust, I know there are changes gradually taking place in my body that are preparing me for giving birth. I also know that pain will happen. I know that pain is a very real physiological phenomenon, based on chemistry, and that when my pelvic canal and cervix open and expand I am bound to feel it. I also know that the medical science has ways to counteract pain, and if they are there why should anyone be made to  feel bad about choosing to use them? In the end, it is impossible to predict how things will happen, we can not really plan for (most of) this. So why the harsh judgement and division if sometimes (many times?), it is something we can not control?

Wax model at "La Specola" museum of Zoology and Natural History in Florence

I am not even sure what I want, I know I want to take labor as far as I am able to, I am exercising to strengthen my core, and I want to learn all that I can. I want to be prepared, while acknowledging the unpredictability of the possible outcomes, but I am also very open to the pharmacological options out there. And yes, I will probably want an epidural. I have been there, assisting cows, and they did not seem to be having fun.

I am also thankful of the advances of medicine, and am very well aware that if it were not so, childbirth would still be one of the main causes of death for women or infants. The 19th and 20th century were not so long ago. Sometimes there is not even a choice, and it is thanks to obstetric interventions or surgery that the lives of women and child are preserved.

Like a commenter (Leela) said in response to this post (aptly named: Ugliest, Beautiful Moment, Or, Fuck Ina May)

"I think the main problem is that many women buy into a fantasy that  labor is somehow a magical, painless experience. This is bunk. Natural labor is awesome, very empowering, and can leave a woman feeling a deep sense of pride and accomplishment. But it fucking hurts, and that’s the way it is. I feel that there is too much emphasis on the mistaken notion that we can have birth without pain. That line of thinking is fear-based. It comes from fear of pain. Pain is part of life. You can’t think yourself into escaping it. You can get the pain medication, or you can embrace the pain. Having done both, I can say that both have value and neither is less than the other. You can’t have birth without pain, but you can have pain without fear, and that is where I wish people would focus their energy, not on some bullshit about having an orgasm while you’re pushing out a human being from a tiny canal full of nerves. That shit hurts! Don’t pretend it doesn’t!"

Forceps, Museum Boerhave in Leiden

Monday, November 4, 2013

Day of the dead

 Last Saturday, November 2, Mexico honoured the souls of those who have left us with the Day of the Dead celebrations. It is one of those holidays that perfectly blends Prehispanic traditions with those that were brought from the old continent. Scholars trace back the origins of this tradition to an Aztec festival honoring the goddess Mictecacihuatl, queen of the underworld (Mictlan) who watches over the bones of the dead. The arrival of the monarch butterflies to Mexico, on their migration all the way from Canada, coincides with the celebration and the indigenous believed these orange-and-black insects were the souls of the dead coming back for the festival. People visit cemeteries, light candles and prepare colorful altars (ofrendas) which often include the favorite foods and drinks of those being honoured, as they are believed to come back and enjoy all these treats. Salt, sugar skulls and cempazochitl flowers should not be missing in the offerings, as well as mementos, music, grains and sometimes a cross.

On this day, 'pan de muerto' (bread of the dead?) is enjoyed as well, with a cup of Mexican hot chocolate. The ball on top represents the skull, and the branches by the sides represent bones, as well as the 4 cardinal points so that the death ones do not lose their way on their trip through the underworld.  This year I was really craving it, so I decided to take the plunge and make it at home. I based myself on this recipe, however I modified it lightly by infusing the milk with orange blossom flower (flor de azahar). The gray, rainy weather was perfect for staying at home and waiting for the dough to rise twice. As with everything, I find waiting is the hardest part of the process.

What you'll need 
70 gr. butter
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup lukewarm water
dried orange blossoms (if you manage to find them)
3 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoon dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, slighly beaten
the zest of 1 orange 

For the glaze
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tsp. sugar
zest of 1 orange
sugar, for sprinkling

What to do
In a small saucepan, put the milk and the butter together with the dried orange blossoms. Let infuse and mix until the butter is fully melted and the aroma of the flowers has been released. Set aside and add the lukewarm water.

In a large bowl, mix 1 cup flour with the salt, yeast and sugar. Add the (strained) milk infusion and mix well (taking care that it is not too hot when you mix it in). Then, add the eggs and orange zest and mix until well incorporated. Continue adding the rest of the flour, in 1/2 cup increments until the dough is soft. It will be sticky at the beginning, but keep going. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it's soft and elastic. You can do this on the stand mixer as well, using the hook attachment. You will know it's ready when the dough does not stick to your hands (or to the bowl of the stand mixer). Play with the dough a bit more, just to be sure. Put the dough in a well-oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Let the dough rise for about an hour, or until it has doubled in size. Our house was too cold yesterday, so I put the oven on at 180ºC only for 3 min. and I let the dough rise in the warm oven.

 Once the dough has properly risen, punch it in the middle and knead it a bit. Then form a ball, divide it in two parts, 3/4 for the main part and 1/4 for the decorations. (Or you can make a bigger bread, and a smaller bread like I did). With the biggest part, form a ball, as smooth and round as you can. Then, make the decorations: long snakes to form bones and a smaller ball for the skull. This post has a lot of photos of the process.  Arrange your bread on a tray, lined with baking paper and let rise for another hour or so.

Preheat your oven to 180ºC. When the bread is ready to go in the oven, very carefully paint it with the beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 35 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the glaze by mixing the orange juice, sugar and orange zest and letting it boil for 2-3 minutes.

Take the bread out of the oven, and brush the glaze on top. Let it cool down a bit before enjoying.


If you are in the Netherlands and would like to see an altar, you can visit a traditional ofrenda at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (Plantage Muidergracht 14) until December 6. This altar was was raised in honour of all the women that have been victims of feminicide in Mexico in the last years. 

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