Category Archives: Life Abroad

Life Abroad / Personal

Our Life Abroad: One Year In

July 25, 2017

Now that we’ve been in Amsterdam over a year (more than 14 months, actually!) I thought I’d write a post about how things are going.

When we moved here, it was really exciting and stressful and overwhelming and… all of these BIG feelings, basically. Then I got pregnant IMMEDIATELY and descended into the lovely world of Hyperemesis Gravidarum, so my first summer here was spent missing home and feeling like absolute death every minute of every day.

In a nutshell, last summer was pretty rough. I know that so many people look at this opportunity and think that they would jump at the chance to do something like this, no questions asked; but a move like this, in addition to being amazing and a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing, is also a huge adjustment. There were so many times I wished we could just move back to California and pick up our life where we left off.

Now that we’ve been here a year though, this city is really starting to feel like home. It dawned on me when we were in Barcelona earlier this month — we had been in the city a few days already, and we were picking up some groceries at a local grocery store. I was standing in the frozen section looking for something and overhead a couple standing nearby speaking Dutch. Without even really realizing it, I thought, “That sounds like home.”

You know how when you’re traveling in a foreign country and you haven’t heard the sounds of home in a long time, how something familiar can be suddenly so comforting? I remember traveling around Europe with my sister years ago, and we stumbled across a group of people speaking Spanish with a Mexican accent while we were in Vienna. We both stopped in our tracks for a moment and then turned to each other and said, “Oh, it sounds like home.”

I was so surprised to have had the thought that hearing Dutch sounded like home that I was immediately jolted back to reality and stood there for a second thinking, “Oh my god… What does this mean?”

As you can imagine, KC and I are having an ongoing discussion about what we are going to do when his contract is up next year. We have so many options and possibilities, which is simultaneously amazing and overwhelming.

As much as we miss our families, we both wonder whether the Bay Area is going to be able to provide us with the life that we want. And as much as we love Amsterdam, I wonder whether I’ll ever be ok with raising our kids so far away from our families. As of now, nothing is set in stone, we just continue to go over and over all of the options and pros and cons.

I will tell you though, every time I ride my bike through this city I can’t help but feel like I could stay here forever.

Baby / Family Fun / Life Abroad / Summer / Travel

Our Trip to Barcelona + Traveling with Littles

July 19, 2017

We recently returned from a week in Barcelona and had the most amazing time. Barcelona is one of those dreamy cities that you feel like you could wander forever and never get tired of.

We visited a bunch of the “must-see” sites and ate our weight in tapas and pintxos, and I’m already plotting our return — I couldn’t get enough of Barcelona! KC and I both at one point were devising a plan for him to do a secondment with his firm in the city (the one hitch being that KC doesn’t speak Spanish… which is sort of a must. Ha.) But with the gothic architecture and countless skinny alleyways just begging to be explored, how could you not want to spend more time there? 

For those of you wondering how traveling with two little ones was — it was actually great. Prim and Lark were amazingly well- behaved on both flights (Prim even slept on the flight over — serious win) and they adapted to their new surroundings without a second thought. We played fast and loose with their schedules and they took it all in stride like a couple of pros. Traveling with kids is of course never as easy-going or stress-free as I really prefer my vacations to be, but I have to admit that the kids were really good on this trip. Even though they’re both so young (newly two and four months at the time of our trip), they both adapted well and I think really enjoyed seeing a new city. That’s Prim running around in the background of that picture above ^^. Some guys had just come though and done a sort of tumbling/street dance performance while we were having dinner and Prim felt inspired to go run around do some dance moves of her own after they had passed through. She was quite the hit with a lot of the locals. If you’re considering traveling with kids, my advice is do it. I am pretty structured and type-A (KC I’m sure is laughing out loud at this — “pretty structured??”) and I have to admit that the idea of yanking the kids out of their comfort zones and subjecting them to an unfamiliar city and upending their schedules totally stresses me out. BUT, since we are in Europe for a finite amount of time (or, at least that’s the plan for now… ha!) I have embraced the idea that we will be traveling with our kids a lot. We have four more trips planned before the end of the year and may be adding a fifth. I have also learned that taking these trips and pushing them outside of their routines seems to be a good thing overall. I like to think that it’s not only opening their eyes to new places, people and things, but also making them more adaptable to life in general.

If you’re wondering what we bring with us travel-wise, here is the general list. (Keep in mind that your child’s needs will vary based on their own age and home life and this is just what worked for us.)

European airlines tend to have stricter carry-on rules and more fees for checking bags than US airlines do, but that said, some things are non-negotiable when traveling with little ones. We luckily have been able to find flights that allow us to check a stroller and carseat for free, so in addition to that we check one large suitcase with all of the stuff for me and the kids and a travel crib (we love our BabyBjorn Travel Crib Light). We bring three carry-on bags: a small suitcase (verrry small. Europe!) with KC’s stuff in it, a backpack I use as a diaper bag with stuff for the kids, and a travel bassinet.

I brought four thin paperback books for the kids, a teether for Lark, and Prim was allowed to bring her small Jellycat lion and her baby doll. Aside from that, we brought our iPad loaded with a couple Disney movies and Prim’s headphones, and that’s it entertainment-wise.This is our travel bassinet. I found it super-cheap on an online family market here in Amsterdam and it’s been awesome for travel because it folds up into a bag the size of a standard diaper bag (similar here — on sale!). I brought it with me when I traveled with Lark to the US also and was able to have her sleep in it on one of the flights, as I had two extra seats next to mine. She will likely outgrow it before our next trip, but since Prim is now sleeping in a toddler bed, we will be able to transition Lark into the travel crib and put Prim into a regular bed with our travel bed rail.

About 2 months before we moved to Amsterdam, we shipped our regular stroller with all of our other things to the Netherlands. Since we needed an interim stroller and wanted something compact for travel, KC started researching umbrella and travel strollers. He happened to come across the Babyzen Yoyo, which was in basically zero US stores at the time and I had never even heard of. After some intense online-sleuthing, KC determined that this was the stroller to get for travel, as it folds up suuuper small (seriously, TSA is always like “WHOA that’s small!” whenever I have to zip it through security) but also has a pretty legit suspension system, making it ideal for handling all of Europe’s cobblestone streets.

At the time, I thought it was a little insane to spend so much on a second stroller; but now that we’ve taken multiple trips with this stroller and had a second baby, I am so glad that KC insisted on this purchase. Though it folds up smaller than an umbrella stroller, it has the options and amenities of a full-size stroller. We’ve added the carseat adapters (ideal for traveling with a baby less than 6 months old) and the ride-on board, which is perfect for P. Prim is able to sit or stand on it when she feels like it (or when we force her to — 2 year olds!) or we can pull the board up when it’s not in use (see the picture of KC with both kids and the stroller above to see the board pulled up).  And of course I can’t live without the Solly Baby Wrap. It’s so light and versatile, it’s perfect for travel. It can be balled up and shoved into a suitcase or diaper bag, it works as a lightweight blanket in the stroller, as a makeshift nursing cover, and it’s light enough to use in hot weather. Not to mention that the Spanish ladies were all totally obsessed with my wrap (and Lark in the wrap for that matter). I was stopped so many times on the street to have conversations in broken Spanish and English about my wrap (and its contents 😉 ) — clearly Solly needs to start some kind of global expansion program here.

We loved you, Barcelona. Someday I will be back to walk your streets and drink all the cava.

PS: If you have any travel-related questions, please leave me a comment and I’ll respond. 🙂

Life Abroad

A Tour of Our Amsterdam Apartment

May 17, 2017

I finally got around to taking a few photos of our apartment, in case you’d like to see how we’re living out here in Amsterdam!

We have a 3 bedroom flat that spans two floors above a woodworking shop. Not having residential downstairs neighbors is great — the shop is closed in the evenings and on weekends, and they aren’t bothered by the sounds of life with kids (aka Prim running laps around the apartment). We have a private entry from the street, which is awesome because we can store our stroller downstairs (lugging two kids up these Dutch stairs is quite enough).

Up the first flight of stairs is the living space, which includes a living room, dining room, kitchen and outdoor terrace. Upstairs we have 3 bedrooms, a small laundry room with washer and dryer, and a bathroom with separate toilet.

Our flat is located on a quiet street in the heart of de Pijp neighborhood — it’s super close to the city center and tons of great sites, stores and restaurants, but we’re lucky that we don’t live on a loud and crazy main road.Our street at sunset. Sometimes the light here in the evenings is just insane!This is a photo from last June of our front door. The plant out front was in full bloom and it looks like it’s going to be blooming again any day now.This is also an older photo, we’ve since picked up a couple of toddler chairs which we purchased secondhand for €10 — such a steal.Someday I will have a kitchen with more than a small slice of counter space. Not today though.Look at that tiny Prim! This big shelf in the living room helps store and corral all the toys.Our outdoor terrace is so nice on warm days — we felt so lucky to find an apartment with outdoor space.The view from the terrace feels pretty “Dutch.” I love it.Lark’s crib, which will eventually be moved into Prim’s room.Prim’s crib (which is usually full of books and many other stuffed animals. The girl loves her “stuff!”)Prim’s room and the guest room (below) both have these built-in desk things that we tried to get the landlord to remove before we moved in. He didn’t want to remove them which was kind of annoying (they take up so much space!) but the one in Prim’s room actually works well as a changing table at least.Our guest room (slash where we fold clean laundry — ha).Our room (which is so hard to photograph due to it’s A-frame construction).The outdoor terrace through the seasons.View from our front windows.View from our back windows (in winter, obviously).This is the Amstel River, which is just down the street from our apartment.And this is part of Sarphatipark, which is a 5 minute walk away.

We feel pretty lucky to have found such a great flat in such an awesome location. When the weather is nice, I feel like I could live here forever.

And seriously, we have a guest room — what are you waiting for??

Baby / Life Abroad / Pregnancy

Reflections on Giving Birth Abroad

February 26, 2017

If you’ve been following along for awhile now, you already know that there are a lot of differences between how the Dutch and American systems handle pregnancy and birth (if you’d like to get caught up, see parts 1, 2, and 3 here). I’ve also written about Prim’s very “American-style” birth (read: induction, Pitocin, epidural, being forced to wait to push) and Lark’s decidedly Dutch entrance into the world (no drugs whatsoever, born in the water, home less than 3 hours after delivery).

So given the choice, which model would I opt for next time?

The Dutch approach, hands-down. As I’ve mentioned before, I do think the Dutch approach has its drawbacks. I think it’s a tougher model for first-time moms in some ways. If you are struggling with breastfeeding (like I did with Prim), being sent home from the hospital mere hours after delivering could add additional stress to an already stressful and emotional situation. Also, if you’re someone who has a lot of anxiety with pregnancy, the American approach will likely give you more peace of mind than the the sort of “free-range” Dutch model. And if you’re someone who is dead-set on having an epidural for delivery, the American model is going to be your best bet. (Remember that 60% of American births are accompanied by an epidural, whereas only 10% of Dutch births use one.)

The Dutch model is very much based on the natural progression of pregnancy and childbirth; so if you’re into the natural pregnancy/birth thing (which I am), the Dutch model is amazing, in my opinion. I love that there’s not a lot of unnecessary medical intervention in the Dutch model, and that they really focus a lot on your wishes for labor and delivery ahead of time. Not to mention that the model of having your midwife present for the majority of your labor I think helps support the natural birth model, as they can provide valuable support and insight during the labor process.

I loved that my midwives were deeply invested in my birth plan long before I went into labor. I felt very supported in my wish to have a natural birth and labor in the water. Additionally, one of the things that really struck me after giving birth was how much my midwives wanted to discuss my labor and delivery after it was over. I have seen or talked to four of the five midwives in my practice since delivering, and all four have brought up Lark’s birth, saying that they had heard about my delivery (“Delivered in the water — how wonderful!”) and asked me how I felt it went.

In the US, no one asked me about my birth. Even after my postpartum hemorrhage, where I literally almost bled to death, no one — not even my regular OB — asked me about my delivery or its aftermath and how I felt about it.

If you’ve given birth, you know that it’s a huge, life-changing moment. It’s something that you want and need to discuss afterwards. The Dutch seem to recognize this, but the American system does not. Overall, the Dutch seem to recognize that in order to have a “successful” pregnancy and birth, you support the mother personally first and medically second. The American model seems much more based on risk-aversion and doing what the doctor feels is best, even if it’s not what the mother wants.

I love that the Dutch seem to still regard pregnancy and birth as a miracle created by a woman’s body. There is a lot of respect for the woman throughout pregnancy and birthing process, and a lot of weight given to her own wishes and feelings throughout the nine months. A good example of this was after my delivery my midwife and kraamzorg were talking to me about Lark’s birth and I mentioned that the timing was especially fortuitous because my mom happened to be visiting Amsterdam for a mere three days and I had managed to deliver during those three days. Without missing a beat, the kraamzorg said, “Your body knew,” and my midwife immediately said, “Yes. Women’s bodies — they know.”

Isn’t that wonderful? I know it’s a little crunchy-granola sounding, but I think a lot of the respect for the female body has been lost in the American system. So much of the US system is focused on the fetus, rather than the mother. While I agree that the fetus is precious, you don’t get the baby without the mother. Creating and birthing a life is a huge, wonderful thing that should be celebrated. If you’ve been or are pregnant, you know the awesome sacrifice of carrying a life, and I’m here to tell you that what you’re doing — it’s not easy, but it’s amazing.

If you’re considering a birth abroad, or moving to the Netherlands and considering expanding your family, I can’t recommend the Dutch approach enough. As I told my midwife after delivery, I don’t know how I’m going to go back to the American system after this, as I feel like Lark’s birth was about as ideal as it gets.

Baby / Life Abroad / Pregnancy

The Dutch Maternity System, Part 3 (The Birth!)

February 24, 2017

Now that I’ve completed a full pregnancy and birth in the Netherlands, I wanted to recap how the Dutch handle the end of pregnancy and the delivery and postpartum period, compared to the American system.

The end of my pregnancy was (luckily) fairly uneventful. My blood pressure went up a little, but never hit a level of real concern (140/90 or higher). Even though I wasn’t in “dangerous” territory, my midwives took the rise in my blood pressure seriously and made sure I was coming in weekly for appointments where they would check my blood pressure and run a test to ensure there was no protein in my urine. The week I got my first high blood pressure reading the practice arranged for a midwife to come to my house two days later to measure my blood pressure and test my urine again to make sure everything was ok. Once my blood pressure (thankfully) leveled off, I continued to have weekly appointments, much like they have in the states at the end of pregnancy.

As I mentioned in Lark’s birth story, I did call my midwife once before I was in “real” labor, because I’d been having regular contractions that had lasted all day and were getting closer together. The protocol in the Netherlands is to call your midwife at the first signs of labor, they then come to your house to assess you and determine if or when you should head to the hospital. In the US, you generally call your OB or the hospital at the first sign of labor, and they tell you whether you should go to the hospital just based on hearing your symptoms over the phone.

Having the midwife come to you first ensures that you don’t head to the hospital too early or before it’s really time. So many women end up at the hospital in the US, hooked up to monitors that measure contractions, only to be sent home hours later because they’re not really in labor yet or they’re not far enough along to warrant being admitted to Labor and Delivery. (And what a glorious waste of time and money all of that is.)

Once my labor started and I contacted the midwife, she took the reigns and determined when we would head to the hospital and took care of the logistics of calling the hospital to ensure that there was room for me to be admitted. At the hospital there was no paperwork, no wrist bands, no IV, no continuous fetal monitoring. My midwife stayed with us the entire time I was in labor and would listen to the baby’s heartbeat intermittently with the doppler.

We saw a hospital nurse once during our five hours at the hospital — she came in early on just to say that we should press the red call button if we needed anything and she would contact my midwife if she wasn’t in the room with us. (In the Netherlands, if a hospital is short-staffed in labor and delivery, your midwife will call your kraamzorg company to send over a kraamzorg to assist in your birth and postpartum period at the hospital. It’s customary for your kraamzorg to be present if you deliver at home as well. A kraamzorg from the company I had signed up with came to the hospital and was present for Lark’s birth and took care of me after I delivered.)

At the hospital I was free to walk around, dim the lights, play music, and was generally un-interfered with. My midwife set up the birthing tub for me and monitored the baby’s heartbeat occasionally between contractions, but she basically just let me labor as I wanted until it was time to start pushing. I think if my labor had been longer/harder, the midwife would have stepped in and given more support as needed. As it was though, my labor was very short and, in my opinion, very easy. Once I started pushing my midwife really stepped in and supported me. Pushing during a natural birth is super scary and your body basically just takes over (it’s true what people say about being inside their bodies for pushing — that’s exactly how it felt). In between contractions my midwife was right next to me, literally inches from my face telling me to breathe and what to do during the next contraction. It was so helpful to have her pull my focus between those intense moments because I was able to re-center myself and prepare for the next wave of pushes.

After Lark was born I was able to hold her immediately after (I mean, I pulled her out of the water myself!) and had an hour of skin-to-skin where no one bothered me, other than to ask what I might want to eat. After Prim’s birth in the US, there was a small delay between when she was born and placed on my chest, where the doctor held her and had KC cut the umbilical cord. She was also removed during the first hour to be weighed, wiped down, and given her first set of shots. Having uninterrupted time with Lark right after she was born was so amazing and made me feel so much calmer. She was able to breastfeed successfully and adjust to her new life outside my belly.

After the hour was up, Lark was weighed, given her eye treatment and vitamin K shot, then dressed and returned to us. She never left our room or even our sight while we were at the hospital.

In the US, all postpartum care takes place in the hospital, whereas in the Netherlands it takes place at home. The newborn hearing screen, heel prick and first set of vaccinations takes place at your home during the first few weeks — the local authorities who handle these logistics come to your house and assess the baby’s living situation in addition to taking care of whatever baby-care they are tasked with completing. Your midwife also comes to your home for your first postpartum appointments.

And then of course the most Dutch aspect of the birthing process — the kraamzorg.

A kraamzorg is a postpartum nurse who comes to your home for the first eight days following the birth of your child. You sign up with a company of your choice, and you can opt for anywhere from three to eight hours a day with your kraamzorg for that period. The kraamzorg assesses your healing, helps with breastfeeding, monitors the baby’s temperature, and how she’s eating and generally progressing during the first eight days. The kraamzorg also helps out around the house, by preparing food, entertaining older children, doing laundry and light cleaning.

Since this post is already super-long, I’ll save my own thoughts and opinions on the Dutch birth and postpartum process for another post.