Thursday, March 27, 2008

Leave

All this waiting business has made me downright feisty, and when I feel feisty, I can get political. Let's do a little comparison, shall we?

(General Disclaimer: I know, I know -- it's totally unfair to compare the U.S. and Denmark in many ways. The current U.S. population is just over 300 million, while Denmark clocks in at five and a half million. Still.)

One thing that continues to blow my mind on a second-to-second basis is how these two countries address parental leave. Of course it all comes down to money, but there just has to be more to it than that. There has to be. Our friends here ask us about the American practices all of the time, and I'm starting to think it's because they just can't believe it, so they keep asking, even though they can repeat what we're going to say along with us. From what I've researched, here is what each nation offers:

U.S.A.
Parental leave, while mandated (kind of) by the government, is administered by one's employer. Mothers are legally entitled to 6 weeks of paid leave at the birth (or adoption) of a child, and she is legally entitled to 6 more weeks of unpaid leave after the initial 6 weeks, should she choose it. If she opts to take more leave at this point, her employer is legally allowed to terminate her and open up the position for interviews. Fathers are legally entitled to no parental leave, although employers encourage fathers to save up and use vacation leave for such an event. Some employers opt to allow for some paternity leave, e.g. the day the child is born, or perhaps the first week. (This is elective, and fairly uncommon.)

Denmark
Parental leave is mandated by the government, and is broken down like this:
Maternity leave......90 days
Paternity leave.......10 days
Parental leave......160 days (to be divided by the parents as they see fit)
TOTAL.................260 days
(Incidentally, these are WORK DAYS, so not counting weekends, this cracks up to be a full year.) (And they are WITH pay.) Also, employers are not allowed to count already allotted vacation time and holidays as part of this leave time; in other words, it's completely separate from the good stuff.

As of April 1st, 2008, the Danish government is changing the paternity leave allotment from two weeks to six weeks. (Sometimes I think I'm going to wake up and find out that you'll also get a brand new car and a 20,000 kroner gift card to Ikea. And that is starting to be a not totally ridiculous idea.)

Isn't this a freaking trip?

At the moment, I'm too tired to start swimming in the ocean of "why is this so?" I'm off to take a nap, but will dream of the possibilities. And that Ikea gift card.

(Oh, yeah: And Don is reminding me that I'm supposed to tell you that I have to keep my legs tightly crossed until April 1st at 12:01am. SIGH. The things I do for this guy...)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Whack-a-Baby-Tootsie

One of my new evening activities that I've come to relish is sitting quietly on the sofa and waiting for Thud's foot to surface somewhere within my abdomen. It's usually on my right side, but these little pokers of his pop up anywhere. (Lately they've been exploring my rib cage. Like, inside of it.) I push down on the foot and -- BLOOP -- it's gone. And then, about five seconds later, it reappears somewhere else, like on my lower left side or right in the middle of my tummy. It's very quiet and lovely and has a wonderfully peaceful quality to it, and it also feels a little like tai chi whack-a-mole (my favorite arcade game for eons). Poke. Press. Submerge. Poke. Press. Submerge. I could do this for hours, I tell you...

Monday, March 24, 2008

MOOOOONNNSTERRRRRRR TRUUUUUCKSSSS!!!!!!!

Yep, we got 'em here, too! This deep-rooted attraction to big mechanical things that go vroom-vrooom and bang-smash knows no international borders. Don had told me a monster truck show was coming to town, but I didn't quite believe him. I mean...??? So, on Saturday, when I heard the revving motors and squealing tires in the morning (apparently rehearsing for the big show in the afternoon), I wanted to see for myself, so we walked Bella over to the "stadion," a big field that hosts things like the circus, rock concerts, summer festivals and, yes, MONNNNNNSTERRRR TRUUUCKSSSSSS!!!!!



It was VERY cold that day, and yet a good hundred twenty Danes crammed into some pretty small bleachers to watch the chainsaws zip up and down the circuit (which was about a hundred yards long), trucks AND motorcycles. There was mariachi music (DUH) blaring over the loudspeakers, a wicked throwback to my days in Nogales...



The security fella was none too happy about my picture-taking, and I think I was about to get the bum rush after another few seconds had I not scooted my large self away from the ticket booth right then and there. A hugely pregnant woman toddling around with her camera at the entrance to a monster truck show is immediate concern for a security breach, I've come to observe. Don did experience some initial worry that there might be some false advertising going on, as he could not immediately locate Freak Out or Iron Horse (note the poster in front), but was much assuaged to eventually spot both hulking vehicles, probably hidden away for the grand finale. I wish I could have really gotten in there to take some pictures of the audience, as they were the most sober and non-yeehaw lot I've ever seen. I wanted to lead them in a rousing chorus of "WOO HOOS!!!" and "HELL YEAHS!!" this town had ever seen, but it was not to be.

And now the show has pulled out of town until next spring, just in time for Thud's first birthday. Rev on, Iron Horse. Freak on, Freak Out. O, but we hardly knew ye.

HAPPY EASTER!!!


Though the Easter Bunny did not bring us a baby in our basket, everything is still just duckie around here...

Friday, March 21, 2008

Pretty Nails

We are, as I like to say, locked and loaded. The countdown-o-meter shows EIGHT! MORE! DAYS!, but I'll believe it when I see it. I keep warning The Kid that he should really be packing his bags because eviction is no walk in the park for anybody, and to not get too terribly cozy in there. He kicks, and I presume it's a foot, and not a fervently raised middle finger.

In an effort to keep myself off of the pregnancy troll side of things, I've been planning for days now to paint my toenails a festive shade of "Hot Stuff!" or "Berry Gorgeous!" or "Indian Sunrise" or some such nail lacquer poetic nonsense. I say "planning" because, folks, this act takes preparation. I had to actually think my way through it for a bit. What would my positioning be? On the floor? Foot on the ottoman? Coffee table? Two chairs? How would I file these nasty buggers first? (The clipping had taken place last week. With long-handled tree trimmers. There were sparks and perhaps a bit of lingering smoke.) The coordination was endless, but today, Good Friday, seemed as good a day as any.

Filing was a little rough; I noticed an uptick in my breath, but the job was humanly doable. (And without an electric sander, thank you.) I chose a nice generic shade of red, shaking the bottle for a few minutes as I pondered my next step. For those of the female (or pedicure-positive) persuasion, you know the size of the brushes which reside in these bottles. I believe they qualify as officially "teensy." As I measured up what appeared to be a toothpick with some eyelashes stuck to the end, I knew my goal was lofty, but I dug in. Big toes are the easiest, the most approachable target on the whole row. Bullseye! Twisted so as my belly contorted to the left, I made a shaky series of scarlett stripes, holding my breath as I finished my first toe. Hooray! The successive toenails proved far more elusive, each one getting smaller that the one before. I changed positions often, grunting every other toe or so, until I hit on the fantastic idea that I should just do my best to paint AROUND the whole nail, then fill in the middle. This method, while wasteful (using 2-3 times more polish than the nail actually requires), exceeded all of my prior attempts to paint the whole nail within the edges, knowing I could go back later and sponge up the excess. It truly felt like I was dunking a string mop into a bucket of red paint and dabbing the drippy thing relatively close to the intended location. Still, it worked. They are now exactly as I imagine Mrs. Bozo the Clown's feet look -- cheery AND cherry.

I am pregnant woman. Hear me paint my toenails.

(Sorry no photo -- they are still rather Hobbitish all around...)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Labor & Delivery Pain Management

I can't believe my luck. I've had the very thing, the actual antidote to birth pain under my nose in my desk drawer this whole time!!!

BEHOLD! THE AVENGING UNICORN PLAY SET!


Not only are there three distinct figures to impale with the unicorn horn of my own choosing, but the packaging comes with a copy of the Unicorn Code to guide me through rough and uncertain seas:


(My belief is that #5 has a missing addendum of "...unless they are in labor and then epidurals administered by board-certified and practicing anaesthesiologists are deemed appropriate as needed but NOT STREET DRUGS.")

But what really soothed my worries was remembering what the spiral horn's (#2) unique and magical powers will do for me when screwed on to Brad's righteous forehead...

"2) Spiral: illusion casting, super healing (i.e. turns blood into rose petals)."


EXACTLY!! Blood into rose petals! Could there possibly be anything more perfect? No, indeed not. Brad the Unicorn will sit in a very special place in the delivery room, turning all of that yucky blood into a glistening ocean of rose petals. If it all gets to be too much for me, I will whip out the chrome horn, which specializes in electromagnetism, speed reading and teleportation, and I'll teleport myself somewhere right cozy.

Special thanks to Krista, who knew I'd need Brad's protection and powers way over here and saw fit to provide me with his guardianship.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Facing the Music

I'm about to have a very big problem on my hands.

Twenty days away from the big arrival, and I just had a supremely major come-to-Jesus. Our brunch time with Jorunn and Jeppe this morning has been pushed back an hour, so with a nice chunk of free time, I had a little lie-down with Thud. I love taking ten or twenty minutes here and there to just close my eyes and put my hands on my belly and confer with this little ducky. We talk about all kinds of stuff, but it's usually me calling the agenda. Today, it was him. He started things out by drawing my attention to this incredible book I'm reading, "Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year" by Anne Lamott (recently sent to me by my wonderful, wonderful friend Shannon). Lamott, a single mom, documented every day of her son Sam's new life, and last night I read about what seemed like an eternity of colic. Frankly, colic is freaking me out something terrible -- the thought of a baby screaming at top volume for hours and hours and quite literally more hours with no end in sight makes me feel a little, um, edgy. She details Sam's frightful crying and her own horrifying dark thoughts of throwing him down the stairs or just giving him one big whack. (Really, this book is actually very funny.) Of course, she never acts on any of these miserable fantasies, but the thoughts alone sure give one pause. (As Don’s very wise friend Phil advised him not too long ago, “there will be times at two, three, four in the morning when you will be holding the devil himself in your arms, and you will have some very, very dark thoughts. But they are normal, and they will always pass.”)

One night in the very wee hours, out of sheer desperation (she's sobbing herself), Lamott calls a hotline for jangled parents of inconsolable newborns. She's counseled by a woman who orders her, starting right now, to stop eating all wheat and all dairy. Desperate, she follows this direction and... Sam has no more colic on Day Two of the new diet. He's an angel. He chokes out one small whinny to nurse, but that's it. It is a miracle.

Thud ran me through this scenario today, pausing for effect in all the right spots. And then he folded his arms, cocked one brow, and said, "So, what's it gonna be, lady? You know what's coming. You know it, I know it, and pretty damn soon your whole building is going to know it." I sighed and gripped my belly with both hands, but he kept on. "It's time, mama."

He's right. I have a problem. It's The Coffee.

For anyone who knows me, I'm a pretty easy-going gal. You may have noticed that at any dwelling I've maintained has always had a neatly defined coffee station set apart from everything else -- coffee maker, sugar bowl, glass coffee jar full of CAFFEINATED coffee, a little stack of coffee filters at the ready. It's always clean and well stocked, like a shrine. Along with the premium coffee, there is ALWAYS 2% milk in my refrigerator. Not skim, not cream, not Mocha Mix. TWO. PERCENT. MILK. Also, I am never without even a little bit of sugar (not artificial sweetener, not maple syrup, not brown sugar). I usually have a couple of restaurant C&H sugar packets on reserve in my silverware drawer, just for emergencies. All of this organization helps things run smoothly in my universe. Coffee in the morning makes my eyes sparkle and my hair bounce. It happifies me, and those around me. For the few of you who have had the awful misfortune of witnessing a hiccup in my morning coffee service, you understand the fury, the sturm und the drang. I can get downright irrational. During my ugliest episode, I mentally made my way through several Mikasa place settings until Don got back from the corner 7-11 with the 2% (TWO PERCENT) milk. It's my cross to bear. (And his, too.)

And so, I have a little somebody knocking on my belly, forcing me to look at this whole nasty picture. Sure, there were those three days in August when I gave it up, but after the cracking headaches, my doctor assured me that one to two cups per day was absolutely fine and for the love of all things great and small, please go ahead and keep drinking coffee. Yes, there was possibly a link to miscarriage and low birth weight, but the correlation was actually fairly questionable and that was really attributed to excessive coffee drinkers (four cups or more per day). I stuck to one big mug and nobody seemed to be bothered by it.

Now, with colic as a result of nursing a very real looming issue, I fear that the time has come. I mean, it's REALLY come. It's here. I have to stop. I may need help. If this baby has six-hour screaming jags for weeks and weeks – months – on end, I’m liable to hand him to Don and walk out the door and go pay a solo visit to Portugal for a while. And so, I know in my heart that caffeine, something essentially intolerable for babies, is off the menu, starting very soon. All I have to do now is decide whether to ween myself or go cold-turkey, and then set the date. I’ll probably ween, as the thought of cutting myself off in one cruel sweep sounds so violent, so inhumane, so foolhardy. We’ll see. Maybe it will start with some kind of ceremonial farewell, like cleaning every crevice of my Tefal Prima Vera Arom Express, remembering all our good times together, all our mornings of shared drips and sighs. I’ll replace my sacred coffee jar with a dainty tray of herbal teas, set out my prettiest teacup and saucer and perhaps a lovely scalloped silver spoon. I just don’t know. I hope I can fool myself. I hope I can go along with this tsunami of change and learn to enjoy that coffee-free lifestyle. Tea actually tastes quite nice, I think. Especially with lots and lots of sugar.

And so it begins – this sacrificing for the kid thing. SIGH. It’s a pretty big love that’s swelling in my chest, and anything I can do now to offset meltdowns, tummy pains and sleeplessness must be addressed. Wish us luck. And let’s not talk about that wheat-and-dairy-free diet just yet.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Ummm... Come Again?

NOBODY TOLD ME ABOUT THE SOFT POO.



(From a pack of Norwegian Pampers.)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sygehus = Sickhouse = Hospital

Today we had our long-anticipated hospital tour. Every Wednesday at 2:00pm, a cluster of heavily pregnant women and their entourages forms at the main entrance of the hospital, which, as I keep hearing, boasts a really state-of-the-art birthing center. We'd been told by friends to not dawdle in our waddle as the group tour departs at 14:00, no later, so we showed up a little early and watched all the other preggos lean against walls and vie for the few chairs in the hallway. I was, of course, the biggest bellied one there, but, sadly, no prizes were given.

Can you believe the WHOLE TOUR WAS IN DANISH? I'm all... WHATEVS. Still, it was interesting to see all of the rooms and call buttons and blinking lights and smiling midwives who look like a platoon of warm welcoming angels and the little tiny water pitchers and the huge shelf of vases available to the new mums to use in their rooms during their stay. There's this area with a sign out front called "K√łkken" ("Kitchen") where you can just go and help yourself to whatever snacks or drinks you want. The giant fridge had a see-through door, and I noted apple juice, milk, bottled water, butter, cheese, fruit...and beer!!!!! Yes! Bottles of beer! I can drink beer while I'm delivering! Talk about state-of-the-art! (I hope all you American hospital administrators who are reading this are making a big ol' mental note, okay?) (And, no, Brenda, I did not see a Margarator™, but I didn't have time to look behind all of the curtains. Will keep you posted for sure.)

The midwife who gave us the tour, Randi, was a pert, red-cheeked gal who took, I think, maybe two breaths in the span of an hour. She had A LOT of information to share with us. I'm sure it was all very important. I actually found myself intently listening as she talked, hoping that if I ESPed her hard enough that she would spontaneously burst into English. She didn't. But, I tried to listen for words that I understood, so this is what it sounded like to me:

"Hkuhsfih BABY klhskifh skdjhsdkhf hiefhieoighh BIRTH hkfhigoeakh irhg jkhsekifh hjsfyghbjksl hngiklisuh BABY fhilfoiukh YOU sjkdhfikhgjdk jbksjhf TELEVISION hjljifihigh bskjloijfnjmsruiow bjksdhfilhbk MIDWIFE. Jkjsehu hksfhukh kjbf kjnf jbd JUST ASK! Bjklsjhfgh njksdjhfugb BIRTH jkbsdjbkjhivh hbjkshf jg BABY jknbdksfnkjn BLOOD jnshf h BLOOD njksdfhkuh bjbd BLOOD khnfkhkuhtua nmfdklj BLOODY knfkhn BLOOD jkwsiutn BLOOD njakehfuy EPIDURAL nkjlsyhfiuyh kjdhshjgj PAIN guwegr fjugsdfjbn BLOODY bjskhfkuhsn mkalrfhukghsa bkjhsdfhk BABY AND MOTHER. Ojkerhukgsf BIG HELP! Pjsgdfugkjbjfih PAIN njksdhfuguks VERY PAINFUL bjkshdfuhkepogj BABY..."

I also understood about the magical pull-cords, which seem to be everywhere -- tub room, next to the birthing bed, next to the recovery bed, next to the toilet, at the window seat, in each corner. I like that. My beer will always be cold and fresh. Also, at some point, I am just completely certain that I heard her say "DIM SUM" very quickly, and I think Don did, too, so maybe we're in some major luck here. Let's just hope herring dim sum is off the menu during our stay.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

"You Gotta Baby In There?"

When I was three, I met my grandmother's new husband, Fred, the fellow who would come to be known as "Freddie Boy," a retired four-star Army colonel who didn't take no guff, especially from nosy three-year-olds. Somehow Fred and I became fast friends, despite the fact that the first time I was introduced to him, I patted his impressively rotund stomach and inquired whether or not there was perhaps a baby in there.


I think I am starting to resemble Freddie Boy in more ways than one.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Showered with Love and Good Wishes

It's been a busy couple of weeks, including a five-day bout with stomach flu (not terribly enjoyable at 8 months of gestation). After losing five pounds and reminding myself over and over that I was (very likely) NOT going to barf the baby ("okay, so...those tubes and wires are not at all connected...impossible...right?"), I'm back to normal! (Normal being a waddly, smiling whale with swollen ankles.)

First off, I'd like to inform everyone that by marrying into this family last year, I have acquired the most loving, warm, funny, genuine and supportive in-laws ever, in addition to my own wonderful family. They're a pretty darned tootin' good bunch of folks, and I am unusually lucky. My magnificent sister-in-law, Deanna, who just last November brought her very own little tyke, Jack, into the world, somehow found the time and energy (did I mention she just had a baby?) to organize an international-postage baby shower for me, and so four sizeable boxes plus a suitcase full of prezzies made their way to our fourth-floor apartment door over the past few weeks (much to the chagrin of our postman). I was instructed by Don (who was also in on this shower of gifts) that under no uncertain circumstances was I to touch, look at or even share air with these boxes. (This warning to someone who mastered flawless scotch-tape removal and perfect reapplication on Christmas presents under the tree by age 6.) (Sue me.) And so, after ignoring this leaning tower of baby things, I made it to March 1st, the day where I'd get to Skype with Deanna and rip everything open with Don. Yay!

When the doorbell rang at 5:30pm, the jig was up: Don had secretly invited five very dear Danish ladyfriends -- Jorunn, Annette, Susannah, Ulrika and Randi (all moms) -- over for a surprise shower for me. Out came platters of tuna salad, egg salad and cucumber-and-cream-cheese tea sandwiches (crusts cut off, each variety in a different shape), champagne, fresh fruit, a cream cake, a cheese board -- Don did it all. (He specifically asked the cheese shop lady in our village what cheeses would be good for a party of ladies, and she immediately recommended Emmenthaler, a basil gouda and this lump of unknown French creamy heaven.) There were vases of daffodils and roses everywhere. Can you believe this guy? I mean... COME ON. (I'd been out running errands for much of the day, so he was doing all of this while I was gone and stashing everything in cupboards and drawers.) I still almost can't even stand it.



We even had Deanna and baby Jack join us all the way from California via Skype! The ladies took a real interest in Jack's sling that Deanna was wearing, and that they were live from the Bay Area.



All of these ladies were unfamiliar with the idea of a "shower" -- is it for cleaning the pregnant person? Do all American pregnant women smell that bad? There was quite a bit of curiosity among them, and they wanted to see what the Americans were going to do for this shower, but I also think that perhaps there was a teeny tiny worry of bad luck, as they told me that the practice here is for people to come visit you right after the baby is born, bearing gifts then, not before. But, as my friend Jorunn said, it's actually quite nice to rally around the mom at a time preceding a huge, potentially frightening, life-changing event, and at a time when she may not feel the most, shall we say, lithe and dainty.

Don took photos the whole time, and while I'll curb my desire to post all 73 shots, here are some highlights:









I have never seen so many onesies in my entire life. We're off the charts on the Onesie-a-Tron. And the blankets... I think I've developed a thing for baby blankets. This little boy is going to be the most elegantly swaddled chap in western Europe, I have no doubt, and I have so many of you to thank for it. The "real" thank yous are in production, but for now, I am so, so very grateful to everyone who sent a gift, a card, or advice for this novice mom, along with the oceans of good energy and oodles of love.

Three and a half weeks and counting. I'm fairly surprised by how calm I am about it all -- the fears of birth have kind of melted away into clouds of relaxed deep cleansing breaths. I have no idea why or how, but I'm glad it did. Susannah swears by the big ol' tub of warm water in every delivery room in our hospital for killer contractions, which I'm all about, but to me, the shower will always be a uniquely treasured event.