vendredi 11 décembre 2009

Jet Lag & Babies

It's the start of the holiday season, and the cacahuète and I are now on our second trip to the US. Much like last time, jet lag has wreaked havoc on our sleep schedule. I say "our" because when the peanut wants to play at 2 am in the morning, I have to be there to amuse him. Such is the price we must pay for our wandering lifestyle, I suppose.

On the whole, I cannot complain, I suppose, as our little cacahuète is a seasoned little traveller by now. He is not at all fazed by the airport security routine, and gets very flirty and happy when security personnel hold him while I gather our things. And somehow he manages to make friends with the people seated around us on the airplane.

For those of you who may be flying internationally with a baby, I highly recommend Virgin Atlantic. They have new cots for babies that are bigger and more comfortable than the traditional skycots, and they have jars of baby food on board. It was reassuring to know that even if the food I had prepared for the trip was confiscated at security, the peanut would still be able to eat. Not to mention that the flight attendants gave us a big bottle of water so I would not have to get up in the middle of the flight with the baby if I got thirsty or if I had a problem with the water I had brought on board for formula.

My only gripe is that our pram was not available when we deplaned, and I had to go through immigration and to wait for the luggage (and the pram) holding a 21-pound baby. Not fun, but at least I know that nex time I will have to make doubly sure that the pram is properly gate-checked.

Our next international flight is to Uruguay in a couple of weeks. Thankfully, Diego will be joining us for that one. And I'm less concerned about the peanut not behaving on this flight because the Christmas flights to South America are full of families with screaming babies. What better way to get into the holiday spirit than to be in a small, confined space with crying babies for 10 hours? Happy Holidays!

mardi 15 septembre 2009

Frequent Vacationers

We just got back from our first family vacation. With a new baby to cart along and the weak pound, we decided to stay in the UK and took the train to St. Ives in Cornwall. I know that a lot of Brits like to go abroad because they believe the food and weather are better just about everywhere else. But on the whole, we heartily recommend St. Ives.

We ate amazing food:

Well, we have no pics of our food, but can assure you that the seafood, especially the local mussels, scallops and crab were delicious. The mussels, in particular, reminded us of the type they have in Uruguay: soft and not at all grainy.

We had a lot of tasty local wines:

I know you are thinking “English wine??!!” because we thought that too. But, we plucked up our courage and decided to follow the advice of the old advertisement that stated “The best golfer in the world is black, the best rapper in the world is white, and the best sailors in the world are Swiss. Now is the time to try English wine.”

The verdict? The wine was actually drinkable. Better than drinkable, in fact. It was good! The wine above reminded me of German Rieslings and was fruity but not sweet. We also had a sparkling wine by the same maker, which was crisp and clean. Overall, English wines (at least the whites) are definitely worth trying, if only for the adventure factor.

Last, we also spent some time on the local beaches. The weather was not warm enough to really spend time in the ocean, but Diego could not resist taking a dip in the balmy 14°C water:

Were it not for the occasional rainstorm, it almost didn't feel like England at all!

In typical Maki et Diego fashion, our first family vacation is over, but we won’t be staying put for long. The cacahuète and I are flying to Miami to visit the grandparents.

I’m excited that we will be spending quality time with our families, but I am also nervous about dealing with the hassle of the airport and the 9-hour flight with a small baby in tow. Not to mention that the effect of jet lag on a 5-month old who has only recently started sleeping through the night...somehow, I knew he’d start to sleep through the night shortly before we were due to start crossing time zones. But, hey, at least he has beat the family record for youngest frequent flyer.

lundi 31 août 2009

NHS Hospital Delivers Baby Safely

I know, I know, we have been very much out of touch. I promise that we have a good reason, though: our little globe-trotting cacahuète was born in mid-April. In the months following the birth, it felt like we were running a hotel, as grandparents, aunts, and cousins from near and far came to meet the newest family member. I have also gotten very involved in the local baby circuit, hanging out with other new mums in the local area parks. Bring on the power-pramming!

You might remember that when I was pregnant, I blogged that I was concerned about having a baby in the NHS. I really needn't have worried as the hospital staff was very knowledgeable and efficient. Even when things got a bit dicey right before the peanut's grand appearance, the midwives, doctors and nurses were in control of the situation. And for a couple of weeks after the birth, I had midwives and health visitors coming to my living room to check on us both. It was great to have medical professionals visit us at home, since it took me a few weeks to feel like I could venture outside the house with the always-hungry and insatiable peanut.

While Joe the Plumber might be surprised to hear of my positive experience having a baby in the NHS, Stephen Hawking would find nothing unusual in it. Indeed, like most Brits, he would likely be amused at my amazement that health care here is free. I understand that it is our tax pound that pays for nationalized health care, but taxes here are not much higher than they were in the US, which makes me think that we are getting a good deal overall.

Additionally, supposing that I was utterly distrustful of the NHS, I still have the option of seeing doctors and specialists on a private basis. In short, if I want to pay for extra service, I am free to do so. But if I - like most of the uninsured Americans - cannot afford to pay for private health care, I can use the national medical system. As a new parent, it is comforting to know that no matter what happens to us job-wise, the peanut can still see a doctor. And politics aside, fundamentally, it's all about taking care of peanuts, isn't it?

That said, it does feel a bit like I'm missing out on all the fun of the health care debate back in the US. Maybe I can say we've been too busy dealing with all the death panels, health rationing and socialism. But, like Stephen Hawking, the cacahuète and I are alive and healthy in spite of it all, so there you go.

dimanche 5 avril 2009

Just Divine

Last weekend we saw the following advert for a company that rents IT equipment:

Yes, that's a picture of Hugh Grant after he was arrested in 1995 for asking Hollywood prostitute Divine Brown for oral sex. My favorite part of the advert? The caption at the bottom that states the company provides "service that will blow you away."

mercredi 1 avril 2009

Burnin' and a-lootin' at the G-20

Diego here. Back again. I know we haven't been keeping up the blog lately, so sorry. Those who know understand that there are other things on our minds lately. Also, for me, the humdrum of the day to day routine saps me of my creative energy sometimes, so there you go.

Luckily for me, the humdrum routine was broken today. The G-20 pow-wow is going on in London tomorrow, the big O is in town and today there were protests planned throughout the city. The City (financial district) was a particular target today. That's where I work. Several days ago, the HR department sent out an e-mail advising us to dress down since some of these anarchists might target suits for violence. I had seen on the Evening Standard that Moorgate station, right by my work, was supposed to be the gathering place for one of the marches. So off I went this morning, dressed in the scruffiest getup I could find along with my Fidel Castro looking hat, thinking that if push came to shove I could raise my fists in the air and pretend to be a protester.

By mid morning, Moorgate was full of police vans and officers in every direction. All my bored colleagues kept staring out the windows waiting for something to happen, and waiting...and waiting. Nothing. Just a lot of cops. Hey, what can I say, when you work in a cubicle farm, you value any little bit of excitement that comes your way!

At lunchtime, a colleague and myself decided to go have a wander and catch some of the action. We walked down by the Bank of England where the protesters had gathered. The police had sealed most of the area off, but we managed to sneak in to a small, crowded area. I'd say there were about two cops for every activist there, and furthermore about 2 gawkers for every cop. Yes, it was so easy to tell that most of the people around me were bored office workers in casual attire, just like myself, trying to see what all the fuss was. Oh, and the place was swarming with journalists. Cameras everywhere. I'm surprised there actually are that many photojournalists in London. I guess those are the guys that follow celebrities and the royal family around when there are no G-20 protests. At one point I saw a guy spray-painting some graffitti on the pavement and there were no less than 4 media people taking his picture. Talk about exposure!

After that, we headed to the carbon exchange where the environmentalists were protesting. Also a lot of cops and journalists but there was much more of a party atmosphere going on. There was a sound system blasting music and a bunch of trippy hippies dancing to it. The loudest cries of protest I heard were whenever the music was switched off. No angry speeches. No manifesto. It felt like a very pleasant block party but a rather useless protest.

That was it. Totally overhyped and anticlimactic. I managed to get a few snaps on my way home. They are appropriately boring:

jeudi 12 février 2009


One thing Diego and I have noticed is that each country has its own cleaning products and those cleaning products are not available in every country. For example, in France, we had a hard time finding Oxyclean, a crucial product when you spill as much red wine as we do. Luckily, Diego’s Mom was able to bring a Costco-sized box of the white powder in her luggage when she came to visit us (and surprisingly she was never questioned about the contents of her luggage when going through the airport). Instead of Oxyclean, red-wine spillers in France have to make do with a transparent liquid called detacheur that sometimes manages to remove the stain and sometimes doesn’t.

Here in the UK, the locals seem quite fond of a cleaning product called Dettol that looks and smells a lot like Pine-Sol.

According to the package, Dettol is an antiseptic disinfectant, again, much like Pine-Sol. What makes Dettol different than Pine-Sol is the variety of uses it has.

Dettol does not just clean floors, bathrooms, and countertops. No, that would be too pedestrian. According to the package label, Dettol can also be used “for personal hygiene” by pouring 1-2 capfuls in the bath. Indeed, according to the March Marie Claire, some women even use it for douching! (though the doctor interviewed did warn that it upsets the healthy balance of bacteria).

Not only can you use this Pine-Sol equivalent to freshen your bath, Dettol also has “medical uses,” including an disinfecting wash on cuts, bites, abrasions, and insect stings.

Even more disconcerting, Dettol can also be used for “midwifery.” Yes, that’s right folks, you can use Pine-Sol when birthin’ babies! The midwifery instructions state to pour “1 capful in 500 ml (approx. 2 cups) of water (1 part in 40) for routine antisepsis.” I’m not sure why one needs a liquid cleaner diluted in water during the birthing process. Is it to clean Mum . . . or baby? Is it to clean the stuff in the birthing room? I have no idea, but frankly, I’m scared that come April, I’m going to be in massive, painful labor, and a midwife will approach me, all smiles, armed a bottle of Dettol instead of an epidural.

lundi 2 février 2009

Snow Day

It's the worst snowfall in 18 years in Southeast England, and it sure makes me glad to be admiring the view from inside.

The view from our living and dining area:

Our street:

jeudi 22 janvier 2009

Sanguis non Grato

Now that Maki has commented on the national chauvinism of health care providers as well as my (supposedly) unfortunate genetics, I’ll add a little story of my own. About the genetics, I’ll say that the downside of being a mutt is that there’s a greater chance of being related to races with ghastly genetic disorders, but the upside is that you can always find some distant kin to vouch for the quality of your stock (or at least the small part of it they share with you).

Anyway, back in 2007, before we made our big move, I was approached by some bloodmobile touts outside the Coral Gables DMV. Feeling especially civic minded that day, I decided to heed their pleas for a blood donation. I walked into the bloodmobile expecting to blush at awkward questions about my sexual habits, but that part was pretty straightforward. Instead, the interrogators began to focus on my travel history: had I recently visited any tropical third-world places, had I ever been to Africa and, most importantly, had I lived in Europe for a total of more than five years? See, if you’ve been in the Olde Worlde for more than 5 years they’re afraid you’ll have CJD (aka Mad Cow Disease). Not a problem if you’ve only got 4 ½ years of Euro-ness, apparently. Alas, the Florida blood bank is too good to take deposits of my tainted blood.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I received a letter from my local blood bank here in London asking for donations. They’re not very proactive here. Instead of sending the bloodmobile close to where I am, they set up times at their local offices in my neighborhood: all during working hours, of course. Never mind. I’m not so civic minded that I’m going to take a day off work to donate blood. More amusing, however, was a small disclaimer at the bottom of the letter saying that they cannot accept blood donations from people who have visited North America within the last three months due to, get this, the high risk of West Nile virus. There’s a way to get your own back. “So you don’t want our CJD? Well, we don’t want YOUR West Nile virus, so THERE!! Nyah, nyah!”

Meanwhile, my poor, nomadic, bastardized blood is like the ugly girl at the dance. Nobody wants it. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

I’ve decided I’m going to have fun with it. Next time anyone in the US solicits my blood, I’m going to give them my crazy look and start mooing. If anybody does it in Europe, I'll start...I dunno...walking like an Egyptian (a West Egyptian, of course). By the way, is da West Nile not just a river in west Egypt? Just wondering. Do people in the East Nile have a virus? Enquiring minds want to know...

vendredi 16 janvier 2009

Adventures in Prenatal Care

Because I got pregnant a few months before we left Paris, I was able to experience both French and British prenatal care. My experiences have left me to conclude that the centuries-old rivalry between these two great countries is alive and well.

In France, I was privileged enough to go to the American Hospital, a very swish hospital located in Neuilly, which perhaps colored my experience to a degree. Neuilly is Sarkozy’s old ‘hood, where he was mayor, and is so posh that rather than follow the housing rules requiring it to have a certain percentage of lower-income housing, the city chooses to pay fines for its failure to comply. In my doctor’s office, pregnant women with bellies the size of a Smart Car (the two-seater kind, obviously) still wore their Gucci heels and Prada purses to their visits.

French prenatal care is obsessed with the woman’s possibility of contracting toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is caused by a parasite found in animal feces, and in the US, women get tested for it if they have a cat (hence the recommendation that pregnant women do not change kitty litter). According to the brochures my doctor gave me in France, to avoid toxoplasmosis, a woman should not eat salad at a restaurant (out of concern that the parasite may not have been washed off properly) and should refrain from eating raw meat and eggs, i.e., French bistro classics. Apparently, French food is in much closer contact with the earth out in the farmland, and the risk of toxoplasmosis is higher.

Pregnant women are therefore typically tested to see if they are immune to toxoplasmosis. A French woman is usually immune to it, probably because she has been consuming steak tartare and undercooked eggs (which taste better than overcooked ones, I must say) since she was old enough to sit at a proper table in a bistro. Like most non-French women, my test showed that I did not have immunity to toxoplasmosis, causing the women at the laboratory where I picked up my results to o-la-la vociferously and declare that I would need to have monthly blood exams to make sure I had not contracted this dreaded parasite.

Mind you, at this point, I did not realize that the concern with toxoplasmosis is a peculiarly French obsession. As a newly pregnant woman, I took everything said to me quite seriously, especially considering the reputable sources of my information.

Before leaving France, I had my 13-week ultrasound, and the doctor who explained the results to me (after also o-la-laing about my lack of immunity to toxoplasmosis), tried to resassure me by telling me that I did not need to worry about this infection in the UK or the US. She explained that “the English boil all their food,” and hence the parasite was not something I should worry about. Now, I know that the English don’t have the gastronomic reputation that the French do, but surely it is a bit overbroard to say that they boil all their food!

In addition to reassuring me about toxoplasmosis, the doctor asked about our ethnic heritage. When she saw that Diego had English grandparents, she became most concerned and stated that as soon as I moved to London, I would need to have the fetus tested for spina bifida, as Diego’s English genes were subjecting our unborn child to a higher risk for this birth defect.

As a newly-pregnant woman, you can imagine how concerned this made me. Indeed, within a week of having arrived from France, I promptly booked an appointment with a GP (although I did not yet an actual address in the UK, which is required to register for health care, my GP’s office quite kindly registered me as a “temporary patient” so that I would be able to receive prenatal care in a timely manner).

At the appointment, I explained to the doctor that I was most concerned about spina bifida as a result of my husband’s unfortunate genetics, and that I would like to be referred for the early spina bifida test. The kind doctor’s indignant response to my new-mother overreaction? “There is always a risk of spina bifida, but it is not because your husband is English!”

Somewhat reassured (though, in typical new-mother fashion, still a bit doubtful), I asked the doctor about other new-mother concerns. Although the doctor in France had said that I did not need to worry about it here in the UK, I also decided to ask about toxoplasmosis, as the monthly blood tests and the o-la-laing at the laboratory and doctor’s office had left me worried. Perhaps seizing on the chance to get back at the French doctors after the spina bifida comments, my English doctor said I did not need to worry about toxoplasmosis here because of the way food is prepared and exclaimed “Dirty French!”

On the whole, the only conclusions I can draw from these experiences is that, to this day, the English and French don’t like each other very much and that each culture (and probably every culture in the world) makes up its own concerns and rules about pregnancy. My only advice for mums-to-be the world over is to take all advice with a grain of salt and to keep in mind that your doctor’s culture will impact his advice.

Take the issues of an epidural and breast-feeding. In the UK, the theory seems to be that if grandma did it one way, we should do it that way today. Never mind that in grandma’s time, women and babies routintely died because of childbirth.

Indeed, most UK mums and midwives seemed horrified when I announce that I want an epidural, going on and on about some supposed list of horribles (I don’t really believe them, though, especially as my own mother had an epidural and is probably one of the few women I know who thought the birth was a breeze). To make matters worse, I have heard of women in the UK not being able to get an epidural because an anesthesiologist is not always necessarily available to administer one, a downfall, I suppose, of a system of truly socialized medicine.

The French, in contast, are very much in favor of epidurals. When I told her of my fear of not getting an anesthetic during the birth in the UK, my doctor in France even offered to schedule an induction at some point after 36 weeks in Paris so as to ensure that I could get an epidural. The French may believe in eating natural food that has been in close contact with the earth, but they certainly do not believe in natural medicine!

Likewise, the French do not seem as concerned with breastfeeding as the English do (in part because breastfeeding ruins a woman’s breasts). The UK system, on the other hand, is positively obsessed with the breastfeeding issue. While I think it is fantastic to be breastfeed if at all possible, I absolutely detest that the UK medical establishment seems obsessed with preaching breast-is-best to mums-to-be. The way I see it, if they are so resistant to letting me choose the type of birth I want, they have no right to dictate my post-birth life (not to mention the overly big-brother aspect of it all).

Alas, if I could, I would choose to have the baby in France (epidural and 5-day hospital stay included). I just hope our little kiddo someday appreciates the fact that I am quite determinedly staying in the UK for the birth, risking having to do things grandma’s way and getting kicked out of the maternity ward a mere few hours after he is born, just so that he may have double nationality and become a little globe-trotting adventurer.