Monday, 30 January 2012

The Glory Days of Learning to Cycle

Learning to Ride a Bike
(c) Amanda van Mulligen
I can remember my first real bike like it was yesterday - a red Poppy bike - one with no stabilisers on it... just two wheels. I guess I must have been the age my eldest is now, maybe a year older at six. I remember falling hard numerous times until I had cracked the art of cycling. I can picture my dad holding the back of my bike as I cycled along the paths around our house - until he decided the moment was right to let go. I would carry on travelling until I realised my safety net was gone, turn and scream and then tip over. It was a pattern repeated several times. What I probably mean is hundreds of times. Bruises, cuts and scrapes failed to act as a deterrent - we kept going until I had mastered getting about on two wheels. These were without a doubt my biking glory years. This was back in England, in Warrington to be specific, in the late 1970s.

A few decades on, a change of location, and I am now the one spurring my son on to bike his way around on just two wheels. In the Netherlands, most children, if not actually born attached to a bike, are cycling almost as soon as they have some sort of leg control. At the age of 4 there are children cycling past me on the school run on two wheels. My son has already had a cycling lesson on the school playground (the first of many to come) as well as traffic awareness lessons. The foundation has been laid. It is a matter of time (I suspect weeks if the weather allows) before he joins the majority of the local population and practically glues his bum to a bicycle seat - a relationship which will last until he no longer has proper control of his legs...... I guess I had better dust my bike down and start trying to recapture my cycling glory years before all three of my sons master two wheels!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Let Me Introduce You to My Donkey

Life with a Donkey
(c) The Writing Well
This blog title, Life with a Double Buggy, was inspired by my recent transition from a single to a double pram when my third son was born last October. Before we actually bought a double buggy we weighed up the options.

We considered if carrying the baby for a while everywhere was an option until my middle son grew out of the pram but quickly ascertained that the medical bills for damaged backs would probably amount to more than the cost of a pram. So we turned our attention to the type of double pram to buy. It turns out you can get all sorts of shapes and sizes (and prices) of prams to transport two small children: ferrying them around underneath each other - a sort of bunk bed pram, side by side and in front of each other. In the end it was a question of wide or long, and we chose for wide. We chose a Bugaboo Donkey. We discussed, and hesitated and discussed again (they cost more than most people's first car) but after a test ride on the test tracks at Baby Park we dived in and signed on the dotted line for a Donkey.

The Donkey was delivered. The Donkey was (with some sweat and tears) put together. The Donkey was occupied by my toddler and new born and we braved the streets. Those living in the Netherlands will know that nothing here is particularly big. Roads are not big. Pavements are not huge. Supermarkets are not massive (even the supposedly XL ones pale into insignificance compared to counterparts in the UK, France and US). You get the picture. I need space with my buggy. Space which in most ordinary day to day places just doesn't exist.

Therefore getting my Donkey around has been a challenge in some places. A good example is my eldest son's school. I used to zip through the nearest entrance to the school playground with the single pram. Now to avoid massacring my toddler's arm on the prickly hedge next to the entrance I have to walk around to the next entrance at the front of the school where my double buggy can actually safely pass thorough the barriers. I have to detour.

The blog title is synonymous with life after the birth of my third child; "Life with a Double Buggy" has meant rethinking normal, every day tasks. It throws up challenges. It has made me a little more creative with my time, how I get things done and set priorities. "Life with a Double Buggy" means manoeuvring a little differently - both in life and in the local supermarket!

Monday, 9 January 2012

A Doula by My Side

Photo: Kelsey Johnson
Being pregnant and living in a foreign country can be quite daunting once the euphoria has ebbed and reality hits. Back home you'd have your mum, sister or best friend on hand to support you through the nine month roller coaster that is pregnancy. When you're abroad it may be harder to find that emotional and practical support. Further more there are language and culture differences making it tougher still. This is why a doula is a great option for expats.

For nine months a doula stands at your side, helping you to prepare mentally and physically for the upcoming birth. When D-Day comes and you're huffing and puffing contractions away, a doula provides hands on physical support and pushes you mentally to go further than you thought you ever could. Whilst your partner is passed out exhausted on a chair in the delivery room, a doula takes over and holds your hand. If you're not sure of your options as the birth approaches, a doula paints a picture for you.

There are also medical reasons to have a doula in the delivery room with you - it has been shown that the presence of a doula reduces medical interventions such as caesarians and pain relief. The presence of a doula creates peace, trust and a feeling of safety in the delivery room and this has an effect on the birth of a baby. And speaking from personal experience this is not just sales talk on doula sites.

The birth of my first son was not the straight forward, pleasant experience we had hoped for. This was largely due to a maternity ward running at full capacity and few nurses around to help when we needed it most. It was scary. We'd had the chance of using a doula but thought it unnecessary at the time. A regret for sure. 

During my second pregnancy I didn't hesitate one second to contact a doula to support me and my husband in the delivery room. When my third pregnancy was confirmed she was one of the first to know. 

My doula, Malua te Lintelo, belonged in the delivery room with me and my husband as if she were a member of our family. There was no other person I would have rather had in the delivery room with us last October. After her presence during the birth of my second child, there was no doubt she would be with us for our third.

Not only did she give me the emotional support during the most difficult times of labour, she also gave valued emotional and practical support in the months and particularly weeks before my due date. She reminded me how tiring labour is...... prodded me to get my rest when I could, despite looking after my two children. She encouraged me to lean on others around me and she pushed home how important time with alone with my husband was before the baby arrived. She helped put me in the right emotional and mental place for the birth.

Unfortunately she couldn't wave a magic wand and take away the fatigue that raged once the contractions hit full strength. Two nights of contractions and no sleep had sapped my reserves, but thanks to Malua I got through the birth with a smile on my face and can look back on a happy, memorable birth once more.

There are many reasons to take a doula with you on your journey though pregnancy and birth: for expats there are more reasons still.

For more information about doulas and where to find one near you in the Netherlands visit . My doula, Malua, can be contacted at Welkomst and if you would like more information about my experiences in Malua's hands then please feel free to contact me.

To read more about my experience with my doula during my second delivery read my article "A Little Help in the Delivery Room" on I Am Expat.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Welcome to "Expat Life With a Double Buggy"

Life With a Double Buggy:
Harder Than it Looks!
This is the first post on my brand new blog, Expat Life with a Double Buggy. This blog is about being a parent whilst living in a foreign country. It's about the experience of my children being born in a country different to the one I was born in. It's about bringing them up in a culture different to the one I grew up in. It's a blog about the joys of motherhood. It's a blog about the trials of parenting.

There are a number of reasons for the change in direction, the major one being the birth of my third son last October. Needless to say most of my time is now taken up being a mother - as it has been for a couple of years in reality.

My focus since setting up A Letter from the Netherlands has changed dramatically. Life in the Netherlands has changed dramatically since having children.

The second reason I have decided to write about parenthood (particularly experiencing it in a country I wasn't born in) is the fact that my eldest started school in 2010 and that has been a journey in itself, not just for him but for me too. Going to school in the Netherlands is not quite the same as going to school in England. It's not miles apart but there are enough differences to throw me off track and get me embroiled in cultural differences.

Writing about my experiences as a mother in a foreign country may help some, and just entertain others. This blog is the start of a new direction; it's part of a new journey I'm taking and I hope you join me on it!

A Happy New Year to you all - may it be one in which beautiful memories are created!

P.S The name for this blog originates (surprise surprise) from us swapping our single pram for a double buggy with the arrival of our baby in October 2010. You'd be surprised just how tough getting about with a double pram can be...... even in the most mundane of ventures outside the home. Watch this space for more on that.......