In Bruges

While in Belgium, we took an overnight trip to Bruges. N had been a few years earlier, but all I knew of the city was from watching In Bruges. I was prepared for a tall bell tower, canals, and not much else.

But first, a stop for waffles before boarding the train in the exquisite Station Antwerpen-Centraal:

Wafel!

Antwerpen Centraal

Two hours of knitting and map-consultation later, we were in Bruges. We checked into our remarkably compact and functional (though lacking in privacy: the bathroom was essentially a closet) hotel, and made our way into the city.

Bruges was much smaller than I imagined, with only 20,000 people living in the historic city center – and something like 200+ bed and breakfasts, so as our map informed us, on busy days, there are often more tourists than locals around. But what it lacked in size, it made up for in crazy beautiful scenery, including a few hours of some of the best weather of our entire trip.

Picturesque Brugge

First stop: lunch at Herberg Vlissinghe, the oldest pub in Bruges, functioning since 1515. We snuck scraps to the tiny dog and then felt bad for doing so when we saw signs expressly forbidding it.

Herberg Vlissinghe

And then a long walk to see WINDMILLS.

Windmolen!

Windmolen!

Can I tell you how much I love windmills?

Windmolen!

Happy

Windmolen selfie

We spent the rest of the first day wandering around as I developed an increasingly intense headache, which is evident on my face in some of N’s otherwise lovely photos.

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We had dinner at Gran Kaffee De Passage, where we enjoyed authentic and very delicious Belgian food, and where I had one of the first strong food aversions of my pregnancy – to my first taste of Advocaat. It’s noteworthy that the only other strong food aversion was also in Bruges – to the smell of mussels, which I normally love.

Gran Kaffee De Passage

We took a short walk through the beautiful grounds adjacent to the Begijnhof De Wijngaard, then it was back to our hotel for the night.

Begijnhof De Wijngaard

After a frustrating experience with hotel reception, we decided to skip the included breakfast and instead had a surprisingly good meal at a coffee shop adjacent to the train station: coffee (with cookies AND Speculaas), croissants with jam and Nutella, pistolets with ham and cheese, and tiny crocks of yogurt.

Breakfast in Brugge

The brilliant weather from our first day didn’t hold, alas, so our second day of exploring was in more characteristic Belgium weather – overcast and drizzling rain, not unlike Seattle most of the year. We headed back to the Begijnhof De Wijngaard, a 13th century monastery that is now home to Benedictine sisters. The grounds were peaceful and beautiful in the light rain.

Begijnhof De Wijngaard

Begijnhof De Wijngaard

Swans

The rest of the day was spent dodging the rain, walking too far for an overpriced lunch, and hunting down souvenirs, and kissing a frog:

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In Bruges

Kissing the frog

Our last stop on our way out of town was for €10 worth of marzipan. I’m not even joking.

Bruges sweets

Bruges sweets

Beginnings

39 weeks

We walked to Palmisano Park Thursday night to see the latest installation in the Ten Thousand Ripples Project. I stood in the center of the circle of Buddha heads as the sun went down in the west. We had dinner at a neighborhood Italian place, then stopped at the bar where we had drinks on our first date. We’d stopped in for dinner a few weeks earlier and saw another expecting couple due a a week and a half before me – they were there again that night, now at least a few days overdue. When we crossed the bridge on the way home, we walked through a film set, the crew warning us to protect our eyes from the kleig light shining down on the river.

It was our last night as a family of two.

In the morning, some kitchen disaster left me in tears, bent in half at the sink as my contractions started, the first around 6:30am. It was Friday, and I had a day-long webinar ahead of me, and an important final meeting that afternoon, and a case study and documentation to finish before I could go on leave. There was no way I could miss work, so I went in, resolved that this would be my last day.

I started timing my contractions around lunchtime, thankful that the chairs in the meeting room reclined enough to give me some relief. I had a ham sandwich with avocado. By the end of my 3pm meeting, my contractions were regular and 5 minutes apart. The last 90 minutes of my work day was a blur, and probably the most productive 90 minutes of the entire year. Some women “nest” when they’re in labor – I wrote documentation, registered for two conferences, compiled and double-checked statistics, and saved files in multiple locations.

At 5pm, my contractions were 4 minutes apart. I called Nicolas to talk it over, then called Labor and Delivery, who told me I might as well come in. I packed everything up, walked to my car, and drove around the corner to the hospital, parallel parking between contractions. By the time I checked in at 6pm, my contractions were 2 minutes apart. Three other women arrived within 10 minutes of me.

N hopped in a Lyft car and arrived shortly after I was admitted to triage, my labor well underway. I was hooked up to a bunch of machines, which made climbing around to get comfortable difficult. N massaged my back and calmed me during the contractions, just as we’d practiced. Nurses were in and out checking my vitals and taking my blood. One nurse bumped my foot with the table I was leaning on during contractions. When the contraction passed, I asked for a bandage for my bleeding toe. She was apparently so mortified that she couldn’t come back into the room.

A resident scanned my belly and confirmed that the baby was still breech, and still high up. Over the next two hours, they checked my cervix several times to make sure that my labor was actually progressing before making the decision to send me to surgery. Each check was more agonizing than the last. At some point, they determined that I was staying, and the baby would be born that night. N texted my family as I went into surgery, and was given surgical scrubs to cover up. In the rush to surgery, I was asked to take out my tongue stud; I forgot all about it until several days later, by which time it was too late to put it back in.

I don’t remember exactly how I got back to surgery – did I walk? I must’ve walked. We were at a teaching hospital, and the one time this was problematic was during the epidural when the physician critiqued the resident’s work in placing my epidural – not what I wanted to hear while hunched over waiting for the pain to stop. I could still feel more than I expected to feel, and when I said that I go through anesthetic fast, the doctor said, “this will be interesting.”

My doctor was out of town, so a doctor I’d never met performed the surgery. I was strapped to a table with the drape raised when N was brought in. He sat by my head and talked to me about the baby on the beach, about how we were about to meet our child. I felt a lot of pressure, pulling back and forth, and then they told N it was time to stand up and see the baby. The doctor said, “you grew a lot of baby!”. Our son was born at 10:49pm.

The aftermath of surgery is a blur. It wasn’t clear to me what was happening, but N and the baby went to an adjacent room for the newborn procedures, and I could only occasionally see the baby through the crowd of people attending to him. I kept asking what was happening, whether his eyes were open, what color they were. I could hear him crying, and wanted to hold him, but had to be put back together first. The doctor assured me that if I waited two years, I would be a good candidate for a VBAC.

We spent a long time in recovery. I was very sick, and N was very worried. The nurse was very kind. The baby was with us for part of the time, and then we waited a very long time for transport up to our room. There are a lot of things I don’t remember. I think we were both in shock. I think it’s best that I don’t remember.

I wanted so badly to have a natural birth, no drugs, no interventions. The birth I had was the opposite of that. I’m glad we had time to make our peace with this change of plans. Given the way my surgery went, and the way the baby was positioned, it was the safest option for both of us. I’m grateful that I went into labor on my own, and that I had the opportunity to labor before surgery. I’m grateful for the care I received, even though I don’t remember much of it.

Most of all, I’m grateful for the healthy and safe arrival of our son, who we named after our grandfathers. He’s beautiful, and we couldn’t be happier.

Introducing Kleintje, born via c-section at 10:49pm last night. He's perfect, and we're so happy. #100daystobaby

Bolleke en Pintje

We booked our tickets to Belgium on December 11. A little over a month later, I found out I was pregnant. Let’s all observe a moment of silence for all of the amazing beers I didn’t get to drink while in the home of the best beers in the world – and of the best beer bar in the world!

There is absolutely nothing uncontroversial about alcohol and pregnancy, but after a lot of reading and discussion, we agreed that we both felt safe with me having ::a:: drink here and there on our trip. I tried whatever sips of whatever N was drinking, but limited myself to a few local specialties enjoyed after a solid meal over the weeks of our visit. I also developed a taste for good tonic water, and discovered a few places with wonderful mocktails.

De Muze

Sampling a bolleke of De Koninck at De Muze, one of N’s favorite jazz bars. We left before the jazz started, but made a second visit for drinks and music during our second week.

De Muze

De Muze

De Vagant

Trying genever at De Vagant. Not pictured: the GIANT MOUNTAIN of cheese cubes that we ordered thinking we’d have a little snack.

Nine Cocktailbar

Nine Cocktailbar

Nine Cocktailbar

A virgin shrub for me, and an amazing ginger something for N

Nine Cocktailbar

Kulminator

Kulminator

Kulminator

Kulminator Beer List

Now THIS is a beer list – a giant binder organized by style and by brewery, hand annotated in places. Some of the beers on the list weren’t available anywhere else, period.

La Trappe Quercus 2011 Batch 7

La Trappe Quercus 2011 Batch 7

La Trappe Quercus 2011 Batch 7, literally only available at Kulminator

Kulminator

Oh this? Just several cases of Westy empties.

Onder de Schelde

Riverside, golden hour

There are no bridges passing over the Scheldt in downtown Antwerp – instead, pedestrians, cyclists, and (presumably) vehicles pass through tunnels under the river. We took a particularly terrifying old wooden escalator down to this pedestrian tunnel just to say that we did.

Under the Scheldt

Under the Scheldt

Under the Scheldt

Under the Scheldt

Fietsers Afstappen!!!

The Third Trimester

Oval Beach

We went to Michigan for the July 4 weekend. On our last night there, we made it to Oval Beach just in time for the sunset. A young family was taking photos and playing just down the beach from us, their small son all white blonde hair and confidence, strolling up and down the beach like he owned the place as the sky turned to purples and pinks. We laid together on our blanket and imagined our own family in the future, our own kleintje confidently exploring. I would return to those moments on the beach many times in the coming months.

We took childbirth classes in the Bradley Method. I had intended to blog about our experience, and maybe I still will. 2 hours a week for 12 weeks seemed like a lot, and sometimes it was a chore to go, but we both felt like it was a valuable experience, even though we didn’t have the birth we’d hoped (more on that later).

Based on kicks, the baby seemed to like blueberries and pineapple, World Cup commentary, and N’s presence and voice.

My dear friends threw me a baby shower at the end of July – nothing ridiculous, just friends and food and gifts in a sweet park on a beautiful afternoon.

We picked up furniture on Craigslist and from my former roommate. I hung the garland from the baby shower on the wall above the bookcase. We decided to wait on any other decorating until the baby moves into the room after the long Chicago winter.

I stopped biking in late July after a close call on my commute home. I’m glad I was able to bike as late into my pregnancy as I did, but felt completely OK stopping when I did.

None of my workout shirts fit, and my gym is barely air conditioned, so my fellow gym-goers were treated to my sweaty belly while I read parenting books on the exercise bike. Few directly applied to new babies, and the one that did beat me about the head with the concept of THE FOURTH TRIMESTER.

I had to go to Seattle for work in August, and N came along. I was exhausted and overheated for most of the trip, and tried to blame it on altitude, which was totally incorrect. We took long walks, ate a lot of delicious Belgian food, and did our best to soak up our last pre-baby vacation. Flying at 32 weeks wasn’t as miserable as I expected, but I’m very glad I didn’t have to fly after that.

I read Expecting Better and wished I’d read it much earlier in my pregnancy, as it made me feel dramatically more sane about the choices I was already making.

I worried for awhile that I had pre-eclampsia. My blood pressure was higher than usual, and I felt dizzy and tired. My doctor wasn’t worried.

In mid-August, my family threw me a shower which ended up being an afternoon of babies and girl talk in the best possible way. I got to Rockford early and spent 15 minutes cleaning the pool in order to have a few minutes of delicious weightlessness. I had so looked forward to swimming all summer, but it was just too cool.

All told, I gained somewhere in the area of 50 pounds.

Sleep was hard. I was very warm, and very large, and up every 2 hours like clockwork to use the restroom. I couldn’t sleep under anything heavier than a thin muslin swaddling blanket, or wearing anything more than a sports bra and shorts.

I had a lot of pain in my ribs, and sometimes it felt like my solar plexus was made of broken glass.

I felt a lot of urgency to make time with friends, and for relaxed solo time with N. I felt overbooked in the last few weeks, but got to see nearly everyone and also take care of the sorts of personal errands that just wouldn’t be a priority after baby.

At 36 weeks, we learned that the baby was breech. I was hysterical, and frustrated by the lack of information from my doctor, and by the pressure to schedule a c-section without trying other interventions. In the following weeks, we tried the following to encourage the baby to turn:

  • inversions
  • strategic application of hot (coffee mug) and cold (frozen peas)
  • N talking to the baby through my belly
  • N shining a flashlight at the bottom of my belly
  • chiropractic adjustments (side note: why hadn’t I ever been to a chiro before?)
  • acupuncture (which I also hadn’t tried) and moxibustion
  • walking sideways up the stairs

At 38 weeks, the baby still hadn’t turned, and I decided I could either keep running myself ragged driving all over the city trying things that weren’t working – or make my peace with the surgery. I worked on the latter, and we scheduled the c-section for September 24.