A post to commemorate 4 years

Facebook informed me today that I have been an expat for 4 years.

Somedays it seems like it couldn’t possibly have been FOUR whole years.

Other days… hmm… Other days, it feels as if I’ve been here four and forty whole years. I feel as if I’ve lived a lifetime here. As if the lifetime I lived in the States belonged to another. That girl who worked all the time, who read books, who went to the salon, who laughed and loved and cried, squeezing out every drop of every moment of the day. That girl was me. Wasn’t she? Maybe just another version of me? Or just a preview of who I am to become later after this time of motherhood-up-to-my-eyeballs passes?

When O was born I was too busy to really enter into this season of my life. Then we moved here, and I had no choice. I’ve been submerged into this season of marriage and motherhood. Half-drowned in it you could almost say. At the same time I’ve been pummeled by a myriad of new experiences. Enough to fill another lifetime. I’ve learned a new language, I’ve been to Crete and Paris and Turkey. I’ve let go of old dreams and started to form new ones. I’ve met amazing people and people that I wish would spontaneously combust (or at least just go away and never come back). We bought a house. My name is attached to a piece of land. I don’t even really think of it as home yet. But we got the official documents in the mail this week. Our names are officially attached to this plot and the house on it. I carried and birthed another child and suffered from the physical and mental scars. I’ve gone home for holidays and weddings. And I’ve missed funerals because I was stuck over here.

Some days, the monotony of daily life with kids just gets depressing. The hours drag on as I wait for bedtime, willing it to be tomorrow already. But then I think of all the little things in between. The excitement of new places, new experiences. Then I remember the endless Mondays spent slinging pizza in college, and that feeling that life was going on all around me and I was missing out. I guess the everyday is like that. Boring us out of our minds. Maybe that’s why some people get dementia, they stop having these experiences to look forward to and the droll of everyday just gets to their brains.

So here’s to the next four years and the excitements they shall bring.

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Things Change

So, most mothers of 2 or more kids will tell you that each kid is different. That each pregnancy is different. Well, I’m not here today to tell you otherwise. Some of it is just the natural progression from over-zealous first-time-around motherhood to been-there-done-that-who-cares-if-the-baby-eats-some-dog-food-it’s-not-toxic second child syndrome. Some of it is more situational.

For example, in my first pregnancy I laughed at the idea of sewing my own hospital gown. Why would you waste money on fabric that’s just going to get all stained with lord-only-knows? Of course this time around, I feel compelled to tackle this sewing project. Mostly because in my sterile visions of childbirth, there’s always a lot of medical interventions involved and I’m always in a hospital gown. In Germany, they tell you to just wear a comfy shirt, when you come in labor. Now, if I own a comfy shirt, chances are, I like to wear it. So why in the world would I want to trash it by giving birth in it? If the hospital won’t issue me a disinfected, hospital grade material gown, then I guess I will be making my own.

Another case in point: not choosing my hospital based on my doctor. So in Baton Rouge, I had the most wonderful OB/Gyn. His office was in the tower at Woman’s Hospital. So, of course, it was planned out that we would drive 45 minutes to his hospital so he could oversee everything and take care of me. In Germany, the doctors aren’t so much involved. In fact, legally, you have to have a midwife with you for the birth in a hospital, but the doctor is totally optional. You might not even actually see a doctor during your labor and delivery. I’m still planning to drive the 45 minutes to Tübingen, but not because my doctor will be there. In fact, I don’t even know if someone has to call him to tell him I’m in labor, maybe they just send him a letter all official and German like from the hospital. Something with a signature and a stamp. Germans like to stamp important things. The hospital in our town actually has a WHO “Baby Friendly Certification, but I don’t really want to go there… I’ve heard that they tend to not send critical patients to the specialty hospitals as soon as they should. My nursing education makes me all too aware of every rare and life-threatening thing that could happen. I don’t want to stroke out from an embolism and be a vegetable because the doctors here were too proud to admit they couldn’t handle it themselves. I don’t think my husband or my in-laws fully understand this. But I really don’t care. In the words of every 13 year old that’s ever been on Maury Povich, “It’s my body, I do what I want.”

Also situational: In the last pregnancy, it was a question of “when” and not “if” I wanted an epidural. In Tübingen, there’s a variety of choices for pain relief. I’m still leery of all of the breathing and relaxation techniques people recommend. But I’m keeping an open mind. Also up for grabs are laughing gas and some kind of opiate. I may turn this birth into my own little science experiment. Of course, I never actually felt contractions during my first labor, so I may be screaming for my “Rückenspritz!” before I make it through all of the different options. (Also- I am not a super human- I didn’t feel the contractions despite my Pitocin drip due to an overwhelming and excruciating backache that I’d had from about 32 weeks into the pregnancy. Kind of like you wouldn’t notice if you busted your lip falling if you also broke your arm at the same time.)

Now that I am officially on Maternity Leave (another situational difference. Yay, socialism!) I hope to update a bit more on these differences. Maybe on the next post I’ll go into detail of some of the all natural recommendations for inducing labor. 🙂 But really, it’s been interesting so far. And I’m learning to not be too neurotic. Maybe.

A post in which I actually DON’T complain about Germany

I complain about things here. A lot. I know.

But it really isn’t all bad news bears here in the land of beer and pretzels. I mean, this is the home of the Biergarten. Where in July you can enjoy a refreshing beverage of your choice outside on a bench with your friends and not sweat to death.

So, I’d like to take a moment to brag a bit on one of the lovelier things here in Germany: the affordability of healthcare in this country. I don’t often get too political here on my blog, but I do have to commend Germany’s government and the healthcare system in general. The healthcare system in the US was, and sadly, still is broken. I think it’s only going to get more broken until some sort of French Revolution style revolt occurs with CEOs of insurance firms being guillotined in Times Square. I won’t lie, or hide my views. I am much more liberal than most of my friends and family. That’s ok, we all get along. I don’t stand up on my soapbox all the time. But I would like to highlight some of the positive things in Germany, so here’s my story:

My first pregnancy, I was unmarried and on a tight budget- I had just quit my job to go to nursing school. Now you an cast all sorts of judgement on me for having an unplanned, out-of-wedlock baby. All I can say about that, is that I really don’t care what your opinion of it is. It was what it was. And like a lot of things in my life, I figured I’d just struggle through it and somehow make it work. My first doctor’s appointment I was given pamphlets and lots of information. I was also given a sheet that said about how much it was going to cost. It was in the thousands, and that was just the costs from my doctors clinic. That didn’t include the hospital costs or costs for an extra special circumstance type things. It said to contact my insurance company and to find out exactly what was covered and to set up a payment plan. It was like a warning, they didn’t want you to freak out at the last minute with a huge scary bill.

A week later, I got a letter from my insurance company informing me that my COBRA payments would be upwards of $500 a month. Yeah, that was going to happen. So I did something that was painful to my pride: I signed up for Medicaid. I justified it by telling myself that I had paid into the system in the years prior when I was working, but still I felt a bit sick in my stomach.I wasn’t alone, people in all sorts of health predicaments face this same struggle and anxiety. The person with the chronic illness who got laid off, couldn’t get coverage for treatment with their new insurance because of their “pre-existing condition”. Or people reaching “lifetime” limits because a for profit corporation put a price tag on a person’s worth. Or hospitals charging $10 for 1 Tylenol. I just think it’s all a bit ridiculous.

I was actually very lucky. Louisiana was set up that all pregnant women without insurance could get on Medicaid if they needed to. And I could do it online without anyone seeing or judging me. I just thank God that I had an excellent doctor who truly cared about me and didn’t care that I was (temporarily) on Medicaid. He made sure that I got great care and never skimped on anything.

Flash forward 4 years and a different continent. I now have very good private insurance. But we only have a private policy because Armin is a government employee. Since they pay their employees well, employees are expected to contribute out of pocket. Most people in Germany are on one of the public systems. Want to know what we all have in common? We don’t really worry about healthcare costs. Public insurance people pay a flat fee each time they go to the doctor. We get our bill and then pay the doctor ourselves. The we send everything to our insurance company and get reimbursed. So I have an idea of how much things cost.

A few weeks ago, I had a bit of bleeding one Saturday morning. I wasn’t worried, as I know it’s not uncommon in pregnancy, it wasn’t a lot, and I’d had it once or twice with the first pregnancy. But that night I was standing in the kitchen and felt a bit of pain low in my abdomen. I sat down for a bit, the pain stayed. I decided that it was probably nothing, but I should see a doctor, just in case. (Who does that in the US?) So I drove myself to the hospital, told them what was happening and was taken into an exam room. The doctor asked if I had taken anything for the pain. I said no, she left the room and returned with a packet of pills. She gave me 2 and a glass of water. She asked if I had these pills at home. I said no, I didn’t even know what they were. She gave me the rest of the packet and told me I could take them home. They were over-the-counter meds, but her giving me the extras meant I didn’t have to drive to the one open pharmacy that night. She did an ultrasound and assured me that all was well with the little one. She said I probably had the over-exerted myself and I was given directions to go home and rest.

The next week the bill came, and as I opened it Armin grumbled about how much it probably cost for a late night weekend visit to the ER. Who wants to guess how much the total was? Seriously, take a wild guess. ER visit + Ultrasound = 100 € They didn’t even charge for the pills she gave me. Now, if you aren’t familiar, 100 € is about $130. So yeah, the whole ER visit was less than 1 Ultrasound in the US.

 

I won’t say the ACA is great. I see that it has flaws and that it has actually caused more problems for some people. But I think the idea that people can access medical care when they need it and not stay up all night worrying how to pay for it is great. I have a lot of things to worry about- I have a child, an elderly dog, a marriage that requires the normal amount of work and care. But I don’t have to worry about my health or that of my family. We can afford it, and while the culture and customs may be different, I don’t fee that the medical care here is lacking in quality. My sincere hope is that the US can figure out a way to bring this peace of mind to its people.

What next?

Well, well, well. There are big changes coming up in the next few months. Where do I begin?

 

I guess I should start with the job situations. Yes, plural 🙂 No, I haven’t yet gotten my nursing certification recognized here. Still trying to get through the mounds of red tape and I need a document from OLOL that doesn’t exist (yeah, good luck with that Shelley). HOWEVER, the lovely people at Vivat Lingua offer medical terminology courses in English for healthcare personnel in the area. And they just happen to need a new teacher. It’s just a little part-time job, and it’s not like a big salary or anything, but you guys have no idea the weight that has been lifted off my (durable, yet weary) shoulders. I will be back in society as a productive citizen. I know some women love being full-time stay at home moms. I applaud those women and all they love they put into their families and homes. But I need at least a little of that other world. And this gives a me a chance to get out of the house and justify paying to send Oli to Kindergarten.

Speaking of Kindergarten, Oli is very excited about going to his new Kindergarten in Albstadt-Ebingen! Yup folks, A got a position at one of the high schools in his home town. We found a lovely apartment with a patio, balcony and a yard! Ok, so I’m not really excited about yardwork or the uphill hike to the apartment, but it won out because it was cheaper and Armin liked the view of the mountains. We’ll be moving in September, if we can get it painted and hang light fixtures in an orderly fashion. We’ll see.

My plans for August are focused solely on Oli’s birthday and packing. It works out conveniently. I’ve got Oli’s birthday present (a huge ridable back hoe) under a sheet behind a pile of boxes. He hasn’t even noticed it…

Next I’ll be dancing naked by a fire in the forest

Warning: this post will contain references to my right breast (or the mole that used to live under it). Any family members out there that read my blog who might be uncomfortable with that, please just wait for my next post (it’ll be about Paris and have nice pictures, promise). To all my friends- well, it ain’t any worse than what you’ve heard come out of my mouth before.

It all started with a little mole that I noticed after taking a shower one day. It was dark, it was fairly new and it wasn’t all nice and even. But it was small and I didn’t have insurance, so I figured it could sit there for a while. I’m certain it grew a little over time, but it wasn’t as big as a pencil eraser.

Fast forward 2 years (yes, I know, too long to wait). Armin scheduled a dual appointment with his dermatologist. Because, you know, like most people in places like Germany where people have easy access to good affordable healthcare, he goes in regular intervals to the dermatologist. I show the ugly bugger to the doctor, who decides that although it doesn’t look to be too bad, it should go. Why? Because it is in an awkward spot and he already has to cut a good portion around it, but if it were to grow much bigger, then it would be much more complicated because he’d have to cut into my boob or something. At least, I think that’s what he said. He was speaking in German. And not just plain old German, He’s Schwabish- a totally different dialect that is insanely difficult to understand because they all kind of mumble and talk fast (imagine a non-English speaker trying to understand Ebonics).

So last week we go for our appointment. Did I mention I’m a terrible patient? I can’t deal with the sight of my own blood. I want to vomit or pass out. I also have incredible anxiety when I have any sort of procedure done. To the point where my Ob/gyn sedated me once. So there I am, praying to God that I don’t puke on myself, literally grabbing the table that I’m laying on. Shaking like a leaf- not because I’m cold- although that would be possible as I’m just laying there topless (it’s a whole different immodest world over here, y’all). I watch the doctor come in and he goes to the sink. And he uses some sort of hand sanitizing liquid. No, he did not WASH his hands. Just rubbed the mystery solution all over them. When I say I was horrified, I mean, I was FROZEN in fear. My God, was this man going to touch me with one of those dirty hands covered in mostly dead germs????? He treats patients with Herpes for f***’s sake!! I wasn’t sure what I could do about it. If I said something would he get angry? Leave me with some garish scar? I mean, he was cutting under my boob- did he know how make it hang a little more lop-sided? Then I saw him open the package of surgical gloves. To my relief, he at least put those on correctly. I think I would have died if had messed up that process. I mean really. I would have had to say something, or just leave. Just leave and find another doctor.

The actual procedure was only as bad as I assumed it would be. I felt minimal pain thanks to a local anesthetic. But I could feel the knife against my skin, and then him tugging my skin with the stitches. I could also hear them talking, and then something with the last stitch wasn’t right and he had to cut it and do it again. I just wanted to die. I mean seriously y’all, I know it’s all in my head, but it was just horrible.

Of course, the horror and humiliation live on. Because of the location of the stitches, I can not wear a bra. I do NOT have small boobies (they just look small in comparison to the size of my big ass). The last time I was out in public without a bra I think was 7 or 8 years ago. Some things just aren’t meant to co-exist: my boobs and a bra-less lifestyle are in that category! All movements= jiggling. Jiggling skin that is attached to the stitches- maybe you can guess how good that felt. So the next day, I send the Hubs to the pharmacy to get an ACE bandage so I can at least control the girls, if they can’t get the support they are used to. The pharmacist who is a bit of a douche, refused to sell it to him. He stated that it wouldn’t work and I didn’t need it and I should wear a sports bra. If I could wear a sports bra, don’t you think I would be doing that by now, ya big idiot?!? I eventually made it to a different pharmacy, was waited on by a woman and got what I needed.

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This one inch incision has been driving me bonkers for exactly one week!

Anyway, that’s my story about how after only a year in Germany, I’m becoming some sort of bra-less hippy. Darn.

Jubiläum! (Anniversary)

A year ago yesterday, I arrived on a plane in Stuttgart to begin an interesting new path in life in Deutschland. So today, in German fashion, I brought a cake to school to celebrate with my classmates my anniversary at Vivat Lingua (my school, that I started the day after I arrived- jetlagged and all). I didn’t think much of it, just an excuse to eat cake. But the head of the school, Adelheid, is so nice, she had chocolates and a little plant in a pretty cup for me.

Last summer in Germany. Let's hope this year is a little bit warmer.

Last summer in Germany. Let’s hope this year is a little bit warmer.

It was such a different day today than a year ago.

For starters, Spring is trying her best to come round. We’ve had a few lovely days this week. I even wore a skirt and no leggings today. It was fabulous. Last year at this time, it was not very good weather and it was cold. I remember needing to wear my coat.

Another thing that has changed: my weight, for the better. I’ve lost 15 pounds over the last year. I had gained quite a bit after the wedding and before the move. Unfortunately I haven’t really achieved that awesome all-Euro wardrobe yet, mostly because I lost weight and now I can just wear the clothes I had in Louisiana.

I walk everywhere and only drive two or three days out of the week. (HUGE difference from wasting my life away in that little blue Corolla in BR traffic) … hey maybe this is related to the above…

I’m no longer shocked by the weird hairdos of the local youth.

I have friends from all sorts of places, but not very many German friends. Maybe after I stop learning German in a class with a bunch of foreigners and I get a job.

I finally understand how to sort trash and recyclables the “Deutsch way” (i.e. very complicated).

I came here barely able to ask people “How are you?” Now, I’m in the C-1 level. Today in class we listened to a comedian joke about a European initiative against the privatization of water, then we read a short paper on it, listened to an interview about water conservation and researched on the internet about this initiative. All in German!

A year ago, I really didn’t understand the concept of trying to conserve water. I always thought it was pointless to try to teach Louisiana kids about that sort of thing. We’re surrounded by water there. It’s waiting in the clouds above us for the right time to fall on our heads as we run through a parking lot to our car. It’s under the ground if we dig deep enough. Bayous, rivers, creeks, canals, swamps- you name it, we got it! I couldn’t fathom a world where people actually thought about that stuff. Then I came here. Water out the tap is fairly expensive, and has so much calcium it’ll eat your washing machine if you don’t add a special anti-calc powder. People collect rain water to water the garden. They don’t use the hose. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing a hose in anyone’s yard. Every appliance has energy efficient what-nots and the toilets have various options for how much you want to flush!

I care more about electricity too. I mean, I cared before in the sense that I wanted to pay as little as possible. But I’ve been hanging my clothes out to dry outside the past few days. Simply because it was so nice outside that I knew they would dry quickly and I could do a few loads.

Speaking of the environment: Sunday, I went walking on a trail on a mountain, through a forest-y type area… and I liked it!

Long overdure Mardi Gras post- since it’s aready post-Easter

So I just realized I never posted anything about Mardi Gras here in the Schwabish part of Germany. And that is kind of a shame. Because it’s definitely not “Mardi Gras” like we think of it. It’s not even really Carnival. Yeah, ok, so it’s celebrated in the weeks before Ash Wednesday. But while most countries combined the pagan drinking and fertility traditions with the transition into the penitential season of Lent, Schwabians combined it with their old pagan traditions of scaring away winter…

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Wearing creepy masks to scare away Winter.

It doesn’t really lead to the glamor and bright colors of most carnival traditions elsewhere else, but it’s highly entertaining nonetheless. It’s not even called Karnival like in Koln. Here, it’s called “Fasching”. They don’t throw beads, but they do give out little candies and throw confetti on people. I guess one way they are the same is that a lot of people get drunk at some point.

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Drunken witches lay down in the street for a break during their march in the parade.