Quenching the Thirst

Finally, finally, after more than a month of canicule, we have rain. As if the weather gods suddenly stopped messing around and heard the parched earth gagging for water. And sent it. Much water. Good. It was starting to feel like the Sahara around here – and what’s the point of that kind of heat, if you don’t have mint tea and a bunch of gangsta mamas to share it with?

Good thing I have my very own mommy here with me 🙂

Raincoats and wellies!

Raincoats and wellies! And death stares.

Defeating the purpose of the double pushchair.

Defeating the purpose of the double pushchair.

Greeeeeeen. And new calves.

Greeeeeeen. And new calves.

Much sun + much rain = plump blackberries

Much sun + much rain = plump blackberries

Nothing to do with rain , but… We have hens!

Nothing to do with rain , but… We have hens!

And where is the rest of the crew, you wonder? Glasgow, NYC, Cape Cod, London. Sending love from here to there. We miss you. TMAB.

 

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Birth Story – Elizabeth May

So, this is birth story 1/2. It has a bit of blood n guts in it. It’s a bit TMI. It’s kind of long. I wrote it because I want to start writing again and it felt like this was in the way, a clot I had to pass before the words could flow freely. If you don’t feel like reading a birth story right now, please don’t! Have a look at these instead:

And if you do feel like reading a birth story right now, here goes.

My Moroccan and French due date was 30 May 2013, my American and British due date was 23 May. I wanted to give birth on the 26th. It was a Sunday, so my husband wouldn’t be at work. It made sense, because it was between the two due dates. My birthday is the 24th, my father’s is the 25th, and the 26th would be a nice follow-on. Finally, the night of the 25th was a full moon so it all seemed to come together. A month or so before giving birth, I told my Doctor about my plans, and that I was sorry he’d have to come in to work on a Sunday. He smiled and said, You don’t just decide these things.

My parents had arrived from France a few days earlier, bringing with them the crib, push chair and other baby essentials. On the Friday 24th, my birthday, friends came up from Casablanca and we had lunch in the garden. Mom and I baked cookies in preparation for baby visitors. That evening we had a simple supper and my husband and I retired for the night (end of sentence redacted).

On Saturday we walked to the beach and had my Dad’s birthday lunch at our favourite restaurant there. I was planning on going into labour 12 hours later, but my contractions started as we waited for our food. After lunch we paddled in the sea and walked home. Contractions spaced out and weren’t regular. I was still planning on hanging on til next morning to go to the clinic. That evening my parents, my husband and I had a light supper at home. Around 10pm we all headed to bed, and I started doing my evening yoga stretches (they included some squats and hip opening stretches). When I was done, I got up and crossed the room to the bathroom. On my way I removed my yoga pants, and that’s when I felt my waters break. I managed to get onto the toilet and not even a drop got on the floor.

I sent a text message to Dr. Chami, changed my clothes and got into bed for some last minute rest. The contractions were regular and getting stronger. After an hour or so I checked my phone and saw that the doctor had advised me to go straight to the clinic.

I gave birth at Clinique Al Boustane in Rabat, with Dr. Chami as my OB-GYN. A month before giving birth, we had moved form Casablanca to Rabat, and I’d had to find a new doctor and clinic (I had originally planned on giving birth at Clinique Ghandi with Dr. Saile). When I arrived in Rabat, at 35 weeks, I decided to take my time and pick a doctor that I felt comfortable with. I “interviewed” four different gynecologists, one woman (terrible), one man who was good but wanted to “practice his English” during consultations (that’s not what I’m here for, mister), and another two men who were great. I hesitated between the last two and finally went with the one who had been recommended to me by my mother-in-law (a purely social connection – he was a friend of the father of the new wife of the son of one of my mother-in-law’s friends – yes, that’s the connection). Anyway, Dr. Chami followed me for the last month of my pregnancy, the birth and everything that came next. I liked him very much, and so did my husband. Even my parents met him.

We got to the clinic at about half past midnight on Sunday the 26th of May. We were shown to a shared room (2 single beds) in which we were alone, my husband and I. The next seven hours were almost uninterrupted waves of hard contractions with barely time to take a breath between each one. I wanted my husband to get some rest, and he was keen on sleeping too, so I labored “alone” for that time. In hindsight, obviously this wasn’t the best thing to do and I think I would have managed the pain better had I had some physical and moral support. But that’s the way it happened, and all we can do now is use this experience to make the next one better. At the time we both honestly thought that there was no better way of doing it. Just a few things interrupted the seven hours’ hard labour. I stepped into the shower a couple of times to get some pain relief from the hot water. Unfortunately the water was only lukewarm so the relief was short lived and I ended up with chattering teeth and harder contractions. And the nurses came in a few times to check my dilation. Throughout the pain I was not able to have coherent thoughts, and I only managed to say one sentence: “I want an epidural.” They told me I had to be 3 cm dilated. I was making painstakingly slow progress, and I can only trust that they were telling the truth when they told me how far along I was (nurses in Morocco have a bad reputation of lying to labouring mothers about how dilated they are – this happened to a friend of mine around the same time, also in Rabat but at another clinic). At 7:30am they finally told me I was 3cm dilated and that they would call the anesthetist. I thought it would take forever for him to get there because it was early Sunday morning, but he showed up half an hour later, wearing old jeans, tennis shoes and a sweatshirt. I was moved down to the birthing ward. I asked the anesthetist to give me a “light” epidural because I wanted to feel when to push. He ended up giving me a lopsided one, and I felt everything on my left side and nothing on my right side. When I commented on this, he asked me if I wanted him to up the dosage, but I declined. The pain was much more manageable (once I got past the horrible freezing cold shakes I got when the epidural was put in). After a while Dr. Chami turned up, checked my dilation, chatted a bit, and left. The nurses came in to shave me, and they nattered away while they were doing it, pausing when I told them I was having a contraction. My husband arrived at some point, and the doctor returned. I told them I felt like pushing, and Dr. Chami confirmed I was 10cm dilated. I was surprised at how fast I’d gone from 3 to 10 cm. That was probably because they gave me Pitocin at the same time they gave me the epidural. I had to ask them what they were giving me, once it was already in, and when they answered Pitocin I asked them to reduce the dosage. They told me that wasn’t possible. Dr. Chami told the nurses to check that the suction cup was working properly, and showed me how to hold onto the handles at the side of the bed to push. I pushed once but he told me I wasn’t pushing in the right place. I didn’t feel comfortable holding the bars, so I grabbed hold of the backs of my thighs to push again. The doctor put his hand between my legs to show me where to push. This time it worked. He took the suction cup and adjusted it to the baby’s head – I remember wondering why, but was too concentrated on the pushing to say anything. Two more pushes. Dr. Chami yanking wildly (think, plumber getting the drain unblocked – in my mind’s eye he is resting his foot on the bed for balance) on the suction device. Elizabeth’s head is out, she’s turned, she’s born. I felt cheated, as if I had only just got the hang of pushing. I had enjoyed that part. Dr. Chami held her up to show me it was a girl, but I was feeling strangely detached from the baby. No delayed clamping or skin-to-skin, both of which I had asked for. She was taken to be weighed – not measured, they forgot to do that – and cleaned up in the next room (which I could see from the bed), and my husband was with her the whole time. I, in the meantime, was commenting to the doctor on my shrunken stomach, and telling him he looked like a butcher (he did not seem to appreciate this remark – I thought it was bang on the mark, considering he was wearing white overalls and holding up a bloody placenta – which looks exactly like a cow’s liver. Again, in my mind’s eye he is wearing those white rubber boots that butchers and fishmongers wear, but that must be my imagination adding them a posteriori). He sewed me up, proudly announcing that he hadn’t cut anything. I had asked him not to give me an episiotomy, but to prefer a natural tear. I had two stitches, which I am certain wouldn’t have been necessary had he not used the suction cup so violently (or, at all! I’m sure I could have pushed her out on my own!). Elizabeth was brought back to me and she suckled, getting the goodness of the colostrum into her. She had pinked up by this stage, but her fingers still looked like little purple witch’s fingers, with long fingernails. I had to stay in the birthing room for another hour, so they could keep an eye on me post-epidural. The worse thing about this was, they wouldn’t let me drink water and I was extremely thirsty.

I can only trust that they didn’t give her formula while she was in the nursery. But the fact that she spit up a little when she was returned to me lessens my trust somewhat. I had asked for the baby not to be put in the nursery, but obviously at some point this request was forgotten, while I was waiting to get out of the delivery room and my husband was chasing paperwork.

The rest (including a one-handed McDonalds meal whilst breastfeeding) is history, as they say. If I had to sum up my first birth, I’d say it was a good enough experience for Morocco. Far from perfect, but good enough.

Elizabeth May

Elizabeth May

See my second birth story here.

Home stretch

After weeks of stormy weather and interrupted internet connections, I don’t want to speak too soon but… it seems like we’re back online for now. No WIFI and an incredibly slow ethernet cable connection are making me feel like I’m in the early noughties. Our dongle connection in Dar Bouazza was more reliable and faster than this. Morocco > France.

Only a few more weeks to go til the big ole due date. Health cover doesn’t kick in until the 18th of August, so this baby had better stay put for another 11 days at least! Steering clear of spicy food and castor oil until then. In the meantime we are enjoying some newborn-free holiday time with this little cutie:

Cutie Patootie

Cutie Patootie

Bob, Inco and Zaz

Bob, Inco and Zaz

If you’re wondering why it’s so lush and green, that would be because it’s pretty much been raining 6 days a week since the beginning of “summer”. Seriously, Morocco > France.

Stay tuned for some imminent updates on Where We’re Going To Live.

Time to nest

So, nesting syndrome is here. I should have known when I started spending precious toddler nap-time tidying the CD shelf. The penny should have dropped when I started waking up at night and obsessing over getting excited about clearing out the bathroom cupboard.

But today I reached new levels of nestiness when I started doing this:

Hoovering outside

Hoovering outside

Rest assured, Mom and Dad, your house is in good (if slightly crazy) hands.

Pregnancy Hair versus Pregnancy Crazy*

Pregnancy Hair versus Pregnancy Crazy*

 

* I found this image on a different blog, but traced it back to www.nataliedee.com as probable source (edit not mine)

 

PS: on another topic, we asked the Magic Eight Ball if we should move to Toulouse…

Limbo – and crazy French birth hand-outs

I used to think that I thrived on living in the unknown. That uncertainty was exciting. Life is an adventure! Close your eyes and jump!

I’m about ready to review that line of thought.

We still don’t know where we’ll be living in the near future. I don’t know for sure where I’ll be giving birth in August – Morocco or France. We’re in France now, but H is heading back to work in Morocco tomorrow and I might follow shortly if things don’t work out here, admin-wise. My aim over the next few weeks is to ensure that I get health cover here, so I can safely have my baby. My “case” is a tricky one, in that I don’t fit into any of the slots. I work for a British company, I live in Morocco, I want to give birth in France. C’est compliqué.

Why do I want to give birth in France? I actually don’t mind where I give birth; it has more to do with H being fed up of working in Morocco, and me shuddering at spending a 9-month-pregnant, boiling-hot, cockroach-infested*, month of August in Morocco – alone,  all my friends there having temporarily emigrated “back home” for the summer.

So here we are in limbo land, unsure of anything and everything, incapable of making plans beyond next week, trying not to think too hard about anything (not very difficult when you have a case of double baby brain).

The thing is, France wants you to have babies here. France loves babies so much, they will pay you to have them. Not only do they make sure you don’t have to dish out one centime in medical care (ALL HEALTH CARE 100% FREE AFTER THE 6TH MONTH! GUARANTEED!), they then GIVE you money, on top of all the reimbursing, to make sure you can buy burp cloths and a cot. That’s something like 923€, handed over when you hit the 7-month mark of pregnancy. Then, once baby arrives (for free), they give you 150-180€ per month, for 3 years, towards nappies and formula (so, if you’re a breastfeeding, cloth-diapering mama comme moi, it’s pretty much pocket money). And THEN, on top of all that, from bub #2 onwards, you get child benefit. This, if I’ve understood correctly, is regardless of whether you work or not**. I definitely wasn’t expecting all that. I wasn’t sure about giving birth in France, but if they’re going to pay me to do it, I’ll definitely take that into consideration***.

This turned into a long post, so here are 2 photos of cake to reward you for all the reading:

Birthday Girl

Birthday Girl

Carrot Cake Deliciousness

Carrot Cake Deliciousness Eaten on the Terrace

 

* I’m not squeamish, specially not about bugs, but cockroaches have a way of squicking me out. Definitely not keen on the idea of my toddler crawling around where they crawl around.

** I’m approximately 80% sure of this information. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m suffering from a bit of the baby brain so some of this might be slightly off, or completely erroneous. Check all info for yourself and do not believe everything I say.

*** As a point of comparison, in Morocco I got 3000dh reimbursed, of the total cost of 8000dh for a delivery + 2 nights in the clinic. I was really happy with that! Cheap birthing! Until I found out that France pays you to have babies. Vive la France.

Product Review: Philips Avent Straw Cup

Best “mom” acquisitions so far:

  • During pregnancy: this super sexy dress from Isabella Oliver (believe me – I had an ass like JLo’s – but sexier)
Super sexy maternity dress

Super Sexy Maternity Dress

  • Newborn stage: an old blue cotton chèche I’d bought in Marrakech years ago, which I used for swaddling Zaz
Baby burrito

Baby Burrito

  • Small baby to now: we switched from bathing her in the sink (we don’t have a bathtub), to bathing her in a giant plastic basin bought in Marjane (usually used for washing clothes or sheep’s intestines – yes, I’ve “done” Eïd El Kbir)
Giant Bathing Basin

Giant Bathing Basin

  • And a couple of months ago I bought this:
Awesome Avent Straw Cup

Awesome Avent Straw Cup

Zaz loves water like she’s never loved milk. Drinking H2O makes her smile more than eating chocolate (actually, I haven’t given her chocolate yet so that’s an assumption on my part – but I’m pretty sure water will trump everything: she’s not a gourmand but she likes to stay hydrated. Good girl.). I had been giving her sips of water out of my glass (tap water? bottled water? fizzy water? YES PLEASE MOMMY). Then when she accidentally stole her friend Adam’s straw cup and figured out how to suck out of it in about 10 seconds flat, I knew we had a winner. Water + independence = happy Zazzy, happy Mommy.

As for the product itself, I have raved about it to many friends, and I’ll do it again here: NO SPILLS. You can tip it upside down, shake it all over the place (yes, H tried it) or throw it across the room (yes, Z tried it), not a drop will fall. I’ve been carting it around in my purse with no leaks so far. The lid bit swivels to hide away the straw so it stays clean. Also, the straw works best for my daughter; for some reason she never managed to use a sippy cup (and she still doesn’t drink from a bottle on her own – sigh).

So, 10 out of 10 for me.

Bartered Art

I’ve already mentioned my awesome friend Tosha on here – what I haven’t said is that she is an amazing artist as well as being a very cool and inspiring person. I went to visit her and her wee family recently and came back with some of her art – I’m so excited!

Thanks to friends’ and family’s generosity and someone’s (Mom’s?) great idea, we received some money for our wedding which we turned into our very own Art Kitty. This has been dipped into just once, to buy a beautiful rug in the south of Morocco. I didn’t even have to use it this time, because Tosh and I came up with a swap of goods (of which I am the clear winner, as you will judge for yourself). In exchange for the pieces of art pictured below, I let her keep the electric breast pump and sterilizer I had lent her a few months back. Plus 500dh (a pitiful sum). Does this sound like a fair exchange? No. I’m pretty sure I ripped her off. I’d feel bad but I’m too busy feeling excited about these:

These might be shown upside down. Forgot to ask.

These might be shown upside down. Forgot to ask.

Don't know what the real title is, but I call it Earth Cycle

Don’t know what the real title is, but I call it Earth Cycle.

My fave.

My fave. Bird of the World.

My amateur photography does not do these justice, but you get the idea of the level of cool.

Bernadette, my fab mother-in-law and contemporary art connoisseur, has given her seal of approval, but told me off for not checking that they were signed and dated. Tosha! When you guys get up here we have to remember to do this! 🙂

See more of Tosha’s work (and better pictures) at www.toshaalbor.com.

Volubilis

Number one piece of advice: don’t go with a hot baby in a push chair on a hot day. In fact, don’t ever take a push chair here.

Volubilis

Volubilis

Volubilis is a pretty awesome ancient Roman site in the middle of Morocco (whaaat?). The ruins of this old Roman city are set on a backdrop of beautiful and fertile fields. It seems as if someone has picked up a bit of the world and set it down in the wrong space-time continuum. Dating from the 1st century AD and inhabited by Romans for, they say, a couple centuries, then by local tribes for another 700 or so years, it is now a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Solemn Column

Solemn Column

I didn’t get a good picture of them, but the mosaics found in the ruins of the baths are really cool. Tiny detail. They are not protected from the elements, however, so one wonders how much longer they will stick around.

Overheated Zaz tasting ancient Roman stone

Overheated Zaz tasting ancient Roman pebble

 

Missing Morocco

I’m slowly starting to accept the fact that we’ll be leaving Morocco shortly to go back to France. I might even be managing to get excited about it from time to time – family close by? yes please! – but in my head I’m constantly listing all the things I’m going to miss.

The fruit n veg – the fresh, in-season, dirt cheap produce has become such a staple in our lives here that it is going to be very tough going back to European markets. Even though it’s better in the south of France than further north in Europe, the difference will still hit us hard. A few weeks ago we were getting deliciously tasty strawberries for 8 dirhams a kilo. That’s 0,71€ or £0.58 or 98 cents of a US dollar. Dirt cheap, I tell you.

Souk

  Souk

Fridge

Fridge

The love Moroccans have for babies. Seriously, wherever I go, everybody coos and smiles at Zaz. Male, female, old, young, makes no difference. When you’re walking along with the push chair and a bunch of tough dudes go all melty-eyed at your 10-month-old, that’s kind of cool. When you’re packing your groceries at the store and the woman behind the till picks up your fussing baby to kiss and cuddle her, that’s awesome.

The gorgeous weather. That doesn’t need much explaining.

The great friends I have here. Not only have I met some amazing and inspiring women here, I’ve felt for the first time a widespread and mutual understanding of what life is when it’s made up of cross-culture marriages, living far from family, and never feeling quite like you belong anywhere – so you belong everywhere. I love it!

Living a 5-minute walk from the beach, being able to hire a cleaning lady for a fraction of European prices, cheap cheap rent, our tiny duplex house, having neighbour kids who all run up to kiss and play with Zaz as soon as we step outside, the friendly sisterhood feeling that exists between women here, hammams, haloua, food in general, afternoons spent chilling with the gangsta mammas and their babes, the medina, getting furniture made, the parking gardiens, driving in Casa (Rabat’s too tame to be fun), the wonderful colourful flowers all year round, having friends and family come to visit, and so much more.

One month to go before my flight back, and I’ll be packing in as much of all this as I possibly can, every day until departure day.

Zaz and the neighbours

Zaz and the neighbours

Cardoons

‘Tis the season of cardoons here in Morocco. Google image “cardoon” if you’ve never seen them. Wikipedia says:

The cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), also called the artichoke thistlecardonecardonicarduni or cardi, is a thistle-like plant in the family Asteraceae. It is the naturally occurring form of the same species as the globe artichoke, and has many cultivated varieties. It is native to the western and central Mediterranean region, where it was domesticated in ancient times.

More at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardoon

The few times I’ve had them cooked à la marocaine, I’ve found them a bit mushy and not very interesting. But H brought some back from the market a few weeks ago and I found out I do actually like them, if they’re cooked al dente. In fact I liked them so much I asked him to get more. They have a lovely artichoke flavour, and taste so ridiculously nutritious they beg to be followed by a sweet, rich dessert to make up for all that healthiness.

Prepped cardoons

Prepped cardoons

To prep the cardoons, chop them into 4cm long pieces and pare down to remove any spines or extra stringy bits. Wait until the last minute to rinse in cold water (otherwise they apparently get viscous as they cook).
I started out by making a tomato sauce (carrots, peeled and diced fresh tomatoes, red peppers, tomato concentrate and garlic) and letting that reduce to nice sauciness. I made it with lamb chops this time, but had I been making it with tajine bits of lamb I would have browned the meat first and cooked it with the tomato sauce.

Saucy sauce

Saucy sauce

Add lamb chops and simmer til just cooked.

Adding chops

Adding chops

Remove chops (so as to not overcook). Add cardoons and simmer until al dente. Put the lamb back in and cook for another minute, adding peel of preserved lemon (or juice of a lemon if you don’t have preserved lemon).

Yummy healthiness

Yummy healthiness

The longest step in this recipe is preparing the cardoons. Otherwise a fast and tasty meal that I look forward to making again. I bet it would be good with wild rice if you feel it’s lacking a carb.

Vocab tidbit for Dad (and Hélène): cardoon is from the same family as artichoke and chard, and thistle (and guess what that is in French? “chardon”!), and the French “cardes” (a similar plant) – and perhaps from the same family as a certain Mademoiselle Hélène!