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Friday, 30 November 2012

Nominated for the Beautiful Blogger Award!

So, today's post was to be about something else entirely, but I have just found out that besides being nominated for the Expat Blog Awards I have just been nominated for the Beautiful Blogger Awards. Now, this came at a total surprise, but I am so totally honored that Ute of Expat Since Birth has nominated me!

I would like to thank Ute, (whose blog is simply amazing and full of great tips and a boundless source of information) for this opportunity. You can read her blog here- her posts inspire and challenge me every day!

Beautiful Blogger Award Rules:
The idea behind the Beautiful Blogger Award is to recognize some of the bloggers we follow for their hard work and inspiration.
1. Copy the Beautiful Blogger Award logo and place it in your post.
2. Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.3. Tell 7 things about yourself.4. Nominate 7 other bloggers for their own Beautiful Blogger Award, and comment on their blogs to let them know.

7 things about myself
1) I am currently pregnant with my third child.
2) I was born in Poland to multilingual parents who were in part raised abroad. My mother lived in the Netherlands for 8 years where she learned English (in the International School of the Hague). She was born to a Polish mother and a father born in Lvov which is now Ukraine but used to be Poland, except that at the time when he was born Poland didn't exist and so he was born as subject to the Austrian emperor. My father was raised in France, and born to a Polish father and an Ukrainian mother. I have two French cousins. Confused yet? Oh, did I mentioned that I am Jewish even though I was raised Catholic?
3) I occasionally work as a translator, and have now started offering training in intercultural communication. I also contribute to other blogs and websites.
4) I love cooking, baking and making my own preserves. For me, it is a great way to deal with stress, and to have fun. I make my own bread, and when I am heavily pregnant, I deal with the lack of comfort by baking cakes.
5) I am oversensitive to sounds, smells and easily feel overwhelmed by crowds. I need a lot of me-time and peace and quiet. 
6) I love speaking different languages. I also like reading in other languages, even though I awfully miss Polish.
7) I sing, play the guitar and am now learning (albeit slowly) to play the keyboard.  
And now, for the most pleasant part: nominating other bloggers! I can only name 7 blogs, and there are so many wonderful blogs around here! Such a shame because I could have easily named a dozen!
1) DrieCulturen- it goes without saying that this blog is a little gem in the blogging world. It was thanks to Janneke that I first started reading about TCKs (Third Culture Kids) and thinking how raising my children abroad might affect them.
2) Tales of Windmill Fields- Rosalind is a fellow expat in the Netherlands and writes about her life in the Netherlands, multilingualism, raising children and so much more. Plus, check out her beautiful blog design! Rosalind has just had a baby so she'll be blogging less often, but check out her old blog posts!
3) Adventures in Integration- Nerissa is the winner of the Expatica "i am not a tourist" blog competition, and rightfully so! Her blog is a funny, entertaining place to laugh and learn.  

4) Expat Life with a Double Buggy- another blog by an expat lady raising her children in the Netherlands. Informative, thought-provoking and nicely written, Amanda's blog definitely is worth reading!

5) On Raising Bilingual Children- my favorite blog for all things bi- and multilingual. Eowyn is passionate about raising bilingual children, and also shares her professional tips for doing it successfully.

6) Dutch Australian - Renee is an Australian woman living in the Netherlands with her Dutch husband and two children. Her blog is, in her own words: "combination of information, inspiration and shared experiences for those who have connections to both Australia and The Netherlands.", but is a great resource for everyone who wants to learn more about the Netherlands.

7) The Piri-Piri Lexicon, formerly Gato&Canard. Annabelle contacted me through my blog and enabled me to share my story on her blog! Also, she is a talented craftswoman who makes beautiful, multilingual and multilicultural cards which are also eco-friendly. I have ordered my own business cards with her and I love them! You can find her webshop here.

As you see, all of these blogs deal with bilingualism and expat life- these are the blogs I follow most closely. I wish I could add more, since there are so many great blogs and websites around the web! 
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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

A Polish child and a Dutch teacher walk into a daycare

In Klara’s daycare group, there is one more Polish child, a boy who has just turned 2 and a half, and so joined the peuter group. Today, the number of Polish children in Klara’s daycare got even bigger, because today, yet another boy started attending. So, this makes three Polish children in a group, of… nine. 30% of the children in Klara’s daycare group are Polish.
Today, as the new boy was introduced to the group, the nanny, half-jokingly asked the children to not use Polish when talking to each other.

Now, I understand that the teachers needs to make sure that she can understand all the children in case there are conflicts and problems, so that she can help. I also understand her concern that by speaking Polish with each other, they will exclude other children from the conversation. And after all, one of the reasons that we sent the children to a Dutch daycare was that they can learn Dutch. So maybe I should just agree with the nanny?

But I have concerns. The first one is that I think that everybody should be allowed to speak their own language, regardless of where they are. The argument: “but we are in (fill in country) and so everybody should speak (fill in the official language of the country)” has never appealed to me, as I always felt it is extremely patronizing.

Then, again, there is a problem of low priority languages and Polish definitely is one of them. I am working hard on making my children speak Polish and I know it will become harder still as they grow up and spend less time with me. If Klara sees that her language is not accepted in the country she’s living in, she will be even more reluctant to use it. Hearing similar comments won’t help!

Then, there is the thing that Poland already has a long history of oppression. For 123 years, Poland didn’t exist, and the Polish language was forbidden at schools. Pupils were strictly punished for speaking it. The same thing goes for WWII where Polish language classes often took place in secret. So, if I hear comments like this one, it rings alarm bells in my Polish head.

And while Dutch children won’t understand Polish, Polish (and other expat children) children will speak Dutch and so can act as translators, and mediators between cultures. If they are forbidden to speak their own language, it won’t make them feel that they belong more; instead they will lose a huge part of their identity. It might even cause them to stop speaking Polish at home. Also, these children will learn to speak Dutch and will also speak Dutch to Dutch children and Polish to Polish children. Isn’t that amazing? What an opportunity for showing how cool knowing different languages are! Such a great opportunity for teaching acceptance of all cultures regardless of what they are! It would be a shame to miss this!

I must say, however that so far I have always had great experiences with this daycare. One of the nannies even learned the Polish words for “byebye” and sometimes calls Klara: “KlaruĊ›” or “Klarunia”, which are both similar to the Dutch “Klartje”. I like how many nationalities and cultures are represented there. I also like that it is a “Dutch” daycare, and that they can learn the language.

When I came to pick the children up in the afternoon, I got to talk with her. She said that they are required to only speak one language at daycare- Dutch. She also mentioned how a situation in which two children play together in another language can hinder their speech development- not true at all!

This isn’t over. I hope to talk to more people from that daycare to make sure that the children receive positive messages about their own cultures rather to being forbidden to speak their own languages! Also, some more knowledge about raising- and caring for bilingual children would be also useful! 

Maybe you have any ideas how I can deal with this? I am very, very upset about this and would appreciate all advice and suggestions!
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Monday, 26 November 2012

Sinterklaas Madness

So, it’s Sinterklaas time in the Netherlands and everybody is pretty excited about the old man coming to the Netherlands by ship, all the way from Spain. Everybody? No, not me. For the three years I spend in the Netherlands, I managed to avoid the celebrations. First, Klara was too small, and then well, we just weren’t in the mood. When he came to Scheveningen, we went for a walk in Delft. When he came to Delft, we escaped to the Rotterdam Zoo, which was blissfully empty.

But this year, for the first time, we went to celebrate Sinterklaas’s arrival in the Netherlands because our friends wanted to go and they invited us along. Their little daughter is the same age as Klara and the girls love each other. They are best friends, and often hold hands together. It is absolutely adorable to see my little girl engaging into meaningful relationships with other children!

So, of course, we couldn’t refuse. One of the reasons I didn’t like to take part in the celebration was the fact that it is extremely crowded, and crowds drain and exhaust me. Sinterklaas was just everything I don’t like: crowds, noise and more crowds and more noise. Oh, and the Zwarte Pieten are creepy, don’t you think?
But this year we went and it wasn’t so bad. My husband took Klara to watch the arrival, and Julia and I stayed a little bit on the side, enough to avoid the crowd but close enough to get pepernoten, which we both liked. It was a cosy spot and we felt well there.

I didn’t see much of Sinterklaas coming but that was OK. The important part was that Klara and her little friend did, and they even managed to shake his hands. She loved it. Last year, when we were invited to the Sinterklaas celebration in her daycare, she was staring at everything with a look of confusion on her face. She was too small. This time, however, her eyes glittered and she smiled and smiled and smiled, and repeated the words: “Sinterklaas” over and over again. We then had lunch in one of the restaurants in Voorburg and went home.

I was absolutely exhausted, but that was OK because my girl had lots of fun. It also gave her a lot of opportunities to be outside, run and scream, and she was so tired that she collapsed into bed. I am glad that she liked the celebration. Luckily, the arrival of Sinterklaas in Voorburg was a small one, not comparable with what is happening in Delft or Scheveningen, which made it pretty manageable for me, otherwise I couldn’t have handled it.

Anyway, it was not as bad as I had feared, and I even had fun as well. Who knows, maybe we’ll go next time?
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Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Fearing childbirth in the Netherlands and elsewhere: choices, and options

I have written about giving birth in the Netherlands, among others with Lynn on Nomad Parents, and the topic seems to wear me down so much that I didn’t want to write about it again, ever. But now, a very difficult topic seems to be all over the Internet, and it concerns so many women: tokophobia, the fear of giving birth.

How to deal with this? How to help these women? Maybe the way to start is to ask what exactly they are afraid of? For some it would be pain, or the fear of them or their baby dying. For others, it would be fear of medical interventions or ending up with a C section they don’t want. Or the fear that they won’t be able to push their baby out. For some women, the fear of childbirth is so strong that they’d rather not have any children. For all these women, finding a good care provider is crucial.

But what does it mean, exactly? Who is a good care provider? And, how can this apply to the Netherlands? For me, a good care provider is someone who not only takes care of taking all the tests necessary during pregnancy, but also listens to the woman’s concerns and her fears. It is also someone who provides balanced information about pregnancy and birth. And for me, here it gets tricky.

In countries where doctors are primary care providers, many women feel that they are not supported when they desire a natural birth, when their pregnancies are considered risky- like when they have twins, or a breech baby, or have had a previous C section. Many doctors would encourage or sometimes even push these women into inductions, C sections, or instrumental deliveries they don’t want.

In the Netherlands, where midwives care for pregnant women, the opposite might happen: women may feel pushed into having a natural birth even though they feel that a planned C section would be much better for them due to having what they feel is a riskier pregnancy. Or they are being denied effective pain relief. Also, there are women who feel that even without a medical reason, they want a C section, maybe because they don’t want to go through labour and birth, or are afraid of tearing and having problems in the future. These are real concerns and they need to be addressed!

In both cases, the care providers don’t listen to the women’s concerns. In both cases, the women are not satisfied with what their care providers can offer. But what if the system works against them? What if they’re really afraid of having a C section but can’t find a provider who would offer a natural birth (we’re talking about cases where mom and baby would not necessarily die but the doctors are just being careful)? What about the women who are afraid of natural births but are being denied a C section?

Here’s the thing: nobody should fight for their right to give birth in a certain way if that choice is a legitimate one. Is a natural birth after a C section, or with a breech baby, or twins, a legitimate option? It is. Is a maternal request C section without a medical reason a legitimate option? It is.

Both types of births have their risks, and it’s weighting one against the other. A planned C section is not necessarily more risky than a natural birth, and scheduling one might do a lot to help a women feel in control of her body. The same goes for the woman who wants a natural birth but is considered too risky for that.

Me? I am scared I will be in labour for much too long. I am scared that something will happen to my baby. Personally, I would much rather have  a C section than an induction or a hard, long labour. I would prefer to have a C section than to give birth to a breech baby, or a big baby. I guess I must have a serious talk with my midwife, and my doula, and to consider the best course of action in this situation.
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Monday, 19 November 2012

Blog-related news

So, I have some good news concerning this blog. My Polish readers probably know my articles I write –in Polish- on my EgoDziecka blog. A while ago I became one of Nomad Parents Facebook page administrators. I am not posting very frequently, but I’m trying to share all the interesting stuff that I found there. I am also occasionally doing some work for Delft MaMa. So happy to be offered the opportunity to participate in such exciting and inspiring projects!

Then came two nominations- for the Expatica “I am not a tourist” blog competition, and now for the Expat Blog Awards.

For the sake of clarity and transparency- and also because I am very excited about this- I would like to tell you that from now on you will find ads on this blog. I won’t be doing a lot of money with them, but it will at least pay for hosting the website and maybe a nice dinner with my husband every few months. You won’t have to click on the ads, instead I will be paid depending on the traffic. I still have to implement them, but I wanted to let you know so you wouldn't be surprised to see ads on this website.

There is more to come, and I am also excited about this, but I will let you know once the new project will take off.

Now, I wanted to ask you, what do you expect of this blog? What topics would you like to see here? What could I do better? What would you like to see more of? What would you see less of?

Please share your thoughts. All suggestions, ideas and advice will be appreciated! 
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Friday, 16 November 2012

Fitting in is NOT belonging!

A while ago, I found Brene Brown’s “Life lessons we all need to learn”. She makes 4 very legitimate points, but the first one struck me right to the core: “Fitting in is Not belonging”. While all these points can be useful for everybody, this one point certainly strikes a chords with expats. Why?

“Behave like a local”. “Get integrated”. In the words of a Polish proverb: “If you walk among the crows, you must behave like them”. When you learn about intercultural communication, you learn the words, the gestures, and the behaviours to adopt when talking to a person from another culture.

Is it helpful? Yes, it is. It might tell you why the other person seems offended or you have the feeling that you can’t really reach an agreement with them. Knowing all this, you will be able to reach your goal: negotiate a contract, make an offer, seal a deal or have a discussion without anybody being offended.

In short, you will learn to behave like a crow. You will paint yourself black and make the same sounds, but will you really become a crow? Will you feel like one?

For some of us, yes, we will turn into a crow, into a local. Maybe you will get the feeling that you really like being a crow more than you liked being, let’s say, a duck. Others, on the other hand will decide not to come in contact with locals at all, because they feel weird and they feel that whatever they do, they won’t belong. They might try their best and even speak Dutch and do everything the Dutch do but it doesn’t make them Dutch. They don’t feel Dutch, and they wouldn’t be comfortable in having to act Dutch.

There is a difference between fitting in and belonging. Fitting in means behaving like a crow, but not feeling like one. Belonging, on the other hand, means being fine with what you are, whether it’s a crow, or a duck or a chicken. It is also means being accepted for what you are, even if those around you are not like you.

If you’re an expat, you are often given the advice to behave like locals, in order to communicate better- but let’s remember that communication is a two-way process. You might try all you want, but if somebody is not willing to make the same effort you’re making, communication might fail.

I think the majority of expats are somewhere in the middle, between these two poles on a spectrum. We might celebrate Sinterklaas but refuse to participate in orange fever during football season. Or do it the other way round. In any case, these are individual choices and experiences. So I prefer to see it that way rather than on a spectrum where integration (understood as behaving, acting and feeling like a local) is seen as the ultimate goal, and alienation is the price you pay if you don’t want to get integrated.

When I was at University, during my transcultural communication course, I came across a process called appropriation. It might seem complicated but it just means that if you come across a certain medium (like TV or video games, or whatever), you find ways to make it your own. This could happen by accepting the way that medium works, understanding it in a very subversive way (like adding elements to a game, or laughing at a show where everybody cries), or being somewhere in the middle. The same can be said about expats- each one of us can find their own way to deal with being in a different culture, but we make it our own- we appropriate it- in a way that is individual and unique for each and one of us. 

Integration shouldn't be about fitting in-behaving and talking like locals. It should be about belonging- about not having the pressure to "twist yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them." In fact, as Brene Brown tells us,the desire to fit in may in fact interfere with getting the feeling of belonging. Dear expats, please remember that!
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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Subsequent children learn to talk later? Not too sure about that.

Ute of Expat Since Birth wrote a beautiful, informative post on how siblings chose their favourite languages, depending on birth order, number of children and other aspects. I’ve been thinking about this very topic for a while and now I think it’s a great time to write my thoughts down.

I’ve always heard that subsequent children learn to talk later than firstborns. The reason for this is that siblings don’t get the full, intensive one-on-one attention that singletons get. The theory says that when children hear parents talking to each other, they will ignore it and only talk when spoken to directly. This has not really been my experience so far. I think that subsequent children might learn even faster because the parents have more experience and know how to talk to a baby. Also, with a toddler around, the baby is surrounded by language, and even if she doesn’t understand it, she still absorbs it. 

My experience shows that a child has to be interested in learning to speak. With Klara, I knew that I had to talk a lot with her. I have read all the books and they stated that the more I talked, the earlier and the better she would talk, and that I should start really soon or else I’ll miss the perfect moment for speech development. And so I tried, and I tried and I tried. But soon I was exhausted by repeating: “and this is Klara, and this is mama, and this is this and this is that”, all over and over again. I got tired by telling her about my day, explaining what I was doing. I wanted my peace and quiet, and it seemed to me that she just wasn’t interested in this at that point. 

Children learn in spurts, so when I saw a progress in her speech development, I jumped at the opportunity and then talked more until she was ready to turn to other activities, like running, jumping. So yes, I could have and I should have talked more, but I desperately needed my quiet. Now, however, we are at a point, where we can have a real conversation, and I can’t even tell you how much joy that is. I love that she asks thousands of questions, and wants to know everything about everything and everyone. And the more she asks, the more I can tell her, the more progress she makes. I feel we’re catching up, and finally her speech exploded, just the way they said in the books. As for her multilingualism, she has phases where she prefers German and sometimes she prefers Polish. Her Dutch is not as strong yet, but that’s OK. She will catch up eventually.

I expected Julia to start talking later, but imagine my surprise when I heard her saying “mama” at 10 months. She also said a couple of other words: “Klara”, “Julia”, “papa”, “lampa” (lamp). But then, it was all gone, as if she regressed to a babbling stage. Julia wasn’t walking, and I knew that children either learn to talk or to walk, but not at the same time. And a month later, Julia wasn’t walking, and she still wasn’t talking. We have started physical therapy, and soon we had progress. Once she completed a stage in her walking development, she also tried to talk more, but again regressed when she was trying to learn to walk. But now she has mastered that skill as well. She still has to hold on to something, but she walks well and soon she’ll be able to do it all on her own. And, her vocabulary exploded. She can say: “Oma”, “Opa”, “ryby” (fish in Polish), “noch mehr” (“more” in German), “hallo”, and “pa pa” (which means bye bye in Polish). Yesterday she responded with: “Hello, mama” to my: “Hello, Julia!”- but I guess the two-words sentences will have to wait until she figures out how to walk all by herself because she didn’t repeat that. She doesn’t have a favourite language yet.

I wrote this post for two reasons: first, it will give you an idea how differently children can develop. And then, there might be other aspects affecting speech development that are independent of birth order. Then, I did it for me. To remember that whenever I get frustrated because my children don’t do this or that yet, sometimes the best thing you can do is to is to encourage rather than push, and then have tons and tons of patience. 
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Monday, 12 November 2012

Simply Skin’s Pamper Party and the Delft Kid Info Fair

So, I went to two events in these two days. The first one was a Pamper Party. Can you imagine what a pamper party is? There is this lovely lady that comes to your house (Vivienne McAlistair- Geertz of Simply Skin), and she takes with her bags full of magic: there are body butters, scrubs, peelings, masks, lip balms and massage bars, and all of them lovely-smelling, made of all-natural ingredients and free of preservatives. All in all, a pleasure of all senses. You can find out more here.

The host (Lynn Morrison of Nomad Parents) prepared treats like chorizo, manchego cheese, cream cheese and baguettes from Michel, the French bakery. We also had cakes like pumpkin brownie (delicious!), and my Death by Chocolate. And you know what? Sometimes it was hard to determine what was meant to be eaten what was meant to be put on your body. I don’t have any pictures because the ladies refused to be photographed with the masks on their faces, but that is OK. I had a lovely evening with lovely ladies and went home with a wonderful goody bag (which contained my favourite facial cleaner, a body cupcake, and two body butters). Oh and let’s not forget the massage bar. A massage bar is, as the name says, for massaging. Except it is a whole bar which you can put on your partner’s body (on yours), and it melts in your hands, and on your skin. Must be lovely and I’m dying to try it out!

I came home pampered in every possible way, and I’m looking forward to more pampering from the products in my goody bag!

On Saturday, I attended quite another kind of event, the Little Kid Info Fair with Delft MaMa as the main organizer. I went there last year, and was absolutely amazed by the interesting workshops and the inspiring people, especially Eowyn’s workshop in raising multilingual children. I can’t even begin to explain how thankful I am to this organization. For example, I was coming from Rijswijk, and this year’s fair had quite an inconvenient location. I was asked to take some pictures, and wanted to help out, but had problems getting there.

Two days before the event I got an email from a lovely Delft MaMa lady, who offered to help. Her husband picked me up by car and got me back home! I wanted to take Julia with me, and they even had a baby seat. I needed a ride, and the lovely ladies got together and organized a ride. For me. Thank you, dear ladies.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures, but was able to at least get decent shots of some of them. I visited one workshop on “learning differently and special needs” because I thought that maybe Julia could benefit from some tips on that, but the workshop (led by Myra Hillebrink) definitely concentrated on visual learning, so it didn’t really suit my needs. But it was very interesting, and Myra is an extremely warm, welcoming person! I will update this post with pictures as soon as I can!

After an exciting two days, we had Sunday to relax a bit and decided to Scheveningen where we had a nice walk on the beach, and then we went to Sea Life. That was fun for everybody involved! 
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Friday, 9 November 2012

This multilingualism thing? I think it’s working!

I have just tackled an amount of laundry that would be enough to kill a mammoth.I have unpacked our bags, and went grocery shopping. I have plans for baking and cooking for later today because this is how I express my happiness at being home at last.

We just came home from Germany where we spent the last 4 weeks. That’s a long time, and for that long time I was miserable: home-sick, worried about my husband’s surgery, Julia’s cold, feeling strange and lonely. Of course, there were positive moments: the one where we took Klara to the swimming pool, and she loved it, and then stated that she wants to go back. The time when we took her to the zoo. The fact that I didn't have any serious conflicts with my parents-in-law, because I stated at the very beginning that I am not able to handle their worries at the moment. And the fact that they expressed their joy and happiness at being able to communicate with their grandchild, when they had worried that there is something wrong with Klara’s speech development.

I expected that, as a multilingual child, Klara might start talking later, but then found out that it is not necessarily the case. I started listening to friends talking about their, also multilingual children, and it seemed to me that Klara was much behind, still using single words where other children talked in 2-word sentences and taking forever to learn new vocabulary.

It didn’t help that everybody around (including my parents-in-law, and some nurses at the consultatiebureu), bothered me with questions like: “Does she speak enough German/Dutch?”, “Shouldn’t she be speaking more and clearer?”, etc. I was worried that Klara is behind her multilingual peers, and couldn’t find anybody to talk to.

For a while, nobody could understand her. Her pronunciation wasn’t clear, and for a long time we were the only ones who could understand her. But when we went to Germany for my husband’s surgery, the in-laws were thrilled to see that they were able to have real conversations with her. They understood her questions and could answer them. She talks in full sentences, even though they are not always grammatically correct (but they often are in German. She calls herself Klara (as in: “Klara does this and Klara does that), but understands when I say “I do this, and you do that”. She sometimes says: “And L. is 3, just like you”- by which she means herself, of course.

It has nothing to do with her intellect- with her vocabulary she can tell stories, she can ask questions (and does she ask questions, oh dear!), she can talk and talk and talk. Her pronunciation is becoming clearer, and more understandable. She knows almost all the letters, can type in “papa”, “tata” and “mama” on the computer, she can recognize her name when it’s written down, and she can count to 20 in all three languages. She addresses everybody in their correct language, and almost didn't mix, except when talking to me (which is understandable because she knows that I speak German as well).

I know other multilingual children who already talk in grammatically complex sentences. I know they can say more things and say it better than Klara can. But we’re making huge progress. And the progress is becoming quicker, as she picks up new words and expressions every day.

I am not saying that that she doesn’t need speech therapy because she might. But we have progress and that is all that counts! I am so relieved and happy. I am not messing with my daughter’s head. I am not turning her into a person who won’t be able to communicate properly in any language. I think I am getting this quite right. I am giving her opportunities to speak all the languages she hears, and I am watching for signs that help might be needed. It’s absolutely frustrating sometimes. But it’s worth it. A thousand times worth it.
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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The language of labour

OK, I am a very modest person and I find myself giggling as I am writing this post but I think it’s important and it needs to be discussed. Because it just happens that if you’re pregnant, there is a strong possibility that you will give birth at some point in time. And if you’re pregnant, there are decisions to be made: Whom to see during pregnancy? Where to give birth? With whom to give birth? Pain relief or not? Natural or C section? And the list goes on and on and on.

If you’re pregnant and you’re living abroad, you have to deal with even more decisions: are you satisfied with the healthcare system in your new home country? Do you feel safe here?  This is especially the case in the Netherlands, where the healthcare system is basically very different from what you may know from other countries.

Another thing is whether, and how well do you speak the language. After all, it’s very important that you feel safe and comfortable with you care provider and being able to communicate is a huge part of it. Usually, you’re fine with using a language you don’t know. But what if you’re overcome by strong emotions, and can’t really think really well, and you’re in pain and generally having a tough time? In short, what about labour and birth?

Now, a German man told me that his Swiss, Italian - speaking wife could only speak Italian while in labour, even though she gave birth in Germany. Her German was off, even she spoke it perfectly. When I gave birth to Klara in Germany, I had a Polish midwife and a German doctor. I managed to switch effortlessly between these two languages, but it didn’t make me feel any more comfortable, I’m sad to say.

The second time, I almost “went Dutch” on Julia’s birth, planning a homebirth and choosing a midwifery practice that would support me. I had to change midwives, because when I told my story (I had a 38 hour labor, and 2 hours of pushing), they said: “Oh, it was so quick”. I looked somewhere else for the support I needed, and fond it in a wonderful midwifery practice in Delft where everybody spoke English and I felt safe.
For the birth, I ended up in the hospital with a midwife I didn’t know, but she spoke English, was kind and friendly, and her check-ups didn’t hurt. I had no problems advocating for my needs in English, and mostly ended up saying “no” a lot. I had a great experience in the Netherlands, and I hope that everybody will be given the possibility to give birth the way they want to.

Now, pregnant for the third time, I chose a midwifery practice just opposite of my home. I speak Dutch with the midwives, but I told them that if I don’t understand something, we’ll switch to English. I am not as happy with them as I was with my last practice, but they will do. Also, to get the support I need, I contacted a doula. If you have never heard of doulas, you can find what they do here. She is a native English speaker, but she also speaks Dutch and it seems that she might be a good link between me, the midwives and my husband. I haven’t met her yet, but I will soon, and I’m looking forward to it.

So, if you’re giving birth abroad you have to consider even more options. Language is one of them. It is a good idea to have somebody who speaks your language when giving birth, but it is not always necessary, and having the right people is more important than having the people who speak your language.
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Monday, 5 November 2012

Nominated for the Expats Blog Awards!

I have already shared this on my Facebook page and Twitter account, but I wanted to share it here as well. 

The European Mama Blog has been nominated for the Expats Blog Awards! This is a great privilege to be included together with other great blogs, like DrieCulturen,Tales of The Windmills, Adventures in Integration, and Invading Holland, as well as many others!

Expats Blog also interviewed me for this competition, and you can read the interview here

If you happen to like my blog, you can really help me out! One way the winner will be determined is by the number of comments on the competition site. 

If you want to show your support by leaving me a comment, go here. It is quick and easy, and it would mean a lot to me. 

Another way to comment is to click on the badge on the right, and it will take you to the same site- that is even easier!

There will be 3 awards (gold, silver and bronze) for every country, and the winners will be chosen in late December! Wish me luck, then!
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Friday, 2 November 2012

Interesting problems some women face when they enter intercultural marriages

Whether to change or keep your name is a decision all women who want to get married have to make. Nowadays, in most countries (and certainly in Western European ones), all solutions are possible, including keeping the maiden name, taking the man's name, or having a double, or hyphenated name. But what if you’re marrying somebody from another culture?

Some fear that they will lose their national identity when changing their name. They feel that their name is the only thing that reminds them of their nationality, and this is especially the case when they already live in a different country and speak a different language.

Others, however, want to take their husband’s name…but can’t. The reason is simple. In some cultures, women have a female form of their surnames. This is the case with Polish. For example, if a man is called Kowalski, his wife and his daughter will be called Kowalska. It’s because the name is treated like an adjective, and the ending is adapted accordingly, like you would do in French (like for example petit and petite). In Polish, this only happens to names which end with –cki, or –ski in the masculine form, and the feminine form would be –ska or-cka.

In other countries, this is more complicated, because all female names have this ending. In Slovakia, I was very surprised to see Cindy Crawfordova or Julia Robertsova on the magazine covers. But let’s say, a Polish woman wants to get married in Germany to a Polish man called Kowalski. The authorities wouldn’t allow her to have the name “Kowalska” because technically, it’s not the same name. Also, Western cultures seem to understand this practice as a sign of women’s oppression: she is either seen somebody’s daughter or somebody’s wife. This is not the case. Seeing a woman called Kowalski might not only seem grammatically wrong to Polish people, but you could argue that she now has to take the man’s identity together with his name. And even though she might decide to do this, and be called Kowalski, she should be given a choice how she wants to be called, together with the appropriate feminine ending.

Some couples face more complicated problems. For example, while in Poland they allow for non-Polish spellings of names, in some other countries all names have to be changed to match the country’s spelling rules. This is the case in Latvia. My friend Ilze is Latvian, and even though she wanted to take her husband’s name, she faced the two problems mentioned above. For example, if she changed her name, she would have to get a new passport. In Latvia, however, her new name would have to be spelled accordingly to Latvian spelling rules (and rendered in the correct feminine form), and then the name in her passport wouldn’t match her husband’s- technically, of course).Then, they could have considered Daniel taking her name, except he would have to take the feminine form of the surname, so it would be seen as the same name in Germany. So, Ilze decided to keep her maiden name.

I took my husband’s last name. I didn’t think that my name is all left of my Polish identity, and I didn’t feel like losing anything when changing my name. It just went with the practical reason: I wanted the whole family, together with the children, to have the same name. But it was my choice and I could make it. I wish everybody could have that choice, and could keep their names or take their husband’s name with the correct grammatical form if they so desired. 

What about you? Did you keep your maiden name or did you take your husband's name? Or maybe you went with both? 
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