Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Twin Birth

The obstetrical nurse on the other end of the phone line just wasn't getting it.

"I'm 39 weeks pregnant with twins, and I just saw a little tiny bit of orange and thought it might be the mucus plug, and so I'm coming in."

"Oh honey, " she tried to reassure me, "how far along dilated and effaced were you at your last checkup?"

"Not at all" I replied "see you in about an hour."

"No no dear" she continued. "It could still take hours to days. How far apart are the contractions and how strong?"

"No contractions. No dilation. And I'll still see you in about an hour. And I'm not leaving without my babies - outside of my body."

It had been a long month. I'd held off on a C-section at 37 weeks. But enough was enough! I mean my SINGLE babies had been born earlier than this! I knew I was fortunate; I'd seen the other twin moms at the hospital, 27 weeks along, groggy from medication to stop early contractions and just praying that they'd keep them in just a little bit longer. Or mothers of preemies born at 26 weeks, weighing in at one pound, while I lumbered along the corridors with TWO perfectly healthy full-term babies in my swollen belly.

I knew I was lucky, but I also knew I wasn't doing this anymore. C-section was fine with me. My next appointment was tomorrow and the doctor had said she wouldn't let me go much past 39 weeks anyway, so I was ready. MORE than ready.

I got to the hospital three hours later. Still no contractions. Just a determination to get this over with. To my relief I was 3 cms dilated. Looked like labor. I was still worried they would send me home, but then all of a sudden I had the urge to vomit. Damon pressed the emergency button frantically as I held my hand over my mouth - there was NO WAY I vomitting into the clothes hamper at a German hospital as he'd suggested! 5 nurses rushed in - Damon was really pushing frantically - and I made it into a kidney pan.

Damon has never been more disgusted. I never felt better. "YAY" I thought "there is no way they can send me home now, contractions or no." And I was right. They immediately inserted an IV catheter and prepared a room. Relief.

Trying to be accomodating, I also felt the first twinges of what MIGHT have been a contraction, at 5PM, about 6 hours after first calling and informing them I'd be a staying guest, like it or not.

Having been through this twice before, I knew EXACTLY what to do. I sent Damon out for fried chicken and fries. As the contractions increased pretty regulary, I snuck in as much chicken as I could before the nurses could tell me I really shouldn't be eating anything anymore. It felt great. Once again, Damon was less than happy, when I vomited a second time somewhere about five hours after the chicken, but I have never regretted anything less.

This was like my best delivery ever, thoroughly disgusted husband or not.

The staff also asked if I would like something to speed the labor along; some homeopathic concoction whose only ingredient I remember is something alcoholic. Now this was my kind of delivery! I didn't really expect it to work, having labored for two days with my first child and 24 hours with my second, and so I sent Damon home at 8PM so that he could sleep before the birth the next day.

By midnight I was pacing the halls and hoping I could hold them in before he came back.

I did. It took five hours total, a real breeze in comparison to the first two. I did get my epidural. Although it took a good deal of swearing and threats to get the nurse to actually insert any pain medication INTO it!

And at 5 AM, honestly just as the sun was coming up and I was noticing that the birds were beginning to sing, the little guys decided to come. Or the nurse decided I could start pushing. The epidural having FINALLY taken effect, I really could have waited as long as they wished.

Aidan popped out so quickly - as the nurse was rallying the medical team and the student nurse was alone in the room with us. Nice. Poor girl literally held him in until help arrived. Thank goodness for epidurals.

And within seconds you heard a stampede in the hall and the room filled as the obstetrical team arrived followed closely by two perinatal teams. I think the nurse handed Aidan to the doctor - probably just so he could get paid - and then Aidan went off to his team while the rest of us - the doc and at least 4 hurses - focused on getting Matthew out.

There was a bit of playing with the U/S and fetal monitor. Two nurses were pressing on my abdomen to keep Matthew from doing flips in my now spacious uterus, another was on the U/S, another at my feet and another apparently monitoring the heart because after a few minutes of fumbling - I believe the plan had been to turn Matthew from breach to head first - the doctor firmly called everyone off and told me I needed to sit up and push, NOW! In retrospect, there was some real concern with a rapidly dropping heart rate, but I was blissfully unaware at the time.

All I remember thinking, along with the U/S nurse, was "Hey, wait a second, didn't we skip a part here? Isn't his HEAD supposed to come out first?" BUt there was a note of seriousness in the room, and a couple of the nurses spoke to me softly about REALLY needing to push HARD and to do it NOW. They sat me up - and out he came. I really wasn't worried about pushing out baby number four - I'd had TWO come out before the doctors were fully in the room - and butt-first made no difference.

It was quick and I never learned what had happened. Although Matthew's APGAR was only 5, so I can well imagine it had been a heart concern.

And the doctor fairly kissed me with relief. "You can do that again any time you like" he told me before even cutting the chord.

I was wheeled out of the room two hours later - with two bundles in my arms - and the first thing I could think to ask Damon was whether we could do this again.

"I'll think about it." he answered. "But there will be NO fried chicken EVER again!" Wimp.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

We're Not Going To Take It!

I've taught the kids some "Twisted Sister" lyrics this afternoon. And then we all practiced headbanging - which, it turns out, hurts my neck more than it did 15 - 20 years ago - jumping off the furniture and yes, defying authority.

What have I been thinking? Here I am, trying to teach my kids to fit into a society that actually will benefit more if my kids don't try to fit into it.

Let's face it, I was really self-conscious, as an American who expects immigrants to adapt to America, that I should try to integrate into our adopted country as well. Learn the language. Respect the culture.

Yada yada yada.

Been there. Done that. Bought the Lederhosen.

Ryan (yes Ryan again, I don't want to get into it) came home almost in tears because her bicycle didn't pass inspection again this week. Let me explain. The fourth-graders in our part of Germany all study, and practice, and then are tested, on bicycle safety and traffic laws. By the police. Which all sounds nice and harmless and very civic minded - until you see the list of bike requirements.

I told Ryan she could tell the police officers that if they expected every child to have a safety kit - including first-aid, repair and pump - then they should feel free to go ahead and provide one. I also told her to tell them that her family didn't feel they needed one, since we just stopped and asked a German for theirs if we ever ran into any trouble. And, I have to be fair and honest here; whenever any of my children gets injured on the playground, two or three people come running to us with first aid kits. And we have asked a passing bicyclist for the use of his pump when one of our tires went flat; of course he had one and he was glad to help.

Poor Ryan. It has to be the year she takes a bicycle class from the cops that I decide to start resisting authority again.

On the other hand, her bike finally passed inspection on week three when she explained to the police that, although her rear light was not the required red, the light blue showed up in the dark just as well. Reasoning with the police! In Germany! You go girl!

The problem lately has been unreasonable demands/expectations from the school. Too much homework. Money for books. The bike thing. But the other problem is that the other mothers just go along with it. They bitch and they moan. Their lives suck too. But it's the way it's always been. It's the way it's going to be. And it's just something they have to get through.

Germans may not like the rules, but they will follow them to a T.

Which I why I finally called an Italian mother about the book thing. I had just received a letter from the school telling me that my daughter had destroyed a book to such an extent that we were being required to pay for it. Huh? Come again? I had seen the book in question - albeit last year - and never noticed any damage. Had she torn the pages out, defaced it with doodles, scrawled all over the margins? Nope. It's a little tattered, dog-eared from use. But the way the letter was worded in German was as if she had intentionally destroyed it. And it begged our forgiveness but was sure we would understand and forward the required money. A German friend of mine said it was standard and that she'd had to do the same thing the year before. It was the school's way of getting new books subsidized a bit from the parents, she figured.

My Italian friend and I saw it differently. "I've been here ten years," she said, " and it's time to draw a line and tell them when they are wrong. I'm not just going along anymore." How did I even know she had received a letter about a book? Because her daughter and mine were chastised in front of the entire class. Her daughter is also distraught that her bike hadn't passed inspection yet either.

The police had told the children that if their bikes hadn't passed inspection by next week they would no longer be allowed to participate in the program.

Let me repeat that. The police had told the children that if their bikes hadn't passed inspection by next week they would no longer be allowed to participate in the program.

The authority figures are threatening - and shaming - the kids in school. Is it only the tea-dumping Americans who see something wrong with that?

I could obviously start in on a rant about the German mentality - again - or I could just teach my kids that it's not only okay to be different, but that I expect them to defy the status quo when they feel it is wrong. I tried it this afternoon. "The Germans are crazy." I told them. "But you have a choice about who you want to be. You're only a quarter German which still gives you a fighting chance." My sarcasm , fortunately, goes right over their heads at the moment.

We talked about doing what was right, even when the powers that be tell you not to. We talked about freedom and individuality and standing up for yourself; about being who you are and not who the system is trying to force you into being.

It may be even harder for Andrew than for Ryan. At least she never stands a chance of being what they want her to be. Andrew came home from school with his first math test. 52 questions in 20 minutes. The test that took Ryan 22 minutes - and she got half right. He not only got all 52 questions right, he did it in 9 minutes and then had time to draw an intricate mural on the back. How do I know it took him 9 minutes? Because it turns out they are timing - and praising - and comparing - and therefore - once again, shaming, the other kids in the class who aren't meeting the gold standard.

It's easy to be the golden child in Germany.

Which is why he's letting his hair grow and learning to play electric guitar!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Looks like I am learning and maturing after all.

Sat through two parents' nights this week and managed not to get upset at all. The system can't really bother you if you've already decided to ignore it anyway.

Looks like Andrew's 2nd grade - and others all over Germany - will not only be learning how to write essays but will be perfecting and polishing them as well. They'll also have the multiplication tables completed and memorized. They've squeezed a 13 year curriculum into 12 years recently, allowing kids to graduate in 12th grade like other European countries and the USA but not taking into account that those countries start teaching in kindergarden, essentially making it into a 13 year program. Also not taking into account that other countries spend more hours per day at school. (They myth of the German warm meal at home will be explored in another blog.)

The second graders will also be pushed harder, compared earlier and taught about grading requirements. They have more lectures and fewer field trips since there just isn't enough time to teach all of the material required and have fun too.

It's not half as upsetting to me when I realize that the teachers and parents find it ridiculous too. I've got some rants about the German education system already written but it's nice to know that there are Germans up there willing to fight the system as well. Or at least voice their displeasure.

It's a start.

It's also helpful that Andrew isn't phased by any of this at all; sheer luck there.

And after all the worries about Ryan's math abilities - or lack thereof- it turns out that they've fired last year's math teacher and this year's teacher is appalled by how little the children have retained. Never mind that I find it ridiculous that 3rd graders are taught different subjects by different teachers, it turns out that Ryan's entire class is behind enough to allow us to have our primary teacher for German, Math AND English. What a relief! Ryan is happier in school, does her homework FAIRLY well and actually seems to understand what it is all about this year.

No grades yet, but that's not the point. She actually appears to be a fair student this year! I was about to have her tested for a learning disorder and it turns out it might have just been a bad teacher. Really amazing what a difference that makes especially in a country where one year lost - third grade - could make the difference between university or trade school.

Ryan's not a perfect student - I was embarrassed to raise my hand to ask what the heck the Reading Tree was since my daughter hasn't mentioned it, or as it turns out, participated either. ""It's a competition, Mom." she explained. "And I don't really need that." Okay - I like the attitude.

I also asked her teacher to ASSIGN the multiplication tables as homework again - since NONE of the kids seem to know them. Ryan memorized the 3s and 4s today. Two years too late is not too late. The curriculum has been whizzing by so fast the past two years that it is nice to finally slow down and LEARN something.

And it appears that I am learning something too - to keep my mouth shut and not always fight for generalities. When the teacher reconfirmed the school's no cell phone policy, I was tempted to question her about it. Does it apply to cell phones that are hidden and turned off during the day? Is it fair to expect parents NOT to send their child with a phone when the school can't assure that a child won't be left to walk home alone? Yada yada yada.

Have I given up fighting for what is right? I think maybe I have. I'd still like to see less stress on the kids, especially in the first six grades. I'd like longer school days incorporating lunch and allowing teachers to teach and children to learn in school and not at home. I'd like them to stop sorting the kids so early, to stop trying to treat everyone the same by forcing them to learn at the same pace. I'd like more money for more teachers. But I'm a protester now, not a fighter.

And I can slip the cell phone into my daughter's schoolbag without making a public debate out of it.

Guess I AM adapting to new technology after all!