Musings of a Warrior Goddess
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Jun
18

Yesterday, I read THIS article and watched a heart-wrenching video that goes with it. It’s all about post-partum depression, about how it doesn’t necessarily start *after* the baby’s born and about how it can include other symptoms like hallucinations, anxiety and bi-polar tendencies.

As a mother, it breaks my heart to hear how these other mothers treated their children—ignoring them, having visions of dropping them over the side of a bridge, forcing food into their mouth and clamping them shut when the baby didn’t want to eat vegetables, nearly drowning a child for crying during bath time… but I also don’t condemn them because I’ve been there myself with my daughter.

We weren’t supposed to get pregnant yet. My then fiancé and I were living in Germany and had planned to wait a year. We wanted to be officially married and moving back to the US before trying for any children. There were too many places in Europe I wanted to see before having to drag along a tiny human and all the equipment that goes with them. But despite taking precautions, we did get pregnant.

When my period was a week late and that second pink line showed up on the stick, I nearly passed out. If my partner hadn’t reacted the way he did, my daughter might not be here today. With one more month until our planned marriage date, I had no health insurance, I was running out of my daily Synthroid (that was critical to take during the first trimester) and wasn’t allowed to be seen by the clinic on post, and every family member we decided to tell, with the exception of his dad and my mom, basically told us how horrible of an idea it was to have a baby right now—all but hinting that I should end the pregnancy. I’m sure it could have been an option even without insurance, but my partner assured me that everything would be alright. We were starting our family a little earlier than we planned, but it was something that we both wanted eventually anyway. And with all that opposition from everyone else, it actually made me want the pregnancy more. And clearly our little one wanted to be born because she hung in there despite some pretty rough circumstances.

I ended up having hyperemesis gravidarum. At about the sixth week of the pregnancy (still three weeks before heading back to the States to get married), I was no longer able to keep down even water or crackers. I tried everything I could think of—Gatorade, chicken broth, *anything* to get something of substance into my stomach—but it all came back up. When he came home from work one day and I couldn’t get off the couch because I was so weak, we rushed me to a nearby emergency room (which ended up being a story in itself… see: What the Water Gave Me). And that was when he proved to me just how much he wanted this baby too. Because we ended up having to pay over €600 for that trip (due to my lack of insurance), and he never batted an eye about it.

The day finally came that we flew back to the US, got married, then got things squared away for me to receive all my benefits. As soon as we got back to Germany, we made an appointment for me at the clinic, and things finally started falling into place with my prenatal care (which had been delayed by nearly my entire first trimester at that point).

But by that point, I had been puking three to four times daily for about three months straight. We hadn’t been able to travel at all because of my morning sickness, and it made me a little bitter, to say the least. After she was born, things continued to go downhill. My mom, who had flown out to be there with me when my daughter was born, had to go back home to resume her chemotherapy treatments. My husband and I were left with a one week old and no other support. Nursing my daughter became painful. We suspect it’s because she had a small mouth and had difficulties latching on properly. It meant that she wasn’t getting enough milk during each nursing session, so she was nursing roughly every 45-60min instead of every two hours, never giving me or my chest a chance to rest and recoup. It also meant she was getting too much air and having issues with gas. So none of us was getting any sleep, she was biting down when she nursed to try to stay latched, and she ended up tearing me bloody on both sides. So not only was it excruciatingly painful to nurse her, she was getting more blood than milk when she did nurse. I started leaving her to cry in her bassinet for almost an hour at a time while my husband was at work because I couldn’t bring myself to let her nurse. I would get so fed up with her not latching on properly that I’d have to set her down on the bed next to me and cry along with her, shaking with anger and exhaustion.

I was taking almost 800mg of Tylenol every four hours for the pain, and it wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to nurse her because it hurt so badly… and then the guilt would set in because what kind of monster didn’t want to feed her own child?

Because of a lack of options, I took to the internet to find a solution. Every lactation consultant and breastfeeding mother who posted on websites made me feel like the fault was mine, that I wasn’t latching her on properly or encouraging her properly, that I should continue breastfeeding despite the pain, that I should just get over it and realize I was going to be exhausted and in pain and there was nothing I could do about it.

But I was starting to resent my daughter. She wasn’t even two weeks old, and I hated her. It breaks my heart to admit it, but it was true. Countless times, I had to set her down and walk out of the room while she cried because I was so frustrated by her inability to latch on, or burp properly to ease her gas pains, or her constant need to nurse, and I was afraid I was going to squeeze her too hard or shake her.

Then came a day that my husband was finally home all day long for the first time since all this started happening. He tried to help latch her on for a nursing session, giving me his hand to squeeze through the pain. I broke into hysterical tears and said, “I can’t do this anymore.”

So ignoring all the online “advice” I’d gotten, we bought a breast pump, and I started pumping milk for her to drink. It still hurt, but not nearly as much as her clamping down on already swollen and bleeding nipples. My husband was able to start helping with the feeding, and after trying several options, we found a type of bottle that she liked best. Her gas issues resolved almost immediately. She started sleeping for longer periods of time, and my torn breasts started healing. We finally began to bond the way we were supposed to. I can’t imagine if I’d had to go through that for months like the women of the article.

By the time we moved back to the US two months later, I was able to nurse her again because I had completely healed (now bearing scars, mind you), and she had grown enough to latch on properly.

I was lucky that I had a caring, patient and understanding partner, that I didn’t need to see a psychologist, that my postpartum depression didn’t extend to some of the other things I’ve heard women deal with. Today we’re doing well, expecting our second child any day now, and my daughter is a happy and thriving 16month old (still a “Daddy’s Girl” but after all we’ve been through, I don’t entirely blame her).

But I’ll never forget that feeling of helplessness and pain, that desire to lock her in a room and leave her there until she shut up (which at that sensitive time in her young life might have meant her starving to death). And all that drives me to be a better person, a better mother, to make it up to her. That’s not to say she never gets disciplined—she’s getting into that age where she knows she’s not supposed to do things, but does them anyway to be funny. But it does mean that I take advantage of every opportunity to snuggle her, and she is constantly covered in hugs and kisses.

May
05

In six days, the US will be celebrating one of its patented “Hallmark Holidays” that has become incredibly widely accepted because it celebrates a group of people who deserve to be celebrated… Mothers.

Fifteen months ago, I became a mother myself (and am looking at doing it a second time in about two more months, provided this little guy decides to come on time), and I can honestly say that it made me respect mothers in general so much more than I already did. Being a mother requires a level of work and a giving of yourself in a way that no one else will ever understand. Whether they stay at home with their children or continue to pursue a career, or just work a 9 to 5 to put food on the table, married, single, joint custody; it doesn’t matter. You’ve given your body, your mind, and your emotions to this new little person (or persons) who will always need you… forever. And that’s a level of commitment that even the most involved fathers can never understand because at the end of the day, there’s always that level of disconnect for them. They didn’t spend nine months growing this little human inside them; they don’t know what it’s like to feel this child get hiccups, or wiggle because he’s uncomfortable, or develop a personality even though he’s never even seen another human’s face, or to look at their bodies that are swollen and covered in stretch marks and scars and know that they’re never going to look the way they did before—even if they eventually fit into their old clothes again, they’ve been indelibly changed.

I recently lost my mother to cancer. Typing those words still feels surreal because my mother was the most determined and hard working person I’ve ever known. I thought for sure that if anyone in our family was going to win a battle against cancer, it would have been her. But there comes a point when all the fighting is just too much, it’s spread too far and there’s literally nothing more the doctors can do (I still have issues with her doctor not doing more sooner, but I can’t turn back time, and all I can do is continue to live, knowing what I’ll do differently if it happens to me).

My husband, as wonderful as he is (and I truly mean that), has asked me several times this week what I want for Mothers Day, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to answer him.

Because the answer is that I want my mom back.

I want to buy three cards to send out instead of just the two for his mom and step-mom. I want to have my daughter color three pictures to send in those cards instead of just two. I want there to be someone to call to talk about how fast my baby is growing up and how curious she is about everything and how big of a troublemaker she already is, and to hear stories about what I was like when I was her age.

It’s not that there isn’t anything he can get me that won’t make me happy. Just by being who he is and doing what he does, he’s continued to renew my faith that I did the right thing when I agreed to marry him, that he really is an amazing partner, and I couldn’t have chosen a better father for my children. The fact is that ANYTHING he gets me will make me happy that day. Because I know that it’ll mean he’s thinking about me and wants to appreciate me and my role as a mother.

But I can’t give him an answer to that particular question because I know that he’s expecting me to say something like, “A new kitchen gadget,” or, “A massage.” And the answer he would get would be something that makes him feel inadequate. Because he would feel like he can’t make me happy, or that nothing he does would be good enough.

So this year, I’m dreading Mothers Day a bit. Both because he’ll have mothers to call and I won’t, and because I don’t want him to give up just because I’m going to be a little sad that day.

Dec
13

When I got pregnant with my daughter, I read copious amounts of information on being pregnant, things to do/not do during pregnancy, and tons of testimonies about being pregnant and having children. Recently, I read another such blog entry by a women claiming that she feels she caused her son’s autism by drinking Coke while pregnant, taking pain medication for fibro myalgia while pregnant, having ultrasounds done, inducing labor, having him vaccinated, giving him Tylenol, and giving him fluoride. Firstly, I think this woman is ridiculous. While there were some things she described that were truly stupid (and I wonder how her son is even still alive after them), some of the things she described were stupid to mention.

So, I decided to write my own list for those out there who are pregnant for the first time and scared of all the things you’re “supposed to stay away from.”

Things I did for my daughter both while I was pregnant and after she was born, that I am proud of.

No fancy medical jargon (not MUCH anyway), no soap boxes about what everyone else should do for their children, and no citing various studies that “back up my claims.” Just me explaining what I did and why I would do it again in a heartbeat based on information that I learned from a myriad of different sources throughout my pregnancy.

1)      I ate Burger King.

During my pregnancy, I had Hyperemisis gravidarum, a.k.a. excessive vomiting due to morning sickness. There were days I couldn’t even get out of bed because I was constantly throwing up. I lost 12 pounds during my first trimester because of it. Everything I ate would come back up, tasting the same way it did going down… everything except cheeseburgers from Burger King. They were the one thing I was able to keep in my stomach without bringing back up. So I ate them regularly (not EVERY day, but several times a week, one at a time—not in large quantities). Yes, they contain fat and ridiculous amounts of sodium, but that sodium actually helped me retain a little water and not be so dehydrated from the constant vomiting. The fat helped my body replenish its stores to help me nourish my baby, and most importantly, they contain protein, which is something every pregnant woman needs.

2)      I got ultrasounds.

In Germany (where I had my daughter), they do an ultrasound at every visit to monitor the baby. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “but ultrasounds are dangerous and should only be used sparingly.” Firstly, Germany is a much different country; in general, the doctors there are not “medication—happy” the way they are here. They discourage using medication to treat nausea, inducing labor and epidurals during labor, so I was much more apt to listen to what my doctor had to say regarding my baby’s health. The ultrasounds allowed us to watch her grow—to track her progress and make sure she WAS growing. They also let us hear her heartbeat (something a Doppler does, I know), see that all of her internal organs/umbilical cord were functioning the way they should be, make sure she stayed in the right position for birth, and to make sure the umbilical cord didn’t get wrapped around her neck (it eventually did, but only within the last week of her gestation—when she was already “due”—and it didn’t affect her blood flow at all). And my daughter was born perfect—no early signs of autism, hearing loss, attention deficit, etc.

3)      I didn’t let the doctors induce me.

My daughter was a week and a half “late.” But I had done my research about Pitocin and other labor inducing drugs, and had made the decision that no one was going to put anything like that into my system… ever. Misoprostol is a drug given to women to speed up already occurring miscarriages and help clean out their uteri… it’s also given to induce labor. I don’t know about you, but if something is used for clearing out a dead baby, I’m not going to expose my live one to it. Pitocin regulates contractions, yes, but it can also cause unnatural contractions that don’t allow proper time between pushes for your baby to get the oxygen it needs during delivery. Now, there are definitely situations where Pitocin is helpful (particularly if you’ve been stuck at 4cm for 36hrs and your natural contractions aren’t doing what they’re supposed to)—I’m not at all denying that fact. The issue I’m talking about is when the Pitocin-induced contractions get so painful that a woman needs an epidural, but the epidural then slows the contractions, so she needs more Pitocin, and then more epidural medicine to counter the contractions, and then the baby is so over-medicated and under-oxygenated that they need to do an emergency C-section just to get the baby out safely. I wasn’t going to let that happen.

4)      I ate lunchmeat and fish/seafood, including cooked sushi.

Sometimes, lunchmeat was the only way I could get protein into my diet because I didn’t have the energy to cook anything. And as I’m not horribly fond of taking pills, I ate fish and other seafood as a means of getting some Omega-3 fatty acids into my diet both for my own benefit and for my baby’s developing brain. What’s more is that seafood, seaweed, and sesame seeds (often all part of sushi) carry iodine, which helps to stimulate thyroid function, and since my thyroid doesn’t work properly on its own, that’s always a plus. Don’t get me wrong—with the dangers of mercury and listeriosis, I made sure to limit my intake to about once or twice a week, but I also wasn’t afraid to eat.

5)      I got my daughter vaccinated.

I can’t even count the arguments I’ve heard about whether or not to get children vaccinated. “Those diseases don’t exist anymore.” “You’re exposing them too young.” The list goes on, but here are some of the facts I know. I did my research while I was pregnant. I’ve seen what can happen to little kids that aren’t vaccinated against things like Pertussis. I’ve also written papers about “dead” diseases and how even though they aren’t widely seen today, they could still be dangerous because of their communicability, and about how diseases that had previously only been seen in Third World countries are making their way to our First World areas. That being said, I was also smart about getting her vaccinated. Had any of the shots she received included mercury (as some used to not too long ago), she would not have gotten them. What’s more is that every set of shots my daughter received, she got while she was HEALTHY. Had she been sick during any of her well baby visits, I would have insisted we wait on getting her vaccines. Why? It’s common sense. I don’t care what a doctor says. If my daughter’s immune system is currently compromised, I’m not going to introduce foreign viruses and bacteria that could depress her health even more and cause damage. When getting her vaccinated, I KNOW she’s going to end up with a fever as her body builds immunities against the vaccines. So if she’s already got a fever from defending against other germs, I’m not going to risk making her fever spike higher and fry her brain.

6)      On that note, neither my daughter nor I have ever received a flu shot (and won’t if I can help it).

Having studied microbiology in college, I know what goes into a flu shot… and there’s no NEED to get them. Yes, influenza is annoying, and can be dangerous when not treated properly. But when you give your body ample rest and fluids (and sometimes medicine depending on the severity), there’s no reason you can’t beat it on your own. The thing about the flu is that it morphs. You could get a flu shot (which includes three to four different strains of influenza in an attempt to inoculate you against the ONE that might be going around in your area) and by the time the flu actually gets to you, it could have changed enough that your body won’t recognize it, and you’ll have to fight it off yourself anyway. Not to mention, viruses and bacteria are survivors… there’s a reason they’re the oldest living organisms. So the more you try to fight them with medicine, the more they’re going to change and the “trickier” they’re going to get with it—which means they get more and more medicine-resistant, and therefore more dangerous.

Feel free to agree, disagree, love it, hate it, follow it or dismiss it. But for those of you who are scared and have no idea what to do, no matter how you choose to take the information, follow your instincts. Nature has giving us wonderful “mommy” instincts that are more often than not, the right thing to do. Listen to your own internal voice. And if you’re still confused, don’t be afraid to reach out to the parents around you. Chances are they can at least give you a little information to help you form an opinion on what to do.

Apr
21

My experience in a German Emergency Room…

Before moving to Germany to be with my fiancé, I looked up a bunch of things online—articles, translations, and mostly blogs to see some of the experiences that other people had had with things in Germany. Hospitals were one of those, and I was NOT ready for what actually happened when I needed to go to the ER.

I’m sure that many Americans have decent experiences at German hospitals, and my birth experience at a German hospital was wonderful (the post partum stay, not so much, but that’s a story for another time). However, when I was about 6 weeks pregnant with my daughter, I began having extreme nausea. Not the normal morning sickness that comes with being pregnant… like, can’t even keep down water and crackers, nausea. After 5 days of this, I was very dehydrated and weak. My fiancé was very worried about me (and I was very worried about the baby), so I agreed to go to the hospital to get some IV fluids. I didn’t have health insurance at the time because mine from my old job had lapsed; I was also not yet married, and therefore not eligible for coverage under my fiancé’s (even though I was pregnant with his child). So, we had to go to an Emergency Room. Apparently common practice in the US is NOT common practice in Germany.

After entering and being “checked in” (think: triage in a US ER), I was told to have a seat in the waiting room… nothing out of the ordinary there. But when my name was called, and I asked the nurse if he could speak English, he wasn’t able to (contrary to what I’d read in other blogs). It wasn’t too much of a problem because I knew a decent amount of German, but I was never taught any medical terms, so we had to communicate in grade-school-level words. Eventually, he asked me to wait a minute and came back with a paramedic, who spoke very good English and translated for me that I was 6 weeks pregnant, took synthetic thyroid hormone daily, and hadn’t been able to stop throwing up for 5 days. I believe the phrase I used while trying to communicate “dehydrated” to the nurse was, “Ich habe kein wasser in meinem korper” (I have no water in my body). He got the picture and immediately called an OB. (Mind you, he had not yet checked my vitals—pulse, blood pressure, etc–and never ended up doing so)

Apparently the OB ordered some blood work because the nurse then had me sit down, inserted an IV port into my arm, and pulled 4 vials of blood from it… he still hadn’t checked my vitals, and I was still nauseated and weak… so now I was dizzy on top of that. He then took me upstairs to the “special woman doctor” floor and left me with a couple of nurses… who, apparently don’t do anything in Germany. Unless they’re working in an Emergency Room, German nurses are the equivalent of US orderlies. They change sheets, clean rooms, pass meals, and once ordered by a doctor, can check vital signs and change IV bags. In my case, there was only one doctor on call, and she was busy… for an hour and a half.

They set me in a waiting area with very uncomfortable chairs, still without checking vital signs, and by the time she was available to come look at me, I was laying on my fiancé’s lap nearly passed out. She took me into an exam room and finally checked vitals, and commented that my blood pressure was very low… ya think?! She then looked at the results of my blood tests (which had come in while we were waiting for her to be available) and noted that yes, I was pregnant, but that everything else looked fine. I asked her about my thyroid results because the ER nurse had mentioned that one of the vials he was taking would be used for testing that. And it took her a minute to understand what I was saying… I guess a word that has a Greek base didn’t get picked up the same way in German as it did in English. It took several times of me pointing to my neck in a butterfly shape and saying, “Thyroid… the gland here,” for her to understand. And then she just said, “It’s fine.”

I’ve had thyroid issues for over 5 years now; I know what the numbers mean when I get blood tests done, and I know what “normal” levels are for me. But when I asked her what the numbers were, she looked at me like I had two heads. “The absorption rate?” I asked, thinking she didn’t understand what I meant, but apparently it was just that Germans don’t care about specifics when it comes to their health. She finally told me that it was 4.3; it finally made sense to me that I was feeling so crappy because my absorption rate usually ran between 1.7—1.9, and a higher number meant that my thyroid (though still in the “normal” range of 1.0—5.0) wasn’t working as efficiently as I was used to, adding to my nausea and making me feel lethargic.

She then did an ultrasound to confirm my pregnancy, and sat me down to explain that “nausea was a natural part of being pregnant.” I replied with something like, “I’m not a moron; this is not the usual morning sickness. I haven’t even been able to keep WATER in my stomach, and I need IV fluids.” After looking horribly offended that I was a bit irritated after already having waited for an hour and a half and being near-blackout, she left the room and came back 15 minutes later saying that they would take me to a bed for fluids, and then keep me for 4-5 days for observation.

I didn’t have time to argue because A) I knew I needed the fluids, and B) she ran back out of the room immediately afterward. Another “nurse” came in to get me, took me to a room with an empty bed (and a roommate), and hooked me up to a glucose drip. My body pulled in 2.5 liters in 20 minutes.

After that, I was feeling much better and was ready to leave—in the US, this would have been an outpatient procedure, and I’d have never left the ER. I had my fiancé go ask the nurses to unhook me so that I could go home, and when he returned he said that the doctor was very offended that I didn’t want to stay. I was told that I would have to sign a waiver because I was leaving against medical advice (paperwork that they didn’t have available in English, so a nurse had to try to translate for me, and I’m still not sure exactly what I signed), and I was told that I was NOT allowed to have copies of my blood work. We were then told we had to pay up-front for the medical bills. We’d planned on this because of my lack of insurance, and promptly handed over the requested €50. This seemed incredibly cheap compared to the US, but they said that health care was paid for differently in Germany… I guess not because 3 weeks later we got a bill for ALL the services that totaled €630. I can only imagine what the cost would have been if I had let them keep me for 4-5 days like they’d wanted.

All in all, it had ended up being the right thing to do because after re-hydrating myself, my body was able to mostly recover. I still had hyperemesis gravidarum (excessive vomiting in pregnancy) throughout my first trimester, but I was able to better manage it after that (possibly because I didn’t want the hassle of having to go back to the ER). I also threatened my fiancé that I was going to either fly back to the States for our daughter’s birth or make him drive me 3 hours to the American Army hospital. I did end up giving birth in a (different) German hospital, but as I said before, that’s a story for another time. The moral of this story is: if you’re American, at all costs, AVOID THE HOSPITAL IN NEUMARKT, BAYERN. UNLESS YOU’RE BLEEDING TO DEATH, IT’S WORTH THE WAIT TO DRIVE TO A BIGGER CITY WHERE MORE PEOPLE SPEAK ENGLISH.

Apr
16

Germany Rant: Take One

I’m going to start with all the little things and work my way up to the big, obnoxious ones, mainly to show the compounding nature with which all of these things at first did not frustrate me, but came to be the bane of my existence here in Bayern.

First, the water. Germans drink mineral water… not just mineral water, but mineral water with carbonation… i.e. soda water/seltzer. How they stay hydrated drinking this, I’ll never know, but that’s what they drink. If you don’t like fizz you can sometimes get it still (as “stilles wasser”—still water, or “ohne Kohlensäure”—without carbonation), but often times even if you ask for it in either of these two ways, you will get water that simply has LESS carbonation… or what tastes “still” to them because they always drink it with carbonation. If you ask for simple TAP water (or water from a faucet), many will look at you like you have a second head. After all, why would you drink the same type of water that you bathe in? To a point, I came to understand this a little. The tap water in the area where I lived was so infused with calcium and other minerals that it tasted like it had sand in it (my husband never had a problem with it, but I couldn’t stand it after about 3 weeks). Still, wherever we went, it was like pulling teeth to try to get still spring water.

Second, I hope you like that bubbly mineral water room temperature… because Germans don’t believe in using ice cubes. For much the same reason that they don’t drink the tap water, neither do they use it for chilling whatever beverage they happen to be drinking. ANYTHING you order at a restaurant will come to you at room temperature unless you are VERY lucky. (side note: all of their pop—soda or coke to you non-Mid Westerners—is also mixed with mineral water, so it has, in my opinion, an aftertaste or just an odd taste to begin with)

Next, the lack of screens on the windows. From what I understand, this is common throughout most of Europe, but it’s weird to us Americans. On the outsides of our windows, we place a thin layer of mesh with tiny holes that allows air to flow in, but keeps bugs outside where they belong. They don’t ALWAYS work, but they definitely keep out things like the wasps, moths, and the gigantic Island-of-Dr-Moreau bumble bees that I had to fight with during the summer (seriously, at one point, I thought one was going to start talking to me—and I’m not that squeamish about bugs). I will concede, however, that the windows perform a neat trick. If you flip the handles upside-down and pull, it tilts the window in from the top, so you can leave them open when it rains to cut down on the humidity inside the house.

Going along with that… the slanted windows/ceilings. If you have the misfortune of living on the top floor of a building like we did, then the edges of your living space will be slanted, because you are literally living INSIDE the roof. This means that unless you arrange the furniture PERFECTLY, you lose a good 5-10 feet of room space because the ceiling slants upward and either things won’t fit, or the furniture that does fit under there can’t be reached without continually being bent over. In these slanted walls are slanted windows that most people would call “sky lights.” They still open; you simply turn the handle and push upward. However, unless curtains/shades come pre-installed, it is IMPOSSIBLE to find curtains to cover them for times like during the summer when it doesn’t get dark until 11pm but the sun rises again at 4am. I ended up having to make my own jimmy-rigged system.

Speaking of curtains/covering windows, Germans have a lack of modesty compared to Americans. Again, somewhat of a European-in-general thing, and don’t get me wrong, they’re not running around streaking all the time. But Germans are very “practical” with their nudity. In places like the hospital or doctor’s office, you’re expected to be able to undress while the doctor is in the room and sit there without clothes on until s/he is done. If you think about it, s/he is going to see it anyway, so what’s the point of covering up? But for those of us who grew up in the United States, it’s weird to undress if front of someone you’re not going to have sex with (i.e. it’s the ACT of undressing that requires privacy). And realistically, doctors’ offices are often cold, so sometimes we want that “cover” sheet just to keep warm while we wait forever and a day for the doctor to do what s/he is there to do. The one that weirded me out, though, is that Germans allow their children to swim naked in public pools… and I don’t just mean babies, which are fine because they’re cute and don’t yet understand what gentials and modesty are. I mean like kids up to 10 years old… kids that are now beginning to mature and show adult-parts and leak adult fluids from those parts.

Germans also have no concept of “personal space” the way that Americans do. Germans will stand two inches away from you while you’re waiting for the train, trying to decide what you want to eat at McDonalds, or in “line” at the grocery store.

… Which brings me to my last and most ire-inducing point… Germans apparently don’t understand the concept of standing in a line. At the store, at a fast food restaurant, at the airport… they, instead, prefer to clump while waiting for the register/booth to be available, and then fight their way to the front. Whoever gets there first wins. This is most irritating at the airport when trying to board a plane with a baby. You can walk up to the front desk to “check in,” and they’ll make a call for those traveling with small children to board first. But the second they call for ANY boarding, everyone rushes up to get on the plane. So even if you were eligible to board before everyone else, you have to beat everyone else to the front of the clump in order to do it because they refuse to queue properly or politely.

So… there you have it—all the little “daily life” things that bugged the crap out of me while living in Bavaria. Come back next time to read about my experience in a German emergency room!

Mar
24

Well, it’s officially been over a year since I’ve posted on this blog, but I consider it a side effect of moving across an ocean, getting married, having a baby, and then getting ready to move back. Since my husband is not working as much for the next few days as he has been over the past year because of our imminent move back to the States, I have just a little free time to post a “soft” update. I plan, in the next few entries, to discuss a little about some of my experiences in Germany (particularly with German hospitals), mostly because I feel that when I first came over here, I was misled by the other blogs/articles I had read, and if I can give some better information to those seeking it, I would like to. It’s not that all of my experiences in Germany have been bad, but simply that I wasn’t properly prepared.

A part of it may have been that I moved to *Bavaria* (Bayern) which, for all those who have been to or lived in the US, is the German equivalent of the difference between New York and Alabama. But if that is the case, then at least I can provide some insight into Americans moving to—or even just visiting—Bavaria. As I said, I don’t mean to shed a bad light on Germany, Bavaria, or Germans in general; some of my experiences (though, as you’ll see, definitely not ALL) here have been quite good. I simply wish to illustrate the cultural differences/language barriers/etc. that I’ve come across as an American that other Americans might also find irritating, frustrating, and otherwise debilitating while there. 

Feb
06

About 8 months ago, my mother and I were discussing my incredible interest in the man I now call My Heart, including the fact that his current duty station was (and still is) in Germany. My mom’s first reaction was, “You’re not moving to Germany, are you?” Having only known the man 4 months, my answer was, of course, a resounding “No.” Funny how things change.

At that time, I saw moving to Germany to live with him as a defeat. I thought that moving would make me weak, that it would prove I couldn’t make it out on my own. Because of the nature of how the Army works, being able to stand on my own two feet was definitely something I needed to prove. There will be times when we are separated, whether it’s because he’s undergoing a PCS and moving to the new duty station ahead of me, or because he’s deployed to a combat zone, or stationed in a place that I’m not allowed to be. So when my mom asked me if I was going to move to Germany, my answer was “no” because I needed to prove both to myself and to everyone else that I could be independent, that I didn’t need anyone to take care of me. And I did it. I got my own apartment and was able to keep to a budget, always making sure my bills were paid before using any money for having fun. A couple of minor set-backs that were out of my control put me through some scary times and nearly depleted my savings (Hooray for putting a new engine in my car), but I didn’t give up, and I found a way to make it work. Things are a little tight now and then, and it takes some hard work and clever maneuvering, but I’m still perfectly capable of feeding myself and keeping a roof over my head and a car at my disposal.

Recently, I was presented with a conundrum. He asked me to come and live with him. My mind immediately flew back to that conversation with my mother. I badly wanted to accept, but I also couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I’d told her I wasn’t going to move to Germany. So I thought about it really hard, and I realized that while being on this side of the Atlantic Ocean from him is difficult, it’s also safe. I have my safety net: my family, my apartment, my job, I know where everything is and where I can find anything I need or want. And I realized that moving to Germany would be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Leaving all of that would be incredibly difficult… but I also realized that I need to do it. Staying here to move out on my own taught me that I am capable of being independent, capable of caring for myself and not needing anyone to do it for me. But staying here now is what makes me weak. Even though I rely on no one but myself to pay my bills, I rely on my home town, my surroundings, and the fact that my parents are only 15 minutes away. And if I truly want to consider myself strong, then I need to not rely on those things either.

It’s a scary thought, leaving everything I’ve ever known. I would be stupid not to be scared. But I also know that by staying here, I will continue to be separated from the man I want to build a life with. And if I don’t jump, then I’ll never find my wings.

Jan
10

While out to eat with my boyfriend the other day, we ended up having a discussion that showed up as one of the emphasized Yahoo stories on the website today, so I figured I’d put my two cents in as well.

Being a former server (yes, waitress), I know exactly how difficult that job can be–at least for those in the US (in my opinion, servers in Europe have it *much* easier). For starters, you don’t get to have a bad day. You must always be cheerful, confident, collected, and in control. You must be quick, no matter how much your shoes might hurt your feet or how tired you might be. You must be nice to everyone, no matter how mean, rude, or nasty they are to you. You must have an amazing memory. You must know what everyone at the table has to drink, even if all of the cups contain similar-looking beverages, and you must remember which drink and/or food goes with which face, just in case they end up pulling a Chinese Fire Drill on you while you’re away from the table. (Apologies if anyone finds that term offensive; I used it for imagery).

I honestly feel that everyone should be forced to work in the food service industry at some point in their lives just to understand what the job is like. It would definitely teach humility to a lot of people who need a lesson in it.

Then we come to the matter of pay and tips. This was what both the conversation and the article were about. The boyfriend and I were disagreeing over how much to tip our servers when going to restaurants; the article gives a little perspective, but not quite enough for my satisfaction. I can’t speak about higher-end restaurants, but I know that when talking about diners, your hourly wage is a joke. It might as well be non-existent, and sometimes ends up being just that (but we’ll get into the mechanics of that in a minute). When working in a diner, there ends up being the possibility of making as low as $2.65 per hour (about one third of the national minimum hourly wage), so what once began as an incentive “To Insure Prompt Service,” ends up being “Whether or Not I Pay My Rent This Month.”

You are also often required to tip out cooks, bus-boys (or “bus-persons” as my friend Janelle liked to call herself), and hosts at the end of the night, even though they all make more per hour than you do. Plus, at the end of each night, you must claim a percentage of your tips because [insert fanfare]… you get taxed on them (isn’t the American government wonderful?). And legally, you must claim at least 10% of all of the tips you received that night (regardless of whether you ended up giving half of what you made to other people). This amount then gets recorded and taxed and deducted from your paycheck. Yes, I realize that every working American pays taxes out of his paycheck, but the situation is a little different for this reason: if the government decides that you made too much in tips that week, you don’t get a paycheck for your hourly wages. While I admit that this means you had a pretty good week, it’s the principle idea of not getting an hourly wage because people happened to be nice that week.

Finally we come to the matter of customer volume. Some servers are lucky enough to work in a restaurant that a lot of people frequent; they get a good number of people in and out to turn their tables efficiently and make a decent amount of money in a day (or night, as the case may be). But when you work in an establishment such as the one I did, you’d be lucky to see 10 tables in an 8 hour shift. I had nights where I was pulling an average of 30% on my tips… but still only walking away with $40 in my pocket. Granted, there were also Sunday mornings when I would go home with $200 to my name, but those hardly made up for the other 4-5 days of the week that I worked for practically nothing.

I will also say that it was not the worst job I ever had. After a while, you get pretty good at it, and it gets much easier to handle the added stress of angry customers, messed up orders, children throwing food at the walls or into the pockets of your apron when you’re not looking, etc. But having been in that person’s shoes, means that I never tip any server less than 20%… ever. Because I know what it’s like to not be allowed to be tired or upset or distracted, to not be allowed to forget something or hear something wrong or make mistakes. I know what it’s like to be scrutinized by an unforgiving public that doesn’t understand that you’re just trying to work your way through college, or feed your kids, or pay your rent. And I know how ridiculous the general public are when it comes to being waited on because I have been the server that gets stiffed on an almost $100 check because I forgot to take *a bottle of ketchup* out to the table.

Dec
16

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I speak with people who I know have had full educations (at least K-12 grades), and they still incorrectly use certain words. There are a few that are misused ALL THE TIME, and I think it’s because of a failing in the American school systems.  Children aren’t corrected early enough in their learning/processing of the American vernacular of the English language, so their incorrect use of these words is reinforced as being okay. Here is a list of some that I hear most often. I hope it’s informative, and I guarantee that simply by using these words correctly, you will sound ten times smarter than most people around you.

Kosher

In the common form (namely, not talking about Jewish food), this word means “proper.” Many people use it to mean “good.” The problem is that the word “good” has so many different undertones that this is technically correct. Kosher means “good” in the sense that something is “proper” or “appropriate,” like saying that a child behaving himself is good. How do we tell the difference? Before using it in a sentence, try replacing the word “kosher” with the word “appropriate.” If the sentence still makes sense the way you intended it to, then it’s being used properly. If not, then another word would fit better in its place.

E.g. “That movie was kosher.” If we replace the word “kosher” with “appropriate” to say, “That movie was appropriate,” then this sentence is still a complete and proper sentence, but it doesn’t convey the point we were trying to make. What we wanted to say was, “That movie was enjoyable,” so we should choose another adjective to describe it like “exciting” or “funny.”

AWOL

This is an acronym for “Away With Out Leave.” It comes from the military where someone would be skipping out on their duties, or deserting their fellow soldiers in combat. It means that someone has gone missing, not crazy as I have often heard it used. This confusion is probably due to the fact that the phrase is close to “ape-s***,” which does mean crazy or so angry that you are no longer acting like a human. In civilian speech, AWOL has the same basic connotation as MIA (Missing In Action).

Hysterical

This is the state of being in hysterics. Back in the day, men used to think that the fact that women have uteri was the reason they would have emotional outbursts (probably not far from the truth, actually).  They called these emotional outbursts “hysteria” and treated it like a disease. When a woman was “in hysterics,” she was in the throes of one of these outbursts, which could include rage, crying, or laughing. Today, we use it to describe both genders, but to say that someone is “hysterical” means that he is laughing uncontrollably, not that he is funny.

Anxious

This is the state of being nervous or uncertain about something, specifically with a negative connotation. Many people use it as though it were synonymous with the word “excited,” but using it when you are happy about what is going to happen is incorrect. A child is excited the night before his birthday because he wonders what presents he will get. A woman is anxious the night before a biopsy because she is hoping that the lump in her breast is not cancerous. That’s not to say that a person can’t be both excited and anxious at the same time. Many of us experience this with events such as the birth of a child, an upcoming plane trip or moving to a new house. However, there are distinct differences in the emotions. Excitement is accompanied by joy, where anxiety is accompanied by fear or dread.  

Nauseous

This is probably the most commonly misused word I have ever heard. Nauseous means to smell bad. Nauseated means you are sick to your stomach. Something nauseous will nauseate you. If you say that you are nauseous, I am going to walk away because I don’t want to be around someone who smells bad. If you say you are nauseated, I am going to help you find a place where you can vomit.

Aug
10

I was speaking with a co-worker the other day about how many young people these days have this automatic sense of entitlement–like they deserve to get things simply because they are alive–and it got me thinking about why that is. This was the main answer I came up with, as cliché as it might be… look to the people who raised us. Like many, our parents worked hard to give us all the things they never had as children, but they never taught us how to earn those things. Cars when we start driving, extra money to go out with friends, new school clothes every year… when things like this are given without the expectation of chores, errands, etc. in return, they lose all value. They expected us to be grateful for these gifts without teaching us what it was like to not have them. And it’s in the comparison that we learn to appreciate.

Growing up, I was always expected to do what my mother asked me to do, when she asked me to do it; in return, I would receive a new outfit for school in the fall or $10 to go to a movie with my friends on the weekend. But I also spent years without these luxuries. Most of my clothes shopping was done in second-hand stores or receiving hand-me-downs from my older sister or friends. Many times I was given the money for a movie, but had to find my own way there and back. When I got my first cell phone, it was a pre-paid, and I was responsible for any minutes that were put on it. I didn’t get my drivers’ license until I was 18, and even though a car was given to me by my grandfather, all gas and maintenance was my responsibility. I think the fact that it was supposed to last me a year and ended up lasting me 6 is a testament to how much I appreciated that car–I still miss my Grover. But anyway…

Another situation that happened just the other night spurred my thoughts to this path. While driving through a parking lot, I came to a stop sign, which is not an unusual occurence. I’m not going to say that I’m the perfect driver, but I happen to think I’m not horrible at it either (after all, I did get 2 years more practice with my parents than most young people in the US). So I pull to a stop and end up a few feet in front of the sign. Mind you, this was not a problem–there was still plenty of clearance to get on the road to my right… or at least, it wouldn’t have been a problem to any sober, mildly attentive and decently humble person driving through that parking lot.

Now, the intersection is a little wonky. I’m not sure if it will work for everyone, but I’ve tried to include a picture of it for better illustration, obviously not quite to scale with the blobs that are meant to be cars or the exact placement of the stop sign. The guy you’ll meet in a second is in the black blob, while I’m in the gold one, and the red dot is the stop sign. I would also like to make it known that there would have been absolutely no difference in his amount of clearance of the curb to my right had I stopped behind the stop sign… he was just a jerk.

I know what you’re probably thinking right now, and no, I did NOT get hit, nor did I hit anyone. But here’s what played out:
I stop, he drives past, nearly alongside me, with his window open and–looking straight at me–yells sarcastically, “Nice job!” He goes past, and I pull out behind him because that happens to be the direction that I’m going and lift my hands in a gesture that says, “What the heck? Was that necessary?” Because I’m “Detroit leaning,” he can obviously see my one hand above the steering wheel. I’m not sure if he understood the gesture or if he thought that I was flicking him the bird, but either way, it doesn’t really matter. He decides to stop at the next stop sign, get out of his car, point at me and yell, “You need to calm down!”

First of all, Grandpa, just because your hair is gray does NOT mean you’re always right, nor does it automatically mean you’re a better driver than I am (See? Age-ism can go both ways…). But of course, being raised the way I was, I didn’t yell what I wanted to yell at him. Instead I responded, “Calm down? I’m not the one out of my car. Will you please just drive?”

Well, at this point he must have noticed the people standing on the sidewalk and realized what it looked like… and how much it made him look like the jerk he was being. So he got back in his car and drove away. Now, I’m not saying that I handled the situation perfectly, but he didn’t have to be that rude either. What gets me the most is that it probably only happened because of how young I look. Not a month goes by that I don’t get mistaken for a 16-year-old, or asked if I’m 12 as a hyperbolic attempt at humor. No, as a matter of fact I’m 12 plus 12, and that joke hasn’t been funny since I was 16… thanks.

But it’s people like this guy that made me think about the rudeness of my generation and those younger than me. We weren’t born with a predisposition to be rude or a sense of entitlement; it was taught to us–mostly through non-verbal cues. We’ve all heard the phrase that we should “Respect our elders”… and that’s true. But the idea is that if we respect our elders, then they will teach us about what it means to be respected in return. We show them respect because they have lived longer than us and have learned lessons that they will pass to us, thereby helping us to live better lives. And by giving us this advice, they show us that they respect our right to choose our own paths while hoping that we learn from their mistakes, and by still being there with more advice when we fail.

I’m not trying to excuse the actions of younger generations who have become greedy and rude, nor do I have an answer for those parents who have done all they could to teach their children properly only to have the children end up with that sense of entitlement anyway. But what I am saying is that if we give an initial respect to our elders, and it is never given back, then we will never see the point of showing it again. If our efforts result in getting spat on, then we will non-verbally learn that there are no rewards for showing that kind of respect, and therefore no reason to put in the extra effort.

I’m not omniscient by any means, and I’m not claiming that this is always the case, but through 13 years of babysitting I have learned one main thing about kids–particularly those between the ages of 2 and 10. If you yell at them or tell them to do something, they will fight you every step of the way. If you ask them, then they feel they have a choice–they feel that their opinions and feelings are respected in the matter, and they will quite often choose to return the respect by doing what you ask.

So we come back to the old adage that “if you want to get respect, you have to give it” … that respect is *always* a 2-way street. I hope that I have not offended those of you over the age of 40, and instead have possibly given you a bit of insight into the minds of us “young hooligans.”