25 April 2015

The in-between worlds and the worst part of being an expat

When I first moved overseas, I often got asked about my family.
'What does your mother think of you living here?' People (almost certainly middle aged women) would ask.
'Oh,' my ten-year-younger self would laugh, 'I have three siblings, so there are plenty of spares.'

There are many downsides to living abroad, of course. Strange languages, confusing cultures, inappropriately-sweet pickles. As I've gotten older, the hardest ones by far are the ones to do with family and friends, from family dinners missed to logistically unworkable weddings to babies born a continent away.

A few days after I got out of the hospital for my miscarriage, we got unexpectedly bad news about my dad. Well, unexpected to me. Apparently, he self-diagnosed himself with a brain tumour years ago.

So I unpacked my hospital bag and packed a suitcase.

And while my heart was otherwise preoccupied, my body spent lots and lots of time on planes half-sleeping and in airports trawling distractedly through the duty free shops.

Airports are such strange, liminal spaces, neither here nor there, but trying so hard to be with their 'local colour' artwork and sterile souvenir shops staffed by women chatting to each other in Hindi.

During one of my four layovers (two there, two back), I ended up in the Minneapolis airport late in the evening, when there was a gap in flights. The lounge cleared until it was just me, the other two people who had volunteered to change off our overbooked flight, a few small clusters of laughing off-duty security personnel, and one surprisingly bold (and astonishing fast) mouse.

Neither here nor there, in that gaping lounge with the artificial lights glowing gently on some energy-saving setting, surrounded by rows of empty seats, and with the muffled laughter of those who were on only a short break from their normal working lives - it seemed to my foggy brain like an apt metaphor for how I was feeling at the time, in some in-between world of sadness and uncertain schedules.

Sometimes you spend two extra hours watching a mouse nibble discarded pizza crusts while waiting for a plane to London when you thought you'd be sleeping on a plane to Amsterdam. Or something pithy like that.

The good news was that by taking the flight to London, I ended up arriving to Prague a few hours earlier than anticipated (I was supposed to have a 9 - yes, nine - hour layover in Amsterdam) and with a voucher that pretty much covers the original cost of my ticket.

I'm really hoping that is also a metaphor.

So, in conclusion, it's been a shitty few weeks, but not entirely unpleasant. It was really good to hug my US family and so very, very good to see my dad smile after his surgery.

The word-of-the-day for my students this past week was jet lag. Personified and occasionally nearly dropping off during student presentations, as it turned out.

I'm trying to adjust to the next destination not being the one I had hoped, and L is keeping me afloat. Or rather, aloft, since we're talking planes.

And finally, Dad (and Mom), I love you. And middle aged women, you had a point.

02 April 2015

A post about miscarrying in the Czech Republic

While I was suffering terribly from morning sickness the past few months, I cheered myself with thoughts of a lovely post in a few months which would helpfully detail what it's like to give birth in a Czech hospital. 

But it seems that a very much wanted pregnancy was not to be, and so I am writing now instead about what it's like to miscarry in a Czech hospital. 

Why write this? Maybe it's to do with the solace I've been getting from hearing that we're not alone. Or maybe I'm hoping to dilute some of my pain by passing little bits of it on to anyone who gets close enough (sorry).

And finally, as nearly everyone has been telling us, miscarriage is terribly, horribly common and it seems not right for there to be lots of guides for expats here about successful pregnancies and none (that I could find) about when things go wrong. 

My pregnancy care in the Czech Republic has been much more technologically advanced than with my first pregnancy in the UK. While in the UK, my pregnancy with Smalls was managed by midwives in the GP practice, here I have a gynaecologist with a state-of-the-art office.

I had an early bleed in the UK and had to wait 4 days for a scan at the Early Pregnancy Unit at the hospital.With my bleed this time, I called my gynaecologist and was scanned 4 hours later. Two hours after that, I was at the hospital for a second scan and getting booked for a D&C. I am in great awe of the NHS and the service it provides to so many, but if something must go wrong, I'd prefer to have the Czech experience. 

So let's talk about steps. My gynaecologist stressed that if anything seemed wrong, especially if there was bleeding, I should see him straight away. 

When it turned out there was a problem, he said he would refer me for surgical management. There wasn't any discussion about other options, such as waiting to see if I would naturally miscarry, which I believe is preferred in the UK - possibly because I was at the end of the first trimester.

A hellish tram ride later and I was at Nemocnice Motol with a referral letter to give to the nurses. I met with the doctor, who did another scan, and then was given instructions for where to go for the next day's procedure. 

The procedure itself was under general anesthetic and seemingly without complications.  Some of the doctors and nurses spoke English (at least a few words) and the main doctor had beautiful English. 'So, Mrs. Expatova,' he said before he discharged me, 'Could you detail for me the exact nature of your condition this morning?'  

As for me, I was surprised as I was waking up from the anesthetic to find myself speaking in Czech, and (trust me on this one) very good Czech at that. 

Anesthetic-improved perceptions of speaking Czech aside, it was a huge relief to be able to rely on L to translate for me, especially on the first day. I would definitely recommend bringing a Czech-speaking friend or partner if at all possible. 

All of the staff were professional and one nurse was especially kind to me. Nemocnice Motol is a Soviet-era medical behemoth, but the rooms were nice, the equipment up to date, and the food surprisingly palatable. Lunch even came with a soup starter, which was the yang to the yin of what can only be described as plastický sýr a chléb (plastic cheese on bread) for dinner.

I shared a room with two other women. One offered to bring me something from the shop in the lobby. Food? Juice? Coffee? And when I politely declined, offered me some chocolate. Here, on my nightstand.  You should have some. It is here if you change your mind. But wouldn't you like some juice? I'll just get you some juice. We watched a terrible Czech soap opera together in the evening. The camaraderie was nice. The snoring, not as much. 

I'm doing....ok. L and Smalls are taking very good care of me. I'm currently wanting to cuddle all of the pink screaming newborn babies who have managed the seemingly unimaginable miracle of being born.  I also have a strong desire to steal all of the newborn babies and make them MINE, so I think keeping to lanky, sticky cuddles from Smalls is probably better for now. 

Dear friends: Please warn any of our common acquaintances that any comments about 'Isn't it time for a sibling for Smalls' would place them in danger of being hit. Repeatedly. Or, more likely, used as a human handkerchief. 

Dear friends and Internet strangers who are pregnant or would like to be: I hope you have better results than me and wish you many pink, screaming babies.