Monday, 14 December 2009

Oh Christmas Tree!

I have always liked seasons, the sea of orange, yellow, brown and red leaves that paint a Canadian forest in autumn and the peaceful snowfalls creating a white blanket everywhere I look during the Canadian Christmas season.  

And so it is with great sadness that the Globetrotter announces that we will be spending this Christmas in Madagascar.   The not-so-Christmas-y atmosphere will be all the less so because I am not even sure that we will be Getting A Tree.  Getting A Tree creates big ethical problems here.  You see, in Canada, the United States and even Europe, there are farms where trees are grown for the very purpose of serving as a Christmas tree one day.  You therefore don't have to worry about deforestation when you Get A Tree.  Better yet, you can buy a tree still planted in a pot and plant it in your backyard after Christmas.

Here in Madagascar, you have two options:

1) Buy a Christmas tree that has been cut down in a forest, thereby contributing to the massive deforestation efforts already at work in this country, or
2) Buy a Chinese-manufactured artificial tree, made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which is not biodegradeable, pollutes and and is replete with phthalates, dioxin, ethyl chloride, etc. etc.  You get the picture.  What's more, apparently, many artificial trees contain lead.  Eek.

Last week, I mentioned that we needed to think about Getting A Tree, and the Bambina said, "We don't need a tree.  We can put the presents somewhere else."

That's my girl.

Well, in the end we did end up Getting A Tree - a special Madagascar tree.  Here it is.

The same trees are planted just out side the luxurious Colbert Hotel in downtown Antananarivo.  It's not a pine tree but I like it because it's simple, it's local and we will be able to plant it in our yard after Christmas.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Local weather forecastAntananarivo, MDG

Five-day forecast
04 DecThunderstormsThunderstorms
05 DecThunderstormsThunderstorms
06 DecThunderstormsThunderstorms
07 DecThunderstormsThunderstorms
08 DecAfternoon RainAfternoon Rain
Yep, I think the rainy season has started.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Getting used to insects, spiders, Other Things.

It's hard to get your children to maintain an open mind about things in life that they have never seen before when you yourself scream when you see THIS swimming in your pool one morning. 

Can anyone tell me what it is?  The Malagasy have a word for it but don't know what the translation is in French or English.  I'm not even sure that it's an insect.  It might be a small animal.  Yikes!

On another note, I took this photo just outside the Jumbo grocery store.  The photo doesn't really do them justice.  Trust me.  They are HUGE.  We are talking the size of my hand.  I don't think I have ever seen spiders this size before.  I haven't shown them to the Bambina yet!

The cockroaches are also the size of the palm of my hand but in my earnest bid to get rid of them from my kitchen as soon as f-ing possible, I didn't bother taking a picture.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Nestlé's new way of harming African babies

This globetrotter parent has noticed that if there is one thing that pervades the world, it's the Nestlé brand.  And if there is one thing that Nestlé like to sell, it's infant formula.

Nestlé and other infant formula manufacturers have, or so they say, committed themselves not to market their infant formula for babies under the age of six months.  Now, in my opinion, if they really wanted to adhere to the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, they wouldn't market their infant formula at all (including the formula for babies 6 months and up) and it would be available exclusively in pharmacies and not in grocery stores.  But I digress. 

Knowing full well that they are unable to advertise their infant formula for younger babies, Nestlé advertise other products instead.  Here in Tananarive, they advertise their powdered whole milk, called Nido.  Note that "Nido" means "nest" in Italian and is very close to the French word for nest as well ("nid"). So not surprisingly, the Malagasy people (most of whom speak French) tend to think of Nido as milk that is meant for babies

But it's not.  Nestle Nido is just plain old whole milk in powder form with some vitamins added to it.  It has not been adapted for babies.

Yet the other day, I asked our driver, as we passed by a huge wall ad for Nido, "Is Nido milk for babies?"

"Yes", he replied.  "You give it to babies if you can't breastfeed."

Then I asked our cook, "Do the Malagasy give Nestlé Nido to their babies when breastmilk is not available?"

"yes, yes", she replied.
I explained to her that Nestlé Nido was, in fact, whole milk, and not infant formula.  She was very surprised and kept asking, "Are you sure?".

Then I said to our nanny, "Would you give Nestlé Nido to a baby?"  She gave me an unequivocal yes and was also surprised when I told her that Nido was not infant formula.

Nestlé don't appear to be doing much to correct this mistaken belief about their product.  They of course do not expressly state anywhere in their advertising that Nido is for babies and to their credit, their advertising portrays a glass of milk on it, not a baby bottle.  BUT (1) a can of Nestlé Nido looks just like a can of infant formula for babies (same 400 gram metal can with plastic top), (2) the name "NIDO" is suggestive of babies and (3) they don't say anywhere on the packaging or in their advertising that it is NOT for babies, except in the FAQ of Nestlé Nido's internet site

Worse, in the shops here in Tana, Nestlé Nido is placed on the shelf right alongside infant formulas.**

And as the Nido whole milk powder also happens to be cheaper than real infant formula (in the shop where this photo was taken, the Nido cost 14000 Ariary whereas the Nestle Guigoz 2ème age cost 18,000 Ariary), people have no hesitation in buying Nestlé Nido for their infant.

One final anecdote from my friend Natasha, an American here in Tana who has a nine-month old baby.  One day, Natasha was telling someone that before arriving here in Tana, she had purchased a year's worth of infant formula in Switzerland and had it shipped here.  She didn't want to be stuck purchasing infant formula in Madagascar, as she had no idea where the formula that is sold here might have been manufactured (much of it comes from Kenya or China, I am told). 

The person responded, "Oh well, if you ever run out, you can always buy some Nido."  Dooooooh!

** Funnily enough, in the large grocery stores in Tana such as Jumbo and Leader Price, where Europeans tend to do their grocery shopping, Nestlé Nido can be found in a separate aisle from the infant formula, alongside other whole milk powders.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Exploring nature in Madagascar

Madagascar is a great place to give children an appreciation for nature.  It has a unique ecosystem.  There are species here that exist nowhere else in the world, not even in continental Africa.  Lemurs, for example, only exist because the island of Madagascar broke off from the African continent a few million years ago and none of the lemurs' prey ended up on the island with them.  Madagscar has no venomous snakes for the same reason - none of the snakes' prey ended up on the island with them.

 We visited Lemurs' Park, just outside Tananarive,  a couple of months ago and while the Bambina was a little hesitant at first about getting near the lemurs (they are wild animals, after all), by the end of our visit, she was practically playing with them. 

We also saw plant species that you don't find elsewhere, like the vanilla plant (yum!), a "crown of Christ" and yellow bamboo trees.

Next, we visited a crocodile farm. 

Bet you have never seen so many crocodiles all together where you live...

Friday, 6 November 2009

Globetrotter Parent says no! to cultural vacations with small children

When people find out that I have this blog, they sometimes ask me for travel advice.  In particular, they like to ask me what kinds of trips they can take their small children on that will expose their under-six years old children to "culture" and "history".  After all, the mind of a small child is like a sponge, so their child should be able to absorb all that knowledge easily, no?

Actually, funnily enough, we don't travel a whole lot, except to move residence.  And when we do, it's usually to head to a beach.  My advice on how to give small children a cultural experience: wait as long as you can.  Wait until they're older and for the time being, stick to places where there is a pool and / or a beach.

You may be surprised that a Globetrotter Parent such as myself would give such advice but seriously, how much is a four-year old going to really get out of the Roman forum (heck, without a guide explaining to me what all those broken stones are supposed to be - I don't get much out of the forum) or even the Colosseum?  We lived in Rome for three years and my daughter still has no inkling as to what the Colosseum was for.  I do not regret not having explained Roman history to my completely uninterested three-year old.

Your eight or nine year old will appreciate the Parthenon in Greece and the Pyramids in Egypt much more than your four-year old.  Your twelve and thirteen year old even more so.  Trying to stuff culture and history into a mind whose preoccupation is with getting fed, running around, and playing in water is an uphill battle.  Leave it be for now.

"But my five year old will love the Eiffel tower!" I hear you say.  Yes, and your nine-year old will love it even more.

That doesn't mean it's not worth taking your child to Egypt on vacation.  But how about taking them for some swimming and snorkeling and leaving the scubadiving - and the pyramids - until they are old enough to think the activity worth the effort?

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Online Language Learning for your Teen (or maybe even you)

Is your teenager interested in improving her skills in speaking a foreign language but somehow can't get beyond the tedious classroom grammar lessons?  You might introduce her to Livemocha, an interactive online community that includes lessons, chat and motivational tools to keep you (or your older kid) on track in learning a language or two. It's aim is "to build confidence, comprehension and conversational skills."   Livemocha allows you to test your knowledge of a language, take online lessons and best of all, talk with native speakers.  It's focus seems to be on conversational skills, which is precisely what most foreign language lessons in school fail to provide.

You have to  be at least 13 years old to participate and no, it's not free.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Which School?

I get a lot of emails from people asking me which school they should send their child to.  Usually, the person is considering between two schools that teach in different languages.  The latest email comes from Erin, an American mom in Rome who wants to know if she should take her kids out of the private American school that they currently attend to put them in the French school that French kids in Rome attend.

It's hard for me to answer such questions without knowing all the family circumstances and the language abilities of the kids, so I ask parents to consider the following factors in making their decision.

Location: One of the most important considerations in deciding on which school your child will attend is where you live, where the school is and what methods of transport you have at your disposal.  The school you have chosen could be Montessori, have Chinese language immersion and serve organic lunches.  If it's across the city, then it won't be much use to you unless you own a helicopter.

Is there any connection with your family or with where you  are living?: As an expatriate, would I ever send my children to the school where the Spanish kids go?  Not unless we were expatriates in Spain or another Spanish-speaking country.  I'm not Spanish or even Hispanic and neither is my partner.  We don't speak the language, don't know the culture and wouldn't be able to offer an iota of help to our kids.   There is simply no family connection to the Spanish language or culture.  I would rather send my kids to an English school and get them really good in their mother-tongue than put them in a school where they have no connection with home or where they live. 

Keep in mind that I am not talking about language immersion schools that are AIMED at non-native speakers, such as French immersion schools in Canada.  I am talking about sending your kids to the French school where the French kids go or the Spanish school where the Hispanic kids go or the Japanese school where the Japanese kids go.  Your child will suffer unless there is some kind of, well, reason to send them there, like that you happen to live in France or Spain or Japan, or you used to live there and you don't want your child to lose the language that they have learned, or that you are French or Spanish or Japanese.

If your family is bilingual, which school will maintain the weaker language the best?  I speak only English with the kids and my partner speaks only French with them.  The Bambina is in the French system because, without the support of school, French would be her weaker language.  Papa is simply not home enough to ensure that she is is getting sufficient exposure to French.

Considering choosing a local school if you speak another language at home and if you are going to be living in the country for a long time.  Why not?  You live there. Your child might as well learn the language of the street. 

Language immersion schools work best when there is support at home. If you are just a North American family living in North America and want to put your child in a French or Spanish immersion school that is aimed at non-native speakers, consider how much support you will be able to offer your child.  My experience with language immersion kids is that, without the support of a family member who speaks the language, these children end up not being able to speak the immersion language well and, worse, not being able to read or write their native language well.  In the absence of a good support system at home, I would choose a plain old good quality traditional school over a language immersion school.

Monday, 28 September 2009

The Globetrotter's Guide to Starting Solids

The Bambino is five months old and we are starting to think about when and how we might introduce him to some solid food.  You would think that there would be one and only one correct way to start a baby on solid food. In fact, this is apparently not true. It actually depends on where you live.

For the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Anglo-Saxons generally, the traditional first food is rice cereal at age four months. How many parents still do this?  Not sure.

The more educated Anglo-Saxons are well aware that the World Health Organization recommends waiting until six months before introducing solid food.  They might also realize that rice cereal is nothing but empty calories with iron fortification added and start the baby on puréed fruit and veggies at six months.

The most informed Anglo-Saxons have caught onto the Baby-Led Weaning movement, the latest trend in solids. Ditch the rice cereal, skip the purée phase altogether, and offer baby soft pieces of food that he can feed himself (banana, avocado...).

I should add that we Anglo-Saxons are great believers in freedom and autonomy, including for babies and including at the dinner table.  So even though most Anglo-Saxon parents initially spoon-feed their baby, they tend to allow and even encourage their baby to feed herself early on.   I have included a photo of the Bambina at age 10 months, eating some yogurt.

Let me emphasize that this kind of liberty is, as far as I know, offered uniquely to Anglo-Saxon babes.  I have yet to meet a little French, Italian, German, African or Asian infant under one year old (or, dare I say, in some cases, even under TWO) being anything but spoon-fed or finger-fed by an adult.

The French are very keen on introducing baby's palate early to the finer delights of French cuisine. When baby is between the age of four and six months, doctors recommend preparing baby a "soup" in baby's bottle - a mix of puréed vegetables and milk. This way, (1) the movement towards solid food is more gradual and 2) Baby learns to appreciate salty food before sweet food.

Of course, this method assumes that baby is being bottle-fed. It also assumes that this mixture would actually taste somewhat good, which I personally cannot imagine, but I digress.

Pasta in super tiny pieces (kind of like cous cous), offered at four months.  With some parmigiano sprinkled on top for taste and additional iron.  The kid will be eating the same meal (with pasta chunks gradually increased in size) for the next five or so years of his life so he might as well get used to it early on.

Prepare some rice with a little extra water than you would normally add.  Boil it until the excess water becomes kind of creamy and thick.  Drain the rice.  Give baby the residue. 

Now, my thinking on this is, I would never eat that, so why would I offer it to my baby?

This information does not come first-hand but I have a friend who spent many years in Mexico and had a baby there.  One day when the baby was a little over three months, the baby's nursery caregivers informed the baby's mother that they thought that baby was ready for solid food and so had started baby on chocolate that day!  I don't know about the health benefits of chocolate at three months but I can certainly identify with wanting to try it out.  Yummy!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Babygroup à la française

Let me just start by saying that until last week, I had always believed that the very idea of a babygroup was anathema to your average French maman. First, by the time your average mom is ready to attend a babygroup, maman is already getting ready to go back to work (and she's looking forward to it). There are very few French stay-at-home moms.

Secondly, I'm trying to remember the last time I heard French mothers talking to each other about their babies, starting solids, or teething. I can't.

I have heard French moms discuss Sleeping Through the Night. It's the first thing they mention when they see your baby: " Est-ce qu'il fait ses nuits?" they ask, their voices carrying undertones of quiet desperation, in case your six-week old is not yet sleeping 12-hours straight.

But apart from the question of Sleeping Through the Night, which is an obsession of all occidental mamas, I don't think that most French moms enjoy discussing babies the way we Anglo-Saxon moms do. They would rather focus on getting their bodies back into shape, getting their perineum ready for sex again (French social security actually pays for the six sessions of ré-éducation at the physiotherapist. Not bad, eh?), getting ready to return to work, etc. Sitting around with other moms to discuss breastfeeding obstacles or which infant formula one's baby is drinking? What's the point?

So imagine my grande surprise when I discovered that here in Tana, there is (gulp)a French babygroup. Actually, it's a playgroup of mixed ages, including babies. Having now attended the French Playgroup, I have taken it upon myself to write up the following list.

You know you are attending a babygroup à la française when:

1. Half the mothers, er, didn't bring their baby. They left the baby at home with the nanny. They just came for the company.

2. You're the only one breastfeeding. If there is by chance another mother who is still breastfeeding her 10-week old, she will probably get up to find a more private place to do so. Heaven forbid that anyone see her breast bared in a non-sexual context!

3. At least one mother is smoking (I am trying really hard to imagine the reaction of my Anglo-Saxon mommy friends to someone lighting up a cigarette at a playgroup but it's hard to imagine it without laughing).

4. The topics of conversation include anything but babies or children. The idea is to have some enlightened discussion about something (anything!) else, such as where you will be going on vacation, where you have been looking for work, the new house, politics. We Anglo-Saxons might be able to learn something from the French about conversations concerning things other than teething, solids and crawling.

5. Should you start to actually talk about the babies, the discussion will be about which infant formula to buy.

6. You show up in a T-shirt and sweats and find the other moms wearing pencil skirts, high heels and blouses.

7. All the mothers are thin and have perfect bodies, even the ones who have just recently given birth. Also, there is a bowl of cookies on the table but no one is eating them except you.

8. None of them have ever heard of, or care about, Dr. Sears, Dr. Brazelton, Dr. Weissbluth, Dr. Ferber, Dr. Grandsenne, Dr. Rufo or any other famous doctor, American, French or other, who has written some treatise on raising a baby. However, their own child's pediatrician is God.

All this to say that parenting is definitely cultural.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Cloth versus disposable around the world

Back in Canada when I was growing up, lots of parents used a cloth diaper service for their baby. Every week, you handed the truck driver your bag of dirty diapers and in exchange, you received a bag full of folded clean ones, all ready for your little one to sully.

When I was pregnant with the Bambina in France five years ago, I said to the Frenchman, "so I guess we'll just sign up for a cloth diaper service, n'est-ce pas?."

When it was clear that he didn't know what on earth I was talking about, I said "you know, the truck comes by every week and you hand over your dirty diapers and you get clean ones."

The Frenchman wondered at this point if I was not from another planet rather than just another country. "Zees does not exeest in France," he said. And he promptly went out to buy a jumbo pack of size 2 Pampers in preparation for the arrival of our daughter.

And at the time, he was right. Diaper delivery services didn't exist in France. So, imagine my surprise when I checked out the May 2009 edition of Parents magazine (purchased in Madagascar in August!) to find .... an article on cloth diapers! Not only do cloth diapers and diaper services now exist in France, they are actually becoming... dare I say it , trendy??

Of course, just as parents in the West are starting to consider cloth diapering as a serious option once again, arguments against using them are rearing their ugly head. In 2005, a study carried out by an advisory board to the UK Environment Agency concluded that cloth diapers had equal the impact of disposable nappies. I still don't believe it. The study assumed that you would be washing your nappies every day in 90 degree celcius water on the mega-long cycle and putting them in the dryer for drying.

Which brings me to the next point (for which I would like to thank Green Living Tips) - When you use cloth nappies, you can control how much you damage the earth - you can wash them every two or three nights only, you can wash them at 40 degrees celcius (totally sufficient), you can buy your cloth diapers used (why not? They're even more absorbant than the new ones), you can use hemp or bamboo nappies instead of the environmentally less friendly cotton ones, and you can dry them in the sun - the best natural disinfectant going.

You don't have these options when you use disposables.

Here in Madagascar and the rest of the developing world, avoiding disposable nappy use is even more important, for a few reasons:

1) Disposable diapers are expensive here.

2) You can only buy disposable diapers in packages of about 30, making it difficult to stock up. That's not an assuring situation when you consider that stores run out of stock quickly here. If you run out, you won't necessarily find more when you need them (or you might at least have to hit a few shops to find them). Also bear in mind that in the event of another coup d'état, you may not be able to shop at all for a few weeks...

3) Discarded disposible diapers contain human waste. Human waste that sits in landfills (especially landfills in developing countries) can contaminate the local drinking water with harmful bacteria and viruses causing intestinal illnesses, polio and hepatitis.

All that being said, I do put my baby in a disposable diaper whenever we are travelling and as his final diaper before he goes to sleep at night.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Nannies in the Colonial World

The typical expericance with nannies in former colonies can be described as follows:

1. Move into house. Say hello to the cook, the gardiner, the chauffeur and the nanny. They come with the house. You cannot fire them. (Well, you could try, but it would be hard and you would be in the bad books of half the local families, so not worth the risk). Welcome to your household for the next five years.

2. Hand the baby over to the nanny.

3. Kiss your baby good-bye.

4. Expect to see your baby again when he is five years old, unless you ask nanny before then if you might be permitted to, er, maybe hold or even (gasp!) feed the baby.

5. Expect nanny to take offence when you ask her this. After all, who are you to interfere with her job of raising your child. Go and find some other colonial mothers to play cards with!

6. Expect the baby to be speaking nanny's dialect better than your language by the time baby is two years old.

This is the scenario that people had warned me about and sure enough, our nanny, who has just started today (she didn't come with the house) seems kind of surprised that I, er, still expect to be with my 4 month old baby quite a bit and that (gasp!) she can't feed him (he's "still" breastfed, as she noted.)

"And when will he start to drink milk from a bottle?", she asked me.

"Never", I replied.

I think she realised then that I wouldn't be a typical neo-colonial mom.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Preparing Your Child for Life in the Third World

When I told our almost-five year old daughter that we were moving to Madagascar, I thought that I had been pretty thorough. We looked for Madagascar on the map, together. I showed her photos of lemurs. I showed her aerial photos of the capital city, Antananarivo (Tana, for short). I told her that the people there speak Malagasy (or malgache, as it is referred to in French), and that their skin was a different colour from ours (most are of Indonesian/Polynesian descent; some are black African).

What I didn't tell her was the following:

- The city is dirty. The roads are very dusty and there is garbage everywhere.

- The city is very polluted. You can't walk down the street unless you don't mind inhaling car fumes that were banned in the 1970s in Europe.

- Poverty and misery are everywhere, staring at you in the face.

The first day after our arrival in Tana, we drove (or should I say, our chauffeur drove us) down the main avenue of the city.

Bambina: Mommy?

Me: Yes.

Bambina (staring all around her, wide-eyed): I think the people here are very very poor.

Me: yes, they are.

Bambina: Mommy, why are the buildings here all falling apart?

Me: Because people here are very poor, honey. There is no money to fix up and maintain the houses and shops.

Bambina: In Rome, the buildings were beautiful. I want to go back to Rome.

The next day, in the car, after passing the umpteenth child with extended hands at the window of our car, the Bambina blurts out, angrily:

Naughty mommy for not telling me that people in Madagascar are poor. Naughty!

And every day thereafter, moaning and growing that Madagascar (or at least Tana) was not beautiful, that everyone is poor here, that the people here wear dirty clothes and have no shoes, that there was too much dust everywhere, that she missed her old house, her old friends and her old city.

My daughter was suffering from culture shock.

Yep, I should have told her more about the poverty and misery before we arrived. I think she has only just recently forgiven me for this error in judgment. The next move, I'll be sure to prepare her a little better for the shocking reality of the third world (not that I'll need to now that we are here).

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

What has happened since I last wrote in this blog:

End of March: My darling partner, the Frenchman, is released from house arrest (That's right, house arrest. The caribinieri had arrested him for suspected mafia activity. He was innocent, of course, but the Italian justice system has a nut loose. Poor Frenchman spent two weeks in a prison in Potenza over Christmas and then three months under house arrest in our apartment in Rome. Of course, he wasn't allowed any visitors or telephone calls while under house arrest so all he did all day was work on the computer (which explains why I was rarely able to update this blog...)).

April: The Frenchman's employer informs us that we are moving continents.

April 25: I give birth to a darling baby boy, the Bambino, in April, at home. I feel like a carwreck afterwards but am nonetheless thrilled about my little Bambino.

May and June: With the help of movers, I pack all our belongings. The Frenchman has already left to seek out a new home at our next destination.

End June: We leave Rome and spend two weeks in Paris (France, that is, of course).

Finally, in July, we move to.....


And so, the Globetrotter Parent will continue this weblog from her new island domicile...

(Now I just have to wait for someone to comment "I like to move it, move it. I like to move it, move it...")

Sunday, 1 March 2009

The European Birth Experience

My daughter was born in France. It was, I would say, a fairly classic birth scene, from a Western point of view: public hospital, epidural, electronic fetal monitoring, and I pushed the baby out while lying on my back (although they were nice enough to put the bed at a slight angle so that I was not lying completely flat!). I had to specifically tell the midwife that I would not consent to an episiotomy. Otherwise, she would have given me one as a matter of routine.

Oh, and their breastfeeding advice was the standard rubbish - the midwife told me to breastfeed maximum 15 minutes each breast every three hours - sore nipples and all that, you know.

There were some differences between my French birth and a standard North American birth. For one, there was no obstectrician present, just a midwife. I have learned from my experience in France and Italy that, contrary to what many natural birth advocates will tell you, women giving birth in countries who use midwives to manage low-risk births do not necessarily have more "natural" births. Not at all. In fact, what tends to happen is that the midwives are simply trained to be "general practitioner" doctors of childbirth.

Another small progressive aspect of my French experience: upon baby's exit into the world, the midwife immediately placed baby on my chest and left us for a while to bond. Also, the c-section rate in France was not too high at the time - about 20 percent in public hospitals, higher in private clinics. And in the hospital where I gave birth, they encouraged mothers to "room in" with baby - if only because the hospital didn't have the money or space to provide a separate nursery.

I haven't given birth yet in Italy but here is what I have learned so far from my yoga instructor, midwife and the many women whom I have talked to (not very scientific, I know!):

- As in France, Italy uses midwives for most births, but the midwives and doctors almost always work in teams (unlike in France where the doctor only shows up at the birth in an emergency).
- Most hospitals and clinics in Italy will encourage a woman to move around during the first stage of labour. The midwife is there to assist during the first stage.
- Electronic fetal monitoring is rarely used.
- Epidurals are not available at all hospitals and where available, it has to be "reserved" ahead of time.
- Women are encouraged or forced to lie flat on their backs during the second stage of labour, so that the midwife and doctor "can intervene more easily".
- Episiotomies are pretty much routine.
- The c-section rate is about 40 percent for all of Italy, much higher in the south (80 percent in some regions!) and much lower in the North.
- It is apparently difficult (at least in Rome) to find a hospital that will allow "rooming in" with the baby.

Personally, between an episiotomy and a cesarean, I think I might go for the cesarean. I'm hoping for neither one, though, as I have decided to forego the hospital battles and give home!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Birthing around the world - Le Premier Cri

I finally was able to watch the movie, Le Premier Cri (The First Cry). If you haven't seen and you are interested in birth, this film is for you. This documentary about birth takes you around the world - to the United States, Mexico, Brazil, France, Niger, India, Russia, Japan, Vietnam - to witness all kinds of births - home, hospital, in the desert, in the sea, in a pool, natural, medicalized, cesarian, with a doctor present, completely unassisted, the works. Of course, along with the actual birth, you get to see how culture, wealth, religion and physical environment affect how and where women give birth.

Some reviews gave the director, Gilles de Maistre, slack for allegedly slanting the documentary towards natural birth. But as the vast majority of births in our world are still natural and take place at home, I don't think one can criticize the director for being representative in his choices of what to film. Also, Le Premier Cri does not, by any means, paint a rosy picture of all natural births. One bedouin gave birth in the desert and the baby was stillborn. Another woman had an unassisted birth in the United States and three hours after the birth, the placenta still had not come out. She risked bleeding to death. Fortunately, her friend (who was neither a doctor nor a midwife) managed to reach in and take it out!

Le Premier Cri does not pass judgment on how any of the births take place, natural or medicalized. And if there is one thing that you do learn from the film, it's that childbirth might be universal but just like everything else, how you go about it can sure depend on where you live!

Monday, 19 January 2009

Moving on...

It's been a while since I last posted! Lots has been happening in our little globetrotter family since then. For one, we have a globetrotter baby on the way this May! Baby might not get much of a chance to experience Italy, however, as it is entirely possible that we'll move to another destination before the end of this summer. On the other hand, my four-year old will have had her fill of Italy. In addition to expecting pasta at every meal, she now speaks Italian fairly fluently, albeit with an anglo accent. She will likely forget most of her Italian once we move from here but I am told that she will retain a predisposition for it later in life, should she choose to learn the language again.

In other moving on news, our friends Steve and Linda, an American couple living in Rome and parents to three girls, have announced that they are moving to Bali, Indonesia for a year. They aren't moving there for the beaches or the weather. They're going for the schools! Or should I say, one school in particular. Meet The Green School. Providing a holistic education for children from pre-school to year 8, this school combines ecological awareness and the pedogogy of Rudolph Steiner with the academically rigourous international baccalaureate programme. And the school is built almost entirely of bamboo!

The Green School has been making waves in the mainstream press. CNN International recently did a report on The Green School in its program Eco Solutions. The New York Times mentioned it in its travel section in September 2008. And a recent issue of Conde Nast magazine even recommends to its readers to visit the school as a tourest destination, stating "Harvest lemongrass, rambutan and tapioca alongside students in the garden, milk goats for the school's own organic ice cream, and enjoy a gourmet lunch plucked straight from the surrounding fields." I think I'll skip on the goat's milk ice cream and continue enjoying my gelato for the time being. But the rest of the school sure sounds good to me.

I'm just wondering if there are other families out there who have changed cities or countries principally for a school that they have chosen for their kids. Anyone?