The first month

We’ve survived the first month. The little guy is currently snoozing in the weak snow-flickering light, although you wouldn’t know it from the sounds erupting from him. I’d forgotten how disproportionate to their size is the noise a baby makes (and how amusing. So much gas is never not funny). I’ve done a day and a half sans Tim – he went back to work yesterday – and thus far the casualty count is limited to burp cloths. There’s still another half day before he gets home, though, so please don’t consider me cocky.

As many people advised before our Teddly’s arrival, it’s easier the second time around. I’m not as nervous, edgy, scared I’ll break or ruin him (or if I do, he can moan about it with his sister on family holidays to come). Practically, things are working better: feeding, anti-Houdini swaddling techniques, knowing to tag team. We’re more confident as parents, and our nightly game plan sessions are much tighter and have been far more successful than the surreal, exhausting early weeks with Addie. It ain’t perfect (surely it’s not asking too much for a four week old to sleep for, say, twelve hours straight?), but it’s working.

We’re all dancing the newborn dance, of course. Ads has been wonderful. She chooses his clothes (she had them both adorably wearing owl-themed outfits yesterday), laughs hysterically at any and all of his bodily functions, and says ‘hey miiiiiiister’ in manner soothing when he cries. Naturally it’s not all easy sailing – her terrible twoness has escalated and her long suffering father is in her bad books far more than deserved, but generally it’s been lovely to watch her become the title of her second favourite book: a Big Sister (her first favourite? Everybody Poos. Fine literature is another joy I shall forever associate with parenthood).

Motsy’s holidays – four heavenly weeks! – were slow and cosy, but we managed to wander around snow covered Luzern nonetheless: to play in frosted-over parks, choose his baroque-themed Fasnacht costume, toboggan at the lake and, one glorious night, cycle to the Neustadt for a decadent dinner sans bambinis (with much thanks to their visiting Gra). For a moment, jumping on our bikes, dressed up and filled with anticipation for the evening ahead, felt like a return to the early days of our relationship where we’d cycle off to dinner or a drink, carefree and jubilant. (It then started snowing in time for the cycle home, and we started looking at our watches and counting the hours of precious sleep we’d get if we left immediately, and thus the spell was broken).

And I’m learning, clumsily, how to juggle our wee family of four. There was a fairly botched walk to kita this morning – when will I learn to check the weather, and thus avoid striding out into heavy snow thoroughly unprepared? – and a rather manic grocery store outing yesterday, but otherwise the feeding and sleeping and tea cup drawing routine is slowly becoming my new normal. That, and trying to keep our offspring alive and (largely) unharmed for five more hours until their father’s return.

And then, we were four

I write this on a foggy winter’s afternoon at my kitchen table. I’m not entirely sure, even when I stop to think, what day it is. I am wearing  – still, sadly – maternity jeans and shirt, not because I remain pregnant but because disappointingly I have not instantly lost the twenty odd kilos I gained over the last nine months. I am also, bizarrely and humiliatingly (and admittedly amusingly), wearing a pair of hospital issue stretchy white underpants with the crotch cut out of them, my arms thrust through the leg holes, as a crop top of sorts. Into this I’ve shoved two ice packs that are regularly swapped out – at my midwife’s instance – with cabbage leaves and this weird tigerbalm-scented paste called Pasta Boli (not the kind you eat, she helpfully advised). Birth itself is of course undignified, but it feels like it’s nothing on these early weeks of motherhood.

However! Our boy is here! Little Theodore Winton arrived precisely on his due date, endearing him forever to his prompt mother’s heart. His birth was almost the opposite of my experience with his sister; gory details aside, this time was far easier and much less traumatic. The most surprising aspect of the birthing procedure was the mingling of alternative medical practices with the more standard delivery process. At various times I was fed different homeopathic concoctions, assorted aromatherapy treatment was pumped through the room depending on my current state, and I was given acupuncture towards the end of labour itself. I’m finding the same with my midwife – there’s a surprising focus on alternate options and traditional practices; and to be fair, they appear to have worked. I had assumed that the seemingly clinical, straight-and-narrow Swiss would not be so into alternate treatment options, but on reflection maybe it makes more sense that a comprehensive and thorough approach to healthcare is taken rather than the more linear one we have at home.

We left the hospital six hours after little Teddy was born. I’d not even contemplated doing this prior, but in the absence of a family room and due to the smoothness of the birth we decided we’d be happier heading home. We were back in time for a patchy night’s sleep and to wake our little miss on her birthday, the highlight of which was hearing her say ‘niiiiiiice’ when she saw her new brother.

We hosted Swissmas again this year, with the life savers that are my bestie and Tim’s sister and bro-in-law, who kept us not only alive but alarmingly well fed and watered during our first week as parents of two. I’d thoroughly recommend recruiting them if you ever wish to extend your family and still feel like a human being. There was raclette, a life-threatening glühwein maker, a ridiculous amount of gifts (Ads went from not knowing what a present was to demanding to open all of them in about two minutes flat), lots of champagne, many tasty treats from home, and a few not-so-silent nights.

Now, we’re in that no-man’s-land between Christmas and New Year, which is only compounded with the haziness of a newborn (and the sick resident two year old, just to keep us on our toes). We’ve a week or so before Tim’s mum arrives, during which we’re tentatively feeling our way as a family of four (or eight, if you include Peppa Pig and her fambam, who I confess are making fairly regular visits to the Purler household), capitalising on the frozen meals I feverishly prepared prior to his arrival, and enjoying being wrapped in the newborn cocoon. Right now, though, both bambinis are asleep, so we’re indulging in a cheeky wine and leftover Christmas cheese platter (possibly with a mint slice chaser). And cabbage leaves.

Festive

It’s beginning, as they say, to feel a lot like Christmas. I’ve always loved this time of year – even more so now it’s special for my little Christmas kinder – and it’s definitely magical over in this neck of the woods. My wanderings / waddlings through the glittering streets of Luzern are currently limited, but happily neighbouring windows are filled with Advent candles, sparkling lights (or stars, as the little miss calls them) and an increasing number of Christmas trees. We’ve gotten in on the action as well, counting down the days of the season.

(Incidentally, I am not sure how I parented prior to Advent calendar related bribes; the girl lives for the crappy promotional calendar her father received from work, and our lives are far simpler when she stops to think of chocolate consequences. Advent year round, anyone?)

Every year, my mother-in-law’s close friend hosts ‘Pudding Day’, an event much anticipated during the festive season. Family and friends gather at her house, usually around a month prior to Christmas, to do exactly what the name implies: make puddings. I have never attended but have happily been on the eating side of the equation many times. Although Christmas Pudding is not a Swiss tradition, it’s definitely a Purler one (I think Tim is still slightly disappointed there was none at our table last year), and so this year – fortunately armed with the Official Pudding Day Recipe – the inaugural Swiss Pudding Day was implemented. Naturally, my wee helper was in the festive (gingerbread batter stealing) spirit.

A few friends swung by with their little ones to measure, mix and assemble the puddings (and imbibe festive prosecco, of course). I’m fairly sure the wish Addie made while stirring the pudding was to eat only icing and sprinkles for lunch which, happily for her, came true.

To carry on with the cheer – and in contradiction to the advice of the hospital to stay within about twenty minutes of Luzern until the bubba arrives – we rebelliously hit the road to visit the Christmas markets in Einsiedeln (a whole forty minutes away. Living on the edge, me). Touted as the best markets in our vicinity, we weren’t disappointed as we pulled in to the bustling town.

Centred around a Benedictine Abbey, the town also boasted the ‘largest nativity scene’ in the world. I was imagining a giant-sized cradle filled with a terrifyingly large Baby Jesus, but they meant largest in terms of scope. A panoramic scene, complete with models, the nativity took over six years to create and is a geographically accurate representation of the holy land; all figurine’s joints were fully moveable and all animals were carved from single pieces of wood. It was impressive, but having promised Adelaide enormous cows (with matching enormous ‘mooooooooos’) I am afraid I under delivered slightly.

The markets themselves were fab, though, and filled with exactly the right amount of Christmas fun times (by which I mean every third stand sold glühwein).

Like the enormous Baby Jesus, there was happily no sign of our own baby, and other than meat-on-stick sword fights the afternoon passed merrily. Tonight, we’re preparing for yet another Swiss Christmas tradition: Samiclaus is due to pay us a visit. He leaves good (cough heavily bribed) children peanuts, clementines, chocolate and gingerbread in their boots, which are left outside the door the night prior. Addie has nodded off to sleep saying ‘shoes, cake, shoes, cake’ so I rather think said bribes might have worked their magic.

Pregnancy, Swiss-style

Summer is well and truly over. When visible through the fog the Alps have gone from being craggy black rocks to icing-sugar-dusted peaks, to one of those Pinterest style cakes that has the icing faux-casually half schmeared on it, to the full blown thickly and lusciously covered wedding cake affair. The leaves are at their most stunning, the afternoons golden and crisp, and Magenbrot is back at the markets (a spicy Autumn cookie that I love the most). Herbst is, no question, my best. This year I’ve paradoxically both slowed down and been super productive due to the phenomenon that’s only occurred for me once before: nesting.

In preparation for the Baby Apocalypse, meals have been prepped and frozen (in the Australian freezer we initially kicked ourselves for bringing, but for which we are now grateful), the pantry audited, culled and restocked. Prams, baby seats, cots, toys and ridiculous teeny tiny winter wear covered in dinosaurs are taking over our cellar. Shelves have been assembled and organised prettily but terribly impractically, most definitely not in a child friendly manner. Our weird indoor balcony area has become a sunroom (although fogroom may be a more accurate description on days such as today), with a day bed purchased and set up to maximise winter rays and mountain views. All that’s missing is a newborn with whom to snuggle (the resident toddler refuses to sit still long enough for anything better than a stolen one-armed-hug). A hospital has finally been chosen; by default, really, as it was the one that got back to me with an English speaking tour guide. The Christmas shopping, if not actually completed, is pretty much taken care of and that in itself is something of a seasonal miracle. I’ve also spent a lot of time on the afore mentioned daybed, napping and drinking lovely warm drinks (cough eating Magenbrot) and oscillating between feeling sorry for myself (I have been asked now many times if I am expecting twins due to how large I am. While this is good for my German conversation skills, it is absolutely wretched for my ego) and getting excited for the times ahead.

This pregnancy has been a very different experience from the last – physically, emotionally and practically. Physically, I had no issues whatsoever the first time. I was tottering around in high heels at work at eight months, for heaven’s sakes. This time….hoo boy. I’m enormous and sore and still queasy and doesn’t everyone know all about it (I confess I am not the most pleasant of people to be around, what with all the moaning and groaning. You’d think I was the first person to have a baby). Emotionally, the pregnancy with Addie was tough as we weren’t sure how her health would pan out, and it was a terribly stressful time as we tried to prepare for the unknown and the worst at the same time. This round has been a dream. The lad is growing perfectly, and even if he wasn’t our experience from last time has shown us that it will be alright – that we’ll manage, and love our kid, and do our best for him whatever happens. As a result I’ve been far more relaxed about the whole experience, feeling excited as opposed to nervous about the upcoming months.

Practically there have been quite a few differences being pregnant here rather than in Australia. System wise, I’ve found both to be excellent although they couldn’t be more different in structure. No public health care exists in Switzerland; it’s a private insurance model and, like everyone, we pay monthly premiums as well as the gap on any treatments (although this is waived after the 13th week of pregnancy). Monthly visits and scans with an obstetrician is par for the course, as opposed to the two major scans received at home (we had more because of potential pickles, but that is generally what the public system allows). All my medications – prenatal vitamins, iron tablets and the like – are provided by the obstetrician at the appointment, which suits a lazy person like myself admirably. Conversely and not so conveniently, I have to find my own midwife to do home visits following the birth which naturally I left a little late for a Festive Season Bub (curse all the professionals who want Christmas holidays). There are also apparently different naming conventions here – I’m not sure how accurate this is, but word on the street is that the baby’s name needs to be submitted prior to birth and the Swiss generally don’t allow hyphenation of last names. Given that we’re foreigners, there’s apparently flexibility with this for us. This is a relief because although agreed on his first two names, neither of us will let the last one go so we have another poor double-barrelled baby on the way.

My favourite difference – and more than likely a direct correlation with my increased enjoyment of pregnancy – is the Swiss approach to pregnancy food safety. In Australia, there were many restrictions recommended which I generally followed throughout my first pregnancy. To make sure I had it covered here, during one of my first appointments I asked the obstetrician about the Swiss guidelines and she looked at me as if I had two heads. I was told firmly that smoking was out (which, other than in our German lesson ‘fantasie’ conversations I don’t do, so no arguments here) but other than that, what did I mean? I mumbled about soft cheese and salami and booze and pre-packaged salad and she actually laughed at me. I was told that some drinking is alright – up to* two drinks per day is fine (!) – and everything else…is no problem at all. Happiest of days. (For the record, I was super cautious the first trimester and I still refrain from things like sushi in a land-locked country, but I do that sans baby bump anyway as a matter of principle. After that, though, I’ve lightened up and it’s been great. It could also explain the twins-related comments I have been receiving, sigh.)

So, insofar as one can be prepared for the onslaught that is an additional human into one’s life, I guess we are. There’s about seven weeks to go if he takes after me, and who knows how long if he takes after his far less reliable father. As long as he’s evicted before Christmas Day, this mama will be happy – although with the Swiss rules it’s not as if I’d have to miss out on my Christmas fizz anyway.

* Obviously the ‘up to’ here is key. From what I’ve observed, and excluding all-out party times like Fasnacht, the Swiss have nothing like the drinking culture we’re used to (slash fond of). It’s a very moderated and much healthier society and while people definitely drink it’s not the excessive binge mentality that is frequently the cultural and social norm in Australia (which is not by any stretch of the imagination a bad thing, particularly given the associated public ugliness that frequently ensues at home). So for most Swiss mamas-to-be, to carry on with normal drinking practices – one every now and then – is grand. For me, a couple here and there and plenty of nights off is definitely a reduction but obviously one I’ve been more than happy to make. Because one or two here and there is loads better than none!

 

Snapshots

There are changes afoot, a shift in our daily gears. Maybe it is in part due to the deteriorating summer – the air is now chill in the mornings, the sun richer and mellow in the afternoons, the leaves starting to look towards the ground. The girl is off to kita – she’s doing her induction at the moment – and for the first time in her little life, and perhaps the most significant part of mine, we’ll be apart. My burgeoning belly is also a visual reminder of all that lies ahead, now impossible to forget or ignore. There are things from now – from this time before – that I want to remember, hang on to.

Her gangly frame, all limbs and enthusiasm, when she sits cuddled on my lap. Her little legs already dangle impossibly to my calves. Those same legs fearlessly climb, run, bruise, scrape, and one day – no doubt sooner than I expect it – won’t tangle with mine anymore.

The murmurs of the new baby; the whispers and wriggles and thumps, unexpected yet so familiar, a reminder that he’ll be with us so soon but until then, for this lovely last time, it’s just me and him.

The late summer lake afternoons, where she has learned to play by herself, fully absorbed in the movement of sand to water to bucket to hand (and, sigh, mouth). The occasional glance to me with a quick smile, the shimmering pride in her little face mirrored against the glassy water, the mountains, the sky.

The abandon with which she runs to her father when he returns home from work, her gasps of ‘Dada!’ shifting the focus of the evening. The giggles as the two of them play – way too energetically before bed time, but how can such a sweet sound be resisted? Her three ‘Swiss kisses’ as he leaves each morning, her cool, soft cheeks the sweetest of all gifts.

While the excitement for the next stage for our little family is mounting, it’s hard to imagine how we could be happier, fuller than we are now, to understand what this shift in our lives will bring. But life before her is unthinkable*, and even though it’s hard to predict how, there’s a comfort and security in knowing that in a few short months, these pre-fourth-Purler times will also become a distant, hazy, inconceivable memory.

*not strictly true. A sleep in every now and then wouldn’t go astray.

 

On work, again

Part of our relocation package – now a fairly distant ten months ago – was support for me to find a new gig in Switzerland. As I’ve written previously I’ve felt unsure about what I want to do with myself here (and generally) work-wise, especially since a lot of the time I feel like I’m on an extended holiday (however erroneous that may actually be). The employment consultants cautioned me that it takes an average of nine months to find work here – a figure that includes locals – but I somewhat arrogantly ignored this, assuming they were managing my expectations and that I would likely be considering a bunch of offers within weeks.

The process itself has been useful. It included the usual (I presume, not having needed such a service before) employment support: clueing me up to resume writing in a new country, the types of questions to ask, and how to behave in interviews. There were some really useful aspects: my consultant scoured advertisements and found likely matches for me, something it turns out I am waaaaay too lazy to do thoroughly myself when not desperate for work. It was also reassuring: not much was unexpected and as a result my confidence was boosted, which after eighteen months of long walks, lunches and excessive social media use childrearing was welcome.

Some basic differences – they love a passport photo on a CV here, as well as inclusion of (in my opinion) not entirely relevant information such as my marital status and age. I’m still not committed to ‘international’ spelling (organization in particular kills me). Jobs aren’t advertised with the salary; this is something that is silently benchmarked and only really discussed once the position is offered. I was advised against too much ‘me’ and ‘I’ talk in the interview stage as it can be too showy and self promoting.

As it turns out, a lot of this was irrelevant. I applied for five roles during the time I had the employment support with a net call back of…zero. I don’t wish to sound arrogant, but this has been a decided first for me. I’ve got over 20 years experience in my field, and an undergrad and master’s degree, but said field doesn’t exist in even remotely the same context here making the aforementioned experience and education…redundant, as it were. Admittedly five is not many and I’ve been reviewing positions ever since, but between required travel (not impossible, but difficult with the little one and Tim’s commitments), not speaking any German (unless there’s a role that specialises in talking only about fruit and the various colours of dogs) and no direct connection between the required education and experience and mine – I’m in a bit of a pickle. I’m in the extremely fortunate position that I don’t absolutely have to work (don’t get me wrong, it’d be great for both our finances and my head space) but I’d be lying if I said my ego wasn’t wounded. I had always imagined smugly turning job offers down because I wanted to stay home with my little one, as opposed to having absolutely zero choice in the matter.

So with my pride somewhat battered, I decided to take a breather and reassess my options. After a lot of discussion with Motsy, we agreed I’d keep an eye on jobs and apply for anything that seemed feasible until the end of the year. If I had no luck doing this, I’d consider pitching to companies directly with more specific alignment with my skills. Alternately, I’d consider upgrading my education (which would also solve the head space issue) to something little more relevant and transferrable, perhaps an MBA. Failing all the above I was going to give in and drink chardonnay with lunch every day, because clearly being a stay at home mum is my destiny.

Which, as it turns out, is what I’ll stick at doing for the foreseeable future (sadly sans chardonnay). Because around the time these decisions were occurring another was unwittingly made: our second bub is on the way, due to arrive just in time for Christmas. To say I’m delighted is a complete understatement, and not least because it means a path has effectively been decided for me. Is that an epic copout? Perhaps. I’m surprised how much relief I feel at not actually having to be proactive – something I rarely shy away from. I’m not sure what, if anything, this means.

What I am sure of is that we’re pretty darn excited about the fourth Purler arriving. (I’m slightly concerned that Addie’s current favourite game is throwing the toy baby on the ground from various heights and giggling ‘uh-oh’, knowing full well it was no accident, but we’ve got months to iron that out.) Baby shopping is just about the cutest shopping there is and I intend to fully embrace it (maternity wear shopping…not so much). I’m also perversely pleased it’s another Christmas baby – they can complain together about how crap their birthdays are (or just get on board and embrace the festive time of year wholeheartedly). But mostly, this is – unlike my mythical Swiss job – something that we didn’t assume would come our way, and as such we feel like the luckiest family in the world.

Our little one year old

It took me a long time to realise I wanted to have a kid – I genuinely wasn’t sold for many years. Once I finally decided it might be a grand idea, of course it wasn’t that simple. We weren’t sure we’d be actually be able to; there was a fantasy back up plan in case we couldn’t (an apartment in Walsh Bay, complete with child unfriendly decor and lifestyle). But unbelievably, thrillingly and terrifyingly we found out she was on her way two Easters ago; due to arrive the following Christmas. Our little holiday baby.

The pregnancy was awesome for me. I had no morning sickness and although tired it was nothing unbearable. I didn’t show until well after six months (and then it all happened one weekend, just like that. I rocked up at work on Monday and it was like I got knocked up, immediately and enormously, over the weekend). For the vast bulk of it I was bursting with energy, although I maintain that it was more likely the fact that I was off the turps for the longest time since…well, let’s not count. (At one stage during said pregnancy, I told Tim I felt so great that I was considering never drinking again. Exhibit A: red wine in my hand as I type. Sigh.)

It wasn’t so great for our girl though. Halfway through, we found out that one of her kidneys hadn’t developed properly. We started going for more regular check ups, and at each appointment the news got worse. The kidney was pelvic, non-functioning. There were a lot of cysts throughout her wee body and it was hard to tell which organs were affected and what the outcome would be. Her bowel may not have developed, or may have blockages, potentially requiring surgery immediately after birth and then throughout her young life. I was advised to go on a tour of the neonatal intensive care unit to prepare myself (and did, right before a fairly important work meeting. Worst diary management ever).

On the scale of problems that we could have had it was completely manageable; she was always going to make it and there is so much worse that can happen. But it was devastating in its way and after waiting a long time for her it was hard to understand, to rationalise. Uncharacteristically we made an effort to discuss it with people, mainly to prepare ourselves. Unsurprisingly everyone was lovely about it; people always are. But what did surprise me was the number of people who – in a completely non-callous way – sort of shrugged it off, said it wouldn’t matter and that all would be well. At the time I was a little affronted; I knew they didn’t mean it dismissively but it wasn’t until she came along that I really understood the intent.

Because, of course, none of that matters at all. She could have been perfectly healthy, and we would have loved her completely. She could have been terribly unwell, and we would have felt exactly the same. Other than wanting her to be as pain free as possible, her health or any other variable factors don’t matter at all. As it happens, her scenario is one of the better cases presented to us – only one kidney and a bunch of cysts, but an excellent long term prognosis (she needs to be careful around salt, but that just means her mama will take the hot chips for the team). I guess I could not fully understand this prior to her arriving, even though everyone tells you that’s how you’ll feel, but we couldn’t love her any more than we do.

She turns one tomorrow. Like all parents say, it’s been both the longest and the swiftest year of my life. There have been monumental events, like our move to The Europes, which would have been unlikely to occur without her being born. There have been less dramatic but nonetheless life changing events, like the first time she belly laughed, which was the single best sound I’ve ever heard (and the thrill has not worn off; I suspect she’ll be belly laughing at fifty and I’ll be loving it the most).

As always, my feelings are better encapsulated by someone else, in this case her father. There was a night, early on, when we’d been up multiple times with her for hours on end and we were both exhausted – nothing new for parents of small babies. Tim turned to me, bleary eyed at about 4am and said ‘she’s brought so much love into our lives’. And for that, our little one year old Adelaide Thea, we are the luckiest people in the world.