The Past Weeks

Even Littler is over 6 weeks now! He is cuter and cuter and becoming more and more alert and smiley.

Not much is going on though.

So to combat some boredom I signed up for a subscription to Le Monde which I was reading daily back during confinement. I do like to have a French perspective on things and there is a 15% discount for educators (which comes to 1.50€ off per month so not huge but whatever).

I watch a lot of La Maison des Maternelles on replay (because tbh we are usually sleeping at 9 am) and Netflix.

I successfully got Even Littler in the baby scarf this morning and took him out for a little walk without any slippage. #Win

And I signed up for the agrégation externe (public exam) just now. I got the comments on my orals by telephone yesterday from a lovely professor who was on the jury (though not any of the groups who actually listened to me) and who explained as best she could what her colleagues had written down. It was very insightful and she encouraged me to try again this year. I still am not quite motivated for this year—maybe once maternity leave is over and I’m in the swing of my new, lighter work schedule I’ll feel differently.

The Past Weeks

Clearly this blog has taken a hit in the past year. I’m on maternity leave now till December, so we’ll see if any real effort can take hold to revive it!

In order to talk about our second baby boy, I think I’m going to just call him Even Littler. As in Roro, Even Littler Man. I think something better is probably conceivable—I was thinking about Roro, He Who Squeaks, or just Squidgy 2, but Even Littler really just makes more sense. I mean he probably will stop the cute squeaks in a few months.

Anyway life with Even Littler is really calm for now. Littlest himself is causing us much more stress than his little brother, and by us, I mean J, since he’s the one who gets up with him in the morning since I nurse Even Littler at night. So the 5, 6 am wake-ups have been rough on him.

A few paperwork things have gotten done over the past few weeks. I managed to send off my US passport application before Even Littler was born, though very bizarrely I received the actual new passport back in the mail before the accusé de réception card for the application… ?!?!

I also received my US ballot by e-mail yesterday, though apparently the Bexar County website is overrun with connections, or down, or something, so I can’t actually download it yet. Fingers cross that sh*t gets sorted out real fast.

I also ordered a rental breast pump online from Grandir Nature, which was supposed to arrive in the mail yesterday morning but apparently the French post is keeping up its reputation of failing, so I’m still waiting for it. It’s not urgent. But I wanted something more portable than what the pharmacy gave me last time.

We managed to get birth announcements in the mail last week. Like with Littlest I picked a model a month ago with just one picture, making it easier to get them done once the baby’s here. And we take a picture ourselves rather than waiting for professionals—though we will have professional pictures to look at tomorrow that were taken at the hospital.

Anyway, here’s an article that gives a positive take on my life right now:

Il est là !

Squidgy number 2 (not an official title) arrived at 40 weeks 1 day after a good deal of wondering on my part when he would show up. He wasn’t late by any means—American due dates are counted at 40 weeks and French at 41, but since Littlest arrived at 38 weeks 6 days, I hadn’t that experience of an extra week of anticipation before. It was a strange time, full of acid reflux and bad sleep, but also sort of wanting to hold off a little longer on throwing our whole life up in the air.

Labor with this squidgy was almost identical to labor with Littlest, though there were absolutely no signs he was coming this time right up until my water broke—nothing even to interpret in retrospect. Good covert work on the baby’s part. My water broke just after midnight (with Littlest it was 2:30 am), we threw the final things in our suitcases, woke Littlest, and dropped him off at his grandparents who live five minutes from the clinic. Contractions started as soon as we got in the car, and they were, like with Littlest, only in my back.

The maternity unit seemed a little overworked that night and though we arrived at 1 am, by the time we waited in the entry way (25 lovely minutes), got an ultrasound and booked in (another 20 minutes at least), suffered through the “monitoring” where you have to stay lying down (25 more minutes), and got freed up for active labor, it was 2:30 am.

We got everything we hoped for from our birth plan though: salle “bien-être” with its bathtub, no epidural*, J got to deliver the baby (just the feet), and skin to skin for an hour after birth. Things went, just as with Littlest, fast after the first hour which is part of why I was impatient for all the hooha to get done with and to be able to get laboring the way I wanted. At 1:30 am I was at 2 cm ; at 3:45 am after a twenty-minute FABULOUS bath, I had to get out of the bathtub because he was coming: I was at 9 cm. The salle bien-être is not actually a delivery room, but they didn’t have time to move me. The final twenty minutes seemed a little frantic, but even so, I kept wanting to tell the midwife to stop running around doing other things (important medical things of course) because HE WAS ABOUT TO COME OUT. (And in fact I only pushed once.)

At 4:09 am J did the last pull and little brother was laid on my tummy where he stayed for an hour before J and the infant nurse took him away to weigh him and test him. They came back and put him back on me and he nursed like a champion (UNLIKE Littlest though to be fair there was no skin to skin so he was at a disadvantage).

*To be honest the no epidural plan was purely because I don’t think I labor in a way that gives anyone time to give me one. Delivery teams seem to have a certain timing in mind that makes way for an epidural around 4 cm and that whole step just seems to be something I skip.

As for the next part, J stayed at the hospital with me, which was nice, and the whole stay went better than our first one, maybe because I was so clear in my birth plan that I wanted to breastfeed and wanted to hear nothing about formula unless medically necessary. Little brother is a champion feeder though and has been since the beginning which, along with a higher birth weight, has been so much less stressful.

We got our “sortie précoce” which means we left after 48 hours instead of 72, and Littlest even got to come meet his brother at the hospital! We were allowed two visitors per day during restricted hours so he came twice with his Mamie. He was so excited the first time he saw the baby and then proud to hold him.

For now this squidgy is totally chill—he even slept 6 hours straight last night. He only cries to nurse, though he does cluster feed, especially in the evening (but I attribute the 6 hours of sleep to that so no complaining). He looks a lot like Littlest as a baby, to me, but is for now 5 times easier. Fingers crossed that lasts.

Now to find an official nickname…

Baby 2 Finish Line

The baby’s room back in April

We are narrowing in on the finish line for baby 2’s arrival. Littlest certainly seems to be thinking about it—yesterday during dinner instead of talking to his imaginary dog he told the baby to wait to play with him because he had to finish his dessert. He’s done lots of cute baby-related things, like noticing a baby toy at a store and asking if we should take it home for the baby.

The nursery is all set up, and the suitcases for the stay at the hospital are as packed as they can be in advance. Sheets and car seats have been washed, and the car seat base is even installed in Julien’s car (I have to put the other one in mine still). There are a few things we got or were gifted this time that I didn’t bother with last time, but that I wanted in case they make our lives any easier: a 4moms Rockaroo electric rocker and velcro swaddles (we didn’t bother swaddling Littlest since no one seems to do it in France). I also typed up a birth plan this time for the hospital.

Since it looks like my mom won’t be here right away for the birth (there is some hope from the consulate she’ll be able to come not too long afterward), I also need to call some aide à domicile services to see what they offer families with newborns…. I mean I really just want someone to replace my mom for a few hours a day, mostly in the morning, by holding the baby while I sleep or shower or doing some light cleaning or making a meal. (J’s paternity leave of course will only last a little under two weeks so I’ll be alone most of the time.)

AND I bought myself a new computer. My trusty Macbook Pro is almost 11 years old and finally slowing down despite the upgrades I did on it five years ago. The speakers were going which would have been a major problem for newborn video calls with family as well as for midnight Netflix-watching.

It is getting harder and harder to move around and I am more and more exhausted. Taking care of Littlest, sweet as he is most of the time, is taking it all out of me, especially since he doesn’t nap every day anymore. So this coming week he is fortunately going to the centre aéré (local day camp for working parents) and the week after that he will go to my in-laws. If Baby 2 can wait till the rentrée September 1st, I’ll even be able to take him to school the first day. But who knows if he’ll wait that long.

Next time I write it will hopefully be about a baby.

Agreg 2020: End of story (for now)

The agrégation adventure of 2020 is over, and has been over since July 13th. But a lot of things happened in between my last post about it and that date, that I just didn’t have the spirits to write about since so much was up in the air.

I found out March 16th that I was admissible (=had passed the written part of the exam) for the private system interne exam (I’m not eligible for the public system interne exam). This feels like years ago since it was at the beginning of confinement and followed by so many conflicting decisions from the ministry of education—first, the orals were pushed to an unknown date; then they announced they would happen in September (I cried, knowing I wouldn’t be able to go to them in any sort of reasonable shape post-partum); then they ended up canceling them all together and selecting us just based on our written marks. And amazingly, I passed: I was number 6 out of the 18 private system candidates selected for the 18 open spots. (However, strikingly, my score wouldn’t have gotten me admitted in the public system—a fluke of it being a competitive exam and not an actual certification.) I found out late June.

In the meantime, I found out mid-May that I had gotten through the written exams for the external public exam, so I spent what was left of May and most of June cramming and practicing for those orals. I chased J and Littlest out of the house a couple of days in order to be able to do the 5-hour practice preparations. I re-read parts of the books, practiced with other candidates online, reviewed methodology and art movements for the épreuve hors programme… it dominated my life for a few weeks, along with learning that passing the external public exam would force me to immediate change schools for the public system. In the end I was fine with that but it was a little bit of a surprise (I had thought I could immediately ask for a détachement in the private system but that’s not possible the first year).

I went to Paris for the orals in early July. Everything had opened back up in Paris by that point but I didn’t take the metro. The public spaces mask order hadn’t happened yet but a lot of people were wearing masks and as for the exam center itself, everything was very strict, as well as at my hotel. So I felt safe. I did have to ask the guy across from me on the train to put his mask back on though.

After those three intense days, I spent a short week at home before leaving on vacation with J, Littlest, and friends. I found out while we were there that I did not pass the external exam this year: I missed it by 1.75 points out of 300. Which is not by any means the closest anyone has ever missed the cut-off mark, but it is a little frustrating. For now I don’t know if I will do it again next year. The written exams happen in March so I could in theory have time, but I’d hate to go through it again the same way as last year, preparing sort of last-minute, and missing the mark by the skin of my teeth. I’m tempted to start reading the new books in the programme, and sign up for a distance course in September 2021 in order to prepare for it well for 2022. What with my new 15-hour time-table thanks to being agrégée from the internal exam, I would have time to do that. But baby #2 is coming soon and I want to take time for him. So we’ll see.

Pregnancy During Coronavirus

There are a lot of articles out about pregnancy during the coronavirus crisis, and I’ve gotten one or two sympathetic comments from friends about how it must be hard, and seen a few comments on Facebook about how relieved people are their pregnancy was not during this time.

… I don’t feel that way, and I’m guessing most pregnant women don’t feel that way, which is probably not really a surprise. It’s probably different being that this is my second pregnancy, so we did get to do everything normally the first time. Anyway here’s what it has been like for us.

Late December: Positive pregnancy test after strong suspicions that I was pregnant due to familiar symptoms. At this point everything was normal and there was no sign of the coronavirus.

December to March: Absolute exhaustion and just a constant sick-like feeling. Spent most weekends in bed. Again, nothing coronavirus-specific. First ultrasound in mid-February, so a friend came to watch Littlest and we both went.

March: Miraculously, my parents managed to come and spend a week with us the first week of March and left a week before France announced school closures and lockdown. Still we didn’t really know what we were in for.

Mid-March: Maternity wards started sometimes forbidding any accompanying person from the hospital. Most backtracked to allowing the partner or other parent to be there for labor and two hours after the birth, but then not allowing them to remain for the hospital stay. A typical hospital stay in France lasts 72 hours after the birth if all goes well, and there’s no C-section. Hospitals started letting mothers out as soon as they reasonably could.

I did freak out in a minor way about the thought of J not being there with me during labor, mostly because this time I do not want an epidural, and I was skeptical about the amount of support available from over-worked hospital staff in order to help me achieve that goal. I eventually calmed down about it, but also, hospitals seemed to be loosening that rule as soon as they could.

Late April: Second ultrasound. J had to stay home with Littlest as no accompanying people were allowed at the midwife’s office (so far I have been doing everything at midwife’s offices and not at the hospital). So I found out that it was a baby boy by myself. Then once the midwife had checked everything out (well almost, since baby was particularly uncooperative and I actually had to go back yesterday), we video called J and Littlest to tell them the news and show them the ultrasound screen. Emotionally this was all fine. Again, it’s our second time. And going to the ultrasound alone seemed so much less terrible than doing the birth alone.

So here we are today. I am still so grateful we got pregnant when we did, because I was so ready for this baby and didn’t want long months of trying and being disappointed. It has been strange that no one has seen be become more and more visibly pregnant. I sent a picture to my colleagues the other day. I didn’t even have time to tell everyone at work that I was expecting before vacation and then lockdown hit! I’ve told the few colleagues I had video conferences with for the union, but that’s only 15 out of over 100 people.

I’m not focusing for now on the unknowns around the delivery, birth, and return home. My plan was (is?) for my mom to come. I wanted her to be here before there was much risk of the baby arriving, because I’m worried he’ll come faster than Littlest in the middle of the night, which means no time to waste. We’ll have to find a back-up plan. I’m worried about having to rely on my in-laws if my mom can’t come for the first few weeks, but I do think some focused communication efforts could make that work. I’m a little sad that Littlest probably won’t be able to come to the hospital to meet his little brother and will have to wait till we come home—but that does seem minor, since that is something some families have always done.

So there have been small losses, but nothing so far that compares to the excitement of expecting someone new in the family. I do worry about the post-partum phase, because that was hard last time. But hopefully it won’t last long and I will know more what kind of help I need and how to ask directly for it. (It’s just, you know, no one compares to your mom, at least mine who was very good at anticipating needs).

Hello from Deconfinement

We deconfined in France last Monday and it has been actually really nice, even though I still spend most of my time at home and have seen like six more people than usual. Here’s how things are going for each of us:

J: He went back to work last Monday since companies are finally opening for the inspections he does. He was home for lunch on Monday, Thursday, and Friday which was nice. He gets masks for work that he has trouble wearing because of his glasses.

Littlest: Littlest went back to school yesterday, after spending two nights at his grandparents’ as well which he loved. His school wrote to us about two weeks ago asking if we wanted to send him back because it’s nationally on a voluntary basis. I said yes for lots of reasons:

  1. I love his school and was really hoping he would be able to go back before the end of this school year, his first.
  2. He no longer wanted to do much of anything with us during lockdown. Of all the fantastic activities his teacher e-mailed us, we managed to do half of one or two per week. And then he started not even wanting to go out in the yard, or follow us down to the basement. It was like all stimulation was emptying from his life.
  3. Work with him around was very limited. Even when J was home, I could only really work during nap time. And with J going back to work, any skipped nap would be stressful.

I was nervous about sending him back given the frankly age-inappropriate, strict health protocol for schools: no sharing toys, staying 1 meter away from everyone, no touching classmates or the teachers or caregivers…

But I compared it to how I felt back in August, when the entire French pre-school culture was brand new to me and I felt nervous about all of it. Littlest adapted great then and this seems to be the same. There are a tiny number of them in his group. He was only accepted back because I’m a teacher—spots are very limited. He’s alternating between the PS teacher (his) and the MS teacher (probably his teacher next year) and they are both lovely. It has been almost joyful seeing him back at the school, smiling and talking to people who aren’t me, even if they are generally 1 meter apart and their slide in the recess yard is marked off limits (and parents stand waiting at the gate, distanced by markers on the ground). Things are really different at the school—he has his own table with his own pile of toys and books and puzzles. But they seem to be still making things wonderful. (I just hope they aren’t feeling overworked.)

Me: FREEDOM! No, I’m kidding. In between running Littlest back and forth from school—including lunchtime these past two days—I’ve been able to dedicate myself more to teaching online. AND I found out I’m admissible for the agrégation externe—the upper-level competitive exam for the public school system. Since the interne orals have been pushed to September or October when I will have mini-me number 2 in my arms, I’m going to give the public exam my all (these orals are still supposed to happen this summer). So this study time is precious. I’ve been more in touch with my school since I’m a substitute union representative and the 6th and 7th graders are starting back next week, so we’re monitoring the conditions of their return. But all national decisions for lycée students have been pushed to the end of May, so I am skeptical that we will actually go back for classes.

I will technically be in the third trimester of pregnancy at the beginning of June, which puts me on the official list of vulnerable people. However I still feel like, if our students come back in some way, I’d like to be there. Obviously health protocol and possibly my doctor’s advice could weigh in if that decision has to be made.

Also, we found out that Littlest will be having a little brother. The nursery is pretty much finished and Littlest likes visiting it. He talks about becoming a big brother and other baby things and it is very cute.

On a side note, one positive of this time during lockdown is that I noticed Littlest’s English changing. He’s started attempting and making sentences, and choosing to say things in English when he also knows the word in French, or even saying it in English after saying it in French.

He retains complex explanations that I figured were going in one ear and out the other when I gave them. He has a little Playmobil 123 cow that has an udder, so I explained to him once that the milk we drink comes out of it, though the milk for the baby will come out of me. He didn’t say anything back at the time but gave his dad the equivalent explanation in French a few days later!

His French has gotten better too which is also interesting though less life-affirming for me. The other morning we were all sitting in the living room when he turned to his dad and out of the blue told him he hadn’t yet cut his beard. (It was true.)

I remember thinking before J went back to work last Sunday night that this strange but also special time, just the three of us, was over. I wondered how that would feel. So far it feels good but I do thing some remarkable things happened during it.