Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Happy New Year! A review of 2013

2013 was full of changes and adventure for us, and lots of seasons. Here's a brief review:

Mourning and Recovery

The beginning of 2013 was overshadowed by the loss of my cousin Jenny in December. She had fought a courageous 15 month battle against an aggressive stage 4 lung cancer and not a day goes by that I don't think about her. 

Picture of Jenny

We had a nice distraction at the start of the year with a fun trip to Phoenix to watch the Cats play in the Fiesta bowl. We had a really great time with my dad's cousin Ron and his wife Maggie! I loved hearing some old family stories and learning more about their time running the Bristol Bay Lodge in Alaska. Their hospitality more than made up for an ugly loss by the Cats.

picture of J and L golfing

In February we had more sad news--my sweet 85 year old Grandmother had died. We made the trek to Kansas again and while we loved seeing extended family for the second time in three months,

When we returned to Texas after my Grandma's funeral, we had some very surprising and unexpected news--we were pregnant again!


The week after my Grandma died and we learned that we had another baby on the way, Travis got news that there was a very good chance he would be placed in a job in the middle east. This was all very exciting but also overwhelming. I began mentally categorizing everything in our home into take/sell/store/trash and also take advantage of every opportunity we had to spend time with friends in Houston. In the meantime I was trying not to throw up on anybody and figure out what additional baby stuff I needed to buy to take with us. Travis flew to Saudi to start his residency permit process and at the end of May we hosted our second (and final) annual crawfish boil.


I think this screenshot of my calendar from last June speaks for itself:


The countdown had begun and now it was crunch time for getting our stuff organized before the movers showed up. I was absolutely dreading leaving our dear friends in Houston, but there was no turning back. We put our house on the market and scheduled the movers. I will NEVER put my house on the market while preparing for a move like this again! My advice to future expaters--wait until you move out, especially if you have a toddler!

I also took Lucy to the arboretum and children's museum a lot and signed her up for swimming and tumbling lessons, all in the middle of keeping the house clean for showings and trying to spend as much time as possible with our friends. That was my coping mechanism for "I'm leaving the United States for an indefinite period of time" crisis, and I think it helped, but boy was I exhausted! Then we thought it would be a good idea to drive 700 miles and take two flights to see as much family as possible before leaving the country. I was seriously tired by the time we got on our plane for Saudi, but no rest for the weary yet. Lucy slept about two hours on the entire 14 hour flight. So much for that plush business class lay-flat seat.

The Calm

Once we finally arrived in Saudi it was so refreshing to put our feet up and just sit for a few days. We had no stuff and only a few friends. Here's a screenshot of August:

screenshot of August

We slowly explored the grocery store, restaurants and learned our way around Jubail and Khobar (specifically the Saad Hospital Complex).

Our New Normal

Lucy started going to the playschool here on site at the beginning of September. While they spend more time watching Elmo and Mickey videos than I would like, I know she enjoys it a lot. Drop offs were pretty rough the first month but now she asks to go to school and gets really excited about it.

On September 22nd we welcomed Ellie Kate to our family. For the final few months of the year we've been adjusting to life as a family of four. We had a great time with my parents who came to help out a couple weeks after the birth and we really appreciated their assistance! In October I started doing yoga and have really been enjoying that. Travis tries to go to the gym before work. In November I started a smocking class, so between that, yoga, and the grocery store, I only have one free morning a week!

We took a fabulous vacation to Germany in early December and really enjoyed our time out of Saudi. It was cold, the Christmas markets were beautiful, and we ate a lot more pork in 10 days than we thought was humanly possible.

Germany picture

A week after we returned Travis' parents came to visit and they have had a great time getting to know Ellie and playing with Lucy (and giving me a break!). We had a fun Christmas and took them to Bahrain for the weekend. Then they helped us rearrange our house. Hopefully it will be a lot more functional--our toy collection seemed to double over Christmas and it was getting out of control!

Picture from Bahrain

Despite the sadness of the first part of the year and the chaos of the middle, overall we had a great time in 2013 with family and friends new and old.

The Things I Carried (Written Summer 2014)

(***This post was also from the summer of 2014. All the italics are the pics I had planned to put in, and this is what held me up from posting this in the first place. Maybe someday I'll find those pics too.***)

This is actually the title of a book I read (technically it was "The Things They Carried", by Tim O'Brien) in my AP Senior English class about things that American soldiers carried with them during the Vietnam war. It was a fascinating read and really put my perfect little small-town high school life into perspective. Please don't think I'm in any way comparing my troubles of toting two kids across the world to this brave soldier who had to fight in the battlefields of Vietnam! However everytime I looked at the gigantic pile of crap stuff in my friend's guest room this phrase comes back to me, hence the blog title.

pile of crap

Just seeing these pictures raises my blood pressure all over again!

Since I don't anticipate returning to the states until next summer, it was vital that we get all of those things that you can only find in the USA while we were there.

steak seasoning

In hindsight, maybe six jars of steak seasoning is excessive. We'll see how much we have left next May! I like having options, people.


One of the things I miss most is being able to browse the sale racks at Carters or Target. While we have a Carters in the mall in Khobar, it is 3-4x more expensive than buying online. I find it hard to buy clothes online, because I like to feel the fabric and double check the quality. Not to mention buying clothes for myself! I was pregnant when we moved to Saudi and downsized my pre-pregnancy closet a lot in the pre-move 'stuff purge', so I really needed some new duds! I took as many opportunities as I could to browse the sale racks in KS and Houston.


I brought back two pairs of these 'arms' as Lucy likes to call them. They are invaluable for our beach resort lifestyle! I was planning to leave one pair in KS, but decided that my parents could much more easily buy another pair than I could.

ant traps

3 sets of ant traps. I had skillfully placed one package inside one of Lucy's toys to conserve space. It took me about 3 weeks to find it after we got home :)

They are helping but the ants are RIDICULOUS around here. Every morning I wage war on them with bleach spray and my vacuum. Now that the highs are less than 110 they seem to have subsided a little.

Curly hair products

These are non-existent in Saudi as far as I can tell. Had to bring them with us.

Ballet Shoes

One of my friends on the compound is teaching a beginning ballet class for little kids. How adorable is that? I made sure to get ballet and tap shoes in both Lucy's current size and the next size up. I skillfully packed them in a plastic box that had some wall decals from Target in it, on top of some baby bottles (stuffed with socks) to help the box keep it's shape. Obviously I missed my calling as an industrial engineer.

Box with decals, baby bottles, toddler ballet shoes etc

Speaking of shoes, I think at final count I brought back 21 pairs of shoes. That may sound crazy.... but that's for 3 people for the next year! And two of those people change sizes like every other month, so it's really hard to keep up with this when there isn't a stride rite down the street! [edit--we discovered a Stride Rite in Khobar last week! Shhh! Don't tell too many people, we don't want them to start thinking they can double the prices like they do in Bahrain!]

stackable wood shoe rack, er, pantry organizer!
Oh yes, we can't forget this rack. Despite all the shoes I brought home the shoe rack is not for shoes. The previous residents of our home had one of these in a corner cabinet in the kitchen. It made that cabinet about 10x more usable! I looked for it all last year and never found a rack of similar dimensions in Saudi. Imagine my excitement when I found the same rack in bed bath and beyond, and it was literally across the aisle from a 29" suitcase! All I had to do was plop that suitcase on the floor, open it up, and see if that rack would fit inside. Hot dog it did! I now have an organized pantry-cabinet!

I realize it still looks like a jumbled mess, but I promise it's a lot better than it was before!

ride-safer travel vest

I bought this for future travel excursions where we may need to use a car but don't want to bring the carseat. It also worked great for our final trip to IAH so I could put Lucy's carseat in it's travel bag before driving to the airport and not fuss with it either on the sidewalk in 100 degree weather or at the check in counter while corraling two kids and my 11 other bags. I was still a little petrified to drive my baby in rush-hour houston traffic to the airport in it, but we survived, and I think it will work well for less-scary traffic situations.

Ok so I really just wanted to post this adorable picture of Ellie, but the box for the new convertible carseat I bought her is in the background. Conveniently Ellie was outgrowing her infant seat while we were in the states and my cousin had just had a baby, so I was able to leave the infant seat with her and bring back a new one for Ellie. (While I make it sound like it just occurred to me one day this summer I had actually been planning out this exchange in my head for months.)

They're in the car! There's no turning back now! One good thing about not being potty trained yet is I was not concerned for a second that I'd have to get anything out until we got to the airport :)

Lucy's carseat in the travel bag strapped into the front seat, with backpack in footwell. Backpack had to be put in before carseat was installed behind, then carseat was strapped in, then seat moved all the way forward, so I could put the stroller in behind it. Whew.
And somehow, thanks to my dear friends in Houston and their engineering skills, we fit 4 29" suitcases, 2 carry on suitcases, a pack-n-play, Lucy's Minnie Mouse suitcase, a double stroller, 2 carseats, 2 kids, and a backpack into a Nissan Murano. I honestly did not think it would be possible.  In fact I had called a friend earlier in the day to see if she could help drive my stuff to the airport, but then somehow it all fit. Troy and Kristin must have played a lot of tetris back in the day.

A few more things we brought back with us--can you spot them in the pictures?

coffee maker
stroller organizer
doc mcstuffins pull ups
alarm clock
boogie wipes
vanilla and almond flavorings [on second thought, don't look for this. they were wrapped in underwear to discourage airport security from seeing them]
Annie's mac and cheese and snacks
cute umbrella x2
good coffee
saline solution
random sippy cups
baby monitor
toy storage bins
storage bin labels 

Oops looks like some of that steak seasoning escaped

Yes I still had a St. Patricks rug out... you caught me.

Looking at all these pictures made me go through a range of emotions again--first the overwhelming fear of being able to pack it all in my 6 suitcases, then the anxiety of putting it in the car and then getting to the airplane by myself, and finally a lot of pride at the happy ending of surviving the journey with expertly packed, not overweight! suitcases. And two living children. Don't these bags just look relieved to be home?

Our first trip home! (Written summer 2014)

***I'm finally getting around to posting all these things I've written over the years. This post is from summer 2014! Someday I'll boot up the computer that has the pictures referenced and upload those too.***

We spent 10 weeks in the states this summer, arriving on May 14th. Something about being stuck in a desert wasteland for 10 months makes every blade of grass shine a little brighter than I remembered. I was awestruck by the beauty of my hometown the first several weeks we were home. It really felt like they had rolled out the red carpet for us--the sun was bright, the grass was dewey, the flowers were wide open and so colorful. It was a sensory overload! So what was the first thing I did in the USA? Go to Target, of course! The variety, selection, and beauty of the cleaning products aisle nearly brought me to tears. We won't even talk about the beauty department. Then there was the baby department--I think I purchased enough Ella's and Plum Baby products to keep them in business for the next several years!

The big reason for our trip was that Travis' sister was getting married! It was a BEAUTIFUL ceremony and we are just thrilled for Jessica and Nate and their exciting new life together.

picture of ellie being a ham and distracting the photogapher
picture of Jessica and Nate

A week before the wedding, Jessica graduated from the KU School of Medicine and Nate graduated from KU School of Law. We are SO proud of these two and all of their hard work!

picture from graduation

Two days after the wedding, we (Travis, Jessica, Nate and I) threw Travis and Jessica's parents a surprise 35th anniversary party. It was really hard to keep quiet about it those weeks leading up to it but no one spilled the beans! I think they were really surprised! Thank you for being such a great example of marriage (both what to do and not to do :-) ) to us young'uns.

picture from party

My cousin's daughter's 5th birthday was the following week and we were so excited to be able to attend. We have lived in Texas since college and this is the first time we have been in KS to help celebrate her birthday. It was a fantastic party complete with bouncy house. Everyone had a great time and I loved that Lucy had an opportunity to play with her cousins!

picture of Lucy and Tris

My brother had driven up from Georgia with his daughter to visit while we were here. Lucy and Tristyn hit it off like they were best friends! I LOVED watching them play together and wish we could get them together more often. Maybe someday we'll all live closer again.

picture of Tris and Lucy--in the rocketship?

After an action packed whirlwind 16 days in Kansas we headed out for Houston. I was actually kind of excited to have to sit in the car for 12 hours and not do anything else! We had a years worth of doctors appointments lined up and a long list of friends to visit with. One of the highlights of our trip to Houston was a fun weekend at Surfside beach with some of our dearest friends. 

picture from beach weekend

I really enjoyed getting to celebrate my birthday in Houston. Travis somehow managed to get a reservation for us at The Pass side of The Pass & Provisions--there just aren't enough adjectives to describe how amazing this meal was! We had 5 creative courses with wine pairings. It was a prix-fix menu and one of those where nothing looked like what I pictured it would from the description. I've never experienced anything like it before, I imagine it's similar to being the guest judge on Iron Chef. (Iron Chef, if you ever need a guest judge, I'm your girl!)

A few days later we celebrated my birthday with our Houston friends at Corner Table. Travis was flying back to Saudi the next day so it also served as a farewell meal for him.

Being on my own with the girls for the next couple weeks in Houston meant we didn't get out quite as much as I wanted to, but we did get in all of our doctors visits and several playdates. My mom flew down to help me drive back to KS at the end of June.

We spent a few more weeks in KS, and the highlight was taking the girls to the Konza Prairie and our friends farm.


Then on July 23rd, exactly one year after first embarking on our Saudi adventure, I boarded a plane to go back! But this time I was alone with two kids.

(*this is where the post ended the first time. I would love to know what my thoughts were immediately following that flight, but I'm guessing I was so exhausted I was too tired to remember it! Looking back the only memories I have of this are walking about two miles through the Doha airport hauling kids and stuff. And that was the LAST time I hauled a carseat through the airport!)

Max's First Trip to Old Jubail

About a month ago I went with some friends to Old Jubail. It was a beautiful day outside and we wanted to hunt for a long table cloth that would cover our enormous dining tables in the villas. Our friend Linda had found a nice one in one of the shops so we were hoping they'd have more.

The linen shop was very nice and they had a lot of nice towels, sheets, and robes but they were all on the expensive side. We opted to not pay 290 SAR ($77!!) for a children's robe with a bunny on it but it sure would have been cute in the Easter basket. I did however find these cute bath towels for Max:

If it has a vintage airplane on it I can't pass it up!

Unfortunately they only had one tablecloth and we needed another 4, so at first he told us to come back in one month. We said we needed them sooner than that, and then he said he could get them in one week. He made us promise to come back, and then told us four days. Before leaving he took Lauren's phone number and said he would call when they arrived. So will we go back in 4 days? One week? One month? Who knows!

(Update--The tablecloths were in the following week! Maybe someday I'll put it on my table :) )

Our next stop was Big World!

Thankfully we did not see any rats today. Big World is like a giant dirty dollar store. They have almost anything and everything. Today my friends were looking for Trolls colored things for their girls birthday party. Finding birthday party decorations is quite the adventure here because you can't just go to Target or Party City and pick up coordinating items in your theme of choice. But Big World usually comes through for us.

Headbands of every shape and size! 2 SR for a pack of 3! What a deal! But look closely because sometimes people take a headband out and then you only get a pack of 2.

We also found these lovely items in the toy section.

Clearly someone in the translation department was having fun with his job.

And I'm not sure what happened to this pillow of a candy bar:

After our fun filled morning in Old Jubail we decided to go to a restaurant with a patio for lunch. This was a restaurant we used to frequent for breakfasts but had not been in a long time. We walk in and announce we want to sit on the patio.

"M'am you cannot take the child on the patio."

"Why sir?"

"M'am the child is not allowed on the patio for safety."

"The child is two months old in a car seat. We will not get him out of the car seat"

"Sorry m'am you are not allowed. Would you like to speak to the manager?"

"Yes we would like to speak to the manager"

A man walks out from the back, circles around in front of us as we say "Sir? Are you the manager?" then waves his hand and walks back to the kitchen. I was so mad!!! We told them we were leaving and we weren't coming back.

So we went to the new Outback Steakhouse for lunch and had a very enjoyable meal. And that was the end of Max's first Old Jubail adventure.

Monday, December 26, 2016

"Everything will be fine!" Or, the saga of finding a place to deliver Baby Brother.

We were told "everything will be fine." So. Many. Times.

My posts are usually pretty positive, so here is the one about the situation where things were not ok. We knew me being pregnant would make our move here a little complicated, but certainly could not have anticipated what was about to unfold. Or maybe we could have but were trying desperately not to.

29 weeks pregnant (week of Nov 9): Fly to Saudi Arabia

Over the last few months I had read through various Facebook groups and semi-reputable news sites that Saad Specialist Hospital, the hospital Ellie was born at 3 years ago, was having financial troubles. There were rumors of strikes and doctors leaving, due to not being paid for several months. Travis had been diligently following up with the doctor at his plant for a couple months, and with some friends that had just had a baby there at the end of September to make sure our preferred doctor was still at the hospital and that L&D was still operating. In fact a few days before flying to Saudi we heard of our doctor delivering someone's baby at this hospital, and we were also hearing that the government was going to buy out the hospital and everything would be fine (!) by Jan 1. Since this was going to be my 3rd c-section, and we didn't know anyone who had had a c-section with any doctors besides this one, I was prepared to stay in Texas if this was not the case... but all signs pointed towards a positive outcome. So away we flew!

31 weeks pregnant: First appointment with Dr. A. 

You may remember him from my post about Ellie's birth 3 years ago. I was so impressed with (almost) everything about that birth experience that I was honestly less nervous about coming back to Saudi to have this baby than I was staying in Texas with a new doctor.

Upon arrival at the hospital we could tell things weren't quite right when we noticed the temporary check in desks set up in the reception area. The bathroom didn't seem as well kept up, and the lab towards the back was completely dark. There were still people milling around which made it seem somewhat normal. When we made our way up to the GYN/OB floor it was shocking to see the entire OB reception empty. The wing to the left was dark and the nursing/women's only room was dark. I think the lights were off on the turtle tank (hope someone removed the poor turtle!)  We made our way back to my doctor's waiting room and could sense the tension in the air. Once ushered into his office it was painfully obvious that this was not going to be the same as last time. He had removed everything from the walls and was clearly packing up. His first question was "so where do you plan to deliver the baby?" Not what you want to hear from your preferred doctor! We told him we were there to learn what our options were. He informed us he was leaving Saad hospital December 1 and would be practicing at Al Moosa Specialist Hospital in Al-Ahsa, which was another hour and 15 minutes beyond Khobar, or a total of a 2.5 hour drive from Jubail.  He said that he searched the entire Eastern Province and this hospital was the only one up to his standards (which we know are very high!) He was very kind and told us we were welcome to follow him there but he understood that the logistics might be difficult. He said of the hospitals in Jubail he would recommend the Royal Commission Hospital for me, since I would be having a planned c-section, which hopefully would be uncomplicated and simple. He recommended delivering at 38 weeks, to minimize the risk of going into labor because being in an emergency c-section situation here is less than ideal.

We left rather stunned, realizing that what we thought were well researched plans were now completely up in the air. I spent that afternoon and evening messaging everyone I knew to find out if we had connections to anyone with personal experience having a c-section in Jubail. In the meantime, we decided to work our different options in parallel:

In addition to the long drive, Al-Ahsa is in a "red zone" and we aren't allowed to travel there for security reasons. The US state department also has a travel warning for that area. Travis began drafting an email to S-Chem's Security Advisor to explain the situation and see if traveling to Al-Ahsa was an option at all.

There are two other hospitals in Jubail, one of which (Al-Mana) looks from the outside like it belongs in a 80's horror movie, and the other (Mouwasat) is where a friend nearly died after giving birth a couple years ago, so I understood why Dr. A had recommended the RC above the other two. In addition to the first-hand account of the terrible birth experience at Mouwasat, Travis' boss also had an awful experience at this hospital with a surgery where they LEFT A SPONGE INSIDE OF HIM, resulting in a serious infection. So we really were not keen on even visiting a doctor there at all! (Maybe we are overreacting, as we know many people give birth there every day, but this late in the game we did not want to take any chances if we had a better option!)

That evening I learned that a friend-of-a-friend also had an appointment with Dr. A that afternoon, and he had given her the name of a doctor at the Royal Commission hospital (Dr. M) who had just transferred there from Saad. This gave me some hope between the crying fits.

My good friend Linda had experience with getting appointments at the RC hospital, and she was so sweet to take me there the next day to set up an appointment. I was pleasantly surprised with the registration process--the receptionist was very friendly and the system sent me text messages to confirm my appointment! This was far more advanced than any other system I had seen in Jubail. I couldn't see Dr. M for an appointment for another week, but at least it felt like we were making progress.

In the meantime our security advisor was vetting whether it was safe or not to go to Al-Ahsa. I was relieved that they initially told Travis "okay" knowing that if we couldn't find a suitable solution in Jubail, we could have Al-Ahsa as a back up plan. Looking at the website for Al Moosa it was obvious that they are striving to be the best health care facility in the region. I was far less concerned about how things would go at this hospital knowing that Dr. A would not have his practice there if it was indeed not up to his standard, and the only thing holding us back from committing was that if we could find a way to avoid being on Saudi roads for 3 hours with a newborn, we would.

32 Weeks Pregnant: My first appointment with Dr. M at the RC hospital

I had high hopes for this appointment based on the positive experience at reception the week before. On first impressions I liked Dr. M and I believe she is a skilled physician. However she was so new that she knew nothing of the hospital's standard policies and procedures for c-sections and post-partum care. Our questions were simple, like "Can Travis be in the operating room with me?" and "How soon will I be able to nurse after the surgery?" She told us she would research these questions and let us know when we came back in two weeks. No problem. Our concern level went up a bit when she offered this: "They gave me no training, no on-boarding. They told me first day to go to clinic and start work." She was clearly frustrated with the process, which did not give us any warm fuzzies for this hospital.  She also reiterated the importance of delivering at 38 weeks, "If the c-section is planned I can guarantee my services for you. If it is emergency, there is no guarantee who will do the operation." That's pretty standard of course, but when there is only one particular doctor that is driving you toward a certain practice or hospital, it's a disconcerting thought!

After the appointment we made our way downstairs to Patient Relations to see if they could answer the questions that Dr. M could not. While wandering through the halls we ended up meeting the director of PR, and he informed us that all of their hospital rooms are undergoing renovations so their capacity is down 50%... which means ALL of the rooms are shared. I could get over this... but "because we are in Saudi Arabia", my husband would not be allowed to even ENTER the room I was staying in! While I have wonderful female friends here that I'm certain would help out, and we were hoping my mother would also be in town... due to the other red flags this was the deal breaker. It's okay though, because Mr. Patient Relations told us "We take excellent care of you! Everything will be fine! Anything you need we will accommodate." I mean, except that one thing. :-S

We decided to keep our next appointment for two weeks later and continue researching our other options, which included the long drive to Al-Ahsa, or the two other hospitals in Jubail. The final option - which we really didn't want to think about - was flying the girls and me back home to have the baby. This would involve being away from Travis for most of 10 weeks, and for the last six of those I would mostly be on my own with THREE kids, including a newborn. Staying in Saudi is definitely ideal for keeping things consistent and normal for the girls.

33 Weeks Pregnant: Meet Dr. E at Al-Mana Clinic

My friend Linda who had helped me to initially get the appointment at RC (and coincidentally is 20 weeks pregnant herself!) suggested I try her doctor, Dr. E, who was with the Al-Mana hospital system. We had used the pediatricians at the Al-Mana clinic before so I knew the clinic was nice, but I was still skeptical about the hospital thanks to the horror movie image in my head. The next day she took me to the clinic. While in the end I really liked this clinic, here's how you have an appointment there. If she had not been with me figuring out what to do next would have been really hard, because no one gave me any instruction. And this probably is a little out of order of how it actually happened, but I've slept since then:

1. Go through doors that say "Women Only" and get established as a patient at the reception desk.
2. Go down the hall to room where they take your vitals.
3. If you need a CTG scan, or a NST, go further down the hall. If you are unsure if you need this, wait until your doctor instructs you where to go.
4. Wait in hall for nurse to call you to see the doctor.
5. Visit with the doctor.
6. Since it was my first visit and they wanted lab work, the next step was to take paperwork from doctor out of the women only section to the lab reception. Then go to the lab to give my blood sample.
7. Go down another hall to a dirty Saudi bathroom to give a urine sample. Thank goodness I brought the purse with the extra toilet paper. Note for next time--wear the wrap around abaya, not the over-the-head style!
8. Turn urine sample back in to the lab.
9. Wait to meet with sonographer to get ultrasound.
10. Get ultrasound, go back to women only area and wait for doctor to review results.
11. Meet with doctor and get instructions for follow up appointment.

While this sounds pretty complicated, and it was, I was actually really impressed with the facility and how my arrival was anticipated for each step. Each area (the lab, ultrasound room, CTG etc) had my info already on the computer when I arrived and they knew who I was. So despite the confusion it really was very organized. Dr. E was great and assured us that our husbands could join us in the hospital because the post-delivery rooms are indeed private. At the end of the appointment, we asked Dr. E if we could get a tour of the hospital. She was very accommodating and called one of the nurses in L&D about showing us around.

Ready for an ultrasound!

When we arrived at the hospital, we needed help finding our way to L&D. While the inside of this hospital is better than the outside, it is not quite what I would call a state of the art facility. Once there, a nurse named Lovely met us and proceeded to tell us the procedures for a c-section and how they keep the baby safe once born. While I'm not too concerned about my (potentially) red-headed Caucasian kid getting mixed up with the others, we certainly want our hospital of choice to have good procedures for this! They didn't have anyone delivering or in surgery at that time so we were allowed to peek into the prep room and the OR. While I'm not generally familiar with hospital procedures, the OR looked decent and they obviously weren't going to let just anyone come in. In fact there were large signs on the locked doors to the prep rooms and OR that said "Women Only". Trying to gauge how strict they were on rules, the following conversation went like this:

Me: Can my husband wait in the prep room with me?
Lovely: Yes he can come in for a little, but then he will need to wait outside.
Me: Ok, can he be in the OR for the c-section?
Lovely: No.
Me: But Dr. E said that it would be okay...
Lovely: Well maybe if she gets special permission from the head of hospital.
Me: So husbands are not usually present for the c-sections?
Lovely: Not in my experience, no.

So despite having reassurances from Dr. E that we could have the delivery we wanted, the nurse made it pretty clear that this was not standard procedure. We asked about seeing the nursery and post-delivery rooms, and Lovely said not at that time but she would talk to Nurse Rosebell and call us in a day or two. We left feeling frustrated again. Just like our initial experiences at the other hospitals, this was one step forward and one step back. Linda messaged the doctor all of our questions to see if she could explain the discrepancy, and her only reply was "Everything will be excellent!" (This canned reply was really starting to get old.)

34 Weeks Pregnant: Follow up at RC with Dr. M

Upon returning for our follow up, Dr. M immediately asked "So where have you decided to deliver?" We told her we were leaning toward going to Al-Ahsa if we could make it work, and she broke out in a big smile and said "Good! You will be much happier there." So when the doctor is recommending you stay away, you know that hospital is no longer an option!

35 Weeks Pregnant: Follow up with Dr. E at Al-Mana

After thinking about it for a couple weeks, I had a new list of questions for Dr. E. We really wanted to try to make a Jubail delivery work. This doctor appeared to be our last resort in Jubail, so I wrote down everything I could think of that I wanted to know. In talking to friends we concluded that hopefully the hospital staff was just telling us the rules they have to abide by, but maybe the Dr. has the authority to do things differently. Linda joined me again and I was so thankful for her company. This appointment was a lot less complicated than the first, since I didn't need to give blood or urine samples, and she didn't order an official ultrasound. I was able to stay in the "Women Only" section the whole time I was there. I did have a non-stress test, which indicated I was having minor irregular contractions but nothing to be concerned about.

My question session went like this:

Me: How will you close the wound?
Dr. E: Dissolvable stitches
Me: How soon can I start breastfeeding?
Dr. E: Oh, 24 hours after operation.
Me: What? No, that is not acceptable. With my first two I could start nursing right away. At Saad they brought the baby to me while I was being closed up.
Dr. E: Well it is not good to nurse baby while you are under anesthesia.
Me: It was fine for the last two!
Dr. E: Oh, so you want spinal anesthesia?
Me: Yes!

Oh dear. At this point I realized that she thought this surgery would be with general anesthesia. As in, knocked out! Which makes me wonder if that's how most Saudi women have c-sections? Now it also makes more sense why the husbands aren't usually present... because what is the point if the wife is asleep? But the fact we had not even been talking about the same kind of anesthesia this whole time was very concerning! 

Dr. E: Well in that case, yes you can nurse as soon as you want. But you won't have any milk, so this is not important. We will feed the baby a glucose solution!

Me (and Linda at the same time, while my eyes nearly pop out of my head): Yes, nursing immediately IS very important! In fact I have read and been instructed by my other doctors that it is critical to try and nurse in the first hour if at all possible! And yes, the baby needs to nurse to stimulate milk production, to receive colostrum, to stimulate the uterine contractions...

Now I see that for all her competence elsewhere, Dr. E. may be about 20 years behind on current nursing theory. Anyway, on to more questions:

Me: How soon can I get up and walk?
Dr. E: Most patients don't want the catheter removed for 24 hours.
Me: Last time I walked at 12 hours and I would prefer that for better recovery.
Dr. E: Ok, 12 hours is fine.
Me: What do you do for pain management?
Dr. E: We use (and here she rattled off a list of medications that I vaguely recognized)
Me: Can our husbands stay with us both during the surgery and after delivery?
Dr. E: Yes
Me: Can we tour the nursery and post-delivery ward?
Dr. E: Yes

Off we go to the hospital again. Travis was able to meet us there so he could see what we'd be dealing with.

We found Lovely in the OR again, and she took us to pediatrics. Apparently we were supposed to get permission from the pediatrician to see the nursery, but since this step in the process had not been communicated we asked to be taken directly to the nursery. Once there another nurse explained our mistake, but thankfully instead of making me walk across the hospital again to meet with the pediatrician she makes some phone calls and we are eventually let in. (Again, glad to see they are concerned with security!) The nursery is small but adequate. It seems clean and it is very warm (not that I should be a judge of temperature... right now I think 64 is quite comfortable). There are two rooms connected by a hall, one for NICU babies and one for 'normal' babies, and several nurses present. We ask this nurse what all they do for babies in the nursery, and it all sounds pretty standard until she brings up feeding the baby "sugar water" again. When we ask why she says "To see how they respond. If baby responds ok, we will bring to mother to nurse. They will be with us for about 5 hours." This is most definitely not ok with me! I don't know anyone with a full term baby who's needed glucose solution. And in further reading online, it sounds like there are several potential concerns with this practice under normal conditions... Again, that's why they don't do this in hospitals back home! Maybe if we begged hard enough and I had enough friends following my baby around after birth we could stop this from happening. She also said that the baby would be brought to the nursery anytime visitors came... which I'm also just not ok with! I understand wanting to prevent infection... but I'm certain my visitors would be responsible and only come if they were healthy.

From the nursery they take us to the rooms where the mothers stay after delivery, and they are surprisingly big for being private rooms. The bathroom seems clean and the shower curtain looks new. Then we remind them that I will be having a c-section, and she says "Oh in that case you will be in this room for observation", another room directly across from the nurses station. I again ask if it's ok if my husband stays with me, and they reply yes. Then thank goodness Travis had the foresight to ask if it was ok if he stayed the night... because they were very clear that this would not be allowed. Unfortunately we didn't ask exactly what hours he was allowed in the room. Again Linda messages Dr. E for clarification, and she confirms that husbands are not allowed to stay over night. They must leave around 10 pm and can come back 4-5 hours later. Why this was not brought up before, and not understood as part of the question when we asked "Can our husbands stay with us" just shows how we can NEVER ask too many questions here. Even the questions you don't think you need to ask, like "will the c-section be performed with general anesthesia or a spinal".

At this point it is quite clear that delivering at this hospital means we would have to be extremely vocal with ALL of our relatively normal wants for this delivery. I never thought I would need such a specific birth plan, because every other hospital experience I've had has been modern and reasonable and I trusted them to make decisions that are consistent with the latest research for newborn health. I have a new sympathy for the billions of women in the world who cannot advocate for their own health care!

36 Weeks Pregnant: Drive to Al-Ahsa for appointment with Dr. A

Since we still were not satisfied with our local options, we decided to keep the appointment Travis had made with Dr. A a few weeks prior and make the drive to Al-Ahsa. Our security and transportation departments were incredibly supportive. Transportation had sent a couple drivers down the week before to make sure they knew the route, and our security advisor had visited twice to scope out the area. For our appointment, our security advisor drove down early to check out the hospital, and we had a second car following us in case of a flat tire or other unforeseen trouble. Thank you so much to CPChem and S-Chem for this support!

The road was surprisingly nice and there wasn't much traffic. It was a beautiful day for a drive!

The scenery was a lot more interesting than what we see near Jubail! There was also significantly less trash on the side of the road and the desert was so much prettier.

Lots of camels! The area the hospital is in is known for having a large camel auction.

Beautiful sand dunes!

Just a truck full of camels
It took exactly 2.5 hours to get to the hospital. On arrival, reception was very friendly and it was nice to see one of the nurses we had known at Saad. She took us in right away despite us being over an hour early for our appointment (we had anticipated eating lunch before hand). She spent some time making sure that my name was spelled correctly in the system (which is good, because I am not "Janeth Rodgers") and taking a detailed medical history. We chatted for a while over how sad the situation at Saad is. Dr. A came in was excited to show off his new ultrasound machine, which can show incredible detail! (Unfortunately, baby boy is getting so big and squished in there that we couldn't fully appreciate its capabilities!)

Baby brother! He has big cheeks!
We asked him our questions and he assured us that this hospital does indeed operate at the same standards as Saad. The rooms are private, Travis can be present for both the operation and stay with me through the night, and he also told us that the same anesthesiologist we had at Saad is working with him at Al-Moosa. This sealed the deal for me! The rest of our appointment was very pleasant and I can't put adequate words into how relieved and grateful I am to finally feel comfortable with our delivery plan. Yes the drive is long, but now we know the road is good and we won't have to fight with the hospital or get the doctor's permission for things that seem simple and should be standard. In fact this hospital states right on their webpage that the post-delivery rooms are designed to allow the mother's husband to be with her to support her, and they also state how pro-breastfeeding they are. I'm sad that my parents and the girls won't be able to meet the baby until we come home, but the peace of mind to deliver in a hospital I trust, with a staff I know, should be well worth it.

We will have one more appointment at Al-Moosa next week, then it will be time for delivery! Right now the c-section is scheduled for Jan 8. We will likely drive down the day before and stay in a hotel to be as rested as possible, since we have to report to the hospital at 5 am.

I'm so thankful that we have extremely good insurance, which allows birth at Al-Moosa to be possible. I'm also very grateful to our company security advisors and our transportation team, as they are going above and beyond to ensure that our trip to Al-Ahsa is safe, and they haven't pressured us a single time to take an easier option. I'm thankful to have had excellent birth experiences previously, so that I feel well educated on the subject and know what questions to ask and how things should go.  Lastly, I'm so very thankful for our good friends here who are willing to step in and help! I know most women in this country do not have these advantages.

Will everything be fine? We shall see. In the meantime I feel so much better knowing I have fully examined all our options and I am clear on our path forward. Part of me wishes I could be that activist that helps change policies, or at a minimum help to educate staff at the local hospital... but I cannot put my health or my baby's health at risk. If we end up having to deliver at Al-Mana I know that we will be okay... I don't want to give anyone the wrong idea. Our biggest hesitation is that with delivery coming so soon we don't have enough time to get all of the issues of concern cleared up with the doctor and nursing staff to make sure things go per plan. It is so much more comfortable for us to use a doctor, nurse and anesthesiologist that we have experience with, especially with this being my third c-section.

Please keep us in your prayers! For safe travels to Al-Ahsa, for baby not coming early forcing an emergency situation, and for a safe and healthy delivery! We are looking forward to sharing pictures soon!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

One month already!

We've had a fun first month back in Saudi! Not much has changed, except some neighbors have moved on and a few new ones have moved in. And Lucy is now in KG-1, which is a pre-K program at the International School here in Jubail. Otherwise, we're living literally in the same house, with (mostly) the same neighbors, and life is pretty much just like we remembered it. (That's good, by the way.) :-)

Our flight here was uneventful, with the exception of about 10 minutes of extreme turbulence where I wasn't sure we were going to make it! The girls were asleep and thank goodness we all had seatbelts on. We heard things crashing in the galleys and people were screaming. But once it passed, we were good.

This is what your luggage looks like when moving abroad. And we didn't even max out our carry-on allowance!

Didn't take long to get comfortable in business class!

This is how you sleep on a plane!

Free Haribo in the Lufthansa business lounge! And daddy took them on a special trip to find Kinder Eggs. The 4 hour layover passed by in no time with good treats.

Our sweet Saudi friends left us a surprise upon arrival!

And some snacks!

The girls didn't waste any time and were playing on the beach our first morning.

And of course, we went to the place we all affectionately call "The Restaurant" for lunch, and as promised for several months, Lucy actually ate the sauce with her spaghetti. She had been insisting that the only sauce she eats is in Saudi, and lucky for all of us she got her chance to try it again.

That evening there was a Santa display set up in the rec center for residents. Lucy was so excited she wrote a list for him! The photographer actually captured some great pics with the girls but since I didn't know to bring a flash drive we didn't get to keep the images :(

Lucy's Christmas List: 1. Orbeez 2. Phone toy 3. Rapunzel Lego kit

The next day happened to be our annual bazaar (which is why Santa was here in the first place). Unfortunately Travis had to work so we didn't get to spend as much time shopping and playing as we would have liked. But I was able to purchase the remaining two camels to complete a set of three, a Christmas camel, and the girls got bubbles. The bubbles provided hours of entertainment in our empty house!

Ellie started playschool the next day (Sunday) and Lucy and I quickly finished unpacking our suitcases, because our shipment was due to arrive Monday! I couldn't have timed that better if I had tried! If I had been up to writing blog posts in the spring I would have told you about how it took over THREE MONTHS to receive our sea shipment going to America. It was such a pleasant surprise to get it in 8 weeks! And both our sea and air shipments arrived at the same time! But despite feeling like we had a really good handle on what to bring and what to leave at home, unpacking was still a lot of work:

A ridiculous amount of packing paper!

The kitchen is always the first priority when unpacking. Momma (and baby)'s gotta eat!

Unless the bed looks like this... maybe sleeping is more important. Why did we think we needed all this stuff anyway?

I've had fun shopping at Tamimi again. It sounds strange but for me it's actually quite a bit easier than my typical grocery shopping trip back home. I like the adventure of never knowing exactly what will be available, but there is a consistent enough stock I can usually get pretty close to what I'm looking for (and since I know what I can regularly find). Just today I was excited to find Frozen Cinnabon bites (Never would have bought those in the states!) and Charmin toilet paper. This is a big deal--I had been here a whole month without seeing it.

The first time I have ever received an ad on my front door was the week before Thanksgiving--clearly they know who their consumers are!

Here's a few random things I've seen over the last few weeks in the store that made me chuckle.

Does Cinderella use this cheese? I think I'll stick with my stash of Sargento in my freezer.

The elusive Abaya barbie! And her abaya even looks like mine! I couldn't not buy this.

If I had been invited to a white elephant party this year, this is what I would have brought.
Lucy's started school our second week in Saudi. I knew she was nervous but thankfully a friend was in her class and they got along great!

Lucy's school teachers from The Woodlands might recognize her very favorite "6T Dress". It was her Easter dress but it's very special to her... because it's a size 6. She wears it every occasion she gets!

I'm so proud of my big girl for getting past her fears of going somewhere new and having a great first day!
She really seems to be loving school and I think the curriculum is good. She brings home a poetry journal once a week where I read her a poem and she has to draw a picture about it, and she also brings home a library book once a week. That's definitely more frequently than I remembered to take her to the library in Houston!

We put a lot of effort the first two weeks we were in Saudi in getting our multi-entry visas and resident permits (Iqamas) processed. Our first time abroad we didn't realize our visas were not multi-entry to begin with (there is nothing in english written on the visa, and no good way for the average person to know how to look up their visa status) and if you follow the blog you may remember our unfortunate incident where we got stuck in Bahrain for a weekend. Well we didn't waste ANY time in pushing to get those visas, and we had them in less than two weeks! This time we weren't competing with the Ramadan holiday so that really helped expedite the process. We received our visas the day before Thanksgiving which meant we could take an impromptu trip to Bahrain! This also served as an opportunity to activate our visas. You have 90 days to leave the country to "activate" the multi-entry part, and with baby arriving in a couple months we weren't sure if we'd have too many more opportunities to do that. Our friends knew of a good brunch at a hotel with a kids club. Couldn't think of a better way to spend Thanksgiving so that's what we did!

Travis' plate. Sushi for Thanksgiving? Sure why not! The roll with the flower on it had turkey and cranberries in it. Very festive :)

My plate was a little more traditional with Turkey, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, roasted veggies, cranberry sauce, and prime rib. Yuuuuum! (I did have the veggie sushi rolls and the turkey roll too!)

The next few weeks were filled with holiday parties, doctor appointments (more on that drama later) and getting settled into our house and school routine. The following pictures are a semi-random compilation of what we've been up to:

Gymnastics class in Saudi!

Lucy requested that daddy take her for "Swimming Training"

Don't get many of these gorgeous sunsets here - there usually aren't enough clouds! This evening was particularly stunning!

Oh how I love it when the neighbors make and sell breakfast tacos!

Quality fruit snacks are hard to find, so we made our own! Ingredients were juice, gelatin, and honey. So simple, yet not something I would take the time to do at home when I can buy a box of Annie's for $2.50...

The crib is assembled! (Travis also painted baby's and the girls' rooms.) 
I have 3 weeks to figure out what to put on the walls... that's plenty of time for the third kid, right?
CPChem hosted a fun Winter Festival with activities for the kids, photo props, a catered dinner, and a hot chocolate bar! We don't get many opportunities to dress up around here so it's a big deal when a party happens!

Aren't we hilarious!

We've also had fun decorating for Christmas at home and enjoying the season as much as possible.

Is it ironic that our Saudi baby is such a ham?
One of the final things of note is that we are now the proud owner of a second-hand Nespresso machine. It's our first pod-coffee system and I think it will help me get through those first few months of newborn sleeplessness!

Nespresso latte in my favorite cow mug.
So... that's what we've been up to! It's a crazy life, but it's ours and we love it. We are blessed with incredible friends and life experiences. We look forward to continuing to share them with you through this blog as the Arabian Adventure continues, and the Rogers clan grows by one more!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!