Kris à Genève

A Canadian living in Switzerland

The home that Eileen built

with 2 comments

Eileen is due to deliver our first child, a girl, within the coming week. Our emotions are a mix of anticipation and patience: meeting our daughter is imminent, but we have long since fallen into the rhythm of pregnancy, which advances at its own pace, unseen. We completed many of the preparations ahead of time, leaving us these last couple of weeks of calm and reflection before the inevitable upheaval that our third family member will bring.

My experience of pregnancy has obviously not included the physical progression of the trimesters that Eileen has experienced. Instead, thoughts and emotions have been the channels for my experience of Eileen’s pregnancy. Ironically, my experience has followed its own trimesters of sorts, although they have not necessarily matched the physical ones.

During my first “father’s trimester,” the pregnancy lived in my head, as I was fascinated by its unstoppable biology: we had awoken the life-creating imperative of Eileen’s body. Once awake, its complex processes whirred inside, invisible and indifferent to us. During this period, my concentration on the pregnancy and its implications blinked on and off. I could spend an hour thinking and reading about fetal development, but with Eileen’s body revealing few outward symptoms, I could easily move on to other thoughts for hours.

Preparation and planning characterised my second trimester. To prepare, we moved to a new apartment, furnished our new home and began acquiring the necessary soft supplies. To plan, we began reading and discussing parenting books. This increased activity and contemplation, combined with Eileen’s visible bump, began to make the pregnancy “real” for the first time. Whereas I had experienced the first trimester of pregnancy as a new, distant concept; the ritual of preparation during the second prompted me to visualise my coming life with our daughter.

Our baby-related activities have slowed in these last weeks of the third trimester, even as our anticipation has amplified. The preparations are made, the medical tests are complete and Eileen wants her body back! All that remains is for labour to begin. So with more preoccupation than earlier in the pregnancy, we monitor the baby’s movements and, in the last few days, the onset of Braxton-Hicks contractions – the uterus’ pre-labour contractions, mild and infrequent, by which it prepares itself for the more sustained effort to come.

As we approach the due date, Eileen is at her biggest, which complicates her movements and restricts her sleep. The size of her belly, and our redoubled focus on what is happening inside of it, has given me an overwhelming appreciation of the effort Eileen’s body has made to protect and nurture our baby, even if the process is largely involuntary. Eileen has built an impressive home for our daughter as she prepares to enter the world!

Below are a collection of photos that illustrate the progression of Eileen’s pregnancy. In many ways, they also illustrate my own “father’s trimesters” that I described above. Many of the earlier photos illustrate the pregnancy through extraneous objects, at a time when Eileen’s body was not yet a convincing piece of visual evidence. Later, my photos follow the growth of Eileen’s belly. Most recently, my photos struggle to express more complex feelings: my anticipation at meeting my daughter; my gratitude to Eileen for growing our baby; and my brimming love for Eileen.

Best to begin with the first piece of evidence in many pregnancies: the little purple line.

Here is an assortment of paper evidence of the pregnancy:

Pregnancy on paper

From my perspective, Eileen underwent a silly number of ultrasounds: one per month during her appointments with her doctor, plus the more rigorous monitoring scans every 10 weeks or so. In addition, Eileen had an “external cephalic version,” a procedure in which the doctor manually turned our baby from a breech (head up) position to the preferred head-down position – a procedure that required another handful of ultrasound scans. This technology is no doubt extremely valuable for detecting problems, and there is no indication that repeated exposure causes any damage. But Eileen must have had 15-20 ultrasound scans: surely that goes beyond doctors being careful, and becomes the compulsive use of “the machine that goes ‘ping’,” as Monty Python so accurately parodied.

Nevertheless, it was instructive for Eileen and me to remember that, when our mothers were pregnant with us, there was nothing approaching the current technology. Where Eileen and I have seen several clear images of our baby, of her movements and of her heart beating, our parents could only imagine these images until after we were born. Amazing!

Here is a close-up from Eileen’s first ultrasound. I believe the black zone of the enlarged area is fluid, within which the white patch represents our baby’s first dividing cells. But frankly I just took the doctor’s word for this and remarked that ultrasound technicians really do require some specialised training.

It surprised me to learn that many of the insights into a pregnancy that doctors draw from technology, specifically ultrasound, are much more accurate earlier in the pregnancy rather than later. For example, this scan from week 13 shows one of the clearest images we have of our daughter in utero. Using measurements taken during the week 20 scan, the doctor gave us a projected birth weight of 3.2kg, which is apparently much more accurate than anything they can draw from scans late in the pregnancy. I suppose the lack of clear images and accurate measurements late in the pregnancy is due to things becoming increasingly crammed in there, but it surprised me that the technology can still not account for that.

Invoices are the other paper evidence of a pregnancy in Switzerland, albeit decidedly less interesting ones than the ultrasound images. Every resident of Switzerland is required to buy private medical insurance and, however basic your plan, it covers a set of services and a hospital stay for the pregnant mother. Eileen’s plan is through the UN and is relatively generous, allowing her, for example, to have a two-bed room at the hospital instead of a four-bed one, and to have the head of the hospital obstetrics department monitor the latter part of her pregnancy and administer the birth. The basic coverage would involve the midwives administering the birth, with a random on-duty doctor called in only if needed.

Together, the various ultrasounds, tests and doctor’s appointments confirmed what Eileen already knew throughout her pregnancy: that despite some intermittent discomfort, she felt fine. Unless Eileen has made a determined effort to hide feelings of anxiety and pain from me – as likely as pigs flying – she has made pregnancy look easy. She suffered some queasiness during the first trimester, but no dashes to the toilet. As anticipated, she felt great during the second trimester. Recently in the third trimester, moving and sleeping are difficult with the size of her belly, but nothing worrisome.

The external cephalic version procedure was the one outright painful moment Eileen endured during the pregnancy. The doctor was gentle and quick, but it still required that she push hard with her fingers, upwards under the baby’s bum, and downward on her head, to force a half somersault and invert her position. Eileen breathed under duress but did not utter a peep, and the procedure was successful after approximately two minutes of discomfort. Afterwards, we reflected that, along with its successful outcome, the procedure was a helpful trial in a birth-like context. I was standing beside Eileen’s head, stroking her head. But she realised afterward that, for the delivery, she will prefer that I hold her hand.

Altogether then, Eileen has built a beautiful home for our baby, and without much drama. Below is a first sequence of portraits of Eileen, converted to video, that show the changes to her body at a few points during her 39 weeks of pregnancy. For me, her belly began really growing only after the twentieth week or so.

I uploaded the video at a higher resolution so that it can be maximised on the computer screen, but on my machine, that means it loads a little slowly. It also defaults to a lower resolution, so I increased it manually with the little gear-like icon in the bottom right of the player.

Here is another photo sequence, isolating her belly:

Here are a couple of shots of Eileen’s belly as seen from above. For some reason, she did not want me to shoot one from below.

In anticipation of our daughter leaving her comfortable, but cramped, first home and needing a place to live, we moved to a larger apartment in April. It was a great move, from the comfortable, but isolated and boring suburb of Petit Saconnex; to the lively, central quartier of Plainpalais. We continue to gush about how lucky we are to have found this apartment in this neighbourhood. Until it happened, we thought such housing bliss was illegal in Geneva’s tight rental market.

Because our last apartment was furnished, we furnished the new one almost from scratch. A satisfying aspect of our baby preparation was being able to think about the apartment and its furniture with the baby in mind from the start: leather upholstery, rounded edges and brackets to fix the bookshelves to the wall. No anxiety about old, dear furnishings absorbing baby excretions!

Here is a photo sequence of the evolution of the baby’s room, from the day we moved in until now:

On one of the rare dry days in May, Eileen and I shot some portraits next to the Arve River, which is near our new apartment. The river is full to bursting this year due to the long, wet winter and spring. We shot some photos of my beautiful wife, as well as perhaps the last portraits of the two of us as a young, well rested couple. Here is Eileen enjoying the cool breeze that always runs along the glacier-fed Arve:

The following is one of my favourite photos of Eileen. I think it illustrates best the home that Eileen built for our baby, and the image prompted my idea for this blog entry.

Finally, here is a good shot of the two of us, in front of the rushing water and rich green:

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Written by Kris Terauds

June 18, 2013 at 10:25

2 Responses

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  1. So many mom bloggers out there, it’s nice to get it from an involved father’s perspective. I can already tell you are going to make a great dad, Kris. I once read that when a baby is born the father’s life is different but the mother begins a new life. I think this is the truest thing I read during my whole pregnancy. Nothing else a book can say will prepare you for this new person and the changes she will bring. So, happy soon to be birthday not just for your newborn girl but for Eileen as well. Raising a child is the best, hardest, most rewarding, demanding, frustrating, exhilarating, important, selfless, scary, daunting, funnest thing you will ever do! Nothing else will remind you better what it is to be alive.

    kim

    June 18, 2013 at 15:27


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