Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pregnant lady on the move!

No, I am not, thank gosh, pregnant again, but one year ago this week my beautiful baby boy was born, and I've never shared my  experinece of my FS OB med-evac.

Although it is State policy to recommend that all women return to the US to give birth, many FS women give birth abroad and have good experiences. Manila has excellent medical care and I loved my Filipino OB, Dr. H. However, this being my first birth experience, I wanted to be with my family in my own country, and also wanted to use a hospital-based midwife (which I highly recommend). Plus, I didn't want to deny my baby the ability to run for President. God help him if he takes that task on.

First, the facts. If you choose to return home or give birth in your region's med evac point (EAP's is Singapore), you will receive housing and meals per diem for 12 weeks: 6 weeks before birth and 6 weeks after. In general, MED is pretty strict about this timing, so if you want to depart earlier or return to post later, you will be paying out of pocket for the extra days. My boss, the CLO, was very generous and accommodated me taking 16 weeks of maternity leave. State does not offer paid maternity or paternity leave, so once you have used up your annual and sick leave you go on LWOP status. 

Your per diem allowance varies based on where you go. In Florida my allowance was only $88/night, which is absurdly low for the area, amd so I stayed with my parents for the duration of my med evac. If you return to DC, your allowance is appropriate for housing costs in the area. If your due date falls during home leave or a DC assignment, you are not on a med evac and are on your own.

The pros to returning home are obvious: familiar medical care setting with providers who speak English--can you imagine being in labor and trying to speak a newly acquired language, if you even had language training?--easier access for family members to meet the baby, and the convenience benefits of being in the US. Drawbacks: if your per diem is insufficient and you can't afford to get an extended stay hotel room, crashing with your folks for 4 months with a new baby is a lot to ask of one's family, unless they live in a very large house and have a cook and a maid. My parents were wonderful and extremely generous, but they do not have the aforementioned house and helpers.

In addition, if your embassy is short-staffed or very small, it may be more difficult for Dad to be present for the birth AND the first few weeks of newborn care, which is hard on both parents. If you have the baby at post, Dad has more flexibility, and Mom likely has a domestic helper at home.

I am glad I returned home for Kyle's birth, and if i have another baby my choice to med evac or not will depend on the situation. In Albania, having the baby in country is not an option due to lack of sufficient medical care. Other than freaking out, I'm not sure what MED would do if one hired a local midwife and insisted on a home birth. Probably revoke your medical clearance. 

If you have any questions about being in the FS while pregnant, please don't hesitate to ask.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bidding on Manila?

I wrote this list when we had only been in Manila for six months, but I have nothing I want to change now that our tour is over, except to add that Manila is a fantastic post for families with young children. Blogger and iPads don't mix well, so I have to add that pro up here:
9) Yayas and child-friendly everything - want to go on a date with your spouse? Yaya to the rescue-an entire day of in-home, devoted, and reliable child care for only $22! Is your child having a meltdown in the Sofitel? No problem-here come a troupe waiters, waitresses, and fellow brunchers ready to help you calm him down. Have 3 or more kids? Your housing is going to be fantastic. 


1) Community - The Embassy has wonderful leadership and is staffed by a great group of people, creating a friendly work environment despite the heavy workload in the consular section. The social community is inclusive and supportive, and there are plenty of opportunities to make friends.

2) Travel - The Philippines is a beautiful country, and Manila is well located for Southeast Asian travel. Domestic travel can be either cheap or expensive, depending on where you stay.

3) Food - Although Filipino food and Americans don't usually mix well, there are good restaurants in Makati and the Fort.
4) Domestic help - Imagine a life where your house is always clean, dinner is ready, and there's no such thing as laundry nights. And most importantly, you can afford it. Drivers are helpful in dealing with the traffic and parking problems, and can multi-task as professional dog walkers, errand runners, and bag schleppers. 
5) Safety - There are certain places in the country where you cannot go, and there is a travel warning in the Philippines, but Manila is generally as safe as any other mega-city. 
6) Availability of goods - Unless you shop like a local, and it's difficult to shop like a local, you will pay US equivalent or higher prices for most of your groceries and household basics. Manila has a 5% COLA. However, you have access to many familiar US, Australian, and European goods, which helps if you are already overwhelmed by the city. When you can't think straight because you battled an hour of traffic getting to the grocery store, at last you will find a few familiar labels on the shelves. You won't find everything you want, but you'll find most of it. Local and imported fruits and veggies are generally plentiful, depending on the season. 
7) Good deals -  Restaurant dining and home food delivery is extremely affordable, particularly if you are used to paying D.C. prices. High-quality and skilled crafts, furniture, jewelry and clothing is wonderfully inexpensive at markets such as Greenhills, and travel can be cheap. You can have incredibly fresh, organic vegetables delivered nearly to your door for less than $100/month--take that, Whole Foods. Massages are the best deal in town, even at the Sofitel.
8) EFM employment - Most spouses who want to work are able to find a job at the Embassy, and most enjoy their work.

1) Air quality: The air quality here is poor, which makes it difficult to spend very much time outside. In addition to the pollution caused by smoke-spewing buses, cars, and jeepneys, there's always an interesting smell heading your way on the next breeze.
2) Traffic: Planning a night out is always a challenge. It could take 15 minutes to get to your destination, or it could take over an hour, and the traffic is unpredictable. For this reason, most people spend a lot of time at home or at the homes of their friends. In addition, driving in Manila is difficult, and requires your full attention when you are behind the wheel. The rule of the road is that there are no rules.
3) Nothing is easy: The only easy way to run an errand in Manila is to ask your driver to run it for you. From the traffic to finding what you need to dealing with salespeople, hilarity inevitably ensues.
4) Noise: Fireworks go off year round and at all times of the day and night, cars backfire, horns blare, scooters buzz, and there is the occasional parade.
5) Walk-ability: What walk-ability?
6) Money: Yes, you can save money, but not as much as you'd think. Good mental health requires escaping from the city approximately once/month, which can get expensive.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Mobile Mama

It's not easy to maintain a routine in a mobile lifestyle. If it's just you and another reasonably flexible adult, you can  make a  routine fit no matter where you are and what you're doing,  but babies and dogs require more stability.

Of our two dogs, Julie, the Vizsla, is having the hardest time re-patriating. Poor Julie, in Manila she was walked three times a day by her friend Tony, who's official title was Driver, but he spent more time with the dogs than he did driving. Since we've been back, Julie has had a hard time adjusting to her American lifestyle. When we brought Kyle home from the US, Julie and Grace barely noticed. They had their aso yaya and Tony, and we were an afterthought. Here, attention is spread very thin. The baby of course absorbs 90% of household energy, leaving a very small amount to be portioned across self-care, relationship care, and dog care, not to mention laundry. 

Julie's not the only one adjusting to our household reducing by 3/5. Kyle has never been an easy sleeper, but since I had a mama's helper in Manila, I never felt the pressure of being on the job 24 hours a day. This is the hardest job I've ever had. Of course I love taking care of my baby-but a lunch break (or a bathroom break) would be nice once in a while.

As we adjust to living in the US, and I adjust to the American model of motherhood--all me, all the time, except on weekends or if a grandparent is visiting--I am trying to maintain a routine despite moving, traveling, home leave, and a million other routine saboteurs. Kyle is a flexible baby, but he is not a low maitenance baby. I am a devoted mama, but I need a little time to be something other than a mama. In the US, those opportunities are few, especially when baby has quit taking naps in his crib because he became accustomed to being held while we were on the move.

Now if you'll excuse me, I see that Kyle is learning how to work doorknobs.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Family Ties

One time I asked a Filipino domestic worker if Filipinos as a group were tolerant of homosexuality. This person, who is around 50 years old, said that although homosexuality was not accepted in the 1980s, now nearly all Filipinos have a sibling who has come out, and in general have come to realize that homosexuals are "just like everybody else: they are my sister; my brother." 
The Philippines is a devoutly Christian country. On issues such as abortion, they are 150% pro-life. They are also pro-family, and it's not uncommon for a Filipino to have 9 siblings, so if one of those ten children is attracted to people of the same gender, almost everyone has someone they love who is gay, lesbian, or bi-sexual. And to their credit, instead of ostracizing their brothers and sisters, they have come to accept them. 
If you believe that it's ok to discrimate against someone based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation, then I'm not talking to you. However, if you don't believe it's ok, then don't go to Chick fil A today. Even if you think the uproar is stupid, don't care about gay rights, think Chick-fil-A is a good company, or believe that all companies and their CEOs are evil and there's no point in boycotting any of them, you don't need to join ranks with those who are mobbing Chick-fil-A today. Today, support your brothers and sisters; you can eat at Chick-fil-A tomorrow.