Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Most Surprising Things About (My) Pregnancy

Over the last 8.5 months, my pregnancy has been pretty predictable. I've gotten bigger. I occasionally cry about silly things. I've become obsessed with baby clothes and supplies, and I spend too much time reading way too many articles and books on pregnancy and parenting. But there have been some surprises, too. The biggest one:

Every pregnancy is different. Symptoms vary dramatically from woman to woman. The best ways to deal with those symptoms vary too. The way that we react to challenges, and the way that things affect us over the course of these 10 months—it's all over the map. You can ask for advice from fellow mamas—and you probably should, at least to get some empathy—but ultimately, this journey is yours, and you've got to figure out your best path.

Doctor's visits are pretty painless (at least for the first nine-ish months). I'd always imagined that being pregnant would involve endless doctor's visits with endlessly uncomfortable pelvic exams, but I've been surprised to find that most visits are quite routine—even boring. Blood pressure check, weight check, heartbeat check, any questions? And I'm on my way. My last month of visits will be weekly—and sans clothes, I've been warned—but I'm relieved everything up until now has been so simple.

Some people just love a pregnant woman. Sure, I've gotten the occasional rude comment about my size—that wasn't a surprise. But what I didn't expect was so much genuine joy and curiosity directed at my belly. I mean, there are a lot of pregnant ladies out there. I rarely give them a second glance, myself—never have. But since I started really showing, I've learned that some people will grin broadly when they see me, ask questions (When are you due? Boy or girl?), and sometimes even talk directly to my belly (Hi, baby!). It's impossibly sweet and it always makes me feel good.

Birth plans don't really matter. There's so much talk of birth plans on the internet today that it seems like a crucial part of preparing for baby. A lot of it comes from mommy bloggers who position themselves as experts because they've had a few babies. But you know who the real experts are? Doctors. Nurses. Midwives. They're the ones who will guide you through this crazy, completely unpredictable experience called childbirth, and it doesn't really matter what kind of a la carte birthing experience you've carefully outlined using some template you found online. Talk to your doctor about what you want, then trust them to get you through the process.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Two Days in Porto

It's been nearly a year since our trip to Europe... seems like a good time to share some photos, eh?

Our visit to Porto did not start off well. We flew in from Paris in the morning and had problems with the metro, which led to us missing our meeting with our Airbnb host. By the time we finally got into the city, it was raining hard and we were quickly soaked through to our skivvies. Eventually, we found refuge in a little restaurant next door to the apartment, and the kind waitress poured us each a big glass of wine and let us use her phone to call the host.

A few minutes later, we were checking in to the most beautiful Airbnb we'd ever seen. Massive French doors opened up to a small balcony and a view of the ancient rooftops and the Douro River. We changed into dry clothes and collapsed onto the bed, where we were perfectly content to watch the deluge and drift off into a nap until nightfall, when the rain mercifully began to subside.

Our time in the city was limited to just a couple of days, but Porto is small enough that we were able to get a solid sense of things despite our schedule. These are just a few highlights from our stay.

Francesinhas (and Other Fine Foods). Porto is not a culinary capital, which I'll admit was almost a relief after the sometimes intimidating scene in Paris. Even so, we enjoyed some truly memorable meals in the city, from simple pastries from a quiet bakery to the famous francesinha. You'll find Porto's signature sandwich in restaurants all over the city, each one boasting to have the best. The recipe is the same in most places: Ham, sausage, and steak are sandwiched between two thick slices of bread and topped with cheese, an egg, and a tomato-beer sauce. It's all served on a bed of salty fries, preferably with a tall glass of light beer. We felt terrible after eating it, but I'm so glad we did it. (We had ours at Restaurante Girassol.)

We also stopped by the beautiful Art Deco Majestic Cafe, which is a popular place for coffee and cakes. And we had a traditional Portuguese seafood dinner at the cave-like Adega de San Nicolau, which was tucked away right under our apartment. I really wanted to eat at Book, but we ran out of time.

Aimlessly Wandering. We woke up before dawn and decided to go out in search of a place to watch the sunrise. As it turned out, the city's narrow, winding streets (said to have inspired J.K. Rowling's depiction of Diagon Alley) can really do a number on your sense of direction. While we didn't find an overlook, we did discover some beautiful spots, and we enjoyed watching the city slowly wake from its slumber. We continued our wanderings for the rest of the day, thankful for the bright sunshine after the rain.

A New Perspective. Eventually, we did find the dramatic views we were searching for—first at the Clerigos Tower, then from the Dom Luis Bridge. We also took a cable car ride over the river and the city's famous port factories.

The next morning, we headed to the train station to catch a ride to Lisbon, feeling satisfied with our explorations of Porto. There's a lot we didn't have time to do—like tour the port factories, visit the Crystal Palace Gardens, or explore the Douro wine region and Piscina das Mares—but I'm sure we'll return. The short but sweet stop solidified Portugal's ranking as one of our favorite countries in the world, and I can't wait to go back.