Tuesday, August 31, 2010

having a baby, New Zealand style

  feet at 10 weeks (we're a little over 9 weeks)

Today was my first visit to the midwife. Her name is Shirley and she was my last hope.

Prenatal care is quite different here - for starters, it's called "antenatal" care. Secondly, every pregnant woman in the country is required by law to have a midwife. You're permitted to have an OB in addition to your midwife, but OBs are hard to come by here. Thirdly, Kiwi medical care is totally free for residents and for visitors on a visa of 2 years or more. Our visa is for just under two years - alas.  So we are "paying customers" for our maternity care, a rare phenomenon in New Zealand. So rare, in fact, that it was almost impossible to find someone willing to take our money.

our baby is about the size of a grape, so these fingers are TINY

With nothing else to go on, I called the first few names I found in the phone book. Midwives here operate alone or in small groups, but you contact your midwife directly on her cell phone or home phone, rather than at an office. I made several calls and left detailed messages about my situation. No one responded. Days passed. I called the coordinator of a midwife group and explained my circumstances to her - only to have lists of costs read off to me: each visit will cost this much, your first blood test will cost this much, your scan (ultrasound) will cost this much, etc... I got the distinct sense that she was politely worried that we would not be able or willing to pay these costs. Possibly this is an ongoing problem with non-citizens. Flustered, I blurted out my too-spontaneous attempt at a reassuring answer, "Oh, it's ok, we have plenty of money to cover those expenses." She laughed a bit awkwardly and responded gently, "Well....well, aren't you lucky?" But she did give me the names and numbers of a few midwives who "might be willing to work with you...."

Only one was. She had definitely been debriefed beforehand about this boastfully wealthy & potentially unstable American lady, and she was cautious. Our entire phone conversation revolved around the tactics we could use to keep costs down. I appreciated her daredevil spirit in giving me a try, and I was grateful for her desire to help us make the experience more affordable, but I hung up feeling uneasy, like the object of suspicion.

A friend here, also pregnant, told my plight - my whole plight  (why we are here, what we are doing, when we are leaving - the whole plight)  to her midwife, Shirley. Shirley was not terrified. Shirley would see me. Shirley cared for LOTS of foreign women and knew the ins and outs of navigating the international medical insurance scene. But Shirley's location required me to learn how to drive on a highway. I balked.

Finally, I called. Shirley was happy to hear from me! She didn't sound distrustful or worried about me at all. She was more than polite - she was openly friendly. And she didn't ask me a single question about how I intended to reimburse her for her services - instead, she asked me how I intended to get my Folic Acid. I loved Shirley. Shirley cared about my baby, not my finances. For Shirley, I would learn how to drive to Tauranga. And I did.

Today I finally met Shirley face-to-face. I was wearing a t-shirt that read "Jesus rocks". It's Richard's t-shirt, actually, but all of mine are in the hamper and I've been too exhausted to do much laundry lately. Shirley's face lit up and she said, "I LOVE your shirt! I'm a Christian too." I loved Shirley even more. In a country where all is private and reserved, Shirley did not find it a bit weird that I would wear something so outlandish. Shirley was willing to be outlandish with me.

Shirley asked me straight away if I was planning a home birth or a hospital birth (because of the different form required for each option). There is nothing in the world I would prefer less than a home birth. I expressed that preference (tactfully). Then, less tactfully, I burst out, "Look, I am SO grateful to you for seeing me. I had such a hard time finding someone to see me - everyone was so concerned about how I would pay them. I don't want you to feel any anxiety on that front, and we'd love to pay you up front so that you know that you won't get stuck at the end." Shirley's face was peaceful, sincere and joyful as she said, "Oh, no, you're here as a missionary. I'm not charging you anything." Needless to say, Shirley and I had a little friendly argument over that, which no one won and which will be continued.

we're about a week past this point

I spent an hour in the office talking to Shirley while Maria laid quietly on the floor, lining naked baby dolls of various sizes up against the door and periodically announcing "I have to make pee-pees". Shirley graciously waited through our excursions to the ladies' room. Richard stayed in the waiting room with Bernadette, who called out for "MAMA!!!" so frequently that he did finally (unsuccessfully) try to find us.

We left with grateful hearts and a little "pregnancy packet" of free samples, including one free BabyLove brand Newborn Nappy for babies up to 5 kg, complete with a heart-shaped "poo-poo pouch" in the back (apparently it "traps poo without spreading"), some Huggies (internationally trumps Pampers???) wipes, and a week-by-week pregnancy guide containing helpful tips such as the following: SHEEP WARNING - Pregnant women should avoid contact with ewes and newborn lambs. They may carry an infection which can cause miscarriage.

There are ten sheep for every human being in New Zealand and this is good information to have. But it was the information that was missing from this packet which was the most interesting. In the entire 144 page, advertisement-laden pregnancy magazine, there was not one single ad for formula. Vaccines, baby lotion, toys, strollers, diaper pails, baby & maternity clothing, wipes, prenatal vitamins....but not a single formula ad. In fact, the ads for the baby stores, which always include that handy checklist of the 138 purchases that you will come to think essential before welcoming your baby - those ad checklists had no mention of bottles, sterilizers, brushes, formula or anything associated with bottle-feeding. I think someone told me that up until very recently it was actually illegal to advertise formula here. Furthermore, these ad checklists were not even a quarter of the length of a condensed Babies R Us list. And still excessive. I mean, who really needs four sets of sheets for the bassinet? Both of my girls exploded out of both ends so frequently in their first months that I could do a full load of wash almost daily consisting only of items soiled by their dainty feminine newborn eruptions. But then again, that was before I knew anything about BabyLove Newborn Nappies with Poo-Poo pouches. I bet if I had been using those, it would have cut my wash load in half. I bet then I just might have needed that fourth set of bassinet sheets after all. But I'm not sure - I'll think I'll talk it over with Shirley.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

my big lug!

HAPPY 29th  BIRTHDAY RICHARD! In celebration of Rich's last year as a young, carefree, twenty-something, I'd like to share some fun facts about the man who took his future bride on such an adventurous first date that she had to go directly to the Emergency Room. Enjoy!

Richard's First Word: "Desitin"

Country Richard lived in from infancy through toddlerhood: West Africa

Early Signs of An Emerging Personality:  He once ate the wrapper too while sampling some free lasagne at Price Club

Worst Birthday Ever: As a young boy, there was terrible sulking one year over an infamously disappointing "car" birthday cake

Actual Ethnicity: Caucasian (of Italian and Eastern European origin)

Preferred Ethnicity: Black (of Haitian origin, I would guess)

Favorite Food:   Thanksgiving
Runner-Up Favorite Foods: McDonalds. Also, any highly processed form of sugar.

Most Vital Accessories: Ski Hat & iPhone

Obsessed With:   The Pittsburgh Steelers
                            X-Box Gaming
                            (not necessarily in that order)

Music He'd Die if Anyone Knew He Liked:  Taylor Swift

Worst Medical Procedure Richard Has Actually Undergone: Colonoscopy

Medical Procedure Richard Hates Worse Than A Colonoscopy:  Dental Cleanings

Literary Interests:  Tolkien
                              Virtually any Deep and Dry theological tome
                               Steelers Blogs

Quality He Finds Most Attractive in a Woman:  pointy ears - a la Arwen
              (alas, no plastic surgeon will agree to "enhance" mine for me....)

Greatest Virtues as a Papa:   Spending TIME with his girls
                                             Passing on a consuming love for the Lord
                                             Treating their mama with respect & fidelity

Something Richard Thinks He is Very Good at (but actually isn't):  
             speaking Italian

Something Richard Thinks He is Not Very Good at (but actually IS!):    
             youth ministry

Something Richard is GREAT at - and Knows it:    
            making Kelly laugh

Something Richard Realizes That He Stinks at:
           surprises (especially involving presents)
           distinguishing between baby clothes and 
                     toddler clothes
          (if you have ever seen Maria stuffed, sausage-like, into an outfit
           many sizes too small for her, you know what I mean....)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

keeping up with the news

Don't we all like to be up-to-date?! This Wednesday, August 25 will mark the 29th anniversary of the birth of my wonderful Richard; it will also be exactly three months since we left the land of the free and the home of the brave. We're about halfway through our first full school term here (everything in New Zealand seems to  revolve around the 4 school terms and the 2-3 week "holidays" that separate them). Here's a brief pictorial overview of the past five weeks in youth ministry!
Tahu girls having "heaps" of fun at the bowling alley
(Bowling is less common here - all the teens bowled with the bumpers down!)

Lighthouse teens enjoying a concert hosted at the parish

Two brave Tahu boys agree to perform a "tack walk" - barefoot & blindfolded
(we REALLY 'walk by faith and not by sight' here!)

Lighthouse teens in a totally spontaneous outburst of joy over the new books 
in the youth library....just a candid shot
Richard's welt-and-marker covered back after another game of 
"sting ping" at Boys' Group

The quieter, gentler joys of Girls' Group

A few other noteworthy & prayer-worthy points: we're giving Lighthouse a weekend-long retreat on the Our Father, starting September 5. In fact, the remainder of the term will be exploring the Fatherhood of God for both Tahu and Lighthouse, a topic that can be as beautiful as it is difficult, depending on so many factors in our lives. We appreciate prayers for the retreat and for our ability to help the youth more fully appreciate the depth of the Father's love for them each.

Last week Richard and I hosted Claire, a pro-life missionary from England. Her presence here was a catalyst for us to start thinking about ways to coax the NZ pro-life movement forward - no easy task in a culture where being easy-going and painstakingly polite (and even a bit passive) is valued so highly! Of course no one should be impolite in being pro-life, but it can be hard to simply stand up and strongly support a cause here, specifically an unpopular or controversial one. Our ideas range from writing letters to praying peacefully outside clinics to trying to start the country's first March for Life. This is a cause particularly close to my heart and I appreciate any prayers or small acts of love that can be offered to increase reverence for life here.

In Girls and God we've been studying Eve, the "Proverbial" Worthy Wife, Susanna, Bathsheba and Mary & Martha. Next we will turn our attention to Mother Teresa, who embodied so many of the virtues we have been exploring in Scripture this term (compassion, prayer, obedience to God, trust in Divine Providence, simplicity and intense love of the Lord). In fact, I would like to encourage the girls to either read books about or  watch films about the saints in the coming term. As football coaches talk to their players about great NFL quarterbacks and hold up these heroes for imitation, so do I want to be able to hold up to the girls those Christians who have run the race of faith with grace, perseverance, passion and admirable success. We have very few such titles in our library. If anyone has films they could lend (movies or documentaries about saints) or books they could donate (biographical or autobiographical) to this end, I know your generosity will bear fruit!

In A Few Good Men, Richard has covered David, the entire book of Tobit and looks forward to introducing Elijah next. Richard has been more specific in his literary requests. He'd like to add a copy of each of the following to the youth library: Wild at Heart, Captivating, House of Gold, Every Young Man's Battle, and lastly, Every Young Woman's Battle. Any book here sells for more than double the cost in the US and bookstores here are more likely to have an extensive "new age" section than any Christian section, so the youth are necessarily quite dependent on the parish library.

That ends the business summary for now. On a personal note, spring is finally approaching and we can't wait to finally enjoy this beach town that we have lived in to so little avail for three months. We both have become pretty confident wrong-side-of-the-road drivers and are aching to explore New Zealand in a few weeks during break. I'm feeling very well - exhausted but not too sick - though quite confused about my cravings for just bread and water - what happened to the girl who daily ate several bowls of ice cream and boxes of Cadbury chocolate during her previous pregnancies? I'm not sure if my baby is destined to be a monk of the most austere variety-  or a future convict - but his humble fare is sesame rolls and cold cold H20. I'm taking Richard out to a Mexican dinner for his birthday (unusual cuisine on this side of the globe) and celebrating with chocolate gelato cake, so maybe this kid will expand his horizons by the week's end. If not, I know two little girls who would be MORE than happy to eat my portion of the birthday cake...

Saturday, August 14, 2010


This charming little set of steps lies at the base of Mount Maunganui. I loved them at first sight. Then I tried to ascend them. Climbing these steps is brutal. Especially while carrying a child. However, although there is an alternative route, I will always choose these picturesque stairs. I'm drawn to them; there's something symbolic in them. They, like the ascent to holiness, are much much more challenging then they appear. I observe the holy one, the saintly one, the godly one - I see simplicity and beauty. I try to be the holy one, I barely make it past the first few steps without tripping, tiring, aching, taking a break and wondering about alternate routes.
We're trying to focus here. At the heart of all the bowling games and purity talks and concerts and testimonies and ping pong tables and vocational conversations and pop tarts and spiritual books and guitar lessons and Scripture studies and text messages and saint lessons and paintball outings....well, what is at the heart of all the happy chaos of youth ministry? Why DID Richard let the boys' group play "Sting Ping" on his back AND post the photos of the half-dollar sized welts on his Facebook page? Why? What does that have to do with our mission here?
We have to keep asking and we have to be so clear on this. And the only possible answer is holiness. Holiness for ourselves and the teens. We have to be growing in holiness together. Not us for them. Not them for us. We're all encouraging each other here and holding each other accountable. Yes, it is our role to lead and, by grace, to have the integrity to be worth being followed. We have to check our map periodically here: what exactly is this "holiness" about which we talk so much? How can we help others get to a place where we are not yet ourselves? How can we illuminate the path while deeply respecting the uniqueness with which each individual will walk?
Some elements of holiness universal to all who achieve it: above all, that overarching love for the Lord that slowly remakes the godly one to be enough like Him that others can recognize He who alone is truly holy. The Lord's greatest attribute is His mercy, and the saint is quick to forgive. The saint is joyful - deeply joyful - and humble - and has courage for and in the Lord. The saint is disciplined, has control over the flesh, possesses a spirit of self-sacrifice in the service of others. The saint is detached from, rather than absorbed in, the things of this world. The saint authentically and consistently respects other people and has moral integrity, not compromising on or rationalizing about truth and goodness, always striving for growth. (At this point, anyone who has spent one hour with Richard or myself is probably feeling quite crestfallen to realize that we are actually not saints.)
And yet, holiness is not formulaic. For Richard and I, or the youth here, or anyone reading this blog to become saintly - it is so much more than simply checking off this list and forcing ourselves by sheer willpower to embody these traits. It's so much more. And so much more simple. Because it all comes down to only one thing, one act, one habit to be faithful to - and that is prayer.
No man, or woman, can be a saint without spending a trillion or more hours in prayer. In prayer we come to know the Lord and ourselves. In fidelity to prayer we show - and grow - our love for Him. In prayer He convicts and strengthens us. A whole separate blog could easily be written on prayer (and who knows, perhaps one day...) But the point for TODAY is that the absolute most essential part of our ministry here is our own prayer life. That is what we need the most people praying for us about. Likewise, the second most important part of our ministry here is our ability to help the youth develop their own prayer life. Mother Teresa said, "The only way to learn how to pray is to pray." I assume the only way to teach others to pray is to pray with them. Not to talk about prayer or hand out books about prayer, but to pray with them, pray over them, pray for them, pray near them. Every youth night for the older teens starts with Adoration and ends with Praise and Worship. Games are played to Christian rock music and the teaching begins with prayer. But it's time to step it up even more. And I think - I think - that might have been Richard's idea with Sting Ping - how else would our fine young men here ever have witnessed the kind of uniquely serious prayer, offered up with groanings, that the martyrs would have prayed as their own agonies began? Good job Richard! Good job. But I think the girls' group will just stick to practicing praying out loud together.....

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


A third mouth to feed. A third bottom to pat. A third little lamb. A first Sealy kiwi. I've never announced a pregnancy via blog before and quite honestly, cannot fathom how to do it. But just a few days before celebrating Bernadette's first birthday, we discovered another tiny life waiting in secret and silence for his parents to become aware of and celebrate him. (I will say "him" as a reflection of my supportiveness towards Richard's Most Ardent Hope that he may finally have offspring with whom he may wrestle and play "Scary Monster". Secretly, I'd be just as thrilled with another tiny pink bundle.)

this is just about where our little guy is....

The best we can figure is that our baby has existed for about 30 days - give or take. His heart is beating. His spinal cord is closing and his eyes are developing. He's made three sets of kidneys for himself already and this week he is very busy making for himself 100 brain cells per minute around the clock. He has sprouted arms and legs this week, while making all this gray matter and yet, this little marvel is only as big as a blueberry (which is 100,000 times as big as he was at the moment of conception). Every time I'm pregnant these facts stun me. This is my fourth such time being stunned and yet, the amazement is truly keener each time. Each time also my heartbreak grows that this little life has no legal protection of his right to continue to grow and live - neither in his "native" country nor in this country in which he came into existence and in which he will take his first breath.  I'm not able to understand how - knowing all we know about embryonic and fetal development - humans can deny the most basic human right to the most wondrous and vulnerable members of our own species.

we're due on April 2 - the feast day of John Paul the Great!
what a beautiful blessing for us!

Adding another child to our current situation is crazy and beautiful and exciting and overwhelming. I had been warned by mothers of three children (and four, and more...) that sometimes the world is not as eager to greet the news of a third baby with quite the same gusto as it will accept the preceding children. Happily for Richard and I, that has not been our experience. We were relieved to have others rejoice with us over our good news and offer all sorts of support. The youth groups and the staff at the parish here are thrilled. There was only one person really who was very negative and unsupportive and I will name this individual: Maria Christine Sealy.

may our child be holy AND silly too!

We have not really TOLD Maria, we have just sort of felt her out on the topic. So, I casually asked her, "Maria, wouldn't it be fun to have another baby in our family!!!!??!??!!!" She stopped coloring, looked at me with a frown and said, "No. We already have a baby. We do not need another baby. That would be too many babies." Ah. I do see her point. There are moments when Richard and I have almost the same conversation. We've decided to wait a few months and broach the topic again. Maybe try her out again on the first of April and if she's still not on board, pretend it's just an April fool's joke. Unless of course, this little one decides to get here before April 1st, which I would appreciate so deeply after Bernadette's twerpy decision to make Mama endure an additional two weeks of pregnancy that I might fall victim to the "favorite child" trap....

it is hard to imagine it getting any
crazier around here....

Monday, August 2, 2010

68 polite days

It finally happened. It HAD to happen sooner or later, and yet, it was still a shock. Today - for the first time in New Zealand - someone was....Rude.  Now, I'm sure this incident was not the first discourteous moment in the whole history of New Zealand (although I suppose it's possible), but it was the first evidence that I have personally witnessed of unprofessional kiwi behavior.
Although in America I am totally accustomed to grocery check-out clerks texting, swearing, discussing the most intimate aspects of their personal lives with each other while ringing up my purchases (and once even questioning the paternity of my child!) that simply does NOT happen here. Kiwi grocery clerks are tidily dressed in perfectly matching uniforms. They smile at me, greet me, focus completely on the task at hand, speaking to no one else while efficiently bagging my groceries and sending me off with a friendly goodbye.
While in the States there is nothing terribly unusual about a waitress showing some frustration when I request a new beverage at time she considers "inconvenient", Kiwi waitresses almost can make one believe that they are excited to refresh your drink. The smiles are that big! And there is no tipping in New Zealand - they get paid the same whether they smile or not.

So today a lady called my home from a venue that Richard is trying to reserve for youth group events. She crisply informed me that the venue was not available on the date he had requested. When I inquired about alternative dates, her tone sunk from sour to disgusted. She refused to answer my question because she believed her position was  "CLEARLY stated on the circular, which you should have read, and there are NO EXCEPTIONS." Yikes. Maybe she just got back home to NZ after a trip to New York or something.
For the record, today's blog post is NOT about the one rude lady, but about the hundreds of polite ones. It is just so pleasant to go about your daily errands here. Not only are professionals, well, professional, but they try to talk you out of spending too much money in their store! If you are going to buy the $200 vacuum, they'll passionately implore you to just buy the $175 model, insisting that the more expensive one has too many features that you'll never need. 
While I strongly feel that New Zealand could benefit very much from importing some American practices, particularly those involved in the "delicious-food-creating" industries, there is no doubt that NZ  traditions do have something to offer in return. I might even argue that theoretically, what you sell is less important than how you sell it. I might. But then I think about the way that American milk tastes. And ice cream. And frankly, I want the best of both worlds.