Pregnancy: Week 39; Coronovirus Isolation: Week 8

It’s been 51 days since Pyra felt grass under her toes. 51 days since my sociable, sweet girl interacted with another child (in person). 51 days since my active, almost-20-month-old has run around outdoors and climbed something other than furniture or a parent. 51 days … and how many more?

But that’s the question we’re all asking right now, isn’t it? How much longer? No matter what our personal situation is, it certainly isn’t what we’re used to, nor how we want to live for an extended amount of time. You may have acres of outdoor space to romp in, but your activities or income are hindered. Maybe you go to work regularly, but you’re a little nervous about exposure to a virus that will be written about in medical and history books. We aren’t living our “normal,” no matter what our “normal” generally looks like, or even if we like our “normal” or not; but we certainly don’t want this current way of life to become the new normal. On that, I believe we could unanimously agree?

Anyhoo. 51 days of isolation. But here are some other figures that have been knocking around my head recently as well:

  • 38 ½ years old
  • 38 ½ weeks pregnant
  • 51 days of isolation due to a global pandemic

That darn “51 days of isolation” snuck back in there, refusing to be ignored!

My age and maternity situation just boggle my mind sometimes. I’m halfway through my 39th year of life and not only am I mother to a scrappy-sweet toddler girl, but I am also quite pregnant with a child whom we are told will have a penis and scrotum. Incredibly blessed to have the girl-boy combo, but did I mention that I’m 38 ½ years old?! At one point, I thought that 33 years old was sounding a little on the “old” side for starting a family. Ha!! That was back in 2014, when I first became pregnant and was ecstatic to begin our next phase in life; unfortunately, the next phase was “infertility rollercoaster” instead of “joyful life with munchkins.”

Yet here we are! Life is wonderfully uncertain and can always be counted on to throw a wrench – or a whole toolbox – into your plans and lead you down paths that twist and turn unexpectedly, frequently resulting in experiences and circumstances that we couldn’t have dreamt up, but wouldn’t change for all the cheese and bread in the world.

“Where would I be right now
If all my dreams had come true?
Deep down I know somehow
I’d have never seen your face.

This world would be a different place.
Darling, there’s no way to know
Which way your heart will go”

Mason Jennings, “Which Way Your Heart Will Go,”

For me, though, it’s not so much “which way your heart will go,” but where life’s twists and turns will lead you: almost undoubtedly away from your dreams, but very possibly into a beautiful, unexpected reality.

I wish I had been able to start a family when my body was younger, but I couldn’t. I wish I could have had babies without ever experiencing a lost pregnancy, but I couldn’t. But I would never choose to turn back the dial and do it over because I don’t know who I would be or where I would be in that alternate universe … I certainly wouldn’t have Pyra crawling into my lap for a toothy, slobbery kiss. And I likely wouldn’t be 38 ½ years old and 38 ½ weeks pregnant, in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Isolation Report

I don’t really have a lot to say on this front … not much changes over the weeks, except for the size of my belly and degree of weariness. I did leave the house for a couple hours last week- what a momentous and exhausting day that was!

I walked 40 mins (to avoid taking a taxi) to an ultrasound appointment. 40 very uncomfortable minutes because of my dang uterus. I had planned to enjoy a leisurely walk to the appointment as it would be my first lengthy walk outdoors in weeks, but instead I had “false labor” contractions* the entire way, which made the walk quite unpleasant and I just wanted to get there and stop walking as soon as possible. By the time I was a couple blocks away, I also had to pee so bad I was afraid I wouldn’t make it to the appointment with dry clothes. Thank goodness I’ve kept doing kegels now and again. (that means that I made it to the appointment without peeing myself!)

Anyway, the ultrasound went well and the results were reassuring. Baby boy has grown (although still small on the overall spectrum), my amniotic fluid and placenta look great (I didn’t even know that they can detect if a placenta starts “wearing out” but I guess they can!), and overall everything was super. The walk home was much better; my uterus must have been reassured by the good news and had settled down.

The previous day was also unusual and also because of prenatal medical appointments. However that day, the appointment came to my apartment. I was able to book a local hospital lab to come to my residence to take my blood and urine samples using WhatsApp (which is extremely common here as a primary means of communication, much to my delight). I sent the order for the tests by text and the lab even confirmed the appointment (in-person by text, not a robocall) on Sunday evening for the Monday morning appointment. They arrived at 8 am (30 minutes earlier than the appointment- so much for the Latin American stereotype of arriving late, right?) and the two technicians were in full protective gear, down to booties over their shoes. They proceeded to efficiently and painlessly draw several vials of blood for my prenatal bloodwork right at my dining room table, with Pyra and Rodney observing from a distance.

Everything went without a hitch, until they asked me for my urine sample. That is, they didn’t provide me with a sterile container and ask me to fill it … they just wanted me to hand over an already-prepared urine sample. Apparently, I was supposed to get a container at the pharmacy and have the sample ready, but nobody had enlightened me on this local tradition. The lab was kind enough to swing by a couple hours later, which gave me time to pop out to the pharmacy a couple blocks away and pick up the 25¢ sterile urine cup and fill that sucker up.

Can you imagine this scene? Waddling down the stairs of my apartment building with my huge belly, buzzing myself out of the security door and gate, my urine sample held discreetly in a paper towel and hoping that the neighbors all stay put? At least it wasn’t a stool sample, I suppose. Anyway … it all went well, and the results were accessible online by evening and showed everything to be normal. $70 for a lab to come to my home, take my samples, run a full panel of blood and urine analysis, and then have the results available remotely within 12 hours. What. A. Deal.

Recharging vitamin D during a few minutes of sunshine!

The only other thing I can think of to write about is that yesterday we finally inflated a kiddie pool for Pyra, and that has helped to eat up the long afternoon hours. We’ve waited for weeks to bring out the pool because the weather has been quite gloomy and rainy here. But yesterday we had a break in that trend and I blew up the pool. Like most kids, water play is one of Pyra’s most favorite activities, and the pool is the best $10 we’ve spent in months. However, the fun ended abruptly this afternoon when … can you guess what very predictable event happened? When a toddler is freed from the confines of a diaper and allowed to splash in a pool naked? Yeah. The afternoon water play turned into an afternoon of disinfecting the pool and terrace. Whoops. Silly mom. I just love to see her play naked!! But it was enough work for me that Pyra will be splashing around the pool with a diaper on for awhile.

I feel there were probably more interesting things to write about, but I’m done with writing for today. The magnetic force pulling me towards my pillow and bed is too great for me to withstand. I hope this ramble finds you well. Much love to you.

*I am convinced that I have an “irritable uterus.” From what I have read, I get an abnormal amount of Braxton-Hicks “false labor” or “practice” contractions. I had them a lot with Pyra too. This pregnancy feels worse, but I might just be more sensitive to them now. It’s crazy … sometimes I’ll just get one after another, after another, after another with only a minute or two between. And I think they frequently last longer (more like a minute) than “normal” Braxton-Hicks contractions. Usually, they are sporadic and I don’t mind them much at all, but when they keep going and going and I’m trying to do more than just lie around … it’s uncomfortable and annoying and I feel more than ready to be done being pregnant!!

Life in Cuenca, Ecuador – Pregnancy: Week 32; Coronavirus Isolation: Week 1

Our adventure grows more and more interesting- I suppose that holds true for just about everyone these days!

The Move

Today is Saturday. On Monday, we moved into our “permanent” apartment on the last day before the isolation mandates from the local government became much more serious. We didn’t “need” to move until Thursday, and had planned a leisurely 4-day transfer to our new home. That was when confirmed coronavirus in Ecuador was limited to a single family in a distant city. Things changed quickly as our local government started to take preventative measures. We hadn’t even started packing when we heard that we needed to start home isolation on Tuesday and that Monday would also be the last day that the grocery stores would be open for regular business- good thing we had stocked up a bit on dry good and diapers already!!

I went to get the keys for the new apartment at 10 am on Monday (an hour earlier than scheduled because the owner of the apartment was getting out of the city to her country home in front of the impending “lockdown”). I got the request for an earlier meeting around 9 am as I was heading to our favorite local bakery to stock up on sourdough bread (3 loaves of classic and 4 loaves of seeded whole wheat ☺️). The bakery was serving one client at a time, and since we had ordered ahead, they had it packaged up and ready to go. I was glad to see they were already taking precautions to reduce risk to themselves and their customers.

Because we have no car and we needed to get all our stuff moved in as little time and as few trips as possible, I took a backpack and stroller-load of groceries and baby clothes with me to the apartment via taxi. Rodney stayed at home with Pyra so she could nap, and to limit our exposure. The driver wore a mask, but no gloves; I had neither. I had intended to handle all my luggage myself, but he started to help before I could say anything. I asked him how he was doing and he said he was a little scared. No kidding. Talk about an occupation that not only holds a high level of risk to contract the coronavirus, but will also likely be restricted or forbidden for an extended period of time.

I returned to our temporary apartment Rodney had started to pack up and together we finished packing and cleaning up in just a couple hours. A generous and dear friend had agreed to help us move back when coronavirus was much more abstract, an illness only affecting people in far-off places. All of a sudden the risk of contracting the virus was much more real. This friend decided she would still help us, despite our assurances that she was completely free of any obligation. Luckily, we were completely ready, and it only took two trips. We skipped any hugs or direct contact, and we were moved over and done with our old apartment in about an hour and a half. WHAT A RELIEF!!! We are so grateful for the generosity of our friend who no-doubt should have been getting groceries or tending to her own family’s needs, but chose to help us out. It was incredible and we are so thankful!! We didn’t make it to the grocery store that day, but we were completely moved and were supplied enough with necessities to survive awhile. We are Lord and Lady of our own little apartment ☺️.

The last load to take up to the new apartment! So much lovely crap 🙂

Isolation

So, this is only our 5th day of isolation and living in our new apartment, but it feels like so much longer! With nowhere to go, and nothing much else to do, we were able to clean up, organize and move-in much faster than we normally would have. In three days we were feeling pretty settled-in, despite the fact that we hadn’t been able to acquire many items we had intended to … like sheets for the beds, furniture for the terrace, and a couple of toys for Pyra. Luckily we were insane and brought SO MUCH STUFF with us from the US; having our favorite kitchen items and household goods on hand has helped out a ton during these crazy times. It has also helped me feel a lot more “at home” to have so many familiar items with us. I never imagined how important it would be to us- we had started out feeling pretty frustrated with ourselves for schlepping so much “crap” from the US … no regrets now!!!

Cleaning and organizing provided plenty of distraction this week!

Having to stay inside with Pyra with limited resources for entertainment hasn’t been easy, but it hasn’t been awful either. Kids love everyday items so much more than toys anyway. It’s just been a game of “what to let the 18-month-old run around with?” I’ve been much more lenient in what she’s allowed to handle … and I think that’s been good for both of us.

Trying to come up with stimulating new activities for Py … dried black beans and an empty egg carton for the win this morning!

We have small terrace which was one of the highlights of this apartment, and I am so happy we stuck to our guns and made outdoor space a priority. It is wonderful!!!!! Pyra and I stripped down to our skivvies to scrub it down after discovering that to play on it meant tracking in enormous amounts of filth. I put on my maternity bathing suit (thank you, sweet cousin, Emily!) and scrubbed that terrace on my hands and knees. It was much more fun than it might have been because I let Pyra help; her giggles and nude little body entertained me as we washed away the grime.

Enjoying the terrace 🙂 I confined waterplay to the tub and a swimsuit this afternoon after yesterday’s nudie waterplay ended in me disinfecting all the toys and terrace due to poop appearing on the scene!

Rodney did go to the grocery store once this week as we realized we needed more “flavor” for our cooking. We were so spoiled before all this started: going out for lunch or dinner several times a week. We’ve had to up our cooking game, and we realized we needed more options to create tasty meals. The grocery stores are open for only 30 customers at a time, so we were concerned that he might have to stand in line for a long time. Additionally, we had heard reports that some stores were refusing customers if they didn’t have masks or gloves. We haven’t purchased masks, but we wanted to get to the store one last time before coronavirus was in Cuenca in great numbers. So, Rod donned a bandana for a mask and winter gloves and ventured out with the stroller and backpack, looking ridiculous but as prepared as he could be. Fortunately, he arrived at the store at a good time and didn’t have to wait at all. Products were in good supply and Rod came home with lots of goodies to help us get through isolation with more convenience and less desperation. The ahí (a local take on hot sauce), eggs, and corn chips have made my life so much happier the last few days 😆.

Pregnancy

So here’s the subject that concerns me the most: giving birth to a baby (who lacks a developed immune system) in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. In Ecuador. Far from medical attention that I’m familiar with or trust. Far from family support. Far from ideal.

I am INCREDIBLY grateful that we were recommended to a midwife and we were able to meet her several weeks ago. I joined a childbirth preparation group that she leads and have been getting to know four other women who are due to give birth in the next few months as well. Despite so many uncertainties still lingering, I am not alone in this … WE are not alone in this situation, and we have a small support network that is so, so, precious to me.

Even before the issue of coronavirus had infiltrated our everyday lives, I was feeling super apprehensive about using the hospitals to give birth here. Nearly all hospital births are cesarean in this country and as I’ve been told by locals, the patient has very few rights. I even heard that random people (the doctor’s father) may be allowed in the room to witness the rare and fantastical vaginal birth, while spouses and family members may be denied access. What, what?! I was told that doctor’s don’t track c-section rates, because they are so commonplace and that of the vaginal births that do occur, 9 out of 10 are with an episiotomy. (Can you see me cringing and shrinking back with horror?!?!?! Because I am!)

Rodney and I were SO relieved to meet the midwife who is a professional (certified in Mexico) with tons of experience (started training in Columbia at the age of 17) and is incredibly empathetic, knowledgable, and makes us feel very confident in her (and our) abilities. Unfortunately, we can’t combine the assurances of modern medicine of the hospital, with the experience and knowledge of the mid-wife. The hospitals won’t allow her to be our primary provider, or even to be in the room during delivery. So we are pretty well set that we will be having this baby “at home.” Not what I had imagined when I first discovered that we were pregnant again; I had visions of a comfy North American hospital birth, with my mom and sister in attendance for support. Yeah, well, that’s not happening. We decided that dual citizenship was a higher priority for this little guy than my ideals for giving birth.

Of course now, I’m not even sure what is most responsible for me to do in terms of check-ups, ultrasounds, etc. Thank goodness I’m healthy and this pregnancy has had zero issues/complications! We still have to figure out whether benefits outweigh the risks to get the usual checkups and then an ultrasound later on as we near the due date. We have yet to discuss these concerns with our midwife. We still have a little time to make decisions and feel more comfortable: I complete 32 weeks tomorrow, giving us 6-8 more weeks before baby boy should arrive.

Until Next Time

Well, I should wrap up. Rod gifted me with time to myself, and I’ve spent it rambling away here. And now I hear my sweet little Py knocking on the door looking from Mommy. Actually, she melted straight to tears as Rod turned her away in an attempt to keep her distracted and let me be alone a bit longer. I should get back to my family so he doesn’t regret offering me this spectacular gift!!

Please take care of yourselves and your families. Respect government actions to help prevent the spread of this virus and protect the vulnerable individuals in our community. You may be healthy and fight off coronavirus easily, but your actions could potentially endanger others who wouldn’t be as lucky. People will die. But we can each help to reduce those numbers.

Much love and wishes of health and peace to you all.

Cuenca: Settling In

I wrote this post two days ago. And to be honest, I cried really hard today. Cried about being an introvert in a place that will be super-hard to make new, real friends. Cried about being so far away from my family. But that little sob session relieved some of those emotions that had been welling up the last weeks. Here’s what I wrote two days ago:

* * * * * *

I was a bit homesick, feeling unsure, and … unsettled the first week we were here in Cuenca, Ecuador. I was desperately exhausted from the 24 hours of travel with a busy no-nap toddler, pregnancy, and change in elevation (Spokane, WA: 562m/1,843ft vs Cuenca, Ecuador: 2,560m/8,400ft). I also wasn’t feeling especially confident about our move; the initial culture shock and realization of how far I am from friends and family weighed on me more than I was prepared for. Fortunately, it didn’t take too long to recover from travel and only a few more days before I began to feel more settled about our decision to stay in Ecuador for a while. Familiarity with the town and language helped a lot and catching up with some friends lent even more sense of support and security.

So here we are, two weeks and two days into our stay (actually four days, since it took me two more days to get the photos uploaded after I finished writing this!!). So much has already transpired, I can’t believe it’s only been two weeks! Here are a few of the things that make me feel like it’s been longer:

  • we found and leased an apartment already!! We had been looking online since our arrival (and even before) without much luck. A wonderful local facilitator was able to show us three apartments in an afternoon and one was so great that we decided not to look any further- now that’s apartment-searching success!
  • we have joined a local midwife’s childbirth preparedness group. The first meeting is tonight, but we’ve met with the midwife already and feel really great about having her guidance in the next couple months (2.5 months until 40 weeks?!). I have been craving a greater sense of support and confidence for this birth, not that anything went wrong with our first birth, but … I want something more/different for this one. I’m hoping that this midwife will be instrumental in helping me create the support and build the confidence I’m looking for.
  • I joined intermediate-level group Spanish lessons: a much-needed opportunity for challenge and practice that has kick-started my language usage
  • we’ve met up with friends at a local festival celebration in the park where we got to meet more families, and Py and I joined a playgroup session to catch-up with friends and make new ones.
  • we’ve been exploring our current neighborhood, primarily by enjoying the delicious inexpensive local food (large lunch for $3 can’t be beat!) and frequently going to the park to play
  • we’ve hit our favorite bakeries and tried some new ones (discovered a bakery nearby that might just have my most favorite sourdough bread in Cuenca yet! I can’t believe I hadn’t tried them before?! I’m smitten with the old-world style breads and can’t wait to talk more with the owner!)
  • Rod has been to the mercado four times already, and I think I’ve been 2 or three times- fresh food is so great!!! Guacamole from fresh and flavorful avocadoes and tomato, deliciously ripe papaya with lime, snacks of pears and strawberries, veggie soup packed with fresh local produce … oh man, oh man. I really don’t like cooking these days, so the instant pot we brought is proving to be SO WORTH IT! At this elevation, it takes forever to cook grains and legumes and pressure cookers are the only way to go. Rod tried cooking black beans the last time we were in Cuenca, and after a day of soaking and several days of cooking, those beans were still hardly edible! We couldn’t believe it. I’ve made black beans, lentils, and brown rice with great success, and just made a veggie-only soup last night that took so little time, but tastes amazing (Py devoured it for dinner and had some with breakfast- me too!)

OK, I’m sure there’s more, but I’ve got to wrap this up before the pip-squeak starts her chatter and wants out of bed. She sure is enjoying all the time we spend walking and being out-and-about. Our very friendly and social Py gets to wave and interact with so many people, pigeons, and dogs 😀

Impeccable timing- there’s the little bug now!!

I’m not disgusted- it’s the sun in my eyes! Pyra loves seeing the River Tomebamba.
Py enjoying fresh pineapple juice. We never gave Pyra juice in the US, but she gets to share our juices at lunch. They’re usually just fresh fruit blended with water- pulp and all!
Blowout!!! Everybody loves a blowout … right?!?! The diapers here don’t seem to fit too well, nor are there many changing areas, making for super-fun diapering on the go!

Stepping Into the Light

I have several posts that are waiting for me to find the time and patience to type out. For some reason, I thought I would be writing all the time once the baby was born. I’d just be sitting around smiling at my newborn and have a fresh, energized mind and two free hands to write all I want, right? Ha! Ha, ha, ha, ha … ha. As I write this, I do have two free hands even though there is an adorable baby latched to my breast (I figured out how to prop her up so that I can type with both of my hands!), but my mind is far from fresh or energized. So … this post may end up a little funky … if I even manage to finish it.

Anyway. I write now on a topic I hadn’t planned to, but that’s been knocking around in my head lately: the effect of sunlight on (my) health and wellness.

Obviously, I’m not a brilliant luminary shedding light on a glowing new topic (I told you my brain is on the frazzled side), as scientists have been studying the effect of light on humans for a long time.  I just found this article– from the year I was born- on how sunlight may affect, not just mood, but fertility as well. My suspicion has long been that my infertility is due to a complex amalgam of issues related to imbalances in my immune system and hormones (not just the “sex” hormones, but ones typically not associated with fertility), but I had never considered that sunlight may play a role in my infertility.

Part of the reason we moved out of Alaska was to see if increased exposure to sunlight would help my (recently acknowledged, self-diagnosed) Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Let me tell you:

Moving to the equator may have been the single best decision I have made in my entire life. Seriously.

Since coming to live in Ecuador, I’m beginning to believe that exposure to sunlight has had an even greater influence on my well-being, and life in general, than I could have ever imagined.

For starters, it’s late November and I’m not sluggishly and irritably crawling out of bed just to day-dream of sleeping all day. In fact, yesterday I took a walk outdoors at 7 am. Of my own volition. In a good mood. What, what, what?! All the more impressive since I’m up half the night with a 2-month-old.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I’d cope this well with the lack of sleep that accompanies caring for an infant.  I’m convinced that if I had stayed home in Alaska, yesterday morning would have seen me either asleep, trying to sleep, desperately sleepy, or ridiculously grouchy. Here in Ecuador, I feel better on less sleep. I wake up more easily than I ever have, and I feel more rested than I ever have.

I also believe that increased exposure to sunlight has alleviated my tendency to be, to put it bluntly, a bitch.  I’m simply not as moody and irritable. My patience is more generous and I’m not (as) snippy. This is a beautiful change, not just for the people around me, but for me too. My irritability has been a source of immense personal guilt over the years. I don’t want to be snippy and impatient. I’ve always known that’s not who I really am, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to fix the problem. Here at the equator, I have felt that my patience runs deeper and my moods are much more even. It feels really, really, really good. Really good. The irritability and guilt ran cyclical with deeper feelings of darkness that were hard (or impossible) for me to climb out of. That leads me to the topic of the “D” word: depression.

It is clear to me now, that every winter since puberty I have slid into a mild depression. I never recognized it as being seasonal, and I also didn’t acknowledge that I was actually depressed. There was always something on which to blame my sadness, extreme lethargy, inadequacy, or apathy:  puberty itself and hormones, unmet expectations, stress at work, grief, etc. Only recently did I recognize the pattern. These life experiences weren’t causing my unfavorable symptoms, it was depression that was keeping me from coping with life’s ups and downs in a healthy way and leading to undesirable responses. I have suffered for years, and my family (especially my husband) has suffered along with me.

I believe that even the grief of my infertility and pregnancy losses was more intense and more disruptive because of SAD. I coped with my summer-time miscarriages much better than those in the winter. In the few months with prolonged sunlight, I felt more hopeful and motivated. I reached my lowest low of incapacitating grief during the mid-winter darkness. I was non-functioning. I was so low, that I reached out for professional help. And for the first time in my life, I took a prescription medication for mental health. What I wonder now: would I have reacted so deeply, would I have struggled so painfully, had I received more exposure to natural sunlight?

I also believe that sunlight somehow affects immune function. Whether it’s related to a role of hormone regulation, or something else, I have no idea. This article seems to point to the same hypothesis, without specifically stating so. There is evidence that exposure to sunlight affects immune-related disorders such as psoriasis, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, IBS, lupus, and thyroiditis. One of my fertility doctors diagnosed me with an immunological abnormality, to which he attributed my recurrent miscarriages. Could increased exposure to sunlight be a possible treatment for some cases of infertility??? That old article from my birth year states that there is at least some evidence that this may be true.

As to the potential effect on other areas of my life, I recently made the link between job dissatisfaction and SAD. As I recall, the apathy and daily battle to get out of bed for work were mostly during winter months. I think I would have appreciated and enjoyed my jobs more if I could see the light of day. Furthermore, I have frequently felt inadequate because I feel that I easily become inordinately stressed out about work. I have felt broken, weak, and a failure. The stress at work that I just couldn’t handle? I don’t think it was really that I was incompetent, but that my body was incapable of a healthy stress response and so I would just shut down. I would go home and go straight to bed, or even stay home from work in order to sleep.

I don’t know that I’ve articulated my case very well, but I’m going to wrap this post up anyway. I haven’t written this piece in one sitting, but I would like to publish it on the same day I started to write it so that I don’t run the risk of “the post that was never completed.”

One thing is for sure: I can never go back to how things were. My hypothesis may be completely incorrect and the antidote is something other than (or in addition to) sunlight.  But if I ever spend time in a geographical region with prolonged darkness, I will be taking precautions to safeguard my wellness and ensure  that I get adequate sunlight every day.

I wonder how many of my friends and family, how many of the folks reading this, would flourish- or at least feel like a better version of themselves- if, on a daily basis, they could step out into the light.

 

Photo credit: © 2018, Rodney Wehr. Cuenca, Ecuador

The Little Things of Cuenca

What makes a location, let’s say a city, special? Sometimes it’s very obvious, well-known characteristics (I’m thinking: Eiffel tower, pastries, art, history, mimes, etc.)  But I think it’s often the multitude of little, seeming inconsequential quirks, that breathe distinct life into a place. Subtleties that may even go unrecognized but create a unique feel and flavor, both for residents and visitors. And I think that sometimes these qualities are so subtle that they hard to appreciate unless you’re a visitor, or if you’ve been absent and returned.

Cuenca, Ecuador is a well-loved city, by many people, for many reasons. Tourists and resident expats feel welcome and safe here. The colonial architecture of the historic district distinguishes Cuenca from other Ecuadorian cities. It’s a very walkable city, with the best drinking water in the country (or so we’ve heard). Cuenca is supposedly more “laid back” than other cities in Ecuador, and while I haven’t actually visited any other cities in Ecuador yet, Cuenca definitely seems to fit the “laid back” designation.

As a new arrival, I have a lot to learn about Cuenca, her people, and what makes this city special to so many. And yet, there are qualities that Rodney and I noticed right away and have appreciated from day one. Other characteristics took me longer to realize, and I’m sure there are many other little things that make life in Cuenca pleasant or different, but I just haven’t recognized their presence or absence yet. I’ll try to add to this list as my thick skull allows- and feel free to comment if you’re a local or have visited Cuenca and would like to add in your thoughts!

I will note that this list is purely from our experience, and others may have different opinions/realities. Also, some of these characteristics might be valid for all of Ecuador, or even all of South America, as I have yet to visit any other areas of the continent. These are just some of our impressions; the little things that make Cuenca special, welcoming, and pleasant to us.

  • this may not be particular to Cuenca, but it’s something I noticed in the last week: older children holding hands with their parents as they walk down the sidewalk. My heart feels a little fuller every time I see it, and I feel like I didn’t see it as much at home. But maybe that’s just because, at home, we drive everywhere? In Alaska, would I see adolescent boys and girls holding their parent’s hand on the way to school or to the store if they were walking instead of driving?
  • locals seem to be very patient and low-key in their (at least public) demeanor
    • folks do not ever seem to be in a hurry nor seem to get worked up/impatient when there is a line or inconvenience
    • in the almost-month we’ve been here, I’ve yet to hear yelling, screaming, or even an argument with raised voices. Actually, I don’t think I’ve witnessed a recognizable argument yet.
  • I feel like, in general, the epidemic of “self-importance” has not hit Cuenca.
    • I was just realizing how much I appreciate the lack of persons with the “holier than thou art,” “I’ve got places to be and people to see,” “don’t inconvenience me,” mentality. I wonder if it’s because there isn’t much of a wealth/class disparity? It may well exist, but I haven’t recognized it yet … I don’t see well-dressed folks avoiding or snubbing those with less.
  • sidewalks and parks are kept very clean from litter and dog waste
    • Rod discovered that there is a pretty steep fine for not picking up your dog waste- I love that!! I wish that littering fines were enforced in the USA … even (or maybe especially) for cigarette butts. It’s mind-boggling to me that people think throwing a butt on the ground is acceptable.
    • there are folks regularly sweeping the sidewalks (not to mention that many shop owners scrub the sidewalk in front of their business most morning)
    • park vegetation appears to be cared for well and regularly (no long grass or overgrown landscaping)
  • we were really surprised about this one: cigarette smoking is uncommon
    • the majority of smoking I see is by foreigners
    • when I asked a local about why there isn’t more smoking, she didn’t really have an answer; she didn’t seem to realize that there isn’t as much smoking here as in other places. She did say that you’ll see more smoking at bars and discos, but we have yet to visit such an establishment to verify this 🙂
    • all the restaurants we’ve visited have been smoke-free, and have only experienced smoking annoyances at an outdoor seating area of a cafe
  • locals do not approach us (obvious foreigners) to sell things/ask for money
  • taxis have working meters and drivers charge only what the meter reads
  • grocers and shopkeepers appear to charge foreigners and locals the same prices for goods
  • very, very, very few insects/arachnids/creepy-crawlers (this is super remarkable to us, coming from the land of incessant mosquitoes, plentiful no-see-ums and other flying and crawling pests)
  • we’ve rarely seen folks who appear to be homeless or that blatantly struggle with substance abuse
  • it feels like a very family-friendly city. The parks are well used and families seem to spend a lot of time together. Kids seem to go everywhere with their parents and to really be members of the family, i.e. helpful, given responsibility, and acknowledged as a person, rather than simply doted on or excluded from “real life.”
  • I think this last one is a difference between the USA and the rest of the world … maybe? I appreciate, what appears to be, the honest representation of self here. The lack of disingenuous friendliness, particularly in customer service. I think so many interpersonal interactions in the US are plagued by social facades that mask true feelings and over-emphasize cheeriness and interest until we don’t even know what is “real” and “honest” in a relationship anymore. I suppose it’s because I’m an introvert, who appreciates candid and honest social interactions, that I appreciate that folks here just seem to be who they are, whatever mood they are in … and are generally neither super-friendly, nor frustratingly rude.

Maybe these aren’t even things that are unique to Cuenca and maybe folks would argue that they aren’t things that make the city special. Maybe these are just some things that I’ve noticed and wanted to recognize. I don’t know. But now there’s a list.

2-For-1 Adventure: We’re Having a Baby in Ecuador

90 days until we depart Alaska for Ecuador … and about 25 weeks more of pregnancy.

(SURPRISE!!! We’re having a baby!)

Adventure #1 – Pregnancy, childbirth, and a baby

If you’re a general member of the public, you may not realize what a huge, huge, huge, huge deal this pregnancy is for us. We’ve been riding an agonizing emotional rollercoaster of infertility for several years, but last year we called it quits and finally gave up trying for a successful pregnancy. We had spent thousands on medical help, lost five (known) early pregnancies, and shed countless tears. The emotional toll of the endeavor had grown too great and we were ready to move on with our lives. And so we did.

Instead of draining our energy on unsuccessful family-building, we redirected ourselves towards positive life-building in general. Our infertility experience made it excruciatingly clear to us that we are unable to control all aspects of our existence, but that nonetheless, we have the power of choice in all situations. Sometimes the apparent options will all seem undesirable; but we still get to choose which is the least undesirable.

We were not able to choose to have our own biological children, but we could choose to forego the years of certain emotional turmoil that would come with sticking the course. We could choose to proactively build a healthier relationship and life while we are still physically and mentally able in lieu of the tenuous and dark path that would never guarantee a biological child at the end. We have a limited length of time to live in a healthy body, and our experience reminded us of the importance to control what we can in order to create a life worth living. (If you want to read more about our infertility experience, jump to my old blog: So, this is happening …)

OK … so where was I going before I got off course … oh, yeah!

SURPRISE! We’re having a baby!

We discovered I was pregnant Thursday, January 25th. The next day I was shocked (and elated and anxious) to find that a viable fetus with a heartbeat was snuggled in my uterus (every single ultrasound I’ve had prior to this one has shown us only disappointment or sorrow). Two weeks later, we were nearly 9 weeks into the pregnancy and the baby-to-be was still alive and growing at a normal rate. I had sobbed at all of my zillions of ultrasounds … but never from joy.

Rodney has been my pillar of strength and a well-spring of positive energy from the day we first discovered the pregnancy. You see, when I took that home pregnancy test on January 25th and it was positive … I wasn’t excited. Every positive pregnancy test I’ve ever received … ended with a dead fetus. I was certain that we were in for just another “character building” experience. I really did hold a tiny glimmer of hope deep in my heart … but it’s shine was desperately buried by the shadow of doubt nurtured by years of infertility. But Rodney, from that first day, bolstered me with his excitement and confidence. It was like he willed this baby into good health and denied my body from rejecting it.

We saw the baby in the 12th week … looking like a real baby. Unbelievable. It kicked and somersaulted and was undeniably alive. Today is the first day of week 16 and we’re officially carrying a baby into the second trimester. (Aaaaaaaaa! It’s still sinking in!!) My taste for coffee and hummus has returned, but my husband’s (usually delicious) homemade sauerkraut still repels me and my sweet tooth continues to be much stronger than it has ever been before this pregnancy.

Adventure #2 – Sticking to the lifestyle change

As soon as we realized that this baby intends to join our family, we started to analyze our plans and options. We have tickets to depart Alaska for Sweden in August; plans to  be in Spain and Portugal until October; make our way to Kathmandu for a TEFL course in November; and then hang out in Southeast Asia thereafter. Baby plans to arrive in September. Hm.

To most of our family and friends, there was one obvious and clear choice: delay departure until after Baby is born and then figure out what to do and when. For Rodney and I, this sounded very unappealing. We have been working hard towards and eagerly anticipating the upcoming lifestyle change. To delay departure doesn’t just mean putting off travel, it means that Rodney would be shackled to his 9-to-5 desk job with a daily commute merely to secure ongoing healthcare to afford the birth of Baby. And then, after Baby arrives, Rodney would have limited time off from work to be with his new child. Quite simply, that wasn’t the obvious and clear best choice for us.

We looked at the healthcare costs of various other countries to see if we could afford to stick to our original plan and have Baby along the way. Our minimal research suggested that we would probably pay a similar out-of-pocket amount for Baby to be born in Sweden or Spain as in Alaska, but what we didn’t know is if we would want to bunker down for awhile to adjust to life with new Baby. Additionally, if we were going to have give birth outside of the USA … how about securing dual citizenship as a bonus gift to Baby?

Jus soli, or birthright citizenship, is a privilege offered by relatively few nations- certainly not Sweden or Spain. But when we looked at countries that do confer birthright citizenship, we were excited to see that Ecuador (along with most American nations) is among the few. Ecuador ranked highly in our list of potential countries to move to when we started to talk about lifestyle changes about a year and a half ago. Ultimately, we decided to “slow travel” for an indefinite period before plunging into a more permanent move … but, here was Ecuador again. Waving it’s cheery flag of desirable characteristics.

Ecuador is well-known in the ex-pat community. Its affordable and relatively good healthcare, low-cost living, pleasant climate, incredible biodiversity, foreigner-friendly national language and visa policies have put Ecuador in the top rankings of “best countries for expats” for a handful of years (albeit, it’s rank has slipped a bit in the last year or two as other countries have gained popularity). Having already been on our radar as a potential country to move to, Ecuador quickly became our target destination when it appeared in the list of jus soli countries. We excitedly researched medical and visa options and then with some good-looking data to lean on, decided that moving to Ecuador to have Baby and stay indefinitely will be our new plan.

So there you have it. We’re off on a serendipitous 2-for-1 adventure, thanks to the inability to control all aspects of our existence, combined with the invaluable power to choose. It’s deliberosity, baby: there’s always a choice. And we are doing our best to make the most of our insignificant and fabulous lives. Woooot!!