Category Archives: cultural differences

I’m home but I’m not the same

It’s interesting how the things that you cannot really remember like the sounds of the birds, the smells and the way the air feels crisp in the morning are the things that make you feel most at home. However, it’s also a bit weird to live in the homecountry again because we are not the same anymore. Little things that you have to get used to again, like the fact that nobody packs your bags at the grocery store and that it’s so much busier on the streets and in public transportation (whaaaahh there’s bikes everywhere!!).

But also bigger things, because to you, my dear audience, I have always been InBabyAttachMode: somebody with children who is open about the fact that I tandem nurse and sleep in the same bed as my babies. But to my friends and some of my family here, I am still the person who left to go to the US four years ago. This person that I can only vaguely remember that used to have time for drinking, shopping and chatting without having to make sure her child doesn’t drown himself in the nearest pond. Now I am someone who needs to eat dinner at 5.30 to make sure the kids can go to bed early enough that I have an hour for myself (in the best situation) before I go to bed in order to feel relatively rested when BlueEyes wakes up at 5 the next morning.

And maybe this is the most challenging thing about leaving and coming back: to figure out how the new you relates to the people who best remember the old you.

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Filed under attachment parenting, baby, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, cultural differences, observations, travel

Judging science without looking at productivity?

The Netherlands has had its fair (or more than fair) share of scientific fraud. In an attempt to reduce this, the Dutch scientific organizations have decided to evaluate the quality of science using three instead of four criteria. This means they leave out “productivity” as a means to assess quality of the Dutch universities and institutions. The three remaining measures are “scientific quality”, “societal relevance” and whether the science is “future-proof”. The scientific organizations remark that this is a way to say that “more isn’t always better”. However, if you read further it says that scientific quality will be assessed by looking at output in the form of papers and books.

I’m a bit puzzled: productivity isn’t a measure for quality but quality is assessed by looking at papers? I don’t even want to get started about this focus on societal relevance. What will happen to all sorts of science that don’t immediately lead to curing cancer? And even worse: what does it mean that science has to be future-proof?

I think it’s important to make an effort to reduce scientific fraud but I’m unsure whether this is the way to do this. I think papers will remain the currency of science, and it seems impossible to assess scientific quality without looking at papers. Or am I wrong here?

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Filed under absurd, academia, authorship, cultural differences, ethics, in the news, review, science

I’m leaving on a jet plane…

I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back (online) again. Probably soon!

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Filed under cultural differences, travel

I wanted this and now it’s almost over

From when I just started grad school I knew I wanted to do a post-doc in the US. I understand that many disgruntled post-docs will laugh when I say that being a post-doc was my dream job; not many kids will answer “post-doc” when asked about what they want to be when they grow up. It’s also not something very permanent. But what appealed to me is that it was an easy way to live in the US for a while. America. The country I knew from watching The Simpsons and Beverly Hills 90210. The country that made me realize that Sim City was based on actual cities, because to a European it seems weird that you can start a totally new city from scratch. Unless it was bombed in WW2.

So we did it: my husband (boyfriend at the time) and I moved to the US and became post-docs. Fast forward 4 years, some papers, a baby, a wedding and another baby and we’re almost ready to move back to the homecountry. I guess this extended maternity leave time gives me some space to reflect and made me realize: this was what I wanted and now it is almost over. I have a husband, children (saying this in plural still feels weird) and I lived in the US for 4 years. I guess now the rest of my life starts. (I know, I’m ‘only’ still a post-doc, there’s so much more after this, but stopping and realizing this makes me feel both appreciative and a little shocked about how time goes by as well).

So now these last few weeks that we’re here I am extra mindful of the squirrels outside (we don’t have those in the homecountry), the homeless people falling over after taking opiates (we don’t have those either; at least not visible), the potholes in the streets, the public bathrooms everywhere, the American flags on every building (in the homecountry you only put the flag up when a member of the royal family has their birthday or when you kid graduates high school) and the easy commute by car that leaves your hair like you did it at home (the homecountry is the country of bikes, but also that of tons of rain… not the best combination).

But this is also the country where quitting your job means no health insurance anymore, and where people go bankrupt because of medical costs. You call that freedom, I call that scary. Coming from a country of lots of social security (although I notice that in a crappy economy that is the first thing to go), that is something that I value more than I thought. Also, this is not the country where all of our family lives. And after BlueEyes was born, we quickly decided that eventually we were going to move back. And eventually will be in 3 weeks. Three weeks. I’m going to need new dreams.

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Filed under advice for foreign post-docs, baby, cultural differences, cycling, disgruntled postdoc, health insurance, marriage, observations, postdoc, safety, travel

Why I decided not to have a home birth

This blog post has been in the making (in my head at least) for months if not years. Normally I write a blog post in 10-15 minutes after having thought about it for a while, but this one has taken me way longer. It has had different titles and different angles, but I think this is the final version.

When I was pregnant with Little Brother I was debating whether to have him at home. I wanted to blog about that process but I was afraid that my search of where to give birth would turn into a heated debate and I didn’t feel like putting on my meat pants. So I kept this search to myself. I do however want to share the process after the fact.

“Why would you consider a home birth?” one might ask. I think for the majority of women having a home birth in the US it isn’t about putting videos of your birth on YouTube. It’s about looking for an environment where you feel safe and have your wishes respected where possible. I considered a home birth for what you might call selfish reasons: wanting to sleep in my own bed after having given birth, not wanting a nurse to have to take my temperature while I was pushing a baby out because that was exactly an hour after she had last taken my temperature, not having to drive to the hospital while already in labor, because otherwise contractions might stop on the way in. So I asked my midwife (CNM, not CPM) at my first visit when pregnant with Little Brother whether she thought a home birth was an option (the CNMs in this practice attend births at a hospital, not at home). She told me that even though she thought I would be a good candidate (young, healthy, relatively smooth first birth), she couldn’t refer me to any CNMs because there are no CNMs attending home births in my area.

So I turned with my question to the lady who was my doula at BlueEyes’ birth. She was also the person who gave a child birth class, not hindered by much scientific knowledge (for example explaining how the cervix is a sphincter, which it’s not). And, as an important aside: this is what I hate about the current “child birth industry” as you might call it in the US: it is nearly impossible to find people to educate you about what kind of choices you can make regarding birth, and especially unmedicated birth, that are driven by scientific evidence rather than personal opinions.

So my former doula sent me an email with a bunch of names of CPMs in the neighborhood. I googled them and found some of their names on a listserv talking about learning to suture at someone’s kitchen table. And since I had a third degree tear with BlueEyes birth, that was too difficult for my midwife to suture and required the trained hands of the head of OB/GYN at the hospital, I started to get a bit hesitant about having a home birth attended by someone who learned to suture at someone’s kitchen table.

-For those of you who are going to say that if I wasn’t in the stressful environment of the hospital I wouldn’t have had a third degree tear: I don’t think that was true. I was laboring on my knees without anyone telling me how to push (which seems to be better for your urodynamic factors) but BlueEyes came out in one push with his hand next to his face. Little Brother’s birth taught me that even with very gentle pushing, a super comfortable environment, and my midwife having her hand on my perineum, a hand next to the face still meant a second degree tear in my case.

Also: what would I do if I switched to a CPM for a home birth but my baby would be breech or it would otherwise not be a low risk birth anymore? Then I could probably not easily switch back to my wonderful CNM practice. And would I trust this CPM to know if my baby was breech? And, the most important factor in my decision: you can’t argue with data. The recent release of the home birth death rate shows the home birth death rate in the US is 450% higher than hospital birth. (although these data weren’t there yet when I was deciding whether to have a home birth or not).

Another important reason was that in The Netherlands, where many low risk births happen at home, a significant proportion of women need to transfer at some point during or right after birth (sorry I can’t find this stat anymore, will keep looking to link to it!). What would happen if I would need to transfer in a country where this isn’t happening on a daily basis? Would the CPM dare to go to the hospital or would she be hesitant to take me there because of her fear of a law suit? Would I be in time? And how would the OB on call react to someone having attempted a home birth? What would my insurance say?

I have no answers to these questions because this is where I stopped my search and decided to have Little Brother in the hospital, with the same midwife practice as BlueEyes. It is a great practice where they encourage you to express your wishes and try to adhere to them as much as possible within the boundaries of science and reason. Looking back I don’t even know why I went on this quest of deciding to have a home birth or not but I guess it was necessary to feel that I made the right choice. I might have decided otherwise if I had lived in my homecountry or if my midwifery practice hadn’t existed.

Unfortunately, my midwifery practice is having a hard time staying in business. Not because they have too few patients -they are flooded with patients- but because apparently hospitals are hesitant to have women come in with birth plans and doulas. As Emily Willingham wrote better than I can say it:

“The obvious solution to the controversy is to offer choices that reduce perinatal stress, minimize interventions, and personalize birth—the great appeal of home birth and midwives—while ensuring a safe outcome with well-trained attendants and access to emergency facilities. The absence of options in the United States leaves this solution elusive, especially where hospitals lack a homey, low-stress environment and local midwifery care fails to meet the gold standard. Strange, isn’t it, that our nation, in the 21st century, can’t offer more uniformly safe choices for a low-risk pregnant woman seeking a healthy, low-stress birth for her child … and herself?”

I really wish the kind of care that I had was available for anyone.

I avoid the words “childbirth experience” because it makes it sound like you’re looking for the thrill of a rollercoaster ride instead of the safe and supported process of having a baby. I also avoid the words “natural childbirth” as a synonym for a pain-mediation free birth because what is natural these days? Can you drive your car to the hospital for a natural childbirth? Can you eat GMO-containing food after your natural childbirth and still call it that? I think it’s a weird word. 

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Filed under baby, birth, cultural differences, decisions, doula, health insurance, pregnancy, safety, science

Do as I say, not as I do: advice for foreign post-docs in the US – part II

This time I want to talk about finding a post-doc mentor. This topic of course not only applies to foreign post-docs but to anyone looking for a post-doc position. Lots and lots and lots and lots has been written about finding a mentor. And when I say mentor here, I mean the PI in the lab that you decided to join. Because of course you can always find more mentors in the people that surround you.

However, there are a couple things you might want to consider as a (non-native English speaking) foreigner:

First, a major reason – at least to me – to work in the US as a post-doc for a couple of years was to become more proficient in speaking and writing in English. In order to learn this, it is important that your PI, who you will be writing papers with and who will critique your presentations, is good at these things. This does not mean that your mentor needs to be American, but it is a good idea to go through hir publications and/or see them speak at a meeting and check out their style. Also, when you interview, ask who writes the papers. Because your mentor can be great at writing, if ze isn’t willing to teach you that, it’s useless.

Another reason for me to go to the US is that there are so many great scientific meetings here. Of course there are also great meetings in Europe, but living here is a great opportunity to go to meetings that are otherwise much more expensive to fly to. But you need to find out if your future mentor would be willing to let you go to meetings or whether ze chains you to the bench and never allows you to leave the lab. Ask this when you interview.

A last thing to consider specific to foreign post-docs is funding. Since your presence (and that of your family) here in the US is dependent on your visa, it is nice if your future mentor can offer you some guarantee of funding. Because it’s not that great if after a year the lab runs out of money and you need to find something else fast or you will need to leave the country. Of course another option is to come with your own funding – I will write about that later. Again, this is important for anyone, not just foreigners, but an important thing to remember is that if you’re not a US citizen, you’re not allowed to apply for an NRSA for example.

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Filed under academia, advice for foreign post-docs, cultural differences, decisions, funding, grant writing, life in the lab, managing people, meeting, mentoring, networking, postdoc, publishing papers, role models, travel

Do as I say, not as I do: advice for foreign post-docs in the US – part I

I have been in the US for nearly four years to do my post-doctoral training, and now that we’re almost moving back, I feel that I have a lot of useful information to share with the internet. Even though 90% of my readers are in the US, I hope that there are enough people out there that can benefit from the things I’ve encountered. And maybe it’s useful for USians as well. Because with many things, I realize now that I could have done things differently, hence the title.

For this first part, I want to talk about the thing that is on my mind right now: maternity leave. In my homecountry, women get 16 weeks off around the birth of their child. This is mandated by the government, so there are no differences in policies per university like in the US (where there is no such thing as paid maternity leave mandated by the government). When I talked about this on twitter today I discovered that for many, many graduate students and post-docs, there are no regulations regarding maternity, paternity or adoption leave at all. This leaves people very vulnerable, because it is up to your advisor to determine how long your leave can be and whether it is paid or unpaid. So if you’re looking for a post-doc and you have the intention to start a family in the near future, it might be wise to VERY CAREFULLY try to find out what your future PI’s view on leave is.

Some positions, like my current position, make you eligible to apply for Family and Medical Leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). However, you might want to study this before starting your family, because it requires you for example to be employed for longer than a year before you have a baby and to work a certain amount of hours to be eligible. In my homecountry, there’s really not a lot you need to do to apply for this type of leave, but here in the US I found that you need to carefully follow the rules and make sure you are eligible before applying. This is especially important because if you don’t get paid during your leave, you still need to pay for your health insurance that is normally taken out of your paycheck. In my university, when applying for FMLA you first need to finish all your sick, annual and personal days before the unpaid leave starts. So when you’re considering having a baby it might be worth trying to save as many days as you can to make sure the unpaid portion of your leave is as short as possible. One might ask: but then what do you do when your baby is sick after you’ve gone back to work and you have no days left? I have no clue at all… Which brings me to the following question from twitter:

Please comment if your university or institute does, because others might be able to change this at their institute!
So as with many things my most important advice about maternity, paternity or adoption leave is: READ TEH FUCKING MANUAL!!

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Filed under academia, advice for foreign post-docs, cultural differences, health insurance, life in the lab, maternity leave