A new sense of normal… but everything has changed.

It’s been two months. Time seems to have stood still. Some days have felt like a year and yet I can’t believe that it’s been two months since Maria devastated the island.

Progress has been made for the lucky ones. We had power restored last week and it has been the biggest blessing that I could hope for so close to the end of my pregnancy. It is sporadic and it does come and go but the generator is now our back up rather than the main source. We are in the lucky 25% of the island that have both power and water. If you go five minutes from my house you will encounter those that do not after such a long period.

So, we stayed. We have been on a rollercoaster. I could complain all day about the every day inconveniences – the long lines, the lack of fresh food, the terrible phone and internet service etc but no one wants to hear about that. They really are first world problems in comparison to what the rest of the island is feeling.

We have been helping where we can. A couple of weeks ago we decided to go out into the community and distribute what we could. We hired a chef who cooked Paella so we could give people a hot meal, we packed up donations of clothing, hygiene products, toys, bags of food, water and hired a nurse for the day so that we could provide medical assistance where needed. We had a supply of battery fans and solar lights for the sick and elderly and those with small kids. We went to a small town called Toa Baja just five minutes from Dorado.

What we saw was complete devastation. Debris had not been picked up, no running water in the town – they had had 10 feet of water flow through it the day of the hurricane. The people who came were grateful for the support that we were providing but it didn’t feel enough. Too little too late for most.

 

We visited some houses in the area that the people couldn’t come to the event to deliver supplies and I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. I know this is as a result of poverty rather than just Maria but where do you start to help? The people in these homes had nothing to start with and now they’ve lost the little that they had.

We continued our work over the past two weeks by trying to support a smaller number of families who had direct needs. One family of four here in Dorado that lost everything – we went and secured tarps to their house to help with the flooding when it rains, brought them food, hygiene supplies and clean bedlinen as well as fans, solar lights, chargers and other essentials. An 84 year old woman in Toa Baja living alone. She was the sweetest woman I’ve ever met. Kissing my baby bump and asking me to return so she could meet the baby. Her house isn’t safe for her to remain in but she won’t leave. We couldn’t go on the roof to help because it was not secure enough to hold anyone. I’m afraid that it will collapse on her. Don’t get me wrong, her house is not just in this condition because of Maria – this is extreme poverty and neglect. But it doesn’t seem enough to just leave her some essentials and check in every once in a while. What if that was your mother? It’s inhumane. And yet she was happy. I left her house feeling angry with the world that at this point in her life she has to struggle for every meal and has to live in such conditions. We have contacted a group to see if we can perhaps build something safer for her to live in on the property if she won’t leave.

I don’t know where we go from here. Baby is due in three weeks and I know that’s where my concentrations should be lying but I’m distracted by what I see around me. It’s been life altering here and seeing the extremes. We will continue to help where we can and hopefully can make difference to those that need help and support.

One Month on…

Wednesday October 18th 2017

 

It’s amazing what lists you start compiling at 3.00am in the morning. While these used to be mainly concerned with our home life and what I would cook for dinner the next day, they’re now consumed with all sorts of lists of where I can go to different stores to buy useful things that might help someone on the island. Amazon is no longer my go to for prime options because their shipping is far from prime. If something can be purchased on the island or flown in it’s definitely a better option than UPS, FedEx or USPS. The problem is most of the items badly needed at this point cannot be purchased on the island. Items such as battery fans, batteries, solar lights, chargers, battery packs, water filtration tablets are impossible to source here but yet are amongst the things that are needed the most.

 

So it’s been a month. Improvements have been slow. It’s taking much longer than I anticipated. Corruption is rife from news reports. We are hearing reports of aid supplies going missing, local authorities confiscating and distributing as they wish rather than where it’s needed and the poorest being neglected. It’s hardly surprising that so many Puerto Ricans are leaving or have left the island. It’s a sad state. Lines for grocery stores are still insane although now a month later they do seem to be slightly better stocked than before and have food on the shelves in most places. Fresh fruit and vegetables are still hit and miss but becoming more readily available. Gas lines for cars are back to normal thankfully, however I’ve been reading about the shortage of fuel on the island and I hope that it wont get worse.

 

We have had some minor issues in securing propane gasoline for our generator but nothing too major – I just need to hand around a lot and wait for the gas truck as if you miss them when they come then it may be days before you see them again.

 

Water is still a huge issues on the island. While 60% of water has been restored, it is not safe for drinking purposes. Huge lines within stores form to try and buy bottled water if it’s available and it’s being rationed. It’s so disheartening to see a month later that something as basic as this is still severely lacking. We have managed to buy a filtration system for our house and will hopefully get it fitted this week by a plumber. It’ll give me peace of mind with the baby and also mean that I won’t be another person that is draining from an already valuable commodity and there will be more for others.

 

Michael has started back at school and its been great to have some sense of routine. Because he’s in AC there I also don’t need to worry about keeping him cool during the day so it’s been a weight off my shoulders also.

 

I don’t think I would have believed anyone a few months back that would have told me that I would survive a month without power. But we have. Sure we have the generator now and I’m so so grateful to have it but its still not the same as having electricity 24/7. We can only run it for 12 hours at night so it helps with sleep and the fridge etc. but they need to rest.. They’re not built to be on all day every day so it still means a hot and sticky house during the day and a fridge that I need to keep closed.

 

Cell networks are still pretty bad. I’m still only 33 weeks pregnant so I have a few weeks to go but we have had a friend in the US source us an internet hotspot that should hopefully boost things here at the house. That way if there is an emergency I have better options for contacting Rob such as imessage and email – at the moment I have to drive to a tower and then hope that he has network which in work which he rarely does, but he does have internet. Little things like this will start to make life easier.

 

People have still been sending me the most generous donations to allow me to buy things for the children’s home and the shelter. I spoke to Giane last night and she’s also been going into remote areas providing first aid to the sick and elderly that can’t get into hospitals. I’m in awe of her willingness to help and her skills to do so. She’s still providing me with lists of things that she needs and I do my best to try and source and purchase them. I wish I could be more hands on but with my lack of Spanish and my expanding bump I can’t go with her.

 

The children’s home was expecting a newborn baby yesterday and it breaks my heart to think about something so small and vulnerable not being able to be taken care of by it’s parents. They will be well taken care of at the home but it’s still hard for me to think about. I’m waiting to hear more information about if it’s a boy or girl and what the home needs in terms of supplies and I’ll get them today. It’s heart breaking.

 

It doesn’t look like things will return to any sense of normal any time soon here on the island. I had originally hoped for power to be restored by Halloween but I’ve long scraped that notion. I’ve still to even see a power truck in Dorado. I would love to have it back before the baby is born. I fear it would be bleak Christmas here in Puerto Rico with no power for everyone. Fingers crossed I’m wrong and it’ll be back up and running by December.

 

With no power and water for a lot of people it’s difficult to see how the death toll will not continue to rise. Sanitation and hospitals running on generators are a huge concern. This is a humanitarian crisis and it’s disappointing to see a lack of coordination from the Puerto Rican and the US government. I’ve seen more aid, coordination and care being distributed from churches here in Dorado than the local government. I’m being told that FEMA are here – but yet I’ve not spoken to one person who lost their home on the island that has received anything at this point from FEMA.

 

I haven’t been able to help a quarter of the people that I would like to but I hope that we have made a difference to those that we have. I went back to Starbucks a couple of days after I last posted with a $100 Visa gift card for the barista who told me that she had lost her home. She started crying as I was apologising for it not being more and that I wanted her to buy what she needed for her kids. She told me that it doesn’t matter if it was $2… that it was more than anyone else had offered to help her. I can’t wrap my head around that. How a young mother with young kids can be left homeless and one full month later to not have received any sort of government or FEMA assistance despite having filled out the relevant paper work and waited in lines for aid. It just proves that if you can support people directly on the ground it’s more impactful.

 

Here’s hoping my next update will have more signs of improvement and some restoration of essentials for the poor people of this island. For the moment it’s just one foot in front of the other.

Hurricane Maria – The story so far….

*Please excuse the length of this post. I’ll edit it into sections some day and also include pictures but with communications currently so difficult I wanted to get an accurate picture of the situation out there ASAP.

 

Sunday

 

I’m not sure where to even start. I’m pretty sure it’s still September but I longer have a concept of the day or date.

 

The drama all started about three weeks ago when we heard the first reports of hurricane Irma forming in the Atlantic. There was coverage that she was to be one of the biggest hurricanes in a century that it was likely to impact Puerto Rico. I was pretty calm about it all. There have been tropical storm and hurricane warnings in the past two years but all moved and came to nothing and I was sure that Irma would do the same.

 

A few days passed and I watched the locals start to prepare and get ready and I knew it was time that we did the same. Non perishable food, water, gas for BBQ grills, gas for your car, cash, batteries, candles etc. We don’t have a generator at our house and there was news reports that the power could be gone for months and I was a little panicky but I didn’t know what to expect so I concentrated on securing the house. We had the roof checked for leaks and made sure the pipes were clean of leaves, brought in the patio furniture, taped down all our mosquito screens to make them as secure as possible and taped our windows with big X’s in case of glass shatter. We were ready. We watched and waited and Irma started to move north so we knew that Puerto Rico would be spared the worst of this one but still expected sustained winds of 100mph. Lots of our friends, particularly those from the US left. Afraid of horror stories of looting post hurricane, the potential damage to homes and the lack of utilities and supplies on the other side. We were going to stick it out. I felt confident that we lived in a concreate house with a secure roof and that we would be totally fine.

 

She was due to hit on a Wednesday and we waited for her arrival. We were a bit jumpy and each time the winds picked up we watched outside and were prepared for the worst. Irma thankfully spared our little island without too much damage. There was a lot of trees down, but all in all we were pretty lucky. We had utilities back in 2-5 days in most places across the island and things were so much better than anticipated. Her winds while strong, felt like a very bad and windy day in Ireland and it didn’t really feel like a hurricane. In hindsight, she was just preparing us and we had only experience a category 1 hurricane.

 

We started to turn our attention to the other islands and those that weren’t so lucky. The British Virgin Isles, The US Virgin Isles and other were badly effected. We gave away all our hurricane supplies, organised collections for essential items to be distributed and Puerto Rico became a hub for aid and refugees who needed medical assistance or to evacuate. Shelters were set up, donations purchased and we all wanted to help those that had lost. Puerto Rico gave away a third of its emergency supplies. We watched the devastation on the other islands and felt so grateful that Puerto Rico had been spared the worst. 80 people lost their homes on the island and 3 people died. On an island of almost 4 million people that didn’t seem like bad statistics. We had been very lucky and appreciated what we had.

 

Life started to return to normal. School continued, restaurants re opened and everything went back to how it should be. People started to come back from the US.

 

Then came what was being discussed as topical depression 15. A storm forming in the Atlantic that once again we were being told to prepare for. I joked with my family that she was predicted to be called hurricane  Maria and we were about to be hit again. Predictions of her path started to come in and it seemed likely that Maria would make landfall in Puerto Rico. We started to prepare again. We were expecting her strength to be approximately a category 3.

 

Supplies were running short right across the island. Water was scarce and difficult to source. We couldn’t purchase ice anywhere and started to freeze zip lock bags of water in the freezer. We filled our cars again luckily just before gas ran out. ATMs were putting limits on cash withdrawal and I struggled to withdraw $400 in total. Hurricane Maria got stronger to a category 4 and on Monday people from our neighbourhood and community once again started to evacuate to the US. Lots of flights were cancelled, they were hiring private jets and paying astronomical amounts of money to get off the island.

 

All I wanted was water and ice. A generator would have been a god send.

 

Hurricane Maria was strengthened to a category 5 and devastated the island of Dominica to our right. We heard the first reports coming from the island before she was due to hit us. At this point of writing this I don’t know any more than those first reports.

 

The hurricane was predicted to start about 2am so we went to bed at about 9 in the hope of sleep before impact. We had prepared as best as we could but I was definitely  a lot more scared about this one. I woke about midnight and the house felt like it was shaking. I got up and waited in the living area listening to the sounds of the winds picking up. About 1.30 am I knew it was going to be bad. I could see that she was still miles away from the coast of Puerto Rico but yet what we were feeling was really strong. It was at this time that we lost power and water.

 

I tried to sleep but it was sporadic. The wind was so loud and the darkness outside was not helping. I was counting the minutes to daylight. I knew from the force that this was shaking our house with that all across the island people were going to lose their homes. I knew there would be a loss of life. I was upset worrying about those not in as secure a place as us and how devastating this was going to be for the island that we have grown to love and call home over the past two and a half years. I prayed to my mother to keep us safe and protect those in vulnerable situations. I prayed for daylight so that maybe the noise outside would frighten me less if I could see what was happening.

 

Daylight brought an eerie scene from our windows. We could see the force of the winds in the trees all around us and see each of them fall one by one. We started to have some water leaks in the house and we dealt with them as best as we could. Around 7.30 am we lost cell network and all communication with the outside world. All we could do is sit and wait – not knowing which direction the eye would take at the last minute or how slowly the hurricane would move. We had no idea if the worst was over or yet to come.

 

It wasn’t until 4pm that afternoon that the winds and rain started to die down. We could see from the windows that our usually green, suburban style neighbourhood full of landscaped palm and oak trees was an usual colour of brown. No leaves were left on any tree that was left standing but most trees were gone. We could see houses right at the back of neighbourhood that we had never seen before. We decided it was safe to venture outside to access the damage. Most of the streets were impassable with either flooding or trees. I seen a heavy metal sign from a roundabout in our neighbourhood in our garden, a huge satellite dish at the back of the house and roof tiles everywhere. Parts of air conditioning units and debris were strewn across the grass.  But we were safe. We still had a roof over our heads and really did feel lucky to be in a secure home. People were emerging from their homes shell shocked and in awe at the damage. Rob managed to get one bar of signal and let our families know that we were ok.

 

It’s now been five days and we are still in the dark. Communications are down and we have no idea of the impact across the island except what we hear by word of mouth. We can see how many people have lost their homes, the small businesses that have been devastated and that are under water or no longer have four walls around them. We have no idea of the death toll. There was extensive damage to the town. There is power lines and traffic lights overturned on the streets, huge blocks of concrete just lifted off the roads and so many homes destroyed. It is shocking to see the strip mall car park completely flooded, a huge 50 foot Burger King metal sign floating in the water. Cars under trees.

 

From what we have heard the power network is decimated. It will probably take months to rebuild. The roof is partially gone at the school. Life can’t continue as normal this time. It’s going to take this island a long time to build again from this.

 

Those that didn’t leave are now leaving. The prospect of no power and potentially no water isn’t appealing. But we are staying. I refuse to let this dictate my life here and where I will live. I’m determined to do my part in getting Puerto Rico back on it’s feet. I want to support local businesses and those that lost everything here. I want to make a difference. As soon as we can make communication with the outside world that is what I’m going to do. I want to give birth to my child here in a couple of months and tell them about this experience and how they can make a different with their lives by helping others.

 

The plant that Rob works at has received extensive damage. He hasn’t been able to account for all the staff or their families. People have to be the priority here. Not our own comforts. We will survive and are lucky to have everything that we have.

 

We are currently trying to source a generator and once we have that we will be able to function a lot better. At the moment there is predicted civil unrest on the island due to the lack of supplies and gas. There is a curfew in place and we have been told to stay in our neighbourhoods were possible. We believe aid is on the way and with each day things will improve. More water and food will hopefully become available. Hopefully communication networks will be restored and we can start to contact our family and friends and those that need help on the island. Hopefully banks will re open and we can get access to money to buy what’s needed for those that have lost everything. I’ve no doubt that it will be challenging at times and we will have discomfort but we are so fortunate at the same time.

 

We will be part of the rebuild of Puerto Rico and it’s people.

Tuesday

 

Communications started to open yesterday and we began to pick up all of the messages from family and friends. It was far more emotional than I had anticipated. I didn’t expect to see our names on a local group for missing people – it just seems all too dramatic. We were never missing. Everyone in our neighbourhood and lots in the town knew we were here. Its concern from those that left that when they couldn’t make contact.

 

I don’t know why this upset me so much. I don’t know why it upset me to read Facebook statuses of those that had initially stayed for the hurricane post begging for a way off the island. Surely the prospect of no power for a while wasn’t quite that bad that the first thing your mind turns to after this is getting out of here?

 

Rob sat me down and told me it straight. It’s ok to leave. It’s ok to not want to be in the middle of this place right now. Lives are being turned upside down and people need power and internet connections to work. That’s their livelihoods. Not everyone needs to be part of a recovery or feel the need to do something. Nobody wants to be trying to deal with kids and the potential illnesses that comes from a lack of air circulation and stagnant water.  Maybe those that have left will donate money to get things back up and running. Maybe they will be back by Christmas. I can’t allow myself to be upset by their decisions. I realised I’m upset that everything is just different now rather than the fact that people have left. I’ve now to accept that this little community I’ve known of expats over the past two years is altered. It’s not going to be the same. Some people won’t return and that’s the decision that they have made for their families. Just like I’ve made the decision to stay.

 

There’s some basics that I need to try and stay comfortable. Like a generator for power. But that’s long term and probably not something that I can get quickly. I need ice on a daily basis to keep food cool. I need food to be able to cook with. Propane for the camping stove. Gas for our cars. D batteries for our fans to try and stay cool. This morning I’ve realised that the fan in Michael’s room has stopped working, it’s out of batteries. Ours stopped working a couple of days ago but I’m not worried about us. We need drinking water for the entire island. Trust me there are times in the middle of the night when I’m stuck to a pillow in the heat and I’m questioning everything and wondering what in gods name I’m doing here at 30 weeks pregnant. How am I going to have a baby and keep them cool and not worry about them overheating? How can I even contemplate giving birth here right now?

 

I’m holding on to the thought that when we can get mobile with gas in our cars and better communication lines that things will be better. That we can help in some way. That we will have more of a purpose than sitting around in our neighbourhood thinking about the outside world and how nice it would be if we had some AC.

 

There’s definitely going to be an adjustment period to our new sense of normality. Time to toughen up and put on my big girl pants and figure that out. It’s 5.30 am and almost daylight. Everything seems better in the daylight.

 

 

 

Thursday

 

4.30am and pregnancy insomnia strikes again. We have been blessed that two different people have brought us D batteries so that we can keep our fans going. Especially for Michael, I had such worries that he would overheat and end up sick.

 

I had a little meltdown last night. One in which I sobbed in the shower of cold water for about 30 minutes. People keep telling me that I need to leave and offering me ways off the island. But I don’t want to go. I don’t want to risk flying at this stage of pregnancy and I don’t want to leave Rob or take Michael away from him. He’s committed to his job and getting things back up and running. He isn’t going to just leave and I’m not either. But I need to be able to take care of my family. I need to have a purpose and an ability to help others who have lost everything and without cash, gas and transport outside of Sabanera it’s difficult to do anything.

 

So I had my tears. Hot, angry ones where I tried to work out some of my frustration at being in this position at this stage of pregnancy and that I’m drained of being the positive one and telling everyone else that things are going to get better when so far nothing seems to be improving for anyone outside the gates of this community. I can’t get out to know what’s happening and how bad the situation out there is but I’m hearing it’s not good. Of course immediately I am annoyed at myself for having these meltdowns when I know so many are in a much worse position than us. It’s a mix of cabin fever, heat, exhaustion and stress I’m guessing.

 

A few days ago I managed to get a call out to some friends in the US that we were in need of a generator. I have also spoken to the owner of the house and I believe we now have some leads and we will hopefully be up and running at some power level in the next week. That was a huge positive step for me last night. I feel if I can just get that and know that I can take care of the basics at home that I can then start to think a bit more positively.

 

We have been trying to get items that are badly needed for the children’s home that I volunteer at, Hogar Mis Primeros Pasos. They lost part of their roof in the hurricane and long term they will really need a lot of repair work to the property but for the moment it’s basics. Food, water, diapers etc. It’s given me somewhat of a purpose and it is located not too far from the highway for Rob that he can go to them on his way from work and not use too much gas.

 

Giane, Michael’s nanny managed to get some text messages through to me last night and her uncle has set up a shelter and distribution centre for those that have lost everything. She has been helping there for the past week. I was lying in bed thinking about how I can help and I’m going to ask someone to post online that for the moment I can be a drop off point for items for donation for this particular cause and hopefully in a day or two when I can get out I can go to a store and purchase things for them. I’ve been awake during the night thinking about what toys and what food we don’t need in the pantry that I can give. We are at no risk of starving here so I know we can spare some even if the shops don’t open for another week. The catering company at the school have started doing dinners for the residents here each evening for $6 pp. We went yesterday and if nothing else it’s good to get out of the house and have a change of scenery for the mind.

 

Reports of aid being at the ports and unable to be distributed or military forces not being able to land at the airports etc. are really upsetting.  I’m really hoping that in the next few days that things will start to open up and we can be more productive. I can’t imagine for those that have lost everything what it’s like to not have access to any supplies. Apparently this is partly political – Trump will come and visit on Tuesday next and that they need him to see just how bad things are here so that progress can be made on aid packages. It’s difficult to see people suffering. These are US citizens. It’s going to be a scary, transitional time for Puerto Rico while they get back up and running and I really do want to do everything I can to support it.

 

Friday October 6th

 

It’s two weeks and three days since hurricane Maria crossed Puerto Rico. It’s not only been a tragic experience but it’s also been an emotional battle. Living circumstances have improved and we have since Wednesday a generator at our house so that we can run lights and some AC. I’ve mainly been doing laundry as that was something that was beginning to stink and there’s only so much hand washing that you can do. The first thing I did when the generator turned on was to throw everything in the fridge/freezer away. That day in particular I was really struggling with bug and flies in the house. Michael had a heat rash and some really bad mosquito bites and I was really questioning what I was doing here. I may want to help here but I have to be able to keep my kid free from disease and keep him cool. I cant put him as risk of the serious mosquito diseases because of my want to help. Anyway, generator on. Bug zapper plugged in and a new sense of normality.

 

We are trying to run it as efficiently as possible so we just plugged in fans for myself and Rob instead of AC and we have been sleeping fine so it’s a definite improvement.

 

Communications are slowly improving but it’s a long process. I’ve no idea when I’ll actually have internet access to post this.

 

Trump’s visit only increased my anger so I’ll say little on the topic. He compared the situation here to hurricane Catriona which he called a “real,” tragedy because apparently “only,” 34 people have died on the island. Let me tell you. Almost 4 million people without power, running water and a lack of resources, communications and basics will result in a lot more deaths. Hospitals at maximum capacity running on generator power. This isn’t good enough. These are US citizens and they deserve better than a leader who throws out kitchen towels and dismisses their tragedy.

 

I’ve spent this week running around buying aid supplies when I can. Shops are beginning to open and people have been so kind and thoughtful giving me donations through PayPal. I will never forget those that have donated. Because they’re making a real difference… Because of their donations I have been able to go to Costco, Walgreens and Walmart and buy hand sanitizers, toothbrushes, sheets, pillows, towels, water, formula, diapers, canned foods, underwear for every age and gender, socks, clothing, nutritional drinks, propane cooking stoves, batteries, shelf milk, fans, fresh food and juices, rice and so much more. Already we have raised and spent in the region of $2,500 and with lots more to do I’ll continue with this project and buy products to be distributed on the ground as they’re needed. We have been supporting a local shelter in Naranjito and also the children’s home that I’ve been working with this year – Hogar Mis Primeros Pasos. If anyone would like to donate to either of these projects you can through PayPal – snolan.mulkerrins@gmail.com . By way of transparency I have been sending individual donors copies of the receipts and pictures of the items that I have purchased with their donations.

 

I’m saddened to drive around Puerto Rico and see the destruction. It’s physically plain to see. Houses torn apart, trees and power lines mangled and so much more. But it’s the emotional hurt that is more distressing. The barista in Starbucks that was so happy and cheery when I entered and as we got to talking about the hurricane her eyes filled with tears as she told me that they had lost everything and she had a small baby at home. It’s the mom at Costco trying to appease her toddler who’s crying for water and there’s none available. And this isn’t the poor of Puerto Rico. Over 40% of the country prior to the hurricane was below the poverty line and living on food stamps. What about those people? They’re not working in Starbucks or shopping in Costco. Stamps can’t be used to purchase pre cooked food which are the only places open right now. How are they surviving? It’s so difficult to see how they will recover from this. I know all we can do right now is focus on the short term and getting urgent supplies out to those that need them. But I can’t help think about the long term and the effects that this hurricane will have on the island for years. And the many more deaths that we will see as a direct result of it.

Some news…

So I’ve been pretty absent over the past couple of months. I can’t believe it’s almost the end of June already!

The past few months have crawled and gone at lightning speed at the same time. Our big news is that we are expecting a new addition to our family. We are obviously delighted and it’ll make for an extra special Christmas for us.

Now, when I was pregnant with Michael I was very sick. 24/7 nausea. This time has been even worse with full blown Hyperemesis. I’ve been medicated since 7 weeks because if I’m not I’ll throw up 10+ plus a day. Which has happened lots of days even with the medication. It’s been a long road and it’s only now at 17 weeks that I have some relief from the constant nausea. Although I’m still likely to throw up at any time. More than once I’ve been sick on the side of the road.  I’ve also been suffering with headaches a lot. With Michael I was hospitalized with migraines but much later in the pregnancy so I’m hoping it’s not a bad sign of things to come.

IMG_0182My sanity has most definitely been tested over the past couple of months and it’s been difficult to look after an active toddler and to try and stay active myself when I can but fingers crossed the worst of it is now over.

In terms of prenatal care I have even shocked myself with this news. Waiting times for hospital appointments here can take all day. The minimum hospital stay for giving birth is three nights… so I’ve decided to try for a home birth. This also means that all my prenatal appointments take place at my house. This saves hours of waiting around in a waiting room. So far so good. I get a scan at every appointment, have had all my bloods and tests done and I have also had Harmony testing and everything is great. A home birth means no drugs of course for labour but I’ve started practicing gentle birthing and I’m hoping this and the birthing pool will get me through. For the actual birth I’ll have a doctor, a doula and a midwife. This is far more hands on care than I would have in a hospital setting so unless there’s an emergency situation this bump will be making its way into the world at home. Any advice for this is welcome!!

I’ve tried to work out as much as I can and have taken up yoga to help with my back. So far so good and weight gain has been minimal in comparison to my first pregnancy.

So other than all of that it’s only 10 days until we fly home to Ireland for our summer trip. It’s the first time Michael has understood the notion of going on a plane so he’s very excited. Maybe not so excited about the change in temperature!!

Im really looking forward to a month in Ireland as we will be staying in Puerto Rico for Christmas again this year with a newborn. There will be a lot of catching up with family and friends and we have a wedding too so I’ll be trying to cover the bump for that.

The Selfish Expat

Last week was St. Patricks Day and it got me slightly nostalgic for the ole Irish sod. We have a small but great Irish community here and in many ways we take more celebration in St. Patricks Day than we would at home because we are away and want to mark the day anyway.

It got me thinking about expat life in general and how we are so removed from Ireland and the goings on. Sure, I watch the Irish news and keep up to date with current affairs but on a day to day level we are away from family and friends and not living in the same world. It may be only temporary but how do you integrate back into that when it’s time to go home?

It’s not the same with family when you’re abroad. You can’t celebrate their good news, hold them when things are going wrong and support them when they need it. Most of the time you’re watching a clock as you’re in a different time zone and it’s about trying to get time to make the call.

So does this make us expats selfish? Are we not there for our families and friends in the way that we should be because we want adventure and the chance to be abroad? Is enhancing our lives and experiences at the detriment of being close to our families and being able to support them? Will our long term friendships with those in Ireland suffer in the long run simply because we struggle to stay in contact?

I’m trying my best to plan our trip to Ireland this summer to allow catch ups with all the family and friends that we need to see but it’s difficult in such a short space of time. I feel obliged to spend as much time as I can with family and feel guilty for being away to see friends.

Do all expats feel selfish at some point for not being at home?

Flying with kids

Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 12.13.08

I partly feel like I’ve no right to write on this topic because we only have one child. I see lots of people flying with 2/3 kids on a regular basis and I take my hat off to them. Flying with one is hard. Flying with three kids under 5 is like undertaking a special mission.

Flying as an expat is different to flying on your annual holiday. In most cases you will be flying multiple times a year depending on what family events you need to trek home for. It’s also common, not always, for expats to fly in business class when it’s available as one of the perks. This brings its own challenges. Trust me! Business class is lovely for the extra space and the opportunity to lie down on a long flight.. But what if you’re travelling with a teething 8 month old that refuses to sleep and is crying and you’re worried that it’s upsetting the other passengers who have paid an extortionate fee for some extra comfort on their flight?

We have been on over 20 flights with Michael in the two and a half years that he’s been in this world and this is my advice to anyone that has to fly regularly with kids.

  1. Be prepared. If your child is too small to be distracted by the tv screens than you’re going to need lots of things to entertain them. My top tips are snacks, colouring books, a magna doodle or etchasketch, sticker books, iPad with their favourite cartoons downloaded and some small compact toys. Make sure they’re all new and not something that they’ve seen before. This will really help distract them when you need it most. Prepare them by telling them about the journey in advance. Talk about it excitedly, about the plane, what to expect and where you’re going. Make it an adventure!
  2. Bring back up batteries. You’ll need them for charging your phone and entertainment devices. Trust me!
  3. Carry pain relief. Altitude does funny things to smallies and it’s always good to have pack up. Often their ears will pop, throats will be dry and can even have a fit of vomiting or diarrhoea so it’s good to have the essentials to hand when you need them.
  4. In your hand luggage have at least one change of clothes for yourself and two for them. See point two.. You’ll need them!
  5. Layovers are a pain. Often we can be in JFK for 4/5 hours waiting for our second flight. This is when you want to tire them out. Bring one of those backpacks with straps and reigns and let them run around. Take turns if there is two adults travelling. If you have access to a lounge take them there and take advantage of it. If not, then lots of airports have kids areas that you can avail of. Now is when you want them to burn up their energy so that hopefully they will sleep on the next flight!
  6. If you can book a seat for them. I know under 2 they can sit on your knee but if you’re on multiple long flights then they’re not going to be comfortable sleeping on you and you will also be exhausted. I found with Michael that if he fell asleep he would wake after 45 mins if I was holding him.
  7. I don’t take a stroller. They can be awkward to collapse and then you have to wait for them on the other side. Instead I got a wheel attachment that attached to his car seat and then he sits in his car seat on the plane. It makes life so much easier. I ordered it from amazon but it’s by a company called go go babyz. You can see it here 
  8. I’ve travelled a few times on my own with Michael and it can be hard to handle the hand luggage, the car seat, settling him and yourself, trying to use the bathroom and everything else on your own. I’ve been so lucky with other people offering to help and these usually aren’t the airport or airline staff. Some airlines have flight nannies or can offer extra assistance so it may be worth checking out if travelling alone.
  9. Call the airline before you fly to check requirements around flying with a child. What food and drink items you can take through security, can you bring your car seat on board (Delta now don’t allow this and don’t provide any safety harness for this child when sitting on your knee!!!!), is there priority boarding for kids? All these things will help with your journey if you know what to expect.
  10. Have a plan for when you get to the other side. If you’ve flown multiple flights, are now in a different time zone and have been travelling for over 24 hours you’re going to be tired. Have someone pick you up so you’re not relying on public transport to get to home. You’ll be so glad of a friendly face.
  11. Expect the unexpected. Flights get delayed. Changes happen. If you’re prepared for them then you can cope with unexpected travel changes. I have been delayed for 10 hours in total during one journey home alone with Michael. It’s tough but this is where the back up of toys, iPads, colours etc come in. Wine for you if you need it too!

And most of all…. RELAX! I repeat to myself constantly when travelling that this will pass. It’s just one day. One long day that you have to get through and you’ll get through it. It’s always worth it to see family on the other side!

Screen Shot 2017-03-12 at 12.17.11

 

Keeping busy

March is going to be a pretty busy month for us. I’m helping to organise a fundraiser for the orphanage here that I’ve gotten involved with and as it’s in early May we need to get a lot of the ground work for that done in the next couple of weeks.

I’m also busy trying to find time to get some study done and updating my design and web skills. Michael has pretty much been sick for a month now with one thing and another and to be honest no one is getting much sleep so I’m walking around in a haze.

St. Patricks Day will be here before we know it and party planning is in full swing – including a current search for a reggae band that will play some Irish tunes. I think we have approx 80 people coming so it should be a big one!

We are going to Vieques in May. We have booked accommodation at a private house on the grounds of the W hotel and I can’t wait. What I’m a little concerned about it actually getting there? Should we drive down and try and book boat tickets soon and take our cars? Or fly there and rent a car on the other side. There’s six of us so it may even be two cars that we need. Is there a grocery store etc there? After Culebra ideally I would like to bring our own cars and groceries from this side as choice was limited on the island.

Does anyone have any experience? Any suggestions for what to do on the island ?

 

Sweat Fridays… or is that everyday?

So this is a pretty personal one for me so be nice…. Anyone who follows me on twitter or instagram will see that I often post updates about food and fitness.

I exercise a lot. A typical week sees me workout with a trainer three times week. Sessions are broken down into one leg training day using gym machines and resistance training, one upper body day doing a mix of weights circuits and tabatha training and one high intensity circuit training day that trains all body and almost kills me. My trainer usually keep this for a Friday and we joke about #sweatfridays!

On top of that I run three times a week for cardio. Usually one long run, one mixed tempo run and one interval run. I usually do a quick ten minute ab routine myself at home 3/4 times a week.

Let me tell you that exercise does not come easily to me. I’m not coordinated and I have a whole back catalog of horrible childhood memories of not being good enough on the sports  field and being last to be picked for any teams. I always tried to get out of doing PE because of it. Teenagers are mean. I wasn’t fast, was a little over weight and got no encouragement from teachers. Irish schools can be a pretty isolating experience.

In college I gained a lot of weight. Nights out, bad food choices and sugary alcoholic drinks meant that by the time I was graduating I tipped the scales at over 16 stone. I lost 2 stone of that through diet and when I started my job in 2010 I was weighing over 14 stone and a size 16. I was driving a lot and decided that once and for all I was going to change and lose it all. I wanted to be the best version of myself. Juliet Murphy was the woman who literally changed everything for me. She was based in Ballincollig, Co. Cork and took me on as a personal training client. Along with a high protein diet the weight shifted. She trained me three times a week and the sessions were so tough. But the lbs came off. On average I lost 5-7 lbs a month and then I started to tone and build muscle. When I got married in 2012 I was a size 12 and 12 stone. I had lost 4 and a half stone and I felt great. I was strong, lifting heavy weights, had a lot more energy and I felt good in my clothes. Confident in a bikini. I still felt that I had a bit of my journey to go but now I knew how to get there.

This was me at my heaviest in college and then in 2013 just before I got pregnant.

 

In 2014 Michael was born. I was very sick during the pregnancy and was recommended to give up exercise. I was on crutches with severe SPD for the last three months of the pregnancy. My mother was dying and I was comfort eating. I gained 4 stone by the end of the pregnancy.

When he was 12 weeks old I was ready to begin exercising again and started working out at home and making better food choices. But the weight never fell off. I lost probably a stone of that weight in the first year after he was born and then it just stopped. After we moved to Puerto Rico I joined the gym, got a trainer and then started back running. Sure I got fitter. Sure I’m more toned and stronger. But the weight isn’t coming off. I’m not getting back into pre pregnancy clothes and now I’m at a loss at what to do.

I physically can’t work out anymore than I do. My food choices are really good. In Ireland last summer I went to a GP and asked for bloods to check my thyroid levels. Everything came back normal. I went to the gynaecologist here in Puerto Rico and asked her to check my hormones seeing as how I have PCOS and endometriosis. She did an insane amount of blood tests and said everything was fine but that I would possibly benefit from a testosterone implant. I went for it. $400 later and it didn’t make a difference.

I went to a nutritionist and they suggested a keto diet where I would eat more healthy fat than protein and I stuck to it 100%. After initial results it was stagnant after a couple of weeks and didn’t work for me. I continued to workout, eat well, cut out alcohol, sugar, carbs.. everything! I’ve tried everything. Nothing was working

I’m currently doing the F4L programme. I can’t recommend this enough. This is an online programme based in Ireland. I have to say it is fantastic. The support is next to none. It involves four workouts per week and a food plan and recipes which is high protein but allows for carbs if earned through working out and has some excellent advice on muscle recovery after working out etc. I’m not doing the workouts (I have done them in the past), as training here is now part of my daily routine but I know that the nutrition part of this programme is excellent and that’s what I’m following. It also includes a private Facebook group for support where you will find the nicest, most inspirational supportive ladies around. I’ve seen the results that they’ve achieved I can see that this programme works. That’s why I’m sticking around even though my results aren’t what they should be. I know that it isn’t the programme. I know how hard I work at it. I also know enough about nutrition and food to know that this programme should be working for me.

So that’s why I’m now going a step further. I’m going to do the alternative route. I’m meeting with a homeopathic doctor this coming Tuesday and I’m going to have some food allergy testing done. I’m going to compliment whatever they suggest to cut out with acupuncture. I am not giving up. I will get back to my goal. I will get my confidence back. And I will get back into my pre pregnancy jeans. I’m going to stick with my plans and not give up on this as hard as it is to keep trucking on with only minor success. I will get there. 8lbs loss over two years has resulted in the difference between these two pics below. A lot of sweat and hard work has gone on in between.

I’m going to stop feeling like my body has let me down because it’s not responding right now. I’ve had a child. I’ve given birth and it has been through a traumatic experience. Its done amazing things.

I’m also going to stop being judgemental of other people and their journeys. Smug me thought that if you move more and eat less then you’ll lose weight. I’ve felt so bad about myself because now that hasnt worked for me. I need to look at plan E and see what will work for me.

I really hope that in couple of months time I will back here to tell you all that between the advice and support from F4L and the elimination of food allergies that I’m seeing results. I don’t care how small they are. I don’t care if it’s not the scales that moves but inches. I won’t stop until I’m there.

img_8593

Worlds Best 10K

So after a month of nights out and shenanigans with visitors and St Patricks Day in 2016 I decided that it was time to get back running. I had done a bit before I had Michael and had found it hard to get into a routine here in Puerto Rico for getting out for one. It is so hot it turned me off exercising outdoors.

Anyway, during a few drinks.. (of course!!), myself and one of the Irish girls decided we would give it a go and do it together for motivation. So we downloaded the couch25k app and off we went. It was amazing to see how you could push yourself each week and slowly build it up. It wasn’t exactly easy and our husbands joked about how slow we were going and how it was taking us 52 weeks instead of 10 but we got there! We did a 5k together in November in San Juan and were really happy with our time of under 30 minutes considering it was our first one post babies.

So running on adrenaline that day we decided the next step was to do a 1ok. We looked online and seen a race called the Worlds Best 1oK was in San Juan on February 26th and decided to go for it. http://www.wb10ksanjuan.org

We did not take into consideration that between Thanksgiving, Christmas and visitors that we wouldn’t have sufficient time to get out running.

5 weeks out we decided lets do it and give it a shot. I researched online and condensed the 5-10k programme from 10 to 5 weeks and we gave it our all. After a pretty comfortable 9k two weeks ago we thought we were on track and ready. The reality is that we were under trained in terms of fitness but over trained in terms of effort and had tired legs on the day.

Usually after about 15 minutes into a run I find my stride and comfort pace and can continue for another 30 minutes comfortably before the last slog is a bit of a chore but yesterday that comfort never came. I felt tired all the way. The race was organised poorly with runners and walkers going at the same time – no mile markers at the start or during the race. We were trying to pass walkers and people with buggys. We were jumping over water bottles, no idea at what point of the race we were at and the route was different on the day to what was advertised on their website. My trusty Garmin watch wouldn’t pick up a satellite signal and I couldn’t see our mile pace. We felt every step. We finished but we were exhausted and feeling like we never wanted to run again at the end.

I’m now determined to rest for a couple of weeks with some short runs and go for a 10k in a few weeks to see if we can improve on the time just for myself. My stubbornness is kicking in. Next step then is another 5k to improve on our time.

Any advice from any seasoned runners?