New year, new baby

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For readers of this blog who do not know us in person, this may come as a shock to many of you, but we recently welcomed our second baby into the world. I had every intention of posting a pregnancy announcement on here around the same time as we announced on FB and other social media, but…I majorly slacked off on the blog for quite a few months so that just didn’t happen. Regardless, we have another kiddo!

Also born at Intermed Hospital in UB (which I’ve mentioned a number of times in the past), T joined us on December 22 at 3:40pm local time. She is healthy, keeping up her weight, and a joy to us and those who have visited us in the hospital and at home. (If you’re curious about Mongolian traditions surrounding childhood, you should check out this post from when Z was born in May 2016.) I’m recovering well from labor and delivery, and Z is handling a younger sibling pretty darn well. My folks came to help out with the transition from one kid to two–and of course to meet their second grandchild–which has been very helpful indeed.

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How you bundle a newborn in winter in the frozen north:

For the most part, we’ve kept T indoors as much as possible because it’s the middle of winter and besides the cold, the air pollution is too much for a newborn’s lungs to handle. In fact, this winter the pollution has been bad enough for the government to decide to shut down schools for the month of January. Hospitals are full of sick kids, and since pollution is worst during morning and afternoon/evening commute times, it makes sense to shut down schools to keep kids indoors at peak pollution times. If we do go outdoors, it’s primarily in the early afternoon once Z’s up from his nap, when it’s warmest outside and there’s the least amount of pollution.

I have some more ideas for posts percolating on the back burner so hopefully I’ll be posting more regularly in 2018, but with two kids under two years old, there’s no guarantee of anything! We’ll see. 🙂

Shine onii mend! Happy new year!

Beth sig

*cough cough*

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Bloomberg posted an illuminating article yesterday that broke down the current pollution issues. Guess what? Beijing can move over. Ulaanbaatar’s pollution has it beat–five times over.

Because it’s the Year of the Monkey, Mongolians have been predicting an extra cold, extra long winter. One of our coworkers said they are expecting four months of winter rather than three. (To me, it feels like winter lasts for six months anyway so…don’t listen to the expat who apparently doesn’t know these things. 😉 ) I’ve also heard that there might be an extra nine added to the “nine nines” of winter. What I’ve come to learn about Mongolian weather, however, is that you can never predict what might happen.

We’ve had snow on the ground for well over a month now, which has been nice in some ways. It’s kept the dust down, and the times that it’s been warm enough to snow has helped the air quality. The snow clears out the pollution for a couple of days before it gets bad again. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to stay indoors with Z more often than not. The pollution is so bad that one of the military hospitals is opening a wing for children with pneumonia because all of the other hospitals are full to overflowing. Even one of our teammate’s kids is recovering from pneumonia, and we are fortunate enough to live in a part of the city where the pollution is not so concentrated.

The pollution is so bad…that even Mongolians are wearing pollution masks, and that is an uncommon sight indeed. Usually, the only face masks we see people wearing are because they are sick (or vulnerable) and don’t want to pass on/catch others’ germs. So if you think of us, remember Mongolians this winter, especially those in Ulaanbaatar.

Beth sig

Winter Air Pollution

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It’s September, the morning after the first snowfall of the season, and Otgontuuya already knows that winter will be brutal. She sits on a pink plastic chair in her living room, takes off her thick jacket and breast-feeds her crying toddler. She has just gotten home, having walked across the uneven dirt roads overlooking the city, where the white ground is slowly turning a slushy gray. Even when the weather is nice, sharp turns and steep inclines often make it impossible for off-road vehicles to reach her neighborhood.

Otgontuuya is 28, and like most Mongolians, goes by only her first name. She is married, a stay-at-home mother who spends her free time sewing traditional tunic-like clothes for her kids. “I live for my children,” she says, rocking her 1-year-old daughter in her lap.

Along with freezing temperatures, winter brings memories of the child that never came. Six years ago, Otgontuuya was informed during a routine checkup that her baby had stopped growing. She miscarried at 12 weeks.

The culprit, doctors told her, was air pollution.

Thus begins this article on maternal health in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, by Liana Aghajanian (on Al Jazeera). I very strongly recommend that you read that article, which explains the tenuous situation well and includes photographs of life in the capital city for its residents who do not live in apartment buildings.

Somehow, in all of our preparations and research about Mongolia prior to arriving in the country, we missed the fact that Ulaanbaatar has terrible winter air pollution. Still not sure how that happened. Although I’ve read conflicting reports on this, UB is purportedly the most polluted capital city in the world in winter and the pollution is worse than in Beijing, China. The primary reason for this is that central heating comes from steam plants, which run on coal, and the city is lined with ger districts with residents burning coal and other flammable items for heat and cooking. I don’t suppose it helps that the city lies snugly between mountain ranges.

We are fortunate to live and work on the southern end of the city where we have a lot of wind that helps clear out the worst of the pollution. Even so, the outside air smells of coal smoke from late October to March or thereabouts. Depending on how cold it is, there are times when we can’t see certain parts of the city because of how thick the smoke is. Like all difficulties, it’s manageable with the right gear, but I have yet to meet a UB resident who doesn’t complain about the pollution. Looking at the rest of winter ahead of us (and this year’s winter looks like it might be a dzud), I don’t suspect we’ll have clear air for awhile. Fortunately, this too shall pass.

Do keep mothers and babies in your thoughts as winter progresses. (And sorry that this is not a cheerier post so close to the holidays…)

Beth sig