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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Moments


2012 has been an enormous year, as far as years go. In February we welcomed our baby Charlie, in the back of the car by the side of the road no less, and then we spent the next few months adjusting to life as a family of four. We were also trying to adjust to life with a child with complicated needs. As if that wasn't enough on our plates, we finally got around to renovating the house we call home.

I've never felt more challenged than I did this year, but our boys handled every hurdle we threw at them and then some. There were days of newborn anxiety and sleepless fog where we wondered what on Earth we had done. Days of desperation when we battled to understand Joshie's eye condition and searched for answers on how to help him. Days, and weeks, mid-renovation when all I wanted to do was go home. Days when we moved back in when I wanted to be anywhere but home. But, without sounding like a cliche, it has been one of the best years of my life. Being a family of four has opened the door to some incredible experiences, and some truly precious, often unexpected, moments of bliss. My boys make me smile every single day, no matter what chaos or heartache presents itself. I know that sounds trite to some, but I'm a "stay-at-home mum," and if I've learned anything this year, it's that I need to find the joy in the simplest things to get through all that comes with the gig. There are days when all I do is, literally, stay at home and be a mum. I'm grateful that it's something I had the luxury of choosing to do but there are days, at least once a week, when it does my head in. Days when I want out. Sometimes there are weeks when I feel that way every day, several times a day. And on those days when I wonder what the hell happened to my life and the plans and the person I wanted to be (who in no way resembles who I currently am), it's the moments - sometimes huge milestones, and at others tiny, fleeting, blink-of-an-eye type moments - that make me realise I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world.

These last few weeks when I haven't been writing I've been desperately composing posts in my mind, wanting to write about so many things. I wanted to write about Christmas and Josh turning three and all the moments in between, but I've been writing for a living this year, and to be perfectly honest, I'm a bit worded out. I'm a little bit stunned by how fast the year has gone, and how much we managed to pack into it, and I don't know if any "year in review" type post would really do it all justice. In 2012 our boys have grown in so many ways, and so have we, and we've kicked some pretty big goals. We spent Christmas, just the four of us, at home with a turkey dinner so big that we're still eating leftovers, and we felt truly lucky to be doing so. I never imagined I'd get to spend every day with three people that I love so much, and in years to come when I think about 2012, I won't remember the madness and the stress and the tears and tantrums (and yes, the typhoons), I'll just remember the moments, like the one in the photo above - the million little ways each day that my boys give my heart a squeeze and make it all worth it.

So, to you and yours, Happy New Year (or Happy New Ear as Josh would say). May 2013 be filled with beautiful moments.



(Photo courtesy of Suzanne Goodwin Photography, and no, I didn't have time to blow-dry my hair that day, I was too busy enjoying the moments)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Back

We've just come back from our first family holiday, and it was awesome! Five days in a campervan traversing the south island of New Zealand, five days in Queenstown and five days in Sydney. I spent two weeks in New Zealand, on the north island, when I was 15, but this was the first time I saw it properly. The air was clean, the people were friendly, the food was amazing, and around every corner we encountered jaw-dropping, breathtaking, truly spectacular scenery. I fell in love, completely and deeply, with the place and hope to have many, many more opportunities to visit.



The campervan seemed like a crazy idea, with two kids, a truckload of baggage and no fixed destination at the end of every day, but it was definitely the best way to travel, and we had the loveliest time. It was tough being in it all day and then all night but there were plenty of stops on what we affectionately came to call "Our Tour of New Zealand's Best Playgrounds."


It was the first lot of leave my husband has had in a long time, and certainly the first lot in a very long time that we actually used for its intended purpose. After the year we have had (you know, having a baby in the carrenovating and trips to eye doctors) we REALLY needed a holiday. It was exhausting at times and we filled every minute of every day, not just with the holiday stuff, but with the mountains of washing and dishes and all the other every day stuff you do with small children that never stops no matter where you are in the world. The boys excelled at adaptation to life outside of their comfort zone. We were in some kind of parallel time zone and all of us went to sleep together every night (kind of unavoidable in a camper van...). Being together like that was quite simply delightful.




We had fresh crayfish by the side of the road in Kaikoura and saw fur seals on the beach. We met another Aussie expat family in Blenheim and shared stories of life in Asia and campervan adventures. We drove along the north coast through the Marlborough Sounds, in awe of the sheer beauty of the place. We took a helicopter ride over the Franz Josef Glacier, terrified and ecstatic at the same time to be doing something so different and exciting. We played in the snow on Coronet Peak and sailed on Lake Wakitipu. The boys surprised us again with their patience while we visited a winery and had a bbq with friends in Queenstown. Our trip ended with a sobering tour of Christchurch, a beautiful city whose broken heart is still beating loud and true beneath the rubble.


To say I enjoyed this trip is quite an understatement. Josh and Charlie both grew up so much and while we had our moments, we bonded, in the way I always imagined families should when they're on holidays. Since we got back home a few days ago the real world has been a bit of a shock. Dealing with post-reno issues, paying for the holiday, all the usual blah blah every day crap is always a bummer after a break but apart from that I'm still on a high. I've come back feeling rejuvenated. Not relaxed by any means, it wasn't that kind of holiday, but I feel ready for another big year, a new project, maybe a few changes - and definitely another holiday in the not-too-distant future.










Sunday, October 14, 2012

You Must Be Choking!

I love our life here, along with so many things about Hong Kong. During the summer when the sun shines and the sky is blue, it feels close to paradise, and I can see what must've drawn people here many years ago. On a clear day the view of Hong Kong island and the Kowloon peninsula, from anywhere in the territory, is spectacular. But it doesn't last long...

I've only ranted a couple of times about the air "situation" here because it does get boring. People who live here don't like it but they've come to accept that it's a part of life here, and ranting about it won't change anything. It's a bit like complaining to the poms that it rains in London, or telling the Aussies how expensive it is to live in Sydney - we know already! The trouble is, I can't accept the pollution, I can't turn a blind eye and just get on with it - it's the one thing that's stopping us from settling here permanently (sorry Mum). Once the wind changes direction at the end of summer the haze settles in like a thick, yellowish fog. You can smell it as soon as you step outside, some days you can smell it inside. The visibility drops significantly and you start to feel like you really shouldn't spend too much time outside, let alone attempt to exert yourself in the great outdoors. I find it suffocating and infuriating.

I don't understand enough about the composition of the air we breathe, or the pollutants in it, to give you an in-depth discussion on the topic, but I can give you a little summary based on what I understand.  There are a couple of different ways to measure "air quality" and a few different organisations around the place that measure it on a daily basis. The Local Environmental Protection Department have their own Air Pollution Index which is "the conversion of the ambient respirable suspended particulate (RSP), sulphur dioxide (SO2), carbon monoxide (CO), ozone (O3) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations." The level corresponds to a rating somewhere between 0-500, with 100 being the limit according to HK Air Quality Objectives. Anything over that represents a level of pollutants in the air which would be "harmful to human health." The most common criticism of this is that Hong Kong's government has set its own objectives and measuring system, and these are way too high by international standards. According to the Clean Air Network, a local NGO, "Hong Kong’s Air Quality Objectives, recommended maximum guidelines for 7 pollutants, permit pollutant levels 2-4 times greater than those recommended under the WHO AQGs." The warning system, which tells people basically when to avoid going outside, kicks in at too high a level as well, and this leads to a lot of people getting very sick each year because they do crazy stuff like exercising or breathing... (For more info on the API see here).

Some say the pollution comes from trucks and ships that use "dirty" fuels and coal fired power stations, others say it all comes from the mainland factories just across the border - I say it's a combination of these things, combined with a government that doesn't care enough. Since we moved to HK 5 years ago, there have been a number of days on which the pollution levels have not only exceeded the WHO threshold for what is considered safe, but they have set new records for Hong Kong's pollution readings. Every year it seems a new record is set, and the number of days that the pollution levels are hazardous are increasing. There was a day this summer when the API reached something like 250, and it was so bad it made the news in other parts of the world. People on the street were struggling to breathe and I was sure there was more pollution in the air than actual oxygen! 

In the short term this poor quality air can lead to watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, sinus pain and irritation, and a tight, burning feeling in the throat and chest, but who knows what it means for our health in the long term? It's certainly not good for my mum guilt! We spent the afternoon at the beach today, ignoring the fact that we couldn't see the horizon, and both boys came home coughing and rubbing their eyes. I feel pretty rotten myself, and the EPD website tells me the main pollutant today was "Respirable Suspended Particulate" (aka dust, organic matter, nitrates, sulphates etc) which can "penetrate deep into the lungs" - great! According to one independent air quality watchdog, the number of particulates in the air was 21 times higher than the WHO limit for safety. 21 times!

Whatever all the numbers mean, however you measure it and wherever it comes from, one thing is certain - we shouldn't have to inhale the crap that we do. And I don't want my boys growing up in a place where toxic air is such a routine part of life that we just don't mention it anymore. It's only October and the wind won't change direction again for at least 6 months, and I've already had enough. Time for a holiday?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Trash or Treasure?

A little while ago I wrote about our renovation, and I'm thrilled to say that, 12 weeks later, it's 99% done. I'll get to that another time but I'm mentioning it today because while we were renovating we had a bit of a clear out and that's what I'm writing about now. We couldn't make our house any bigger, we just had to be very clever about the space that we have, and really decide what was important to us - something we should have done years ago.

I was dead keen to get rid of the old IKEA furniture that came with the house, and Dave was determined that there was no way the old TV was coming back. I managed to reduce the number of toys we had accumulated, and a fair few clothes and books went to charity. We tried to clear out while we packed up, and it felt cathartic initially, but then we ran out of time and shoved things in boxes with the intention of sorting through it when we moved back in. We put a bit in storage and took a lot with us to the house we were staying in. As we went along we shopped for new things and had to figure out where to keep them, and we were very grateful when friends offered to look after things for us. In the end we moved 4 times, had our belongings spread across no less than 6 houses, and on our final move managed to whittle down the essentials to one suitcase and a few boxes of food and toys. It was at that end point, when looking at what we actually needed, what had followed us from one house to the next, that we realised something - we own a lot of crap.

We moved back in two weeks ago, and we still haven't unpacked all the boxes, and we still have things  in storage, but we're almost there. And we are throwing things out or giving them away on a daily basis. There are times when choosing what to throw out, and what to put into storage, has been quite easy. There have been a couple of heated debates about things like whether or not I really need to hang onto my teaching resources from 2003, and if there is a more appropriate place for Dave's model aeroplanes than the bedside table, but mostly we have agreed on what stays, and what goes. We each have one piece or furniture that we have had longer than we've had each other, and neither of them fit into our new aesthetic, but they have stayed and been put to good use. I've mostly enjoyed looking at what we have, and remembering why we've kept it. We both love things that have a history, and all of the pieces of furniture or knick knacks that we have held onto have that in spades, but they also still have a purpose - everything else has had to go. Clothes I haven't worn in the last 12 months, books we haven't read (or books we read and didn't like), old sheets and towels, mismatched dinner plates and cutlery, blinds that no longer fit the windows, and anything broken or unusable is no longer with us.

The things I've found the hardest to let go of have been the baby things. Friends of ours have, just this weekend, welcomed twin boys. I was more than happy to pass on clothes my boys had grown out of, with the exception of the outfits they each wore home from the hospital, and the little onesie I bought for Charlie the day I found out I was having another boy, but I also found myself keeping anything that was gender neutral. I've still got the majority of my maternity clothes, and anything baby related that I found essential. Even though we don't think a third child is a good idea, I keep putting things away "just in case." I sold a few big items recently and it hurt deep inside in a way I didn't expect. We had a bouncer that both boys sat in as newborns, and the moses basket that was Josh's first bed, neither of which were irreplaceable, but I remembered my excitement when I bought them, and the moments of joy that were attached to each of them. I sold a Fisher Price rocker this week - the chair where both boys sat for their first taste of real food. As I was packing it up Dave reminded me of how Josh used to play with the tag on one of the toys for hours on end, and I choked up. It's silly to be attached to things like that, especially when they take up so much room, and are no longer necessary but I can't help it. I'm not sure if I'm struggling with the fact that my boys really aren't babies anymore, or with the idea that there won't be any more babies... Maybe it's a bit of both, but I'm really not ready to let go, no matter how much we need to clear out.

So the gorgeous new version of the house we're now lucky to be living in is free of outdated IKEA furniture, and the teaching resources are tidily packed up and stored away, but if you look closely you'll find a white onesie here, and a swaddle there, and a co-sleeper under the bed; just in case.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

R U OK? - The Tunnel

Today is R U OK Day: "a national day of action on the second Thursday of September (13 September 2012), dedicated to inspiring all people of all backgrounds to regularly ask each other ‘Are you ok?'" 
I had a conversation just yesterday that inspired me to write about this great initiative and to share a very personal story with you all.

Some describe depression as a black dog, others say it is like a fog, or a dark cloud. One friend described it as an abyss. For me it feels like a tunnel, spiralling down, dark and full of twists and turns. I was depressed after Josh was born. It took me a long time to figure out what it was and even longer to admit to it, but I was in a very dark place. I finally had almost everything I wanted - a gorgeous husband, a beautiful baby boy, and we had just bought our first home. I felt like I should have been happier than I was, and I hated that I didn't feel like I was "supposed to." I also worried constantly: I worried about whether or not I was a good mother, I worried about whether J was eating enough, whether he was warm enough, if he was happy, if I would be able to put him to sleep at night, how I would cope if I couldn't get him to sleep, whether he loved me and knew how much I loved him; it was constant and endless. I was so highly strung that I couldn't put Josh to bed at night. If he was even remotely unsettled (and he almost always was) I became a nervous wreck. I dreaded 5 o'clock when the wind down/dinner/bath/bed routine began because I knew we'd be up for hours, pacing the floor with a crying baby and I felt like we'd be doing that dance for the rest of our lives. There was no joy in any of it.

Despite that I still felt blessed, and that was an issue in itself. When I realised how close I was to having the life I always dreamed of, a sense of foreboding came over me and I became terrified that it was all going to be taken away. Worrying about the men in my life was more than I could bear, so I directed that anxious energy into worrying about myself. My hormones were wreaking havoc, and I felt like crap physically - no one had told me that pregnancy was going to have such a huge impact on my body - and I was sure that every ache, every pain, every little symptom was a major illness. After all, I hadn't really done anything to deserve the wonderful life I had, why would I be lucky enough to keep it? I was so afraid of everything, all the time. It cast a shadow over the first 12 months of J's life and there were times when I thought my husband was either going to leave or have me committed. I remember clearly feeling pretty low one day, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not muster any enthusiasm for anything. In frustration my husband pointed out that I was pulling everyone around me into the tunnel, that same darkness. It was a wake up call.

I wanted someone to see what was happening to me and to show me how to get back to the light. I didn't fit the textbook definition of postnatal depression so I never went to anyone and said "hey, I think I've got PND, can you help me?" I never talked about what was going on, I just couldn't verbalise it. Things really turned around one day when my doctor (who was frankly sick of seeing me) asked if I was happy. I burst into tears and admitted that actually, no, I wasn't. From then on I had to make a conscious effort and seek professional help to pull myself out of the tunnel and back into the land of the living, one step at a time. But it wasn't until I fell pregnant again that I started to feel like I had really walked away from it. It was brought on by a combination, and a culmination, of factors around the time Josh was born, and I was so scared towards the end of my second pregnancy that I was going to go to that dark place again, that I was determined to "get it right" the second time.

For the first few days after Charlie was born I was riding high on oxytocin and adrenaline and I felt like I had finally put the tunnel behind me. Then came the crash. Being on standby as a milkbar 24 hours a day had taken its toll and I ached all over. I wasn't able to spend as much time with J as I would have liked and he punished me for it. I hopped into bed with him one night to read stories and he screamed for Daddy and hit me in the face. I pushed on and read to him through my tears but it left me feeling like it was all just too damn hard. I had a similar thought the same night at 3am when Charlie was simultaneously vomiting and pooping on my chest... I felt that same familiar stone in the pit of my stomach, pulling me downwards, that urge to run and hide. But I talked about it. I told my husband what I was feeling. I organised a home visit from the lovely Yvonne Heavyside at The Family Zone. I took care of myself, and stayed in my pyjamas. I played with Josh, and napped with Charlie. I called my friends, and I pulled myself out of it.

The conversation I had yesterday revolved around that awful, gut-churning anxiety that I now know many new parents experience at some point. There were a few of us who all had kids around the same age and we had all experienced daily freak-outs about something during those early months of motherhood. Whether it was over taking baby out on an excursion, or settling a colicky newborn, or struggling with breastfeeding (or in my case, all of the above), we were all sitting in our houses, stressed and miserable at roughly the same time, feeling crap and alone. But we weren't alone, we just didn't know it. This revelation was both reassuring and heartbreaking at the same time - if only I had said something to someone I may have spared myself a whole lot of angst...

My experience with Charlie has been completely different, but it has taken a concerted effort on my part to stay out of the tunnel. It still comes rushing towards me at times, like when I watch the news, or consider getting on a plane, or when I hear of a mother getting sick and leaving her babies behind too soon. But right now I am OK, better than OK, and loving life. We were lucky - we made it through those dark days, but so many don't. And R U OK Day is for them.

If I've learned anything from this it's that there's no shame in asking for help. It's hard to ask for help, but it's harder still to live through depression and anxiety alone. Whether you need help, or you know someone who might, please reach out today.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Grown Up Stuff

We've been busy going about our business lately, caught up in our renovations and daily life with two beautifully busy boys, quietly in denial about the severity of Josh's eye condition. Then a few weeks ago we had a massive reality check when his ophthalmologist (a word I'm really getting sick of writing, so will now refer to her as the Oph.) presented his case at a conference. She got back to us with a recommendation we'd been dreading - surgery.

There wasn't a general consensus at the conference amongst all the Ophs that were there, only discussion that surgery was an option worth exploring. It has been done, with success on patients with similar conditions, but J's particular condition is so rare, that no one knows exactly what the outcome would be. It could be an improvement, or it might not change anything. If he doesn't respond well, if his eye reacts badly to the procedure, or if the structure of the eye is in anyway compromised, it could very well make things worse. It's a roll-the-dice type scenario and we are more than terrified. Our Oph was hesitant to say one way or the other what we should do, which makes decision making pretty difficult, but she did say we need to make a decision soon.

We then saw an Oph here, a great guy, a rare treat in a city where decent specialists are few and far between. He also used the "S" word, but explained it to us in a way that made us realise we didn't really have a choice. It's now not a matter of if, but when... There's a fairly small window of opportunity here, while his brain and eye develop neural pathways between each other. The good news is that his vision was better when he was small so he already has the foundations laid, but as the condition progresses (and by progresses I mean, gets worse), what he sees is less clear and the brain can't decipher it as easily, so it may very well shut off the right eye. Surgery would remove the obstacle, his lens, and hopefully give him a better line of vision. He'd have to wear a contact lens and his glasses and I imagine, initially, he won't like that very much.

There are so, so, so many unknowns and it feels like a giant leap of faith. We also need to decide where to have the surgery - here, where everything is familiar and comfortable - or in Sydney, where the better specialists and family are, but where it's all a bit different and less comfortable. I suddenly feel very old. When did I become responsible for making these major decisions for another person? We're talking about our son having usable vision in one of his eyes, or not, how do we possibly make that call, knowing he will have to live with it forever if it doesn't work out? On the other hand, doing nothing could also be a really bad move. I'm torn between wanting to protect the little guy from the ordeal of general anaesthesia, hospital and a potentially long recovery, and the knowledge that we really need to do what it is in our power to do, to save his eyesight and give him a decent shot at maybe one day driving a car, backpacking around the world on his own, and doing all the other things us sighted people take for granted.

When I was 14 I had major surgery on my jaw. The doctors sold it to my parents as being necessary to prevent future problems. They trusted the advice they were given, and I had the surgery, spent a night in intensive care, a week in hospital, and six weeks eating through a straw. I woke up from the anaesthesia and the first thing I saw was my mum, crying beside the bed. I was high on pethidine and didn't know what she was so upset about. Even when I saw my bruised, swollen and unrecognisable self in the mirror later that day, I still didn't get it. Faced with the prospect of being on the other side of the bed, being that parent, I finally do understand, and I really wish I didn't.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

People In Glass Houses

Let me start by saying I have been incredibly lucky. My friends are nothing but supportive, and have always been great sources of advice, comfort, reality checks and chocolate - whichever is most appropriate at the time. Today's post came about while I was researching for an article I'm writing. I asked for input from lots of different sources and I came across something that made me a little uneasy. There were some who were quite outspoken in their opinions to the point that some comments caused offense. There were others who were afraid to speak their minds on a public forum or at mother's groups for fear of being vilified for their choices (based on previous experiences.) This is my response to all of that...

I hate to admit it but I am guilty of being judgemental from time to time. I've looked at other mothers and raised a brow at some of the things I've seen and heard. I try to be discreet about it and keep my judgements to myself but I know there have been times when I have pushed my opinions onto others, sometimes because I wanted to be helpful, but I'm ashamed to admit, at other times I've done it because I thought my way was better. Sometimes I get so frustrated that I want to scream "what are you doing?!?" but I don't. I know how it feels to be judged, and there are a lot of things I do that make me feel so guilty that I want to curl up into a ball on the floor (and it's pretty tough to be judgemental from down there). Like giving my baby boy a bottle of formula at night so he'll sleep through (something I feel so guilty about I'm not doing it anymore). Or occasionally putting my toddler to bed early so I can have a glass of wine and watch TV at the end of a very long day (definitely still going to do that). To some mothers these actions are comparable to heinous crimes, and while I believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, what I don't get is women who feel they have the right to openly berate anyone whose parenting style differs to theirs. Being a mother is hard enough without other mothers, who you imagine would be your best allies, quite openly attacking the choices you've made (especially before they know the reasons behind those choices...). I don't know many ladies who would dare to criticise what their friends are wearing to their faces, or tell them what they're doing wrong in their jobs or their marriages - so why do so many of us feel it's ok to judge a mummy who might do things a little differently when it comes to parenting? Surely if any area of our lives deserves support, sensitivity and tact, motherhood must be it?

Not a single day goes by when I don't feel guilty about something. I am constantly questioning every choice I make. I am far from perfect and, to be perfectly honest, I die a little inside every time I do something that someone has told me will be bad for my kids. Like giving them formula, or letting them cry a little before they go to sleep. Even as I write this, and admit that I do those things, I'm cringing because I know there are some of you out there thinking "I can't believe she does that!" 

So, why are we so quick to judge, so keen to criticise? Is there any mother out there who doesn't question herself at least once a day? How many of you haven't had that crisis of conscience, that voice in the back of your head questioning a certain move, that late night, panicked trawl through baby books and parenting websites, desperate for answers?? Are any of us so good at this gig that we have the right to tell others what they're doing wrong, without first wondering if maybe they have good reasons for doing what they're doing? Is it a misguided attempt to be helpful? To make ourselves feel better about what we're doing? Or are some of us just completely oblivious to the fact that our "suggestions" might cause angst and heartache? I just read this great post about "Mom Bullies" that does a great job of describing the kind of mums I'm talking about. I agree that parenting is a damn tough job, and when you have a good day, when you find what works, you have every right to feel sanctimonious and superior. And I know how tempting it can be to share your insights when you see that someone has made a decision without knowing all the facts (I had to bite my tongue very recently). But that doesn't mean that what you do - what works in your house - will work in mine. Because really, whatever you practise, whichever parenting philosophy you subscribe to, there will always be "evidence" to back it up, and you will always find someone who agrees with you and who will tell you you are absolutely, 100%, without a doubt, doing the right thing for your family. But likewise, there will always be just as many voices that argue against it, and for those of us who aren't that confident, despite all that evidence, it's that one negative voice in the day that speaks the loudest. And don't get me started on how easily such helpful suggestions can be misconstrued in emails or forum comments. A tongue-in-cheek, "oh, he really should poo more often," can easily be read as, "you're clearly neglecting his needs."

When a friend, or a complete stranger for that matter, confides in you that she is thinking about giving up breastfeeding/going back to work/trying "cry-it-out" sleep training/swinging from the chandeliers high on Xanax every night, what she's really looking for is reassurance. She wants you to tell her she's doing the right thing. However much you disagree with her choices, whatever you know that she doesn't, whichever choices you think she should be making instead, chances are she has already made up her mind, and your input will not change it - it may just alienate her. If it works for her, then it will always be the right choice. What we all need is support and respect for our decisions, and the best thing you can say to someone seeking advice is "I don't know what I'm doing either..." That's not to say that you should never offer advice, because advice can literally save lives, just think very carefully about how you deliver it. A mum carrying her baby incorrectly in a sling, should probably be told, but the one buying formula, might be less receptive...

I could write post after post justifying the choices I've made, but I won't, because I believe that I shouldn't have to. But I still feel like I need to at times, and I hate that. Our world revolves around our boys (yes, we live in a Kindergarchy, deal with it), and when it comes to how to raise them we make educated decisions whenever possible, and the rest of the time we rely on gut instinct and our hearts to work out what is best for them, and we strive to make sure the needs of every family member are met. We want our kids to be happy, healthy, well behaved, independent young men who feel loved and know that they can rely on their parents to make the right choices, does any of that sound like the motivations of a bad parent? We all want that for our kids, does it really matter how we go about it? And is it anybody else's business? I may not be a perfect parent, and I'm overwhelmed by how little I actually know, but most of the time I know what works for us. So until my boys can tell me I'm doing a great job (and they may never get around to it) I just have to look at them and see how happy and healthy and bright they are, to know I'm doing the very best I can right now, with the resources I have to hand. And then I'll have another chocolate biscuit, put the boys in front of the TV and call my friends and tell them what a great job they're doing, because that's the kind of mother I want to be. It's a constant work in progress, and as I've educated myself I've changed the way we do things - but it hasn't ever been because someone has told me I'm doing it wrong.

There are so many factors that influence the choices every parent makes, and they may not always do what is considered "right" or even what they planned to do, but you can never know what is behind someone else's decisions. It's quite possible that choosing to give a baby formula, or going back to work, co-sleeping, using disposable nappies, or whatever it is you disagree with, may have been one of the toughest decisions that parent has made. In fact, the decision may have been out of their hands entirely. So, before you judge a friend, a neighbour, a random stranger on a forum who might be desperately seeking advice and wanting someone to tell her that what she's doing is ok, remember how tough this parenting gig is, and try not to make it any harder. We all deserve credit for loving our kids and doing the very best we can.

THIS POST RIGHT HERE is at the top of my list of "Posts I Wish I'd Written," and it perfectly sums up what I've been thinking this week and what I wanted to say today, only it says it better, of course.

And just to show I'm a good sport, here's a completely different point of view for the mums who do step in and bravely offer advice out of genuine concern. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Boxes

Several months ago I wrote about putting our house on the market, and never got around to updating you all on how that panned out. Well, we didn't get an offer that would have been worth the effort of packing up and moving at 9 months pregnant, and pulled the pin. This left us right back where we started, and when the "oven" packed it in it was the last straw. We decided to renovate.

It took some financial wizardry and a whole lot of planning, hours and hours of excruciating budgeting and planning, but we are now less than 5 days away from demolition day. I never thought I could be so excited at the prospect of men coming into my house with sledgehammers and crow bars but I cannot wait! We're not going overboard, since we can't make the place any bigger and will probably outgrow it soon enough, but we are doing everything we've dreamed about doing since we moved in - new floors, re-plastering and painting, new double-glazed windows, a walk-in wardrobe, toy storage under that stairs, and the crowning glory - a brand new kitchen (with a real oven, and a dishwasher!). The beauty of having to wait for these seemingly simple things for so long is that they will be appreciated all the more when we finally have them (with any luck, by September).

The only sticking point is that we have to move out... We have friends who will be home in Canada for the summer and they have kindly offered us their place for a couple of months. It's a nicer place than ours will ever be, with a yard (and grass!) and a pool, so we're quite excited about living there for a while. But we have been packing for what feels like weeks. I am a bit obsessive when it comes to packing. I like to take the opportunity to clear out stuff we've been hanging onto for too long. I also like to know what's in every box so it's easier when it comes time to unpack. It's a good method, but it makes it really difficult for anyone trying to help me... Moving out to renovate is also quite different to simply moving. Some of our things will have to be in storage for a couple of months, so we need to decide what we will take with us to our temporary home and what we can do without.

Our friends have kids, so we won't need to take many toys. They were the first things I packed and surprisingly few of them have been missed. I do have to pack when Josh is asleep though, as he spots me putting something in a box and cries "I want it, I want it!" and pulls it out again. I'm embarrassed to admit that the chaos of boxes everywhere doesn't look all that different to the chaos of living here. Something else that will hopefully change when we move back in. We all stopped caring about the state of the place a while ago, but this move and all the changes we are making will be like a cleansing, and I will care very much when the house is "new" and everything has a place.

We've just been told that the removalists can only come a day earlier than we planned, so I'll be moving with both boys, and spending our first night somewhere different on my own, tomorrow. But I still can't wait. That says a lot about how much I want this.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

D For Debenture

When I was a kid growing up in a small country town, school was pretty basic. I went to "pre-school" a couple of times a week at the ages of 3 and 4, and when I turned 5 I went to "kindergarten" at one of the local primary schools. I stayed at the same school until year 10 and from there went to a public high school because it was the only school in town that offered the last 2 years of secondary school. University was a pretty big shock but I loved school, so I wouldn't have had it any other way. Here in Hong Kong the options seem endless, and deciding where to send Josh has already caused us inconceivable stress.

For those of you who don't know Hong Kong (or for those who do but haven't gotten this far yet), let me break it down for you...
  • There are three types of schools here: 1. Local or government schools which teach the local curriculum, in Cantonese with some English. 2. ESF schools, which are partially government funded, entirely English speaking and offer either British curriculum or PYP (primary level preparation for the International Baccalaureate). 3. International schools, which offer a wide range of curricula, languages and subjects, but are also expensive and selective. 
  • Children start "Kindergarten" the year they turn 3. Some schools base their intake on the year the child was born. Others base it on a school year or similar August-August type criteria. 
  • Waiting lists are standard. Many schools won't accept children onto their waiting list until 12 months before they're due to start. While others will quite happily take applications from birth. I have heard rumours of some parents attaching ultrasound scan photos to application forms, it's that competitive. You generally pay a fee for the privilege of having your child's name on a list, and another fee each year to keep it there. For people who move here with their kids already at school age this can be a huge obstacle. And don't get me started on how much the dragon year baby boom has affected waiting lists...
  • Many international schools require parents to pay a debenture, a concept that was entirely foreign to us before we came here. It's basically a "donation" to the school to ensure a place, and the more you can afford to pay, the greater the chances your child will get in. 
So, Josh turns three at the end of this year. Many of his little friends are gearing up for kindy in September. Crazy, laid-back parents that we are, we thought 2 years 8 months was just a little too young for our guy to be heading off to school and we looked into keeping him back a year. I look at all the boys who were born earlier in 2009 and they all seem so much bigger than J. Unfortunately, holding kids back is not something that's encouraged here, and it seems to be a case of sink or swim. At this age it probably isn't such a big deal, but I know from my years as a teacher that it can make a huge difference in primary school. Given the issues with his eyesight we really want to get this right, and if he has the advantage of being one of the older kids in the class, it could really help preserve his confidence. Another option for us was to apply to schools with a different age intake, which we did. We found a couple of schools where he would be right in the middle of the age bracket, and they just happen to start with "reception" at age 4. Perfect, right?

Once we found schools with the right age bracket and good reputations, we then had to narrow them down based on whether or not they offer special needs support, and how many children are in each class. J's ophthalmologist assures us that he should be able to cope with mainstream schooling, but we don't know yet how much support, if any, he'll need. We want to make sure it's at least available before we commit. I'm also really conscious of the fact that many schools think nothing of cramming 30 students into a classroom with one teacher, and expecting him or her to meet the needs of all of them. But I know that even the best teachers find this very difficult. I don't want J to get lost in the system, so small class sizes are crucial in my opinion. 

After taking all of this into consideration, we had two great schools on our list. This is when we encountered enormous waiting lists and that dirty word, debenture. One school requires a minimum $100, 000 HKD debenture which depreciates over 7 years, for each child. You only pay the debenture when you accept a place at the school. But there are limited places available, and those who can pay more have a better chance of getting their child in to that school. We don't have $100, 000 just lying around, but we could scrape it together (i.e. sell the house or a couple of kidneys), and we would, we just hate that we have to. The second school on our list appeals to me more because it's different, and it seems like it would be a really exciting place to be, as a student or a teacher. There's no waiting list as such, you just have to prove that your child will add to the "diversity" of the school, but the debenture is $400, 000 per child... 

In the meantime, Josh needs something to occupy him, so we have been looking at kindergartens. We applied to two schools with fairly good links to great primary schools, and we attended "playdates" (i.e. interviews) at both this week. We weren't really sold on either to be honest, and I kind of knew as soon as I walked in that neither of them were the right fit - occupational hazard I guess. So, we've decided that since we're unable to decide what to do, we'll do nothing. He's TWO after all! We'll keep him where he is, where he's happy and it's familiar and they're not asking us to hand over our life-savings, or lack thereof, and we'll wait and see what we get offered. Some families don't have that luxury and some big changes need to be made to the system, soon.

There's always homeschooling I guess!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Second Time Around

You know all those things I said I'd never do again? All the mistakes I made and the lessons I learned the first time? Well... I'm doing it all again - rocking Charlie to sleep, giving him a dummy, carrying him around wherever I go when he absolutely refuses to sleep, feeding him in bed till we both fall asleep, and sitting around all day just enjoying his company instead of getting off my butt (which apparently did not receive the memo that we are no longer pregnant) and doing something resembling exercise/housework. I've given myself permission to do it all over again because I know what I'm doing this time, I know we'll end up with some bad habits and I'm ok with that. It's all about survival at the moment and if I have to take the path of least resistance to get through the next 6 months, so be it.

I read through book after book trying to find answers when J was smaller, and when I realised that none of them answered any of my questions, I tossed them all out. Some were a little helpful, but despite the one-size-fits-all solutions offered, my child just didn't comply. When Charlie came along he surprised us by being a comparatively easy baby and I didn't feel the need to turn to "experts" for advice. Then he hit the baby version of menopause - "the 6 week change" as Robin Barker calls it - and started napping for no more than 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. It was all too familiar...

I didn't have much of a plan in the beginning, I just knew I wanted to do things differently the second time around, I was determined, perhaps somewhat naively, to nip it in the bud. When Charlie went through "the change" I had no choice but to go back to the books. I borrowed one from a friend called "Sleep Sense" and it really did make sense. There were a few new, and genuinely helpful, pieces of advice in there but it was all just a bit too familiar. Again I was left asking, "but what do I do when...?" So I've decided that, for now, rather than trying to find one philosophy, one solution to all my problems, I'm going to do whatever the hell feels right at the time. At least once a day we practice attachment parenting, and Charlie naps on my chest or in the Ergo. Other times I channel the Baby Whisperer and take a firm but fair approach. Then there are times when he needs some serious Gina Ford style wrangling to go the f##k to sleep...  At least I'm consistent in my inconsistency, and I now have a 3 month old who goes to bed at 6pm every night and sleeps for 12 hours. I'm always going to stress about whether or not I'm doing the right thing, and I will question myself every step of the way but that's just one more thing the books can't help me with.

A friend told me, before Charlie arrived, that I'd appreciate baby number 2 all the more for the simple fact that, unlike with the first child, I wouldn't end up resenting the disruption to our lives. I wasn't sure I got what she meant at the time but now I do. Our lives were already chaos, and Charlie fit right in, like he was meant to be here, and we simply carried on. What has struck me the most is that the first 3 months of his life have gone so much faster than Josh's first 3 months (which dragged on FOREVER!). We got to the 12 week mark, looked at each other and said, "you know what, that wasn't so bad." And we gave ourselves a little pat on the back for making it through. There are still tough days, really really long days, and days when I have no clue what I'm doing, but unlike the first time around, I know they won't last. And there's a good chance that when Charlie is a strong and independent little man, I'll long for the days when he needed me wrapped around him to fall asleep. So I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing, making those mistakes, setting us up for bad habits, because I know that, if in making those mistakes again we risk history repeating itself, we'll be ok. Because we survived the last two years and we have a pretty awesome 2 year old to show for it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Zzzzzzzzzz!

Sleep. When you're a parent of small children it becomes an obsession. When I'm awake I'm structuring our day to make sure both boys are stimulated and fed enough (but not too much) to make sure they are perfectly worn out and drowsy at night. When I'm asleep I'm usually concentrating very hard on staying asleep, and praying that I get enough to make it through the next day. Anything that disturbs the balance - a fever, a nightmare, the dog, a thunderstorm, a f**king jackhammer in the daytime, is met with an exhausted rage that would make me cry if only I had the energy. Quite simply, I live, eat and breathe sleep. After 12 weeks of getting 4 consecutive hours at the most, I am barely functioning, and definitely not "firing on all cylinders," as my husband so eloquently puts it. When anyone asks me how I am my response is usually, "so freaking tired." Sleep has become such a precious commodity that if someone offered me a choice between a gift of diamonds, or 24 hours, by myself in a hotel, I would take the sleep without giving it a second thought. It's boring I know, but I cannot think or talk about anything else until I get some sleep.

The old "sleep when the baby sleeps" goes out the window when you also have a toddler, and if there are less than 3 adults in the house, the chance to catch up evaporates faster than my patience. For something so essential to survival, I cannot believe that babies are born not knowing how to sleep. It's not rocket science kiddies! They don't know that they need it and as their parents you need to help them, for your sake as much as theirs. It's a delicate balancing act, and what worked for one kid might have the opposite effect on the other. So my days and nights have been spent tweaking things ever so slightly looking for the magic combination. Charlie doesn't like to be swaddled, and he sleeps better when the fan is on instead of the air-con. We need to give him a dream-feed, something we never did with Josh, and he prefers to go to sleep with white noise in the background, rather than music. It also helps when I am absolutely shattered and don't hear him fussing. I've been getting him up and popping a boob in his mouth whenever he stirred, pre-empting a crying fit which would wake everyone else, but it turns out I didn't need to. Last night we got the balance right, we found the holy grail, and the little guy slept for 12 solid hours! I slept through every whimper and grunt, and when he was done, Charlie just carried on sleeping. The urge to feed woke me before he did (they don't call it a let-down for nothing...) but I know now that he doesn't need to eat as often as I was trying to feed him. I'd be cross with myself for not figuring it out sooner if I wasn't so overjoyed. I feel like a new woman, like I could take on the world. I know there will always be bad nights, and tonight could very well be one of them. If I have learned anything from this parenting gig, it's that things always change just when you think you've got them figured out. But I have seen the light at the end of the tunnel.

It's official - Charlie can sleep through. Now we just need to convince his big brother to do the same...

For those of you in the same boat, you are not alone. This is old, but it still makes me smile - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xtcB457jqQ

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Lottery

I've stolen the title for this post from friends who have recently experienced a devastating loss in the genetic lottery (Read here and here). My heart goes out to them, and while our own genetic shortcomings are nowhere near as traumatic, I can certainly relate to the confusion and guilt and overwhelming sadness that comes with the realisation that procreating isn't going to be as straightforward as you imagine it will be. Seriously, I have no idea how there are 7 billion people on Earth, because it all seems so freaking difficult right now.

With the Pandora's box that we opened on a random Tuesday a few months ago, came a new language, and a whole new set of things to worry about (because as parents, we simply don't worry enough...). Learning 7 months into a pregnancy that you unknowingly passed on a potentially debilitating condition to your firstborn isn't the happy news you hope to hear at that point, and I spent an extremely anxious few months waiting to see if my little BITO was also affected. We have yet to have it confirmed by professionals, but for now it looks like Charlie's eyes are fine (fingers still crossed). We always said that if Charlie escaped any genetic mishaps we'd consider having a 3rd child. It was always in the plan, but that 25% chance of ELeP put a shadow over any dreams we had for a big family. The Geneticist we consulted recently was somewhat helpful in this regard, but we've learned that genetics are a murky business and it really is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I won't bore you with the technicalities of what we have been told but at this stage we have more questions than we have answers. When it comes to future babies, we need to wait until we know more about what has caused ELeP in Josh.

I want to wait, but I can't stop thinking about it. Well-meaning friends and family have told me I shouldn't worry about it for now - there are bigger things to worry about after all. Rest assured, I am still worrying about everything else, but being a very capable multi-tasker, I'm managing to worry about it all at the same time. We've been told we have three options, something to think about until we're ready to think about it some more. We can spin the wheel and take our chances again, knowing that J got off lightly and baby # 3 could have a more serious case of ELeP (in other words, be born blind). This condition doesn't just cause a vision impairment, but an obvious physical deformity of the eyes as well. It's not immediately apparent what is different about J's eyes, but they are definitely different. I've seen some pretty frightening images of others with more serious cases of the condition, and they will haunt me every time I think about how bad it could be. The good news is that, while it won't get any better and his eyesight may deteriorate over time, the deformity itself isn't progressive - a small mercy. But if we took our chances, I'd never forgive myself if we had another baby with ELeP, I couldn't, in good conscience, take such a risk.

We've also been given information on "Assisted Reproduction" - IVF followed by screening of embryos for specific genes. It seems crazy given how easily we reproduce, and it opens up some ethical issues that I'm not entirely comfortable with. While I don't like option A, I like the idea of a "designer baby" even less...  It may be the only way we can have another child that is biologically ours, without the risk of passing on ELeP, but there are so many, almost too many, what ifs in this scenario. Like, what if we end up with twins!? Or what if we go to all this trouble and end up with something else going wrong!!? Is it worth putting ourselves through the physical, emotional and financial toll of this process when we already have two awesome little boys...?

Option C is the least appealing, and that would be admitting that we are done having babies. Our Charlie is only 9 weeks old, but he has been so delightful that I can't bear the thought of never experiencing this again. My life is full, and our family is more than I had ever hoped for, but I'm not sure that I can say it's complete. On learning that we might have to call it quits prematurely my heart broke. If we made this decision, no matter how right the reasons, I would grieve. I am immensely grateful for the two perfect children I have, but it's because they make me so happy that I want more. Is that greedy? Maybe, but the heart wants what it wants.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The New Normal

After the initial diagnosis of Josh's eye condition, I went to a pretty dark place. It was heartbreaking, and unfair, and I was guilt ridden in only the way a mummy can be. Then we just got on with it, and I saw him being a normal two year old, and went into a bit of denial. We put his glasses on and integrated the eye drops into the daily routine, but not much changed. When Charlie was born I looked anxiously into his eyes to look for the same tell-tale signs of ELeP, and despite not finding any, still spend disproportionate amounts of time staring at him. After all, we thought J looked "normal" for so long, maybe we were simply blinded by love and incapable of finding any fault in our children. Apart from that, I tended not to think about how this condition would impact on J's life and our future.

That all changed last week. David and Josh spent a week in Sydney and met with a team of specialists. There was the Paediatrician, who will oversee and coordinate all the different specialists we need, the Geneticist, who will help us figure out exactly what we're dealing with, and of course, the Ophthalmologist. So far, it would seem that we have been blessed with a "normal" healthy toddler (insert sigh of relief here). His wonky head is still of some concern, and we have to add a Neurosurgeon to our team sooner rather than later (a sickening prospect), but we have escaped anything really serious (for now). The Ophthalmologist spent a lot of time answering our questions. It's such a freaking rare condition that doctors who recognise it are even rarer, so we got lucky when we found Dr R. She was happy with his progress and filled us in on the next stage of treatment and some pretty big decisions we'll need to make in the future. She mentioned the risk of retinal detachment again, so he'll never play contact sports. And he may never drive a car. Things like that had never occurred to me, and it seems like a trivial thing to fixate on, but it really brought it home to me just how big a deal this condition is. I was devastated. I want to tell my boys that they can do anything they want to do when they grow up, but now somehow it feels like a little bit of lie. J simply won't be able to do whatever he wants, and that hurts. I know these things are a long way off, and hopefully there'll be more options for J in the future, but until then I'm dealing with a very different reality to the one I envisaged for my son. He can still have a great life, but it will be different, and for a little boy completely obsessed with vehicles of every description, it seems cruel to me that he may only ever be able to operate the toy versions of them.

We'll never be able to fix this thing, but we can make sure that J develops as much sight as possible in both eyes. At his age, while connections are still being built between the eyes and the brain, it's a case of use it or lose it. Which means putting a patch over the weaker eye for a few hours a day. Given his response to having to wear glasses I knew this would be a challenge. We had some time together on the weekend, and I decided to introduce the patch, or "special face sticker" as we call it. I put on my teacher's hat, and pulled out a few tricks (and a lot of bribes) and he wore it for a whole half hour. The teacher in me was proud, but watching him tripping over things and really struggling to see, the mummy side took over and I was fighting back the tears.

We've had a few developments with toilet training this week, and I've been wanting to wean him from the damn dummy soon, but part of me wonders if we should be bombarding him with so many changes  at the one time. Then last night he got so excited when he peed on the toilet I realised that we need to keep things as normal as possible if we want him to keep feeling like a normal kid. Peeing on the toilet is a big deal to a 2 year old, and any win is a big win. So while I want to indulge him, I think helping him to grow up, and treating him no differently to all the other toddlers out there, is the kindest thing I can do for him. And in a funny way, these small battles help me stay focused on what really matters.

As for Charlie, his eyes are completely different to his big brother's and a beautiful shade of blue. We'll have to take him to Dr R next time just to be sure, but we are almost 100% confident that he won't have any eye problems. We got lucky, with both boys really, but we're now left wondering whether we'll get lucky again, and if we're willing to take the risk. Read all about it in my next post "The Lottery."

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Good Drugs - a Lost Post

This one was written while I was pregnant...

A couple of months ago we went to a BBQ at a friend's place. As we left home, toting a bottle of champagne I joked to my helper that it was all for me, and that my husband would be driving home. When we got back at midnight my helper was surprised that I was the one behind the wheel and said "I thought you were going to drink tonight." And she was serious... Admittedly I did have a tiny glass of that sweet, delicious, sparkly goodness but the thought that someone else assumed I would be willing to drink enough to make myself unable to drive, at 6 months pregnant, shocked me into sobriety.

When I was pregnant with J I was a bit of a martyr. I didn't want to take anything that might potentially harm my little foetus and ruin his chances of becoming Australia's first president one day. I was also still feeling extremely guilty about our ski weekend, several doses of painkillers and one or two margaritas I may have inflicted upon him before I knew I was knocked up. I battled through morning sickness, headaches and hayfever with the stoicism of one who feels wholly responsible for another living being. I did take the occasional Panadol and ended up needing antihistamines to breathe while on holiday in Melbourne, but the thought of anything more hardcore literally turned my stomach.

This time round I've been a little bit more relaxed. My all-day morning sickness was worse, a lot worse, and with a toddler to chase after I needed to be able to function. I'd been pregnant about, oh, 5 minutes before I was at the doctor begging for something to make the constant, insufferable queasiness go away. I've popped Panadol for those pesky headaches and I have a constant supply of antihistamines on hand for the sneezes, and occasionally for those nights when I just can't sleep. I had to have a course of antibiotics recently when I was struck down by "teacher's flu" and I didn't hesitate to take whatever my doctor told me was safe to take. And yes, on that night out a while back I had a wee drop of Veuve with friends. Maybe it's because I've realised that babies are more resilient than we give them credit for, or simply that I know I need to look after my own health in order to ensure the health and wellbeing of my little BITO. With a second child to look after, and a full-time job I didn't have the luxury of laying around moaning about how ill I was, so I did what I had to to get on with it, but I made sure I knew what I was taking.

It seems opinion on this one ranges from one extreme to the other. Here the medical profession offer you many "safe" alternatives when it comes to managing your health and wellbeing during pregnancy, moreso than in Australia I think. At points I have questioned whether or not it really is "safe," but like so many others here I put my faith in the doctors I've chosen. When we were in Manila before Christmas I was struck down by incapacitating hayfever. I sneezed so violently, and so frequently, I was concerned my BITO would make a premature exit. I didn't have any antihistamines with me but I went along to the pharmacy, feeling pretty confident that I could buy just about anything I asked for without a prescription, and requested the drug that my doctor here had prescribed. I was met with a look of horror and told there was nothing "safe" for me to take. It took a good 10 minutes and much consultation amongst the staff before I walked out of there with just enough pills to get me through the weekend. The looks on the faces of the staff and their tone as they talked about me, in front of me, made it clear that, in their eyes, I was a terrible mother doing unthinkable harm to my unborn child. Why the attitude towards one course of treatment would be so different, I don't know, but it left me more than a little confused.

When it comes to drugs and pain relief during labour, opinions are equally divided. I chose to have an almost drug-free birth the first time round, and I have absolutely no regrets, and no plans to do anything any differently this time. Again, I find it interesting to learn where people stand on this issue. There are those who go their whole pregnancies without taking anything, watching what they eat and drink, taking their job as gatekeeper very seriously and not allowing anything in that might affect their babies. But when the pain of labour begins it all goes out the window, and they request an epidural after the first contraction. Then there are those who treat drugs during labour as a basic right - a standard part of the process. During a conversation around the staffroom table one morning I was shocked by one colleague's comments when I was pregnant with J. When I mentioned that I was having a natural birth she said I was crazy, "if drugs are available to take away the pain, why be a hero?" (her exact words!). I didn't see it that way, and wanting a drug-free birth was not something I felt I had to do to prove my worth as a woman, but simply something I was capable of doing.

For me, what it comes down to is whether or not you need something. I know I can have a baby without drugs, but if I have a pounding headache and I'm on my own with a two year old, I do need pain relief (and maybe half a glass of wine...). There's also a pretty big difference between paracetamol and pethidine.

Which side of the fence are you on when it comes to medicating yourself during pregnancy and labour?

Friday, April 13, 2012

An Anniversary


Five years, two countries, one home, countless adventures, many wonderful friends, two beautiful little boys, some wins, some losses, much laughter, learning, and love, have all lead us here to one amazing life. Happy Anniversary D, may there be many more x

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Terrible Twos - A Lost Post

I've never liked the term "the terrible twos." It didn't seem fair to me to mark every two-year-old in existence with the same label, especially not one that implied that they were fairly unpleasant little humans during a certain period. Whenever I have boasted over the last 12 months how delightful my gorgeous son was, I was generally met with a smug friend or relative saying "just wait till he's two..." I wanted to punch them for implying that my little man was capable of being something as horrific as their own child was at that point evolving into. I felt like I had done my time with J in the early days. Of course it wasn't his behaviour that caused us grief, but the reflux, his adamant refusal to sleep, and the mummy blues, that overshadowed the first 6 months of parenthood. When we came out the other side of it all and celebrated J's first birthday almost a year ago, I felt like we had all miraculously survived a great trauma. I wanted to believe we would be spared that period known as "the terrible twos" mostly because, like a lot of parents, I found it impossible to believe that my son could be anything less than adorable.

He's always been feisty and impatient, and he shows a determination that equals that of both his parents combined. Things have shifted lately as he's realised his own strength and become better able to express himself. He's realised he has options, and that has been the root cause of all of our problems. A few weeks ago I asked him to do something simple. I can't remember what exactly but he turned to me, looked me in the eye and said, very emphatically, "no." It wasn't so much that he was saying no because he didn't want to do it, it was that he was choosing to say no because it was what I wanted him to do. I recognised that look he gave me, I've seen that furrowed brow, the thundercloud over the head before, and I'm sure later in life he'll have the pulsing blue vein above his eyebrow too - it's a family look, we all get it from time to time, and I knew I'd be seeing a lot more of it. We were entering a new "phase."

I used to look at parents of children behaving badly with a mixture of sympathy and judgement. I couldn't help but feel that they were responsible for the way their child was behaving, that in some way, some flaw in their parenting had led to that meltdown/tantrum/act of violence. Now I know better. Toddlers have very little impulse control. They can't help but scream when their baby brothers are asleep upstairs. They feel cross that they can't get what they want and they haven't learned positive ways to express it. "Hugging not hitting" has become a mantra in our house, and while most of the time we manage to remind J that he'll get more attention if he asks for a cuddle when he's cranky, sometimes he simply exercises his right to choose and still smacks Mummy in the mouth anyway. I was dreading this phase, because deep down I did know it would come eventually, but it's not as bad as I thought. My dread was based on my own impatience and the fear that I would not be able to respond appropriately when he started kicking and screaming in the middle of the supermarket - I was afraid I would also lose it when my buttons were pushed (and believe me, he knows how to push my buttons!). There have been times when it's been a battle to control him, he is just so big and heavy that it's almost physically impossible to restrain him, and I have been worried that he would hurt himself, or someone else. But for the most part I've been calm and not at all as flustered by his behaviour as I imagined I would be. Maybe it's because I see him the other 75% of the time as a sweet and happy little boy, or because I know the tantrum will pass, or maybe it's both, but it really is ok.

As a two year old J has been a pleasure to watch. The things he says, the way he responds and reacts to everything around him, his energy and the sheer joy he gets out of the simplest things, the sudden realisation that he is a "big boy" now and his quest for independence, his sense of humour and new level of awareness of the world he inhabits, it's all amazing and wonderful to us. There are bad times, daily, but they are bearable because the good times are so good. "This too shall pass," is our other mantra, and it's helping us realise that the twos aren't so terrible after all.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

About a Boy

A while ago I did a series of "Lost Posts" - the pieces I started but never got around to finishing. Sine I barely have time to shower these days, I'm going to dig out a few more lost posts, starting with one that was always intended to be published a little later...

November 2011 - After much debate and deliberation I finally decided that I had to know what we were expecting. We have just put our house on the market (and I hope that's well and truly resolved by the time this gets out!) and I didn't want anymore surprises - if there was something in my life I could control, damn it, I was going to control it. My OB asked if I was sure, really sure, as she scrolled down my belly at my ultrasound yesterday. I was sure. As she reached the bottom end it was very clear that I had a baby boy in there. I wasn't surprised, but I have to admit, ashamedly, that I was a little disappointed. I always thought we'd have another boy at some point, I just hoped there'd be a girl in between.

It's crazy, for weeks I've been saying I'd be thrilled either way, but I was completely convinced I was having a girl, and it's going to take a while to get my head around the idea of another boy. I had a conversation a few months ago with a woman who said she had to know early on so she could prepare her husband if they were expecting a girl. She said she would not have been able to face his bitter disappointment in the delivery room if they didn't have a boy. She had two beautiful, healthy girls, but her husband's never forgiven her. I was shocked that something so uncontrollable could be so important to some people.  A baby is a blessing, boy or girl, and all you can ask for really is for them to be happy and healthy. If I truly believe that, why did I apparently have my heart set on a girl?

My husband is over the moon, and cannot stop grinning madly. He's pretty impressed by his own powers of impregnation, and would be smiling regardless of the result, but the fact that he beat the odds (pilots have more girls) and created two boys will be a source of immense pride for many years. I can't help but need a moment to absorb the idea that life will be coloured blue and decorated with trains and trucks and buses for a while yet, but I've come up with some pros to help me get my head around the fact that I am a mother of not one, but two sons.

I was on a train early on in my pregnancy and seated opposite me was a young couple making googly eyes at each other. The girl was still wearing her school uniform and the boy was engrossed in her sparkly Hello Kitty PSP. He looked like he spent more time coiffing his hair than she did and their clumsy teenage attempts at affection had me praying for another boy. No daughter means no deadbeat boyfriends knocking on the door, and definitely none of the hazards that usually entails...

My husband, being rather tight astute financially, will be the first to tell you that another boy will save us a fortune in baby clothes and toys. He'll get his brother's hand-me-downs and I won't be enticed to spend up big every time there is a sale on the mountains of pink and floral things that seem to overwhelm every children's clothing department. J had some very cute things that he only wore once or twice and I'm genuinely thrilled that they'll get another wear. Knowing we were having another boy gave us free rein on J's birthday and at Christmas. There were no gender neutral presents purchased and no holds barred when it came to spoiling our son with trains, trucks, cars and anything else a little boy could desire.

My husband and his older brother are very close. They both bear the scars of boyhood battles but D always assured me that in giving J a little brother, we were giving him a lifelong best friend. It might be a while before he appreciates this gift but I can't wait to watch my two boys grow up together.

I've always been fond of my "me time" and I'm anticipating many weekends on the sofa with a good book while the boys go off camping, or Saturday morning sleep-ins while Dad takes them to football or the playground. Of course, if one of them would rather stay home and have tea parties with Mummy, that will be perfectly lovely too.

March 2012 - By the time our Charlie arrived I was genuinely excited about the prospect of having another boy, for all of those reasons and more. Knowing what he was helped me bond with him, we named him and I was thrilled that I could go out and buy some blue bits and pieces, just for Charlie. Once he was here it felt like he was always meant to be here, and he is so sweet and so perfect that it really didn't matter whether he was a boy in the end - it's enough for me that he is. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Rest of The Story

In those first minutes after Charlie arrived we debated about whether or not to keep driving to our chosen hospital, or to wait for the ambulance. It was at that point that I did start thinking about what could have gone wrong - did Charlie swallow meconium? Was he breathing ok? Could I keep him warm enough? Was I bleeding? What if, what if, what if...? We both seemed fine, all fingers and toes accounted for, but not being experts we decided to wait and make sure. We knew the ambulance would take us to the nearest public hospital but we thought it would be a matter of getting us both checked out and then being transferred to the private hospital soon after. In hindsight we should have kept driving...

The ambulance arrived and the paramedics wrapped us up, clamped the cord and loaded us into the truck. Charlie and I were still attached by the cord and there wasn't a lot that the paramedics could do for us. They sat there beside me, grinning madly, impressed that I had not only managed to deliver a baby in a car, but that he was also a boy, and my second at that, how very clever of me. D drove behind the ambulance and when Charlie and I arrived at the Princess Margaret Hospital, we were whisked off to a trauma room at the A and E department. The room was full of nurses and noise, with everyone moving very quickly and chatting away in Cantonese. They cut the cord and took Charlie from me. I let them because I assumed they were going to make sure he was ok and then give him back to me. Not a single person introduced themselves or explained to me what they were doing and I had to ask several times if my baby was ok before anyone acknowledged me. One of the nurses quietly congratulated me but the rest of the time I was ignored. Another nurse came at me with a syringe and told me to roll over. When I asked what she was giving me, she said it was pitocin to help deliver the placenta. I refused it and she threw her hands in the air, shaking her head and muttering away in Cantonese. It was the first of many such outbursts we would cause that day.

I could see they had put Charlie in an incubator and, despite not knowing why, I trusted that it was necessary, and still imagined that he would be given back to me momentarily. I was then the focus of their attention as yet another nurse took to my nether regions with cold water and antiseptic. She scolded me for leaving home so late, "you made such a mess!" she exclaimed. I should point out that from the moment I realised I was in labour to the moment Charlie arrived, no more than 3 hours had passed. I was told I would be taken to the labour ward to wait for the placenta to be expelled, and Charlie would be going to the NICU. I was assured that my husband was in the waiting room and would go with Charlie wherever he went. I was wheeled downstairs, and banged into a few doors along the way. I was in quite a bit of pain as I was still having contractions but no one offered me any pain relief, and the rough ride on the stretcher did nothing to help the situation. Again I was fussed over by a different group of nurses and was asked all sorts of personal questions, as they attempted to take my medical and personal history (all while trying to deliver my placenta...).  From the date of my first ever period to my husband's ID card number, I was grilled on just about everything there is to know about us. I started to get impatient, more concerned with where my baby and husband were than whether or not the paperwork was complete. When I asked a nurse if Charlie was ok she said she didn't know, he was in a different department and I had to push them to let me use the phone so I could speak to my husband and hopefully get an update from him. The phone they gave me didn't work and it was another 2 hours before D and I got a chance to speak to each other. I was left on my own for quite a while, and was told I would have to wait for the doctor, although no one could tell me how long she would be - "she will come when she comes."

Beside the bed there was a poster advertising the hospital's "Breast is Best" policy and when I tried to speed things up by mentioning that I would like to feed my baby, it was clear that the posters were just for show. The nurses were checking my blood pressure fairly regularly and I was warned that it was gradually rising. I calmly informed them that it would rapidly return to normal as soon as I could see my son. To which I was told, I wouldn't be going anywhere while it was that high. It was infuriating beyond belief. After what seemed like an eternity I finally got in touch with D and he was allowed in to see me. He hadn't been allowed in to see Charlie, as it wasn't "visiting hours" and had created quite a stir himself trying to reunite the 3 of us. I was heartbroken at the thought that my little man had been alone all that time, and so angry that there was nothing we could do about it.  The doctor finally arrived and D was asked to leave, as if to respect my privacy. Ironic given that he had just delivered our baby... I needed stitches and more dousing in cold antiseptic apparently, and the whole time she was working the doctor was chatting and giggling with the nurse. She gave me a local anaesthetic but didn't allow it time to work so I felt every stitch and when I cried out in pain there was more chattering and the nurse handed me the gas. I sucked on that thing like my life depended on it, hoping to wipe out all the horrible things I was feeling at that moment, and with any luck also lower my blood pressure.

Eventually I was allowed off the maternity ward and sent to the post-natal ward, where I was told I could finally see Charlie. At that stage we hadn't spent enough time with him to have agreed that he was, in fact, going to be coined Charlie, but in my heart he always was. As I arrived on the ward I was asked if I was breast or bottle feeding, and they took me past a room full of about 20 women to the breast-feeding ward where I was one of only three new mothers. Apparently feeding time was at 1pm and that's when visiting hours ended but there was no way I was letting my husband out of my sight when we were all finally about to be reunited. Being told when I could feed my son and when I could see my husband, and neither or those things being allowed to happen at the same time was the final straw (yes, I understand many women sharing a ward might be uncomfortable with a man in the room), and it was about that point that I declared to the staff we were leaving. We never had any intention of staying but we had decided to wait until Charlie was with us before we mentioned that to anyone, in case they wouldn't let him go. We set the wheels in motion when we knew he was on his way but then a funny thing happened. I heard Charlie crying as they wheeled him into the room but as soon as he was handed to me he stopped. And as I held him and fed him for the first time, it didn't matter where I was or what had gone down at that horrible place, I felt invincible and completely wrapped up in the tiny little creature in my arms. I still didn't want to stay, mind you.

As it was against hospital policy to discharge us so soon, we had to sign a waiver saying we were leaving against medical advice - paperwork I was more than happy to comply with. We got back in the car (which had been cleaned, but was a little worse for wear) and fled, feeling a little like criminals, to the Matilda Hospital, where we had planned to be all along.

I know I haven't painted a very rosy picture of the public hospital system here and for that I apologise. My experience was unique, and I know a lot of women who have had their babies in the public hospitals and they have been fine. The health care provided here is world class but it's the lack of bedside manner, and patient care that most expats find difficult to take. For me, having a baby is an amazing, but emotionally overwhelming experience and I felt like it was turned into a clinical procedure, one that I had apparently interfered with in having my baby on my own. It was a time when I had no patience for the cultural differences and language barriers that come with living here, and I wanted out. If you go in knowing what to expect, and being prepared to either fight for what you want, or step back and accept what happens to you then the system will work for you. But it did not work for me. I have tried not to dwell on those painful hours after Charlie's birth. I feel like I was robbed of a really precious time, and I'm mad at myself for letting it happen, even though I didn't really have a choice.

At the end of the day, my little boy and I have not been adversely affected by anything that occurred that day, and we had 48 hours together at the Matilda to bond and get to know each other. He is still soothed by the sound of my voice, and is instantly comforted when I pick him up and hold him on my chest. I feel an overwhelming sense of relief every time that happens and I'm amazed by that connection we have. We may have spent too much time apart on his birthday, but we shared something pretty incredible that day, and that's what I will chose to remember.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

On the Day You Were Born

To my darling Charlie,

Firstly my love, welcome to the world. We are so thrilled to finally meet you and to have you at home. Your birth certificate states that you were born at the A & E department at Princess Margaret hospital, which is a shame because the real story is far more exciting. You were actually born in the back of the car at the entrance to the Nam Wan tunnel, on the Tsing Sha highway, delivered by your amazing daddy. When news of your somewhat unconventional arrival got out, there were some who thought we were joking, and it certainly created a stir. As one friend put it - "she had the baby in the car" news travels faster than plain old "she had the baby." So today, I'm going to tell the story, for you, and for the record, of the day you were born.

After a rough night, with your big brother waking a few times, I noticed in my sleep that I was having contractions. They weren't strong enough to wake me, or lasting long enough to worry me - I'd been having them on and off all week. At 6.30 I decided to get up and time them, and they were about 10 minutes apart and lasting for 30 seconds, nothing to worry about. I told your dad I thought we might have a baby that day and he thought (hoped) I was kidding. We all got up and had breakfast together and as we did I noticed that the contractions were getting stronger, lasting longer and coming closer together. It was also getting more and more difficult to breathe through them. I still wasn't too concerned and concentrated on relaxing and spending time with J. I called the hospital just to let them know we'd probably be in later and they suggested I take some Panadol and call back in 2 hours, "you're probably in the early stages and may have a long way to go," said the midwife reassuringly. I thought we'd better get organised just in case and got in the shower. I had three contractions in the shower and the hot water helped me through them. I remember thinking that when we got to the hospital I would have to get in the shower. When I got out of the shower and timed my contractions again they were suddenly coming every 2-3 minutes. I told Daddy we had better get going and by the time we got down to the car I was feeling the urge to push. The pain was quite intense and it took all of my concentration to breathe and relax. I watched the clock, knowing that each contraction would only last a minute or so, focusing on getting through the peak and back down the other side. Daddy drove faster than he ever has, but calmly and carefully. When we got to the other side of the hill my waters broke. I still thought we might make it to the hospital and wondered if I would be able to stick to my "drug-free" birth plan. I had a moment of disappointment as I realised I had barely had time to think about all the techniques we had learned at our Calmbirth class, apart from the breathing, as things grew more and more intense and I couldn't focus on anything other than what was happening inside me.

As we crossed the Tsing Ma bridge I began to think we might not make it after all, and the only moment I truly lost control, and my temper, was when we found ourselves stuck behind an "Alphard" (a people-mover favoured by the Chinese and driven by notoriously bad drivers). Mummy said some words that I hope to never hear come out of your mouth young man, and Daddy got us out of there quick smart. Minutes later, knowing there was a tunnel and another bridge ahead, we agreed that it was probably time to pull over. Some of the best advice we had received while I was pregnant was, if we found ourselves in that exact situation, to stop the car and go with it - so we did. The men from the tunnel monitoring station came running out as soon as we pulled in and your dad shouted "my wife's having a baby!" which quickly sent them running in the opposite direction to call an ambulance. I was already in the back seat and got up on my knees while your dad pulled out J's car seat and grabbed the towels and blanket we had packed "just in case." Dad said he could see your little head crowning and with two more big contractions, and very little effort on my part, you were out. Daddy caught you, cried out "it's a boy!" cleared your nose and mouth, and you let out a tiny little cry - and that was the moment I realised that you were actually here. The relief I felt was instant and indescribable, and after Daddy placed you in my arms we looked at each other and laughed with tears in our eyes. We had just delivered our baby in the back of the car!

Just the day before we had read up on what to do if we had to deliver you ourselves, not for a minute imagining that it would actually happen, and we both had complete faith that the other one knew what they were doing. I trusted that my body knew what it was doing and in the moment, none of the things that could've gone wrong entered my mind. It sounds crazy, but it was as close to our ideal birth as it possibly could be - free from interference and away from the stark and sterile environment of a hospital. Just the 3 of us, getting on with it.

Unfortunately the rest of the day wasn't as smooth, and the most traumatic part of the whole experience began when we arrived, by ambulance, at the Princess Margaret Hospital. I will have to save that part of our story for another day little bear, as you are starting to fuss and Mummy can't type with one hand yet. I will say this though, we shared a moment in the ambulance you and I, when I was able to feed you for the first time and you reached up and grabbed onto my finger with your tiny hand. You stole my heart, utterly and completely, and have continued to do so every day since. Your birth may have been a very exciting part of the story, but it was only the beginning.

All my love,
Mummy xx