Eventually it had to happen - we always knew it wouldn't last. Megan has started back at work.
While she's not totally back full-time in the office, the change has been quite noticeable. She is doing a lot of work from home, and going in when she needs to. Still, it means that she's away from us for a few hours each day so that she can focus on getting her job done.
What it means for us is that I get to spend a whole heap more time with Ava than before - which has both upsides and downsides... It means that I get to see all her little smiles, hear her giggles & watch her develop; it also means that I have to change every poopy nappy, console her every time she cries, and spend every morning up early reading and playing when usually I wish everyone was still asleep...
Of course, none of these are really anything to be upset or annoyed about. I'm incredibly fortunate to be given the opportunity to raise her as best I can, which not many other parents (fathers in particular) would ever get. It's estimated that less than 1% of Aussie dads stay at home, so I'm all the more fortunate to have such an opportunity to be so involved in my little girl's life.
It has also been said that having the male as the stay-at-home parent can bring about various advantages for the child, as well as the modern mother. While allowing Megan to return to work this early, she is not missing out on being a part of Ava's life and research suggests that the maternal bond is strong enough to be maintained while the mother works full-time (full-time working mothers were 'more engaged with their children on a day-to-day level than their male counterparts'). It has also been suggested that infants respond favourably to being raised by their fathers for at least the first 5 years of life, with fathers providing a better physical, cognitive, emotional & behavioural development, resulting in 'greater emotional balance, stronger curiosity and a stronger sense of self-assurance in the child'.
Obviously, I didn't do any of this research myself, and the whole thing is going to be debated for centuries to come, and obviously the traditional method of mothers being the primary caretaker has worked for millennia. It does, however, give us a bit more confidence that Ava's not going to grow up resenting either of us, and gives me faith that I'm not going to be a total screw-up... I guess only time will tell.
I find it absolutely astounding to believe that it's been 100 days since our little miracle entered our world.
In that short time we have learned so much. So much has happened. To try to describe the road we've taken is impossible.
I still remember clearly Megan's face as she lay on the operating table and Ava was presented to her for the first time. Megan's belly still cut wide open and Ava still struggling to breathe. I still remember being scared out of my mind at the realisation that she was finally here, with us. And I remember how no one believed me when I said "it's a girl"!
Bringing her home for the first time was amazing. Being able to bring her back to her first home, surrounded by the people who love her, was such a wonderful feeling; the start of her journey out into the big wide world!
Then of course, came the sleepless nights while we battled with breast feeding as nothing seemed to satisfy our starving little sweetheart. All the hours of waiting & wishing for her to start growing... Looking back, all of that seems so distant now. I guess like most things, we remember the good bits and somehow block out the bad. Ava was so small for so long, but looking at her now it's hard to think that she was so ill. Having such a poor start has made us appreciate every perfect little smile, every gorgeous little giggle.
We've even got a little routine worked out (well, it's not much, but it's working for us - for now). She's sleeping soundly, and isn't making too much fuss of a night time. She's started to poop regularly too, and it's not funny colours, and (thank whatever Gods may be) not explosive... She's become the happiest little thing in the world, always smiling, laughing & cooing, trying her hardest to grow up as soon as she can.
Even Brucey has warmed to the prospect of having a little sister in the house.. I'm not sure he's 100% happy with the idea yet, but I think he's come to terms with sharing our attention and is getting more playful around her.
The last 100 days have gone by so quickly. The whole thing has been a blur. Almost none of it has gone to plan, but I don't think that anything was ever going to go 100% smoothly. I love the little girl that she's become, though. Enduring the struggles that she's come out of in her tiny life has made her into the wonderful little baby she is, and I couldn't ask for a more amazing daughter.
If our first 100 days is anything to go by, the rest of her childhood will be fairly turbulent, with a lot of high points, as well as a few downs. What we know is that she'll be able to get through so much, the rest of her future is already looking amazingly bright.
Photo courtesy ABS-CBN News
We have been incredibly fortunate to have avoided almost all the devastation affecting the Philippines at the moment. Thankfully, Manila was not touched by Typhoon Yolanda, but many other places have been, and will continue to suffer its effects for a long time to come.
If anyone should chose to donate to the victims of Yolanda, please do so via a registered charity with a well-documented financial plan for action, i.e. the Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org.ph/donate
Traveling with infants seems to be one thing that everyone struggles with. Through no fault of their own, we've seen hundreds of hapless, hopeless parents battling to keep their wee ones from screaming through take offs and landings, and felt a bit of pity for them - followed by a fair bit of anger and a good share of "shut that bloody kid up" glares... I may have been guilty of a bit of that in the past... Our flight turned out to be probably the easiest part of our trip - that said, we'd planned for it to be the most difficult.
We had bottles, nappies, wipes, bags, blankets, even drugs... Everything we could possibly think to bring, and expected that we would need all of it. If Ava's previous form was anything to go by, they would've kicked us all off the plane.
Somehow, though, Ava was a picture of innocence and serenity. Not once did she make a fuss. She spent more time asleep than I think I ever have - in all my flights - slept on a plane. I'm chalking it up to the amount of time Megan spent in the air while pregnant, but really I have no idea how Ava remained so calm throughout the whole ordeal.
It was a fair bit of effort, though. We carried her everywhere in a carrier, and made sure she had all of the blankets that she's used to so we could swaddle her up all nice & cosy when we needed to. We also took a whole pile of nappies - way more than we needed, but as always, better safe than sorry - as well as all the bottles we could carry, and an extra tin of formula. It all came in handy when we had a 4 hour layover in Singapore on the way back and Ava had consumed everything we'd prepared for her - a whole day's worth in one 7 hour flight! So there I was scrubbing & drying bottles in the tiny parents' room of Changi's T2 (if you're in the same boat, take the train to T3... It'll be worth it), making up more bottles with our tin of formula. It felt wrong to be carrying so much liquid & white powder through an airport, but no one at all cared.
I was amazed at how well she was behaved on her first international flight, and now that she's completed four of them, I'm beginning to think it's not just luck - she might actually be a really good traveller!
During our visit home, we were busy. Very busy. No sooner had I got off the plane at Brisbane airport, I was whisked away to see a GP. Of course, his visit was only a short one, to make sure we were headed down the right path. He was able to confirm a few of the theories we had suspected, and to disprove some of the more dubious thoughts we'd had. Also he was able to give us a stack of referrals to specialists. Given our short timeframe, this was a tremendous boon. It was still a long shot, as most of the reputable specialists had waiting lists of up to 18 months. It occurred to me that Ava would probably grow out of any allergies in that time. That, or, you know, she would die. 18 months is a long time for a baby...
Our next stop - after a quick shower (not quite enough time for a change of clothes or bite to eat, however) was to a specialist lactation consultant. I wish I could say that I was enthusiastic about this one - the lady had a lot to talk about. She was very well read & everything she said was valuable. Right up until the part where I fell asleep... After a full day in Singapore, sorting Meg & Ava out for their flight to Brisbane, flying to Manila, picking up the firstborn, getting home & repacking bags for all of us, dropping Bruce back at the kennel, then getting back on a plane for Brisbane - via Singapore - I was a bit sleepy... For some reason, the LC chose the moment I drifted off to discuss her recommendations for a diet that Meg should follow. So while I got a vital hour of slumber, Meg was led down a rabbit-hole of dietary intricacies that I still can't wrap my head around.... It was a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma... So Meg & her mum (themselves frayed from travel) tried to comprehend the web of Matrix-esque data.
Aside from missing all the information first-hand, and having to sort through the pages of recommendations we brought home, one other thing led me to question it all. The fact that she had advised against any immunisation/vaccination. She hadn't said outright not to, but her reference material did feature a lot of pro-choice books offering a different slant on the 'question' of vaccinations. In my mind, this is a deal-breaker. It only served to bring everything else into doubt for me. I was no longer so miffed about falling asleep, but of course, this didn't do much to ease Megan's mind...
Or next two appointments weren't until a few days later, a bit of a miracle, really. Instead of the 18 months, someone had cancelled and we snuck into their slot with a very reputable paediatric gastroenterologist and a paediatric allergist. They were both able to confirm (as far as is reasonably possible) everything we'd suspected to be true. Ava had an allergy to the proteins in dairy, and thus couldn't handle breast milk containing dairy, soy, eggs, nuts or seafood. Fortunately, they both agreed that we'd taken the best possible steps to help the situation. Our miracle formula that we'd muled over was paying off! We weighed her there & were amazed to hear that she was up to 4.8kg... She had put on roughly 500g in two weeks! Of course we didn't want to get too excited, but as it turns out, she's kept the weight up which is amazing! For the first time she's started to develop like she should've so long ago...
The end result: we have decided to cease breastfeeding, and rely solely on the formula. It was a very hard decision for the both of us, as we'd love to continue along the natural path, knowing that breast feeding is always the best option. Unfortunately, given the incredibly difficult time we've already had feeding, as well as the allergies, our need for Ava to grow has outweighed our want to be 'natural' parents.
Ultimately, I'm happy that we've made the right decision and I fully support Megan in this. It's already made our lives much easier and much happier, which has had a direct impact on Ava already. She's a completely different baby to the one that left Manila earlier. There's no more screaming, no (entirely) sleepless nights, no more sobbing parents, no more frustration. Instead, we have a normal, happy little girl, and that's everything I could have ever asked for.
Beautiful, baby-friendly Brisvegas
Having just got back from our first trip home with our baby, a lot of things have become apparent to us. The one overarching thing being that babies are everywhere back home. In the supermarkets, the malls, the parks, the restaurants, in peoples cars, in hotels and parking lots - everywhere! Of course, we were more likely to notice this phenomenon now that we were looking for it - with a baby of our own. It struck us as odd, though, that we'd also noticed this in Sweden when we were there last year (before the pregnancy). Then we wondered that if it was a local custom not to take babies out in public so much here...
Census data tells us that in 2011 there were 24.62 babies born per 1000 people in the Philippines, which had a population of over 92 million. At the same time, Australia had a population of around 22 million, and a birth rate of 13.4 babies per 1000 people. If we extrapolate those figures, there should have been 2,265,040 babies born in the Philippines, while in the same year Australia had about 294, 800 births - around one tenth of the babies. So when the entirety of Australia's babies were potentially here in the greater Manila area, why didn't we see them?
The two theories that I have are: that we live in a low birth area; and that locals here aren't so open about their babies as we are. Ultimately I think that it's a combination of the two - we live in a wealthier part of town, so not so many babies are born, but also, people tend not to bring their babies out as much as Australians do. And this seems to correlate with the strange looks we get from locals here when they hear Ava crying.
The main indicator though, seems to me, the availability of baby changing facilities in public places. It seems that taking our bubs out is part of our culture and we've put measures in place to ensure that it stays that way. Every shopping centre has a baby room on every floor - and not just a change table in the men's room, it's a fully fledged parents' room. Change tables, nappy bins, arm chairs, a toddler area with toys & a TV... It was so different from anything we'd ever experienced living in Asia. It was a godsend for us new parents.
Our trip to Singapore had been slightly better, with malls offering baby change facilities, but they were a quarter of the size and grandeur of the Aussie ones, but as with everything Singapore, they take their cues from the Brits. So the question remains, why is it so difficult to take babies out in so many Asian countries? And does this apply to just Australia, or does it occur in other Western countries?
Anyway, that's not something I'm going to be able to answer, so for now I'll rest easy knowing that whenever we get back home, our baby will be (mostly) welcomed wherever we go.