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.
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.
In a week of achievements, Ava has finally become an Australian citizen!! No longer stateless, we picked up her citizenship certificate yesterday, which means we'll be able to start her passport process and eventually, take her home!!!
The citizenship process wasn't as difficult as we'd expected, but that isn't saying much. We had very low expectations from the start. The application was processed by an external company, and the process was relatively smooth, if not time-consuming and cumbersome, as are most official processes here. We even got our photographs returned to us!
In other news, Ava has finally regained her birth weight! Feeding hasn't come as easily as we'd hoped, so little Ava has stayed a bit more little than we'd liked. She's still perfectly healthy, and is of course, pooping like a champ, she's just a little leaner than expected. Several of our friends have told us about how they were in the same bag, which is incredibly reassuring. They're supposed to regain it in the first 2-3 weeks, but as we've found with almost all standardised information, it means absolutely nothing to anyone.
Ava also managed to have a little play date with her new best friend, three-week-old Isabella. More than anything it highlighted to us how much work it would be to have twins! Funnily, people did ask us if they were twins, even though Ava is twice the size of Bella - and the looks we got when explaining that the girls are three weeks apart were priceless...
This week also saw one of Megan's former colleagues drop in for a surprise two day visit, which was an awesome bit of relief for her. To be able to relax with her mate was great help to her sanity. They could watch their girly shows & gossip about boys, which was great as I could get on with life and the girls could take care of themselves! Win-win! It also meant that Ava had heaps of time spent with others and is growing up to be more & more social each day.
Hopefully it translates into good things to come for our little girl. She has a lot coming up, too: more visitors, and hopefully a trip away to watch some more rugby!
[WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT]
Last night we had an incident... Our first real incident.
After a long day of treating ourselves, we couldn't get Ava to settle. She'd been fussing & crying for a good few hours, which is completely out of character for her. She seemed only happy when she was feeding, which we clearly couldn't keep up - not at her rate. Something wasn't right at all... And after a while of eliminatig posibilities of what could be upsetting her, it occured to us. She has only just started going regular poops, and making decent weight gains, but she hadn't pooped for the last few days. While the feeding might've soothed her, it was giving her a massive tummy ache!
So there we were in our pjs, desperately tired, urging her to poop. Not the ideal way to cap the amazing weekend we'd had with her.
After a bit of tummy massage & a few tricks the doctors showed us, out it came. Initially, slowly, like squeezing toothpaste from a tube, then, it erupted. All over the place. Usually when I see those banal comedies about a fish-out-of-water dad with a rectally-incontinent baby, I switch off. Now, though, I know it to be true. I was as impressed as I was sickened... Poop was flying everywhere - she was getting some amazing range, her aim wasn't too bad either... I was laughing maniacally at the whole situation (mainly the state of Meg's clothes), but at the same time I wanted to cry for the pain our baby must've been going through.
We finally got her (and Megan) cleaned up again, got everything else washed and everyone was able to settle down and sleep. Now, though, I'll forever have nightmares of the atrocities she's capable of...
The well-intentioned offender
Recently Megan has been stressing out a little about the things that could be bad for Ava. And this isn't a bad thing at all - but it does provide some amusing times. I've written before about some of the more ridiculous products available, preying on new parents' insecurities, and we've been conscious about not buying into the silliness of it all. One thing, however, has been the source of some fun recently. Meg bought a steriliser.
While neither of us wants to mollycoddle our baby, we agree that it's a good idea to keep things germ-free, especially in a place like Manila where infections abound (i.e. hand, foot and mouth disease, respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal infections, etc). Also Bruce is getting much more confident around her, and while he's mostly clean, he does have some pretty dirty personal habits.... So periodic sterilisation is probably a good policy, generally.
The fun started last night when she started to sterilise whatever she could find - primarily the bottles, teats, etc - that is supposed to go into the baby's mouth. From there, it escalated somewhat. The good bits started when she took the various bits & pieces out of the steriliser - what to do with them afterwards? I did suggest that she also sterilise the paper towel with which she wiped the condensed steam off with, which was met with a moment of total confusion before she realised that I was being completely facetious.
The conversation immediately turned farcical, from "we should also sterilise this" to "are you sure we can't just sterilise the baby"... While it's great to be vigilant and actively try to prevent infections, there's only so much we can do without becoming those parents. Ultimately, she's going to eat a fist full of mud somewhere, or pick up some other kid's flu or something, but for now, watching Meg try to avoid touching anything with her hands is some pretty good entertainment.
We made it to a month! In spite of our initial predictions of everything going normally, we've scraped through... Or maybe it did all go normally?
Whilst there's nothing at all 'wrong' with our little angel, there isn't much that seems to be going perfectly right either. And the more I experience, hear & read, the more I believe that this is the way it's supposed to be. Everyone's happy and healthy, which is all I could hope for.
There are a few things I wish I'd known before all of this, however. And I guess there's really no way of knowing, other than doing it all ourselves. The top few probably are:
1. Breastfeeding is bloody difficult. Every bit of advice that we've heard has conflicted to the point where now nothing makes any sense. In the words of one of my very eloquent French friends, mother to three gorgeous little kids "this is all horseshit". Sounds much classier with a French accent, right?
The one singular piece of consistent advice is "do what you feel is right", which seems to be working well enough.
2. The mucky bits aren't so bad. Really, gents, they aren't. The nappies don't stink as much as you'd think, and when it's your own tiny baby that needs its butt wiped, those immature thoughts about pee & poop disappear.
Even at the hospital, if you get the chance to check out 'the business end', go for it! When are you ever going to get that chance again? I never got to. Man up & do your melancholy duty.
3. The crying. Oh the crying! Now there's something I didn't expect. Our Ava has been amazing since the beginning, with such cute little cries and so little fussing... Now, however, she's turned into a banshee! I've never heard such desperate, soul-piercing wails! And all from something that weighs less than 4kg - it doesn't make sense!
Above all, when she's not pooping or peeing, draining her mother of nutrients, or screaming the house down in a blue fit, she's the most amazing little thing and I wouldn't change any of it for the world.
Today we got the chance to get out & celebrate a little; our friends have just had their own baby girl, it was Father's Day back home, and we really needed to get out of the house.
Of course it didn't all go totally to plan, but it was a very enjoyable afternoon. I think I've come to accept the fact that I will never again be able to guarantee punctuality, and Ava will most likely need feeding at the most inconvenient of times. It will probably be another 20 years before we get to have a proper meal all at the same time, in the same place, with everyone being happy... Never the less, Ava caught some sun & we got to have a nice lunch with our friends, even if it was a lot shorter & far less boozy than our usual lunches. My first Father's Day was a pretty good one!
One thing that has got us concerned, however, is Ava's weight. She still hasn't regained her birth weight, which makes us nervous, and of course raises other questions about why she hasn't done this. So far she's a happy, healthy baby. She wakes up right on time for feeds (if not a bit more frequently than we'd like), and she's not screaming the house down (most of the time). She doesn't want for anything, and feeds more often than anyone else in the household, so why isn't she gaining......
It has made us question the value of all these late-night feeds & all the pain that Megan's going through. Should we give up on breastfeeding? Should we start her on formula? Would it make a difference? Should we have put her on formula earlier? Have we wasted the last few weeks through trying to breastfeed? Have we given her enough nutrition? Have we set her growth back by not starting formula earlier?
Of course all babies are different and there's no quick way of determining whether or not there's anything wrong with her development. Unfortunately this is one of those things that we just need to wait out. We have found some heartening links, though, which make it not feel so bad (of course, out of all of this, I'm the one getting away the easiest). Here
are some kind words written by other mothers about the pains & torments that they've all suffered, and the glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel that makes it all worthwhile. It's still difficult to see at the moment, but I'm sure with enough patience and perseverance, we'll all get there in the end.
Ava is slowly putting weight on, little by little, and seems to be getting much longer. Hopefully it means that she'll start growing bigger soon, and we can relax a little. I'm confident that she'll be ok, but at the moment it's a nervous little wait...
I have been fortunate. Throughout my adult life, I have held many jobs that have kept me up at all hours of the night, and my lifestyle outside of those jobs has often kept me up at all hours of all the other nights. Our little angel does have father's ability to sleep at the drop of a hat, but sometimes she takes a bit more convincing...
The main idea is forming a habit - just like going to the gym, I feel that sleeping patterns are something that can (to an extent) be trained. Train yourself to survive on less sleep and you will find that you don't need that much to function. Thanks to nature, Meg has also been getting fewer & fewer hours in the weeks leading up to the birth. She continues to thrive on some magical maternal hormones that mean she requires far less sleep than usual to function in her current capacity as a feeding machine; we're very thankful that she doesn't have to return to work just yet!
For men, though, it's a different beast. Sleeping on the job is often frowned upon by others, especially when your poor wife is doing all the hard work! I've gotten away relatively lightly, however. Given that I'm not the one working, I'm able to dedicate a lot more time in when Meg needs, which is a great little Brownie-points earner! Luckily, too, I can survive without regular meals for a while & can nod off fairly readily, almost anywhere.
I seem to develop two layers of sleep - there's the incredibly deep sleep, which is rare, where Meg usually has to lay the boot into me to wake me from, but there's also the super light level, in which I can jump up and about doing things like changing nappies & little outfits without a second thought. I still feel rested after all of this and can get back to sleep without a worry afterward, but usually have very little memory of actually having woken...
Now while this is working, I'm totally cool with it. I'd much rather be allowing Meg to rest during these first few weeks than having her get up & do everything - she's already producing milk, and I'm going to guess that that uses a lot of energy, so I'm pretty impressed with how she's going!
Another factor is the eating. Now I'm a guy who loves his three (or six) square meals each day, but having Ava has thrown me completely out of whack. Timings mean nothing to a three-week-old baby. Snacking is where it's at. Snacking constantly on things like trail mix (keep away from the junk, obviously) gets me through and keeps me level-headed in what is a pretty stressful time. Keeping the food up to Meg is a more difficult task, as she usually just wants something easy and fast (i.e. noodles or chocolate).
Another good idea is red wine - for her, a small glass after dinner means that she's asleep before 9 pm (beer and wine have reportedly helping with milk production for millennia - read more about it here
); for me the rest of the bottle means that I can sit up writing these quality posts or watching movies until Ava's had her last feed for the day (usually ending around 1 am).
Otherwise, the only other advice, which you'll hear everywhere, is to rest when the baby does. Even when it seems totally inappropriate by normal standards. Meg has been having a lot of 9 am naps lately, and I've been getting some good rack time just before dinner. It means that I can take the night shift, and she takes the mornings.
Of course, as a male, there's bugger all that I can do to help feed her in the wee hours, but just a little support goes a long way.
Well we've made it to week two and no one has died.... That might sound a little tactless, given the current situation in Manila...
With all the rain & flooding, we've been almost trapped in our building this week. Meg's father made a surprise appearance for a few days, which was great. He managed to shower little Ava with gifts before fighting his way trough the water to make his flight (on the second attempt). He was able to pick up a set of baby scales from a nearby medical supply store, which thankfully means we don't have to head to the hospital to check her feeding, etc. We had to make a trip in on Monday, when the rains were at their heaviest, when almost all of Manila had shut down, and when our car was coding... The result turned out fine - she's healthy & feeding well, but must be in the middle of a growth spurt, as she has gone a couple of days without pooping (I realise the irony of my last post now).
Bruce has taken a real shine to our new addition, acting very warily around her, and never overstepping his limit. He obviously knows the new little person is to be treated very delicately, and isn't reacting too badly to the change in focus of our attention. It's a bit soon to be letting them both play together, but I've got a good feeling that they'll be great mates!
We're about to lose our grandparents this weekend, so afterward will be on our own. It'll mean less sleep, but hopefully from now we can start to get into a bit more of a routine as Ava has got much better at sleeping at night between feeds. The days are getting better, and our swaddle wraps are getting a workout. I'm sure it's going to continue to be a struggle before it gets too much better... I'm looking forward to it though!
Sorry. It had to happen. One of the most consistent things I've been asked is about nappies...
So far, it really hasn't been so bad. Yeah they happen. And before having a child of my own, I never wanted to touch the mucky things. I'm not amazingly keen to touch them now, either, but they're much less scary when it's your own baby.
With feeding just starting to happen properly, a lot of focus is now on the contents of the nappies - is it wet? Is she hydrated? Is she passing anything? What colour is it? How much is there? What consistency is it? When Megan's out of the house, this means taking photos & sending them to her to ease her worry that feeding is going well. She also seems to think that I don't trust her when she changes a nappy, often leaving them out for me to discover, and then asking me what I thought of our baby's efforts... Silly me, before now I had just been throwing them out!
Fingers crossed that we'll have more colourful poop news for you in the coming weeks... I can't wait...