After all the madness of the last few months, it was nice to get back home and settle into a routine again. We had a quiet couple of weeks on our own before Ava's uncle & aunt arrived for a surprise visit - for ten days we had Tim & Annie come to stay in our new home. Although it wasn't a long time for them to stay it feels like they became part of the furniture, and now that they're gone Ava is wandering the house looking for them.
For over a week, Ava had a blast playing with her extended family members, attending brunches & dinners, sitting out typhoons, and practicing the new things she's learning. She's learned to identify & say things like "bubble" and "car", and now responds to directions such as "pat your head" and "stretch your arms" (thanks, If you're happy and you know it). She has also started to move away from her mushy foods, going almost exclusively to finger foods. So far we've had some very mixed results, with no one thing seeming to stick as a favourite yet, but Bruce has been able to help out with everything that lands on the floor.
It hasn't all been smooth sailing, however. Ava has been having a lot of troubles with her teeth - her front top row is coming out all at once, which has made for some sleepless nights for all of us. Thankfully, the worst has passed and she can go back to being the happy little girl that we know her to be.
She has also started to learn her first lot of words - apart from the usual "dadas" and "mamas", she can now identify things like cars, balls, the dog, etc. She has also started to say her first Tagalog words, which is hugely exciting!
Our upcoming months will be very busy as we look forward to Ava's first birthday and a few more trips overseas as well as some international visitors, so wait out for more (and more frequent) updates!
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.
This weekend was one of ups and downs. Unfortunately, most notable were the downs. Our little darling had to have a blood test to confirm her allergy to milk protein and to eliminate the possibility of her being anaemic.
The poor little lamb hasn't been putting on weight as we'd have liked, despite our best efforts at breastfeeding and well regulated formula top-ups. We even started importing formula from Australia as a local alternative wasn't available. This was obviously hugely expensive, and we wanted to be certain that we were doing the right thing. Fortunately on Saturday we were able to see a paediatric allergy specialist and went to take some blood.
Our doctor had recommended someone at the hospital who she trusted with taking blood from an infant, but, of course, she wasn't working that day and we had to deal with the regular staff. Now I'm certain that the nurses are perfectly capable of taking blood samples from grown humans, but when it came to our baby and her tiny little veins, they were at a loss.
We had specifically requested that someone senior, preferably with this kind of experience, do the draw. Of course, we were met with the typical "yes sir/ma'am" and the vacant stare of the nurse who could've been 12 years old. Of course, no one with this experience came and the nurses that were there tried to withdraw her blood (and a few who just wanted to check out the white baby, like she's some sort of unicorn). What resulted was three unusable vials of haemolysed blood, a crying mum, and one very, very upset baby. I've never heard such screaming - the haunting type that you'd expect from some horrendously violent crime that scars all who hear it. Of course we weren't told that the sample was useless until well after we'd left the hospital and were trying hard to forget her blood-curdling cries. We had to go back the next day.
On Sunday, it wasn't much better. We were already mad that they'd messed up the first sample and they weren't doing anything to help themselves out a second time. Again we demanded that someone competent be there to draw blood, and again, we were told that the pre-pubescent nurse before us was the most senior person in the building. Eventually someone in a lab coat turned up, who at least looked credible. She and her team went about searching for veins in our baby's little arms, and again, looked at us as if to say "where did you put them?". Less than impressed, I helped to hold her down and Meg tried to escape her terrible wail. I don't know why it takes three people to restrain a two month old baby, but it did, and again, a vein couldn't be properly located. Instead of starting again, the nurse began to move the needle around in the hope of literally landing a 'stab in the dark'. Eventually, after another nurse had a crack at our little ball of agony, they worked out that the sample again couldn't be used. They went on to tell us that her screaming had affected the sample, but they'd be willing to try again after a few minutes...
I don't get mad very often at all, but when a doctor finally turned up and told us that they'd do the exact same thing again, and anticipated a different result, I almost lost it. My inner Hulk was beginning to rear his rabid green head. Eventually they conceded that it could've been a lack of skill from the nurse that was affecting the sample, our baby didn't have haemolysed blood running through her veins, and that the sample was sufficient to complete some of the tests we'd paid for, just not all. My rage was subsiding, but it wasn't going to disappear. Not without a lot of wine.
In the end we got her out of there and met some friends for lunch (and lots of wine). With little cotton balls taped to her junkie-like elbows, Ava slept like I've never seen. She must've been exhausted by the experience, and was probably doing her best to delete the whole weekend from her very limited bank of memories.
Already a few friends have shared with me their very similar horror stories. Although it doesn't make me feel any better, it's always good to know that we're not alone in this. It also gave us a great indication as to what to expect in the future... It does inspire me to dust off my old medical books though. I'd much rather do it myself than have that experience ever again!
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!
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.
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.
Our first week is coming to an end - our little beauty is a week old! The days have flown; it seems like it's been one long, sleepless expanse of time, perforated by feeding sessions & nappy changes.
Ava has become so beautiful in that way that only newborns can. Her little face has turned amazingly feminine, as have the little noises she makes. She's losing a bit of her puppy fat as Meg's milk comes in, but she's still looking very healthy. She is a slight tinge of yellow, though, as we haven't been able to take her out into the sun much yet. There's a typhoon in town at the moment so there's very limited opportunity to get her out & about at the moment.
We're both currently getting minimal sleep - as amazing as our new baby is, she does have a demanding streak and a hefty set of lungs when she wants something... And it's taking a bit of a toll upon us... Of course having our helpers is still great, we wouldn't be getting any sleep at all if it weren't for them!
The good parts are though, that Meg has lost about 11kg so far, so she's very impressed with herself! She's feeding regularly, and although it could be better, she's producing a good number of nappies. She's got almost a full head of soft, blonde hair and a stunning pair of deep blue eyes. Her little muscles are still all there and despite her puppy fat, she's got a brilliant set of quads, delts & traps. Her little tummy is getting rounder and her chubby little cheeks are just so cute!!
She has a check-up with the doctor soon, on her one-week birthday. Hopefully we'll all score well on whatever tests she does & the TB shot won't hurt too mcuh We are also in the process of registering her as an Australian citizen, so fingers crossed about that one. She could be stateless for some time yet! It's quite a process, I'll let you know how it goes...
I'm incredibly proud to announce that our baby is here! At 3:00 am on Thursday 8 August, weighing 3.68 kg (8lb 1oz), measuring 51 cm, Ava Strid Anderson was born by emergency Caesar after 39 long weeks and a few sleepless nights of painful contractions.
Both mother and baby are doing great, and we couldn't have done it without our superstar team of Dr Maria Theresa G Henson, Dr Gerry de Jesus, Dr Vina Cabahug, and our legendary support staff of Grandma Strid & Grandma Anderson (and of course, late arrival Grandpa Anderson).
So far, Ava has been feeding well, and sleeping better. She is the most amazing little girl and will be out & about to make some public appearances very soon!
Not my photo, but still, very awesome.
Just last Sunday, we decided to venture out to what is becoming an increasingly rare phenomenon - to take brunch. Now it sounds simple enough, and usually, it is. As was typical, we skipped breakfast in lieu of preparing ourselves & Bruce for a nice meal out on Fort Bonifacio's High Street. We called a taxi & made our way to the restaurant....
Now, up until this point, we've been incredibly lucky with morning sickness. She hasn't vomited at all (with the exception of the eve of our discovery), and has had limited nausea which was never really incapacitating. Sure, she felt pretty bad for a long time, but always managed to soldier through it and still maintain a distinct level of class and grace, not typical of a woman on the verge of throwing up.
Sunday morning, however, the tables finally turned... Strolling along through the hundreds of shoppers, we stop dead, she finds a garden bed and takes a knee...
I do my best to comfort her by telling her that I've done it before here, too, as I drag the dog away from her and the glass of pre-loved orange juice which is now fertilizing the flowers. She is not comforted...
The main problem that we had was that she hadn't eaten anything for over 12 hours prior. All the good oil on the internet suggests that eating about 6-8 small meals throughout the day as the best way to keeping healthy and hors-de-vomir (and not just for pregnant women, it's the best way to go about maintaining a healthy metabolism for everyone). The problem is getting a woman who is working full-time with a hectic schedule and persistently feeling bloated to sit down & eat.
Having a wee baby growing inside her, literally sucking the life from her, is incredibly demanding, so how do we overcome this? In order to make it as easy as possible for her to graze throughout the day, I now pack her lunch with a main meal (usually frozen leftovers from last night), but also a little bag of nuts & dried fruits, and a tub of yogurt. I've also started baking more, so that she's got a tasty little treat to have with her afternoon cup of tea, and to keep her eating at regular intervals. Not incredibly healthy, of course, but at this stage it's much more important to keep her blood sugar up than have her napping under her desk...
As with everything these days, the internet is full of information on diets during pregnancy, but basically, if she's not feeling queasy, or bloated from a binge at McDonald's or Jollibee, we're both happy.