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!
To say that the last few weeks have been busy is a bit of an understatement.  So much has gone on lately that I haven't been able to catch up at all, so here goes a quick recap.  Forgive me if I forget bits, but the last little while has been a whirlwind of progress for our not-so-little angel!!!

Ava has a peanut allergy.

So as part of her trip back home, Ava had her 6-month allergy check (RAST test), and was thankfully cleared of allergies to almost everything.  Unfortunately, though, she tested positive to peanuts and to dogs...  Cue EpiPens, adrenaline vials, and some very nervous parents!  Thankfully, though, the little thing doesn't know what a peanut is yet, so she won't miss them.  The obvious downside now is that now she's starting to eat solids, so every bit of food we get for her has to be completely nut free.  We can't really have peanuts in the house any more - no more peanut butter sandwiches, no more satays...  the fact that every variety of Asian food uses peanuts is also very, very annoying!  There is a 20% chance that she will grow out of it, but the reality is that she has an 80% chance of having the life-threatening allergy for the rest of her life.
The dog part of thing is also upsetting, as Ava absolutely adores her big brother Bruce.  She doesn't seem to react to the hair (which is a good thing, as it's EVERYWHERE), but when he licks her face she breaks out in hives.  Separating them isn't as easy as you'd think, as they're both the same height, and they both love chewing everything!  

Ava goes to Myanmar.

Another trip for our little jetsetter!  Almost immediately after coming back from Australia, she's back to the airport to get on another plane!  Thankfully, though, most airlines these days have ditched the customary sachet of peanuts.  
She spent 5 days exploring one of the world's most interesting places - formerly shut off to foreigners, the country has relaxed its visa restrictions and so we went to check it out.  As it turns out, Yangon is amazing.  Due to our limited time, we couldn't get out to the countryside, but seeing the former capital was a pretty good introduction.  I think Ava may have been the only blond-haired, blue-eyed baby they've ever had there, as locals were so curious about her.  Everyone, and really, I mean EVERYONE, had a big smile for her, and she smiled right back.  

Ava moves out.

As if trying to get her to sleep wasn't hard enough with her already disrupted schedule, the week after returning from Myanmar, our old lease was due to run out.  With this in mind, and the growing needs of our little family, it was time to move to somewhere bigger and brighter.  
Our new place is a lot larger than our last, and we now have access to some large nearby parks, perfect for our two babies to go walking in.  Ava already loves the trees, birds, and relatively clean air.  Bruce loves the open space so much, and all the new people, places and smells he has to discover.  The move was a big adjustment but we're getting used to our big new place and Ava now has a whole room of her own.

Ava grows teeth.

Just to add to the excitement, Ava started to sprout her first set of chompers - two sharp little pegs on her bottom gum.  She's now chewing everything she can find and slobbering everywhere!  The good news is that her solids intake is now getting right up there and she now loves to feed herself carrot sticks, broccoli pieces, etc, and is even branching out into chicken legs.  
She's a lot more temperamental at the moment, understandably, as she's obviously going through a lot.  Hopefully though, things will change and she'll get used to her new teeth.  She's coping well, given some of the other stories I've heard.  Let's hope she settles down in the next few weeks.  We have visits by all the grandparents to look forward to, as well as so many other exciting things!

PictureWhere did these days go?
Recently our little darling has decided that we don't really need to sleep during the night.  
For us, this has opened up a whole can of worms, as we decided to seek advice on how to approach the task of getting Ava to sleep normally.  There are the books, the blogs, the advice columns, the friends; all have relevant advice, but all are conflicting at the same time.  There are books preaching this way, and demonising those who follow that way.  They all seem to have a couple of things in common, though, and that is they all demand an incredibly strict adherence to their method, and if you follow their method, and their method only, you will get results...  

Obviously, at the moment, I am in a position of bias - being the one that these punishing routines are extracting their pound of flesh from, and having very little reference points to work with.  It seems to me, however, that a lot of these doctrines seem to conflict, and the rest all say something like "other books say something like my method anyway".  So on the whole it all sounds a bit catty and childish, and while trying to read it all with a screaming infant, it's not much fun.  

One point that the books all share is that the parents must establish a dominance over the baby's sleeping habits early (3-6 months is ideal), which I'm ashamed to admit, we are guilty of neglecting.  We've missed the jump at the start and are now playing catch-up.  We've been able to get her into a bit of a routine throughout the day, where she sleeps, eats & plays in two-hour blocks, which seems to be working way better than I'd expected, allowing for me to actually do things during the day now.  At night, though, she's turned into a demon, waking up more sporadically than ever before and becoming unimaginably impatient...  

Another solid tenet of putting children to sleep is this, and it features in every book, blog, leaflet & other bit of advice:  be consistent.  Form a plan, and stick to it.  Eventually the baby will get used to the format you've chosen and deal with it.  Now as easy as following a step-by-step process might seem, it's in equal parts difficult at the same time.  Our night-time rituals are almost worked out now, but it means that we can't go out for dinner yet, Megan can't be late home, and I have to have everyone's dinners prepared by 6pm.   Even as we continue to cater to her growing sense of object permanence, she still continues to struggle falling asleep and staying there. 

So the battle continues, and we do our best to conquer this little phase before the next one hits...  Either that, or we'll have to move back to Canberra so that we can bore her to sleep....  Let's hope it doesn't come to that.

P.S.  We have managed to find a constructive page that was very reassuring - Alexis seems to know her stuff and isn't all cocky and I-told-you-so about it.  

After another short trip back home to Australia, we have settled back into our lives here in Manila...  Well, sort of... 

I'm becoming inclined to think that the only time a 'routine' becomes apparent for a parent is when the children move out.  We had thought that coming home with Ava healthy again would make everything easier.  Ava's new-found health has instead lead to much more activity, however.  She has found the ability to roll around and stay awake for long periods of time...  Couple that with the time difference between eastern Australia & the Philippines, and what you get is a very active, increasingly vocal baby, wide awake from 4am onwards, taking a couple of 10 minute naps every 6 hours or so... 

It all adds up to a sometimes very frustrated dad who can't get Dr Seuss' stories nor the latest nursery rhyme out of his head.  It also means that Ava has been seeing a lot of the rugby channel lately...  It's not that I'm not super happy about her development, but I have been finding it hard to adjust to her schedule. 

It reminds me of those times when you hear fathers complain that stay-at-home mothers do nothing during the day, and with Megan starting back at work (thankfully Christmas has now taken that one over for me - thanks, Santa) I'm feeling more and more useless at home as I always seem to run out of time & energy to get anything done.  I think in the last week I have spent about 30 hours flipping Ava back from her stomach to her back after she's become too frustrated & started to wail.  Of course I want her to get more proficient with her motor skills, but the constant need for attention can quickly erode the most patient of us... 

Many of our friends have expressed concern as to why we don't hire a ya-ya; why we don't take advantage of such a great opportunity to take the workload away while we can.  We have a housekeeper to take all the more menial tasks off our hands, but wanted to do the bulk of the parenting ourselves, which, for the most part, is great fun.  Our other little helper, Bruce, has been getting more & more involved with his little sister, and as she grows more & more inquisitive, he is getting more & more attention, usually in the form of face grabs & fur pulls.  His reactions so far have been very good - he knows that Ava's a precious little thing and is still very cautious around her, but he's a long way off becoming babysitter material yet. 

My hope is that in the coming months, Ava will grow more and more, becoming more ambulatory and wear herself out naturally with learning to sit up & starting to crawl.  While I'm aware that it will open up different concerns (i.e. baby-proofing everything in the house), it will be amazing to see her becoming more self-sufficient and hopefully she will be able to start to learn on her own, instead of us spending countless hours trying to keep her mind amused.  Whatever happens in the next little while, I'm sure Ava will do it all at her own pace and we'll just have to try to keep up!

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. 

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! 

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!
This afternoon, Megan had herself a strange experience while going to the supermarket.  While I was at home trying to rest (read: trying desperately not to die from not sleeping today) she went out to forage for dinner supplies.  She took Ava with her, in a new pram that one of our friends has lent to us. 

Now seeing a lone woman with a baby isn't a novel sight, even here in the ultra-Catholic Philippines, but seeing an expat woman on her own with a baby obviously is...  Our decision not to hire a yaya (nanny) seems a bit of a shock to some of the locals in our shopping mall; many staring quite obviously at her doing the shopping all on her own.  Back home, in some areas, seeing both parents with the child is a rare occasion, but this cross-cultural paradigm shift that Meg had perpetrated was indeed very amusing to all around. 

Shoppers cooed over Ava, and seemed bemused that we didn't have any hired help.  When Megan had her hands full of groceries and Ava cried, they looked on as if to say "why doesn't someone pick up that child?"  It occurred to us - it's so rare to hear a baby's cry here!  We live in a fairly affluent area, and simply hadn't noticed that the babies here don't cry.  They're always consoled before they can kick up too much of a ruckus.  Some of the passers-by even asked her where our yaya was, seemingly stunned that we haven't got one, and even more shocked to find out that back home, we generally don't use nannies (she described the look as somewhere between surprised intrigue and pity). 

Logistically speaking, the trip was another strange combination of the good and not-so-good.  Our security guys always go out of their way to assist us, be it hobbling out of a car on crutches or carrying luggage to our doors when we return from the airport.  Today, as they saw Megan coming, they switched off the overhead air conditioning units as she passed, so that the cool air would not blow into the pram.  They're amazingly sweet to us.  The general population is usually great, too, especially when they see that we have a baby with us.  Sometimes it's a bit hit-and-miss, as is anywhere, but the locals all jump out of the way when they spot us coming, especially in tight spaces.  Now if you've ever been to Asia, you'll know that this does not apply to elevators.  Ever.  It seems with elevators, it's the quick & the dead...  Even if you've got a shiny new baby in a massive pram, and your white skin makes you stick out from the crowd like a pimple on a bum...  Escalators are very similar.  Why this phenomenon exists, I have no idea & will be forever wondering, but it's true, I swear! 

I'm looking forward to seeing the reactions when Ava & I go out walking on our own.  I can only imagine that it'll be a similar scenario.  There aren't too many white folk around, and the majority of the ones that live here usually have local wives, so our blonde, Caucasian baby is a bit of a novelty.  Of course, we think she's amazingly special, and when strangers react the way they do, it gives an extraordinary feeling of parental pride in our little girl. 
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.