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!
They could be shopping in your supermarkets or walking in your parks, they're everywhere, living among us - the secret societies of women who get together every week and discuss mum things have been in operation since time immemorial.  And they're great!

Recently I've been attending the pregnancy/newborn group here in Manila, and it's been eye-opening to say the least.  You can read all the books in the world, but there's nothing so valuable as to ask your questions to a group of people in a similar position to you.  As the only male in the group (so far) it has been a bit daunting, but the ability to relate to others around my age is invaluable in keeping us sane.  Just to know that someone else out there is going through the same issues as we are is immensely relieving.  Of course there are internet forums these days, and they're often quite informative, but there's nothing like having a cup of coffee & relaxing while your kid plays on a mat with the other kids, and you can sit there & discuss the weird stuff your kid does/doesn't do in a non-judgmental environment.  It's doing wonders for my sanity!

In addition to providing a bit of socialisation for the babies, it's also great just to have a few other babies around just as a bit of a yardstick to measure your babies' achievements.  It's not a competition to see who's crawling first, or who's sprouting little teeth first (or who can put a crying baby to sleep fastest), but the group does give a good indication of the developmental stages that the kids should be going through.  

Of course it is a bit odd that I'm always the only man there, but it's never too awkward.  I'm pretty sure that the mothers accept that the times are changing for men of my generation and that soon men are going to play a much greater role in raising children all over the world.  My next goal is to form a secret dads club of my own!

It's been almost a month since our last post, and so much has happened! 

We survived our first Christmas & New Year with style and are now making the most of our start to 2014 with great big hopes for what it may bring. 

The year didn't get off to a great start though.  We had friends over for New Years' dinner, and unbeknownst to anyone, their little baby had carried a virus back from Australia.  So while we had a great time welcoming in the new year, a few days later we were paying for it.  Ava and her little best friend were horribly sick with roseola.  Thankfully we were able to establish what it was before taking her back to the hospital for more tests!  It meant four or so days of a shocking fever and severe irritability - nothing seemed to sooth her.  Which also meant four or so days of minimal sleep, coupled with intense frustration...  We did have the benefit of knowing what it was, though, which gave us some great peace-of-mind.  We knew it would be over soon and knew that it wouldn't do too much damage.  Ava is now back to her wonderful, smiling self again, but we're all incredibly thankful that it's over and she won't get it again.  

We were fortunate to have one of Megan's friends come to visit - the father of two great kids - who provided a lot of perspective on becoming a dad.  The input was especially pertinent given that Megan has returned to work, leaving me in charge during the days.  Whether that turns out to be a positive step or not is yet to be proven.  My role as the stay-at-home parent hasn't really happened as yet - there have been so many other things to do, but now we can look forward to having some real fun.  

Ava has also taught herself to stand up (with a bit - a lot - of help) and has started to grip things with unexpected strength.  I know that development is not a race, but right now I'm super impressed about how far my little girl has come, and am encouraging her as much as I can!  Plus, all that standing & grabbing makes her very tired, which provides some much appreciated down time for everyone else...  

Of course, Ava's recent leap into activity isn't without its issues.  It has meant that we have had to cut down the space that Bruce has to roam around, and the time that we're available to play with him.  Before Ava came along, he ruled the roost but now he's had to wait his turn, and hasn't been dealing with the transition very well.  His favourite new trick is to bark at EVERYTHING. Which, with a baby that you're trying to put to bed, is somewhat less than helpful...  However, with a bit more adjustment and some more patience, we're (somehow) finding time to take him for longer, more frequent walks which is working pretty well - it separates him from Ava for a while and gives us all a little bit of breathing space.

Now that Ava's getting bigger and better, and storming toward the 6 month mark, I can't wait to find out what sort of adventures we're going to have together!  

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. 

PictureBeautiful, 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.   

Further to our last post about surviving with toddlers, yesterday we got a bit of a peek into the life of kid's birthdays: we'd scored an invite to a party for one of our friends' sons party.  I'd never really been to a child's party before - there had been some others, but this was my first with a child of my own, so I was paying a lot more attention. 

There were kids ranging from two weeks to about 5 years old, and although there weren't many, it seemed like there were hundreds.  All laughing, running, playing, squealing, splashing; they were having the time of their lives!  It was amazing to see so many kids enjoying themselves so much. 

And the parents were extremely well catered for, too.  The other expats sure know how to entertain a crowd.  I'm not ashamed to say that I got in on the mini hot dogs & sausage rolls, as well as a good dose of ice cream...  All in all, it was an incredibly well orchestrated event - they certainly set the bar high, following it up will be a tough act! 

Little Ava handled it all incredibly well, she had her fair share of attention, with many parents stopping in to reminisce about when their little one was her age...  So quiet & immobile...  it made us appreciate so much how tiny she was, but also how much she has ahead of her.  How she'll have friends like those kids, she'll play & run & laugh, and how much we can't wait until she grows up to be a pretty little girl joining in on all that fun! 

Recently we've had the opportunity to babysit a newborn for some friends of ours, as well as our 5 year old nephew (not at the same time, thankfully).  The experience was nothing short of eye-opening...

Our friends' baby is an awesome kid, as is our nephew, but having two at a time is definitely not something that we're keen to get into for a long time...  At least until we've forgotten how much work a newborn is! 

We found out pretty quickly how much work it was with the 3-week-old.  Pushing two strollers and trying to eat breakfast was a bit more than we were ready for - lots of swapping hands, waiting for each other to finish so we can change hands, and amusingly, lots of telling people that they weren't twins...

With the 5-year-old, it was a similar yet completely different story.  While he was amazingly gentle around her, the amount of energy required to keep up with him was staggering!  Always wanting to play, to talk, to eat...  While all we wanted to do was to keep our baby satisfied, it was impossible to balance the two.   While we do want a second child, at some stage, it was a good way to work out just how difficult it would be.  To those parents who have lots of little children around the same age, well done!  You've done better than we will! 

I think we're both fully convinced that our second will be a few years away, only when overwhelmed with a toddler will we think "newborns are so easy, we should have another one of them".

A bit late but I had to add this.  Louis CK perfectly sums up how I feel about introducing children to mobile phones.  The guy's a genius.
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!
Tonight Ava was lucky enough to step out into the big wide world & meet her local extended family - the Philippines rugby community. 

She hadn't ventured so far previously, and the big trip (4 1/2 hours) took a bit of a toll on the little one - so many new faces, sounds and smells!  Lots of mates keen to see her on her first visit to the home of Asia's favourite rugby club, as well as a few other new arrivals keen to make acquaintances. 

She was very well behaved (I'm told), and seemed to like spending time meeting new people.  Not that we're handing over the car keys yet - but it's a positive step & we'll definitely be getting out a bit more now that we know what to expect (I think we only had two nappies to change, as well a few feeding sessions).  Hopefully now we'll be able to take her to more rugby games and I won't have to explain all the rules again. 

Fortunately, dad had a win so everyone can sleep easy tonight.  And after a long trip like that, everyone's off for a well-earned rest!