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!

PictureEven Bruce is looking forward to some sleep
So Megan & Ava are making their way back to Brisbane for a week of medical check ups, and tests that will hopefully show that she has outgrown some of her allergies.  Now, Bruce and I have a whole week of man-time to waste until they get back.

The first thing I plan to do with my week off is to catch up on some sleep - no more late-night feedings, no real reason to be up early and no one around to be jealous of my daytime napping.  No scheduled meal times and no need to pack Megan's lunch each day...  As liberating as all that seems, being a stay-at-home-dad without the family does make life rather empty.  

Of course, taking care of the puppy is now my first priority, but looking after him is quite simple - we're both fairly low maintenance and easily kept occupied.  So what else am I going to with all this new free time?  
Firstly, I now find myself with so much energy, so it's off to the gym and rugby practice.  Secondly, time to prepare something meaty for whenever I'm hungry, and to tee up some mindless action movies and video games.  Also on our hit list is moving Ava's stuff into our spare room...  A big milestone in her tiny little life, but hopefully one she'll get used to sooner rather than later, and something that will mean more sleep for everyone after my girls return.  

So in my newly discovered freedom I'll be doing all I can to keep myself as busy as I can, and not because I resented all the pink that used to adorn the apartment when they were around and needed to reinstate some manliness, but because secretly I miss them both incredibly, and now that Bruce and I are on our own, we have absolutely no idea what to do with ourselves.  I never thought that I would feel such an enormous hole in my life without them around, especially for such a short time, so in all honestly I'll probably spend most of my week off just waiting for them to get back.

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! 

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. 

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.   

PictureNot all Aussies are legends.
Megan and Ava are now safe and sound back in Australia, and enjoying all the benefits of being back home - safe roads, good groceries, high prices...

I will be joining them in just a few hours, and as I loiter in the airport lounge, I can't help but be frustrated.  Not so much that I'm here & they're there, nor that they've had to fend for themselves for the past day, but that they're back in a society in which people think that their opinions matter. 

While checking in to my flight, Megan called me from outside a supermarket.  She'd just pulled over to feed Ava and do some shopping, and Ava was doing some fussing, as she is inclined to do.  Out of nowhere, some woman comes up to her and snidely says "you need to feed your baby".  I don't need to tell you how condescending that must have sounded to a new mother - any mother - let alone one with an already sick baby, and who is doing her absolute best to keep that baby healthy. 

Instantly I wanted to get my Papa grizzly bear hatred on, but that wouldn't have helped anything - not in an airport.  Then I was overcome with a feeling of helplessness, that there was absolutely nothing I could do to make her feel better about this idiot woman who had taken it upon herself to ruin Meg's day.  I can't fathom how her interjection could be perceived as beneficial to anyone. 

Anyway, as much as I'd like to meet with that woman myself, nothing will change.  She won't become any less of a moron, and it won't stop others from feeling as though their opinions on our baby are something we want to hear.  As much as I love my country and miss everything about it, this incident makes me value how much people seem to adore our little white unicorn baby here. 

Well, we got her there, but it wasn't easy... 

We left the house with happy little smiles on our faces, prepared for a quick little jaunt across the South China Sea.  What eventuated was not that... 

We decided to take some old, out-of-date advice and hope for the best, and not take some reliable advice from one of our mates here that Exit Clearances for little expat babies could be obtained at the airport (it's something to do with people smuggling).  As it turns out, our obsolete information was just that, and our mate's new information was spot on the money.  Obviously trying to get the Exit Clearance at the airport was much less effort than the three day process to get it at the Bureau of Immigration, and we paid for our laziness. 

Initially, the Immigration officials refused to let us take her out of the country, arguing that the process had to be followed.  After about an hour of negotiating, they allowed us through because of the medical necessity of our trip.  We got through, and escorted by an airline rep, were hurried through security & down to our gate to board.  It would've been even better if our flight wasn't delayed 90 minutes....  So with a hungry, screechy baby on her first trip, we waited in the departure lounge, then on the plane at the gate, then on the tarmac. 

Once we got airborne, though, it was a different story.  Ava was a complete angel!  Take-offs and landings always gave me the most intense pain in my ears as a kid, but she handled it like a champ!  It goes some way to prove my theory that babies who fly a lot in utero handle flying much better when they're out utero.  Also I know that's not a word.

The rest of the trip I'll write about later, but if her first plane ride is anything to go by, Ava's going to be more of a jetsetter as both of her parents combined!

Finally we have Ava's passport!  She's now a fully-fledged person of the world and ready to travel.  Like her parents, and her parents' parents, her new passport will be full before we know it, and the first stop?  Singapore! 

It's a fairly quick trial trip for her big homecoming before Christmas.  Only three nights, so not too long to be away from home for the poor little thing.  Hopefully it'll be a good way to iron out any kinks in our travel plans. 
We've got almost everything we need packed - I think...  We've probably packed way too much, as usual, but it'll be a good way to find out what we need & what we don't.

Our final hurdle will be getting an exit clearance for her as she currently doesn't have a visa to be in the Philippines.  We'll keep you updated as to how that process goes... 

Until then, it's Singapore Slings at the Long Bar in Raffles and some clean(er) air!