Happy anniversary, honey!

The last few years of my life have been full of so much change and turmoil, it’s hard to remember that it was only three years ago that Rebecca and I tied the knot. In between that momentous and overwhelmingly joyous occasion and today, we’ve all but lost my mother to a dreadful brain disorder, lost my grandmother, my sister has battled (and beaten) cancer, we have had to up sticks and move home at very short notice, and, of course, given birth and reared our active, playful, boisterous and definitely full-on 2-year-old son, Rayven.

Today (April 7) marks our third anniversary. And Rebecca will be the first to tell you — and I will be first to admit — that I am generally bad with cards and presents, while Rebecca excels not only at selecting imaginative and appropriate gifts, but also in fashioning the most creative home-made cards possible. She is the consummate planner and most thoughtful partner.

But I do have a gift, I think, and that’s the gift of words, so this is my message to Rebecca on this day; I hope she gets to read it.

First off, I am grateful that she agreed to marry me in the first place. Our engagement wasn’t much of a success because of me: I fluffed the proposal in spite of having a unique engagement gift in the form of my grandmother’s antique ring. What an idiot, and all through lack of planning and bad execution.

Then we had my parents out in December 2011, a trip they barely survived (partly because of AirAsia’s shabby long-haul service) and which involved them attending an Indonesian-style engagement party that must have been overwhelming to them (it was to me). It’s a testament to Rebecca’s organizational skills and their endurance that we all lived to tell the tale after.

Secondly, I have Rebecca – and only Rebecca – to thank for organizing and executing the wedding. Now that I’ve been in Indonesia for some time and seen how things work, or rather how they don’t work much of the time, it’s all the more impressive that she was able to handle everything from selecting the invites to choosing the catering. I recall that I selected some of the music for the after-party and did some food tasting, but generally I was an observer of the Rebecca-as-professional-planner show.

I still don’t know how much it all cost: I daren’t ask. But Rebecca is CFO of our family unit (see how much I rely on her?) and she balanced it all out so that we paid for our reasonably lavish wedding without having to ask anyone to contribute financially. It was a marvellous day, resplendent in sunshine, smiles and love. From the service sheet to the piano melody of “In My Life” by the Beatles (“our” song) that played as she walked down the aisle, it all went like clockwork. And it was all down to Rebecca – even helping with everything from my best man buying a suit in Bali at the last minute to helping my sister and my nephew with their Bali orientation program.

Since that time, I’ve grown to rely on, and love, Rebecca even more than I did then. She always describes herself as unlikeable, but to me, she is more than likeable: she is a wife and mother to two boys. She is a reliable wing-man; an honest confessor; a trusted advisor; and, of course, a valued co-parent. I have to confess that even though I have spent far more time with Rayven than she has, it’s Rebecca’s influence that has driven most of his accomplishments to date, including calling me “daddy.”

When she accepted her current job, I have to admit that I wasn’t happy with the decision, but she has balanced the role of mother and wife with being a communications director with aplomb. And we couldn’t have survived my recent six months of unemployment if she hadn’t been working. She also took the lead on our two trips to the UK, and organizes every trip we make to Bali, plus my Singapore visa trips, and our fantastic trip to the Gili islands a year or so ago.

So without playing down my role too much, you can see how much Rebecca shoulders in our partnership. She thinks I don’t notice, but that’s only because I am not the most demonstrative partner (although I am getting better). I do notice, appreciate and thank her for all she has done and continues to do, from the bottom of my heart.

Honey, I love you with all my being. Thanks for being there for this flawed, imperfect man. Here’s to three years and to many more happy times ahead.

With love, Matthew (and a kiss from Rayven)

Happiest day of my life so far

Happiest day of my life so far, along with the birth of our son

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In the family way: birthday boy

Take oxygen, carbon and nitrogen and mix in with them some calcium, phosphorous and potassium, plus a dash of chlorine, sodium, and magnesium. Season with a pinch of iron, cobalt, copper, zinc, iodine, selenium, and fluorine, and fling this proverbial bun mixture into a warm oven for nine months and hey presto, you’ve got a human.

Yep, looking up the chemical composition of a human being on Wikipedia as a dubious lead into a blog post is almost as easy as it was to conceive our son—although it required a lot less effort. And now he’s here.

Three weeks ago this evening, baby Rayven* Matthew Leppard was dragged kicking and screaming from his mother’s belly and into the arms of a green-garbed doctor who then manhandled him under a heat lamp and scraped all the gunk off him. I say dragged from his mother: there seemed to be an awful lot of pushing involved, and none of it from mum.

You see, after 27 hours of labor pains and inducement (induction?) we decided to opt for a C-section, and fortunately so, it turns out: baby Ray was not positioned right and would never have slipped out like a bar of soap. This explains why the inducing (induction?) led to painful contractions on the part of mum, and intense in-belly wriggling on the part of baby. He was being pushed hard and had nowhere to go.

At 2cm dilated. And all for nothing. Such is life... We had it all planned out.

At 2cm dilated. And all for nothing. Such is life… We had it all planned out.

So we clad ourselves in ludicrous hospital clothes and went to the OR (it’s not called operating theater any more, apparently). There, Rebecca was given a local anaesthetic for about 10 minutes and then a general knockout for about 10 more minutes as the docs really got to work on her insides. This part of the proceedings was done on the other side of a cloth wall that stopped Rebecca and (importantly) me from seeing the slicing and dicing that was going on “downstairs.” Seeing Rebecca talking to me and then going cross-eyed and then slipping away into blackout was quite upsetting, and thinking about it again now as I write this leaves me feeling a bit generally anxious.

DO NOT TAKE MEDICAL ADVICE FROM THIS MAN!

DO NOT TAKE MEDICAL ADVICE FROM THIS MAN!

Then the pushing: nurses, doctors, all pushing downwards on Rebecca’s upper abdomen with such violence that it made me very concerned that they’d crack a rib or something. (It was all due to Ray’s weird position.) Still, thanks to Rebecca’s un-squeamish approach to documenting every single aspect of our lives, we have the whole thing on video anyway, except the bit where I cry a little after seeing the baby.

Unlike the horror stories I had read of babies being whipped away from their mums after a C-section, tiny Ray was placed on Rebecca’s breast and encouraged to feed right away, which we somehow muddled through as a threesome. Then he was put into an incubator and taken outside for the family to see, and then off to observation. We next saw him in the wee hours of the morning.

The morning after the night before: a getting-to-know-you session with Ray

The morning after the night before: a getting-to-know-you session with Ray

Surviving amid the throngs of visitors we had to cope with. And when I say we, I mean I. Rebecca copes already.

Surviving amid the throngs of visitors we tried to cope with. And when I say we, I mean I. Rebecca copes adequately already.

A days-old Ray with the first raft of gifts and cards.

A days-old Ray with the first raft of gifts and cards.

And that, as they say, was that. ‘Tis a miracle to be sure. When everything in the universe other than life moves inexorably towards entropy and chaos and randomness, Rebecca and I (well, mostly Rebecca) built, from 46 chromosomes and a lot of food and water, a small human being. A person and a future.

There’s way more to this story to come. I really hope that the story doesn’t end and that it continues with Ray and his brothers and sisters and their own families (my stab at genetic immortality). But that’s the lot for now. I need to get home and help with the breast pumping and the other delights that go with new parenthood. Ah, but when I look into his eyes: yes, all worth it. And when I see Ray and Rebecca sleeping side by side and in the same pose (as I did this very morning), well, my cup runneth over.

COMING NEXT: Survival of the fittest: the first month

*We wanted R and M as the initials: these stand for Rebecca and Matthew and Roger and Mary (my parents) as well as Rebecca’s kind-of-actual surname, Manalu. Ray we already had, since the family on my side has gone through (and is still going through) its fair share of tribulations at the moment. So Ray is a “drop of golden sun,” as the song goes. A raven is also a black bird, and Blackbird by The Beatles is one of a few songs we both adore. It is also the first bird that Noah sent out from the ark, and a bird that is associated with the Tower of London. It has been said since Charles II that if the resident ravens leave the Tower, it will fall into enemy hands. Hence the spelling of Rayven. Oh, and when Rebecca was growing up, one of her nicknames was “Re” and pronounced (you guessed it…) Ray. So there.

Sweet Seventeen (weeks old)

I kind of realized that in my last post I wasn’t painting a pretty picture of my pregnancy. You must understand: for someone who lives in a fast-paced and carefully planned life, a sudden addition to the family could be overwhelming. If you ask Matthew and I, “If you could redo it, would you still want to delay the pregnancy?” we both would say “Yes!”

However, when we think about the many people we personally know who are having trouble conceiving or who have lost their babies, we could not be thankful enough for this. We conceived on our first “try.” Thus far, we’ve sailed through this pregnancy without any serious complication.

Would you look at that spine!

The lowest point by far was probably what happened a couple of weeks ago. Matthew and I woke up at 6am, which is incredibly early for us, feeling like going to the gym. I had been going back to the gym on a weekly basis since I regained my strength past the first trimester mark. Then I had rice for breakfast at 7am. Then we went to church for a council meeting. Six hours later we went and had kebab for lunch. I only had a few bites and urged to go home. A few minutes down the road, I vomited my entire breakfast up. It was still in food form — that is, not digested at all.

At home, Matthew gave me banana milkshake as I couldn’t and didn’t want to eat anything. At 7pm I was still weak, so we walked to the nearest Emergency Room (or, as Matthew considers it, a swanky hotel for Jakarta mosquitoes). I was given an anti-nausea tablet, which I vomited back up five minutes later along with the banana milkshake I had drunk three hours before. I then decided that I have to take both nutrition and medication intravenously.

We rushed by taxi (which took forever to arrive) to Brawijaya Women and Children’s Hospital, where I normally go for routine check-ups. On the way, I booked myself a room by phone. But lo and behold, they were fully booked.

Then I thought: no vacant taxis and no vacant room in a Women’s hospital? Of course! It’s November 10th, i.e. 10-11-12. It’s THE day people want to get married and give birth. Oh, Asians and your obsession with numbers… T_T

I then said goodbye to my money and got me a “presidential” suite at that hospital. It’s actually bigger than my old Bali apartment; it had a bathtub and a shower, as well as a sofa bed for dear husband, a living room with flat-screen cable TV, and a dining room. Eighty percent of total cost of this hospitalization was the room charge.

I could live here if only there were no crying babies next door.

Anyway, the nurses and doctors were surprised and a bit confused as to why someone who’s 17 weeks along could be throwing up. And there was really nothing wrong with me. No symptom of virus or bacteria or toxic or allergy reaction. My digestive system was just out of order and I needed an IV drip to stabilize.

I was discharged two days later. The following morning, my fetus turned 18 weeks and it was the first time I felt it kicking and punching in my tummy. Amazingly, I didn’t feel like throwing up 🙂

First trimester is a b*tch

*) And so am I!

I am typing this after wiping my own barf from my husband’s bathroom sink.
[Aside: we have separate bathrooms to keep us together. This was a sound advice from Meryl Streep whose Hollywood marriage lasts for more than 40 years.]

It would have been two seconds too late to throw up in the toilet bowl. And after I saw the damage all over my neat-freak husband’s sink, I panicked. I then scraped my half-digested pizza/leftover breakfast out from the sink and into the trash bin. It was my new personal low as far as vomiting goes. Because: 1) I was not hung over after a night of partying⎯something a girl in her twenties would feasibly do⎯and 2) I’m pregnant and I had pizza for breakfast!

Yeah, even my stomach was like: “What the hell are you trying to feed your growing baby? You should be ashamed of yourself, woman!”

Seriously, it wasn’t even morning sickness. I am in my second trimester, for crying out loud. I was just being irresponsible and my body put my mind to shame. While others glow in the second trimester, I’m just making it an extension to my first trimester, which sucked.

I should probably tell you that this pregnancy was, in a way, an accident. Due to my business travel schedule and wish to have an extended honeymoon period, Matthew and I planned to wait till December ’12 to even try. But a bad reaction to birth control pill put me off it. And like dumb love struck teenagers, we didn’t use any form of protection or preventative measures. Within a week after being off birth control, we conceived. Of course.

(Let this be a warning to you dummies who think that you can’t get pregnant if you only have unprotected sex once. Quick biology lesson: one time is all it takes.)

And I knew we conceived before the next page of the calendar. All I was feeling those weeks was best summed as: not well.
These are things I experienced weeks before the stick finally turns blue.
1. I couldn’t sleep well.
2. All I wanted and could do was curl up in the sofa.
3. I wanted to eat but couldn’t really enjoy it.
4. I only had the energy of an 80-year-old grandmother.
5. I could only run for 15 minutes before feeling like I’ve just finished a marathon.
6. My stomach was a bit plump, hard and tight.
7. My breasts hurt.
8. I need to pee all the time.
9. I need to sleep all the time.
10. I wept at the slightest touching scene on television.

But no, four home pregnancy tests said I wasn’t pregnant.

Matthew insisted that I was just having an epic PMS due to coming off birth control pill mid-cycle. It makes sense. Some research does say that I could have been experiencing that. But I refused to believe it despite an ultrasound that said my uterus line was thickened but there’s nothing else there.

Aug 4, 2012., the screen says nothing.

Matthew and I got our blood tested. Mine: to detect the smallest trace of human chorionic gonadotropin, if there is any. His: to check his blood type and group to determine whether or not there’s a possibility of conceiving a baby with negative rhesus blood group since I am a B+.

[Aside: Matthew’s lack of knowledge in his own blood is so inconsistent with the fact that he’s a hypochondriac. Oh, and his parents also forgot his blood type.]

The result: Matthew is an A+ and I had 2.56 hCG, which is half the amount for a woman to be considered pregnant. My doctor said that I did conceive but the pregnancy may not “take” so I should expect a natural miscarriage in form of heavy period within the week.

I thought, at least I was right: we did conceive. But, I didn’t want to lose this pregnancy, especially as I had all the symptoms! I didn’t want to suffer for nothing. Yes, I’m a selfish bitch.

Two weeks later, still no period or bleeding, I was scheduled to fly. Matthew insisted I should retry peeing on the stick. It was a faint positive! Wow! Then I wanted to make sure that I was not endangering my baby and inconvenience fellow passengers, so I got another ultrasound.

The doctor saw the prominent gestational sac and that I was healthy and strong. He explained that we had what’s called a delayed conception. My ovulation day was postponed by a week due to the whole birth control saga.

Aug 14, 2012: there’s the little black dot that is the gestational sac, where my baby claims residency for a while.

He said, “Congratulations on the success of your first try. Here’s your flying permit.”

Yep. Have bump. Will travel.

My first travel picture as a 4-week pregnant woman!

Rebecca Leppard

Rebecca was the Account Director for Travel Works Communications International when all of this started. She is now spearheads communications of Bali Hotels Association, which means she commutes between Jakarta and Bali.

Her strength in media relations is due to her experience of working with big names in Indonesian and regional media under her belt. Started creative writing since she was 9 and public speaking since 12, Rebecca pursued to study Mass Communications in University of Indonesia. Prior to joining Travel Works, she was the Senior Writer at DestinAsian magazine and a successful leader and senior editor at Mother&Baby magazine. During her days in Bali, she was also a contributing editor for Australia’s leading travel trade magazine, TravelTalk. She is now still doing everything she used to do: writing, emceeing, teaching, consulting. But she admits doing it on a freelance basis is a great way of working and living!

Her all time passion is teaching. She recognized from early age that education is the key to quality life. She taught herself English from American pop culture and then taught her housekeepers English using flash cards. To this day, she uses every opportunity to open a class and give practical lectures for Bali’s tourism industry professionals to this day.

She lived alone for 10 years and enjoyed every moment of it. Now that she has to share an apartment with a man and a baby, she will have to store her shoes somewhere safe.