On family, friends…

Way, waaaay back, to almost what seems like a thousand years ago now, Rebecca and I visited our family and friend in the UK. The trip was notable for many reasons, chiefly among these being that it was the first time Rebecca had met “the fam” on home turf, and for being possibly the last time I see my mum in a fully functioning state.

There were other notables: a lovely blessing of our wedding at Romsey Abbey, a rainy and cold trip to London, and a wonderful Christmas day. But I am seeing the trip more and more through the lens of what could be the last time I see my family “as was” notwithstanding the fact that my sister was (and is) recovering from a life-threatening illness. And that same illness has clutched its fist around my mum since that time, and has recently led to complications that are ongoing and possibly irreversible.

Time will, as always, tell.

On the Christmas trip itself, well it couldn’t have been better overall. Our flight was with Singapore Airlines and so was made somewhat humane with decent grub and good movies (and during the transits between JKT and SG, we were treated to excellent service courtesy of the ground staff, with Rebecca six months pregnant at that time).

With a 39-degree difference in overall temperature comfort, the UK was its usual dreary self, but somewhat brightened by Christmas cheer. I had forgotten that almost all houses would be warmly lit from the inside with tinsel and tat whatever the drear level outside. I had forgotten the spirit of Christmas; while I don’t believe that Christ was born on December 25, the spirit of forgiveness, of family and of friends and of celebration, should prevail, as should the spirit of giving.

I am especially happy that I was given the opportunity to see all of the four main women in my life in one place: my sister, my grandmother and my mother, all of whom are at varying stages of un-wellness (plus Rebecca, of course). And to see my dad, who, it turns out, is currently our rock—while he and I didn’t actually have a traditionally “difficult” relationship at any time, what we do have has grown much stronger and more personal over the past 20 years as we’ve realized that, indeed, the apple does not fall far from the tree.

In the past few weeks, he has been called on to support the rest of our family and has not been found wanting. He is proving capable and caring.

Happy times late last year.

Happy times late last year.

I wish I could say the same for myself in other respects as regards the UK trip. When I visited there was some attempted manipulation of friends before I went and when I was there, to try to avert what I saw as potential conflicts of interest between friends and myself. Of course, there was no such conflict.

The other potential bone of contention is that I have found faith, while my friends, presumably have not, although for me, this is no deal-breaker since I am not anti-atheist and nor am I a Bible-thumping evangelist. And I would hope that they would know that I’m still, in essence, “me.”

This is why in the first paragraph, I put “family and friend” since I only saw one guy—my best man, whom I’ve known since I was 13. I wish I’d not been so worried about other people and just called them up instead of hiding behind email.

As it turns out, what with things being the way they are, I’m glad to have seen so much of mum and dad and my sister. But in a life in which I’ve seen two major upheavals that involve me changing countries of residence in the past 13 years, friends help to anchor you wherever you are by providing a sense of context and comparison in a life like mine. And without them, there can occasionally be a strong sense of being adrift in a distant land.

So, chin-chin to those reading this. I hope to see you again.

“Good friends are like stars; you don’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.”

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Have bump. Will travel.

The day after I ditched my birth control pill, I experienced bleeding and just found out about this on the way to the airport. What did I do? I traveled to Kuala Lumpur and back.

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On the way to Petronas Tower!

A few weeks after, I fell pregnant. What did I do? I kept my commitment to my students and flew to Bali to deliver their course.

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At Bali Tourism Board HQ

As an inter-cultural international couple, our wedding was a two-parter. After a Christian ceremony and reception in Indonesia, we were due to have a marriage blessing in the UK that same year. What did I do? I became a six-months-along pregnant bride in the middle of winter (at the gorgeous Romsey Abbey no less).

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*pretending that we were not cold*

Now, I’m entering my ninth month pregnancy with fourteen flights under my (extra-large) belt. No more flights for me these days but not because I’m not allowed to but mostly because my husband is the ultimate worrier [note from Matt: I don’t think I am but I worry that Rebecca thinks I am]. 

For other ladies out there who have doubts about traveling while “turning food into human,” here’s the rule of thumb: as long as your doctor deems your pregnancy normal (no complications), and as long as you are up for it, pack your bags and go!

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Boarding into my last flight to Singapore at 7.5 months along!

Based on my experience of traveling while pregnant, both short- and long-haul, both business and leisure, here are my top tips:

  1. Book your flight only after you get a flying permit letter from your Obgyn. In my case, I was always up for it so I booked it anyway and then go see the doctor a few days prior to my flight. You have to be in tune with your body, too. I had to cancel one trip once because of sudden, terrible heartburn nine hours before my flight—despite the flying permit.
  2. If you can choose your seat, ask for aisle and no more than five rows from the toilet, for hopefully obvious reasons.
  3. Upon checking in, tell the airline staff that you’re pregnant and show them your flying permit. You should keep the permit for your returning flight, so they normally just look at it or scan/photocopy it. Some airlines, like AirAsia, Lion Air and Garuda Indonesia, ask you to fill out and sign a disclaimer form.
  4. If you’re more than six months along and on a long-haul flight with transit/connection, do ask for a special assistance. They will assign ground staff to wheel you to your next flight and wheel you to the car/taxi at your destination. Low-cost carriers may charge you for this (AirAsia charges S$20 for assistance at Changi, whereas Singapore Airlines doesn’t charge at all—yay for SQ).
  5. Dress in comfortable material and in layers. Pregnancy makes you warm, but the aircon in planes can be chilly.
  6. Wear flat shoes, and for long-haul flights wear also anti-deep vein thrombosis socks. Pharmacies at international airport normally sell anti-DVT socks, which look like very tight and very thin stockings.
  7. If you’re flying with a low-cost carrier, bring snacks in your carry-on bag. If you’re flying with a full-service carrier, don’t be afraid to keep asking for snacks. You normally need to eat small portions every hour or two. However, be careful not to consume high sodium food like salted peanuts, as this will make you even more dehydrated and bloated, which comes with the territory when flying anyway.
  8. Airlines don’t allow you to take more than 100ml in liquid forms into the cabin, but when flying out of Singapore (and other airports probably), do take an empty bottle, which you can fill with water from the fountain inside the boarding lounge. I once flew with AirAsia from Jakarta airport and the security officer told me to just carry the full 600ml bottled water because he saw I was massively pregnant.
  9. On a long-haul flight, always, always allocate time to walk around (or rather, back and forth) the aisle. I did it on the way from Singapore to London and I arrived fabulous (or only as one can be after 13-hour journey). I did not do it on the way back because it was an evening flight so everybody including me was asleep. I ended up with pillow-like feet I could barely fit into my shoes.
  10. At your destination, if you can afford it, get a foot and back massage to release tension so you can enjoy your trip or recover from it. (And yes, pregnant women are allowed to get massages as long as you sit or lay on your side) I normally research spas that can handle pregnant clients and book it before the trip just because I’m a control freak.

If I could add one more tip, it would be to take more pictures of your pregnant self at different destinations, because you will want to show your little one that they started racking up mileage before they even had a passport!

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At London Waterloo station.

FIVE TIPS FROM MATT:

  1. I’d also add that given low mobility when pregnant, take everything you need out of your carry-on luggage and to your seat area and ensure you have easy access to everything from iPod to DVT socks. That way, you avoid having to stretch and reach—or have your partner do it.
  2. When you get your food, horde the small cup of water they give you and ask for refill from the attendant even before you need it. You may need it later when you don’t have access or there’s turbulence.
  3. Always travel with earplugs, eye-pads and medicines. This is a general rule of thumb for life.
  4. Ensure that all the arrangements as described above, like ground staff assistance, are made and confirmed way in advance and again with the cabin crew. Avoid missed expectations.
  5. Always be patient with your pregnant wife. Don’t lose your cool and be even more supportive than usual. Remember: the bulge she carries is a small piece of life, not 20 years of accumulated beer fat.
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On London’s double-decker tour bus!

Further father musings

Well, D-day draws ever nearer. Or B-day, I should say. And our pregnancy has been largely uncomplicated it seems (likely because I keep watching extreme pregnancy shows like 29 Cats, 13 Dogs, 27 Kids and Counting My Secret Pregnancy Fat Body).

There have been some worries: we found out that our baby has an abnormal heartbeat this week, for example (it beats like a speeded-up waltz—sort of) but the doc says that this is normal—it will right itself and is nothing to be worried about (I still worry).

Then there’s my concern that I’m somehow not planning properly, or that I’m not pre-bonding, or that I’m not supporting Rebecca enough. Again, this is common for dads-to-be, apparently (so says the pregnancy bible, What to Expect When You’re Expecting) and nothing to be worried about (I still worry).

Apropos of this, the latter fear is a little like a recurring nightmare I used to have: I’d find myself at school (possibly in my dinosaur pajamas or naked) only to find that I have an important exam that day, and have done absolutely no preparation. This, I’ve been led to believe, is also common for insecure people. (And nothing to worry about, nor, ironically, to be insecure about.)

So I do hope I’m baby-prepared; I do know that I am somewhat baby-competent already, having helped a few friends baby-sit here and there over the past 20 years.

So, tick tock: time moves ever onwards, such is its nature. These last fleeting weeks of being just a couple have been increasingly precious. We planned to do so much (the canceled Bali pre-babymoon, for example), but in the end, it’s just being together that counts, be it slumped in bed watching gloomy, clunky US cop shows, or slumped in Starbucks, post-shopping.

I only hope the increase in slumping conserves the time and energy needed for the post-baby chaos.

And on this point, for me there’s been an ongoing and very necessary readjustment of some deeply ingrained personality traits. I am a neatness and routine freak to the point of being obsessive-compulsive. I have my bedtime routine, my waking routine (and more), and a very strong need to be in control of what I am doing, and in my surroundings.

This can lead to antisocial behavior and attitudes: I don’t like people coming into the apartment and neither do I like being in large crowds. I am a man of few friends. I am at my happiest staying in with Rebecca and a cup of tea and a good movie. I turn my phone off at every opportunity and only reluctantly check email.

(How much of this is a converse reaction to some very-hard-partying in my 20s is arguable, and best argued with a shrink or pharmacologist. That said, I do swim and sunbathe and work out: I’m not a hermit, just a loner.)

So having a baby, with all the baby baggage, thousand-strong relatives, chaos, sick and poo and wee, and sleepless nights… All will require some considerable effort on my part—and so it should.

But I am making great strides already, I’m happy to report, at ease as I am now around Rebecca’s family with much-improved language and social skills, and with a sunnier disposition than I’ve had for many a year. I’m also enjoying talking to Rebecca’s tummy.

I am going to miss my “me time,” of course, and we will miss our “us time.” But in April there will only be “we time” for forever more. A daunting thought, but hey: just how hard can it be to be a parent?

Wedding Planning (the sequel)

This week, a year ago, Matthew and I were in massive stress. We were in the middle of a big art exhibition that we were both working on. His company, which held the event, hired my company to manage the media coverage. ALSO, we were at D-4 of our own engagement dinner, which means we had Matthew’s parents coming down from the UK that week. And this is all happening while I was still living in Bali and Matthew just recently moved to Jakarta.

We never (before and since) experience that level of stress and that jam-packed of a schedule. That one only confirmed my decision to quit my job and move to Jakarta, both of which were not desirable at all.

I landed in Jakarta two days before Christmas 2011 and I immediately dived into organizing our destination wedding that was scheduled in 3 months. With the help of three teams of wedding planner (from the chapel, the reception venue, and Bella Donna, bride’s professional little helpers), the party of 200 was a success. Everything went beautifully despite my sudden onset of severe urticaria.

And guess what, this week, I am doing it all over again: destination-wedding planning amidst business trips and events!

“But why? What for?” some of you ask just like my parents and friends did. Well, Matthew’s parents attended the engagement party but had to miss the wedding due to being elderly and frail. They also had to be on stand-by for Matthew’s 95 year-old grandmother since Matthew’s sister and her son will be travelling to Bali with us. So, to be fair to both sides of the family, we decided to do another wedding in Hampshire, UK, next month.

Half of Matthew's entire family!

Half of Matthew’s entire family!

Funny thing is, three of my friends get married these weeks, which means busy weekends for us on top of church activities leading up to Christmas. Also, two of my closest friends recently got engaged and are constantly calling me to consult about their 2013 wedding. So basically, I cannot run away from the whole wedding business.
Again, this wedding is a destination wedding. I am choosing and checking venues, menu, etc. from a far. My in-laws help, of course.

So far I have the church and reception venue booked. We’re going to have the blessing at Romsey Abbey, followed by lunch at The White Horse hotel.

Romsey Abbey exterior

Romsey Abbey exterior

The White Horse Hotel exterior

The White Horse Hotel exterior

My custom-made dress (for pregnant bride) is being made as we speak. The satin white gloves I bought from Amazon arrived at my in-laws house last week.

I will do hair and face myself. (I decided that Caucasian make up artist will not know what to do with my mixed Asian face and complexion)

The photographer is booked and we will just buy the hand bouquet at a local florist. What did I miss?

Oh, right! I need a long thick coat because this is going to be my first proper winter and I am not going to be my own “something blue” 😛

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!

Two years later…

There’s something about heading towards your 30’s. It makes you think about your 20’s. I have to say, though, I did not enjoy my early 20’s. From 20 to 24, I was under pressure to succeed: graduate on time with honours (√) and get my name on the masthead of a national publication (√).

After I got a job, I worked hard both to lose weight and get a promotion, which means working 9 to 9 and be at the gym for an hour everyday. Again, I achieved both and still unhappy. I didn’t know what it was; I thought it was just a quarter-life crisis. So before my 25th birthday in September 2008, I made a conscious decision to live my life carefree. (See the irony there? I planned to be more spontaneous.)

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Slingshot ride to celebrate 25th birthday

I quit my job in August 2008, joined a new company and after 8 months, accepted another job offer in June 2009. I still have the piles of old business cards in mint condition! I couldn’t (be bothered to) file my tax form because I had three jobs in one year.

I remember being miserable at 2009 New Year’s Eve party because I had nothing to look forward to. That’s what I said to my best friend that night. Especially that I wasn’t really happy with my new job I felt had nothing exciting waiting for me that year. Boy, could I be more wrong?

I made my biggest career move to Bali by mid 2009 and subsequently broke up a short-lived relationship that was not right anyway.

I finally learned that one really couldn’t plan one’s future. With that thought, I refused to buy a car or a house in Bali despite people’s advice. I couldn’t even commit to a year-advance airline promotion because my job required me to be able to travel in short notice.

One of those business trips was to Singapore, attending a trade event. The event is regular, but I didn’t know if I was gonna go and how long I was gonna be there because there’s a black-tie event in Jakarta that I also had to attend.

Little that I knew that it was THE trip that changed my life.

If you don’t know me, I should tell you that I lived my life like a Samantha Jones of Sex and The City. True to form: I was a PR pro who refused to settle down and saw men as interchangeable parts of a woman’s life.

So I went to Singapore with my “Samantha Jones” costumes lined up, along with the attitude *snaps*. That was without knowing that it was going to be my last stint as a carefree single woman.

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That night! (Notice how we sort of wanted to get closer to each other?)

It was the party where crème de la crème of Asian travel industry gathered where I met Matthew, the man of the evening and who eventually made an honest woman out of me. (Didn’t know it was possible!)

And just after Matthew and I recently mapped out our Q3 and Q4 travel plans, including my monthly business trip to Bali, my birthday celebration in London, and Christmas vacation in Hanoi, we were again being laughed at by fate.

Yup, mere two years after our first encounter at the coffee stand of Suntec Convention Centre Singapore, we found out: we’re pregnant.

Happy anniversary, honey! All I want for anniversary present is a good back rub and foot massage please 🙂