2013: the year in review

I’ve been meaning to write a 2013 “year in review” post for a while now. And suddenly it’s February, which is a little late, but never mind. Rebecca’s in Bangkok (I just checked online and her fight has landed) and the nanny is taking care of the kid, so there’s no time like the present.

But where to begin? It was such a strange year. One of the best and one of the worst in my life. Such extremes: I generally wish my life was on a more even keel and less prone to spikes and dips and peaks and troughs but there you go. Life, eh? Can’t live with it; can’t live without it.

About a year ago, we “lost” mum, which was a devastating blow still being felt today. I use quotation marks since she didn’t die, and is still alive today. But this time last year, she started to act very weirdly—severe memory issues and behavioral changes were the main symptoms. It was as if she had sudden and acute-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which generally doesn’t come on like acutely and suddenly. The most worrying thing was when she went AWOL in her car one time: to this day, we still don’t know where she went and never will. That was when we knew it was serious.

So we had a battery of tests performed culminating in a brain biopsy, which revealed she had/has PML, a viral infection that normally infects HIV-positive people. It infected mum because her immune system was suppressed due to years of immunosuppressant drugs for her arthritis. I say “we” meaning my sister and my dad since I am a quadrillion miles away in Jakarta, so am largely a spectator in all of this. This situation makes it all the harder to deal with, a theme I will return to later.

The prognosis was bleak. PML stands for Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy, and the key words in there are “progressive” and “multifocal.” The disease attacks the brain in many areas and doesn’t stop; it is always fatal, we were told, and so rare that nobody could tell us really what to expect.

The end result was that mum was hospitalized and eventually ended up in a care home where she lives to this day among other mental patients, for want of a better phrase. She has had periods of extreme physical distress, including one where we thought it was the end (to the point where Rebecca and I mapped out a plan for me to attend her funeral); she has had moments of lucidity, though they are few and far between; she is generally unaware of her situation and the comings and goings of daily life. She is child-like and maddeningly contrary at times. But she’s our mum and we love her.

That’s now, of course. Back to my year in review and April 2013 saw the birth of baby Rayven Matthew Leppard. As I type this, I have a photo of him only hours old in front of me stating his date and time of birth (April 4 at 8:30pm). A moment of pure joy, although also not without its problems: Rebecca’s labour was painful and problematic and complicated, though it all started so beautifully. Her contractions came according to plan and we checked in and shored up for the big push, since we desperately wanted a normal birth and not a Caesarean. I was prepped for Rebecca to swear like a trooper at me and she was psyched for a world of pain.

It wasn’t to be. After many false starts, the contractions just didn’t get stronger and many excruciating examinations later, it was decided that Ray had to come out of the front door. So Rebecca was wheeled down to the operating theater with me in tow, eventually decked out in scrubs and boots. Then we entered the theater. It was a surreal experience: I was shielded by a sort of canopy up by her head so I couldn’t see the goings on in Rebecca’s tummy. At one point, they put her out completely and that was weird: one moment she was talking and the next she was unconscious and I found this very unsettling. This was the moment of the big push, and out Ray popped, screaming. He hasn’t really stopped since—more of which later.

In May, my grandmother died, which in and of itself wasn’t a big surprise (she was in her mid-90s), but the timing was quite bad. We had already “lost” mum and now we lost granny. In the end, neither of them got to meet my son, which is a regret I have to live with, but again such is life. And of course, the person who felt all this the most deeply was and is my father.

So with all the goings on and with Ray still in the newborn phase of sleeping and staring at the ceiling in between crying, Rebecca and I decided that we should visit the UK in August, to coincide with the Muslim holiday here in Indonesia. It was a strange and bittersweet trip: the reduced family got to meet Ray and we got to see mum, which was less of a shock than I thought it would be, largely because she was still “there” physically and occasionally mentally though there is no doubt she couldn’t really put together who we were and who Ray was.

The trip also gave us the opportunity to reconnect with my sister and father, which was much needed given all the stresses and happenings. Ray was on top form: fat and full-on with his crying, he didn’t let up for the whole time it seemed. It was also nice to see our nephew Thomas and Saffron’s husband Rich, as well as one or two friends. Warm and fragrant, the summer was in full flow: the nights were long and humid and it was in stark contrast to our winter visit there the previous Christmas.

Mum’s absence in her and dad’s home was one of the hardest adjustments to take, speaking of contrasts. Where before she had driven the house and home, now there was no driving force. My dad simply isn’t equipped to deal with life alone and the house felt incomplete and unfinished, wanting for life and ringing with absence and loneliness.

Still, we did manage to take mum out a few times for walks and trips into town and these, along with trips with dad and Saffron to Winchester and Bournemouth, remain my abiding memories of the trip.

Back to Jakarta and shortly after our trip, Rebecca started work at a local luxury hotel. This was a big blow to me, of course: my job is demanding and tiring and she had been my home-based angel of mercy since she moved to Jakarta shortly after I started my own job. Now, with baby on board, she was going to be working. I felt at a loss for a long time and found the adjustment hard (I still do at times). Ray was starting to be more demanding and mobile and suddenly needed day care. Rebecca’s mum stepped in but this could never be a permanent solution.

But we coped. We eventually found a good nanny and settled into a sort of routine. We both leave early in the morning together and then I get back from work a little earlier than Rebecca: with just about enough time to hit the gym and then prep Ray for sleep. Both of our jobs are demanding and Rebecca’s involves being on call in the hotel late into the night once a month. Again, a tough adjustment for me, but we coped. We always do.

A few months ago, Ray started pre-school in a gym in a local shopping mall. He bounces and crawls and gurgles and rattles all the toys (he started crawling at about the same time as he started school) and goes three times a week. Once with Rebecca and me and twice with grandma. He seems to enjoy it and it’s a good way of helping him get rid of all his excess energy, of which he seems to have a boundless supply. Ten months in and he’s more of a joy than he was at first, chattering endlessly and with a definite personality. He just recovered from his first serious illness: hand, foot and mouth disease, which saw him house-bound for two weeks.

So that’s about all for 2013. Rebecca and I ended the year in the Brewhouse at her hotel. It was a low-key affair but I managed to put away enough beers to overcome my social awkwardness and have a reasonably good time. Rebecca was in her element and we were happy. And in the end, that’s all that matters. The year won’t go down in memory as one of the best of my life, despite the birth of Ray: there is simply no way of offsetting the mum situation. But it had its fair share of moments, and those I will cherish.

Eat, drink, (not) be merry?

I gained 11 kilos during my university years due to eating high-calorie meals five times a day, including midnight snacking during crushing deadlines. I kept the weight until I started working and finally could afford gym membership and a nutritionist. I managed to lose 3 kilos and 10 cm in girth.

After four years of solid career work in Jakarta, I moved to Bali and pretty much threw in the towel on the diet front. I thought: I’m young and I want to live an island life: eat, drink and be merry. My only cardio was walking around five-star resorts in heels.

The alcohol- and pork-induced carefree life I had was over as soon as I moved back to Jakarta and subsequently became pregnant. I became very aware about my weight gain. First: my weight is recorded by the nurse. Second: if I gain more than 2 kilos in a month, my Obgyn will frown on me.

I’ve gained 15 kilos during my pregnancy and I still have a couple of weeks to go. But you know what: weight gain was the least of my problems, and I learned that the hard way.

As this pregnancy came much sooner than expected, Matthew and I wanted to savor our twosome time as much as we could. We’d planned a weekend getaway as our pre-babymoon. Tickets and hotel were booked and paid in advance. We got our flight permit from the Obgyn (even at 32 weeks along). At nine hours before the flight, I decided to cancel the trip.

COD: severe heartburn.

What a stupid reason to cancel a romantic trip, you’d say. You’re right! For weeks I had been having this terrible heartburn and we all thought it’s just the hormones. Well, it was the progesterone level that caused it but we should have worked around it. We should have altered my diet, which is hardly rocket science.

It’s now been a month since I quit red meat, high-fiber high-gas vegetables, acidic fruit, pasta, noodles, tea, coffee, baked goods, and chilli/sambal. It works! I no longer need to swallow an antacid every four hours. I no longer have to wake up in the middle of the night just to burp or let go of a massive fart (yes, pregnancy is really glamorous). I no longer have nausea. And more importantly, I feel normal and up for doing more activities like yoga and powerwalking.

Every day since I’ve been feeling better, I say to myself: if only we thought of this much sooner, we would’ve had that weekend away and we wouldn’t have spent millions of rupiah for nothing.

That was just a small example of how your diet really would define your health (and at the end: finance). People think diet only has to do with wight gain/loss. But no—so much physical discomfort is caused by a wrong or unbalanced diet. And by wrong, I don’t mean just junk food; I mean the wrong type of food for your personal lifestyle and preceeding health condition.

Yes it sucks to know that you can’t eat or drink certain things, but if you pay enough attention, your body won’t have to pay for it, and in the long run, you wont have to literally pay for it. There’s no point of living a long life full of discomfort, aches and pains, and to be drug dependant. My plan is to live large and die fabulous even when it means very limited access to sambal.

Image

(Pretending to cook) Wagyu and lobster fried rice at main kitchen of Flying Fish, Bali.

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.

Image

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.

Image

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).

Image

*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!

Image

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!

Image

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.
Image

On London’s double-decker tour bus!