Friday, April 26, 2013

Pregnant Expectations

When I was pregnant with Sam, I had a really easy and good experience. I felt good the whole time - no nausea, no puking, wasn't really tired until the last four weeks or so, kept up exercising (yoga 5 days a week until the end), ate healthy, worked full time until the end, was was awesome. I had friends who hated being pregnant, but that wasn't me. I totally didn't mind. Don't get me wrong - by the end I was pretty ready to get my body back, but it just wasn't that big of a deal for me.

Then, after Samara's birth, I never quite went back to normal. I didn't understand why I was taking so long to heal, why I couldn't exercise for so many months after, why I just didn't feel energetic or good, again, when many of my friends just snapped back to normal. This was the first time (in my life?) when I felt really limited by my body, and I wasn't sure there was anything I could do to make myself better. Turned out I had retained placenta for the first six weeks, and then after I had surgery from that, I was just a total wreck inside my body...and never quite healed until after my corrective surgery in Jan of last year. No wonder I didn't feel right.

We had wanted to have three kids, close together, so we had wanted to try to get pregnant again in Summer of 2011. Yet another expectation which had to be adjusted - my body was not capable of that, and I learned to accept that, and even accept the fact that Samara might be our only child (not that it was easy - it was horrible). By some crazy miracle, I did get pregnant, but again, I set expectations that my pregnancy would be like last time. I stayed active - didn't feel sick (though I did feel more tired from 5-9 weeks or so), did my yoga as much as possible, ate healthy and didn't slow down. Until I was forced to at 12 weeks when I started bleeding. My expectations of a normal, healthy pregnancy are so gone, and right now best case scenario only includes a healthy baby.

My friend Susie, probably my closest friend in Singapore, was on bed rest for six months, until November. As she was going through it, I thought a million times to myself "I could never do that. I would go mad." I totally didn't get what she was going through, or what she needed to pull her through. All I knew was that I felt horrible for her, I wanted her so badly to have a healthy baby, which she did, thank god, and I wouldn't be able to handle it if it were me.

Now it is me, and somehow I'm ok. If your doctor tells you that you have to do absolutely nothing to save your baby, you do it. I don't let myself think about the future - like barely next week. I REALLY try to not count down the days/weeks/months until the end. I don't think my brain can process this reality, since it's so different to what I'm used to living, but it's happening, and now it's been 13 weeks.

I am not wearing any of those cute pregnancy clothes. In fact I loaned out nearly all of my maternity work clothes from last time, since I am not able to work (though to be fair - my mat clothes for work are pretty ugly). Now that I get to leave the house a little, I do have to actually find clothes that fit me, but not too many of them.

I am absolutely not allowed to do yoga or exercise - this is probably the longest I will have ever gone in my LIFE without exercise. I am barely allowed to walk, can't bend over, squat, etc. - absolutely no yoga for me. I am eating somewhat healthy, as nearly everything I have eaten is from our house, and we're (99%) veg at home, generally without sweets. Though when I was not allowed to leave my bed, eating sorbet, a cookie, piece of chocolate, bubble tea was one of my only happy things in my I have been much less careful about this (though I still have only gained a couple of kgs, so hopefully it's ok). Last time I was careful to eat fish every so often and I was careful to eat some meat - now I just take what I can get.

I had the idea that having kids and being pregnant wouldn't slow me down - I would keep traveling, going out, etc., and this is the slowest I have ever been in my life. I will not be allowed to leave Singapore from Jan
until about 6 weeks after the baby is born. That's a damn long time (I have generally had a "leave once a month" policy since we have lived here).

So basically, all of my expectations have to be adjusted. I need to just get through each day, keeping this baby inside of me. I am not the parent I want to be right now (to either kid), not a fun wife, not a good friend, a terrible employee...but I am just waiting for it to be over. It's not at all what I would have wanted for a pregnancy, but yet again, I acknowledge that I am just so happy to be pregnant at all.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Taking Care of Little Ones - East vs. West

Clearly I can't speak for all westerners, or all Americans, nor can I say that all Asians or Chinese are something else, but I can say that we have had two helpers who are used to taking care of Asian children, and training them to take care of Samara has been an interesting experience. As we are starting to think about parenting a second child and training our new helper, Alma to care for a baby in a way that makes us most comfortable, it keeps coming up. Some examples:

Sleeping/Sleep Training:
When we were trying to teach Sam to put herself to sleep and sleep through the night (I think that was around 4 months?), we had to literally put Rose in a place where she couldn't hear her cry. She could not stand that we had asked her to not go to Sam when she cried. She said that you can rock a baby to sleep, or just hold them and they would stop crying. While this is true, we were very conscious to put her down when she slept and stopped rocking her to sleep at 2 months. I gave very clear instructions of exactly what she could do for naps and if we went out at night. Exactly how many books to read, stories to tell, songs to sing...When Sam was sleeping through the night, I told her that if she heard her crying if we were out for dinner or something, she should look at the clock, and she was not allowed to go into Sam's room until ten minutes had passed (Marla taught me this trick - ten minutes feels REALLY long when you're not looking at a clock and your baby is crying. Without watching the clock I can last about 2 minutes). In the 2+ years that Rose was with us, she went into Sam's room 2 times after she had gone to sleep, and we have probably gone in fewer than 8 (including the puking, fevery, or never quite fell asleep times) total. We always made sure that her crib was safe, so unless we thought she was super sick or really not going to calm down on her own, she was fine to cry there and ultimately go to sleep. A couple of times she cried for a long time and we found that she had taken off her sleep sac and pajamas...oops.

We interviewed helpers who slept in the same room as the babies. They were told to rock them to sleep every time they woke up. We interviewed one who had to hold the baby's hand at all hours in the night. She had to sleep next to the crib and never got a good night's sleep. For two years. Some say, "the baby wants to play" at 2am. Sure the baby wants to play. It's our job to teach them that 2am is not the best time for playing, keep the lights off and minimize interaction. This really seemed like a new idea to both of our helpers.

This one might just be me being a crazy mom (thanks to my hero, Weissbluth - and I'm forever grateful to Shana for sending it to me when I was pregnant with Sam!) not really a western/Asian thing, but I can say that both helpers have commented on this, that it's very different with Asian babies. We also see lots of babies and young at the mall or around Little India at 9 or 10pm. Samara is in bed by 7:30 every night unless there is a really special occasion. I have asked friends about this - and they say their kids also wake up around 7, but they just go to sleep late. They say they're not ready to sleep until midnight. Could be. Or could be that they're not given the opportunity. Though it also depends on the kid (I happen to have a sleeping child - and I bet our next one will be a nightmare - but maybe he/she will actually eat?).

We asked Rose not to run to Sam when she started crying. When she woke up from her nap, we asked that she let her stay in bed a little bit (again - she is safe). I didn't want Sam to understand that people will always run to her at the first second. If it really seemed like something was wrong or she was in pain, of course we should run to her, but otherwise, she can wait. If she was frustrated because she couldn't reach a toy, or if she wanted something she couldn't have, etc., she could just wait, and sometimes she was able to sort it out for herself. Sam did not cry a lot, as far as babies go, so perhaps I would feel differently if she cried a lot. This totally shocked Rose and has surprised Alma as well.

Playing and Independence:
I asked Rose to let Sam play independently for at least a couple of hours per day. With three adults and one child, there was ample time to clean, cook and care for a kid, hands-on. I asked her to do work in the kitchen when Sam was awake, putting her on a play mat, or in her jumperoo or seat or something, to let her just be and learn to entertain herself. This also shocked Rose. She said that babies in the Philippines and others whom she has cared for were carried mostly all day long. I asked her to give Sam one or two toys and just let her be. This goes back to the crying piece - if she cried - she could just let her try to sort it out for herself, and often she did. Rose got used to this, and often I would come home and Sam would be playing with her puzzles, toys, coloring or reading on her own - and she is happy to do it. While I think this is probably totally common in the US, because parents are often working and there isn't full-time help in the house, as I understand, this independent play is not quite as common here (both helpers comment on other kids they cared for needing to be played WITH at all times).

This also goes for the playground. Last week I went with Alma and Sam to the playground, and Alma was on top of her. She ran after her, everywhere she went, nearly keeping a hand on her at all times. She helped pick her up when she fell down, and she carried her off the top of the slide when she got to the top. I explained that she can sit down at the side of the playground when Sam is at the playground, and that unless Sam is climbing to somewhere high she should not be with her. She should always keep an eye on her...but that's about it. If she falls down, she MUST let her get up by herself, and if she hurts herself, rather than picking her up, just tell her to shake it off. Acknowledge that she hurt herself, but let her find her own solutions (it's never TOO bad...). Her previous employer had said to stay with the kids at all times. She was shocked at what I was asking her to do.

We have also had some fun with this one around eating. Alma mentioned that in her previous family she fed the kids - even the 8 year old - each bite. She held their cups while they drank. She cleared their plates and did everything from start to finish for their meal. I encourage her to give Sam her food, either something she can pick up and eat, or cut it into small pieces, give her a fork, and let her be. She can sit with her and talk to her or read her books (my full experiences/challenges with Sam's eating will be another post, now that they're somewhat stable, and it might even be helpful for other parents' experiences...), but she should absolutely not feed her. And she must encourage Sam to clear her dishes when she is finished. I want to teach her responsibility - remember, she has three adults caring for only her...plenty of people to clean up after her...always. We also practice this with throwing out her diapers, putting her laundry in her basket, cleaning up toys, etc. She doesn't always do this, but we try.

Again, I can't totally stereotype, but I can say that the instincts of our helpers have been very different to how we parent, and what we're asking them to do makes them extremely uncomfortable. Rose definitely got used to it (and actually really loved it because it was WAY less work for her - especially around the sleeping piece), and I hope Alma does too.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Chinese or Not?

Samara's school is in Chinese 2 of the 5 days per week. Her teachers say that she totally understands Chinese and speaks really well - even with a great accent. She sings songs all day long (like ALLL day long) and some sound like babbles. Perhaps those are Chinese? (one example below)

Today in a taxi on the way home, she was singing some song about a beehive and all of the bees. Then something about a baby bumblebee. Then she sang something else that sounded like babbles. So I asked the taxi driver, "uncle, you know what she is singing?" He said, "yes. Mommy, Daddy, I love you." Obviously.

In other news, we had a wonderful day, now that I'm allowed to leave the house a little bit. We went to a friend, Yael's, birthday lunch, though it was actually at a time when Sam has to sleep, so we went a bit early, and got to spend some time with Yael before we left. While there Sam swam with Matt in the pool, went in the ocean, walked through the sand...and ate the most I have ever seen her eat, ever. She was so happy and so fun. I mostly had to rest after that, but it was exciting enough.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ten Weeks of Bed Rest

Today concludes ten weeks of bed rest. When I say "concludes" I don't necessarily mean that it's ending, but just that ten weeks have passed, and it's sort of ending (but probably not really). Yesterday or today were the first time since 25 January that I:

  • Went shopping (I can't carry anything, but I can go along for the ride)
  • Had a meal in a restaurant (dim sum!)
  • Cooked
  • Washed dishes
  • Took a bus
  • Went downtown
  • Second time (other than the Passover seder) when I left the house to do something other than see a doctor or get a shot in my ass
I am at nearly 23 weeks now, and the baby is doing great, and I'm doing better. The pregnancy has mostly healed, but the doctor expects problems to come back around 28-32 weeks. He said that normally when people have what I had, and still have lots of stuff floating around in the amniotic fluid, that it usually becomes problematic in the third trimester. In the meantime, I get to enjoy limited mobility. We had our 22 week anatomy scan of the baby last week, and they said that all organs are in place and the measurements were as they should be. And yes, it's a boy or a girl.

Now I have been cleared to do some things that I don't have to do. I can go to the mall and walk around. I can get a haircut (I have been waiting for this for MONTHS! I am donating a foot of it!). I can go get my favorite coffee or food or bubble tea. I can go to a friend's house and sit. I still need to rest a lot, and I'm super weak from doing nothing for the last ten weeks. My muscles are so weak that I actually have bad balance because they can't pull me back up when I topple a little. I can barely step up a big step and lift myself. It's very weird, since I have always been such an active, healthy and strong person. 

I have now gained 2 kgs (about 4 pounds) in this pregnancy. It took something like 16 or 18 weeks before I passed my pre-pregnancy weight, because all of my muscle weight has disappeared and turned into baby (plus whatever else is in there) weight. My other weird symptom is that I'm nearly dead with my blood pressure - it's about 85/55. I guess bed rest really does make you relax!

In other news my mother will arrive tomorrow night and can help train our new helper, Alma. She worked for a Chinese family for five years, so she knows lots of Chinese cooking, but she doesn't know anything we eat - even the types of vegetables, pasta, cous cous...never heard of it. She is absolutely fantastic with Samara, and Samara loves her, so I'll take that any day over cooking (and now I can even cook a little bit! YEAH!). My mom will definitely have to teach her how to make challah, because that one I have never mastered, though I have tried.

Equally exciting is that Michigan is in the NCAA Finals!!! We will probably watch on Tuesday morning, either at our place with Slingbox or at our friend, Eric's, if it's on local TV. The Michigan Alumni Club in Singapore watches together, and they had more than 50 people for the Final Four game today! While I would love to join them, I don't think I could sit at a bar for 2 hours - a couch will do me better. Go Blue!!!!!

I think the next few weeks will be very difficult for me in terms of where I set my limits on activity, what I choose to do (get coffee, take Sam to school) and what I choose not to do (dishes, cleaning). I will do my best, and I'm sure Matt will have lots of opinions on the topic.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Tita Rose

I have consciously not posted about domestic help, as it has been one of the most challenging thing for me to deal with in the past few years. It has been a much harder transition for me than getting married (took a while, but we got the hang of it), having a kid (I'm pretty sure I was born to be a mom), getting an MBA (it wasn't even my choice! I swear Matt made me do it - see the getting married part above)...Now that our domestic helper of 2 years plus is leaving this week, I will do my best to sum up the complicated experience for me. I'm guessing this will be a long post.

When we moved to Singapore I learned about "helpers." I was admittedly SUPER judgmental about having a helper. It seemed like so many houses had a quiet Filipino lady who stayed in the kitchen, and it made me extremely uncomfortable. Most people didn't introduce me to their helpers, and they sort of floated quietly around the house. I grew up with a maid who came once a week, but she had the same status as us, had kids who went to my friends' school, and was like us - but just didn't have as many resources. The helpers here seemed to have a different status than their employers, and it didn't sit well with me. I vowed I would never have a helper, as it goes against who I am and how I work.

I then got a full time job and a few months later, got pregnant. When we looked into childcare, we learned that there are EXTREMELY few options for kids who are less than 18 months, and even at 18 months, day care was hard to find - it was schools. We couldn't find options anywhere near our house, and there are a few by our offices, but the hours were difficult. I knew one family who had kids in Singapore and didn't have a helper. ONE FAMILY (and the wife didn't work). We learned that the infrastructure is really set up for people to have helpers, and if you don't, it will be extremely difficult to have a kid and two jobs - perhaps impossible for us.

We decided to try it and see how it goes. We interviewed, looking for someone who has worked for an ex-pat family (there are loads of cultural differences inside the home, not to mention the cooking) and who has taken care of babies. We ended up with someone who was a bit too sophisticated for her job, and while she was a great person, we didn't feel we could trust her with our baby. We then decided to forget about ex-pat experience and baby experience, just looking for a good person with good work ethic. We found Rose when Sam was about 3 months old and she came to live with us right before I went back to work, when Sam was 4 months.

Rose's job as our "helper" is to facilitate our life, basically. She has set up all of the infrastructure so that we can work, enjoy being with Sam and enjoy our lives. And boy did it work. Her main priority is Samara, which means that since Sam was a baby, she was her full-time caregiver (I worked full time until October, a few months ago, when I switched to part-time). She takes her to the playground, the park and the mall, and on play dates with other kids in the condo. She takes her to music class, and she took her to the toddler "mommy and me" class that she was in for 6 months before she started school. Rose knew that when we were home we were in charge of Samara (99.9% of the time - very rarely perhaps one of us was home and the other had to shower...) and when we were out, Sam was her top priority. There were (many) days when I only saw Samara after work, around 6:45, until she went to sleep, around 7:30. Either Matt or I ALWAYS put Samara to sleep, until I was put on bed rest.

When Sam is sleeping or at school, Rose is also responsible for keeping our house clean. She usually does a big thorough clean on Saturdays but keeps it mostly neat, swept and dusted during the week. She also cooks dinner three times per week (we eat leftovers three nights and usually go out one), cuts fruit and veggies, keeps the kitchen organized, prepares all of Samara's food (she's a SUPER picky eater and eats about 7 items) and does the laundry and shopping. She usually does a big shop on Saturdays and picks things up as necessary throughout the week at the grocery store across the street. Saturdays she usually doesn't have any responsibilities with Samara and often would have lunch with friends or spend some time at the mall on her own. Sundays and public holidays she has been completely off. While we always offered for her to go out in the evenings, she very rarely took us up, and she often "babysat" for Samara, once we put her to sleep, while we went out with friends.

At first, I was so uncomfortable employing someone in my home, someone who doesn't feel comfortable eating at my dining room table with me, or someone who feels she needs to use a separate bathroom (seriously - like the Help? I have told her so many times that she can and should please use any bathroom in the house, but she won't)...It felt like even if I wanted her to be at the same "level" or social status as me, she didn't believe she was or could be. I decided that I would remind her that she is welcome to anything in the house, welcome to buy whatever food/toiletries she wants, and I would talk to her respectfully and treat her with respect, and that was the best I could do. Matt and I offered to help support her taking classes on entrepreneurship and other topics that would be a good investment in her future. She ended up taking a class on beauty (the one she wanted on caregiving was, and she did end up opening a bank account. The bank account is a big deal because it means that she doesn't feel the cash in her pocket every month, and we gave her saving incentives so that she would not just send everything back to her family in the Philippines. We encouraged her to save for an investment in her future - whatever she thought would be a good one. We tried to teach her to negotiate for a higher salary, review her work and ask for things that she wanted - all of which made her extremely uncomfortable and did not come natural at all. With all of this, we realized we couldn't make her into a businesswoman, or we couldn't make her into something she didn't want to be. We would offer her all different types of support, but ultimately she really needed to want to use some of it.

Rose stays in a room off of our kitchen, with a small bathroom attached. When we discussed with her if she would prefer this room or a bedroom "inside" the house, she said she wanted this room, because it would be completely her space, and she could be separated from us when she was done with her work for the day. We tried to make the room as nice as possible for her - buying a nice mattress and nice bed, putting up shelves, offering cable (she didn't want a TV, and we have since gotten rid of cable), buying her a radio, alarm, reading light, stand-up fan...but it is still extremely small, not air-conditioned and makes me feel sick. She has happily stayed in it for the last 2+ years, and she seems genuinely fine with it, and we regularly check in to see if there is anything she wants or needs, but it is VERY hard not to project my own feelings. This, along with the salary, and the fact that she is so far away from HER family is the hardest thing for me, and this has literally kept me up at nights. Many nights.

Rose is from a small village, about 4-10 hours bus ride from Manila (depending on the bus). She is separated from her husband and has a 12 year old son. Her parents take care of her son. While I have no idea how she spends her salary, I know that Rose supports them in some capacity, and it seems that her siblings, who work in Manila, also help out. Rose went back to visit in January 2012, and she said she preferred not to go again. She will next see her son in about two years, after three years away, when he will be 14.

She has been an amazing fit for my extreme uncomfortability with the issue - which has led to an extreme lack of management due to extreme amounts of guilt. She has a fantastic attitude, a wonderful smile, does everything we have asked (and remembers so we don't have to ask again) and way more. To be honest, I don't think we could have asked for a better situation.

Ideally, I would love to have a helper who comes in the morning and leaves in the evening - like a proper nanny. Unfortunately for us, there are a very limited number of helpers who do this, and most of them are local and much less reliable, as I understand. I don't know anyone who has done this successfully with a local, and I don't believe it is possible with foreigners. There is no minimum wage, and after interviewing a lot in the last few months, I believe that most in local homes are being paid SGD$400-500 per month and a bit more in ex-pat homes. Granted these helpers have all of their housing, food and other costs (toiletries, medical costs, dental costs, trip home, etc.) paid for by their employers, these salaries are extremely upsetting. We decided to pay her at the top of the pay scale and also offer large holiday bonuses (if we were happy with her work, which we were), but it all still doesn't sit well with me. How far off the market can we get?

We have done everything we could to make Rose feel comfortable, welcome and most of all respected while working in our home. We are lucky that she has not taken advantage of us (as our first helper did) and has done an incredible job taking care of Samara and doing all of her other work.

Towards the end of 2012 Rose decided to actively pursue making it to Canada, which she believes will be a good life for her and potentially her son. She believes that moving to be a domestic worker in Chile will help her get to Canada, as she heard that the Canadian embassy there is more accepting of Filipinos looking for work permits. She applied to be a domestic worker in Chile, got a job, signed a contract...and then told us she was leaving. This was right around the time that I was leaving for my work trip which would ultimately put me on bed rest (this is my tenth week on bed rest - but who's counting?). Two weeks ago Rose got her visa and she will be leaving us on Friday night.

As I mentioned, this is one of the hardest things I have done in my life, as it still doesn't sit well with me at all, but it has been the best experience possible, given all of that. Samara absolutely loves her Tita and will miss her so much. She has enabled our life in a way that we will never have again when we leave Singapore, and we appreciate it every single day.

Our new helper, Alma, is starting today, and she also seems wonderful. Unfortunately I know I will have the same anxieties and guilty feelings which I had with Rose, and it will be very hard to manage all of it from my position of power in my bed (that was a joke), but we will all do our best, and ultimately I will be extremely thankful for the opportunity to have this help, especially given my life right now.