Category Archives: Down Under

Pandemic Travelling

My family took the plunge last month and travelled overseas. I suppose it was technically ‘optional’ travel, but it didn’t feel very optional since we hadn’t seen Q.’s family since 2019 (the kids had not one, but two cousins who hadn’t been born the last time we were there). We wouldn’t have flown just for a vacation. I was very stressed about the decision, but we survived and came home Covid-free. I thought it might be useful to post about a few things that helped us travel without catching Covid.

There are many reports in the news about the chaos in Canada with renewing passports and the chaos at airports, and our personal experience attests that none of these reports is exaggerated. Getting the kids their Canadian passports was very stressful even though we started the application process long before our trip date (I’d like to acknowledge how amazing the Australians were at processing the applications, while also recognizing that we probably got better treatment because we were lodging the applications overseas as I’ve heard reports things are bad there too). When I finally picked up the kids’ passports (24 hours before our flight), I thought the worst was over. I was wrong.

We also fell afoul of the delays at the airports. Every flight we took to get to Australia was late. In two cases, we were late (at least partly) because the plane was waiting for late passengers. On both occasions, that lateness caused us to then miss our connecting flight (which did not wait for us). One of these missed connections led to an unexpected three-day layover in a city where we had not planned to spend more than 90 minutes. I do not think the airline is going to compensate us for any of this.

The total travel time (door-to-door) ended up being 113 hours, for a trip that is normally 24.

Like I said, I wouldn’t have chosen to fly this summer just for a vacation.

But we went, and (eventually) we got there, and we did have a good time. So here’s how we stayed Covid-free:

Luck

Let’s face it, in an era of ‘personal responsibility’ and lack of any government mandates or precautionary measures, you can’t actually be sure that you can protect yourself from catching Covid if you go out into the world. I’m very aware that we engaged in a number of high-risk activities, and the odds could have gone against us. We spent hours upon hours in airplanes or airports. We had to eat indoors on some occasions (including in airports and on airplanes). We didn’t do a lot of things we would have done in a pre-pandemic world, but we were also out in the world a LOT more than we had been at home. The house where we stayed the whole time we were overseas had people in it who didn’t mask and who participated in activities we wouldn’t feel comfortable doing (eating in restaurants, exercising in group settings indoors, etc.), and they continued with these behaviours while we were there. People were invited maskless into that house without rapid tests beforehand. There was an unmasked toddler sitting directly across the aisle from me on our long return flight who spent the entire trip coughing. We were lucky. We could create safer travel, not safe.

Privilege

Everything we did to make our travel safer cost money, or time, or both. We could afford an unexpected three-day layover that the airline will not be compensating us for. Travelling generally requires privilege. Travelling as we did requires even more. I had the time and the knowledge to navigate the system to fix the problem with the passports (including lining up outside one of the offices at 4.30 am to make sure I would be able to speak to an actual person).

The tools we used to keep ourselves safer cost money.

Public health shouldn’t depend on privilege.

Government Measures

Ok, there are almost no government measures left, but Canada still requires masks on airlines and in airports and THANK GOODNESS IT DOES.

Yes the air on the airplanes is heavily filtered, blah blah blah, but it wasn’t as good as I was expecting (more on that below). I saw a study (linked to on Twitter, can’t find it at the moment) which suggests that the filtering on airplanes makes the 18 inch space between your face and the person sitting next to you equivalent to a 2 meter distance. So the filtering does help, a lot, but without masks it’s not going to be enough.

Australia was also in a BA 5 wave while we were there and there was lots of hand-wringing and suggestions that it was strongly recommended to wear masks in indoor spaces, but no mandates, so guess what? Not many other people were wearing masks.

(Effective) Masks

We wore KN-95-equivalent masks everywhere, except in the house where we stayed and in two other relatives’ houses, who were part of our visit bubble (and who also aggressively rapid tested whenever anyone felt even the slightest bit off). Every public transit vehicle. Every shop. Every indoor space, and some outdoor spaces when they were crowded. I was really proud of my kids, who were almost always the only kids wearing a mask (and often no one else around us was masking). They masked up without complaint every time. They slept in their masks on the plane. They asked me whether I had masks whenever we left the house. When one of our relatives had a big family party four days before we left to come home, my kids put their masks on every single time they went into the house, even though they were surrounded by unmasked children.

We get our masks here (no affiliation, I just love them and want them to get all the recognition they deserve). I brought packs of their kid-sized masks for my SIL, who struggles to find good KN-95s for children in Australia.

When we took 113 hours to get there, we went through a crazy amount of masks. I packed way more than I thought we would need, and I’m so glad I did. I’m also glad we didn’t lose our luggage because I underestimated on the way there how many masks we would need to have in our carry on. Lesson learned.

The masks we buy cost $15.90 (plus tax) for 10. They’re good for eight hours continuous wearing (but in theory you can then air them out and reuse them if they’re not dirty/damaged – the kids’ masks have never made it past a full day of wear). We have spent hundreds on them in the past year.

Rapid (and Molecular) Tests

I brought 20 rapid tests on our trip. We used almost all of them. Some of them were free; some of them we bought online.

We used them to confirm none of us caught Covid on our (extended) journey there.

We used them to gather safely with family.

We used them whenever one of us appeared symptomatic. Some relatives we spent a lot of time with nearly always had cold/allergy symptoms (which inevitably transferred to us). So we all spent heaps of time doing rapid tests to be certain that’s all it was.

We also had a couple of the Lucira Check It molecular tests, which are an at-home PCR-level test. These are really expensive – $75 USD per test. One of my relatives has access to a steady supply of them as a work benefit, and they’re able to flick a few extras on to us. Without easy access to PCR testing, these help us determine whether we need to be masking the entire household during those days when a rapid test might produce a false negative.

We used one when E. had a weird rapid test result (a shadow, not a line, and not quite in the right spot for the second line) and one when Q. was sick with the other family’s cold and we had a big family event to attend. Both times the tests were negative. Both times the result was a huge relief.

Again, see privilege above.

CO2 Monitor

I made a somewhat impulse decision to buy a CO2 monitor right before we left on our trip. I’d borrowed one from a friend for a few days earlier in the spring, so I knew how useful they could be, but I’d been hesitating over the cost.

In the end, I took the plunge (because, privilege), and I am SO GLAD I did. I bought an Aranet4 from here (no affiliation but they were fabulous to deal with and so fast!), which was the one my friend (who is a ventilation engineer by profession) told me was the best one to get. Quick summary: the monitor provides readings every five minutes of the level of CO2 in the air. Outside air has around 420 ppm. 1200 ppm means about 2% of the air you’re breathing has already been in someone else’s lungs. Cleaner air = less chance of catching Covid. (The monitors don’t take into account the impact of HEPA filters.)

That monitor paid for itself when our outbound trip took 113 hours instead of 24. It told me how good the air was in the airports (in three of the four, exceptional; in the fourth, very good). It told me how good the air was in the airplanes (disappointingly high, although I know the air is heavily filtered). It told me how good the air was in the hotel we ended up staying in (very very good, including in the restaurant).

When you are flying/travelling continuously for as long as we were, you can’t refuse to eat or drink and just keep your mask on. It’s not possible or safe. The CO2 monitor let us make better choices about when/where to unmask. It’s a lot less stressful to eat indoors for the first time since the pandemic started when you can see that the air is reading 480 ppm.

The kids had a particular public transit route they desperately, desperately wanted to take – it was on their list of things they most wanted to do down under. We rode it, and learned the air quality wasn’t good enough. So on the return trip, we took a different option with better air.

Now that we’re back home, I’m going to use the CO2 monitor to help me figure out which things we can add back into our lives. Indoor spaces can be safe with masks (even without mandates) if the ventilation is good enough. Covid isn’t going away, and our governments don’t seem interested in doing the work to control it. I would like to be able to do more things with my kids, but I would also like to know that we’re choosing safer environments.

I’m also really excited about the potential of the Raven CleanAir Map, which hadn’t launched yet while we were away. This is an attempt to crowdsource CO2 readings of public spaces, to help everyone make better choices. Someone posted a reading for a packed movie theatre in my city. No mask mandate. The air was excellent! We haven’t been to the movies the entire pandemic, and I’m not sure I could cope with a full house, but maybe seeing a movie that’s been out for a while is a possibility for us now.

Governments should be requiring businesses and public spaces to post their CO2 readings, and should have incentive programs to improve the ventilation in buildings that are found to have inadequate airflow.

But they won’t, and they don’t, so citizen activism will have to fill in the gaps.

I hope this was helpful! Does anyone else have good travel tips?

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Filed under COVID-19, Down Under, Soapbox, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Indulgence

Sometimes you get to have a perfect day.

I’ve been working really hard since Q. and E. left. I have to write 3,000 words a day of lecture notes. If I keep to my schedule, I should have notes for half the lectures for one of my courses next semester, which *should* give me the breathing space I need to prep the half of the online course for the summer that I’ll have to teach after the baby comes.

So yesterday I gave myself the day off.

I was out of the house for well over twelve hours, and I had a blast the whole time.

The day started with a trip to the clinic. Not just any trip- my final visit there, no ifs, ands, or buts, under ANY circumstances. Yesterday, I graduated at 13w3d. I got a hug from Dr. B. and a mini-lecture about the importance of birth control after the baby comes. He looked at me and said, “I know it sounds ridiculous to talk about birth control with your giant two-part chart, but you need to think about it.”

How cool is that? I have to think about birth control!

The scan didn’t start out well because I had one of the techs who won’t say anything, and she scanned and clicked and scanned and clicked for ages and ages until I decided that the baby had probably died again (because it is still a surprise to me that it hasn’t). And then she turned the screen and pointed out how the baby was so much bigger and looked perfect. Baby was hanging out, waving arms around, and steadfastly staring up at the wand, so we once again failed to get one of those cute profile pics and instead have another shot where it looks like an alien and is showing off its brain.

I dumped all my sharps in the disposal bin, took the envelope of paperwork for my midwife, and pranced out of the clinic, likely only to return to show off the baby when s/he is born.

I am NOT SORRY to see the back of that place.

Then I went and had brunch with one of my best friends, who I never get to see often enough because she doesn’t live in this city, and we ordered the exact same thing (huevos rancheros with sour cream and avocado and home fries) and then nattered away when not telling each other how amazing the food was. (Sidenote: the baby is into avocado right now in a big way. I made toasted sandwiches with goat’s cheese and avocado and sundried tomatoes to go with my soup for dinner tonight and they tasted SO AMAZING I can’t even explain it to you.)

After that I walked down to the uni with her to where her meeting was, and then walked back up to my old stomping grounds (near where Q. and I lived our first year in this city). I pottered around for a while and purchased some candy at the Bulk Barn (for reasons which will be revealed later). Then I went and had a lunch meeting (I ordered a small lunch as I was still full of brunch goodness) with another friend of mine who was the course director this fall for one of the classes I’m teaching next semester. We had a good transition meeting and sorted out a few things.

Then I walked quite a long way downtown (I worked out by the end of the day I think I walked close to 10 kilometres) for a quick meeting with another board member of the organization where I volunteer. We hammered out a script for some telephone outreach we’re planning in the new year.

Then I did the most ridiculously decadent thing. I went and watched a movie in the middle of the afternoon.

Seriously. It does not get more decadent than that (at least, not in my world).

I saw The Martian, which was very enjoyable, and I ate my smuggled candy, which was very tasty, and I felt supremely happy even when stressed that Matt Damon might not get off of Mars.

Then I went outside (where it was suddenly cold and dark and windy!) and met up with my sister for burritos in a bowl with chips and guacamole (see- avocado again) and good conversation.

Then I finally headed home, and at the subway station I ran into a friend of mine from high school, whom I haven’t seen in easily twelve or thirteen years. She moved here about a month ago and lives (in the grand scheme of things) not that far from our neighbourhood. It never ceases to amaze me how often I run into people I know on the street, despite the size of this city.

At home the cats jumped all over me and complained about the lack of dinner, so I fed them and then chilled out on the couch until Q. and E. were around to Skype. We chatted (E. continues to have had absolutely no jet lag- he’s just been sleeping through every single night, starting with ten hours the first night and up to his usual twelve by the third) until E. got hungry and bored, and then we said goodnight.

I went to bed, supremely happy in every corner of my being.

It was an absolutely perfect day.

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Filed under Choose Happiness, Down Under, Me? Pregnant?!

Quiet

Last night I sent the two people  most precious to me in all the world through airport security where they would get on a plane and fly the long arc down across the ocean to a sun-burnt country.

They are somewhere over the Pacific right now as I type. I know their flight got into YVR on time, and that they left YVR a bit early. They should touch down at SYD around 6:15 p.m. my time, a little more than 24 hours after I said goodbye.

E. was fine saying goodbye. I think we gave him just enough lead time (one week) that he was able to process through his anxiety about the separation and by the time we got to the airport he was just excited to get on the plane. I picked him up for one last hug and he said, “Mummy, I think we might miss the plane if we do not go through security soon.” All right, kiddo. I get it. You’re ready.

I wasn’t.

My sister, C., came with us so that I did not have to drive back from the airport alone. She ended up doing the driving, as I have a miserable cold that is badly disrupting my sleep and I am not really functioning all that well. Her crazy ‘avoid traffic’ app took us on a convoluted route that did, eventually, as promised, lead us to where we needed to go, and we could chat the whole way and we weren’t stuck in traffic like we would have been on the highway. A successful trip all round.

The house is very quiet. I got out my best stuffed animal, the cougar that has been my most special of friends ever since I was two and a half. I still sleep with him when Q. is away because I have a ridiculously overactive imagination and I can’t cope otherwise. It’s an effort not to put a light on somewhere upstairs when I’m in the bed alone.

I worked out last night that I have never been alone in the house since E. was born. I have spent nights away from E., two full weeks when I went to the UK early in 2013, but I’ve always been the one to be somewhere else. And when Q. has been away, I have been here, with E.

It is strange that this used to be my normal. That we spent two and a half years in this house, just the two of us and the cats, and I would be alone whenever Q. was away. Now the house is so thoroughly permeated with E’s presence, it is hard to believe that he is gone and that I will not be able to hug him again for a month.

It was the right decision. He will have a wonderful time down under. It will be good for him to have so much time with his father, especially since Q. will be doing more of the school pick ups next semester because of my teaching schedule. And I have a lot of work to do, not least because I just picked up a third course  yesterday (the course director took another job and quit halfway through the year).

And there is a part of me that is looking forward to getting my own breakfasts without having to organize someone else’s first; to be able to take a long shower without having that tiny pulse of anxiety wondering whether maybe this time my child might not be just sitting downstairs quietly reading a book, but might have hurt himself; to be able to make plans for the afternoon that can go past 3:05 p.m.; to make dinners that don’t meet with Q.’s approval (beans and goose sausage wienies, I’m looking at you). And I’m looking forward to going home for the holidays to be able to visit with my family without the added layer of Q. and E., because as much as I love watching my son play with his grandparents and his aunties, it will be nice to be able to have some long conversations.

I might even be really daring and go out and see a movie or two while I’m still at home by myself. With popcorn even!

Q. and I went out for lunch yesterday to have a bit of time together before the flight (lunches with Q. is one of the best results of E. being in school). He was a bit worried that E. might eat too much junk food and watch too much television and go to bed too late while they were away. In general he felt discipline might break down entirely.

“Whatever,” I said. “It’s a month. Let him have fun. As long as he gets enough sleep and eats on a regular basis and doesn’t get a sunburn, who cares about the rest.”

I never stop being a mother. But for the next month, I am no longer responsible for E.

That is weird and freeing in equal measure.

I am going to miss them.

But I am also going to make sure I do not waste this time to myself.

It will likely not come again for a very long time.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, Down Under, E.- the fifth year, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Ok. This might actually really happen.

Our nuchal scan was yesterday. At first the tech said nothing and just scanned and scanned and clicked and clicked while I tried not to freak out. But then she tossed us a bone (“Heartbeat is very strong”) and I could mostly relax. It is still a surprise to me that the baby is alive at every scan, even though it manifestly should NOT be a surprise at this point. I am now at least three weeks past where we lost the last one (11w6d today), and I rationally know that my odds of having a baby with a severe birth defect are now higher than the odds of losing the baby (not that either set of odds is high). But I still worry.

Anyway, the baby looked perfect. The nuchal measurement was 1.3 mm, which is fantastic and even lower than E.’s was. Everything else also looked great. She showed us the feet, the fingers, etc. Baby was just chilling out, swallowing some amniotic fluid and occasionally flailing a limb, so it was easy for her to get the measurements she needed.

We also didn’t have to wait at all- it was a really quiet day, so we were out of the clinic within an hour, even with the longer ultrasound, and needing to get blood taken for the first round of the IPS screening, and seeing my doctor (who had to step out to take an emergency phone call part way through our chat).

Dr. B. wants me back in a week and a half for a final graduation visit as all the bloodwork should be back by then (the Harmony results weren’t back yet yesterday). But then I’ll be released from the clinic and will just see my midwives.

We had another chat about my thyroid and when I reminded him who  my endocrinologist is, he said, “Oh, Dr. W., he’s a legend!” Apparently my endocrinologist, as well as being the rudest man alive, is also the doctor who pushed for mandatory testing for thyroid function for newborns. Dr. B. said if anyone had earned the right to a ridiculous ego, it was him. So that was an eye opener.

When Q. and I were sitting there waiting to see the doctor, I looked at the photos and said to Q., “You know, I have just now realized that we might actually bring this baby home in June.”

“I know,” said Q. “It’s kind of hard to get your head around it.”

I am still twitchy and will stay twitchy probably for the rest of the pregnancy and certainly until the anatomy scan at the end of January as I know too many women (not even through blogs, but in my ‘real’ life) who have lost babies at 18 weeks or later. I know things happen. But I also know that getting to here is a major milestone and things look good at the moment. And that is worth celebrating.

Q. and I went out for lunch and ate too much high quality pizza and Italian cheese. Then we went to the mall to buy Q. a new wedding band (he somehow lost his in a pool change room a few weeks ago). I wasn’t sure we’d have time to do this before picking up E., but Q. went to the same place he bought my engagement ring in 2006, asked to see the wedding bands, took about 45 seconds to peruse them, confirmed with me which one was closest in size the one he’d lost, and decided to buy it. Even with having to size it we were out of there in under ten minutes. I love that man.

The only downside to yesterday was we’d agreed that if the scan went well we would break the news to E. that I wasn’t going to go to Australia. I haven’t been banned from flying by my doctor, but he didn’t exactly embrace the idea when I first mentioned it, and Q. and I both feel it is just not worth running the risk. It is a very long flight that is very hard on your body and we know if anything happened, even if it probably would have happened here anyway, we would always wonder what if. This is our last chance at a second child and nothing, not even a summer vacation on the beach at Christmas, is worth risking that.

E. was, as predicted, distraught. At first he ran down into the basement to cry and then he ran into the living room to hide behind the couch (his ‘snake house’) to cry. Then he determined that if I can’t fly, I should take a ship to Australia. Then he decided that if I couldn’t go, he wouldn’t go either and we’d just send Daddy. And no matter what we held out to him as positives (You get to miss school! You get to go to the beach! Mummy has to stay here and write lectures! We can Skype every day!), he would not shift on that. But gradually, gradually he started to come around. I told him about how I didn’t go to Australia when I was pregnant with him. We reminded him that I went to the UK without him for two weeks right before he turned two, and he had so much fun with his Grandpa he didn’t even want to Skype with me. We reminded him that Daddy went away for three weeks last summer. By bedtime he was manfully trying to cope with the news and was seriously discussing with me how we have to keep me “safe so the baby can keep growing properly”. Dear little thing. I am sure the airport goodbye will be very difficult (for all of us) but I know he will be fine once he is there, and I also know it is the right decision, even though it is gut wrenching for me to send him to the other side of the world.

The tech didn’t give us a print out of the typical cute profile shot (which is sort of annoying, but it’s not like I don’t have a pile of u/s photos of this baby). But this one I really like. It’s like the baby is waving and telling me, “Hey Mum! Look how well I am doing at growing both halves of my brain!”

IMG_4170

And then she gave us one of the 3D u/s photos as well. Q.: “I wish they just wouldn’t do that. They are little aliens right now and the 3D ultrasounds really emphasize that.”

So here is our little alien, with his/her hands up by his/her face. The link above goes to E’s nuchal scan post, and you can see a similar 3D shot there. Family alien resemblance?

IMG_4171

A baby. There’s really a baby in there.

It still boggles my mind.

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Filed under Down Under, E.- the fifth year, Me? Pregnant?!

The Importance of Place

Semi-spoiler alert: in this post, I discuss the setting of The Rosie Project by Gaeme Simsion. I don’t think anything I say here would be classified as a plot spoiler, but if you don’t want to know anything about the book, maybe skip this.

I read The Rosie Project a week or so ago.

I quite liked it. The narrator is a hoot. Some parts of the book are very funny.

But something kept bothering me while I was reading it, and it took me more than halfway through before I tweaked to what it was.

The book doesn’t feel Australian.

Ostensibly, The Rosie Project is set in Melbourne.

I kept forgetting this.

I forgot it so often that every time the narrator said or thought the word Melbourne, or anything else demonstrably Australian, it would jolt me out of my entranced state.

Oh yes, I would remind myself. It’s set in Melbourne.

And back I would go, and the story would reach out and draw me in again (because it is really a very good story), and I would nod along and laugh and think and lose myself until the next time it happened.

It got so bad that before I finished the book I looked up the author because I was CONVINCED he couldn’t possibly be Australian.

He is.

All right, he was born in New Zealand, but he’s lived in Melbourne for a long time, and, in my view, that means he ought to have known better. His book shouldn’t sound like it was written by an American, but it does.

Partly this is because the narrator refers to himself (and others) throughout the book as “tenured” professors.

Australian universities don’t have tenure. They offer full-time, continuing appointments, but those positions are not equivalent to North American tenured posts in terms of job security. Full-time, continuing professors can, and do, lose their jobs if a university restructures.

I don’t know why Simsion made this error (repeatedly through the book), one that could have been so easily avoided (seriously: one mouse click on Google will show you the absence of tenure).

I’m probably hypersensitive to it, because I work in academia and I’ve lived in Australia and I’m married to an Australian who has been an academic in Australia and is now a tenured academic in Canada.

But to me this was just the straw that broke the camel’s back because nothing, nothing about this book felt Australian.

The characters didn’t sound Australian.

The landscape and the weather played absolutely no role in the novel. I think once there was mention of a beach. But otherwise, without the occasional reminders that hey! We’re in Melbourne! there was nothing to prevent the reader from assuming the novel was set in some American city (except,  obviously for the part where characters go to the U.S. and that’s a big deal, but until then, nada).

If you have been to Australia, if you have lived in Australia, you know how powerful a presence the landscape and the weather can be. The light there is like nowhere else on earth. The heat can be extraordinary. If you live on the coast (as most Australians do), the ocean and the beach are always just around the corner.

I like reading Australian literature because the relationship to the land is very similar to that found in Canadian literature. We’re both big, young countries with colonial histories, (relatively) thinly populated, with most of our population clustered in a narrow region (the coast for Australia, the U.S. border for Canada). Much of our land mass is harsh and inhospitable. The land is a constant in our literature, sometimes warm, sometimes brooding, sometimes ferocious, but always, always present.

Canadians and Australians, I’ve always felt, have a similar relationship with the land on/in which they live.

There is nothing of this in The Rosie Project.

And I get that the narrator is not the type of person who would notice or care about the weather, or the landscape.

But the people around him would.

And they would sound Australian, in their choice of vocabulary, their turns of phrase, their conversations, even if he didn’t.

They don’t.

And so, no matter how much I liked the story, the execution of it left me feeling vaguely empty, as though I had almost read a great book, but not quite.

Have you read it too? Did you have the same reaction, or am I the only one sitting in my living room grumbling?

 

 

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Filed under Books, Down Under

Travel tips

Dear Turia,

Here are some helpful things to remember the next time you travel down under.

  • It is actually winter there at this time of year. I know it’s ‘winter’ and there’s no snow, and half the time the daytime high is comparable to a pleasant spring day in your part of the Great White North, but your memories weren’t exaggerating about how cold the houses were going to be. Yes, you can pack your slippers and your giant cozy sweater. No, they are not taking up too much space.
  • But pack some shorts. And if you go to the coast, take them. You might get to wear them. Packing six pairs of shorts for E., however, is ambitious.
  • Don’t bother bringing running gear unless you are actually running regularly BEFORE you leave for the airport. You’ve done this twice now. If you’re not in a pattern of regular running before the holiday, you’re not going to magically find the time to start while there. Stop wasting space that your giant cozy sweater could be using.
  • Stop thinking you’re going to read books on the plane. You won’t have the brain capacity. Just admit you’re going to watch movies (at least when E.’s not asking you questions), and stop packing books. They’re heavy.
  • Learn to say no to alcohol, puddings, morning and afternoon teas, etc., at least some of the time. If you’re not running, you can’t eat whatever you want, whenever you want, for a month without consequences.
  • Do whatever it takes to achieve a quiet life on the plane. You’re never going to see those people again. If E. is happy to watch 17 hours of television, and he’s quiet the whole flight (because he’s either sleeping or watching television) except for when he’s shrieking with laughter at the television, call that a win. You are not a bad parent for doing this.
  • Do not turn into your mother. Yes, I understand that you’ve been sucked into the world of bird-watching. Q. has a very low tolerance for such activities. Strive for the happy medium.
  • Don’t think it will be a cheap holiday. Yes, you’re staying with family. Yes, you’re not doing a lot of travelling around. But you seem to always forget how expensive Q.’s country is, and how much Q.’s family likes to eat out. Coffees cost $4 and tea isn’t any cheaper. Just get used to it.
  • Use jet lag to your advantage. All routines go out the window on such a trip. Why not embrace the chaos and use it for good? Upon returning from this trip you managed to get E. to start brushing his teeth after breakfast, to get dressed after breakfast, to sleep in his medium-sized guy bed rather than a crib, and to start sitting on (and using!!!) the potty. All without arguments or hysterics. Frankly, looking at that list, the sky’s the limit.
  • Don’t think of it as a ‘vacation’. It’s not going to be relaxing. It will probably get easier as E. gets older, but it’s never going to feel like a break. You’re going to come home exhausted. Make sure to take lots of pictures and see some things you’ve never seen before. That’s what you’ll remember in the years to come.
  • Don’t regret the life you have. Oz has a funny habit of putting on a good show every time you go to visit. The weather’s amazing, Q.’s city has the most beautiful harbour in the world (and you never get tired of the view from the train as you ride across the Bridge), the newspapers are better, the dairy products are amazing, the trains are so much more civilized. Remember that you can’t afford to live in Q.’s city. Remember how much you hate the summers there. Remember that most things that crawl or slither can kill you. Remember that there is a casual acceptance of racism that you were never able to be reconciled to. Remember how far away it is from everywhere else. It is the best place in the world to visit, but you don’t want to stay there forever.
  • Try to be nicer. Granted, a month is too long to spend with family (as you and Q. both agree). Granted, they are going to say some truly hurtful things that imply your life as it stands must be terrible because you don’t live where they do, and they are going to continue to ask some truly ignorant questions about your country (no matter how many times they come to visit), and they are going to make some very passive-aggressive (or sometimes just plain aggressive) judgments about your parenting and about your son. Remember that Q. chose you. He loves you. You have a good life. His family misses him terribly, and they don’t understand why he moved across the world. Remember that they love E. with all their hearts. Try to cut them a bit more slack, even when they are driving you absolutely fucking crazy. You make this resolution every time you visit. Try to keep it next time.

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Filed under Down Under, Family, Running, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Resurfacing

Well, hello again.

So where am I at?

When last I wrote, I was facing down the start of a ridiculous month of deadlines. I was, not to put too fine a point on it, panicking.

Here’s what happened.

I eventually gave up and went to my doctor and got antibiotics so that I could stop being sick. I just couldn’t shake it on my own.

I marked all of my students’ assignments and tallied their final grades.

I finished the draft of my dissertation and gave it to my supervisor on time.

The next week I wrote the first conference paper and presented it. It was well received. I wrote the second conference paper while away at the first conference.

Then I wrote my final language exam. I thought I had done well enough that I might maybe, maybe, squeak a viva rather than being failed outright.

They passed me outright. No idea how I managed that, given the mess I made of the final passage, but I’ll take it and run. That made for all four translation exams (two ancient, two modern) passed on the first attempt. I’m the only graduate student in my program to have done this.

The day after the language exam I gave my second conference paper. It was fine.

That weekend my supervisor sent back my thesis, which he had actually read, and read carefully, in two weeks (this is pretty much unheard of in academia). He sent it back with 28 pages of typed comments. Not one was “you have to rewrite this entire chapter/section because it is terrible”.

That Monday Q. went overseas for three weeks. I was on my own with E. for a week, and then had two weeks with grandparents there to help (my dad for the first, my mum for the second).

I worked 12-14 hour days on the dissertation those two weeks. My days went like this: wake up in a panic around 5 a.m. and work at the kitchen table until E. woke up. Then have breakfast with E., and take him to nursery school if it was a nursery school day. Then go to the library. Work until a bit before 5, with a fifteen or twenty minute break for lunch (as much time as it took to get down to the cafeteria level, eat a sandwich, and go back up to the stacks), then get home in time to cook dinner. After dinner put E. to bed and then work until 10:30 or 11 p.m. before going to bed. Repeat.

I am so grateful my parents were able to help. I wouldn’t have been able to get the revisions done otherwise. Even if Q. had been here, he would have had his own deadlines to meet, and I needed every single hour I could get.

I didn’t get every i dotted and every t crossed. This led me to have a massive anxiety attack one night when it became apparent I was going to have to make substantial changes to the introduction where I just lay in bed and cried until I fell asleep, but by the morning I had accepted this and could focus on finishing what I could finish rather than stressing about the revisions that needed more time than I could give them at that point.

But I got it done.

Q. got home on a Saturday night.

Sunday night I finished the table of contents and then turned the draft into a PDF.

Monday morning Q. went up to work, printed the draft out and delivered the hard copies to my committee members, while I did my last duty day at E.’s nursery school.

Monday afternoon Q. and I packed, took apart E.’s crib, and set up his new medium-sized bed.

Late Monday afternoon I picked E. up from nursery school. We had just enough time at home for a quick snack (making sure he didn’t go up and see the change in his room) and then my sister drove us to the airport. That night we flew down under, where we’ve been for the last month, and where I thought I’d have loads of time to blog except that it turned out my MIL scheduled pretty much our every waking minute.

It’s been a bit manic, to be honest.

We’re home now, jet lagged as anything (two nights ago E. slept for less than four hours total), but glad to be back.

Expect more from this space in the near future.

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Filed under (Pre)School Days, Anxiety Overload, Down Under, Family, PhD, The Sick, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Twice as nice?

I have spent a LOT of time mulling over the big issue with this IVF.

One embryo or two?

I realize that this may look like I’m getting ahead of myself. We haven’t even started stimming yet, let alone hit retrieval or transfer. We don’t know how many embryos we’ll have, or what quality they’ll be, or even if we’re going to make it to blastocysts.

Rationally I know that, and I understand that, in some ways, investing all this time and emotional energy in this issue  now is putting the cart before the horse.

But at the same time, it’s an important decision, and if I leave it until the moment where we HAVE to make the decision, I won’t be able to give it the thought it deserves.

E. is the product of a two embryo fresh transfer.

To me, that is the biggest reason for doing this again. This is what worked. We’ve had quite a few cycles now of things not working- eight other embryos in five other transfers have not worked, to be exact.

So there is the temptation to do the same thing again.

It’s also more than likely that a two embryo transfer would produce a singleton, just like with E. My sister did some research for me and discovered that, in my age group, a two embryo transfer that produced a successful (i.e., live birth) pregnancy resulted in a singleton 80% of the time.

And, of course, the odds of achieving any pregnancy are better with a two embryo transfer than with just one, although I’m getting the sense that just how much better is now quite heavily debated.

If we had insurance coverage for procedures, if cost was no issue, I would gladly do an elective single embryo transfer.

But we don’t, and it is, and we’re running out of options.

Plus, my body hasn’t exactly proved itself to be all that welcoming to those little balls of cells. E. is, let’s remember, my only pregnancy. We’ve transferred ten embryos (six Day 3s and four blastocysts) and only one of them stuck (that chemical pregnancy from the FET in October 2009 really doesn’t count given my initial beta was so low it was practically zero).

Every time I start to try to wrap my head around a twin pregnancy, however, I start to freak out.

In June a pair of articles on Babble garnered a lot of attention. They were written (anonymously) by a couple expecting twins. They used IVF to try to give their son a sibling. They hemmed and hawed and finally decided to transfer two embryos. They weren’t expecting, nor did they want twins, but that’s what they got.

Their articles were brutally honest. The reactions from the public were just plain brutal.

Admittedly, they didn’t always express themselves in a way that would encourage readers to empathize with their situation. But when I read the articles, especially the one written by the mum, I understood where they were coming from. I could see the anxiety, the fear, the sense of having lost control over the life that they thought they were going to have. I found another article written just this week, whose author also gave voice to some of the fears that I harbour, especially those concerning having to ignore the needs of one child to meet the needs of the other, something that I would face the moment I had two children, but something that would be even more heightened with the arrival of two babies simultaneously.

It’s easy for people to judge when they haven’t had to resort to IVF to get pregnant. Most people don’t even have to consider the issue of twins. Even mothers who end up with twins in a natural pregnancy haven’t had to weigh the decision whether to transfer one, or take the risk with two.

I know there are women out there who could go into a first ultrasound, see two heartbeats, take a moment to be overwhelmed, and then just be filled with gratitude for the two lives they were growing.

I’m not one of those women.

Everything about twins scares me. The high-risk pregnancy, when my pregnancy with E. and my experiences with my midwives had helped so much to heal the wounds of infertility. The fourth trimester, when I escaped PPD by the skin of my teeth when dealing only with one baby and with a husband who largely worked from home so he could be there for mental health checks much of the time. The whole first year, which, now that it is long behind us, has really driven home to me how much I prefer toddlers. Someone on my birth club the other day was commenting about how she longs for another baby, and I just found myself shaking my head. I want another child. Another baby? I’ll deal with that, because I’ll have to, but honestly, if I could outsource child rearing for the first fifteen/sixteen months or so, and get them back when they’re walking, sleeping through the night, down to one nap, and starting to really communicate, I’d be seriously tempted. I make no apologies for this either- the birth club has taught me that some people are just best suited to some phases of children’s lives. There are some mums on there who adore the teeny tiny baby phase and then there are a few of us who have really come into our own with toddlerhood.

Plus there are the associated financial costs of three kids rather than two. I don’t think the couple should have phrased it in terms of wanting to take their kids to Disneyland, but three university funds rather than two is not a small difference. We’d have to buy a car. It would be another ticket to see Q.’s family every couple of years. Maybe this sounds shallow, to worry about having to buy a car or about airline tickets, but it’s the sort of thing I think about. It’s the reality of how our life would change. I think it would be naive not to think about these sorts of implications.

Plus there would be the impact on my career. Twins would basically ensure that my career would be over before it started, as we would never be able to afford to have them in any sort of full-time care that would allow me to do anything in the academic world beyond very occasional contract teaching. (Daycare in my city, especially for the under 2s, costs significantly more than our mortgage payment.) You don’t recover from that sort of career path, and the first few years after your PhD is finished are your one chance to land a permanent position (assuming one even exists). I’m sure eventually, once they were in school, I’d be able to scrape together some contract teaching, but the reality is we’d be a single income family for a lot longer than expected.

Plus there is the added strain on a marriage. I’ve written before that Q. and I, while not struggling, have had to work harder at our marriage since having E. I know having a second child would add another whole layer of pressure, but I have to think that adding twins would be a giant atom bomb. I worry about how Q. would react to the financial pressure of being the sole provider, while at the same time becoming a father of three. I worry about how we would both cope with the sleep deprivation- that was one of our biggest sources of tension when E. was little and he could have been so much worse. I worry about how I would find the support that I would need, when we have almost no family in the city.

Plus there is the impact on E. He is such a sweet, gentle, sensitive soul. I worry endlessly about disrupting his ordered little existence with the arrival of one baby, let alone two.

Etc. etc. etc.

I don’t think thinking these things makes me a bad or a selfish person. I have the right to feel anxiety about the possibility of such an unexpected (and enormous) change in our lives. I’d be worried about some of the same things even if there was only one baby on the way.

I kept reaching a stalemate: the fact that E., the only transfer that worked, was a two embryo transfer, vs. my abject terror at the thought of a twin pregnancy.

And then my birth club had a post one morning from a mum who was ready to try for a second, but her partner wasn’t on board, and she was asking the other mums how they knew if they wanted another. At first the conversation just pissed me off, because I’m pretty sensitive to pregnancy/baby talk on there right now, given some days it feels like EVERYONE else is either pregnant, has already had a baby since our May 2011 littlies, or their May 2011 baby was their last one. But then a couple of posts really hit home. One mum, when describing how her husband felt, really highlighted how I felt about the prospect of twins- the chaos of infancy, the extra financial costs- but then described how she viewed it: more love, more cuddles, more of life to share. And then two mums said they visualized what they wanted their dining room table to look like in twenty years.

THAT got me.

In the short term- pregnancy and birth and the first year- I cannot face the idea of twins. Even in the medium term the idea freaks me out. I’ve basically decided that the first four years would largely be an exercise in survival and if we made it out the other side with our marriage still intact and all three children healthy with no one suffering pyschological damage, I’ll call it a win.

But when push comes to shove, when I picture us sitting at our table two decades hence, and it’s a choice between dear sweet E. sitting there by himself, or the happy chaos that comes with three, it’s a no brainer.

I don’t want E. to be solely responsible for us when we hit our dotage.

I don’t want E. to be by himself if we don’t make it to our dotage.

I don’t want E. to miss out on having nieces or nephews of his own.

He will spend the rest of his life only seeing half of his family every two years (if that). I have no idea if he will ever have cousins who live close enough for him to count them as real friends.

I still have to talk to Q., but I know now how I feel about the situation.

Fuck it.

If we’re lucky enough to be given the choice, I’m voting for two.

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Filed under 2.0 IVF, Anxiety Overload, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Down Under, E.- the third year, Emotions, Midwives, Second Thoughts, Siblings

In dreams (2.0 FET #2, Day 15)

E. woke up last night. He went back to sleep at first, for about forty minutes, but then he woke up again and it was clear he was going to need some help to get fully settled. I went into his room, checked that his diaper hadn’t leaked, picked him up, and sat with him in the rocking chair for two minutes or so, just until he started rubbing his face with his bunny and flopping against my chest. Then I kissed him, put him back in the crib, and crawled back to bed. Given it was already 5 a.m. by that stage, I didn’t like my chances of falling asleep again, but, in the end, I did.

I had the most convoluted dream.

In the dream we were planning to go to Australia with my mother and my two sisters, and I kept freaking out because it was going to interfere with trying to have another baby, and I had to have another baby, because we didn’t want E. to be by himself, and what if something ever happened to E., how would we go on living? And then, in the dream, I felt this enormous rush of relief because I realized (as one does in dreams, where a complete shift in the dream reality seems perfectly normal) that we already had two children, that there were two little boys running around our house, not one, that we were taking both of them with us to Australia, so it didn’t matter at all- we didn’t have to try again, we didn’t have to worry, we had our family. In the dream I can remember shaking my head, bemused at my own silliness, wondering why on earth I was so concerned about this when our boys were right there.

And then I woke up. And the worst part of it, the very worst part, is it took me a moment to disentangle myself from the web the dream had woven. For a very brief moment, that second little boy seemed like a lived reality and not just a dream.

May it be so.

Transfer day tomorrow.

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Filed under 2.0 FET #2, Down Under, Emotions, My addled brain, Second Thoughts, Sleep

Family matters

September was always going to be crazy. We were going to be just back from our four months in the U.K., E. was starting nursery school, Q. and I were starting our academic year, and we were going back to the clinic for a FET. Lots of transitions, lots of new commitments, lots of scheduling and organization to sort out. We were prepared for it to be pretty hectic.

This week it just got so much worse.

Q. had a phone call. His grandfather- his last grandparent- had died, relatively unexpectedly.

We talked about it and looked at the flights and eventually decided that, yes, Q. would make a lightning trip down under for the funeral, just like he did last October when his grandmother died. We went online and bought Q. a ticket (hooray for emergency funds).

That decision meant I was no longer flying by myself this weekend to go to a family wedding, just as we’d originally planned, thinking it would be too much for E. on top of all the other changes. We went online and bought E. a ticket.

Q. is now going to miss his entire first week of the new semester. With his teaching load this means that he’ll be playing catch up for most of the rest of the year.

I’ve lost almost all of the prep time I thought I would have for my own work.

And all I keep thinking, practically every day, is, thank all the gods my sister is here.

My youngest sister just moved back home. She came in on the Labour Day weekend. She’s staying with us for a month or so while she gets herself organized.

We had already discussed that she might be able to make September a bit easier for us, providing another pair of hands around the house, a willing auntie ready and eager to play trains with her nephew.

I don’t know how we would get through the next week or so if she hadn’t been here. And the last week would have been so much more difficult without her.

She’s coming with me to the wedding so I’m not flying with E. by myself (she’d be going anyway, but not necessarily taking the same flights I’m on).

She’s going to put E. to bed on Wednesday night when I have a make up session for duty day training for E.’s nursery school, as Q. is now missing the training he was supposed to go to this weekend and won’t be back in time for the session I need to attend.

She’s going to play with E. and look after him while I go in to the clinic on Thursday morning for my lining check.

She’s happy to look after E. when it’s time for the FET the week after next.

She’s going to watch him when Q. and I have our first general meeting for the nursery school, and she volunteered to make E. dinner and suggested that Q. and I go out for dinner ourselves in the neighbourhood.

She took E. to the park last week so I could get a bit of work done.

She spent the morning with E. when I had to go in to the clinic for my sonohysterosalpingogram, so that Q. could get some work done.

She plays with him every evening when we’re getting dinner ready.

She’s able to give him that extra bit of attention right when he most needs it, when he’s feeling adrift and confused and worried about nursery school (he’s there by himself this afternoon- Q. left at lunch- and we haven’t had a phone call yet, which I think means everything has gone well).

She is worth her weight in GOLD.

It has been hard to be without family in the city for the last seventeen months. Q. and I haven’t been good about finding a babysitter. We weren’t ready- E. was still so little.

It had been on my (endless) list of things to do this fall, but I wasn’t looking forward to the process.

Having family in the city, having someone who loves our son unconditionally, who genuinely wants to spend time with him, who really truly loves him from the bottom of her heart, makes everything SO MUCH EASIER.

We’re not going to take her for granted.

We’re not going to abuse her willingness to hang out with E., to give us some adult-only time.

But the truth of the matter is I’d be pulling my hair out and weeping at the thought of trying to organize next week with Q. overseas if she wasn’t around. The FET would be just too much to manage on top of everything else. I might have had to cancel the cycle.

She’s keeping our heads above water right now.

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Filed under (Pre)School Days, 2.0 FET#1, Down Under, Family, FET, PhD