Monday, May 21, 2012

Best Baby Shower of All Time

Me and Jennie, hostess extraordinaire
Last month, Jennie hosted the most beautiful, personal, thoughtful and delicious baby shower of all time in my honor. She, Thor and others put in a tremendous amount of work to make my penguin-themed, high tea shower incredibly special and fun and I couldn't be more grateful.

Everything from the handmade penguin and snowflake decorations, to the baby trivia game, to the fabulous gluten free high tea goodies was elegant and perfect. Indeed, it's hard to imagine that Jennie spends her 9 - 5 hours crunching numbers when her talent for putting on the perfect party is this exceptional. She occupies a unique category of person that I made up to describe her: saint genius. A saint genius is someone who is both incredibly kind, patient and generous (saint) and also brilliant at the same time (genius). If you need help decorating your holiday table, assessing your finances, hemming your trousers, deciding where to go on holiday, hanging pictures, relationship advice or basically anything, Jennie is your lady.

The highlight of this already amazing shower was connecting to my friends in San Francisco and mom in LA who were all celebrating in their own way live via webcam. We encountered some of the normal problems that come with video chat: for a while we couldn't hear them and I always feel the need to shout, but for the most part it worked brilliantly. I was incredibly touched that Steph, Jess, Lee and Laura had gathered in San Francisco and had set up a party complete with decorations, food and gifts and had coordinated with Jennie on  organizing the video chat.
The food - can you believe most of this is GF?!

When Jennie first sent around an email invitation to the shower, I insisted that she include those ladies even though I knew they couldn't make it. They all used to live in Sydney and I consider them part of my core group of Sydney friends even though they've since moved back to the states. Still, seeing them on the webcam via the TV was a wonderful surprise.

Handmade penguin bunting, a treasure for the nursery made by Jennie and Thor


Another highlight was the multimedia trivia game that Thor created just for the party. He generated nine rounds (one for every month of pregnancy) of baby-related picture, video and music trivia questions. The content was fun and right up my alley; in one round, Thor used photos of celebs with their children and then photoshopped out the mom so you had to name the celeb mama. In another round, we had to identify movies about babies based on parts of the movie poster. Answering the most number of questions correctly by a good margin, Lisa was the clear winner, but I felt like a winner, too, because the trivia was so much fun.

Of course another highlight was catching up with lady friends who I know and love from book club, TA and Google. It was so sweet of all of them to celebrate with me and bring such gorgeous, generous gifts. I've since had way too much fun looking at, organizing, washing and then reorganizing and putting away these beautiful baby things. I'm confident that our little person has everything now that s/he could want in regard to toys, books and clothes. I know, though, that what our baby wants most is love and I've got a lot of that ready, too.
Girls just wanna have fun

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hi, I'm the least threatening person you know!

As a white woman without multiple visible tattoos, I was pretty used to appearing approachable to the general population. I visited Australian schools often in my role at TA and though I always followed school protocols for signing in as a visitor at the head office, no one at the schools seemed to question for an instant my right to be there. I truly believe that if you look the part and act like you belong, you can slip in almost anywhere. I knew that I wasn't a crazy lady, but did the schools really know that?
Would you talk to this woman?

Anyway, I've recently learned that pregnancy makes an already non-threatening looking woman even more approachable. I was prepared for strangers to try to touch my belly and fortunately, that has yet to happen. I wasn't prepared for what has actually been happening for weeks: lots of strangers talking to me in public.

I suspect people feel more inclined to chat to an obviously pregnant stranger because, just by looking at her, they're aware of one of the most important parts of her life. Most people who have approached me have been friendly and kind: store clerks asking when I'm due, people in our building asking if I know whether my baby is male or female, etc. Sometimes, though, comments can be mildly rude or revealing. A man recently looked at me and said, "my kids are grown up. I don't envy you." Ummm... thanks? Minutes later, a woman in the elevator asked when I was due and said "my daughter is struggling with IVF." I wished her the best of luck and she thanked me when she got out at her floor. Perhaps when people feel they know something personal about me, they feel they can tell me something equally personal about their own lives.

I'm convinced that I'm more approachable than ever because strangers often ask me about things totally unrelated to my pregnancy. A man in a furniture store asked my opinion about a chair and lots more people than ever before ask me for directions on the street.

There were plenty of early weeks when my pregnancy was only my business, but when someone offered up his seat on the train at 24 weeks, I knew I was definitely showing. Pregnancy has relatively few perks so I eagerly accepted the seats offered by strangers on buses and trains. I find it interesting that it's usually women my age who offer me a seat, but I don't believe that chivalry or courtesy from men in Australia is lacking. Instead, I believe that women are far more observant than men, particularly of a bulging belly. Mickey insists that almost every woman we pass on the sidewalk checks me out.

When I assume a less telling shape, I wonder if I'll miss the attention and smiles from strangers. Who knows? Maybe my baby will attract more attention, questions and conversations than my belly currently does. What I might miss, though, is the mischievous feeling that I could walk into almost any store, steal anything and get away with it. After all, who would suspect the pregnant lady?

Monday, May 14, 2012


It was only relatively recently that I learned about the concept of a babymoon: a last vacation for a couple before their baby arrives and presumably changes the way they travel forever. A babymoon was a must do for me and Mickey because we've always enjoyed travel and when I left work, only one of us had to take time off.
Posing on the veranda at Capers before our dinner at Margan

We considered returning to one of our favorite destinations, Hawaii (a 10 hour direct flight from here), and I even entertained thoughts of travelling to SE Asia where some of my TA friends are now living and working. At 33 weeks pregnant, though, long hours in any seat (especially an airplane seat) does a number on my back and getting immunizations and trying to avoid a stomach bug in Asia didn't sound like a picnic either. So, we opted for a holiday much closer to home.

We hired a car and drove an hour and a half north of Sydney to Toowoon Bay, a coastal town just south of The Entrance and just north of Terrigal. We chose this spot because Thor and Jennie had recently raved about Kims Beachside Retreat, a resort there in Toowoon Bay whose accommodation packages include gourmet buffet meals. Did someone say buffet to a pregnant lady?
Pregnant lady at a buffet

As you might guess from the name, Kims boasts a spectacular location directly on the beautiful beach. Though beach bungalows were available, Mickey and I opted for a terrace which was slightly cheaper and afforded more privacy. The decor in our bungalow was dated and not especially stylish and thus left a bit to be desired considering the price, but it was comfortable, clean and had the best shower I've used. It was large enough for two, complete with two overhead nozzles and six side nozzles for spraying jets of water at the rest of your body. I felt guilty about the amount of water we wasted when we turned on every nozzle, but consoled myself with the knowledge that Sydney's drought is long over, right?

This past summer, like the last four, was pretty wet and we didn't once make it out to Bondi or Manly for a swim in the ocean. The weather gods must have smiled on our babymoon, though, because we enjoyed lots of sunshine and I insisted that we get in the water every day that we were staying at Kims. The temperature felt brisk at first, but it was lovely once you got in. I savored every moment of my buoyancy in the salty waves.

Mickey and I prepared ourselves for these massive buffet meals by swimming of course, and taking bush and coastal walks. These were fun, but I felt sorry for Mickey in that I could only go so far before getting too hot and tired and needing a rest. He was a great sport about taking it easy.
Handsome man on the beach at Toowoon Bay

After spending three nights at Kims, we packed up and drove along a country road to our next destination, Wollombi in the Hunter Valley. I'd driven through Wollombi several times, but had never stayed there. It's a very small town (consisting of pretty much just a 't' intersection) south of Cessnock and the tourist center of the Hunter Valley.

I chose a B&B there, Capers Guest House, that had a fantastic host, but was ultimately a disappointment. The spa room with a fireplace sounded delightful, but it was too warm for a fire and the spa tub didn't hold a candle to the bathing luxuries available at Kims. Likewise, the room didn't have a television and almost every piece of furniture was upholstered in the same granny floral print. Worst of all, I had an allergic reaction to something in that room and sneezed all night despite the best efforts of my pregnancy-approved antihistamines. Again, the food and friendliness were top-notch at Capers, but I can't get over my disappointment with the room or the dead frog I almost bumped into with my mouth in the pool there. Yuck.

Fortunately, there was plenty to do, eat and sip outside of Wollombi in the Hunter Valley. Mickey tasted some excellent wines at Iron Gate, a winery whose managers are very defensive of their decision to use corks instead of screw caps, the norm here in Oz. We brought home a couple of bottles that Mickey generously won't open until a glass of wine becomes part of my life again. Later, we enjoyed a fantastic lazy lunch at Bistro Molines, a mod Oz/French bistro with excellent views over the Hunter Valley and a charming shabby chic/French country interior punctuated by bunches of gorgeous fresh flowers. (Kims and Capers, take note!)
Charm at Bistro Molines

Mickey didn't seem to mind that I wasn't up for lots of wine tasting so we spent another afternoon poking around the shops and playing mini golf near the Hunter Valley Gardens. As it was Easter weekend, this area soon became packed. We tried to have lunch at a cafe in the shopping center, but the managers had literally locked the doors because they "had too many customers." They told us to try again in thirty minutes. Oh, Australian customer service, you never cease to astound me.

The highlight of this leg of the trip was our dinner at Margan. The 15km stretch of road from Capers to Margan in Broke was windy, partially unpaved and especially treacherous in the dark. Mickey and I left the music off and gave all our concentration to looking out for roos and turning the highbeams on and off when we encountered other vehicles (which was rare). Fortunately, we made it safely to and from the restaurant and the meal we enjoyed there was worth all of the trouble. The focus of the menu is seasonal, locally-produced food (some of it grown/raised right there at the winery), the service was excellent and the price was very reasonable considering the quality of the food.

Very happy at Margan
To cap it all off, we saw not one but two families dining there with extremely well-behaved young children. I found this very encouraging to think that this babymoon was not our absolute last opportunity to enjoy travel and dining for the next eighteen years. Indeed, I try to remember what my friend and former boss Christina said about life with young children. She said that people tell you to enjoy your life now because your life is pretty much over when a baby shows up, but she says to ignore these people. With a young baby you obviously can't go out every night, but with some thoughtful planning, she said, you can still have the life you want. I can live with that.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

The Ultimate Birth Playlist

in front of the hospital gift shop, 36 weeks
In preparation for the moment when Mickey and I need to dash (or arrive leisurely) to the hospital for the birth of our baby, we've been studying checklists of items that belong in your hospital bag. Some of those items seem pretty obvious: toiletries, socks, etc., while others surprised me: lollipops to give the laboring mom energy, a swim suit for the partner so that he can support you in the shower.

We've also heard that you're welcome to bring CDs or an iPod and dock/speakers in order to listen to relaxing music or any type of music that might make labor slightly easier for the new mother. Though I hadn't thought about this before, I'm certainly willing to try anything that will make my birth experience feel more comfortable. A friend indicated that listening to her hypnobirthing CDs over and over again during labor and through contractions actually was very helpful.

So, for a while now, I've had "create the ultimate birth playlist" at the top of my to do list and I sort of don't know where to begin. The thought of creating a soundtrack to accompany one of the most alternately intense, boring, exciting, painful, emotional experiences of my life is both daunting and hilarious.

I guess relaxing music makes sense because a woman's labor progresses more efficiently when she feels comfortable. So, does that mean Enya? What about that wood flute music they play at day spas? Are there moments in labor when you want to hear upbeat music to motivate you through the pushing? I'm trying to imagine myself laboring to "Eye of the Tiger" or Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" (oh, we're halfway there!). Would that help or would I just want to punch somebody?

Alternatively, what kind of music might set a good tone for a C-section? I'm hoping that I won't require one, but if I do, what songs might make me most okay with having major abdominal surgery while awake? I've heard that the experience is surreal for many reasons, one of which is that a C-section is pretty routine for the surgeons and they sometimes discuss weekend golf plans while performing them. Meanwhile, the new mom is numb from the chest down during one of the most critical moments of her life. Should she distract herself by listening to surgeon chatter or focus on her partner and the soothing sounds of say, Norah Jones? I've always felt that listening to "Here Comes the Sun" by the Beatles can improve any situation so maybe that belongs on my playlist somewhere.

Years ago I heard about a woman who watched The Simpsons during labor and delivery. That always struck me as odd, but maybe television is a better distraction than music is. Mickey loaded our tablet up with episodes of my current favorite show Parks and Recreation so that I have the option to watch that at the hospital. Because watching the show makes everything less scary to me because it reminds me to not take life so seriously, it felt like the right choice.

Perhaps the more amusing question to contemplate is what do I absolutely NOT want to hear during labor and delivery? I enjoyed creating the 'do not play' list for our deejay for our wedding reception: no Disney, no Celine Dion, no Chicken Dance, etc. It tickles me to come up with songs that would be totally inappropriate for birthing: "Monster Mash" and anything you might hear at a Halloween parade, "Achy Breaky Heart" and any song that has its own dance, "Mambo Number Five," etc.

What about you? What's on your ultimate birth playlist? What wouldn't you want to hear? Ladies who have been there before, feel free to give me a reality check and tell me that there are parts of labor and delivery during which background music makes absolutely no difference.