Baker

One-derlust: A Year of Travel

Hiking in the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona

By the time Everly turns one year old, she will have taken 21 flights!  That includes layovers, of course, but she has spent at least 10 weeks of her short life traveling the world. 

We always knew that we wanted to travel with our baby, but we are also aware that every baby is different (and we didn’t know if we would have a fussy child).  So we gave ourselves three months to adjust to life as new parents before daring to put her on a plane. Since then, we have been to the following destinations: Mexico, Hawaii (twice!), New Orleans, Florida, Santa Fe, Vancouver Island, boating to the Sunshine Coast, roadtripping in Spain, Mount Baker, Scottsdale, Sedona, and Whistler. It really has been a year of travel!

I decided to write this blog post because I’ve had a number of people ask how we managed to travel so frequently and with only carry-on luggage during Everly’s first year of life.  I will do another post later on my packing tips, but to date, these are our top tips for traveling with a baby.  Enjoy!

Carry-on only! Our Away suitcases, backpacks, and a stroller/carseat is all we bring when we travel with our baby!

Deciding Where to Go

It’s no surprise
that travel with a baby is challenging. 
But life as a new parent is going to be a sleep-deprived, unpredictable,
wonderful mess no matter where you are in the world, and that’s the attitude
you need to embrace when you decide to travel with your baby. 

Even though Robin and I are decidedly non-resort, non-big-tourist people, there is something to be said about the comforts of a resort when you’re a new parent.  We blindly booked our first trip to Tulum, Mexico when Everly was three months old and were in for a real surprise to learn that there was no potable water in the area.  Despite that inconvenience, we had an incredible time and didn’t regret the trip for a second.  But the rustic nature of a place like Tulum could be a major drawback for new parents.  The first thing to do is figure out what type of travel experience you want to have, your hard and soft constraints.

Despite rustic accommodations in Tulum, we had a great patio, just steps to the beach, complete with a hammock and foot-wash station

When I start
researching places to go with an infant, I always consider the following first:

  • proximity
    to hospitals and quality of medical care
  • whether
    or not we need special vaccinations
  • the number
    of flights needed and total hours of travel to and from
  • if
    there is a time change

Basically, I’m not going to go anywhere that’s unsafe or that would be difficult for us to receive medical care in case we ran into an emergency.  I also think carefully about how many hours we’ll be in transit and how uncomfortable all of us will be upon arrival.  When we went to Spain, for instance, it took Everly a full week to adjust to the 7-hour time difference, which meant that we spent the first week in a sleepless fog.  That kind of discomfort was something we expected and were prepared for, but it was definitely not relaxing and at times made for some pretty stressful days!

What a lot of our afternoons looked like in Spain as we battled jetlag with our 8 month old -- it was not an easy adjustment!

We have put off
going to Southeast Asia, even though it’s our #1 destination and we are itching
to go back with our daughter.  The reason
for this is because we’re still a little wary about the number of travel hours
it will take for us to reach destinations like Nusa Lembongan in Bali or
Palawan in the Philippines (factoring in layovers, local flights and/or
ferries). 

Rather than
travel too far abroad, we’ve spent much of the year exploring places closer to
our hometown or trying to find direct flights to places like Hawaii, Mexico, or
Arizona.  In particular, we were struck
by the adventure and beauty we could access in Sedona, Arizona, which happens
to be a 3-hour direct flight from Vancouver!

Hiking Mount Baker in Washington State -- only a two hour drive from Vancouver

No matter where
you decide to travel, rest assured that you’re going to create unforgettable
memories.  And, even if you run into
frustrating situations, remember that you would probably be experiencing just
as many back home too!

Booking Flights

In the seven years that Robin and I have been traveling together (and over 100 flights), we have only ever missed one flight.  It just so happened to be Everly’s first flight.  To Mexico.  At 6 ‘o clock in the morning.

One of my biggest tips for traveling with a baby is—if possible—to choose a flight in the late morning or early afternoon.  A 6 am flight means that you need to be at the airport by 4am.  Which means you need to be awake and getting everything ready to go around 2 or 3 am.  Don’t ever underestimate how much longer things take when you’re packing for a baby…AND when you also need to pack up your baby.  Definitely expect that your little one is going to throw up, have a blow out, or have a meltdown when you’re already late.  Or, what’s worse, she might decide not to sleep the night before, leaving you and your partner completely exhausted and unable to wake up to two alarms!  Flying too early or too late also messes up Baby’s sleep and feeding schedule, which can throw you off right at the start of your trip.  Since that (very expensive) day, we have tried to book flights that put us at the airport no earlier than 9am.

If you can afford to be choosy about flights, try to pick ones that give you a chance to relax on the flight so that you can start and end your vacation with a smile. It took us almost a week before we managed to adjust to the new time in Spain. We finally got to enjoy the beach at Tossa de Mar on our road trip through Catalonia!

If we need to
have a layover in our flight, we try to book ones that are at least 1.5 hours
long and no more than 3 hours.  There is
nothing more stressful than running through an airport with a stroller and baby
gear, especially if your little one needs a change of clothes, a feeding, or is
just plain fussy.  Alternatively, when
taking long haul flights, we’re now getting into the habit of breaking the trip
up with an overnight at an airport hotel rather than suffering through a full
day of travel, only to arrive at the destination exhausted and with a baby who
won’t sleep.  If you have the means and
time to tack on an extra night there and back with an overnight layover, you’ll
be rewarded with a much more relaxing start and end to your trip!

Choosing Seats

On Everly's second time to Hawaii, we were lucky enough to book seats with the free bassinet option. She was almost too big for the bassinet, but she still managed to sleep 4 out of the 6 hours!

Even though I’m a sucker for booking my flights on cheapoair.ca , when you have a baby, it’s often worth it to book with an airline directly or to have a travel agent help you with your seats.  We do this whenever we fly on points, and the agents always help us find the best seats for flying with a baby.  Here are some things to keep in mind when booking your seats on the plane:

  • If you’re flying direct, have a long layover, or you’re not in a rush to get off the plane, it can be worth it to book seats closer to the back of the plane.  Sometimes, there are more empty seats at the back AND it’s closer to the restroom.  It’s almost guaranteed that your baby will take at least one massive poop or have a blowout on the plane (from what I hear, Everly is not unique in this department!), so being close to the washroom can be a big help.
  • If you’re bringing your baby on your lap and you’re booking two seats (but there are three seats in the row), try booking the window and aisle seat and leaving the middle seat empty.  This gives you an extra chance that no one will book the middle seat—in which case, you can ask the check-in agent if you can bring your car seat on the flight!  This is a major bonus and can provide you with at least a few minutes of reprieve (or the chance to actually eat or drink without your baby on your lap).  
  • When you check in, always ask the agent if the flight is full or if there’s a chance that you can bring your car seat on the flight.  We’ve been lucky a couple times and even though we didn’t buy her a seat, we ended up getting to put her on one between us.
  • If you’re booking on a bigger plane, ask your travel agent about the bassinet option.  We took a flight to Hawaii and managed to book seats behind the bulkhead.  After the attendants finished their first round of service, they attached the bassinet in front of us and Everly managed to put in 4 hours of sleep—a major win!
  • When Everly got bigger and a lot more squirmy, we started buying her her own seat (like when we flew to Spain), or we have used points to fly business class and hold her on our lap.  The jury is out on which is a more comfortable and/or economical option, but my personal opinion is that any flight over 5-6 hours in length is far more comfortable if Everly has her own place to sleep. 

Up until she turned 6 months old, we always brought her Boppy on the plane. It allowed us to be more comfortable when she slept, and made breastfeeding throughout the trip much more comfortable!

Navigating the Airport and the Flight
Itself

The first thing
you want to figure out is your actual baby travel system.  You will most likely want a car seat that you
can bring with you for taxis, road trips, etc. 
And while you can rent a car seat once you land, we’ve always preferred
to bring our Nuna Pipa car seat because it’s super light and so easy to attach
in a car without bringing the
base.  It also works with most major
stroller brands as long as you buy the adapters, which will probably set you
back another $60-$75. 

Even though it’s one of the pricier strollers on the market, we went for the Babyzen Yoyo because we love how easy it folds up and how sturdy it is (we’ve taken it on the roughest cobblestone villages in Spain and the wheels are still going strong).  It’s super light and easy to manoeuvre, and she has no problem falling asleep in it!

Our Babyzen Yoyo stroller was pricey but such a good investment. He we are in Whistler this autumn, taking a walk around Lost Lake which is stroller (and dog!) friendly.

We usually gate
check the car seat and stroller (it’s free!) and pop Everly into her carrier
when we load the plane.  This allows for
a relaxed and stress-free boarding process. 
Plus, you always get priority boarding with a baby and have a lot of
extra time to settle into your seat.  We
not-so-secretly love bypassing all
the lines at the airport, and take full advantage of all the budging that we
get to do!

Up until Everly was 6 months old, I even brought her Boppy on the plane (and this was never counted as an extra item!).  We have always been lucky about how easily Everly sleeps on the plane, and having a pillow for her was more comfortable for me, especially when she was breastfeeding.  I also really appreciated having her Boppy with me on trips to help protect my back while nursing.

I’ve never noticed Everly to have any issues with air pressure and her ears on the plane, but many people suggest that you breastfeed, bottle feed, or give your baby a soother during take off and landing to help with clearing their ears (the swallow action helps to equalize pressure). 

As I mentioned before, chances are good that you’re going to need to change your baby at least once on the plane, and dealing with a blowout in a tiny airplane bathroom is an experience all on its own!  Bring a lot of wipes, at least two extra outfits, and then hope for the best!  The flight attendants are always so helpful and attentive, so be sure to ask for help if you need it.

Most people
probably dread having to sit beside a baby on a flight, especially if it’s an
overnight.  But these days, almost
everyone is plugged into their headphones and it’s unlikely that your screaming
baby is even heard.  Try to relax and
enjoy your time in the air.  I’m a big
believer that your baby will pick up on your energy!

Baby-friendly Activities

Tropical or warm destinations are always high on our list, but it’s important to remember that newborns shouldn’t be in the direct sun (at all!) and that they’re not supposed to wear sunscreen until 6 months.  This was a bit of a challenge for us when we took Everly to Mexico at three months, Hawaii at four months, and Florida at five months.  We invested in a great fold-up baby tent (which we quickly learned was not actually sun proof!), a terribly ugly full-body swimsuit, and a few bucket hats—some that never made it back from our travels. 

We bought this tent on Amazon. It folds up super small and can easily fit in a carry-on, but it's not sun proof, so we always attached an extra swaddle on top for UV protection. This was Everly enjoying the beach in Tulum at 3 months old!

Beach time is always high on our priority list, but most of our coastal adventures this year consisted of sitting under umbrellas or taking turns going swimming while the other watched Everly.  Luckily, she also loves the water, and as she got older and was able to sit up on her own, we began to make beach time more interactive and fun!

Beach time in the Florida Panhandle at 5 months old -- we had to take turns swimming and childminding

Enjoying a white sand beach at 5 months old (before she could sit up), with her cousin Naomi, in Florida. This pink full-bodied swimsuit wasn't very pretty, but it did the job of protecting her from the sun!

We’ve even taken
her kayaking in Mexico, paddle boarding on the Sunshine Coast of BC, and on a
4-day boat trip (essentially boat camping). 
Some of these activities were a little heart-stopping for me as a
protective mother, but my husband grew up on the water and has a calming
confidence when it comes to water activities.

Paddleboarding with a baby -- I held her while Robin paddled us around! Until she was 8 months old, we used this great infant life jacket that safely keeps her on her back. Now that she prefers to be on her tummy, we can't use it as much, but it was great for when she was little and immobile!

Whenever we visit a new place, we try to find at least one good walk or hike so that we get to enjoy some fresh air.  Most of the time, this means wearing Everly in the baby carrier, which she usually loves.  The most notable parts of our trips are always the moments we spend outside, discovering gorgeous vistas, mountains, forests, lakes, and valleys.

Discovering arches made out of schist rock in Cadaques, Spain

Probably my favourite travel picture of this year -- exploring Fay Canyon in Sedona at sunrise. It was 2 degrees Celcius before the sun came up and then promptly rose into the mid 20s.

Dining with a baby can be tricky or uncomfortable, but we’ve tried—as much as possible—to simply go to the places we would ordinarily go.  We have never been turned away from a restaurant, and most are happy to accommodate us even with the baby.  We’ve experienced some stressful meals, for sure, but we understand that sometimes we have to take turns eating while the other one rocks (or even takes a screaming baby for a 20 minute walk).  One of our favourite things to do is visit a local brewery, winery or find a great happy hour.  We have found most breweries and wineries around the world to be great with children!

On a roadtrip to Bralorne, BC (population 60!), we got to bring Everly into the town pub...and they even let us bring our dog, Lola in after she started barking from the steps out front. Baby at the bar!

Dinner al fresco in Girona, Spain. Not all our meals look this picturesque, but once in a while we get lucky and can even enjoy a bottle of cava! We have never been turned away from a restaurant because we had a baby with us!

Everly is not a napper and has never been on a nap schedule.  She sleeps rarely and when she feels like it, whether she’s in her crib at home or in her stroller.  I know this is a sensitive topic and I’m not bragging.  This is just the way that she is and we’ve always gone with the flow, planning when we can but also understanding that sometimes we will need to pause or head back to the hotel for a nap.  If we know that she’s tired but refuses to fall asleep, sometimes the best way to tire her out is to go for a walk in the stroller or a car ride.  We try to do some sight seeing while she’s napping if we’re already out, and have had some great walks around cities, in galleries, and museums. 

Checking out the Navajo blankets at Shiprock Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico

While there can be some early nights while traveling (especially if you’re dealing with a jetlagged baby), we try to choose hotels that have a restaurant and/or bar so that we don’t have to leave the hotel if we’re hungry.  It’s even better if the hotel offers room service so we can all stay in and relax if Baby decides it’s time for bed.  Now that we have a baby, we don’t mind paying a bit extra for a room with some little extras: a big patio, a fireplace, a Jacuzzi, or being right beside the beach.  Once Everly is asleep, it’s nice to have a relaxing place to hang out with a glass of wine!

Enjoying the views from the patio in our jacuzzi tub at the Sooke Harbour House, near Victoria on Vancouver Island

Other Tips

Travel can be so subjective, and the types of things we enjoy might be another family's nightmare. That being said, here are a few other things I've found useful as we traveled the globe:

  • Traveling with other family members (grandparents, siblings) or other friends with kids can be a really nice way to get some extra help--or at least some empathy! Whenever we can, we bring along others with us so that we have other adults to talk to (and hopefully some free babysitting!).
  • We've stayed at both hotels and Airbnb's this year, and they have their pros and cons. Depending on where we are in the world, we typically will start with a hotel because it's a little easier to settle in and often includes room service or at least has a restaurant on site. If you've had a long day of travel, the last thing you want to do is scout out a grocery store and then make your own food.
  • Always check with your accommodations to see if they provide a baby crib or pack 'n play (most do, or will with a surcharge).

Bottomline

When we travel, the main thing we think about is what kind of travel experience we want to have.  Then, we figure out if it’s suitable to bring a baby along with us.  For now, there are places high on our radar that we won’t visit: Panama, Colombia, the Philippines, Vietnam, South Africa.  We will wait until our baby is a little older and an even more seasoned traveller so that we can tailor our experiences to the things we really want to do.  But there are many places we wouldn’t hesitate to take our baby to before she turns two (and when we can still travel with her for free!): Curacao, Iceland, Portugal, maybe even Thailand! We hope she loves to wander and to wonder just as much as we do.

Getting inventive with sun cover while exploring secret watering holes in Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island

Testing out her sea legs! Baby took a four-day boating trip with us around the Sunshine Coast at 7 months old!

Sometimes we opt for rest and relaxation, like this adorable Airbnb in Scottsdale, Arizona, complete with cactus floaties in the private pool!


Baby Does Mexico

Travel with a newborn. When Everly turned three months old, we somewhat ambitiously (read: somewhat foolishly) embarked on even more new territory. We decided to take Baby to Mexico.

My husband and I have a shared love of travel and have been fortunate to have seen 17 countries in the past six years. We knew that if we were lucky enough to have a child that we would still do our best to see the world with a baby in tow. As spring break approached and Vancouver weather continued to be dreary and rainy, we whimsically began looking at sunny destinations.

Mexico had never been on our radar in previous years because of Zika and our years-long attempt to become pregnant. But with the virus risks becoming less severe and a new baby under the wing, Mexico was suddenly in the clear. Both Robin and I dislike all-inclusive resorts and huge hotel compounds, so we knew that we didn't want to go to Cancun or Puerto Vallarta. But Tulum had started to come up on my social media radar, so that is where our search began.

I had some pretty specific requirements for this vacation. I wanted a small, boutique hotel with easy access (read: steps) to the beach. It needed to have a restaurant on site, and be closely situated to a town for baby supplies. We eventually landed on Villa Las Estrellas -- a 14-room hotel along the beach and in perfect proximity to the main drag of Tulum beach.

In retrospect, Tulum was a terrible choice for a new baby! First, it's not a very kid-friendly place and most of the hotels are catered to adults. There is only one road through Tulum Beach, and while it's paved, there isn't really any sidewalk on either side. It's a dusty, narrow, and uneven road, so a stroller was pretty unthinkable. Luckily, we brought along our baby carrier which we used anytime we walked anywhere. In fact, the only time we used the stroller was at the airport!

Second, Tulum is rustic. Despite the IG-worthy pictures all over social media, Tulum does not have all the modern conveniences of other big cities. While there is running water, it's not potable in potable in many hotels. Most establishments (including our hotel) ask that you don't flush any paper down the toilet. Restaurants in Tulum are dreamy and delicious, but are very dark and often lit only by candles. It's common for them to be "off the grid" (no gas or electricity). All of this sounds right up our alley pre-baby, but with breast-pumping equipment and the fatigue that comes with being new parents, the little luxuries can make a big difference!

Despite the setbacks (not being able to wash my bottles or breast pump, for example), we loved Tulum. It was completely unlike any Mexican tourist area we had seen. Even during Spring Break, Tulum felt quiet. Restaurants were busy but even the most popular spots were able to seat us. Even though we brought an infant into decidedly non-baby eateries, we were never turned away. In fact, every restaurant was accommodating and went out of their way to make our meal enjoyable. This wasn't hard since dining in Tulum has some of the best food we've experienced abroad! Notable meals included Cenzontle, Arca, and Gitano -- seriously, just check out these links for major swoon-worthy, open-air restaurants. I can't properly describe how romantic and delicious these restaurants were (especially in my new-parent brain haze), but it's safe to say that you're in for a treat if you stumble into any one of them!

Dining in Tulum would be fulfilling on its own, but we were also taken aback by the amount of yoga available at our fingertips. Since we did almost no research before arriving, we weren't aware that Tulum has a reputation as a yoga and wellness mecca. Just beside our hotel was Yoga Shala Tulum, a yoga-inspired hotel with daily classes. We were delighted to discover that Everly could come to class with us, and we had the pleasure of introducing Baby to her first yoga class at three months old! She particularly liked the singing bowls during savasana!

No trip to Mexico is complete without at least one excursion. We didn't know how possible it would be to take Baby out in the sun for very long, and most of the tourist booths didn't think a newborn was fit for long hours in transit. We almost gave up on seeing a cenote--a natural pit or cave, filled with fresh water. However, after receiving intel from some locals, we decided to venture out sans tour guide. Everly got to take her first kayak ride in a large, open-air cenote at the south end of Tulum Beach. It was definitely a non-touristy spot and gave us a chance to swim in turquoise fresh water (we took turns!) and while the afternoon away on rickety overhanging docks.

In retrospect, Tulum would not be a place I'd recommend to brand new parents. That being said, neither my husband nor I enjoy touristy travel, and Tulum was the perfect place in Mexico for rustic relaxation, adventure, and dining. It also taught us a lot about ourselves and how well we adapted to our challenges. In particular, I was impressed by how inventive Robin could be when we realized that we didn't have clean water to wash the baby bottles in...a story for another time, perhaps!

While we were exhausted and some days were hard, we knew that we would be equally exhausted in Vancouver. I'm pretty proud of us for embarking on our first adventure as a family -- a sign of a great year of mat leave to come!

The only thing I'd do differently is make sure we triple-set our alarm the night before...since choosing a 6am flight with a newborn is not a smart choice when Baby decides not to sleep the night before! This was the only flight in our history of travel that we've missed, and we'll never forget the feeling of panic when we realized that it was almost 6am and we were still in BED!

Let me know if you've been to Tulum with a child and what you thought of it!

Until the next adventure,

Sandra


Welcome to the World

Everly Brook Bardon

I hope there will come a time when I share the details of Everly's birth story. It was simultaneously the best and hardest experience of my life, filled with complications and difficulties. At the end of the 11 day hospital stint, we managed to come home in time for Christmas with our miracle daughter: Everly Brook Bardon.

Even though Everly was born just over 6 lbs, she lost more than 10% of her weight in the first three days (which on its own is enough to put a new mom on edge). When we brought her home, she was only 6 lbs and a teeny tiny human. She almost never cried and rarely cued for milk. As a result, we started a strict feeding schedule (every two hours), which continued through the night. The first month made us all feel like zombies, and looking back on it is a blur of sleeplessness, exhaustion, and trying to figure out how to care for a new baby.

One of our neighbours graciously offered to come over and photograph Everly. We are so glad we said yes and that we now have these adorable pictures of her so soon after her birth.

Apart from trying to survive life with a newborn, we quickly began to make adventure plans for our new family. The first outings in the car soon taught us that we needed to do a lot of planning and packing whenever we went out with a baby. What should have been a 5-minute drive to Grandad's house ended up taking almost an hour since we had to turn back twice because of things we forgot: Baby's milk, the breastpump, the Dock-a-tot... But we quickly adapted and learned from our mistakes, and by New Year's, we successfully took our first family trip to Whistler for two nights away from home!

Since I gave birth by C-section, I had to take the first few weeks slowly. Luckily, my husband had a few weeks off of work and could help me with the heavy lifting. I still remember doubting if I would ever feel comfortable taking the stroller out by myself, or if I'd be able to lift the stroller / carseat into the car all alone. Those first few times on my own (especially with Everly AND Lola) were extremely stressful. I didn't think it would be possible to take care of a baby, dog, and myself. Nevertheless, I quickly adapted, and was soon cruising in the stroller and driving all around town, even in the snow!

The beginnings of motherhood were nothing like I expected. It has been harder than I ever imagined, and more fulfilling than I ever anticipated. Our little girl surprises us and changes on an almost daily basis, and I'm so glad that I have an entire year to bond with her. As she grows, I know that I'm also growing in ways I didn't know were possible.

Welcome to the world, Baby Girl!


Maternity Photos

Embracing the bump

Getting glammed up for Christmas holiday parties

The third and final trimester.

In many ways, I felt derailed in my third trimester. All at once, my pregnancy had become high risk, and we were told to expect an early delivery--as early as 24 weeks. Instead of growing into my bump with hopeful anticipation, I spent the last three months fearfully monitoring my baby's growth.

It started out with growth scans and NST (non-stress tests) at the hospital three times a week. Our initial prognosis didn't look good. In fact, our doctor told us that if our baby needed to be born at 24-26 weeks, he/she might not survive, and that we could expect to spend months in the NICU. This news was devastating.

Juggling work with my appointments was stressful. I stopped practicing yoga or working out because I had very little free time. I told my girlfriends and family to cancel the baby shower they were planning. I wasn't in the right headspace to celebrate during such an uncertain time. My husband and I were too scared to build a nursery or purchase any of the baby necessities.

Fall maternity photos along Stanley Park

Fall was dry and sunny on the Sunshine Coast

Little by little, we became more hopeful. The weeks miraculously stretched on, and our doctors were surprised by the growth they saw each week at our ultrasounds. Every week gave me a better reason to smile because I knew that Baby was safe inside of me.

By 30 weeks, we had more reason to celebrate. We slowly began to acquire some baby stuff: a crib, a stroller, a car seat. They stayed in boxes in our second bedroom until 34 weeks. As we started to realize that Baby would be here soon, we finally put together our nursery. By this time, I was enormous and virtually useless. Now I understand why they recommend building the nursery in the second semester! Luckily, our friends and family came to our aid; on a cold, late-November day, I came home from work to find our nursery complete. My husband had even painted the wall with mountains for our little adventurous babe.

My last month of work (November) was physically challenging. I began to really pack on the weight and felt heavy and tired all the time. Even walking up a flight of stairs made me winded. Few of my maternity clothes fit and I began recycling the same three outfits. I was always hot and uncomfortable, even lying down. And I developed other nasty symptoms, including terrible heartburn, acid reflux, and swollen fingers from carpal tunnel syndrome. The research said these things would go away soon after giving birth, but I continually felt uncomfortable and couldn't wait for this time to pass.

Trying to enjoy the growth of this bump

Finding beauty in my new body

We kept moving forward by loving each other in and amongst the tears. There were so many days when we were caught up in despair and agony, wondering if our baby would make it. But somehow the months plodded on and before we knew it, it was December--our baby's birth month. We managed to make it full term and give this baby the best possible chance on the other side.

As I try to process all that has happened over the past four years of trying to conceive, multiple IVF failures, and a high-risk pregnancy, it's easy to feel morose and bitter. But when I look at these photos (that almost didn't happen), I can't help but feel gratitude and love. I am grateful for the experience of motherhood that allowed me to grow another life inside of mine. I'm honoured to have a partner who stood by me through the entire journey and never gave up on us. And I know that whatever the outcome of this baby, I have been given life's most beautiful gift. So I will remember to smile and choose love over fear.


My second trimester - summer bliss and a serious scare

Even though I didn't experience an iota of morning sickness during my first trimester, the first three months of pregnancy were still fraught with aches, pains, and fatigue.  I found it hard to believe that I'd find any respite come 14 weeks, but sure enough, things turned a dramatic corner once the second trimester arrived.  Beginning at 15 weeks, I found myself with renewed energy, life and purpose.

Part of this could have been attributed to the weather and the fact that school was out for the summer.  I can't think of a better time to greet the second trimester than with the July sun and long, lazy days.  One of my favourite parts of summer is the outdoor yoga season, and we were blessed with a particularly dry, hot summer.  I spent several days a week teaching or taking yoga classes outside at a variety of gorgeous locations with Mat Collective and RYU.  What I loved so much about these classes (apart from being able to flow outside!) was that they were free!  I had to give up my hot yoga jobs after finding out I was pregnant, which meant taking a short break from teaching during April and May.  But as soon as June rolled around (and the warm weather poured in), I was teaching 3-5 classes a week, and enjoying yoga more than I ever had.

Summer yoga season doesn't get any better than in Vancouver

I also had the chance to host several free yoga classes on my roof.  These were generously sponsored by Warrior Mats who supplied my "studio" with 10 of their stunning, art-inspired mats all summer long!  There is something so magical about practicing yoga as the sun goes down over the mountains, all while watching the downtown skyline and seaside change colour.  These sessions were usually followed up by fireside snacks and wine (or non-alcoholic bevvies, in my case!).  Some of my favourite nights of the summer included meeting new yogis from social media and inviting them over to my roof for a fun evening of yoga, community, and connection.

Warm summer nights and yoga classes on my roof

My second trimester also coincided with two incredible vacations that took the cake for the most beautiful scenery that I have ever seen in my life.  The first was a road trip to Banff, Alberta at 17 weeks pregnant.  My husband and I packed the car with all our camping gear and spent three nights exploring the breathtaking mountains and lakes that Alberta is famous for, and we were even able to bring Lola along for the ride.  The four of us (baby included!) enjoyed every second of the wilderness, from hiking, canyoning, swimming, and canoeing.  At 17 weeks pregnant, I was still feeling energetic and mobile enough to tackle challenging hikes, and I'm glad we were able to experience the Canadian Rockies together for the first time!

One of the most beautiful places in the world: Emerald Lake at Yoho National Park in Alberta

Then, at the end of August, we embarked on our last big international trip as a couple -- to Croatia and then Israel.  By this time (22 weeks pregnant), my body had begun to change and expand, and I'm grateful that we were able to manage this milestone trip before I became less mobile.  The beauty of Croatia cannot be overstated, and I encourage you to check out my blog posts about Split and Stari Grad for some major travel inspo!

Finding a moment of peace in gorgeous Dubrovnik, Croatia

The absolute best memory of our Babymoon occurred in the famed city of Dubrovnik.  It was our final morning before checkout and my husband and I lay in bed together, marvelling at the walled city and our epic travels around Croatia.  He put his hand on my belly as we cuddled and then pulled it back suddenly when Baby kicked.  I had only just begun feeling the kicks myself around 23 weeks, and most of the time I didn't know if they were legitimate kicks or just tummy rumblings.  But when Robin confirmed that he felt the kick, I knew that it was real too, which led me to a sudden outburst of happy sobbing.  It was the most intimate, special moment of the pregnancy thus far, and I loved how Baby chose that moment--the last day of our Babymoon--to announce him/herself in such an exclamatory way.

Sadly, when we returned from our travels on the 1st of September, our pregnancy went from blissful and easy to stressful and uncertain.  We received news about our baby's ultrasound and were told that Baby was alarmingly small for its gestational age.  We were quickly booked in for a re-scan and then met with a team of doctors at Women's Hospital in Vancouver.  On September 7th, we were told that our baby had severe IUGR (intrauterine growth restriction).  This meant that it was below the 1st percentile in terms of its size, and our pregnancy instantly became classified as "high risk."

Shortly after learning of Baby's size, we received this ultrasound picture, which gave us so much hope. We knew then that Baby was a fighter!

The news was shocking, especially because we were told that cases like this generally resulted in a very early induced delivery.  Based on our statistics, our doctors anticipated that we would likely deliver around 26 weeks (two weeks from the day we found out).  That day, we went home from the hospital and spent the rest of the night crying out of fear and sorrow, wondering what would happen next.

For the entire rest of my second trimester (the month of September), we were kept on close supervision with growth scans and blood-flow monitoring three times a week. After our first two weeks of monitoring, we received news that felt like a miracle.  Baby was very small, but seemed to be growing on his/her own curve.  Blood flow and the placenta appeared normal, and Baby's heart rate and movements were normal.  Our IUGR classification was changed from "severe" to "moderate," and we were moved to twice weekly visits instead of three times a week.

Trying to make the most of our hospital "dates". Luckily, my husband joined me at almost every single test!

While our second trimester did not end the way it started, we managed to make it through a difficult time by staying hopeful.  More than anything, I learned to trust my burgeoning maternal instincts--which have carried me through this pregnancy, urging me to believe that everything is going to be okay.

This pregnancy journey has been challenging from the start, but it has also given me the most intense joy and happiness that I have ever known.  Through it all, my husband and I have been able to nurture and hold on to our deep love of one another, and that alone has gotten us through the hardest times.  Now that fall has arrived and the weather is changing, we are also preparing for the biggest change in our lives.  And while we no longer know for certain how or when we will deliver, there is still so much to be grateful for.  And we will cling to that!

How my second trimester got turned upside down

Other notable parts of my second trimester:

  • My food cravings became stronger starting at 14 weeks.  While I never wanted anything too unconventional, there were definitely days that were entirely planned out around food.  There was a two week stretch where I wanted fried chicken all the time, and even made my husband drive us to Chinatown for Juke's famous fried chicken.  He never lets me forget that upon taking my first bite of my chicken sandwich, I euphorically exclaimed, "This is the best day of my life..."
  • My baby bump emerged and started to become very visible around 22 weeks.  I did most of my maternity shopping at Pink Blush online, since there aren't many good options for shopping in Vancouver.  
  • I loved the amount of energy I had all summer!  We went biking, hiking, camping, swimming, and did tons of yoga -- and sometimes a combo of all of those things in a single day!  
  • I really began to notice improvements in my skin and hair.  I think I only got one pimple for the entire summer, and my hair became more lustrous and thick.  I was so surprised that almost none of my hair would fall out in the shower or blowdrying.  It was awesome! 
  • Towards the end of summer, I began to feel the first moments of discomfort: swollen feet, ill-fitting clothing, and overall heaviness.  Yoga became a bit more difficult as bending (in any direction) started to feel uncomfortable. 
  • I was always always hot.  Swimming was a great relief, especially in Croatia where the water is extra salty!  I felt extra buoyant and weightless! 

 

 


Stepping back in time: Stari Grad, Hvar Island

Floating in the Adriatic Sea felt amazing on my pregnant body! The water is extremely salty (and turquoise) and allowed for very leisurely swims and hours of floating.

When we first announced that we were going to Croatia for our babymoon, all of our friends who had visited before told us that the best way to see the country is via boat.  While we didn’t think hiring a yacht would be the right sort of vacation for our babymoon (or in our price range!), we did prioritize some island hopping from Split to the famed island of Hvar.

As I did more research, the town of Hvar sounded more and more like it wouldn’t suit our needs on this trip.  It is touted as a celebrity-town for "yachty types", lined with beach clubs that stay open and packed 24-hours a day.  (We later discovered that Hvar is busy but nothing like the above description, and it probably would have made for a lovely stay!).  However, given the fact that I can’t drink, and nightclubbing is out of the question, we opted to stay in Stari Grad instead.  It turned out to be our favourite part of the trip and one of the most beautiful towns we have ever seen.

The skyline of Stari Grad at sundown from our rooftop patio
The town of Stari Grad dates back to well before the Middle Ages. Its quiet streets feature quaint courtyards and outdoor terraces.

Stari Grad is a two-hour ferry ride from Split.  It’s an ancient, well-preserved town with medieval buildings framing a picturesque turquoise harbour.  The town is small and feels like a forgotten fairytale; smooth cobblestone streets wind sleepily around gorgeous restaurants, galleries, and courtyards.  The entirety of the village is quiet, quaint, and romantic.

Rooftop patio of the "Amanda Room" at Hidden House, our bed and breakfast for three nights

I chanced upon our accommodations by Googling “Hvar blog itineraries,” which turned up a random travel blog that raved about a place in Stari Grad called Hidden House.  Closer inspection told me that this was the only place I wanted to stay.  Hidden House is a Bed & Breakfast (not on AirBnB) run by a British couple who happened upon Stari Grad over a decade ago and knew it was the place they wanted to relocate to.  We were lucky enough to book their finest room on the top floor (which is the actual bedroom of the owners!).  It was a charming, spacious suite with unreal views of the city and harbour and a private rooftop to boot!  It was, from what I know, the only room in the building that had air conditioning, and what a relief that was!  With temperatures soaring into the mid 30s most days and nights, I couldn’t be outside unless I was in the water.  I heard from some of the other guests that they found their fan-rooms almost unbearable.

Interior decor of our spacious suite at Hidden House--a real gem!

 

We loved the king bed, air conditioning, and steps leading up to the rooftop patio.

We spent our first day traveling the island by scooter, which has been a preferred mode of exploration on many of our trips.  We realized, somewhat ruefully, that this would be our last trip on a scooter for years to come, and so we made the most of our time.  The coastal roads around Hvar Island are breathtaking.  We spent the day pulling over to the water at will and jumping into the sea to cool off whenever we found a pretty cove.  A lot of the spots were deserted and special.

Our "last" scooter rental for a while! We will miss exploring by moped!

We also found the food on Hvar to be the best--and cheapest--in Croatia.  Obviously, seafood is plentiful and we did our best to sample fish, shellfish, scampi, squid, and octopus while there!  My favourite dish was a seafood stew cooked in a small pot with tomatoes, red wine, garlic, and parsley.  We also feasted on homemade pasta and risotto that rivalled the ones we ate in Italy last year on our honeymoon.  Hvar Island is known as a particularly fertile region for produce and grapes, and while I didn’t get to sample the wine, the salads and fruits we ate were extraordinary!

Delicious and fresh: octopus salad and pizza!

The best part of our trip consisted of renting our own little boat (a tiny 10-horsepower motor) and navigating the island coast at leisure.  Robin is in his element on the water and expertly drove us around for the day.  We stopped into private bays for crystal clear swims, and sunned ourselves on the deck all day long.  On our journey, we discovered a boat-access-only restaurant/bar called Tiha, and relaxed there for a few hours.  In addition to adorable bohemian and nautical décor, the launch bar housed swimming equipment, floaties, SUPs and a fabulous cliff-side beach, all complimentary!  It felt like stumbling upon a hidden paradise.

Boating for a day of bliss. It wasn't a yacht but we made do scouring the coves around the island.
Spending the afternoon at a seaside bar and swimming hole called Tiha

We agreed that Stari Grad, and Hvar Island as a whole, was one of the most magical destinations we have ever encountered.  It certainly made an impression on us, and we can imagine ourselves returning in the (hopefully near) future with our little family.  If you have the chance to visit Croatia, this is an island of delights.  For a quiet, slower-paced, and wholly memorable visit, Stari Grad is  dream come true.

Diving into the bluest water we've ever seen.

Other notables about Stari Grad:

  • There are two beaches within walking distance of Stari Grad. Both are pebble beaches and busy spots for families.  They make for a quick dip and cool-off if needed, but the better swimming spots are found a little further out (by boat or scooter).
  • Most beach-goers bring padded mats to lie on at the beaches. We were lucky that our B&B provided us with all of our beach equipment including mats, snorkeling masks, flippers and a small cooler.
  • Boat rentals (for the smallest boat) cost approximately $100 CAD per day (which isn't bad considering that you've got the boat from about 9am – 7pm).
  • The prices for food in Stari Grad were noticeably cheaper than Split and Dubrovnik.
  • Temperatures soar in the summer months and it would be wise to choose a room with air conditioning.
  • There are very few gas stations on the island (and none in Stari Grad) so if you're renting a scooter or car, be sure that you have enough gas to get you around, especially since the few gas stations on the island close around 9pm. We almost ran out of gas on our drive back from Hvar Town, and I was a nervous wreck as we scooted back in the dark.  The drive from Stari Grad to Hvar Town takes approximately 30 minutes.
  • You can see the entirety of Stari Grad on foot in about 30 minutes.  Even though the town is small, there are plenty of great restaurants, an amazing deli, gelato stands, and a daily fruit market.
  • If you have a chance to visit the island at leisure, I would recommend staying 3 nights in Stari Grad and 1-2 nights in Hvar Town.  Both are lovely depending on the type of vacation you are seeking.
It was a delight to take baby with us on our travels to Croatia, and we hope to be back with him/her again in the near future!

Babymooning in Croatia

Part 1: Split

Split at sunset during our babymoon photo shoot

Robin and I have spent the last several years traveling around the same times each year, due to my teacher schedule and his flexibility as a real estate agent. We knew we wanted to head to Tel Aviv for our friend’s wedding this summer, but we were waiting on the progress of our pregnancy before we booked anything. When we got the go-ahead to travel internationally, I started looking at European destinations that would suit our tastes, keeping in mind that I would be near the end of my second trimester.

Croatia had been our radar for some time. The vivid turquoise waters and Game of Thrones allure had intrigued us, and as I began to do more research, it became clear that this was a country worth exploring. Choosing an itinerary was the trickiest part since we only had 10 days. In the past, we have raced around countries due to FOMO (fear of missing out), but I didn’t want to push myself this time. As a result, we chose three spots: Split, Hvar Island, and Dubrovnik. International flights go in and out of Split and Dubrovnik, and it worked better for us to start and end our trip in Split.

Upon arrival at the sunny harbor (more commonly known as Riva) of the old city, we were spellbound by the ancient charm and coastal luxury of Split. The waterfront was dotted with palm trees and open-air eateries, all backed by the aging and romantic walls of the city. As we walked through the labyrinthine cobble-stone and marble streets, we were seized by the grandeur of Diocletian’s Palace, originally built in the 3rd century! The palace is a fascinating cultural tour in itself, revealing centuries of different religious and political eras. We came in the height of high season, so there were plenty of tourists, but it was nothing like the hordes of people we saw in Italy last year.

Sitting amongst history at Diocletian's Palce in Old Town

 

Walking along the romantic waterfront (also known as Riva)

 

The city is clean, safe, and stunning -- a perfect place to begin our babymoon!

I would recommend staying close the Palace for ease of exploring (especially with the intense heat and being pregnant). There aren’t as many hotels as there are guest houses—apartments that have been converted into rental rooms on each floor of an old building. We opted for Procurator7. While the room set us back about $300 USD a night, it was the perfect proximity to the heart of the Split, and boasted a stunning common rooftop with 360 views of the town. We loved the quirky elegance of the rooms, along with complimentary room service breakfast and sunrises on the rooftop.

Our hotel was on the third floor of the building on the right. It overlooked this gorgeous square only steps from the middle of Old Town, Split

I’ll save a more detailed description of food for my next post, but let me just say that food tastes so much better when pregnant! I was in heaven sampling delicious seafood, pasta, and risotto, and there are endless culinary options in Split for a range of budgets.

Although there isn’t a beachfront directly in the old town of Split, there was a city bus station just steps from our room that took us twenty minutes down the road to the local’s favourite beach, Kasjuni.  Be warned: almost none of the beaches in Croatia are sandy, and so water shoes are vital if you have sensitive (read: pregnant and swollen) feet like me and can’t manage to walk on rocks and pebbles. Despite the inconvenience, the water in Croatia is really as turquoise as the pictures, and I have never been so happy to wade in and out of the water. I’ve also learned that my pregnant body floats much easier than formerly, and it feels amazing to be weightless and cool in the Adriatic Sea!

Because this was our last trip together as a couple, I surprised Robin with a sunset photo shoot to capture these special travel memories. In the past five years, we’ve had the pleasure of exploring 17 countries together! It’s still hard to imagine what our vacations are going to look like in the future, and I’m so glad that we have these beautiful photos to keep for a lifetime. It was also my one-year “paper” anniversary gift for Robin, and I can’t wait to have our favourite photos printed!

 

 

 

Other notables about Split:

  • Almost everyone speaks English and it is very easy to order food or ask for information. We found locals to be extremely friendly and helpful.
  • Restaurants stay open late! Dinner establishments open around 11am and stay open until midnight or later. We were told this is because many locals take a siesta in the middle of the day due to the intense heat and then return to work in the afternoon. Cafes and bakeries open early, and many were bustling around 6 or 7am when we were wide-eyed awake due to jetlag.
  • Split was one of the safest European cities we have visited. In the main parts of Split, Old Town, and the beaches, there was no evidence of crime, homelessness, begging, or scammers whatsoever.
  • That being said, everywhere you go, people are smoking and there’s no getting away from hordes of smokers if you’re eating outdoors or hanging out at the beach.
  • Buses are very inexpensive and convenient. Taxis are pricey. Split has Uber, which we used once and found to be decently priced.
  • Split is a great base to explore the surrounding areas of Croatia, including nearby islands and popular excursions inland. While we didn’t visit Plitvice Lakes or Krka Waterfalls (we wanted to avoid the crowds), it appeared like many tourists took day-trips to these destinations.
  • Trogir is a beautiful walled city an easy 1 hour away by passenger ferry (approximately $5 one way), and worth a trip out if you have a free morning. The well-preserved medieval town can easily be explored in an hour or two.
  • The ferry and bus depots are a five-minute walk from Old Town Split. If you are island hopping without a car, the ferries are convenient, cheap, and comfortable. We easily got to Hvar Island (2 hours one way) and only showed up 30 minutes early without buying tickets in advance. You can, however, purchase tickets online and there are two or three different ferry companies that all dock at the same area.

 


Prenatal yoga shoot

Documenting the changes in my body and practice: the beginning of the second trimester

Lunging at Kits Beach on a glorious summer day

When my photographer friend Sam asked me if I was up for a yoga shoot this July, I sheepishly replied, "Only if you're interested in shooting a prenatal one.  I totally understand if that doesn't work for you!"  I wrongly assumed that he wouldn't want to collaborate with me because my body had already changed a lot, and my yoga practice was slowly but surely becoming slower and less dramatic.

When he was super enthusiastic about the prospect, I had to give myself a pep talk.  I was nervous about what I'd wear (and what I could still fit into!) and if I'd be comfortable showing my growing belly.

Finding beautiful spots amongst nature in Vanier Park, Vancouver

I've always loved capturing my yoga practice in beautiful settings around the world.  But since becoming pregnant, I've posted far fewer pictures on my social accounts.  I know that it's mostly because I'm self-conscious about my body, and I'm slowly working on embracing the massive changes that are occurring and trying to greet them with gratitude and excitement.  Every day that I get bigger means that Baby is growing more healthy!

Finding my foundation in Warrior II at one of my favourite beaches in the city

The last time I worked with Sam, there was snow in Vancouver and I nearly froze my toes off (and we only shot for one hour).  This shoot was the exact opposite, and it was only a matter of minutes before we were all drenched in sweat from the sun.  Nevertheless, I was so happy with how the shots turned out!

It has been very interesting (and a little frustrating) to witness the changes in my yoga practice.  I started losing the ability to do certain postures early on, particularly deep back bends.  But at around the 14-week mark, I realized that I couldn't do all of my arm balances anymore because my belly was getting in the way of folding forward.  Each week, I feel like I'm letting go of another posture.  This bothered me a lot at first, but now I'm actually excited to re-learn them all over again after Baby arrives!

I still enjoy practicing inversions and will try to get upside-down at least once a day!
I always remind myself to be gentle on forward bends and to never push myself past about 60%
Some of my flexibility has remained unchanged, such as my hanumanasana (splits). I wonder when I will also lose it!

Overall, the journey to motherhood continues to bring newness and surprises almost everyday.  While it was initially hard to look at these pictures without thinking "Wow, I look huge!" I have already grown so much since this shoot and am almost at the halfway mark of my pregnancy.  I hope I can continue to look at this journey with pride and gratitude, and that I'll be open to sharing more of this incredible process!

Thank you so much, Sam, for your talent in capturing these precious photos -- the first ones of my pregnancy!  I will cherish them forever and can't wait for the day when I can show them to my little one.  Namaste!

Wearing: Leggings by Arthletic Wear, Tank Top by Public Myth, and Sports Bra by RYU Apparel.  Mat by Warrior Mats.


My first trimester -- learning to say "I'm pregnant"

Robin is extra careful when he's flying two of us. This was taken at 12 weeks when I still fit into most of my yoga clothes.

When I was younger, I used to daydream about becoming pregnant "one day."  I wondered what it might feel like to grow a human inside of me, what sort of maternity clothes I'd wear, what names I'd want to give my future children ...  As a young adult, it never occurred to me that I might be infertile, that none of these daydreams were likely to become reality.

Beginning a fertility journey is terrifying, but it was initially exciting too.  We received a lot of positive feedback from our doctors, and when we tried our luck with IVF for the first time, we were filled with hope.  My in-laws pre-emptively bought us a pair of baby shoes that we proudly displayed in the living room.  But as we began to experience disappointment after disappointment, we eventually hid those shoes away in a drawer.  They were a painful reminder of my failings, and they only served to make me feel more broken and desolate.

Our 10 week ultrasound, next to our very first baby present (a swaddle blanket), and the original booties that my mother-in-law gave us back in April 2016.

When we received the news of our positive blood test on April 18 (and for several weeks following), the most common emotion I felt was disbelief.  I had gotten used to the idea of my infertility, and so saying "I'm pregnant" out loud was completely foreign.  I also spent the first several weeks as a bundle of nerves, fearing miscarriage.  An astonishing 15-25% of recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage, and even though we wanted to celebrate our miracle, I was wary of becoming too hopeful.  Instead, I counted the weeks, hoping they would rush by quickly because I knew that each week that passed lowered the risk of miscarriage.  It wasn't until we saw the baby on our second ultrasound at 10 weeks that we started feeling more secure about this pregnancy.

The day after finding out I was pregnant, I flew to Newfoundland to chaperone a school trip for a week. It gave me some time to myself to process what had happened, and what would begin the next nine months of this new journey.

Despite the stress and unknowns, I immediately noticed a difference in my body.  My acne-prone skin started to clear.  My hair got longer, thicker, and glossier.  And I started to put on weight right away.  While this last part was a difficult adjustment, I tried to greet the pounds with a smile because it was a clear sign that my baby was growing!

I was very lucky that I didn't throw up once during my first trimester, since I know that morning sickness can be a debilitating and painful experience.  While my first two months went by with only mild fatigue (hello naps!), the last four weeks really challenged me.  At around 3pm everyday, I became sore all over with flu-like symptoms.  I would need to sit or lie down, and while I never vomited, I felt nauseated, achey, and tired.  It made for a long, irritable month, and I'm so glad that those days are behind me!

Other interesting symptoms during my first trimester included:

  • early rising (I woke up everyday by 5am for the first month of my pregnancy)
  • increased visits to the bathroom to pee (this was especially annoying at night)
  • salty food cravings (it started with asian noodles and pasta and moved on to chips, chicken pot pie, fried chicken, and anything spicy!)
  • emotional outbursts (sometimes a good laugh would lead right into a good cry, for no reason at all)
  • allergies (my throat got itchy and my eyes watered...and I think I was actually allergic to my dog for the first month!)
  • requiring at least an hour long nap every day -- the pregnancy pillow is a lifesaver!
  • feeling too tired to exercise, walk the dog, or do any movement in general, save for lying on my yoga wheel and groaning :P
Baby's first handstand! After we passed the 8-week mark, I slowly began to integrate more yoga back into my life.

A couple friends recommended joining some pregnancy apps, and so I downloaded "What to Expect" and "The Bump," which I read voraciously each morning, and continue to open first thing when I wake up.  I loved reading about the new developments in my baby and my body, and I felt proud each week when I could proclaim that "my baby was now the size of a ______ (insert fruit of wildly varying sizes)."

The "What to Expect" app also signed me up into a group forum of mothers who are also due in December of this year.  While I was more of a voyeur than an actual participant in these online discussions, I was fascinated to hear about other's experiences being pregnant, and, at many times relieved that I wasn't the only one going through such radical changes in body, mind, and mood.

Making my first announcement on social media was scary, but I knew that I wanted to share our story of hope with others who may be going through a difficult time as well.

The first trimester is a confusing time, especially for first-time moms.  Everything was new and it felt like each day was a different experience in a different body.  I was also trying to process my emotions and come to terms with my 3-year fertility journey, and there were times (mostly during yoga class) where I'd weep because my emotions would pour out unchecked.

Although most couples wait until the 14 week mark (end of first trimester) to announce their pregnancy, we told most of our close friends right away.  I told my boss at 11 weeks, and we announced it on social media shortly after that.  My trepidation about "the announcement" didn't stem from worries of miscarriage or genetic abnormalities.  It came from feeling self-conscious about our fertility journey and wondering if we would openly share about IVF.  It still makes me quite uncomfortable to tell someone about our struggle for the first time, but I am slowly starting to transform my insecurities about being judged into feelings of pride and strength.

We received so many amazing words of love and congratulations. They touched my heart -- especially this one from my brother and my beautiful niece who live in Louisiana.

While motherhood is one of the most natural occurrences in the world, it was anything but natural for me.  In the end, it took a massive team of doctors, nurses, embryologists, and genetic counsellors to help us achieve our dream becoming pregnant.  But after being weaned off all of my fertility medications, I started to actually "feel pregnant" in my own right.  And even though there isn't much of a connection between a mother and the growing embryo for the majority of the first trimester, I felt great love and gratitude for my tiny baby, right from the start.

My next milestone will not be just about saying I'm pregnant, but actually looking pregnant, too!  Stay tuned for my second trimester updates and other pregnancy musings along the way.

Although my yoga practice has changed dramatically, I still turn to it whenever I want to connect more to my breath and body. I always feel closer to Baby whenever I spend time on my mat or in meditation.
I still haven't determined if Lola knows what's happening, but she loves this pregnancy pillow almost as much as I do. Highly recommended for ultimate comfort!

Trying to conceive how we managed to conceive

Our unconventional road to parenthood

I was 24 years old when I was first told that motherhood might not be in the cards for me.  I had gone into emergency surgery for what the doctors thought was a rupturing appendix.  What they actually discovered was endometriosis -- a menstrual condition accompanied by the following advice: "You should start thinking about children in the near future.  It might be difficult for you to get pregnant after the age of 30."

The newly-graduated, burgeoning high school teacher that was me those many years ago had no immediate plans for children.  But the incident set my biological clock in motion.  Sure, I wanted to have kids someday, but it was a difficult conversation to broach while I was dating in my 20s.  More than one guy got cold feet when I brought up my condition, and it took me a long time before I figured out what kind of man I wanted for a life partner.

When I eventually met the love of my life, I was 32 years old.  Two years later, certain that we were ready to start a family, I went off the birth control pill.  Even though I wasn't very optimistic (I'd been off the pill before with no luck), I still hoped and prayed that this time it would be different.  We bought a handful of pregnancy tests, and, when month after month proved negative, we bought a bunch more.  We started tracking the days with a thermometer and over-the-counter prediction tests.  And each month we got the same, deflating news.  It didn't look like I was going to get pregnant the natural way.

We eventually sought help at a nearby fertility clinic.  Extra emphasis should be placed on the word "nearby" since little did we know that we would be regular visitors to the clinic for a total of three years.  Thankfully, it was only a 10 minute drive away.  I say this because I know that people from all over the province and beyond also need fertility help, and we were lucky that monthly (or weekly) visits didn't cut into our professional lives.

My first year of treatments consisted of a myriad of tests (some innocuous, others indescribably painful), oral medications, and a series of IUI's.  Along the way, we were told not to give up hope and that all of the tests had come back with good results.  While this was a relief, it was also frustrating because we didn't know the cause of our infertility, or have any specific information to place our disappointments.  We could only continue to keep trying and hope for the best.

Nearly a year later, we were recommend for IVF, a prospect that was terrifying. We met our nursing team for orientation in the spring of 2016 and then began the painful process of growing my eggs with daily injections to the stomach.  My partner (now husband) painstakingly mixed the solutions each day and gave me the shots while I cringed, and it was a stressful and expensive process.  We were grateful that some of the drugs were covered by my insurance, but the many procedures were still a financial burden.  On the day of our egg retrieval, I was given fentanyl to help with the pain of the surgery as they vacuumed out 13 eggs for fertilization.  It wasn't a very romantic process, but we were thrilled with the result and hopeful that the worst had been endured.

Only three of our fertilized eggs survived the 6-day growing period, but we were told that this was a great result and began to make plans for our embryo transfer date.  To skip through the long and discouraging story, none of the three eggs (on three separate occasions) implanted successfully.  In fact, we were advised to begin another cycle of IVF, which we did (this time, without any insurance coverage), and which resulted in two embryos.  This time, we also paid a hefty fee to have the embryos biopsied for genetic viability, and it turned out that only one was a good embryo.  All that effort and energy for a single chance.

We implanted our solo embryo shortly before Christmas of 2017, and found out the heartbreaking news the day before our trip to Central America.  I spent a good portion of my time in Honduras in tears, unable to leave the hotel room or to enjoy the gorgeous surroundings and scuba diving.  We had put so much hope and emotion into our two IVF cycles and four separate attempts.  I didn't know if I had it in me to try again.

When we came back from our winter trip, we met with our doctor again, who continued to encourage us to keep trying.  He attributed the failures to bad luck since we had passed all of the tests with flying colours.  With heavy hearts, we decided to try a third round of IVF, a third egg retrieval, and in February of 2018, we harvested two good biopsied embryos.  After the retrieval, our doctor put me on a new course of medication that included some experimental procedures like intralipid IV treatments and daily injections of blood thinners.  While this seemed like a long shot, we followed the instructions to a tee, even adjusting the hours when we traveled across the world to Paris to wake up at 4am so that we could take the medications at the right time.

On April 8, 2018, I taught a yoga class in the morning from 10-11am.  My embryo transfer was scheduled for 11:15am (see, it really helped to have a fertility centre nearby!).  Still in my yoga clothes and on that "yoga-teacher high," I went into the operating room with a calm mindset.  My husband held my hand as we watched on the screen the embryo being transferred into my uterus--luckily, this procedure was almost pain-free and surely the easiest part of the entire IVF cycle.  This was our fifth time doing the exact same procedure, our fifth embryo transfer.  We would know in 10 days if we were pregnant.

The post-transfer days are the most gruelling, emotional days of them all.  I tried to lose myself in work so that I didn't have time to worry or stress about something I couldn't control.  By the 8th day, I felt like I was coming down with the flu.  My body hurt everywhere and I could barely move.  On the 9th day, it was all I could do to take my dog Lola around the block and to grab some take-out pasta before going to bed at 9pm--something that never happens to me.

A schedule of the medicine I took on a daily basis for twelve weeks

On April 18th, 2018 (three days before my 37th birthday), I was conducting interviews all day, but I'd asked Robin (my husband) to text me the news when he got it.  I knew it would come before 3pm.  On my 5th interview of the afternoon, I saw the blink of my cell phone go off with Robin's name, but I couldn't see the message.  Then there was a second alert from him.  My heart started to pound and it was all I could do to focus on the 30 minutes remaining of our last interview.  When it was over, I went to the bathroom and locked myself into a stall with shaking hands.  I felt like I already knew the answer was NO ... that if we were actually pregnant, I would have received 10+ messages from an elated husband.  I took a few deep breaths and prepared myself for the worst.  After all, I had already been through this kind of immense disappointment four times previously.  But I opened the text message to find this:

I could hear my heart beating as I opened this message and tried to process what it meant

I sat there is shock for several minutes, not realizing that I was breathing heavily and shaking all over.  Tears began streaming down my eyes and I had no idea what to do or think.  Eventually, I went for a quick walk outside before heading back to teach my last literature class of the day, and I still have no idea what I said or how that lesson went.

The news shocked us so much that we are still processing what it actually means.  To be pregnant.  To have a baby--now 14 weeks old--growing in my body.  After three years, unbelievable amounts of money, heartbreak, disappointment, shame, and doubt, we are finally beginning to believe that we can be parents.

We found out the news three days before my 37th birthday

On May 8, 2018, we went to the fertility centre for our first ultrasound.  Even though we were only 6 weeks pregnant at the time, we were able to see the baby and hear its heartbeat.  Two weeks later, we returned for another ultrasound, this time seeing a more defined fetus and being told that we had officially "graduated" from the clinic and could now be handed off to an OB doctor or midwife.  It wasn't until we received that news that things really began to sink in.  We could finally accept the news that we were pregnant and carrying a healthy baby.

A glimpse of our miracle baby; the second ultrasound at 10 weeks

There is so much to process.  At any given time, emotional outbursts come to the surface and range from mania to full-body sobs (and sometimes both at the same time).  I know that part of this comes from pregnancy hormones, which were in high doses since I had to supplement my first 10 weeks with progesterone, estrogen and blood thinners.  But I also know that there are three years worth of emotions that I've been carrying around, largely on my own, that are deserving of time and reflection.

Through our four failed IVF attempts, we had the support of a few, amazing friends and family members.  There were so many times that I thought we should give up--that we were crazy to keep trying after inconceivable time, money, and emotion.  I couldn't have gotten through this without the encouragement from my girlfriends, who never passed judgment on our journey, but kept me afloat with a never-ending supply of love and faith.

Infertility is more common than one would think.  In Canada, 1 in 6 couples struggle when trying to conceive, but it is rarely a subject we talk about.  I felt a great deal of shame and embarrassment as I grappled with my infertility--emotions that I had a hard time processing.  I regret not speaking up more or taking the time to find a support group or counsellor.  Instead, I buried myself in work and travel so that I would always have something else to focus my attention to.  But even as I went after the next promotion or planned our next trip around the world, I knew that there was deep-rooted grief and loss that I was trying my best to suppress.

As my body grows and changes on a weekly basis, I am now overcome with gratitude.  I am very proud that my husband and I kept trying when so many odds were against us, and that we will be welcoming our first child into our lives this winter.  With a due date of December 25, 2018, this little angel sure feels like a Christmas miracle!

Thank you for taking the time to read my story.  I would be happy to answer any questions you have about my experience or IVF in general, and I hope others will be inspired to share their own journeys to parenthood --however unconventional those journeys may be.