Foreverly a Miracle

Holding our baby at one month old

This is a story of heartbreak.  But also one of hope.  My journey to motherhood was fraught with challenge from the start, but actually giving birth and accepting the reality of our daughter was much, much harder.  It has taken me over a year to piece this story together.  Much of it is still raw, painful and on-going.  It is still very difficult to share this information without breaking down.

Disclaimer: there is some sensitive material in this story, some of which I have shielded from friends who became pregnant after me.  If you are currently pregnant and reading this, I just want to warn you that this post might cause some anxiety and fear.

From a relatively young age, I knew that pregnancy might not be possible for me.  Despite the odds I was given in my early 20s, my husband and I kept trying and eventually managed to conceive on our third round of IVF.  I was 36 at the time, and if you’re interested, you can read more about my journey to pregnancy HERE https://sandragin.ca/2018/06/30/trying-to-conceive-how-we-managed-to-conceive/  We were overjoyed with the news of our miracle pregnancy and couldn’t have been happier that we were finally going to become parents.

The Phone Call That Changed Everything

All of that changed when I received the worst phone call of my life.  I had just entered the third trimester of my pregnancy.  It was late September, and I had spent a lazy morning at home because I had the morning off from work.  Although my pregnancy had been great for the first 22 weeks, we had received terrifying news that our baby was measuring small.  As a result, we had gone through a series of tests including an amniocentesis.  However, shortly after all the tests, our doctors told us that they were optimistic that things were fine and that we just had a small baby.

But when I answered that phone call on that late September morning, our lives changed dramatically and permanently.  It was our doctor, and she asked me if I was sitting down.  I immediately knew that the news was not good. 

In a few words, she told me that she had received the micro-array testing from our amnio, which can take a couple weeks to come back, and that they had discovered an extremely rare chromosomal abnormality in our baby.  Apparently, it was so rare that she had never even heard of it.  And then she said that she was so, so sorry.

I sat in silence because I didn’t know how to reply.  I didn’t understand any of what she had said.  I fumbled around for some response and remember asking, “Are you 100% sure this is the case?”  She told me that the amnio is a diagnostic test that gives completely accurate results.  Yes, my unborn baby had a genetic disorder called Cat Eye Syndrome.  But what did that mean?  What was wrong with my baby?

She told me that I needed to come in tomorrow to discuss our options, and that she would book me an appointment to meet with a genetic counsellor.  I took down the information in a fog and then immediately got on the computer.  I spent the next hour trying to find any information about Cat Eye Syndrome before realizing that almost nothing useful existed.  What information was there was panic-inducing and completely inconclusive.  I was overwhelmed and lost when I finally called my husband to break the news.

He took it harder than I anticipated and began trying to learn as much as he could on the internet.  We discovered that Cat Eye Syndrome is a spectrum disorder that could present in any number of abnormalities or malformations in pretty much any part of the body, and that it affected 1 in 150,000 to 200,000 people.  So our baby could be born with major deformities and/or an intellectual disability.  Or, she could be born absolutely normal.  The information was confusing and completely unhelpful.

An Impossible Choice

When we met with our doctor the next day, she brought us into her office and immediately handed me the box of tissues.  But I wasn’t ready to cry because I had no idea what was going on.  I couldn’t fathom that there was anything wrong with my baby, and I certainly wanted more information before I started to feel anything definitive.  Unfortunately, she had almost nothing to tell us.  Since so little is known about the disorder and much can only be determined after a baby is born, there wasn’t much to discuss.

Except for termination.  This hadn’t even crossed my mind.  But our doctor did want us to know that we had exactly one day to decide if we wanted to terminate our pregnancy; otherwise, it would be illegal to do so in Canada.  If we waited more than a day then we could fly elsewhere to do so if we decided to terminate at a later date. 

I couldn’t believe that my happy, miracle pregnancy had suddenly become a nightmare.  I had 24 hours to make a decision based on a tiny amount of information about a syndrome that nobody had ever heard of, and had no idea what kind of problems my baby might have—or not.

It was that tiny speck of hope that I clung to.  I knew there was a possibility that this baby might defy the odds.  That maybe, just maybe, our baby might be the outlier.  We were already able to rule out a few things: according to our ultrasounds (and we were having 2-3 a week), our baby had all the normal baby parts, two hands and feet with the right number of digits.  The paediatric cardiologist had done two very thorough ultrasounds and concluded that Baby's heart looked good.  There was some concern about one of her kidneys, but the other one looked great, and the doctors seemed happy about that.

But there was so much that we couldn’t know.  Like brain development.  Eyes, ears, bowels.  All of these parts were commonly affected in this syndrome.  And so all we could do was wait, hope, and love our unborn baby despite our fears.

The last three months of my pregnancy were terribly depressing.  I cried more than I had in my life.  I don’t know how to properly describe this time.  It was bleak.  Gut-wrenching.   All of the joy that comes from being an expectant mother was taken away; we were robbed of the “typical” pregnancy journey, and we clung together awaiting our baby’s fearful arrival.  We put off having a baby shower, building a nursery, purchasing baby clothes.  These commonplace tasks were just too painful.  We had no way of knowing if our baby would be coming home from the hospital after her birth, or if we would spend our first year(s) in the NICU … or worse.

A Failed Induction and a Nightmarish Birth Story

And then, our induction date arrived in early December and we went to the hospital in as good spirits as we could muster.  I kept holding on to my intuition; it told me that my baby was fine and that everything was going to be okay.  Even though our baby was small, she had continued to grow along her curve; we had been told to expect an early delivery based on her size, but I got to carry her to 38 weeks.  Even though they told us that my placenta was low-lying and I would need a C-section, a couple weeks before her schedule date we learned that the placenta was perfect and that I could be induced for a natural birth.  We had been told so much that had turned out to be false.  Surely, our baby would be the same.

Unfortunately, I am still dealing from the trauma of my 11-day stay in the hospital.  It was terrible and terrifying for so many reasons, and I won’t go into the details.  The short story is this: my induction failed.  After 6 days of painfully trying to force my body into labour, my doctors finally recommended a C section. 

The moments leading up to Everly’s birth were the scariest moments of my life.  Robin was not allowed to be in the operating room while they prepped me for the C-section.  The room was cold, bright, and sterile.  There were at least a dozen doctors and nurses in the room and the atmosphere was tense.  I was shaking.  Everyone was waiting to see what this baby would be like and if she would need to be rushed to the OR.  I was told that I wouldn’t be able to hold her right away since she would need a thorough examination.

Robin came in and held my hand.  We both held our breaths for the most tense and looming moment of our lives.  It only took a few minutes.  I couldn’t feel anything but heard the doctor tell Robin to come look over the curtain.  He announced that she was a girl.  And then she was swooped up and taken to the examining table nearby.

I could hear her crying, which was a good sign.  I frantically begged Robin to let me know if she was okay – did she look okay?!  Was she breathing on her own??  What was happening??  But before we knew it, our baby was back beside us and laid upon on my chest for the first time.  I could see for myself that she had all the normal baby parts, and I held her against me for a single breath before yelling, “I’m going to puke!  Take her!” and promptly threw up all over the ground (according to my nurse, this was a completely normal response to the drugs).

Our baby was eventually taken to the NICU for monitoring and I was wheeled to the recovery room.  It took me over an hour before I regained feeling back in my body.  I couldn’t wait to get back to my husband and baby, and I was in a cloud of adrenaline and shock.  I was beginning to believe that my intuition had been right all along.  Our baby must be fine!

We had one full day of “normal” new parent bliss.  Despite being separated from my family that night (I was kept in the Women’s ward and Everly and Robin stayed in the NICU, 15 minutes away), we got to experience those precious first hours of happiness with our “miracle baby.”  I jumped the gun and wrongly assumed that our challenges would end here.  Surely after all of our struggles, all of our years of longing for a child, after all these months of sorrow and fear…surely, those days were behind us?

I was very wrong, and the worst days were yet to come.

The Diagnosis

The next morning, we were told that Everly was blind.  She was missing a large section of retina in both eyes—the part that allows for vision.  She could register light and shadow (she would squint when the light came on), but the paediatric ophthalmologist told us that the best we could hope for was about 20/200 vision; in other words, our daughter would be severely visually impaired and would likely be blind.

The following day, she failed her hearing test.  Twice. 

There isn’t much for me to write here because it was too painful.  I watched my husband diminish into misery greater than anything I could imagine, and I tried to stay strong for us all.  While trying to grapple with this devastating news, I was also trying to recover from my C-section, trying to breastfeed, trying to pump, and trying to bond with my baby.  But I was broken inside, and it manifested in the skyrocketing of my blood pressure. 

My doctors soon realized that my blood pressure was dangerously high, and so I was sent back to the Women’s ward to receive treatment.  They feared that I had complications with pre-eclampsia, which can be fatal, and almost didn’t discharge me in time for Christmas.  By this time, we had been moved 9 separate times during our 11 days in the hospital, and our last room was dark, depressing, and in a part of the hospital that felt completely forgotten.  We huddled together in our tears and tried not to look at our baby with sadness.  But the truth was, we were devastated, heartbroken, and completely at a loss to how we would cope. 

We were discharged on December 22, 2018, with the knowledge that we were taking home our baby who was somehow healthy...but also deaf and blind. 

While we were relieved to be home and finally able to sleep in a comfortable bed together, so much of our homecoming was stilted and painful.  I know that all new mothers say that motherhood can’t be fathomed until you go through it yourself, but this was different.  My pregnancy had been different, and now my entire life would be different. The kind of different that can crush the spirit.

Coping with a New Definition of Motherhood

But this is also a story of hope.  And resilience.  Because we didn’t give up, and we didn’t allow our pain to define us.  We cried and we broke down.  And we still do.  But we also loved each other and our daughter more fiercely and passionately than I thought possible.  And we had help.

Although I hadn’t been close with my parents and siblings for years, this situation brought us together and healed much of the hurt that existed between us.  My in-laws and close friends were quick to provide us with food and help.  We had visits from the local nurse, and my doctors checked up on me.  We ate, we slept, we fed Everly, and the days—in a blur—went on.  

The first three months were more difficult than is possible to describe.  I know the adjustment period is tough for all new parents.  It took us time to figure out what kind of baby Everly was—when she was hungry, how to soothe her, all the typical baby things.  Some days, I was able to treat this in a way that felt “normal.”  She needed love, milk, and sleep, and that wasn’t any different than any other baby.  But there were many days of heart-wrenching despair.  Like any time I realized that Everly couldn’t hear my voice or see my face.  Or any time I took her out for a walk and agonized over the thought of running into a stranger—or worse, a friend.  How would I be able to speak without crying?  These thoughts were paralyzing. 

Hope Stirs

We received our first glimpse of hope when Everly turned three months old.  She was finally old enough to take a comprehensive hearing test.  We took her to the community audiology department for the procedure, which took four hours.  We sat in silence watching our sleeping baby, hooked up with a dozen wires, in a dark room as the audiologist painstakingly tested each frequency and volume.  Finally, she delivered us the news that Everly was definitely hard of hearing: moderate hearing loss on one side and moderate/severe on the other.  The good news was that with hearing aids, she would most likely be able to hear speech sounds and could probably learn to listen and speak.

Three weeks weeks later, Everly received her first pair of hearing aids.  We didn’t film her reaction when she heard sound for the first time (we were too nervous), but her eyes opened super wide and she started to look around.  We were told that this was a great reaction to the hearing aids, and we allowed ourselves to feel joy that our daughter could finally begin to hear our voices—and all the amazing sounds in our world. 

From here, we began to work with interventionists who would help our daughter since she had two disabilities or “dual sensory impairment” or “deafblindness.”  There was a lot to learn, and many appointments with specialists of all sorts.  And even with the good news about her hearing, I was still at a loss about Everly’s blindness.  I worried about every milestone and if she would achieve them, and wondered how we would ever teach her to crawl, or to someday walk, if she couldn’t see.  There were many things that triggered me in the early days.  Some of them were simple like seeing a group of moms walking with their strollers in the park, carefree and happy.  Some of them were more visceral, like watching a dad teach his daughter how to swim or ride a bike.  I’d head home in tears and cry for the rest of the day, holed up with my baby alone, wondering and fearing what kind of life we would have.

But at four months old, things started to change.  I noticed that Everly was watching her mobile above her crib, and I wondered if she could actually see it.  Then, on a whim, I decided to play her a “baby animation” music video on YouTube—a silly high contrast video for babies.  She watched it intently for six minutes straight while I held my breath in disbelief.

At 6 months old, we took her for her first ophthalmology appointment.  We saw two doctors who gave us completely different information.  Her ophthalmologist looked in her eyes and gave us the same, bleak news that we had received at Everly’s birth.  Yes, she’s blind.  She won’t be able to see more than light and shadows.  She won’t ever be able to learn how to read. 

But her functional vision doctor gave us hope.  He noticed that she was tracking objects and toys, and told us that she would probably still be legally blind, but that her vision would continue to improve over the next year.  We had no idea what to do with this information.  We had been bitterly disappointed in the past and we feared getting ahead of ourselves.  But we were also seeing what this doctor was seeing…and that was that Everly was seeing.

Foreverly After

This story does not have a happy ending because we don’t know how things are going to end.  With impairments in vision and hearing, we won’t know the full story of what Everly sees and hears until she’s old enough to tell us what she really sees and hears.  And while that’s a long time off in the future, the good news is that she should be able to tell us.  With her own voice and in her own words. 

Amazingly, Everly is hitting all of her milestones on track or just slightly behind.  Her specialists and interventionists haven’t given us any cause for alarm; in fact, they are continually impressed by her progress and never fail to tell us so.  Everly was almost 9 months old when she started crawling.  To me, this was the most hopeful day of her first year of life because it proved to me that she could see.  And when she started crawling to me from across the room, my heart nearly burst with the knowledge that she could locate me by sound and vision.

According to her eye doctors, Everly’s eyes will probably always be crossed—they think this is how she manages to see with the small piece of retina that she has in each eye.  It can be tough to meet people for the first time who see her with her hearing aids and her oddly crossed eyes.  Little kids will bluntly ask, “What’s wrong with her?”  And while I will probably always feel some heartache when this happens, I will also feel like it’s a real miracle that Everly can see or hear at all.

At almost 17 months old, Everly has been on 25 flights and all over the world.  She loves swimming and playing at the beach. She started walking without any assistance at 15 months.  It’s no longer out of the realm of possibility to imagine her one day skiing, scuba diving, or doing something as basic as riding a bike. 

I think it will always be difficult to look back on this time.  Little by little, we are settling into this life as parents with a child who has disabilities.  But she is also teaching us lessons in resilience and perseverance, reminding us just how capable she really is.  All through her young life, I will worry: is she developing at a normal rate?  Is she smart?  Is she going to make friends?  Will people accept her?  Love her?

But these are the questions that all moms ask of all their babies, and while Everly will always be different, these questions are as typical as they come.  I’m pretty sure we’re going to manage them the same way we’ve managed all of this: with love, determination, and an endless capacity for hope.

She will foreverly be my miracle.


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). Another thing we always asked about is if the room included a fridge for bottle storage! Once Everly began eating solid foods, we became more choosy about rooms with a kitchen (a big help!), but up until 6 months, all you really need is a small fridge.
  • We always forget this, but it really helps to bring a travel-sized dish soap. Unless your room has a full kitchen, it's unlikely to have anything other than soap and shampoo!

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 Everly 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!


9 month journey

A New Respect: My Postpartum Body

9 months in vs. 9 months out -- 180 lbs to 110 lbs

Before I got pregnant, I assume I was like many women--I imagined what it would be like to be pregnant. I visualized my belly rounding and expanding, and all of the terrifying and wonderful things that would come with growing a human inside of me. Even years of infertility couldn't quell my great curiosity with pregnancy.

When we finally received our miracle pregnancy on our 5th attempt of IVF, I was filled with excitement and couldn't wait to greet the changes to my body. I noticed some of them right away: clear, glowing skin, shiny, thicker hair, and a tiny belly bump that finally emerged in my second trimester.

5 months pregnant felt amazing! For three months I got to experience that "pregnant glow," including great skin, hair, and energy!

But by 24 weeks, my pregnant glow started to diminish. Not only did my pregnancy become high risk from IUGR (intra-uterine growth restriction), but my weight gain soared. I had 2-3 checkups every week during my third trimester, and I steadily gained between 2-3 lbs each week. My doctors told me that this wasn't anything to worry about and that all women carry babies differently ... but it was not easy on my body or spirit to gain 60 lbs (and another 10 in fluids during my induction and eventual C-section). I had always envisioned myself as that "skinny" pregnant woman--the one who didn't look pregnant at all until you saw her basketball belly from the side. I thought my active lifestyle would translate to my pregnancy and I would still be on my mat or at bootcamp up to the 40th week.

In my 8th month of pregnancy, I was hoping to keep up some kind of yoga practice, but my body was too uncomfortable and swollen to do much more than squats and push-ups at home

This was not the case. My weight gain made exercise (and movement of any kind) difficult. My arms and legs puffed up so much that I couldn't sit down crosslegged or on my knees. A vinyasa yoga class was out of the question. I was just too uncomfortable. I still tried to do a nightly routine of squats, pushups, and some core, but my body was determined to get bigger all around.

A few days before my scheduled induction and weighing in at almost 170 lbs. I was extremely uncomfortable in any position for the last three weeks.

My induction was scheduled for 37 weeks, but my delivery didn't go as planned (read: the induction completely failed). I was disappointed to learn that I would need a C-section. Beyond the obvious reasons (going through surgery, dealing with the recovery, being separated from my baby), I knew that C-sections required women to wait at least 6-8 weeks before beginning any exercise. I was hoping to jump right back into yoga after my delivery, but that was not going to be the case.

One day after Everly was born and feeling more bloated and pregnant than ever! It took nearly a month before the swelling in my hands and feet went away.

Since my induction went awry, I had been pumped with IV fluids for almost a week before giving birth. This had the unfortunate surprise of making my body extremely swollen for an entire month after giving birth. My hands, legs and feet were so puffy that I could barely lift them. Even after I came home from the hospital, I was wearing my husband's shoes for weeks before the swelling went away. I refused to look in the mirror or let my husband take pictures of me. Of course, we were both so busy with our newborn baby girl that our physical appearances didn't even register on the priority list!

9 days postpartum and in complete disbelief that I have a living, breathing baby in my arms. You can also get a glimpse of my monster feet!

I listened to my doctors and spent my first 6 weeks postpartum resting and healing from my incision. Even though I felt fine after two weeks, I had to keep reminding myself that I had had a major surgery and that my abdominal muscles needed to completely repair. But once I got the clearance to start exercising again, I eagerly got on my mat and started a home practice once again. I had no idea I'd lost so much strength. I couldn't even do a pushup on my knees, and my first attempts at a chaturanga were very discouraging.

My body at one month postpartum -- not ready for workouts but starting to fit into workout clothes!

What was interesting, however, is how much weight came off right away. I know that my experience is unique and that the postpartum journey is different for everyone. I learned that most of my weight gain had been water, and a lot of it seemingly "melted off" in the first three months. I know this was also a combination of stress and breastfeeding. By March, I had already lost 45 lbs.

3 months postpartum in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, weighing around 135 lbs

Baby Everly slept a tremendous amount as a newborn. In fact, we had to wake her up twice a night to feed her; otherwise, she would have slept through the night. Even during the day, she was a great sleeper for the first three months of her life. And so when I could finally start working out again, I had a decent amount of time to do so. I also took friends and family members up on their offers to watch Everly for me so that I could take a class. When I couldn't find a sitter, I'd get my husband to watch her early in the morning or late at night so that I didn't impinge on his work schedule.

Little by little, I noticed changes in my body. I had kept my biggest pair of jeans from before my pregnancy as a marker and a bit of a goal, but by five months postpartum, I still couldn't fit into them. This didn't get me down. Don't get me wrong. My physical appearance has always been important to me and it was strange to be so much bigger than I was prior to my pregnancy. But I was also unceasingly busy with my baby that my fitness level and weight loss really took the back burner. Plus, on the rare occasion when I did find some free time, I was often exhausted and would choose a nap over anything else.

My first yoga shoot at 4 months postpartum. I was self-conscious of my body at this point, but I also really wanted to document my journey and honour where I was at, so I agreed to do this shoot even though I was uncomfortable and barely fitting into these clothes.

The last 25 lbs came from good, old fashioned hard work--in my case, hot yoga, bootcamp, and a home yoga practice. My core got stronger and I began to find more balance in my handstands. In some ways it was like learning my yoga poses all over again -- many I hadn't practiced in over a year. But this allowed me to have breakthroughs all over again, to celebrate what my body could once again do.

Near the end of May, I was invited to a photoshoot with one of my favourite brands, Free Label. I was still a little uncomfortable about my size here, but that all paled in comparison to how amazing it was to bring Everly to the shoot and even be able to nurse her for some of the shots!

I still have a soft tummy or "raisin belly" as one of my friends lovingly calls it. I don't know if my body will ever look like it did before, and I'm totally happy about that. My experience really was a 9 months in, 9 months out journey. It took me 9 months to gain 70 lbs and almost exactly 9 months to lose 70 lbs! I never dieted or thought about what I ate. But there were definitely days where all I'd eat before dinner was toast and peanut butter -- whatever was the easiest, fastest thing to make and scarf down while Baby slept. My diet, sleep, and wellness always came last, and were I to do it over again, I would make a much greater effort for self-care. I now understand how important it is for caregivers to care for themselves first!

By 6 months postpartum, I was beginning to see the results of some hard work. I was also teaching three yoga classes a week and doing my best to get to a hot class or bootcamp once a week.

The pictures that I have of my pregnancy continue to astound me, but so do the pictures of me today. I am still trying to come to terms with the past two years just on a physical level (the emotional and mental stuff is even harder). As I take the time to acknowledge my physical journey, I am struck by the new respect I have for my body. It has accomplished so much in what feels like a short amount of time, and it is continually teaching me how strong I really am.

7 months postpartum and seeing the results of a fit and active summer

When I saw this picture of me on our last day in Spain (9 months postpartum), I honestly couldn't believe that this was my body.

A snapshot of an incredible 9-month journey


Taking it easy in-land: 5 days in Girona and La Bisbal d'Empordà, Spain

Part two of our road trip through Spain in September, 2019. We stayed two nights in Girona and three at the Castell d'Empordà, a unique luxury property. We traveled with our 8 month old daughter, Everly.

Walking the well-preserved walls of Girona

We almost didn't make the trek in-land on this road trip because our main draw to Spain was the coast. But as I was doing my research about the Costa Brava, the city of Girona kept coming up. Ultimately, I couldn't not put it into our itinerary, and so we tacked it onto the end of our trip. And, because we have learned that traveling with an infant can be exhausting, we decided to spend our last three nights relaxing in a palatial resort in nearby La Bisbal. These last stops on our Spanish trip felt so different from the rest of our travels that I wanted to make it a separate blog post. Enjoy!

Days 10-12: Girona

Girona is often overshadowed by its much larger and more cosmopolitan sister, Barcelona. But it was a precious stop all on its own, and one of my favourite experiences in all of Spain. Girona is a gorgeous medieval town only an hour and 15 minutes by car from Barcelona. Its medieval architecture and atmosphere is particularly well preserved and impressive, complete with walls that were constructed starting in the 9th century! However, if you're going with a stroller: beware! The town centre is very hilly with deep cobblestones and stairs, so a baby carrier is an essential.

Playing on the cathedral steps in Girona, just after dawn

Girona has become well known over the past few years for two reasons: it's the site of several Game of Throne episodes, and it boasts one of the world's top restaurants: El Cellar de Can Roca. We never book our trips far enough in advance to think about things like restaurant reservations, but I wish we had been more on the ball this time around. Apparently, El Cellar de Can Roca won the world's best restaurant (whatever that means!) in 2015, and has been a dining superstar ever since. If you have the chance to go, please let me know what you thought!

Despite not getting into El Cellar de Can Roca (I actually tried!), we had some incredible meals in Girona that are not to be missed! My favourite was a cute "biker" cafe, called La Fabrica, and by biker I mean cycler! Owned by cycling enthusiasts, it's a long-time haunt of cyclists making their way through Catalonia. However, the main draw for us was the incredible and beautifully presented food. We came twice and loved everything we tried, particularly the oat-milk lattes and specialty toasts! Also fun: if there aren't any seats available, you're welcome to grab a cushion and fashion your own seat on the accompanying outdoor stairs (which was challenging with a baby, but memorable nonetheless!).

Little cushions adorn the steps so that patrons of La Fabrica can dine outside when the cafe is packed

We came here three times because we wanted to try all the breakfast items!

We also had our best paella at l'Alqueria after doing a quick google search. Funny story: we knew we were in for a tough night when Everly started getting fussy on our quick walk over the bridge to l'Alqueria. While the restauranteurs didn't bat an eye about our bringing our baby, as she began to have a meltdown, we were seriously stared down by the table across the room. Apparently they kept giving my husband the stink eye, but I was too busy trying to get Everly to shush that I didn't notice. In any case, we spent the whole evening rocking her with no luck and she didn't fall asleep until we were ready to leave. All that being said, the paellas are enormous and impressive. The waiter carries the piping hot pan over to the table to view before serving the table. We chose the lobster paella and it was rich, creamy, and to die for.

Tiny pedestrian bridges connect the old town of Girona with the new

One of the many reasons we loved Girona is because of our unique lodging: the AS Palau Dels Alemanys. It's hard to describe how interesting this hotel is, but just read the reviews on the link above! Eric, the owner, a 30-something Gironian, has converted an old historic building into a stylish mix of old and new. There are only 3 or 4 rooms (one on each floor), that are completely unique. We had the middle floor unit with romantic windows accompanied by little stone seats. Perfect for taking a glass of wine and watching the sunset.

One of our favourite hotel stays in the world -- this was a real treat and I wish I had more photos to share!

Everything in Girona is within walking distance, and we loved how this was so close to the main Girona Cathedral. We arrived there at sunrise on our first morning and had the entire square to ourselves...it inspired me to film a short yoga sequence!

There is so much to do in Girona: taking in the sights, dining at some of Spain's standout restaurants, or taking day trips to wineries or nearby villages. We took the short trip to Figueres to see the Salvador Dalí Theatre Museum, which is just as eccentric and amazing as it appears in pictures. We also drove up to Besalú because I couldn't resist seeing its medieval bridge in person. Only 35 minutes from Girona, it makes for a great few hours of exploring (the city itself is very small), and walking both on and below the bridge.

Picture perfect Besalu is a short drive away from Girona and worth the visit!

If we had had more time, I would have insisted that we see Garrotxa, which boasts some incredible volcanic geography, castles, and nature reserves. But we only had two nights in Girona and we wanted to spend our last three days relaxing by the pool. Besides, Everly was still keeping us on our toes with her 8pm fits (that coincided perfectly with dinner each night), and so we opted for a little more R&R on our last stop.

Everly loved each destination!

Days 12-15: Castell d'Empordà

As I was randomly searching through hotel sites in Catalonia, I came across what looked like it must be too good to be true: Castell d'Empordà, just 40 minutes from Girona. It looked like everything we were hoping for on our last leg of the trip. A bit of a splurge, perhaps, but a stunning historic property with two pools, two restaurants, a spa onsite and a nearby winery. It's always a bit of a shot in the dark to book luxury accommodations because you go in with high expectations and it can be such a letdown if the hotel doesn't deliver. However, we were only pleased and more pleased by our stay at Castell d'Empordà; it made the perfect ending to our Spanish road trip!

One of the property's two outdoor pools

This was a time for us to set up shop at the pool with a bottle of cava and a book, while ordering delicious tapas from the restaurant. We slept in, lavished in the breakfast buffet, and sunned ourselves through the afternoon. Beyond visiting a winery one afternoon, we stayed on the hotel property and enjoyed life in the slow lane.

The best kind of dining: on a patio with a bottle of chilled cava and our darling baby

If you love wine as much as we do, make a point of visiting Eccocivi. A 20 minute drive away brought us into rolling hills and one of the best wines we have every tasted in our lives: Ca l'Elsa 2014. When a European wine costs 50 euro, it better be spectacular! We loved it so much that we ended up buying two bottles to take home! This is the only time we've ever checked our bags at the airport, just so we could enjoy this wine at home!

A perfect way to end our road trip through Spain

Lasting Impressions

Spain is a big country with several distinct regions. It is culturally and geographically diverse. We took a less-travelled route through Catalonia (instead of Madrid and Seville) because it allowed us to see a decent amount of this region, with day trips taking no more than 1.5 hours in length. This was a perfectly accessible amount of travel for a young family with a baby, easily done in a car. We wished we had more time to explore both the coast and in-land, but that is always going to be the case with a country as vibrant and beautiful as Spain.

There is no way to "see it all" in a region as plentiful as Catalonia, so my advice is to choose fewer highlights and to spend a little longer in each place. My FOMO led to us rushing around from town to town before we had a chance to fully appreciate it ... but this is a common problem for many travellers!

Dining with a baby was difficult and sometimes meant that we had to go hungry at night if Everly wasn't cooperating. With dinner times starting at 8pm, it meant for very late nights, which wasn't super convenient with an infant. There were definitely a few times that I had to send Robin out to find us some takeout while I stayed home rocking and nursing Everly to sleep.

This trip taught us a lot about international travel with a baby. It took Everly almost a week to adjust to the new time zone in Spain, and almost 3 weeks!! to adjust when we got home. We were so put off by sleep deprivation that we gave up on the idea of taking another big trip this fall (opting instead for closer destinations in the same time zone!).

It also taught us just how much we love traveling with our baby. We really began to see her personality shine through when she got to play at the beach or in the pool. By the end of our two weeks, she went from "almost crawling" to taking her first inches forward, and that was a memorable sight all on its own.

Everly clearly didn't have fun in Spain...

This road trip was special for so many reasons. It will always hold a tender place in my heart as that ambitious and magical adventure we managed to surmount during my mat leave.

Until next time,

Sandra


Braving the Costa Brava with a Baby: a 10 day itinerary

In the late summer of 2019, my husband, 8-month baby girl, and I took a road trip around the northeast corner of Spain, also known as the Catalonia region. The first 10 days included Barcelona, Tossa de Mar, Palafrugell, and Cadaqués. After that, we drove somewhat inland through Figueres to visit the Dalí museum, and then spent two nights in Girona, and the last three in La Bisbal. This is part 1 of our trip, highlighting our unforgettable journey along the rugged coast!

Sunrise at the Barcelona Cathedral. It is only this empty early in the morning when jetlagged tourists such as ourselves are roaming the streets

After traveling on a few somewhat easy trips with Everly, we knew we wanted to do at least one international experience during my year of maternity leave. Part of the draw was that we could now travel outside of the school calendar and take advantage of the shoulder season. While I get a lot of holiday time as a high school teacher, it's always the most expensive and busiest time to travel, so we were really excited to plan a family vacation in September!

I originally hoped to do Greece, but after looking at high prices and the amount of travel required between islands (not to mention the stairs!), I began my research into Spain. Flights out of Vancouver were reasonably priced and I was hopeful that we could take easy, short road trips from Barcelona. My research soon brought me to a stretch of coastline that I had never heard of before: The Costa Brava.

There is shockingly little information to find on blogs or tour books about this small expanse of Spain's northeast coast. A more popular first foray into Spain is to travel to Barcelona, Madrid, and Seville. I worried and hummed and hawed about if this was the right choice for us. But in the end, the Costa Brava was more beautiful than all of our expectations, and I couldn't recommend it more -- with or without a baby!

This post is dedicated to our itinerary and road trip, including notable lodging, restaurants, and baby-friendly activities. Before you begin planning your trip, though, just make a note that dining hours in Spain are very different from other European countries. We completely forgot about Spanish siesta and how it impacts dinner hours--something to keep in mind if you want your baby to be on any kind of sleep schedule. Most restaurants only open for dinner at 8pm!! which proved to be difficult for us almost every day. Everly was 8 months old when we embarked on this trip and just trying to crawl, so it actually helped us a lot that she wasn't super mobile yet!

The smallest of three beaches directly in Tossa de Mar. The Costa Brava is famous for small inlets nestled in between dramatic cliffs

Days 1 to 3: Barcelona

We flew on Aeroplan points from Vancouver to Barcelona with a stopover in Montreal. Everly is a champion flyer and typically sleeps on most legs of our trips. We decided to buy her her own seat for these flights so that we could bring her carseat on the plane. Even though this is a more expensive option, we really valued being able to eat and sleep comfortably ourselves, especially on a long-haul flight.

We use the Nuna Pipa carseat, which is super light and fits easily into our Yoyo Babyzen stroller. We love that we don't need to travel with the carseat base and that we can take her in taxis or our rental car with ease!

That being said, when we arrived in Barcelona, Everly's sleep schedule was complete chaos. With a 7 hour time change, she slept most of the day and was up most of the night. The first week of the trip still feels like a blur as we tried to adjust to the new timezone. Luckily we have some great photos to help us remember our experience since we definitely felt like zombies during our stay in Barcelona!

Admiring the stained glass of the Barcelona Cathedral

We stayed in the gorgeous medieval neighbourhood of El Born, which made for great strolls at 5am when we were wide awake and needing to burn off some energy. Our hotel, the Mercer House Boria Barcelona, was not particularly notable and more like a converted apartment building. But it was well situated and spacious with a mini kitchen (a must when traveling with a baby), and a great base for getting out and seeing the sights!

A cloudy but hot day taking in the eerie elegance of the Sagrada Familia

We spent only three nights in Barcelona as a way of easing into our new time zone. Most of our time was spent taking long walks through the different districts, cruising along Las Ramblas, and viewing the stunning architecture. No trip to Barcelona is complete without taking in the surreal grandeur of La Sagrada Familia and Barcelona Cathedral! We sadly didn't have time to go inside La Sagrada Familia and I have heard that it is a life-changing experience, not to be missed. But with our jetlag and the massive queues out front of the cathedral, we decided that we would have to come back and do it another time.

Barcelona is a city of wonder for kids and adults alike!

One of our favourite parts of Barcelona was simply getting lost in the labyrinthine streets of the Barri Gotic, sampling food along the way. No one batted an eye about bringing our baby to the bar, and she was often awake late at night when we wanted to grab a cocktail or a glass of cava.

Baby at the bar, Barcelona style!

While Barcelona is a destination in its own right and you could spend two weeks exploring its treasures, we were soon pushing off to the airport for our rental car and heading northeast for the "rugged coast": La Costa Brava.

Days 3 to 6: Tossa De Mar

The drive from Barcelona to Tossa De Mar takes approximately 1.5 hours on well maintained highways with good signs. There are occasional highway tolls which can be a bit confusing, and it's easier to have some euros on hand to pay for these in cash. I found Catalonian drivers to be a bit on the reckless side, so do take extra caution if you're driving. There is apparently a bus from Barcelona to Girona, but if you want to explore the Costa Brava, you're going to need your own transportation.

Living the beach life in Tossa de Mar

The picture-perfect beach of Tossa de Mar, set against the beautifully preserved medieval fortress and walled city

Tossa De Mar is like a medieval fairytal come to life, all set against the stunning turquoise of the Mediterranean Sea. We arrived on the last weekend of August, just as high season was coming to a close, so it was predictably busy. Despite the amount of people in such a small village, Tossa still didn't feel too stifling with people, and there was always a space at restaurants or on the beach.

Strolling the ancient streets of Tossa

The medieval fortress and village of Tossa are what define its picturesque charm. We took Everly up the hill to the fortress in her stroller, which wasn't a good call near the top because the cobblestones were so rough that we weren't able to make it very far. But the views from the top are exquisite, especially at sunset, so we went back the next day and used her carrier instead.

We use the Baby Bjorn mesh carrier and love how easy and comfortable it is, especially for hikes like this one up the Tossa cliffs

We chose a relatively high-end boutique hotel, Hotel Diana, because of its incredible proximity to the waterfront. Set directly on the beach, we booked a suite with a balcony facing the sea that was perfect for watching the sunrise (especially since we were still suffering from jet lag!). Almost all hotels in Spain come with a free breakfast buffet, and the one here was particularly good. My favourite food in Spain was pa amb tomàquet: a fresh tomato is spread on toasted baguette with garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper. We ate this at almost every meal. Delicious!

Almost all hotels in Spain include breakfast, and this one was one of our favourites because it had its own tomato bread station. And a mimosa bar!

Speaking of food, we took in two notable meals in Tossa: Cuina Can Simon, a 1-star Michelin restaurant with a prix fixe dinner menu, and Can Sophia, set inside the Casa Granados Hotel. Both meals were delicious, but we were basically catatonic from sleep deprivation at Cuina Can Simon, and can barely remember anything about that meal! However, Can Sophia was set in a stunning, atmospheric glass-roofed space, and definitely my favourite of the two! I was so impressed by how accommodating everyone was about having a baby in a fine-dining establishment, but then again, all families eat late in Spain so they must be used to babies!

Dining at beautiful Can Sophia in Tossa de Mar

We stayed three nights in Tossa de Mar to give us a chance to take in the village (which is quite small) and beach, as well as a trip to one of the nearby beaches. Even though there are a number of amazing beaches close by, the ones in Tossa were just as pretty and came with the added bonus of the castle on the hill. There are actually three small beaches in the town and as a starting point on a road trip, three days is the perfect amount of time for some sand, sun, and sightseeing.

Note: all of the towns that we visited were hilly, cobblestoned, and not very stroller-friendly! We made do with our Yoyo but often chose the baby carrier if we knew we'd be hiking or on bumpy cobblestones.

Sunrise from our balcony at Hotel Diana, overlooking the Mediterranean

Days 6 to 8: Palafrugell

Palafrugell is actually a town somewhat inland from the coast, but Calella de Palafrugell (Calella means beach in Catalan) is a tiny beach town that packs a big punch. Despite being busy at this time of the year, it had a decidedly non-touristy feel, which was very different from Tossa de Mar. It was only a 45 minute drive away, and we chose it because I managed to find AMAZING accommodations on AirBnB for a decent price. Think: penthouse level condo with a rooftop patio and hot tub, all overlooking the Mediterranean and being just steps from the beach. Check out this link or this one on AirBnB and just make sure that you choose the "penthouse" option because they own two flats in the building...and you will definitely want the penthouse! Anna is the lovely owner who will greet you herself and make sure that you are well taken care of.

Sunning on the hot tub while taking in the stunning sights of Calella de Palafrugell

We were so enamoured with our lodging and the incredible beach out front that we didn't venture out on any day trips from Palafrugell. We also didn't find any restaurants that really stood out, but that was because Everly was in meltdown mode each night when we attempted to go for dinner at 8pm. In fact, we tried to eat as close to our apartment as possible, and spent most of the time trading off rocking her and trying to get her to stop crying!

The beach directly in front of our penthouse in Palafrugell had some of the clearest water we have ever seen!

Clearly no fun was had at the beach

Despite that, our two days in Palafrugell were a highlight of the trip, and probably the prettiest piece of the Costa Brava that we were lucky enough to see. Much of the coast is connected by a seawall known as the Cami de Ronda, a footpath built in the 19th century. If you are interested in more challenging day hikes, you can read up on several routes of the ronda here. Sadly, with the soaring temperatures and the steep inclines (while wearing a baby), we only managed to walk about an hour south of Calella de Palafrugell, but I would have loved to continue further! My husband and I both agreed that we should have stayed another night in this gorgeous seaside town, lazing the day away in the water and taking full advantage of the view from the rooftop of Anna's incredible penthouse!

We waited until the late afternoon so it wasn't as hot to walk La Ronda

La Ronda snakes around the coast of Palafrugell for miles in both directions and is not to be missed!

Days 8 to 10: Cadaqués

Cadaqués is the northernmost coastal town in Spain before you hit the French border. All of the research I did on the Costa Brava insists that you visit Cadaqués--they claim that it's so unique in geography and so postcard pretty. But every time I looked at photos of it online, I felt underwhelmed. In the end, FOMO got the best of me and I decided to book two nights. I'm so glad I took the chance because we absolutely loved this white-washed fisherman's town!

The seawall of Cadaqués and its hilly townside of white buildings

Cadaqués has a very different feel to it than the other seaside towns of the Costa Brava. It's far more remote and difficult to get to, for one. While it looks close on the map, you need to weave your way over a treacherous hill along tiny, cliffside roads. I honestly had to close my eyes as my husband drove us the last 30 minutes into Cadaqués, and I'll be happy if we never do that drive again! The drive from Palafrugell to Cadaqués takes approximately 1.5 hours.

Cadaqués is famous for two main things: being a hometown for the artist Salvator Dalí, and for its proximity to Cap de Creus, a major natural park of gorgeous caves and coves. Despite knowing about these two things before we arrived, we didn't look into either of them during our stay, yet we still adored the town!

Cadaqués is quiet and somewhat moodier than the rest of the colourful coast. It's noticeably colder (but still very warm in the summer) with a bit of a chill in its almost constant wind. It also rained periodically and at times heavily during our stay. None of these elements tend to bring me any joy, and I was surprised to discover how much I loved the town.

Beaches are rockier as is the landscape, but there is something so peaceful about the private inlets for swimming and picnics

There is a relatively flat seawall that snakes around the bays and coves of Cadaqués. We spent some time walking and quietly taking in the views of the harbour and ancient whitewashed buildings. The seawall includes several arteries of stairs leading down to secluded smooth-stone beaches where we often swam in peace and privacy (unheard of in the other places we had been along the coast!).

We booked our stay extremely late and had limited options for lodging, but finally settled on Rec du Palau. Despite the somewhat dated interior and oddly designed room, we loved the property. It is set atop a steep hill so the building flows into the layers of the land. We spent time at both pools and took in the views from their grand living room. I could have spent hours reading or drinking a glass of wine while overlooking the harbour...but alas, that is not something we managed to do with an 8 month old, of course!

Our room opened up onto the pool deck and had wonderful views of the city below

Despite how much we loved exploring the rugged landscape and rocky schists of Cadaqués, this was definitely the hardest city to navigate with a stroller. We managed fine when we were on the seawall, but anytime we ventured into town, we were completely out of luck since almost all streets were built up steep stairs. Our hotel was also difficult with a baby, but these inconveniences did not put us off. As in Palafrugell, we wished we had another day or two so that we could have seen Cap de Creus.

Enjoying a sunny dip on our last morning. Even though it was windy, the temperature was still in the high 20s.

On a walk around town, we came across an old, abandoned bridge. You can see the layered schist rock that is used in most buildings in Cadaqués

As was the case in Palafrugell, Everly made dining a bit of a nightmare in Cadaqués, and combined with a downpour of rain, we opted for the more touristy food right on the water. We were hoping to eat at El Barroco or Casa Anita during our stay, but we they were fully booked! We made do with tasty (albeit touristy) paellas along the waterfront, and dealt with our screaming child as best we could!

Lasting observations

Our time in Catalonia defied our expectations and left us thoroughly amazed, well-fed (on the nights we were able to enjoy a peaceful dinner!), and inspired by both the natural beauty of the land and sea as well as the staggering architecture of Spanish masters. We will continue to reminisce about our short road trip and can't wait until Everly is old enough to tell her about these adventures.

The time change was particularly challenging for us, even though we have a relatively laid-back and easy baby. If we could do it again, I would probably opt to break up the long haul flight into two segments, stopping over in Toronto or Montreal for a night and then taking another segment into Spain.

Babies are happily welcomed everywhere in Spain, and while it's tricky to navigate a stroller in hilly, cobblestoned villages, a baby carrier works well in most cases, and almost all restaurants have highchairs. We also had no problem booking a free crib at each hotel or AirBnB, and so we were actually able to do this long trip with only carry-on!

Seeing the Costa Brava in person felt like discovering a well-kept secret. I don't know why it isn't more of a popular destination -- probably because there are so many enticing spots throughout Spain. But this made for a perfect road trip with a baby! We were never more than an hour and a half on the road, and we managed to cover some of the most romantic and memorable spots along the coast!

Happy travels -- with or without a baby!

Sandra Gin

We suffered through almost a week of jet lag, but the pain was still worth it and we would do it all again!


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!