Baby Does Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until the next adventure,

Sandra


Welcome to the World

Everly Brook Bardon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the world, Baby Girl!


Maternity Photos

Embracing the bump

Getting glammed up for Christmas holiday parties

The third and final trimester.

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

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

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

Fall maternity photos along Stanley Park

Fall was dry and sunny on the Sunshine Coast

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

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

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

Trying to enjoy the growth of this bump

Finding beauty in my new body

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

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


My second trimester - summer bliss and a serious scare

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

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

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

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

Warm summer nights and yoga classes on my roof

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

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

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

Finding a moment of peace in gorgeous Dubrovnik, Croatia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How my second trimester got turned upside down

Other notable parts of my second trimester:

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

 

 


Stepping back in time: Stari Grad, Hvar Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Delicious and fresh: octopus salad and pizza!

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

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

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

Diving into the bluest water we've ever seen.

Other notables about Stari Grad:

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

Babymooning in Croatia

Part 1: Split

Split at sunset during our babymoon photo shoot

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

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

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

Sitting amongst history at Diocletian's Palce in Old Town

 

Walking along the romantic waterfront (also known as Riva)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Other notables about Split:

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

 


Prenatal yoga shoot

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

Lunging at Kits Beach on a glorious summer day

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

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

Finding beautiful spots amongst nature in Vanier Park, Vancouver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other interesting symptoms during my first trimester included:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trying to conceive how we managed to conceive

Our unconventional road to parenthood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Friendship in the Age of Instagram

Twinning with Su at sunrise in Stanley Park

When I first started my Instagram yoga account, I didn't expect to form meaningful, lasting friendships.  Perhaps like most people, I was skeptical if this platform could foster genuine relationships.  When I began participating in yoga challenges, I started to see how friendships could be formed, but I was still a little hesitant to "put myself out there" in the virtual world.  I even felt a little embarrassed to call the yogis I met on IG "friends."

As time went on, I began to interact with a few yogis more regularly, and I'll never forget the day I found Su.  I had made a post about recovering from my Achille's tendon rupture, using some kind of #achillestendon hashtag.  Out of curiosity, I clicked on it, and it wasn't long before I had discovered Su, a fellow Achille's-injured-yogi, beginning her road to recovery.  I was blown away by her dedication and spirit.  Having completely torn both of my Achille's tendons (a story for another day), I knew all about how difficult this injury was, and I felt compelled to reach out to Su.  I left her a brief but encouraging message about her post.  I didn't expect Su to respond back, but she did, and throughout the last year, I've interacted with Su in one form or another nearly every day.

Sharing the sunrise with Su in matching outfits by Public Myth

As I got to know Su a little better online, I began to recognize in her things I really admire.  I respected how dedicated she was to her yoga and fitness practice, especially given her busy career as a lawyer in downtown Toronto.  I loved the way that she interacted passionately and authentically with her IG followers, and how diligently she responded to every comment on her posts.  I also looked up to her honesty.  I'll never forget the time she bravely called out a famous online yogi for posting a picture that (intentionally or not) made light of animal abuse.  Su showed me how real IG could be, and I cheered as her following and friend-base grew.  I had found a true IG role model; it is through Su that I have learned what I now know about online authenticity, respect and conduct.

When Su told me that she and her husband were coming to Vancouver for Labour Day weekend to visit her family, it felt like a dream too good to be true!  Meeting for the first time in person was a confounding experience.  I went to pick her up for a yoga date, and had to pull into the alley behind her sister's house.  When I got out of the car to greet her in person for the first time, Su pulled me into a fierce and real hug that took me by surprise.  I wasn't surprised that she hugged me or that the hug was real.  I was surprised by my own emotion and realization about how much she had come to mean to me. I had to quickly brush away my tears and choke down the sobs of joy so that I could get back behind the wheel ... but enough sentimentality!

Over the course of just one weekend, I was lucky enough to see Su a LOT!  We were outfitted by Public Myth at their headquarters, we took a class together at YYoga, we had a BBQ on my rooftop, attended one of my yoga classes at the park, woke up early for an epic sunrise shoot with Catherine Byrdy, drove up to Whistler for a night, and hiked down to beautiful Brandywine Falls.  It was a whirlwind of mostly unplanned, unforgettable adventures.

Big-time heart-opener

We had the honour of shooting with the incredible photography talent, Catherine Byrdy, and I'm still reeling from her gorgeous captures of sunrise and emotion.  These keepsake photos run deep to my core, and I am struck by how enriched my life has become--all from the power of IG and the real people behind those little squares.

Headstand trivia -- can you tell which one is Su and which is me?
Who knew the water was so warm at 630am?
Finding more than the sunrise to make us glow

Making shapes with Su and the sun

Just like nothing beats taking a yoga class in person, there's nothing like finding a real-life friend, feeling and sharing in their energy, breathing the same air, and being able to smile about it together afterwards. I can't wait to share more about Su and her charity KEY -- stay tuned for some very exciting news for the month of October!