Baby Bear writes to Papa Bear 2

Dear Papa Bear,

You always joke that you want to be a detached father, watching your heir from a distance until he is ready to inherit your kingdom. You joke around a lot and Mama Bear and I love that about you but the type of father you joke about as an aspiration can’t be farther from the truth.

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Since the day I was born, with Mama Bear in too much pain and under too much medication after C-section, you had to care for me a lot. Remember when my bilirubin levels were too high and I had to get phototherapy and formula milk for two days and two nights? You had to take me out of that UV machine whenever I became hungry or too irritable. You had to put back my pacifier every time it fell out my mouth. Plus the machine was so annoying because an alarm sounded when its door was opened. Before we left the hospital, the nurses were saying the same thing about you that I want to say again now: You are the best dad ever.

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Mama Bear’s recovery from my delivery was slow… largely due to her recurring biliary colic from a gallbladder which had to be taken out eventually. It must have been tough for you to coordinate care for me, sister cats and the house while worrying about Mama Bear’s health before, during and after her surgery.

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Fast forward to a month ago when I started daycare. In one month, I already managed to get sick twice. You rarely used to get sick but because you couldn’t stand being away from me too long, I’d been passing my sickness on to you. I’m so sorry yet so grateful that you sacrifice your health to look after me.

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Thanks for playing with me, for making me smile and laugh so much. For taking me to daycare and picking me up. For carrying me when my stroller/car seat is too uncomfortable/boring. For always stepping in to watch me when Mama Bear is sick, tired or working. I am 7 months and 4 days old now, and I am the luckiest baby in the world because you are my father.

Thanks for everything so far and still to come. I love you so much and Happy First Father’s Day since your baby popped out!!!

Love,
Baby Bear

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My Second Mother’s Day Card from Niko

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I can’t believe how much time went by since I received my first Mother’s Day card from the child in my womb.

So, my super fluent, super smart child strikes again:

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“Dear Mama,

I am so happy to have finally met you. I waited so long and I was so excited to meet my family. I bet you did not realize how cute I would be. Well I did promise that I would make it all worth it in the end, and here I am. I grow so much every day and I love you even more.

I am so thankful for what you do for me. You are the best mom that I could ask for and as beautiful as I had imagined while I was still in your belly. I hope you have the happiest mother’s day today.

I love you, mama
From Niko”

The opportunity to have this wonderful child to love as my own – that’s the greatest Mother’s Day gift of all.

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A Letter to Tita Ninang (Aunt-Godmother) from Baby Bear

Dear Tita Ninang Den,

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The first time you took care of me, you didn’t have prior childcare experience. Grandma showed you how to hold me, feed me, change my diaper and get me to sleep. While Mama Bear only gave you one simple rule: “Don’t drop the baby.”

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In less than 4 months, with very little guidance (because Mama Bear is also new to all this) you’ve become an expert babysitter. You looked after me while my parents worked or rested. But you did more than just keep me satisfied with food, naps, clean diapers and play time. You serenaded me, read me books, helped me prep for my baptism (by playing coffee shop background noise for me every day so that people wouldn’t scare me so much on the big day – and it worked). You took awesome photos and videos of me that I hope to look at when I get older.
You sat next to my carseat and made sure I didn’t get cranky during car rides. You sacrificed a lot of sleep so that you can have time to both work and look after me.
You’ve been such a big help to Mama Bear and Papa Bear during this tough transition period of having their first kid.
Now that you’re back in the Philippines, I miss you. My days are not the same without you. But don’t worry, Mama Bear is trying her best and I am still the happy baby you know.
I love you, okay? Please take good care of yourself. Thank you for all you’ve done for me so far and for all I’m sure you’ll do to stay a huge part of my life.

Happy, happy Birthday!
See you later!

Love,
Baby Bear
Niko

Your Anxious Mother

Dear Niko,

People tell you many things before you become a parent. But there are things people forget to tell you or intentionally don’t tell you, perhaps, because some topics are deemed too grim. So here is one of the most commonly skipped topics.
Long before you decide to be a father, I want you to know that until you become a parent: you have never known fear, not like this.

I have always been anxious regarding a lot of things growing up. I get scared by potential sources of conflict, failure, helplessness and loss. So, believe me when I say I have never been this scared before. Why?
I worry about you, your health, your safety, your development, your future… and most importantly, I worry about the possibility of losing you.

You got sick when you were 2 weeks old and to be on the safe side, the doctors did a septic work-up on you – which was apparently a series of tests that required poking a baby all over, even taking spinal fluid from you (to rule out meningitis). You were admitted and confined in a hospital on your first Thanksgiving. So, imagine me and your father clinging miserably to each other because we couldn’t bare to see you suffering… and quite spectacularly on a night when our family should have been celebrating. I wept, wondering what we could have done differently – maybe we should have waited longer to take you out of the house, maybe we didn’t keep you warm enough or cool enough, maybe my breastmilk was not giving you the antibodies you need…image
Thankfully, on the third day, you were cleared of any concerning infections and we were able to bring you home. I can see why people don’t like talking about this. Up to now, thinking about this event brings me to tears.

You’re a week away from turning 5 months. You’ve had 2 sets of vaccinations already. You’ve maintained a healthy weight (consistent 90th percentile). I’m still paranoid about you catching sickness, but I gain a little more confidence every time we go out on an excursion with you. However, I’ve gotten myself a new fear to face… every night within our home.

You’ve been rolling a lot and you’ve discovered the comforts of sleeping on your belly (I was also a tummy sleeper before I got pregnant with you). That’s fine although what’s terrifying is how I’ve been catching you sleeping face down. I’ve lost plenty of sleep, pondering if you would always wake and turn your head without fail in case you had difficulty breathing. You see, Son, your mother sometimes gets over-educated by the Internet which worsens her anxiety. As an example, I learned the meaning of rebreathing.
Hence, I did some more research and purchased you a breathable mattress pad and breathable sheets. Even with all the positive reviews for these products, I’m still afraid. I still regularly check-in through the night to make sure you’re breathing and to turn your head as needed. I hope that in just a couple more months, the worries about safe sleep would go away like the forums say they would.
I can tell though that there will be another cause for fear after this and that my list of fears involving you will just keep growing and growing.

Now, I have heard people say that nothing can make you appreciate your parents more than becoming a parent. Based on my limited experience, I find this statement to be true.
I want to thank my parents, your Grandma and Grandpa. I’m just in the early stages of motherhood and if I’m already frightened by so many things, then, I can’t even begin to fathom how scary it must have been to raise me and my two sisters over the last three decades.

Ma, Pa, for all the times I scared you and still scare you, I’m sorry. For all the things I was too little to know or recall and for all the things I do remember – like when my head got stuck between the balusters of our balcony as a toddler, or when I stayed out too late without bothering to give a heads up as a teenager, or when I went to the emergency room multiple times as an adult.
I want you to know that I love you and that I appreciate all the fears that came and come with caring about me. I could only hope that someday, Niko will see all the love behind my fears and appreciate how scared I am, too.

The Arrival of Baby Bear

When your father and I were still trying to get pregnant, I managed to waste a box set of 5 pregnancy tests in just a couple of days over a false alarm. It was the type of pee test where two stripes confirmed pregnancy while one stripe meant “Sorry, try again.” I used up all the tests thinking, Maybe that’s just a blurry second line, maybe I’m really pregnant. I wasn’t really pregnant, not that time at least.

It wasn’t until March 11th, 2015 that I got my first positive result. I just woke up to get ready for work and with my period delayed a week, I thought of peeing on a stick. This time I used the test for people like me that see invisible lines out of sheer optimism:

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I called your father and asked him to drive back home (he was still close to the house when all this unfolded). I had no elaborate plans to surprise him with the news. He walked in, all worried, asking why I called and I showed him the pee stick. I forget what he said but I remember how happy I felt when he smiled right before hugging me. It didn’t last very long (because he was running late for work) but it was the sweetest embrace we had ever shared since we got married.

Anyway, your father asked me to not use up a whole box of tests in one day to confirm the pregnancy. So, on March 14th, 2 more tests concurred that my hcg levels were high enough:

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I’ve already shared with you how I struggled with hyperemesis gravidarum during the first half of my pregnancy. I also mentioned some other pains I felt during the later half. But I don’t think I’ve told you that your father and I were planning a last little getaway before you were born.
We booked a weekend at a bed and breakfast where we were supposed to sleep in this room:

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…and dine with this view:

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But on the Friday leading up to the trip, your father and I ended up spending the night in a hospital. I was confined due to preterm contractions and was given medication to prevent me from going into labor. The next day, I was discharged and ordered to take off work sooner for some bed rest.

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Every week, the doctor was expecting me to go into labor already. But my cervix never dilated until the night of November 14th, one day later than your original due date. Even then, the hospital sent us back home because I was “barely” dilated.
On the midnight of the 15th, your father and I drove back to the hospital since the pain from my contractions had become unbearable. But according to the resident, I only opened 1 cm. I was put on morphine rest to help with the pain. Honestly, it was useless. The pain still barreled through me and the morphine only relaxed me enough to properly breathe through the contractions.
Around 3 to 4am, I had dilated to 7cm. I was in active labor and was administered epidural with my speedy consent.
Around 7 to 8am (forgive the inaccuracies – your mother was pretty messed up during this time), my cervix hardly changed and your head, my dear child, had not come down… at all.
Between 9 and 10am, it was decided that I would deliver through C-section. The operation started at about 11am. I didn’t hurt until anesthesia wore off much later. However, I did feel the poking and pulling on my insides, and I did shiver uncontrollably from what seemed like extremely cold surgery room temperature.
At 11:39am, you were born. 9 pounds and 2 ounces. The doctor said that you were such a big baby, there was no way my anatomy could have handled delivering you naturally.
Another doctor made a comment on your ultrasound weeks before. Based solely on your 4D image, he concluded that I would be having a beautiful baby. When I first saw you, first heard you cry, nothing could have prepared me for how beautiful I found you, how overwhelmingly thankful I was that you’re alive, you’re well and you’re finally with us.

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When you grow up, I will constantly remind you of how tough I had it while I was pregnant with you. I will also tell you about how tough I had it after giving birth to you – from a not-so-fun C-section recovery, to you catching a virus, to my run-in with gallstones (which I am still currently dealing with). But no matter what I tell you, know that you are worth going through it all… and that I love you very much.

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This post is a little bit late as I have still been adapting to your arrival. But welcome to the world, Nikolas Ryan!

How I Married Your Father 5 Years Ago

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Your father and I had 90 days to get married from the moment I entered this country. You see, I came here on a fiancée visa and we were in a long distance relationship for 7 years before he proposed to me.

The Proposal

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We have already finished and passed the interview for visa approval at US Embassy in Manila. To celebrate, your Father took me to a bed & breakfast in Tagaytay called The Boutique, which I had been raving about. We walked in and asked for a room. To my surprise and immediate suspicion, the best room had already been booked under your father’s name.
That night, we had dinner at this fancy place with a view of Taal lake called Firelake Grill. There I was, waiting for him to pop the question. But he didn’t.
We went back to The Boutique and your father requested champagne for our room. I gleefully checked my flute, hoping to spot an engagement ring sitting in the bottom. But there was nothing.
My heart sank. Having been a drama queen my whole life, even if I knew better not to expect a formal proposal (since we had already agreed to get married so that I could migrate and be with him) – I still wanted it. With the night as good as over and me tipsy from the bubbly, I lost hope in getting engaged and started crying.
That was the point your father nervously asked me what’s wrong and told me that all he wanted was to make me happy (he said other things too although I forget due to my drunken bawling). He was comforting me by the bed and next thing I know, he was grabbing a tiny box from the side table drawer, kneeling with a diamond ring and asking me to marry him. Of course, I wept even harder and of course, I said “Yes.”

The Wedding

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Our wedding was beautiful. The ceremony happened outdoors in the gardens of a park in Tenafly. Until the last few days, the forecast warned of rain. But on that day 5 years ago, the sun was up and it was a tad warmer than usual for October.
I think what made our wedding so beautiful was how so many people pitched in to make it happen. Your father and I didn’t have anything saved up for our dream wedding so, your father’s family and family friends offset most of the wedding expenses by contributing time and/or money.
We didn’t have to pay for the reception venue and food, our clothes, my hair and make-up, the flowers and decor, the video/photographer/s, the DJ and giveaways.

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We were truly blessed with love and friendship that day. My only wish was that my sisters (your aunts) were there. Their visa application was denied so they couldn’t make it. The younger one, Denise (whom you will be meeting soon) made a video for me. I cried and ached for my family to be complete that day.
What helped eased the sadness was this: I had not only gained a husband that day, I had also gained his friends and family.

Son,

Your father and I have been married for 5 years. The first year was the toughest especially because our relationship took a gigantic leap from long distance to close quarters. From being his only priority during his trips to the Philippines, I had to start sharing his time with his work, his folks, his buddies and his hobbies. The next years offered different challenges but as your father and I got more comfortable communicating with each other, I think we found each year of marriage a little bit easier.

Now, here we are. I am 35 weeks pregnant with you, on our 5-year mark. There is a lesson (I’m afraid there will almost always be a lesson) from all this:
There will always be disappointment in life. Every expectation comes with risk and more than once, the results or lack thereof could upset you. But Son, if you give life a chance, if you wait a little bit, if you keep your heart and mind open, only then can life surprise you with something even better.

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Light at the End of the Tunnel: Facing my Depression and Anxiety

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I am not entirely sure if and when I should tell you about this.

This subject is not exactly easy for me to recall let alone explain. But I believe it is better for me to try and educate you about this rather than have you discover it on your own.

Your mother has been in a recurring battle with anxiety and depression.

I think I’ve had symptoms since I was younger but I wasn’t clinically diagnosed until three years ago. The anxiety diagnosis came first: I sought medical attention, thinking I was having a heart attack, only to find out that my worries related to work and finances were taking a toll on my body. I had an irregular heartbeat which, according to the doctor, was most likely caused by anxiety.

I took medication to correct the irregular heartbeat and had another prescription to help with the anxiety. But the anxiety worsened because I knew that with or without medication, I still had to face my triggers: demanding work hours, pressures from stakeholders, nasty coworkers, and a general fear of failure. I couldn’t find a new job and I couldn’t quit without options so, that’s when the feeling of helplessness kicked in. I felt so trapped and powerless that I wanted to give up on life.

Twice, I went to an Emergency room, the first time because I wanted to kill myself and the second time because I attempted to. That was when the depression diagnosis came.
Twice, I was confined in a behavioral health facility. After release, I had to participate in individual or group therapy and find my own psychiatrist for continued medical treatment. I went on short-term disability and eventually quit my job to try and get better.

People that knew about my condition were mostly supportive. But there were a few that might have had good intention yet weren’t helping at all. For instance, I have been told to “just relax,” “shake it off” and “medication is not the answer.” These kinds of comments are misinformed and tend to diminish a very serious health concern leading to tens of thousands of deaths, in US alone, every year.

I don’t think anxiety and depression could ever leave me. The best I could do is to keep it under control. There is no clear cut list that works for everybody but let me tell you what has been helpful to me:

Your father. Moving to a different country, away from family and friends had taken away majority of an established support system. But your father has been my rock, my constant. During my darkest times, my episodes, he has been strong for me. He encouraged me to hold on until things get better, and somehow, things do get better.

Prayer. I am so thankful for how my mother and one of my best friends have influenced me through the years, to reconnect with a Higher Power, in times of hardship as well as success, in sorrow as well as celebration. Talking to God may not solve all my issues but it makes me feel better believing He is there, always looking after me, always loving me, always listening.

Reading. During my stay in the behavioral health facilities, your father brought me books to read during his visits. This was how I was exposed to Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” series. During my unemployment, I frequented a town library in search of good literature and came across the works of Haruki Murakami. Reading transports me to other worlds, giving me a much needed break from worrying about reality.

Exercise. Murakami’s book “What I talk about when I talk about running” inspired me to try running. I also took interest in yoga, going as far as taking Bikram classes. I bought a cheap stationary bike and broke it from overuse. Then, later, I bought a road bike. I never became too competitive in these activities: never went beyond 5k events, never beat 13 minutes per mile on foot, never pulled off crow pose or headstands, never rode my bike outside of leisurely speeds. Still, all these things kept my body active, gave me the physical energy to fight off my mental and emotional demons. I am barely mobile now that I’m pregnant but don’t worry, Son. I hope to keep up with our morning walks for as long as I can.

Our cats. Like I mentioned before, Oreo came during one of my episodes. She was a tremendous source of joy and comfort. I am happy to update you that she is recovering well from her Stomatitis. Much of the gum swelling has subsided and her appetite is back to normal. She may have a lot less teeth now but she seems to be a nicer, sweeter cat because she is not hurting like she used to. I would be lost without her. She and her sister Reeses are my therapy cats – being around them calms me.

You. The pregnancy started out rocky… with my Hyperemesis Gravidarum dragging on for 20 weeks. Now entering my third trimester, I am woken by Charlie Horse in the morning, deal with pains in my lower back, hips and shoulders through the day then, suffer from acid reflux at night. I struggle with overall movement and miss my old agility. But you know what? Now that you’re big enough, every time I feel a kick or jab from you, all these annoying and sometimes aggravating things about pregnancy and life in general… fade away. I do get worried about what the heck I’m going to do when you come out but judging from your power to make me feel wonderful while you’re still in my belly, I’m assuming that being able to see and hold you could only be so much better.

A mindset: there is always a way, a path, an option – whatever you want to call it (other than giving up on life). This realization has not been easy to come by or embrace. My triggers pushed me into a hole. Depression and anxiety covered the hole, cloaking it in blinding darkness and paralyzing cold. The hole was too deep for me to climb out. I thought, I’m stuck with nowhere to go so, I might as well die now. The hardest part had always been finding the motivation to look pass the apparent hopelessness of any given situation… just enough to start inching my way out, just enough to seek other exits I never noticed or considered before. Most of the time, I got too fixated on not being able to climb up that it took me a while to see the tiny light at the end of several tunnels surrounding me.

Finally, a habit: of constantly finding and remembering more reasons to live. I haven’t fallen into a major episode this year and fear that postpartum, I might. But I know that you are one more reason for me to keep living and if/when that time comes, I will fight my hardest to get the support I need.