Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

As of 1:30 pm, I'm not sure excatly why the federal government is closed and all the flights were cancelled. The rain is coming down, but the wind is not very strong, at least by me.  Maybe things will pick up this afternoon and evening, but as of now, I'm not impressed. 

My main thought today, as I lounge in bed watching too much HGTV, and Ian alternately nursing, napping and trying to climb over my shoulder, is how different a storm is with a newborn than with kiddos.  Typhoon days in Manila are disasters for our house. Thrown off from their usual routine of either going to school or playing outside / swimming, Wm and Patch become little monsters.  We try to entertain them with toys, activities, fort building, etc and usually by lunch time, every suggestion is met with a resolute "I don't want to. I'm bored. What should I do?" (can you hear the thick whining also involved?)  We end the day exhausted from trying to stay cheery and bright.  Even worse, sometimes the typhoons last for multiple days! Inevitably accompanied by flooding, we feel stranded, too. 

By contrast, a hurricane day with a seven week old is so peaceful. I only have to get out of bed to eat, use the facilities, or change a diaper ... and even the eating could probably be done in bed if I sweet talked my mom to bringing a tray upstairs (though, actually, I don't like eating in bed because crumbs in my sheets gross me out).  In dark, cold, storms one just wants to snuggle under covers, and how better to do so than with a cute potato resting on one's chest?

Though I'm bummed to miss Patch's third birthday today, at least he had fun in Manila going to the Active Fun indoor playground.  Were he here with me, he and Wm would be getting on each other's nerves right about now, and my day cooped up would not be nearly so restful.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Three "fun" days

Finally today, at 4:30, I received the A-OK that everything - yes absolutely everything - is OK for me and Ian to return to Manila.  "Bureaucratic nightmare" fairly acurately describes the paperwork process to bring the baby home.  It culminated today when I received a call from the medical office that they couldn't find Ian in the "e-med-2" system and my HR Tech needed to enter him.  So I called my HR Tech (who was out for the day).  Her back up informed me that if I had my travel orders, he was in the system, and the Med office had to figure it out.  I was about to pull my hair out, honestly, since I cannot see either of these systems, so I have no idea who is right and who is wrong, and for some reason ("confidentiality") I have to be the go between.

All I did know is that this is a silly reason to not be able to return to post. I am healthy. Ian is healthy.  We both have passports, visas, and airplane tickets.  I wasn't about to let antiquated software systems (yes, apparently one has to enter a new dependent in multiple systems; do not ask why it is not coordinated) stand in our way.

Finally, at 4:30 on Friday afternoon, Med called me to say they found Ian.  Apparently, he had been entered in the system on his own, not as a dependent.  Why the HR Tech thought a one month old baby was an employee is beyond anyone's comprehension, but at least he was there, floating about in the "system" on his own.  And now, the independent Ian has a Class 1 ("worldwide") med clearance. *phew*  I am not going to worry (just now) about making sure he is "attached" to me.

Instead, I'm going to enjoy the next three days without having to think one minute about what is my next step to make sure we can return to Manila in a timely manner.  That's all behind me now!  And with a sympathetic Delta agent having arranged for the bassinet seats for the long haul flight, I really am not worried about the flight, either.  Just enjoy and relax.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

DC & e-government

I read an article in The Economist - I think it was before we moved to India - that DC was a leader in the e-government initiative.  I remember forwarding it to skeptical family and friends who still pictured a corrput DC under the era of Marion Barry.  Once again, today, I was pleasently surprised by the level of service provided online.

I needed to get a street parking permit for the moving truck which will pack up Ian's "layette shipment" back to Manila (back up disposable diapers, back up formula, baby cereal, and a few other random things acquired in three months in the US).  I went to the d. ("D-Dot" ie, DC Department of Transportation) website which said it could be done almost exclusively online.  Could this really be, I asked myself?  Sure enough, it was.

After a simple registration process and questionnaire, and fee payment online, I was given a permit number and instructed to go to the permit office in SW.  When I arrived at the office, I figured I must be in the wrong location - and even called my mom to get her to look it up and confirm - because the building looked so clean and modern. I was in the right place.  Turns out, the DC government has also embraced mixed use buildings, with a Safeway, Starbucks, and a few tasty looking restaurants on the ground level.

I headed up to the second level, which was so clean and bright, with floor to ceiling windows.  A bow-tie-wearing young man (chanelling the former mayor Tony, perhaps?) sitting at the information desk said my only step left was to print the signs, which I could do myself at one of two kiosks.  When I arrived at the kiosks, though, both were in use.  A lady behind a nearby desk (not for permitting), who was free, noticed me waiting with Ian in the Ergo carrier and asked if she could help me.  I gave her the permit number which was emailed to me, and, voila, emergency no parking signs in hand in under five minutes.

I had expected this to take hours. The efficiency was so surprising, I complemented the staff.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The X1

Pre-Ian, I took the X1 to work every day. I'd try to catch the 7:15 to the office and the 5:17 back home.  Given the predictable commute hours, I'd generally see the same people on the bus each day.  I came to really enjoy the ladies who would get off at the stop before mine (Virginia & 18th), always telling the bus driver to "have a blessed day" on their way out.  I felt like they blessed my day, too.

Today, I was walking back to Beth's car, parked at Virginia & 18th, feeling bouyant after my bureaucratic superwoman feat - which, by the way, was even more amazing because I had to move the car by 4:00 and it was 4:02.  I didn't quite make the parking deadline, but two minutes is negotiable, right?

Anyway, I was about two car lengths from the car when a familiar looking woman walked over and exclaimed, "Oh! You did have the baby! He's so cute!  We were wondering about that on the X1, you know!"

Yes, it was one of the three "blessed day" ladies. Even in the 5.5 short weeks I rode the bus, apparently I was part of a community already.  Maybe I should have walked down to the bus stop at 7:15 just to show my former commuter fellows the baby.  Oh, right - I'm not really out of bed before 7:15 these days.  Guess I'll just have to rely on this woman to spread the word. 

Bureaucratic Superwoman

That's how I feel today.  Still 11 days before my prego-vac ends, and only two easy-to-accomplish tasks remain before this baby is full brought into the bureaucracy.  (1) His visa.  (2) Reinstate my medical clearance.  Visa application will be dropped off tomorrow morning.  My medical review can't take place until after my six week post-partum exam (ie, next Wednesday).

Today I overcame a major hurdle: with ammended travel orders, I booked Ian's ticket on the same return flight as me.  Later tonight (when wait times are less), I'll call Delta to hopefully book a bulkhead seat with a bassinet. We'll see if I can be that lucky!!

Ironically, the part that took the longest today was finding a computer at the Employee Service Center with the printer installed.  I cannot tell you how many times I have said that IT is a hindrance to productivity at the State Department, and today proved no different.  Finally, on my fourth computer,* the printer was connected. Being the knolwedgeable bureaucrat I am, I printed off three copies of my orders since these things can't be sent be email or some work process flow -- and I was pretty sure both the travel office and the visa office would need a paper copy.  I was right. *phew*

(*State employees will understand why this ended up taking 25 minutes -- since my domain is EAP, and it was my first time logging on to the computer, each log on took 5 - 7 minutes!  Non-State employees cannot fathom this, because I don't think it takes 5 -7 minutes to log on to a normal work computer in any other organization that I know of.)

Thankfully, the travel office - once the agent had my paper copy of my travel orders and my reservation - efficiently booked Ian's ticket in under 15 minutes. Amazing!  Then I walked down to get the visa application notarized (required by the Philippine embassy), only to discover I missed the bank by 7 minutes. UGH. If I hadn't had to log on to four computers, I would have made it.

I asked through the grill if the bank employees knew of any other place to get something notarized. They didn't. :( Luckily, at that point, Ian started fussing because he was hungry.  A very sympathetic bank employee emerged from the back, asked if I was trying to get back to post with a newborn, and said she'd notarize the form even though it was after hours. Hallelujah!

Now all I have to do is drop off his visa application tomorrow morning and we're practically set. This nightmare of bureaucratic steps will soon come to an end, and baby and I can rejoin the rest of the family soon :)

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Going back is easier!

I realized today that, assuming all keeps moving according to plan, baby and I will be back in Manila in just over two weeks.  Looking back at my posts from pre-prego-vac, I am feeling way less stress.  Hopefully it will stay this way - meaning, hopefully the visa will be approved in time and hopefully plane tickets will still be available by the time "budget" approves baby's travel (should be any day now).

The biggest thing I was worried about was getting the birth certificate and passport done in a timely fashion. With that crossed off the list, the rest seems like a piece of cake.

Not to say the "to do" list isn't huge. Aside from visa and plane ticket for baby, I still need to:
- get my medical clearance reinstated
- visit my sister in Baltimore to shop at Costco for layette stuff
- pack out the UAB layette shipment (unaccompanied air baggage)
- get Ian his first round of vaccines
- squeeze in last visits with family and friends I won't see for months
- organize all the things I borrowed so my mom and sister can return them after I leave

All in all, though, returning to my own "stuff" in Manila - with a healthy baby - and my friendly coworkers - is much more of a known quantity than coming to DC, 34 weeks pregnant, two boys in tow, to a sight-unseen townhouse and unknown temporary office assignment.  Everything on moving here turned out OK (townhouse was great, temporary office super friendly, labor and delivery went smoothly), and knowing that has erased any worries about returning to Manila.

PS - for those of you wondering why I'm not stressed out about the flight home, flying with a newborn who nurses well is so easy, as long as you pack enough diapers and change of clothes (for baby and mom).  It's flying with toddlers that is miserable!

Friday, October 12, 2012


I'm not really a picture taking kind of person, but I've realized today I probably should take more.  After almost two years, I've finally put enough space between me and Hyderabad that I can sort through our pictures without getting too sad about the friends we left behind.  My goal is to finish the photo book of the top sites (Charminar, the Buddha, Golconda, the zoo, bidri working, weaving, etc etc) and our daily life (house, office, friends, our street) before I go back to work.  Wish me luck.

While we took some good photos of the tourist spots, what I'm wishing we had more of were daily life pictures.  E.g., of going out for coffee at Ruci or Beyond Coffee.  Of "Bagwelle's friend" - a stray dog that lived on our block and would walk around the block with us each morning and evening, barking at the other mean stray dogs.  Of just haning out with friends - I hardly have any pictures of Somya and Guru or Shae and Timothy, somehow (sorry guys!).  I have no pictures of being at Sunday hotel brunch, despite the fact we did that so often.  And not nearly enough street scenes.

So, lesson learned for my last six months in Manila -- I need to take the time to be more of a photo journalist, documenting the mundane. In two years, where ever I end up next, I'll be happy I did.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Passing time

The last four weeks of prego-vac are like stepping out of my normal life.  I'm not in Manila.  I don't have Wm  or Patch begging me to play trains or cars with them.  I have been seeing my sister pretty much every day she's not working a strange shift.  I'm living in a new neighborhood.  Oh - not to mention the obvious: I'm not working and have a newborn hanging around :)

The days pass pretty quickly, though, thanks to out of town family and friends visiting on the weekends and local friends amenable to meeting up for lunch.  Luckily, I'm feeling well enough to venture out on the bus or metro - and Ian seems to be a trooper, happy to be dragged along.  True, my bed doesn't get made every morning.  And it can take two days to wash, dry, and fold a load of laundry - and I've cooked exactly one time since the fam returned to post, finding eating out and left overs easier to manage - but I'll sacrifice those to keep my spirits up, especially when just hanging out with a super cute, but totally non-verbal, baby.

I've had fun watching the Nats in the playoffs - even if the last two games were sorely disappointing and no indication yet how tonight's game will end. I've managed a little shopping, hitting up my two favorite consignment stores (Secondi in Dupont for me, and Wiggle Room in Bethesda for kids and nursing-wear). I've visited most of my favorite DC restaurants.  I've tried to stay on top of bidding for my next assignment, though I currently have a pretty decent level of stress that November is going to come and go and I will still be looking for a job.

And I've spent countless hours "bringing baby into bureaucracy" trying to get Ian documented and with travel approval to return to post within six weeks of birth.  No small feat!

I haven't yet finished (or even started) resolving our outstanding insurance claim with State Farm.  Somehow, I just haven't had the energy to fight with the claims representative.  I picked photos to put in a Hyderabad photo book, but haven't yet actually *made* the book. (baby steps are important, right?)  I also haven't taken nearly as many naps as I would have liked to, mostly because the autumn weather has been so beautiful I've wanted instead to be outside.

All the same, though, I miss my normal life.  I miss Wm and Patch - and Greg and Bagwelle :).  I miss my office.  (I don't miss the food, though.)  I'll be sad to say good bye to America in two and a half weeks, but I'll be happy to be back.

Monday, October 1, 2012

September 12

Some friends have asked for the "birth story."  Now that I have a quiet house, I'm actually able to write about it.

I woke up about 2AM on September 12 with contractions, but I wasn't really sure if they were for real or not as I had been having false labor on and off for about three weeks.  Sometimes the false labor contractions would last over an hour, ending just as I was starting to think I should start considering going to the hospital. Given that history, I wasn't sure if the contractions would continue or stop, but at 4AM, I poked Greg and advised him that if he wanted to take a shower before heading over to Georgetown, he should wake up now.  He asked how long the contractions had been going, and when I said two hours, he asked, "why are we still at home?"  But, I was pretty sure there was at least time for a shower!

By about 4:45 we were out the door and ready to catch a cab.  Greg and his mom wanted me to wait at home, but the fresh morning fall air smelled so good, and I wasn't feeling weak, so I decided to walk with him.  A D6 bus (which goes straight to the hospital) came while we were looking for a cab, which Greg flat out refused to take. Probably for the better, but wouldn't it be a good story to tell the baby that I took a metrobus to the hospital the morning he was born?  In any case, we took a cab.

After checking in to the hospital, the resident did an exam. She didn't think I was very far into labor and said that one of three things would happen - I would be sent home; I would be told to walk for two hours and then get checked again; or I would be admitted if the doctor really thought I should be.  I could tell from her voice that she was leaning towards option #1.  I must have looked a bit distressed, because after she left, the nurse said to us, "don't worry - since this is your third, the doctor won't send you home."

I admit, I was worried about being sent home, because the first two labors were only about five hours long, and we were already entering hour #3.  Our rented house is a bit far from the hospital, especially in morning rush hour traffic. So, if they decided to send us home, Greg and I decided we'd just camp out on a bench in front of the hospital.

But the doctor and the resident compromised, and told me to walk around a bit. Except after 45 minutes, I really couldn't walk much more.  The nurse asked around 7AM if I wanted to have another exam, but I said it didn't matter as I knew the doctor would just tell me what I already knew - that I was in labor.  I opted to wait for the exam until the shift change was over - might as well let the doctors get settled.

At 7:45 the same resident examined me (last exam of her shift), and she was surprised that i was already 6cm dialated since I didn't appear to be in too much pain. [note: according to my doctor sister, my tolerance for labor pain is apparently abnormally high, and my lack of visible pain was probably confusing this new resident.] Coincidentally, my own OB was now the on call delivery doctor - and, as he knows my history of quick labors, he admitted me right away.

At 8AM I was in the L&D room, and he said the baby would be here probably by lunch time.  Since I also have a history of natural births with no complications, he agreed to intermitant fetal monitoring, but he wanted to start off with a 30 minute baseline.  So, in came the L&D nurse to set all that up and to give me a fluid IV because I was feeling really dehydrated.

at 8:30, the nurse came back to unhook me from the contraction and fetal heart rate monitor, but just as she walked in, I had a super strong contraction.  She asked me if I thought the baby was coming, and I said that one was so strong it wouldn't surprise me if it was.  So, she said she'd leave the monitors on and then came over to check my progress ... at which point she shouted to the nurse in the hallway to bring the delivery kit quickly, to call the doctor back immediately, and told me and Greg not to worry because she'd delivered one baby herself already.

In rushed the second nurse with the delivery kit, and a few minutes later came the doctor. The second nurse asked the doctor if she should convert the bed for delivery, but the doctor said something along the lines of, "not really necessary since here is the baby!"  8:38AM, just barely three strong contractions, and here he was, right on the bed!  The last part was so fast, I really don't remember even pushing.

Babies come with hats!
He latched on and nursed right away, then after he calmed down, the cord was cut and placenta delivered, they took him to the side for the measurements and bath.  After the medical personnel all left and it was just me and Greg and baby, Greg says I looked at him and said, "well, that was fun!" which were not quite the words he was expecting I use to describe child birth :)

So, I guess the total labor for #3 was a bit longer at 6.5 hours - but from when I was starting to feel uncomfortable until actual birth was only 1.5 hours (ie, from 7AM to 8:30AM). So, I'm glad we decided to go early when contractions were regular -- and not when they were actually painful. Had I waited until that point, given traffic patterns, we might have not even made it up to the delivery room.  

Two months later...

Obviously, the first two thirds of the prego-vac was no cake walk, considering I haven't posted *anything* on the blog since the day I arrived.  I had no time!  To summarize:

Week 1: start work, getting adjusted to the new place
Week 2: still dealing with jet lag and adjusting. Lots of work for me and my mom
Week 3: Wedding fun!  Greg arrives!  (and a new routine)
Week 4: Boys and Greg enjoying spending time with Greg's parents. I'm still working
Week 5: I'm super tired at 39 weeks pregnant and still working.  Greg is super tired from having to still think up new activities for the boys.
Week 6: Finally baby is born!  (Sept 12)  And now we get to addjust again.
Week 7: Baby's first week. I'm not doing much, though still probably doing more than I should have.
Week 8: The first week that finally felt like a vacation.  I felt a lot better. Big brothers were happy to have me and Greg both home, and they both love having their little brother around. Everyone's stress level is way way lower and we had a great week as a family of five. Except, I'm still tired from nursing every 2 - 3 hours ... and no naps since the minute the baby is out of my lap, in crawls one or both of the big brothers.

Which brings us to this week. Week 9. A sad week, since Greg and the big brothers left for Manila.  I have an activity planned for most days this week, which is great and should keep me up beat. And I'll have time for a nap, which is more than great -- naps are sorely needed.  Not to mention, this next month will probably be the only time I'll spend with only Ian until he's 15 or 16 - after his big brothers leave for college. Not sure he'll appreciate the one-on-one, but I will certainly remember it!

I expect I'll have more time to post some blog notes looking retrospectively at the last two months.  The house is super quiet without the big brothers around.