Monday, November 20, 2017

travelogue: Roadtrip to California

What do you do when you promised your spouse that Europe 2015 would be the last big international voyage for a long while, because of jet fuel, carbon footprint, and airport anxiety?

You wait two years. Finish a Masters. Announce a celebratory trip is owed. Compromise by getting into the car with sleeping bags, a cooler, long johns, and head down the coast to California instead.

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Timing: August. The day after your husband finishes a stressful, frenzied 5 week summer school stint. Wildfires will have ravaged the interior, the sky will have been a weird grey-lavender for weeks, and you will feel grateful to put miles in between you and the BC apocalyptic horizon.

Itinerary: 18 days, with a bit in Washington upfront, and then the rest spilt evenly between Oregon and California. We stayed on the 101 to stare at the Pacific ocean for as much as we could. Majority of the time is spent in campgrounds that have been booked well in advance -- not so romantic or spontaneous, but beats being worried about where we're going to lay our heads at night. Two nights on a proper bed to break up the drive, as this woman is 6 months pregnant and FEELING it.

Packing: He and I have camped together for the past 8+ years of our relationship. After all these adventures, we finally invested in some comforts for this journey:

1) A sleek double burner Primus stove
2) A queen sized thermarest and a double sleeping bag for optimal cuddling / warmth
3) Actual camping plates / bowls ( vs. random tin lids)
4) A car stereo and Spotify subscription for playlists and all the music (vs. our very scratched CDs)

I know all this is like... duh? to you. But it was new to us since we have subsisted on his early 20's camping gear for years. Adult Purchases are so great!

Favourite campsite(s):

Tilicum Beach campground, just north of Yachats, Oregon. Taking our plates of dinner down the stairs to the beach for sunset was so pretty.

Pheiffer Big Sur campground. We did one night by a babbling creek, and one night staring up at the giant Redwoods and stars while we listened to an audio book by the fire.


The huge rattle snake that crossed our path and hissed at us in Big Sur.

The weird, gaping hole in a tree that Bryan poked at in our campsite at Montana de Oro State park, only to discover that it was a giant nest of big, black spiders and all their legs.

Free camping overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, that I scored by calling a month in advance (Bicentennial State park).

The adventure that is marriage + driving almost 4,000 km together when you're hot and lost and maybe dehydrated.

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Day 1 - 3: Deception Pass WA, short stop in Seattle, this super cool spot along the Columbia River, and Astoria WA

Recommend: NOT getting stuck in 1-5 traffic getting into or out of Seattle on a weekend, and Buoy Beer Co. for great burgers and sea lions underneath your feet

🚗   Day 4 - 7: Cannon Beach OR, Yachats OR, and Humbolt State Park OR

Recommend:  Yachats Brewing for their Brisket sandwich and ferments, and Thor's Well.

🚗    Day 8 - 10: Redding CA, and San Francisco CA, Bicentennial Campground

Recommend: The podcast Revisionist's History by Malcolm Gladwell and Beautiful Anonymous by Chris Gethard (as there will be nothing to see for the hours of inland driving to 38℃ Redding), and
Outerlands for brunch in San Francisco

🚗  Day 11 - 15: Big Sur CA, Pheiffer Big Sur Campground,  and Montana de Oro State Park

Recommend: Pulling over whenever you can to stare at the moody, dramatic Californian coastline

🚗   Day 16- 18: Heading back North! Crazy 6-7 hours of driving to Redding for rest and In 'N Out burgers, then 3 nights of relaxation in Portland 

Recommend: Por Que No for Mexican, and Bollywood Theatre for Indian

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Is a babymoon what you do when baby is earthside, or still in the belly? 

Was this our bellybabymoon?

Now that baby is imminent, I'm dreaming of a Hawaii getaway. If spouse lets us do it, I will be super thrilled -- an earthside babymoon.

For now, these memories serve as a reminder of our last trip that was just the two of us. 

(Just the two of us. Isn't that wild?)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

on mamahood: the early days

This is a story about how I was 9 weeks pregnant before I actually realized, for sure, that I was.

And all the random, abstract moments in between.

Maybe you read my last post, and you remember how much of a clusterfuck (excuse my language, mom and employers) the months leading up to April were for us. Moving, practicum, health. So when I started feeling extremely sad, overwhelmed, and so tired that I had to close the door to my tiny office in between clients and lean my head against the wall to take a short nap, I thought it was just that. Nothing more.

Even when my cycle was a few weeks late, I chalked it up to stress and life (since that does happen sometimes).

Even though we were actively trying to get pregnant.

There were so many hurdles we were trying to navigate in life that my brain truly had no space to contemplate what this could be. Coupled with this strange and paranoid idea I'd fostered since I was a teenager, that I was somehow probably quite infertile and it would take a lot of time for anything to happen at all. 

Anyway. After I was 4 weeks late, and admitted as much to B,  he (being the imminently wiser and more pragmatic one during this moment) said: maybe you should take a test, babe.

I put it off for another week. I was like: I hate wasting money, if this is a false alarm. ($20, LOL). 

He bought us a test anyway. 

On week 5 of being late, I peed on a stick and within seconds really, it said PREGNANT/ ENCEINTE/ 3+.

Bryan hooted and hollered. 

My heart started beating really fast and my brain was so confused and in denial, that it took 15 minutes of me being like, sure it says pregnant, but it ALSO says enceinte and MAYBE that's french for MAYBE NOT SO PREGNANT. 

So B had to pull out his phone and type in enceinte in google translate, and kept pressing play over and over again as the robot-lady voice said: pregnant! pregnant! pregnant!

Then, I got it. And I ran around and around and around my living room with B close at my heels, as we chanted enceinte! enceinte! enceinte!

After that, we went to the doctor to confirm. As a person who loves and abides by rules, it would take a person wearing a white coat to convince me. A small percentage of me was still skeptical, and half expected that I would be told it was a false alarm.  Our doctor walked in and announced:

Joann, you're pregnant! with a big smile on her face.

Then with the kind of math and alchemy that I still don't understand yet, she told us I was NINE WEEKS PREGNANT. Which is 3 weeks shy of the first trimester being basically over! When we had tried to do the math on our own with the most probable date of conception, we had come up with 5-6 weeks. So... 9 was a bit of a shock.

9 weeks. Whoa.

Symptoms and feelings of these early days:

- Nasusea X 1 day (then B researched online and told me to snack more throughout the day. Magic!)
- Night nausea during first trimester (no cure but time for this one, ugh)
- Super fatigue. Naps after breakfast type of fatigue.
- Immense sense of calm and grounded perspective. Small anxieties about practicum and life goes away. Begin instilling healthy boundaries for myself, immediately.
- Feeling private, like guarding the most beautiful secret
- Awe and denial
- Two more times of wearing tight button up jean overalls, then they are put away forever. 
- Double chin
- Bewilderment over weight gain -- rational brain says, yay, healthy for the baby! socialized self says, WTF is this.

At 15 weeks, we plan to tell our families.  We skype B's family during the day, when his dad is visiting the family in Vermont, and tell our niece that Uncle Bryan drew her something. Instead of a drawing, we show them the ultrasound of our littlest, littlest nugget (truly, they look like a fingerling potato or large worm at that stage) and watch their confusion turn into excitement.

On my side, Sister and Dad have birthdays in early June, so we arrange their birthday presents to be the way we announce the news. I wrap Sister's grey shirt, embroidered with a coral 'auntie' and Dad's navy blue shirt, embroidered in mint green with 'gong gong' (maternal grandfather).
I hide the brown paper packages in my purse at dinner, as it is two weeks before their actual birthdays, and they are not expecting any fanfare tonight.

We act nonchalant during the meal.

I casually say that we have early presents for them that are 'time sensitive' and should be opened tonight.

Baby announcement! from Joann Liu on Vimeo.

Such joy! I still grin, watching this. Please note my mom's delayed reaction.
And my dad saying such gems as "Are you sure?" and in cantonese "Are you lying?"

The moments of this pregnancy that I will remember for a long while:

20 week ultrasound. Secretly scared for bad news. In the inbetween of doctor visits, I never know what is happening, has happened, to my baby. Feeling so vulnerable. After 15 minutes of silence from the technician, she lets B into the room and he gasps, and I finally turn around to look at the screen and see 
a head and 
kicking legs and 
a spine and 
a strong heartbeat and and and
my whole future, on a black and white screen.


The first time I felt baby. During my Month 5 check-up, I shyly ask the nurse practioner why I might not have felt any activity yet. The book said typically baby starts being very active around now, but there hadn't been anything, and I was trying not to be worried about it (but worrying is in my DNA.)
She said it was fine, and baby would probably announce itself soon. Minutes later, she gave me a sidelong glance, with her hand on my belly, and said: do you feel that? Ah! Yes. Baby is here. Tap tap tap. Like the presence of a little God. 


Lying on the couch with husband, and putting his hand on my belly as he feels baby for the first time. His face. Tears. Love beams straight to the heart. 

Best friend remarked to me that when she was pregnant, the feeling of her baby's movements felt exactly like what you would imagine a little being kicking you from the inside would feel like. I kept on waiting to see if that's what my experience would be, but instead:

A list of ways I would describe what baby's movements feel like to me

- a frog croaking
- the way your stomach flips when you fall in love
- bad gas
- that feeling when you jerk awake from sleep
- a back spasm, but in your belly
- a tectonic plate shuddering
- when you visit Yosemite park and you see the earth belching
- hiccups

A confession: 

In the book What to Expect When You're Expecting, in month 6, they share that one feeling you may be experiencing is boredom that all anyone talks about is the baby. Sometimes, I really understand this sentiment. There's a big part of me that still does not comprehend yet what is happening, what is going to happen soon, and has 32 years of other things to talk about still. 

Often, I'm truly stunned that I talk more about this life inside me, than the fact that I completed my Masters in June. In the case of the latter, I worked my ass off for 2+ years deliberately, actively. In the case of the former, I feel lucky to have been able to conceive, but my body has been doing the rest for me invisibly (and sometimes, very visibly). For me, it is almost a passive process, if that makes any sense. I am along for the ride.

To be clear: I'm so grateful for all of the love, support and excitement we've received. I hope I'm not coming off unappreciative. It is more a Grappling With Identity moment, where I am becoming more than just an individual, I'm a mama! and it is really, really strange to integrate the two. I cherish how people in my life ask after me and my little bean. But my other self also yearns to keep talking about my nerdy obsession with counselling, or feminism, or tv shows. It still is bewildered when everyone tells me to be careful all the time.

So anyway. I still go on the weekend canoe trip. I still go camping on a very, very long roadtrip at 6 months pregnant to California. I'll still get on my bike this week. 

I'm a mama now. AND I'm also all my other selves, still. 

Stereotypical pregnant women characteristics that I am surprised I do now at 26.5 weeks:

- Waddle
- Snore
- Complain about my back
- Complain about my swollen feet
- Find it hard to get up off low surfaces
- a BIT of 'baby brain' (ugh. I really hate this one. It feels so demeaning. Or I'm a person with too much pride, and I can't accept my occasional absent-mindedness.) ((But yesterday, I took the gas nozzle out of the car and squeezed it and got gasoline all. over. myself. So maybe some truth to it.))

It is my 33rd birthday in two days. The same age my momma was when she had me. There is some symmetry in that that comforts me.

B asked me the other day what was the intention I wanted to carry into this birthday year--

I said, to surrender. 

To surrender to pain, fear, joy, love, the unknown. To surrender the parts of myself that wholly seek control and perfection. The hope I pin to baby's personality (will they be kind?) and health (will they be okay? tell me tell me). To surrender my eternal quest for certainty. To surrender to the idea that I do not know what the future holds for my little babe, but that no matter what happens, I am its house and womb and everything for now-- and that is all we have.

Every moment so far has been an honour.