First trimester: Scan me twice

I was lucky enough to have an ultra-normal first trimester: no strange cravings, no debilitating morning sickness or vomiting (apparently another genetic blessing from my mom), no moody hormonal outbursts. The only thing that was unusual was that a) I slept through most of my first trimester, and b) I got to have two ultrasound scans, right within two weeks of each other.

I had my first scan at 8 weeks, which I posted here. When I called my midwives’ practice to set another appointment, they were surprised that I hadn’t been told to come back at 10 weeks. Then they insisted that I had to come back for another one, because the baby was now the proper size to get an accurate measurement (and a fixed due date).

This was all last minute, the day we left for Budapest. I had a lot of freelance work to finish up, and Marlon couldn’t get away from the office. I was thoroughly annoyed, but I went anyway—alone.

During the first ultrasound, the baby looked like this.

“Those are the legs, arms, feet and head,” pointed out the rather perfunctory ob-gyne on duty. (Okay, we were late, so he had a right to be a bit short with us.)

“Hmmm,” I muttered, squinting hard.

“And now the baby is moving,” he said, when the little mango-shaped blob gave a little wriggle.

“Oh. Wow,” I coughed, a little more enthusiastically.

The second ultrasound appointment was a world of difference. Whatever irritation I felt at having to come back for another scan completely disappeared when I saw this.

My baby’s parts didn’t have to be pointed out to me, and I could see them clearly for myself: the head (with a tiny nose and chin!), torso, bottom, legs, even a shadow of a hand near his mouth.

Then suddenly that little hand shot out, like a punch, and two tiny legs straightened and stretched out, flash-quick. In my mind I went heng! heng! which is the sound my muay thai trainers back in Singapore made with their punches and kicks. Silly, I know.

This is going to sound dumb, but that was the first time I started to believe that there really was a baby inside me. The fog of unreality was still there, but it was lifting.

And not only was there a baby inside me, it was growing. Our little mango had grown from 21.3mm (less than one inch) to 46.3mm (about two inches). It doesn’t seem like much, but to actually double in size in just two weeks is a huge difference! And I’m glad I had the chance to see that difference for myself.

I realized how stupid I was for being annoyed about that second appointment. Any opportunity to see my baby, to know that she’s still inside me, healthy and growing, could never be an inconvenience. This mommy-to-be still has a lot to learn.

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First trimester: Comfort food

Weird cravings seem to be a textbook feature of the first trimester. Depending on where you’re from, the classic pregnancy craving varies. In the Philippines it’s for sour green mangoes; a friend from the States mentioned ice cream and pickles.

Thankfully, I escaped my first trimester without any strange cravings. I’ve read first-trimester tales of women who can stomach nothing but crackers or keep down nothing but ice cream. I was quite normal. Nothing made me nauseous or turned me off apart from the smell of oil, and of eggs (which I’ve always hated anyway). I did experience a dip in appetite because I felt so bloated and full all the time. When I did want to eat, what I wanted was comfort food.

Luckily, I’m married to a domestic god whose idea of after-office decompression is disappearing into the kitchen and whipping up dinner for two. My first trimester was filled with many warm, comforting, delicious meals care of my loving husband, who never met a request he couldn’t fulfill.

With carbs back on the conjugal diet (dieting is a no-no during pregnancy!), Marlon produced a few of my all-time favorite baked goodies, such as cinnamon rolls and carrot cake…

… as well as large, chewy chocolate chip cookies that never made it past my pregnant jaws long enough to be photographed.

But mostly, comfort food meant food from home. Many of those dishes were a cinch for Marlon: beef salpicao, a spicy, garlicky gambas a la pobre like my family used to have at the Dean Street Cafe on Burgos Street in Makati, and a childhood breakfast favorite: Spam and rice with ketchup. He had to go to a special expat grocery for the Spam… they don’t sell it in the Netherlands!

A few dishes took a little more doing: mango ice cream, made from fresh mangoes (on a hot day) and piping hot arroz caldo with crunchy bits of chicken skin (on a typical rainy Amsterdam day).

Things started to get more challenging for Marlon when I saw the word bibingka in a magazine one day and decided I had to have it. “Really? Bibingka? You really want bibingka?” he asked with a frown. I knew he was thinking of all the traditional shit special ingredients and equipment—sticky rice flour, hot coals, banana leaves and clay cookware—that goes into the making of a proper bibingka. “I’ll settle,” I replied.

By a stroke of luck, he found a tiny Filipino grocery tucked into de Pijp—and they had bibingka mix! It wasn’t great, to be honest, but topped with melted cheese and slices of salty butter, it was enough.

Probably the only serious craving I had was for daing na bangus—milkfish marinated in vinegar and garlic. I thought this would be the ultimate challenge for Marlon, but I underestimated my kitchen god.

After finding a whole milkfish at the market, he not only deboned, butterflied and marinated it… he also whipped out his beloved Staub cast iron wok and smoked it. Daing na nga, tinapa pa! 

If we are ever asked “What did you smoke in Amsterdam?” we can truthfully answer: “Bangus!”

Marlon was expecting to be put through the wringer with impossible requests at odd hours of the night, but I was a good little pregnant wife. I think he enjoyed cooking up all of these great meals… and obviously, I was very happy eating them! (Particularly the smoked bangus, which we had more than once).

More importantly, my husband and his home-cooked comfort food made me feel loved and cared for. Pregnant or not, that feeling is something we all crave—something only the people who matter to us most can truly satisfy.

What’s your ultimate comfort food? And what have you been craving for lately?

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First trimester: Finding out

The last three months have just flown by. Not only does the weather go downhill from today, signaling the end of summer, but it’s also the end of my first trimester. I know, it’s confusing, wasn’t I at nine weeks just three weeks ago? Numbers aren’t my strong suit either, but that’s what the ob-gyne says. I am officially 14 weeks today.

It’s mostly bloat, but yes, there’s some baby in there too.

I’m surprised at how fast the first trimester has gone and how little I actually blogged about it. I’m actually the only person I know around here who’s said anything her pregnancy before the first trimester ended (seems to be a Western/Caucasian thing).

Still, I don’t want to forget; in fact, I already regret not documenting some of the early highlights (like how flat my tummy actually was!). So I thought I’d share a few of the most memorable moments from the first three months of my pregnancy… starting with how I found out I was pregnant.

[Read more…]

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Lake Balaton, the Hungarian Sea

A sandy beach and water sounded like paradise after being cooped up in scorching Budapest. After Marlon’s work in the city was done, we decided to cool off in landlocked Hungary’s most popular summer destination: Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe.

We arrived at Budapest Deli (one of Budapest’s two central train stations) bright and early Saturday to find a huge mob of overheated Hungarians all raring to escape the city.

Budapest Deli station crowd

Fortunately, we had booked tickets online a few days in advance. An eager, English-speaking trainee immediately spotted us looking lost and guided us to a ticket machine to print our tickets. He also helped us reserve seats in an air-conditioned car.

A little over two hours later, we arrived at the town of Siofok on the south shore of Lake Balaton. Walking to our apartment along Ady Endre utca, this main road lined with dozens of eateries began to feel oddly familiar. Then I realized it reminded me of… D’Mall.

Lake Balaton restaurants

All the tiny restaurants, people walking around in bare feet and swimwear, even the knockdown tiangge stalls hawking cheap bikinis felt so much like a slightly seedier Boracay, it began to feel bizarre. All that was missing was coconut trees, a tricycle service and Andok’s Lechon Manok (I really could have used the tricyles). “Can you believe we’re in the middle of Hungary?” I asked Marlon.

Seeing this poster knocked me right back to reality. No beach party in the Philippines would ever advertise topless pool girls so shamelessly. God bless the Eastern Europeans.

Lake Balaton beach poster

Now, the beach. It wasn’t Boracay, heck it wasn’t even Puerto Galera. But red-faced and sweaty at 39℃, with the prospect of a dreary Dutch autumn looming, I ran to that beach like a long-lost lover.

Lake Balaton shore

And the water… well, it was blue, clean, swimmable, with enough of it for me and half the population of Hungary. Above all, it was warm. Holland’s North Sea makes me shriek every time I dare to go in it, but Lake Balaton elicited nothing but embarrassingly orgasmic groans of pleasure.

Lake Balaton bathers

“Oh my God. Oh my GOD. I could spend the whole day in this water,” Marlon groaned as we waded into the lake with idiotic, summer-starved grins on our faces. And that’s exactly what we did.

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Wedding ring blues

Twice a week, Marlon attends a krav maga class at the International School of Amsterdam in Amstelveen. Last Monday night, he stored his duffel bag in his friend Joris’s car while the class worked out in the parking lot, in full view of the cars. For the last ten minutes of the class, the instructor took them all back inside for one last exercise.

In those ten minutes, thieves smashed the window of Joris’s car, reached in and grabbed Marlon’s duffel bag. They took his office laptop, office and personal phones (an iPhone and Blackberry), house keys and bike keys, wallet with credit cards, ATM card, driver’s license and €50 in cash, passport and Dutch residence card, his office clothes including a leather jacket and his favorite leather Timberland shoes…

And his wedding ring.

Marlon called me from Joris’s phone after the theft and asked me to help get his cards blocked while he went to the police station to make a report (no transactions or money taken, thank God). Then he turned up at our doorstep, with nothing but the sweaty gym clothes on his back.

Wearing the saddest, most heartbreaking face I’ve ever seen, he said nothing and simply held up his bare finger where his ring had been. I pulled him inside, hugged him and cried. Knowing how crushed he was, I whispered: “Don’t worry, you’re still married to me.”

Since then, friends have pointed out that he was lucky that nobody was hurt and I agree. I suppose in the overall scale of loss, having these essentials stolen is just a giant pain. Marlon took the last day and a half off to start replacing the items that were lost. The office laptop and phone were the easiest to replace, being reissued within a day; the Dutch residence card and Philippine passport will take anywhere from 4 to 9 long weeks. Goodbye business trips (and tag-along weekends) to Berlin, Paris and Marbella.

The ring… not so easy to replace. Our wedding rings were simple and inexpensive, and I can probably get the same ring from the same shop when we fly home to Manila for Christmas. But wedding rings are never just about the ring, are they?

He’s thinking about getting a tattoo on his ring finger now, so he can never lose it. I loved the idea and was thrilled at the idea of getting a matching one for myself. Then I remembered: I’m pregnant! No tattoos! Oops.

Friends suggested we make calls to pawnshops; thankfully in the Amsterdam area, that list is mercifully short. (If someone suggested that I call all the pawnshops in Manila, I would say it would be easier to fall on a sword.) Others suggested we keep an eye on Marktplaats (the Dutch eBay)  in case it turns up there.

The Dutch policewoman who prepared his police report emailed him (police with email! So first world!) had the best suggestion of all. “When you get a new ring, just celebrate your marriage again and throw a big party!” Smart and sweet, so unlike police in my corner of the world. But hey, that sounds like a perfect fifth wedding anniversary.

Have you ever lost anything as precious, or had it stolen? How did you deal with it and did you ever get it back?

Ring photo taken on our wedding day by Mango Red.

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