And we’re back!

Just like that and three weeks was up!  We had a wonderful visit back home in Australia, spending lots of time with my mum (Grandma), sister as well as family and friends. Despite my plans otherwise, it ended up being a very full and busy trip and I was pretty tired towards the end. When you live abroad there are so many people to catch up with and usually that’s pretty full on anyway, but you add a baby to the mix and it was a lot to handle.

The best parts of my trip were seeing the joy my mum and my sister (and others) got from spending time with the baby.  My heart ached every time I thought about how sad it is that he doesn’t get to see them on a more regular basis. I did have to adjust my expectations a bit about how much help my mum would be though, as while she was very keen to be helpful, she struggled to be as actively involved as I would have liked. That was really tough in the first week when the baby jet lag meant I was really suffering from lack of sleep. I also had a massive sleep debt from the previous two weeks where he had been ill so I was quite a wreck the first week.

But then the baby adjusted to the timezone, he got used to my mum’s house and the travel cot and we found a kind of flow.  We went out and did some Christmas shopping, we took some beautiful photos with Santa (I went a bit crazy and bought all the photos like a nuts first-time-mum does), we went to lunch, we saw friends – it was as it would be if we lived locally.

Leaving was awful and never seems to get easier.  I always worry that I may not see my mum again every time I leave.  While her health is stable and she lives a fully independent life, she has a terminal leukaemia and was not expected to live as long as she has. I encouraged mum to try and come to stay with us for Easter, if her health and treatment allows it.  If she comes much later in the year than that the Mediterranean heat is simply too much for her (which is why she didn’t come with baby N was born).

Baby N absolutely adored his grandma and also his aunty and it was so beautiful to see them all together.  I really felt the distance with me living over the other side of the world from my family.  I feel bad for them that they’re missing out on him and also for baby N that there is half his family he has very little contact with.  But such is life when you’re in a cross-cultural relationship. No one thinks about these details in the heady early days of a relationship!

Throughout our visit baby N was a very chilled and wonderful baby.  There were times where he was tired and grumpy, but so was I so how could I blame him.  I don’t know why people think babies should be cute and smiley all the time because adults are not! I’ve got to say that I am very fortunate to have such a flexible baby who let me drag him across the world and then around to all sorts of unfamiliar places and people.

Then there came the return trip home on the plane.  This was the same journey I made previously, but in reverse.  I hadn’t thought much about it, but it turned out to be a much, much harder journey in reverse.  Why?  Because the length of the overall journey (around 28 hours door-to-door) and the timing of the departure meant that I messed up two nights of his sleep.   On the journey to Australia I’d only messed up one night and this had a big enough (bad) impact.

On our return trip, we left Australia around midnight (scheduled departure 11pm) which meant that at the time baby N is normally going to bed, I was putting him in a car and driving him to an airport.  He then had all the stimulation of an airport – noise, lights etc – just when he should be sleeping.  At the scanning point they also made me take him out of the Ergobaby so that woke him up too.

Once on board I was hoping to be able to put him in the bassinet to get a good sleep, but the issue with this is that you have to take the baby out if there is turbulence.  I put him in there the first time and literally five minutes later the seatbelt sign went on so I had to get him out, waking him up.  The seatbelt sign was on for about 90% of the 15 hour flight and so I was thinking pretty hateful thoughts of the captain for most of the journey.   Apparently he left the sign on “just in case”. Grrrr! Baby N ended up sleeping with me on my seat and we kind of dozed together.  I think he slept a bit better than me but neither of us were particularly well slept.

After our 15 hours in the air, we had about 3 hours transfer at Abu Dhabi airport which was unremarkable.  Baby N was full of smiles and charm as it was daytime in Australia and so he was feeling all the joy! But then the next flight – 5 hours in duration – came at the time when he should be going to sleep in Australia.  And he couldn’t sleep.  So he reacted accordingly by crying a lot. He also decided to puke up on himself and me more than once so we all smelled like vomit.  Obviously I changed his clothes but still the smell of vomit doesn’t leave you easily.

It.  Was.  Awful.

The longest five hours of my life ever.

At one point the cabin crew lady was giving me a hug as I cried and baby N cried too.  He was just so overtired the poor boy and I was very flustered by all his crying.  I wouldn’t normally be but when you’re in the enclosed space of the plane, travelling by yourself it’s easy to get in your own head and think everyone is staring at you.  By the time we got to the third airport and our last transfer I was a mess.  I had a huuuuuuge spot on my jawline which seemed to represent exactly how I was feeling! The transfer time was very short so we were amongst a small group of passengers who were personally escorted to the gate.  Thank goodness for that as I was so in need of help that the airline lady ended up carrying my passports and mobile phone while I juggled the baby (they made me take him out of the Ergobaby again) and all our hand luggage.

The last flight was 1.5 hours and I was on the very edge of my coping ability but bless him baby N just passed out and slept in my arms for the journey. While I couldn’t move or eat anything or do anything at all I was so happy because he was silent.  I spent that journey just staring at the window at the Mediterranean islands below and wishing time would disappear so I could stop being on a plane with a very over-tired baby.

My wish was granted and my now-angelic baby and I finally finished our plane journeys.  All we had to do was go through passport control and collect our luggage before meeting my hubby who was collecting us. And you know what happened then? One of our suitcases didn’t turn up.  So I had to stand there waiting just in case – though I had the vibe it wasn’t there – until all the cases had been delivered.  I then had to go to the lost luggage people who I’ve got to say really need to work on their customer service charm as it seemed I was disrupting their personal chats to report my lost luggage.  So hear I am carrying an exhausted baby, looking like I was living rough with crazy hair, massive bags under my eyes, a huge zit the size of a unicorn horn on my jaw and then these people were being useless with my lost luggage. They are very lucky I was too exhausted to have a proper fight!

Anyway, my suitcase was identified as being at the previous airport and was then sent on to me the next day.  Thankfully it was the suitcase containing my stuff, not the baby’s so there was no massive issue with the delay. Finally, we made it out of the airport where hubby was waiting.  He asked me if I was glad to be “home” and I responded that I was mainly just glad to not be on a plane anymore with a baby!

Now that we’ve been home two days I can say it is good to be back.  It’s nice to have the support of my husband, but also it’s so great to be sleeping in my own bed with my own pillow.  Not enough credit is given to the magical healing power of the pillow.

Baby N has suffered a bit with jetlag – going to bed early and then waking up in the middle of the night for 1-2 hours – but overall he’s been better with the jet lag heading west than east (which is normal). One of my friends did comment to me today that I seem traumatised by my plane journeys and I’ve got to say that is true.  However, I would say to anyone planning to travel a shorter distance that it is entirely do-able and not so bad at all.

If I could change one thing about our trip is that I wouldn’t fly alone again.  Not because I couldn’t handle it because I think I’ve proved that I can handle it (albeit it was so incredibly tough) but that you really need another pair of hands.  If there’s two of you you can tag team it – to visit the loo, to eat, to try and get the baby to sleep.  If you’re alone then literally EVERYTHING comes down to you.  I’ve now learned how to pee while wearing a baby carrier and sleep vertically while holding a baby amongst other things.  I almost feel like the skills I’ve learned in the past three weeks are worthy of inclusion on my CV.  I am sure that a certain fortitude has been developed as part of all this so at least I can be grateful for that.

Like my friend said to me, if you can handle this trip with baby N by yourself then you can do ANYTHING!

 

 

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Dispatches from Down Under

That’s right, baby N and I have made it to the other side of the world and we’ve lived to tell the tale!  Thankfully, the journey itself turned out to not be the hard bit, but baby jet lag is a special kind of hell! To anyone contemplating a journey with a small person with significant timezone change involved, BE WARNED! If there is only a timezone change of a couple of hours, then I suggest you keep to your home timezone while you’re travelling, but with a nine hour time change, that was not an option for us and I sure paid for it!

I’ve been relatively absent from blogland of late because we have had quite a time of it recently and there simply were not enough hours in the day to cope with life and then write about it. It all started out 10 days before we were due to fly when baby N came down with his first cold.  No big deal.  In fact, I was pretty happy about it as I figured if he was sick then that would mean his antibodies would be nice and high by the time we boarded any planes and exposed him to new, foreign germs. The only downside was that he was sleeping very poorly because of all the sneezing and blocked nose that he was suffering.  So I was pretty tired at this stage but thinking it would pass soon enough.

The weekend before our trip baby N was starting to seem better and so I was quite relaxed.  Then on Sunday night he came down with croup.  CROUP!!!  I didn’t recognise it at first, I simply went into his room at about 10pm when he was having a bit of a cry to realise he was gasping for breath.  This is NOT a good thing to see in your baby.  I had a little panic, there was some shouting for hubby and a call to the paediatrician for an over-the-phone diagnosis. I already had an appointment scheduled with her the next morning – albeit for a vaccination which was blatantly not going to happen – so she said to keep watching him and if he got worse to go to the emergency department of the hospital for treatment, otherwise she would see us in the morning.

We made it to the morning (somehow), but I must have checked he was breathing about 100 times that night, aka I got no sleep.  The doctor was great though and was very conscious of the flight that coming Thursday so prescribed some cortisone with a nebuliser.  But have you ever tried to put a face mask connected to a noisy machine on a young baby?  It did not go well.  He did make some good progress in the next few days, even though I was pretty bad with using the nebuliser.  However, he was still sleeping fitfully and being woken by coughing so it was not the greatest few nights.  This was then compounded by the fact I knew I had to fly by myself with a sick baby across the world.  It is quite accurate to say that by Wednesday I was having a full mental breakdown. I was also massively sleep-deprived. These two things are definitely connected!

At several points on Tuesday and Wednesday I could be found in floods of tears sobbing that I couldn’t fly to Australia with the baby alone, that it was too much and that I couldn’t cope.  I tried to pack, but it is so hard with a (sick) baby in tow.  By Wednesday night I had such a high amount of anxiety with racing heart and fluffy mind that I felt ill and couldn’t eat anything. I genuinely had no idea what I had packed.

We visited the doctor again on Wednesday morning and she said the baby was doing much better (which gave me some confidence) and she prescribed me half a pharmacy’s worth of medications to take on board with me to cover all possibilities.  Of course I used none of the meds I brought with me but I think she prescribed them as a kind of mental health measure for me. It worked as I felt a little more confident knowing I had them all with me in case of emergency.

When Thursday morning rolled around – the day of the journey – I was beyond stressed and anxious. My husband practically forced me to eat breakfast and then I threw it all up again so I don’t think he will do that next time!  He even threatened to cancel the flights because I was in such poor shape.  These were the things that I was most worried about regarding the flight and how they actually turned out in reality:

  • That I wouldn’t be able to cope with carrying the baby in the Ergobaby carrier AND carrying both a backpack and a small, wheelie suitcase.  So it turned out that actually it was actually very easy and convenient to carry him in the Ergobaby, he seemed to enjoy it and often slept in it as I moved from place to place.  And I was quite capable of carrying both the bags so that was good too. I carried only the necessities so the bags were not terribly heavy, but also I’m quite strong which is helpful. I hilariously packed a book to read on the plane. Hahahahahahahahaha! Needless to say, I did NOT read one word of it!
  • That the baby would be a big nuisance or would cry on the plane.  This also turned out to not be the case.  He had a couple of small cries here and there but nothing that couldn’t be attributed to being tired or hungry.  And they were quite short so anyone around me had no grounds to be mad.  The reality is that when he was awake he cooed and played with the toys I had brought, but he was asleep a lot of the time. The people around me even complimented me on what a good baby he was.  I really hope he is just as excellent on the return journey.
  • That I would be forced to give up the water for the baby bottles at the various scanning points for each airport transfer (I went through 4 airports – 2 transits in total).  This also turned out to be a misplaced worry.  One airport wanted to scan each bottle of water individually, another wanted them out of my suitcase but scanned them alongside everything else, and Abu Dhabi didn’t care at all and scanned them inside my suitcase.  They were way more interested in my belt! I had also been wrongly told by the Etihad social media team that I could only transport baby water in quantities of no more than 100ml.  That was also not true.  I started out with 7 bottles each with around 150-200ml in them and no one had any issues with that at all.  This just goes to show you that there is no consistent rule on these things, but I generally found that carrying a baby (especially alone) generated a lot of sympathy for me.

Overall I took 3 flights, the longest being for 13.5 hours with the total journey time door-to-door being around 27 hours long.  Despite being the shortest, the hardest flight for me was the first. The plane was smaller, more cramped and it was the first ever flight for the baby so I was really on edge.  Once we got through that one I had more confidence, the baby was more tired (and likely to sleep) and the planes were a bit bigger, thus giving me more opportunity to space out.

My paediatrician had recommended I give the baby Calpol (baby Panadol) about an hour before the descent started so I did that on each flight.  Obviously if your flights are shorter you should be careful not to give the doses too close together but mine were very far apart.  I think it worked too as baby N didn’t cry on descent thankfully.

On both of the longer flights I was complimented by other passengers who told me that the baby was very good and that he was cute, which of course I was delighted about.  On the second flight he did an epic poop that included dirtying his clothes (thanks baby) so that was the only minor drama. He also made another poop on the descent into Melbourne which meant I had to change him before I could finally see my Mum.  I think he was just testing my patience by doing that. (Side note: Melbourne airport baby change facilities were immaculate!)

But then we were there and my Mum was waiting to see her new grandson.  It was wonderful and it’s been a delight to see her bond with him.  He gives her huge big smiles which is really lovely.  In fact, he’s been super-gorgeous in between sleeping at the wrong hours and seems to be going through a huge developmental leap too.  He’s getting really great with his hands, has just discovered his feet and so spends half his day with his feet in the air staring at them and the other day he laughed for the first time. I somehow managed to capture it on video and honestly it makes me howl with laughter each time I see it.

But baby jet lag is truly horrible! We arrived on Friday evening, which was Friday morning in the baby’s head so I knew I would have some difficulties in getting him to sleep.  I bathed him at about 10pm which helped to let him know it was time to sleep.  I managed to get 3 hours sleep out of him then before we had a bit of a nighttime party for a few hours. He was all smiles and giggles in the middle of the night so that was cute, if somewhat unwanted. He generally tended to only sleep for a couple of hours at a time, sometimes up to 3 hours and it was epically hard to function on this.  With no daddy here to help I was really shouldering the load alone.  My mum has leukaemia and so I really didn’t want to ask her to help me during the nights, but she was great with making sure I had some dinner each night.

This pattern more or less continued for the following three nights (four nights in total) with 2am being the “party hour”.  I noticed the party period in the small hours of the night getting smaller each night and the sleep periods slowly extending.  However, the baby did have trouble settling if he disturbed at night so I was getting up every hour or so to get him to sleep again.  I started to go a bit insane with the sleep deprivation. The googling started again and I started to question whether he actually had jet lag or was having the four month sleep regression or I wasn’t getting him to nap properly during the day, or if the travel cot I was using wasn’t comfortable.  I basically lost all confidence in myself as a mother.

Then, just when I really thought I would lose my mind, on the fifth night he slept through.  I have never loved this baby more than after that great night’s sleep!  He also slept well last night and I’m hoping he does well again tonight.

During my googling frenzy some advice was that the baby needs to see midday sunshine so I made a special effort to take him out during these times to help his body clock reset.  I don’t know if it helped or just he found his way over time, but just to say that the jet lag seems to go eventually.  Like most things with babies, it too does pass.