Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

For many reasons, I wasn’t able to breastfeed the Babii beyond a week after her birth. Because of that experience, I tried very hard to breast feed our little BooBoo Bear. It wasn’t easy, because I was literally starting from scratch and in the beginning it was. Just. So. Hard.

I know I often belly ache about how hard it is to be so far from home and family, and giving birth in a far away land with no family is certainly one of the factors that make it so difficult. The hospital system is different. The hospital culture is different.

One thing that I really appreciated, though, is the emphasis that our hospital placed on breastfeeding. The babies stay with their mommies during the day and return to the nursery only at night. During this time, the mothers are expected to breast feed their babies, but formula is also available upon request.

I started off breastfeeding BooBoo Bear, but it seemed that she was always hungry and we could go at it for hours and hours because she would cry once I put her down. To top it off, my nipples started chafing until it came to the point when they started bleeding.

Ewww. TMI.

Apparently, even when a mother’s nipples start bleeding she should continue breastfeeding. It’s quite disconcerting, because aside from the physical pain that the mother feels, the baby spits up the blood. And in my hormone-anesthesia-pain killer induced haze, it looked a lot like I had a little vampire baby.

At that point I was just ready to throw in the towel and have a good cry. Googling for answers didn’t help, because all of these websites had mothers cooing about how wonderful breastfeeding was and how they bonded with their babies and how everything was sunshine and rainbows and unicorns. None of them seemed to have encountered any problems so why was I different? (Answer: It’s a breastfeeding conspiracy!!!!)

On our last day at the hospital I had taken to giving the BooBoo bear formula most of the time because I just couldn’t take the sight of the blood and the thought that she was drinking all that (I have issues). The night nurse had looked at my chart and came over to ask me why I wasn’t breastfeeding. When I explained to her why, she took a look at my breasts and let out an “Ayayay!” because they were so swollen.

“Get your baby. I will help you.”

So in the middle of the night I took the BooBoo Bear from the nursery and the night nurse stayed with me to make sure she was latching properly.

She was a big help that night and she kept me going when I was ready to give up. I wish I could say that we lived happily ever after, but there will always be glitches because that’s just the way life is.

The supply of breast milk was never enough, and I know websites say to just keep going because you will eventually get there, but I doubt the website would be of much help in the middle of the night when the baby is hungry and angry, and the boobies have released all the juice it could possible release at that point.

I’ve never been a fundie or a purist and I don’t have any issues about “exclusive breastfeeding.” Some mothers can supply all the breast milk their babies need and still have left overs to freeze and/or donate to charity. I am not one of those mothers. So I supplemented with formula and saved my sanity.

Now that I am back at work I am glad I made that decision, because there are just times when I can’t pump on schedule or don’t get to drink enough fluids.

It was hard enough to actually just get started on the breastfeeding and harder to maintain it given everything else that is going on in our lives without being anal about exclusivity. As long as my daughter is healthy and happy, I won’t waste my time worrying over it. I just wish I didn’t allow those websites to influence my own experience of breastfeeding the BooBoo Bear and make me feel inadequate about being a mother.

When we started out, I set myself a goal of six months. I didn’t think I would even last the week, but I did. We are now in the middle of our fourth month, and I wonder if I will have the heart to stop at six. But I will take it as I promised myself that night in the hospital: one day at a time.


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Levan restaurant

Like a true Negrense, I love food. Food is sacred and not something to be dealt with haphazardly. And because we are the sugar capital of the Philippines, we know desserts like the backs of our hands. Yup, we know the good life, and when life comes collecting, we have to pay.

Our family has lived with diabetes for as long as I can remember. My grandfather had it, and early in our childhood we were accustomed to seeing him use Equal instead of sugar in his coffee. Ironic, since he was in the sugar business.

His son, our uncle, also had diabetes early on. He dealt with it by exercising, cutting down on carbohydrates in his diet, and taking a daily dose of insulin.

My brother does not have diabetes, but has a rather strange blood sugar disorder (I am not quite sure how to call it, so doctors, feel free to correct me). He is not allowed to miss meals, because his blood sugar level will drop and he could faint or fall asleep and not wake up.

Bar Gurion Chocolate SouffleMy Independence Day souffle

When I found out I was pregnant with the BooBoo Bear, I became more cautious with the food I ate. Then I had my sugar test at around 20 weeks and it was (tadaaaa!!!!) normal.

At this point one would think that an intelligent creature would maintain what it was that they were doing to keep their blood sugar levels down.

Apparently I am not an intelligent creature because, despite my family history, I went to town on the Nutella and all things chocolate.

Brewhouse dessertMy blood sugar is high but my EQ is low

So at around 30+ weeks I looked like I was lugging around a giant watermelon and my body was threatening to go into labor. Needless to say, my doctor was NOT very happy.

Gestational diabetes only occurs when a person is pregnant, but once there, it raises their risk of having the actual thing later on in life. It also increases the baby’s risk of becoming obese and developing diabetes.

The solution was going cold turkey. I was placed on a horrible, horrible diet that threatened to drive me mad. I was in a foul mood for days until my body finally adjusted to the diet.

The dietician called it the “Mediterranean Diet.” I don’t recommend it to anyone, because it has to take certain things into consideration such as your body mass index, general health, nutritional requirements and such things. But for more than a month I subsisted on a few slices of (diabetic-friendly) bread a day, one egg, some 5% cheese, quinoa or brown rice, a small slab of meat, yogurt, fruits and veggies. Lots and lots of veggies.


Good thing I like veggies.

What surprised me the most was that I actually survived living on very basic food. Who knew the human body, a pregnant one at that, needed so little in order to survive and function?

I didn’t think I would make it to the finish line. I did. Eventually. But now I understand why my grandfather was so recalcitrant and would dip his fingers into some cake and ice cream when no one was looking.

I can’t even begin to imagine what life is like for people who have the full blown disease. At least in my case, I knew that once I gave birth it would all be over. I know I still need to take care with what I eat though, so no more midnight excursions for dessert. No more full course meals (except maybe after a day of fasting?). No more ice cream marathons (yes, I’ve been naughty!).

Everyday is still a challenge. I’ve set my limits and, thankfully, I’ve kept to them. For now. Crossing my fingers.

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Shuk HaCarmel fruits and veggies

When I was a kid, every Saturday morning my Dad would get up at the crack of dawn to go to market. Yup, he was was the official cook of the family. He would return about an hour later laden with all sorts of goodies: prawns still jumping around in the basket, mud crabs snapping their claws, and squid so fresh you could see their spots blinking on and off like Christmas lights (they truly do that!).

He would then rouse us kids from bed and start designating tasks — that’s how we all learned to cook. By the time eight o’clock came around, steaming dishes would be making their way from the kitchen to the dining table, one after another like a grand lauriat feast. Saturday breakfast was always a grand affair in our family, as was Sunday lunch, but that’s a whole other story.

My dad took me to market with him only once or twice, but it was a lesson I never forgot. We always got our food from the wet market; fresh, cheap, and from sources we knew (suki). Buying meat and vegetables from supermarkets was an alien concept that came much, much later in adulthood.

That lesson has served us well here…. There are plenty of supermarkets that can make shopping so much easier and more…er…. sanitary, I suppose. But buying from the wet market always costs less, and it pays to know the people who sell your food. It also helps, of course, if the market is a tourist attraction.

Shuk HaCarmel (literally: The Carmel Market) is one such market. R and I buy our groceries there at least once a month (I used to do it weekly, until I just didn’t have the time).

A few of our local friends are surprised when we say we do our groceries there. They say the place is dirty. Well, dirty is relative. Apparently they’ve never been to Central Market or Burgos Market.

Shuk HaCarmel garden nursery

This is my favorite garden store. Staying a few minutes here is like going to the bookstore…. It never ends well for my wallet. This is where we bought the herbs and vegetables in our garden. We still go back for soil, planter boxes, and the occasional splurging on plants. R always tries to distract me whenever we walk by this store.

Shuk HaCarmel Mushrooms

We call the owner of this store “the mushroom guy” because this is where we get our fresh mushrooms and some veggies. He always has 80s and 90s rock music playing and likes to sing while handing us our change.

Shuk HaCarmel Maganda and Gwapo stall

This stall’s owner always calls us “gwapo” and “maganda” (handsome and beautiful, respectively), words he learned from his Filipino friends. Vanity! He sells us great olives and olive oil from his own farm. He also has good smoked fish (smoked salmon, tinapa, and something that looks like smoked sardines) and honey.

Shuk HaCarmel Candy Store

If you have a sweet tooth, have no fear. The assortment of candies in this place will make your head swim. Oops! That’s my brother buying swiss chocolates for the wifey.

Shuk HaCarmel Candy Store

Gummy worms, anyone?

Shuk HaCarmel Cheese Store

And of course, one of our favorite stores, the cheese store! All sorts of cheese you’ve ever dreamed of, and more cheese that you never knew existed. I can honestly say that my cheese vocabulary has increased fourfold since I’ve been here.

Shuk HaCarmel Meat

This is our regular meat store, manned by Yossi. So many of the people we know in the market are named Yossi, so he is known as “Yossi buto-buto,” because every time he sees us he goes: “Buto-buto, buto-buto!” (Beef ribs) Again, more words picked up from Filipino friends.

Shuk HaCarmel spices

Doesn’t this make you want to just dip your hands and run the spices through your fingers? (Probably not a good idea unless you want to be chased out by an irate shopkeeper and banned from the market.)

Shuk HaCarmel Dead Sea Products

Of course, what respectable local market would be without Dead Sea products? Here you can get all sorts of muds, lotions, salts and whatnot at dirt cheap prices. Pun not intended.

Shuk HaCarmel clothes

If you’re not too particular about the brand of your clothes, you can also find everything here. Shirts, pants, socks, underwear, belly dancing outfits, shoes, etc.

Since the Babii is growing so fast and spending mindless amounts of money on clothes that she would wear only for a a maximum of three months just doesn’t make sense, this is where we buy her socks, tights, house clothes and pajamas (thank goodness for school uniforms!).

Shuk HaCarmel artist

If you stay a little later in the day, you can watch some street performers entertain the pedestrians.

Shuk HaCarmel artist

Sadly, I just don’t seem to have the time anymore.

R and I go to market early, around eight o’clock, to avoid the weekend rush. Come at ten and you’ll be jostling with tourists armed with heavy duty cameras and families rushing to finish their groceries in time for Shabbat dinner.

There are a host of other stores we frequent that I have not mentioned…. There is a pretty comprehensive Asian store, a long alley for chickens, another for fish. There are also various stores selling all sorts of cleaning and household products and (yes!) the ever elusive pork, bacon, ham and salami. When I say you can find everything here, I mean you can find everything here. (Light bulbs, anyone?)

For tourists who want to visit this market (and who wouldn’t?), here are a few tips:

1. Come on a weekday. The stores open a bit later (around 9 or 10 am), but you will avoid most of the serious shoppers. Those looking for the requisite keychains, shirts and Dead Sea lotions for souvenirs will find that prices here are significantly cheaper than prices at the mall or other tourist traps.

2. For those actually looking to buy food, prices are a bit cheaper in stores at the far end (near the bus terminal) and in the inner alleys. But it’s a long walk and not everyone has the stamina. I don’t, but we enter through the terminal and only go halfway up the market, so it’s easier on my limbs.

3. If you get hungry in the middle of all that shopping, there are quite a few restaurants (small and quaint, very touristy) in the market. There are also juice stands. Just keep your eyes peeled.

4. Always weigh the quality of the product against its price and don’t be cheap. Remember, you get what you pay for.

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soap and tomatoes

I have a penchant for eating tomatoes; uncooked, with a little salt and vinegar. It is something that I learned from my mother at an early age, and I’ve carried it into adulthood. Unfortunately, the Babii does not seem to have inherited this penchant for tomatoes and vinegar, even though I ate them a lot when I was pregnant with her.

My mother taught me to always wash the tomatoes with soap and water, but it never registered fully until I started doing my own groceries.

R and I go to a local farmers’ market at least once a month. The food there is cheaper, although it takes a little more effort to go through each stall, walking the entire length of the street where the market is located, and picking out the meat, poultry, fish, etc.

There I saw fruits and vegetables falling off stands, rolling on the ground, and put back onto their shelves for customers to buy.

So now I more conscientious about washing my food. Again, it takes a little more effort. But a few extra minutes spent at the sink is waaaaaay better than a few hours spent in the emergency room for food poisoning (trust me, I’ve been there).

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Going back to the never-ending saga of my eggs….

I was diagnosed a couple of months ago with a cyst on my right ovary which, apparently, caused it to stop functioning and render me temporarily infertile. Yes. Hmmm. Men who are uncomfortable with this topic, leave now.

You have been warned.

It appears that the first doctor I went to, yes the one of miscarriage infamy, had already spotted it last year but did not see fit to tell me. And no, I never went back to her again.

This time around I had two male doctors, both of whom came highly recommended by people I respect. The first one dealt with the miscarriage aftermath and diagnosed me, the second performed the laparoscopy under my health insurance.

What is a laparoscopy exactly? You can read the medical definition here.

In my experience, the doctors made three small incisions: on my left side, right side, and at my belly button where they inserted the camera (I know—gross—my poor belly button!). Then they proceeded to remove the cyst and a host of adhesions in the area using the camera to guide them. This method is supposed to be better than an actual laparotomy, where they make a big cut and expose your organs for the naked eye to see. (Ok, much too graphic now….)

R kept offering to show me pictures of what they would do to my belly button and I would go, NO. NO, NO, NO.

Ignorance is blissssss……

Perhaps as the universe’s way of making up for that entire medical fiasco a few months ago, everything went smoothly, from the pre-operation, operation, and post-op stage. The staff were very attentive and in 24 hours I was sent home with my stitches but no antibiotics and pain killers. Whatever they stuck into my IV must have been some kind of wonder drug. (There was a little pain but not enough to warrant pain killers.)

I know people’s experiences vary, but having undergone a C-section which subsequently popped open nine years ago (I fired the yaya and did the laundry less than a month after giving birth— let’s not go there), this was a walk in the park.

The hardest part was getting out of bed, going to the toilet and avoiding looking at the stitches. (Yes, I’m a wuss.)

The first few hours I had nothing but tea (it tastes fantastic when you’re famished), then later on graduated to yogurt, oatmeal, lugaw, arroz caldo, and finally solid food.

Of course, it helped that I was pampered by R and the Babii, and had an endless supply of ice cream, movies, and George R.R. Martin. Anyone wondering how I read the entire Westeros saga in two weeks, now you know.

And the biopsy verdict? Simple endometriosis. (Yes, I know it’s not THAT simple, but it could have been worse.)

Things I learned along the way:

1. Do your research before committing to a specific doctor. I made the mistake of going with Wonder Woman because “she’s with X hospital, so she must be good.” So. Over. That. Ask people you know about their experiences with their doctors. Google is your friend.

2. Prepare your home and work place for changes during your recovery time. This is an excellent way to ensure that your recovery would be comfortable and stress-free. Feel free to give overzealous work colleagues the evil eye when they try to dump work on you during your recovery. Invoke the RA 9710 Magna Carta of Women (Yes, women are entitled to benefits under this law). Or just lay off the email and mobile phone.

3. A one-day tea only fast can work wonders. 😀

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Two weeks, four doctors and three hospitals later…..

We have not had time to mourn properly because the entire hospital experience overshadowed everything else. Unfortunate and unfair, but that’s life.

Thanks to good friends, we found another doctor who shared our concerns (i.e. the length of time I was going without treatment) and was willing to do the medical procedure as soon as possible.

We are taking away so many lessons from this experience. There is certainly the bad, but there was also good. We are endlessly thankful to all our family and friends who came together to help us through this difficult time.

I wish I could say something more poetic or sentimental, but the truth is that I’ve always considered certain parts of my life unfit for public consumption. Grief is one of them.

Now that the physical part is over, it’s time for us to concentrate on getting our life back together and moving on.

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I know that there are worse things in life, but it does not make my pain less significant or less real.

Last week I was looking forward to finally making the long-awaited announcement that we were going to have another baby. That the Babii would finally have a sibling. That after nine long years, our prayers were answered.

Then exactly nine days ago, I started spotting. Nothing to worry about, according to my doctors. Spotting is normal during the first trimester. I rested for one day and went back to work.

Then I started bleeding and cramping. An ultrasound revealed what I believed to be unthinkable: our baby had no heartbeat.

There are no words to describe the pain and the shock, to my body, my mind and my heart. There are no answers to the questions how and why.

I know that my case is not unique and that the world has bigger problems to think about. But what followed after this was a medical nightmare.

Back in the Philippines, medical protocols for such cases are taken for granted. Women undergo the necessary medical procedures within 48 hours (i.e. Dilation and curettage). Apparently, that does not apply here.

For personal reasons I have decided to withhold the details for now, but I would just like to say that I shouldn’t have to pull rank or announce my position just to get standard emergency medical attention. I shouldn’t have to go into hysterics or make a scene, I shouldn’t have to beg because all doctors have sworn the Hippocratic oath.

Or is that an outdated concept?

I never asked for special treatment, I just wanted medical treatment.

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