Thoughts on First Trimester Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a special experience. Mothers who have 15 children would probably still find differences with each pregnancy. After all, every baby is unique. 

Keeping a pregnancy diary, I thought would be a great place to record these precious memories. Unfortunately, it didn’t come into action until my second trimester. I would nevertheless like to pick my brain and write about what my first trimester felt like. 

Faith in Uncertainties

The first 3 months were both exciting and at times, completely unreal. My tummy didn’t show very much and the baby was yet too small to feel any fetal movement. 

I would say that those months were a test of faith. You can’t see or feel the baby, but you know that he/she’s there. The risk of miscarriages during this period is also highest. This time tests whether you and the baby are both healthy, strong and up for a full-blown pregnancy. 

To my surprise, my baby is more resilient than I imagined and could make it through some pretty scary events. 

Body Changes

One of my thrills is to see my body change. First was getting fuller and bigger breasts. Woohoo (coming from a small-chested Asian)! Then, it was the butt. Let’s just say I had to put away a few pairs of shorts in storage. 

How I would tell that my baby hasn’t miscarried in the earlier days, was to test whether my boobs stayed full. If they didn’t shrink to the original size, the baby’s still there! 

My appetite was poor in the first semester, so by the second month, I had lost 1 kg from my pre-pregnancy weight. Fortunately, I wasn’t on a weight loss streak. By the end of the third month, I had gained 2 kg and was happy to see a glimpse of a bump. 

Aches, Stretches, and Exhaustion

In the beginning, I could feel my back and shoulders ache more than usual and my womb stretching. That stretching was an inner pulling like an overly stretched pizza dough, uncomfortable but bearable. I used to reach up to hang the laundry and found that difficult for awhile. This all cleared up in the second trimester.  

Apart from aches, I had strains in the funniest places. One of my top pregnancy muscle strains were on my butt. Getting butt strains are hilarious and PAINFUL! Sitting wasn’t bad, but it’s when you get up and walk, OUCH! It does go away, but the worst part was that most people couldn’t comprehend, “What the heck is a butt strain?” 

Well, if you get one, you’ll know. And you won’t like it. 

Then, I was just tired. My adjustments were from doing 5-6 activities and meetings a day to choosing only 1-2 to do, so I won’t be running around exhausted. This all changed in my second trimester when my energy level came back. 

Morning Sickness and Heat

Everyone’s different when it comes to morning sickness. The only thing I can say is “THANK GOD!” 

Well, also thanks to mom and grandma for passing on their genes, I had almost no morning sickness. The only times I would feel the urge to vomit was due to the 38°C and 90% humidity of southern Taiwan. I was also creating so much heat from being pregnant that I couldn’t go without aircon (and I rarely used it in previous summers). 

I’ve read that morning sickness means a healthy baby with strong yang element in Chinese medicine. Kudos to moms with morning sickness, your baby’s doing great! So, I guess my baby’s a bit yin, and I’m perfectly happy with it. 

Morning sickness really has to do with hormones produced during pregnancy and how both mother and baby react to them. Another factor could be genetics. My mom and grandma never had morning sickness, so I was lucky.

Injuries

I have no idea if pregnancy made me absent-minded or I was always a bit tipsy. Sometime in my second month of pregnancy, I got up at around 4 am thirsty for a glass of water. I filled the cup, drank it and came back to my room with the mug. When I put the mug back on my dresser, the next thing I heard was a loud CLANG!! sound and the mug was severed on the floor. A gushing pain rushed through my body and my big toe was bleeding excessively – the result of a 350 grams mug traveling at the speed of gravity is lethal. 

My husband woke up, half-asleep, took my feet and lifted it up, pressing my toe hard with a pad of tissue. I couldn’t remember much, except me laughing and crying at the same time. It HURT! And the pain didn’t go away, so for the next 30 minutes I was just somewhat in deliriousland. The only thing I could do was pray in unintelligible language because it hurt too much. Toe_injury

My black toe

During the whole process, I thought it was hilarious. Who in the world goes and deliberately drops a heavy mug on their toe? I wish I had taken a picture of the culprit. That evil mug! 

i2278751Found a pic of the evil mug online 

Basically, I couldn’t walk for 2 days.

Hubby Support

The most worth mentioning factor that got me through my first trimester smoothly was having the full support of my husband. When I was exhausted, he did the dishes, brought home food, cleaned the house and hung the laundry. Although he already did these chores gladly before I got pregnant, he took extra measures to make sure I felt comfortable. 

His words were always encouraging and positive. After taking care of the house by himself, he would say to me, “You are working so hard, are you doing ok?” 

What? I didn’t do squat, but he made me feel being pregnant is important and enduring work. What he believes is true. Being pregnant and taking care of baby and me is extremely important. 

On better days, I helped out in the house more, but there were also times that I couldn’t do anything. 

Friends and family also made me feel like a princess. Growing up very independent, I have never been so cared for before. 

Truly, I cannot imagine being pregnant alone. I am grateful to have a wonderful husband and people around me to help me through this challenging time. 

Happy Baby, Happy Mother

While there are the not-so-glorious side, honestly I am filled with joy throughout my pregnancy. Completely humbled by the fact that a life is growing in me, I couldn’t stop smiling, praising God and loving my baby. It’s a miracle!

These massive physical and hormonal changes are telling me that I am becoming a better home for the little one. Everyday, I am testing the limits of what I can and cannot do in my new body and finding satisfaction in the little things I can accomplish.

All in all, I am honoured to be pregnant and to become a mother. What an adventure!

Knowing that my baby is healthy at each check-up is a reassurance that all’s going well.

People often ask me, “How is the baby?”

I would always reply, “HAPPY!” 

 Ultrasound_10weeks

 If you have any imagination, you could pick out the portrait of my little baby at 10 weeks. He/She is a good-looking one! 

Salty Preserved Lemons

This whole idea started because I wanted to make use of the bag of dates I have left. While searching for date recipes, I came across this mouth-watering dish:

chicken_and_lemon_tagine_75608_16x9

Photo Credit: BBC Food Recipes 

A fan of spiced and delicate Moroccan dishes, one of the ingredients for the tajine was, yes the PRESERVED LEMONS! Since I couldn’t just go out to the nearest Taiwanese grocery store and get a jar, making my own is the next logical choice.

Following Jamie Oliver’s and Epicurious’ preserved lemons recipes, I’m feeling oh so excited to add these zesty treats to stews, salads and tabouleh! Of course I’ll have to wait patiently for 30 preservation days till they’ll be ready. 

 

Salty Preserved Lemons
Preserved lemons to savor any dish
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Prep Time
15 min
Prep Time
15 min
Ingredients
  1. 1/2 cup sea salt (Coarse sea salt are easier to stuff and adds just the right amount of saltiness)
  2. Peppercorns
  3. Fennel seeds
  4. Coriander seeds
  5. 2-3 bay leaves
  6. 1 cinnamon stick
  7. 6 medium-sized lemons
  8. Note: I eyeballed the peppercorns, fennel and coriander seeds. About 1 tsp for taste.
Equipment
  1. 1 airtight glass jar
Instructions
  1. Sterilize jar by steaming or in boiling water for 5 minutes.
  2. Wash lemons with drinking water and towel dry. I added baking soda to the wash to remove any wax or pesticide residues.
  3. In a shallow bowl, mix together the spices with the sea salt.
  4. Make two deep cross-slits on the lemons until close to the bottom, but do not cut through.
  5. Start stuffing the salt mix into the lemons.
  6. Pack the stuffed lemons in the jar next to each other. Layer with sea salt.
  7. Place the remaining cinnamon stick and bay leaves in the jar along with the salt mixture.
  8. Close the jar, label the date and keep in a dark warm place for 30 days. Make sure to shake the jar everyday to evenly distribute the salty juice.
Notes
  1. Epicurious recommends filling up the rest of the space with fresh lemon juice. However, I have decided to let it sit a few days before adding any extra juice.
Adapted from Jamie Oliver and Epicurious
Adapted from Jamie Oliver and Epicurious
Jen Safari http://www.jensafari.com/
 The sea salt and spice mixture smelled fantastic as I stuffed in the lemons. 

salt

And don’t forget to label the jars! After 30 days, the lemons are good to be kept at room temperature for up to a year. 

lemon_label

It’s so easy to make. Let’s see if they’ll be a success in a month!

Preservation for the Future

Leo Tsai Photo Credit: Gallery Sun

On a sunny Saturday afternoon, I was invited to join my friend Jessica for a presentation on Art Restoration. I have always appreciated art and the words on the poster, “The Journey of Time through the Old Cities” rang to me. 

True to its slogan, Leo Tsai, the first Taiwanese master art restorer took us on a journey through historical cities from the birthplace of the Renaissance halfway around the world and finally back to Taiwan, stepping into the back doors of art preservation. 

His speech was simple, yet his words permeated with his passion and respect for each masterpiece and the artists who created them. From Brunelleschi’s Cupola and the Pietas of Michelangelo, to his enduring training under Italian master restorers, his love affair with Portrait of a Young Girl in New Orleans, his opportunity to be the first Asian restorer to work in the Uffizi, and bringing his experiences to preserve cultural heritages in Taiwan, we all listened intently and were mesmerized. 

His keen observations and unique perspectives bring to light two simple questions: What is important to you? And what will you do about it? 

While modern society undergoes lightning fast changes, often with an “out with the old and in with the new” attitude, what do we value at the end of the day? What will be lost if we simply conform to popular trends and never take a stand? I am still pausing to think. 

Time is an inevitable enemy to beauty of all sorts whether man-made or natural, yet the people who conserve its originality through the test of time are the front line, often unseen rescue team. 

I am grateful for people like Leo, so my children and grand-children can walk by a historical site in Tainan, or visit the Uffizi and be able to admire the intricate compositions and brushstrokes of ancient masters. Thank you for preserving for the future. 

More about Shun-Jen (Leo) Tsai: 

Leo’s Studio: TSJ Art Restoration (in Chinese) 

Leo on TED x Taipei (in Chinese) 

Door God Doctor (in English about Leo’s restoration of temple doors) 

 

My First Scare

The first week I knew of my pregnancy, my doctor informed me I was already 5 weeks in. I felt great! My energy level was good as any other day and I was confident in accomplishing all the plans for the week. There was not a hint that I would slow down.

A Busy Week 

The week was packed, starting with a trip to see my grandma in Taipei (about 4.5 hours bus ride one-way). I made it there in time to reveal the good news to her and to my parents who joined through skype. Then, I had an overnight outing with a friend in Tainan before she returned to Canada. The week followed with full time work in the day and serving as a prayer staff in a summer youth camp at nights. Friday, I led a group of 30 people on a one-day official outing to the middle of Taiwan. Finally, on Saturday I attended a memorial service for a colleague’s husband.

Over My Limits 

I felt fine right until I got home from the service. A burning fever and nausea flooded me and I was sapped. Throwing up everything and barely able to eat, I knew I needed a) air-condition, and b) rest. It was also at that time that I started bleeding.

While some bleeding was completely normal during first trimester, I bled more in the beginning, then less and less for the next 2-3 days.

During this time, I was bed-ridden and having conflicting voices in my head. One, an unsure feeling terrified that something would happen to the baby. Another, a strong sense of peace and knowing that “He’s fine.” My prayer was that my baby, despite me not knowing my physical limits, would still be healthy and alive!

Getting Back on My Feet

God sent angels to help me through. My husband took up taking care of me, even cooking rice porridge (congee) when I couldn’t eat. Cooking was never his talent, he’s good at buying and heating food. I knew he gave it all with that congee, which he made from scratch and turned out pleasantly delicious. That hot bowl of food was a true remedy to a sick stomach.

On Monday, I felt better and called my ex-roommate Ya. The whole weekend, I didn’t really talk to anyone apart from my husband and sleeping. She learned I was also preparing for an end of the year get-together for my English students that night. As a fairy godmother, she volunteered to help cook for the kids. She took charge of the kitchen and magically produced several amazing dishes and saved the night!

Ya usually has nice hunches and deep perspectives. She told me that God has a plan for the baby and he’s going to be just fine.

Lurking Fears

To be on the safe side, I scheduled a doctor’s appointment the next day. The night before, I woke up with a dark fear. It was a terrible, uncertain feeling that I would go for the check-up and nothing would be there. The baby has left and I was in tears. Angus woke up, asked me what’s wrong and prayed for me. At that time, all I could remember was Ya saying the baby will be fine, and the solid sense of peace that overpowered my fears. All became calm and I finally went back to bed.

Healthy and Strong

The next day, to my amazement, the baby (at that time, a dark round circle) was still there! Not only did I see him on the ultrasound, but he had a strong heartbeat. Seeing the heart beating, I knew God is protecting my baby. The doctor prescribed me some progesterone pill and advised me to stay in bed for a few more days.

While my goal is to have a worry-free, happy pregnancy, I know that worries do come, and sometimes I do dumb things like not taking care of my body. Ultimately, God is in control and I can trust Him.

I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.

Jeremiah 29:11 The Message (MSG)

 


 

To my babe:

Thank you for courage and strength. Knowing you are not wasting your time growing and learning, I am humbled by your power to face life. Thank you for being a good fighter. Thank you for showing me how.

Diary of a New Mother: The Beginning

We had decided, between my husband and me that after our trip to Israel, we would grow our relationship of two into a family of three. I remember the first day we started dating. Angus asked me, “How many children would you like to have?”

“Four” I said, “How about you?”

“Three because I grew up with three” and quickly responded with a calculation, “Four plus three. Maybe we’ll just have to have seven!”

We laughed about it heartily on that cold winter night.

A year and three months after being married, and just two weeks after returning home from our Israel holiday, our home pregnancy kit came back positive for the first time. Perfectly timed, we didn’t expect our prayers to be so immaculately answered. We didn’t have jitters or doubts, just hardly believing we created a life that is growing inside. We were blissfully walking on heaven clouds for the first couple of days, still in awe.

It is truly amazing how mother instincts kick right in the moment we knew. I felt love, a strong love bonding me to our baby that seems to come from nowhere. Angus, whose distinct fatherly, caring personality that always existed, blossomed even more.

I used to wonder why some pregnant women smile so much? Now, I can understand why. It is the joy of being unconditionally in love with someone.

Of course, this is just the beginning of this story of love. Pregnancy, and I believe parenting will be a never-ending challenge. This is an account of how it happened when we first knew I was pregnant. I have plenty to share about the ups and downs of this roller coaster ride so far. It isn’t always going to be creamy and dreamy. Sometimes it’s gory and often messy and uncomfortable. All in all, “The most beautiful thing.”

Pacifier by Jen Wen Luoh

Pacifier by Jen Wen Luoh (Montreal, Canada) – 2010 

Imagining the Golden Days

Over the past few months, I have heard of dad working intently, eating every minute of his after work hours on his first memoir. Growing up, dinner was the time our whole family got together to reminisce our day. At the table, dad was always an animate story teller. Some stories, he had told over and over again, as we would say in Chinese 老到掉牙,”it is so old that teeth fall out.” At his first words, we would already say, “Oh yeah I know this one.” Yet we never grew tired of listening to the old tales.

A month ago, I finally received his final Chinese manuscript. Due to my poor Chinese, I took a much longer time in reading his 209 pages masterpiece. To compensate, I had read every single word.

Not only is my dad a good story teller, he is a talented writer. I am most impressed with his ability to detail the events of his life as early as 3 years old. I don’t even remember what happened in high school let alone elementary or toddler years.

What makes his book interesting beyond personal anecdotes is the way he relates to life in the “golden days” as I put it. The 50s and 60s of Taiwan was not glorious by any means. It was a time when everyone was poor and the only reason for living is to get by everyday. Under those harsh conditions, the stories overflowed with the rare beauty of simplicity, creativity and comradeship of the time.

Imagine a time when children ran wild in the mountains, catching mangos and longans they hit off trees and swimming at the military harbor, only to dry their wet bottoms on hot sun-dried roads. A time when anyone can claim an uninhabited land and establish his family. A time when friends and neighbours lent sincere helping hands and have bonded deeper than blood. A time as rough as a rock, but as golden as the sun.

Photo Credit: Rolands at

Photo Credit: Rolands at Flavors of Taiwan

Essence of Reading

I’ve heard the saying that once the world knows you are a writer, the stories come flooding to you.

My favorite authors growing up were Lucy Maud Montgomery for her Anne series, Roald Dahl’s crazy stories and his unbelievable autobiographies, Gerald Durrell whose family and life couldn’t be more upside down, and oh Jane Austen, penned delicate lines of gentle and brave heroines whose ideals were beyond the confines of society.

It is fair to say that some had extraordinary circumstances that even imagination couldn’t have whipped up. Others led plain lives with little real-life stimulations, yet with a blank piece of paper and an inked pen created a world of possibilities.

In an era where words are watered down and books are adapted into movies and TV series, the essence of reading is gradually disappearing. Successful blogs are not carefully planned pieces with inspirational stories and ideas, but mostly “how-to” instructionals to fix anything from plumbing to marriages. Rather, more people write and more publications are made each year, but book sales are crashing down. With E-publications, who will need to buy paperbacks anymore?

My piece of warning – Hold on to your books! They will become rare collectors’ items in the near future. An afternoon with a paperback will be a long lost luxury. Old-fashioned me still remain determined to pass on the legacy of the joy of reading and writing, letting the pages unfold into a limitless canvas for my children to paint. I pray that they will see through creative minds, the beautiful things of life and tell never-ending stories for generations to come.

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