An unexpected journey

Following all those stressful travel arrangements, my flights got cancelled twice (not even a surprise during this pandemic), meaning I had to once again sit in front of the computer and snipe whatever hotel quarantine spots I could to match alternative flights — a most difficult mission when spots for quarantine in New Zealand are already booked out all the way to the end of May 2021.

The flights themselves would've been tough enough with a 7‑month-old, but on top of that, my 4‑hour journey from Perth to Sydney turned into an 8‑hour nightmare. For whatever reason, when our plane was about to land in Sydney, the Sydney airport was closed. Yup, the busiest airport in Australia was closed at 6pm. In the meantime, we circled about in the air, until the fuel almost ran out.

So off we went to Newcastle for our plane to refuel, but the refuelling team took more than 3 hours to show up. No extra food on the plane + bored/tired/screechy baby = recipe for disaster. With 8 hours, we might as well have flown straight to New Zealand, or maybe a holiday in Taiwan/Japan/Korea?

After a lovely overnight stay at the Rydges Sydney Airport Hotel, we got up at too-early‑o'clock for our next leg from Sydney to Auckland.

Luckily, this was the flight I booked in business class. The baby was still screechy, but far less so. Thanks to the seat-turned-bed that provided more play room.

Both the economy and business seats in the Qantas A330 were very nice. Unless the price is outrageous, I definitely think it's worth flying business especially when travelling alone with a difficult little bub. Sorry not sorry to all the other business class passengers who hoped for a quiet, comfortable flight!

At long last, I am now in Auckland, New Zealand.

After the unlucky flight débâcle, I was pleasantly surprised to be assigned to Sebel Manukau for quarantine, which is the closest quarantine hotel to my family and thus makes it easy for them to drop things off for me.

The room is clean and spacious, and the food has been amazing so far, with tasty purees and mashes for the baby too. Having a room with a kitchen is also a great bonus, as it makes cleaning all the baby bottles and heating baby food a lot easier.

Days 1 and 2 of quarantine — so far so good, but still can't wait until we're free!

Now, I never want to travel on my own with a baby. Ever. Again.

My quest to return home during a pandemic

When I made the decision to move to Australia 8 years ago, never had I imagined that one day it might be almost impossible to return home to New Zealand — a mere Tasman Sea away, Australia's friendly neighbour, where my family is based, where I'm a citizen of, and where I now need to return to urgently due to special circumstances.

Let's start with all the hurdles I have had to/will need to tackle step by step:

1. Get a passport for the baby ✅

As if getting that perfect, lucky photo of a wriggly 5‑month old wasn't hard enough, the Australian passport office also has to be a bitch and automatically reject passport applications that are not printed with the correct printer margins (of all things to be a bitch about). As my bottom printer margin was 3mm over the limit, I had to redo the passport application and get it re-witnessed etc. Fun fun. 

Wallet burn: It's an extra $218 to get the application processed urgently, on top of the normal child's passport fee of $150. I guess time costs more than the passport itself, heh.

2. Snipe a spot for mandatory hotel quarantine in New Zealand ✅

Because many, many idiots failed to follow self-isolation rules several months ago, every entrant into NZ now needs to quarantine in a hotel, hooray.

And because of the many, many idiots who think travelling to NZ during the Christmas period is so important even during a global pandemic, there are no quarantine hotel vacancies available for people (like me) who genuinely, really, fucking need to get my ass back home as soon as possible, yippee.

Every time I see an available spot pop up in December, it's gone in the next second, sniped up by someone who's probably been sitting there refreshing their browser non-stop. The earliest I've been able to get is late January. Not ideal, but could be worse. They could've designed the system to allow bookings on a needs-basis, le sigh.

Wallet burn: $3,100 for the quarantine fee. If I'm extremely lucky, my application to have the fee waived on compassionate grounds may get approved?

3. Apply for exemption to travel out of Australia ✅

With me being an Australian permanent resident, and my baby being an Australian citizen, neither of us can travel out of Australia without being approved for a travel exemption.

This was the step that gave me the most anxiety, as my Google research had turned up a number of anecdotes about the time it takes to get approval.

Instead, it was one of the smoothest, fastest red-tape process I've ever experienced. I lodged my application to travel on compassionate grounds on the evening of 9 December, and received the approval confirmation first thing in the morning of 10 December. Mind = Blown.

4. Book flights ✅

Pre-Covid times, my favourite flight home was always via Air New Zealand, a direct flight of 6–7 hours on its beautiful 787 Dreamliner, which features Skycouch seats that converts a whole row of Economy seats into a flat bed — perfect when travelling with a baby.

Thanks to Covid, Air New Zealand has pulled all its flights between Perth and Auckland, whoop-dee-doo.

The next best alternative was Qantas, with a stopover in Sydney.

None of this would have bothered me had I been single, but with a baby, I am not liking: the limited option of a red-eye flight, with a stopover/transfer in Sydney, with an airline that doesn't allow me to bring a stroller as a carry-on (even if it's carry-on weight and size).

And because the little bub is at an awkward size of being too big for the plane bassinet but too young to have his own seat, he'll need to sit on my lap the whole time. Which means…

Wallet burn: I booked business class for the larger seat and lounge access during the stopover. How ridiculous is it to rant about flying business class, right? But I'll be in a comfortable seat that's able to fully lay flat, yet unable to enjoy it because of the damn baby on my fricking lap. Sob.

5. Survive two weeks in a hotel room with a 6–7 month old ❎❎❎

If only I was on my own. I could easily live 14 days straight locked up in a hotel room, reading, writing, watching movies, browsing the Internet and whatnot. In fact, that's something my introvert self would love.

But with a baby? Kill. Me. Now.

He already cries and screeches from boredom in our house, which is much larger than a hotel room. Add to that… The bottle washing and sterilising, the laundry, the baby sleep issues we'll encounter due to jet lag… All on my own because the hubby cannot take time off work in the new year. See, if those many idiots didn't snipe up all the quarantine spots this month, he would've been able to accompany me during his Christmas break.

At this point in time, I can't even imagine making it through the 14 days with the bub. Now, why is it costing me a fortune and my sanity just to return home, even when I have the best reason in the world to?

Don't get me wrong, I am proud of New Zealand and Australia's success with keeping Covid under control with its stringent quarantine and social distancing measures, but seriously…

Fuck you, Covid.

I am excited, however, to be flying and home again, soon.

Review: SNOO smart bassinet for babies

It wasn't until I became a mother that I began to appreciate just how much money there is in the baby sleep industry. And it wasn't until I became a mother that I felt all too willing to part with my precious dollars for the magical sleep program or sleep consultant or whatever solution that would get my baby to sleep through the night — or even just sleep at all. Two-hour stretches just weren't enough for me to feel like a functional human being.

Those first few weeks, every nap and sleep required rocking and rocking and more rocking. As soon as the sleeping baby was moved from my arms to the cot, he woke right up, and rocking resumed. I was a living zombie with perpetually painful back and shoulders from all the rocking.

At one point, I was ready to throw $200 a week at a night nurse to come 6–8 hours overnight (or however many hours $200 would get me) just so I could sleep soundly for one day each week. But as sleep-deprived as I was, it was obvious to me that the maths didn't add up.

Because there's this thing called the SNOO, a smart bassinet that rocks babies to sleep… all night long. It even detects crying and automatically ramps up the rocking and white noise in response. Yes, it's far more expensive than any other bassinet I've seen in a baby store, which was why I didn't purchase it in the first place. Still, it works out far cheaper than hiring a night nurse and has a 30-day money-back guarantee. So in a moment of desperation, I went for it.

A mere week in, I knew I wasn't going to be calling on the money-back guarantee. It didn't magically rock our baby to sleep for 12 hours straight, but almost right away it became a lot easier to get him down to sleep. When he woke during the night, the SNOO increased its rocking and white noise, and oftentimes that was all he needed to fall back asleep for a couple more hours.

Because it was so good at putting our baby to sleep, I started putting him awake in the SNOO and leaving the room. Sometimes he fell asleep, sometimes I needed to go in and help him out. Gradually, my intervention was needed less and less.

We used the SNOO for four months, and can confidently say it was worth every penny. I was also thoroughly impressed with the after-sales service, which includes free sleep consultancy, and when our first unit encountered some issues, the replacement process was fast and easy. However, by far the most valuable reward we've reaped from it is that it taught our baby to fall asleep independently, without the need for an excruciating period of sleep training.

At four months, we cold-turkey transitioned him from being swaddled in the SNOO to having both of his arms free and sleeping in the crib. Having been rocked and swaddled tightly for so long, I was fully prepared for at least a week of disaster night wake-ups. The disaster lasted one night before he was sleeping through again.

I don't think I have a unicorn baby. His sleep was absolutely rubbish before we got the SNOO, even though newborns are meant to be very sleepy. I am convinced that this magical smart bassinet taught him to sleep well, so thank you, robot nurse. This is why I love technology. It was 100% worth the splurge, and so far it's the one item that I consider a must-buy.

Unfortunately, babies change all the time. And with teething, sickness, sleep regressions, mental development… I'm not naïve enough to think that sleep is going to be all smooth sailing from here on out. But for now at least, I'm not complaining!

Three months of motherhood

Well, well, well. Back in July, I thought I’d never make it here. I still remember the days when crying and meltdowns were my daily ritual, and the longest stretch of sleep I ever got during the night was a measly 2.5 hours. In those days, it was hard to believe that life could ever get better. To my amazement, it has. Last night, in fact, the little bub broke his record and slept for 8.5 hours straight. Oh, sleep, how I adore you.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hard. Time does not fly by for me like it apparently does for many mums. Even now, I spend my days wishing my baby boy would grow up faster. Because as much as I love him—and I’m going to be shot for saying this—I do not enjoy being a mother. At least not right now.

Perhaps it’s also because the Covid has prevented my family from visiting, but my days with the little one have been dreadfully lonely.

This societal expectation that women should enjoy mothering is absurd. Before the baby, my life was filled with intellectually stimulating activities: lawyering, writing, coding. The most thinking I do these days is working out his wake windows and next feeding time.

I miss adult interactions. I miss going out for fancy dates and dinners. I miss holidays and staycations. I miss freedom. And unfortunately, these are now luxuries I can no longer have in the coming months. Or years, even. It also didn't help that all our plans of easing into parenthood (enjoying those nice cinema dates and a last babymoon holiday) during my third trimester went straight to the bin along with lockdowns.

I am honestly impressed by all the mothers who actually find their life with babies rewarding and fulfilling. Maybe I’ll get there someday as my baby grows?

And what about dads? Why aren’t they the ones that people expect to stay home, caring for the baby all day long and attending parenting groups? For now, I'm just glad that I'm not alone in the way I feel.

Despite sounding like a negative Nancy, I am still eternally grateful that I have a healthy, happy baby, and his feeding and sleeping have finally, sort of, fallen into a routine (here's to hoping I don't jinx myself). At long last, I feel like a semi-functioning human again. A human with too little 'me time', but I'll take what I can get. Fingers crossed, this continues. Toes crossed, the four-month sleep regression doesn't hit our household.

And I must hastily conclude this post, as that little guy has just woken from his nap earlier than I’d like! Hmph.

Month of firsts

I can’t believe I actually hit my Camp NaNoWriMo goal in July. Granted I had to cheat and adjust my initial 20,000-word editing goal down to 15,000, but that was fully justified, methinks, given that my little one arrived 8 days earlier than his due date. So yay! My first Camp NaNo participation and win, and with that,

As of yesterday, I have also survived my first month as a first-time mum. I wouldn’t have thought it possible back in the first week, but somehow, things feel even tougher now than they were weeks ago.

I guess back then, I had a little hope that there would be an end to all the cluster feeding, and that I could start seeing some longer stretches of night sleep. Indeed, I enjoyed 3-4 hour overnight stretches for a few days, and now it’s gone down to 2-hourly wakings like clockwork, and the baby is a little eating machine whose appetite is off the charts. *yawn*

The small achievement I will celebrate, however, is that I’ve now made it through the first day of the hubby returning to work after his month of paternity leave. Phew.

Really can’t wait until I start to enjoy a little more time to myself during the days though. When can I stop being a milk cow 24/7?