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.

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?

A life-changing week

On 2 July 2020, I became a MILF mum (though I might one day earn my MILF status yet… when the stars align).

In other words, Happy First Week to my baby boy! And happy first projectile poop too.

As relieved and grateful as I am about having my healthy and adorable baby in my arms, I'm not going to pretend that life is now filled with pink hearts and cute Facebook photos just because I have a baby. The truth is I am overwhelmed by the stress and difficulties of handling a week-old newborn.

In the past seven days, I have put up with cluster feeding marathons for five of those days. We're talking nursing sessions from 5am to 1pm one day; 1pm to 7pm the next day; even the average session takes around two hours because he is constantly falling asleep during his feeds. All I have to go on is the self-reassurance that things will get better with time.

It doesn't help that with the Covid-19 border lockdowns in place, my parents have been unable to travel here to help out. So it's just me and the hubby: two clueless first-time parents, learning as we go.

All in all, this week has been a real struggle — physically and emotionally — and I cannot wait until I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I always knew parenthood was hard, but I had no idea just how hard it really is. And I am under no illusion that there will be even greater challenges (and hopefully rewards!) ahead.

This may be a negative-sounding post, but I write in the hope that some weeks or months down the track, I can look back on my memory of this first week and realise that things have indeed looked up.