Chuc Mung Nam Moi

IMG_2305.JPG

Happy New Year! It's the Lunar/Chinese New Year - celebrating the Year of the Dog.  I really enjoy this time of year, not because we get lucky money (haha not anymore now that I'm married) but for honoring traditions and spending time with family.  I don't consider myself a practicing buddhist but I do believe in a higher being and that our ancestors are watching over us and their spirits are amongst us.  During this time, we make an offering to the gods and honor them and our ancestors (all referred to as ong ba) to bring us prosperity, good health, and fortune.  Days leading up to the New Year or Tet (in Vietnamese), the house should be clean and tidy as it sets the tone for the upcoming year.  Deep cleaning shouldn't be for days after as it may wash away your good luck and fortune. I tried my best to clean the house and organize but having a sick baby and husband the week leading up to Tet didn't go exactly as planned.  I always remember my mom talking to the spirits as she sets out this elegant paper meant as money and fabric for clothes along with fruit and flowers on the altar (of Ba Quan Am - kindof like an all encompassing god that takes on many forms and roles).  On New Years Eve, we cook all this food and offer it to the gods, burn incense and bow to show our respects.  Only after the incense has fully burned is when we can eat.  Now that I have my own home, I wanted to keep part of the tradition and set up some fruit and flowers for Tet by keeping it simple since I don't have an altar set up.   Usually red gladiolus flowers are traditional for New Years, but since I couldn't find it locally, these red and yellow flowers worked well too. I always find it a little awkward when I burn the incense and bow not because I don't know what to do but more so of what to say (since my mom has always done it).  In my head I know what I want to say, but it doesn't always translate out loud the way I want it to.  To thank the gods for watching over us this past year, to thank them for keeping us healthy and safe, and to ask our ancestors to continue to watch over our family and bless our home this upcoming year.  I always start off speaking in Vietnamese, then English, then stuttering and stopping altogether because it's semi-awkward for me since I'm not used to doing it.  But I know that they hear the thoughts that I express from within and can feel that I am beyond grateful for what we have.  

IMG_2293.jpg

It was pretty awesome to receive li xi or lucky money given in red envelopes when I was growing up.  Only when you are married do you start giving money to the kids and siblings younger than you and stop receiving money (although some parents still usually give it).  It's fun to use that money to play the lucky game of Bau Cua Tom Ca (Gourd Crab Shrimp Fish). My aunt's family came up from VA to celebrate the festivities as my grandfather is here visiting from Vietnam also. So to have all the kids and family in one place was pretty awesome.  

IMG_2368.JPG

According to Chinese tradition, once you are married, the daughter can't return home on the eve of New Years but only after the start of the year since it may bring bad fortune.  This I did not know! lol I guess it worked out since I had to work that morning and traveling home after would have been too far and a long night traveling with my babe.  I did get to spend Chinese New Year with my husband's family which was nice.  I didn't realize but in Chinese tradition, the meal cooked on New Years Eve is to celebrate this past year and lunch usually that upcoming weekend is to celebrate the upcoming year.  Last year I missed out on lunch as I was going into labor with Liam.  I really want to be able to show Liam the traditions, honor, and respect we have in both our Vietnamese and Chinese families and hope that he doesn't loose part of that culture as he grows up.           

   

A Year In Review

Where do I begin? This entire year felt like a whirlwind that fly by way too fast.  My journey began when we decided we should start 'trying' to grow our little family.  What I didn't expect was that it was happening much sooner than later.  I was pretty lucky and fortunate to conceive easily and not get morning sickness or have any food aversions.  I felt pretty normal and sometimes even forgot that I had this precious life growing inside of me (call it preggo brain? jkjk). I even helped build our kitchen cabinets during our reno, minus all the heavy lifting 💪🏻.  I enjoyed being pregnant; watching my belly grow knowing that baby boy was growing strong and healthy and that my body was capable of keeping him safe.  I didn't really know what to expect when "it was time" - he's coming! I wasn't even sure if I was having contractions and sure enough, he arrived about 12 hours later and a week before his due date.  I was so nervous to meet him.  I knew I loved him sooo much and the time was finally here where I can hold him in my arms, snuggle and kiss him, and knowing that this is REAL.

Life with a newborn was definitely a learning process and parenting still is.  Who knew they pooped right after every feeding. I have never changed so many diapers in my life in those first few weeks.  As I was getting the hang of the routine of nursing, eating, napping, diaper changes ect, the sleep deprivation was setting in and I can say it was definitely a life adjustment.  Showers became the golden hour (or minutes lol) as I had time to myself and only myself.  Some days were definitely more difficult than others.  The routine became normal but when baby cries and fusses for no reason or cluster feeds every hour, it's so demanding on your body and it definitely took a toll on me. On those days, it made me question 'How am I supposed to be able to do this every day? How long does this last? Will it get better? Do I have a difficult baby?'  Those emotions running through my head didn't last very long because this is what I signed up for after all, right? jk. In all honesty, just knowing that we created this life, he is a part of me and my husband, he came from our love, and that his cute little face staring back at you and coo-ing makes it all worth it and all of those worries of doubt and questions on whether you will be a good mom or not, just disappear.  No mom is perfect. I realized that I don't need to look flawless and make mommy-life look easy and glamorous, but to be able to give the best of myself and providing my unconditional love would be enough.  

As the months flew by, Liam started hitting his milestones with rolling over, sitting up, crawling, to now standing on his own and even taking a few steps.  It was slightly creepy when you wake up from a nap to him sitting up on his own and looking at you like a stalker. The infamous sleep training was hard. It definitely pulls at your heart strings when he started to stand up in his crib crying out for you to pick him up. We initially did sleep training around 6 months and because he got sick from a cold and starting teething around 7-8 months, we held him and rocked him to sleep to comfort him.  That disturbed his sleep cycle for a little bit so we  started sleeping training all over again not too long ago.  I hated listening to him cry for so long but I knew in the long run it would benefit both of us if we could sleep through the night.   We did a combination of crying it out and revisiting with pats and comforting.  I sometimes wondered though, if by leaving him there to cry, 'Will it give him anxiety? Will it make him feel as if we don't care about him? or Will he fall asleep and forget any of that even happened?' I definitely felt like he had slight separation anxiety at first.  For a while, he would work himself up so much that he would throw up.  Sometimes sooner than later and he knew we would rush in to clean him and hold him. He was fine when we were in the room with him but as soon as he heard a sound when we were sneaking away, he would shoot up in bed and scream out bloody murder.  A few weeks in, he knows his bedtime routine now and is falling asleep easier and sleeping through the night again.  

There was a point in time where work was consuming me, mentally and physically - and it still does a little.  Little work life balance and working long hours left me even more exhausted than normal.   Liam definitely preferred my husband over me for a while as he is home nights to give him a bath and get him ready for bed when I'm stuck at work well after the pharmacy has closed.  He just wouldn't let me comfort him when he woke up in the middle of the night either.  I just felt like, WTF. How did I let work take over my life? How did I let work prioritize over my baby, my family? He doesn't even recognize me or want me?! I question how is a mother supposed to succeed in their career when the mentality now is, 'do more with less' and still be able to keep up with the demands, hit all the metrics, rise above all challenges, be more clinical, ect when we just don't have the man power that is needed to run a pharmacy efficiently and effectively. In order to "succeed",  I had to sacrifice time away from my family to get things done that otherwise can't be finished during open hours.  I've come to the realization that, my family is more important and if that means some aspects of corporate metrics don't meet goal, I've tried my best. I refuse let my family suffer as a result.  As long as I'm still providing quality care and consultations to my patients, that's all that matters to me.

Life definitely isn't the same as before; it doesn't even come close. It REALLY is sooooo much more. My life is full of love and laughter.  Full of little hands holding mine, drool all over my shoulder, and burps & poops for mommy.  Life gives you the unexpected but as long as we have each other, I'm ready to take on the world. 

        

The decision to wean

The decision to wean off nursing and pumping didn't come easily for me.  As a new mom, I've always enjoyed breastfeeding and the closeness I feel to him when I nursed. I personally felt it was important for me to try to last at least one year because of all the benefits but at this point, I've come to accept the fact that it may be time to wean off from pumping entirely at 9 months. Not because I wanted to, but more because my body is incapable of doing so. 

Doing so didn't come with relief but rather some guilt and dissappointment. I would have thought, I would have felt more relieved with a new sense of freedom to not have to worry about having one too many drinks in case it affected my milk. I wouldn't need to plan out my outfits for easy access to the boob for pumping. I wouldn't need to set an alarm to wake up in the middle of the night to pump anymore. Instead, a part of me feels guilty because I had “choosen” work over pumping. Dissappointment because I didn't try harder to do everything I can to make enough. I'm just physically exhausted and the daily struggles of fitting in time at work has been getting harder and harder. I feel guilty everytime I miss a pump session because I'm unable to walk away from the bench. One more waiter, I say. After this next flu shot. Then more waiters and more flu shots and doctors calls and training new staff - the list goes on and an hour goes by then two. Putting work first is not what I had intended to do but I felt like I had no choice because of the responsibility I have to my patients. Even though I'm “allowed” to go pump, realistically no more than 15 min max at a time, can I truly let the pharmacy run by itself? The answer is NO. Operations literally stop when I'm not there. Prescriptions can't be verified, doctors have to wait on hold to call in prescriptions, and when you come back to a 15 min backlog of prescriptions, it's time to play catchup. Do I resent working as a pharmacist? Lately the answer has been yes. Resentment starts to settle in as you push yourself to your limits by putting work first and yourself last.  Only every other weekend off, some but not all holidays off and working in blizzard conditions in the winter.  If you work as a retail pharmacist (nevermind a nursing mom) I'm sure you would agree about the daily struggles of juggling workflow on top of flu season, working extremely understaffed, and pushing corporate initiatives all while maintaining wait times of less than 15 mins. Is it doable? Sure, sometimes when things run flawlessly. But sometimes patient consultations may take longer than usual, holding for insurances for 20 mins for billing issues, all while being the sole pharmacist on duty. There is only 1 of me for every single patient that walks into my pharmacy. It’s not like I can hookup and pump hands-free at the bench, because that too will be seen as unprofessional but waiting more than 15 min would be unacceptable. You just can't win.

There’s never a long wait when the guy pharmacst is on, is what I hear from some snickering patients in the waiting room. I’m sorry but men don't carry a baby in their womb for 9 months then nurse/pump for several months after the baby is born.   I hate having to go back and apologize for a “longer” wait time (usually no more than 30 min total) because I was pumping for those 15 min. I shouldn't feel like I need to justify my longer wait times because all I was trying to do was provide for my son. Is that too much to ask for? I sometimes feel patients forget we are human too who need to eat and take bathroom breaks (although that rarely ever happens). I like to call it the ‘pharmacy diet’; lose 5-10 lbs because you're too busy to eat type of diet. Some of my regular patients are super sweet and would wait as long as it takes but the general expectation is that of course, our patients come first, but at what expense? In this case, my milk supply. I'm somewhat grateful I lasted this long but my body became even more accustomed to the missed sessions and is self weaning and producing less and less each day. I generally enjoy what I do and I'm pretty good at it too. I just didn't think I’d have such a hard time finding the time to pump at work even though I kind of knew, in the end this would eventually happen. The easier solution would be just to transition fully to formula.  Even though we have been supplementing for months now, every time I try to quit pumping entirely, I feel guilty that I should be trying harder to make at least something. 

Sometimes I wish circumstances could have been different and it was easier for me to be able to focus on the needs of my baby especially after starting a family.  Maybe if I was in a different field, it would have been easier.  I feel like women are already at a disadvantage and society doesn't particularly help by allowing us the realistic time to recover post-partum with (un)paid maternity leave or the support we need when we re-enter the workforce as a nursing/pumping mom. Yes, laws have been in place to allow moms a clean place other than the bathroom to pump and the time to do so but realistically, does my particular work environment allow me to pump freely? Not so much. I just didn't think work would consume so much of me especially when I'm already spread so thin.  Moving forward, this is probably for the best as my body adjusts back to it's pre-baby form and I can start focusing on what matters most - a healthy baby boy, a loving and supporting husband, and spending quality time with family & friends.