Wellness Day and back in Chinatown

“You always go to Chinatown on your days off,” Chris remarked teasingly when he found out that i went down to Manhattan Chinatown today. While it is not always accurate that I go down to Manhattan Chinatown, it is usually pretty accurate that I go to some Asian area of the city. My general thought around that is… on my day off, I want to get food, and I also want to support local businesses. And thus, Asian food and groceries are not only delicious but a great value, and in addition, I want to support Asian businesses because of the awful impact this pandemic has had on them.

I went to some of my usual standbys, like Fong On for soy milk and grass jelly, and Manna House for some different baos. I also went to a few new spots, such as Tonii’s Fresh Rice Noodle Rolls, Hay Hay Roasted, and Golden Steamer. Unfortunately, I arrived at Golden Steamer too late, and they ran out of their signature pumpkin baos, but they still had their “big bao” or “da bao,” which is stuffed with a pork filling, egg, plus Chinese sausage.

Chinatown always feels like home to me, even when I am discovering new businesses and new foods. And well, of course the food never disappoints.

The first pregnancy-related food aversions

On Thursdays during the pandemic, we look forward to ordering food delivery from a local restaurant, not just to increase the variety of the food we are eating but also to support our local restaurants, who clearly need all the business they can get during these times. Today, Chris decided to order Korean from a spot near Koreatown called Cho Dang Gol, and as he usually does he ordered a large variety of dishes to last a number of days. As I opened each of the containers, I was struck by the smell of one of them specifically: it was a fried fish dish, and while I am normally a fish lover and look forward to all things seafood, the smell just seemed off to me. But, there’s no way the food itself could have been off… Cho Dang Gol is a reputed restaurant we’d eaten at numerous times. What was going on?

I tried to ignore the initial disgust reaction I had when I opened the container, and Chris served us a little of each dish. The fish was also on my plate. When I originally took a bite into it, while it felt meaty and chewy in my mouth, I could not get over the smell. It just smelled… rotten to me. My brain knew it wasn’t rotten, but I couldn’t get over the smell. I did not want to waste the food, so I didn’t spit it out and forced myself to swallow it. But I knew if I tried eating the rest of the fish on my plate, I’d probably throw up.

I told Chris that the smell made me feel nauseated, so he told me to stop eating it and to leave it aside. We continued eating our dinner, and he said, pensively, “I hope this is just temporary.”

Who’s he telling that? Fish is one of my favorite things to eat, especially SALMON or any other fatty fish. The added bonus is that it’s in general healthier than meat and is rarely lacking for flavor. And with Asian preparations, fish is so quick and easy to make.

I’d heard from many people about random food aversions during their pregnancies, especially to foods they absolutely love normally. Is fish going to be it for me?

7-week scan

I went by myself today to my seven-week appointment at the clinic. On my walk over, I realized that if all goes well, this will be my third to last visit before I graduate. It was a bittersweet thought, especially since there are some individuals who work here who I really have enjoyed seeing regularly, like my sonographer.

During my scan, all looked well. One twin is growing a little faster than the other, which is normal, as the sonographer and doctor both shared; it’s pretty much impossible to have both twins growing at the exact same rate. But the real stopper was when Mina let me listen to both of their little heartbeats. This week, they have both grown to the size of blueberries and are just beginning to sprout arms and legs. I heard both heart beats loud and clear and almost stopped breathing: my tiny little babies have super strong heart beats. I just couldn’t believe how surreal it was. They are both between 131-134 beats per minute, which is exactly in the range where they should be, the nurse later called to explain to me.

After each appointment and nurse call in the last week, I’ve let out a huge breath of relief to hear that everything has been progressing well. I’m hopeful yet anxious that all continues to move forward in a positive direction.

My two little babies; I still just can’t believe it.

When you can’t tell anyone

I went to visit our sister apartment building two blocks away to view some potential 2-bedroom, 2 bathroom units. It’s a little funny when you are in your first trimester of pregnancy and don’t want to tell others outside of your closest circle that you’re pregnant because you’re not sure if it’s going to last. But you also want to indicate that you need more space.

“Are you sure you need a 2 bed?” the leasing consultant asks me. “Because I have a HUGE 1-bedroom, 1.5 bath that would be PERFECT for your budget, and wait until you see the kitchen!”

I did view it for shits and giggles and could not believe how much storage space the kitchen had, not to mention how big the kitchen island was. But yes, I told her. A 2-bedroom was non-negotiable. “It would be my office,” I said. “I’m going to be working from home full-time even after this pandemic is over, and I need dedicated space.”

Well…. I thought about that, too. Let’s say this pregnancy does work out. That second bedroom, realistically, is NOT going to be my home office. It will be the bedroom with the babies. So does this mean I’m left with the same result… WORKING AT THE DINING ROOM TABLE AGAIN???

I don’t really want to leave New York City, but the cost for space here is just outrageous.

When your mom obsesses over you like a child because you are carrying a child

I was chatting with my therapist the other day about my mom’s concerns for me given I am pregnant. I told her that while my mom is extremely excited, she’s also worried about what could potentially go wrong. She’s given me all kinds of advice, some of which is just outdated, too superstitious, and/or just plain wrong.

“No wine, no coffee, no hot food!” —> Alcohol, yes, limited coffee, not that I am a big coffee drinker, and who the heck ever said spicy food can negatively impact babies’ development??

“Don’t lift anything that’s over two pounds!” —> Pretty certain I’d be a total delicate damsel in distress and a bit of a loser if I didn’t lift anything over two pounds. I’m positive my laptop is over two pounds in weight.

“No more gym!” —-> Ummmm, no. No, no, and no. Exercise is not only good for my health, but it’s good for the baby’s. Healthy mom = healthy baby. I need the blood circulation and the sanity that comes from exercise. While I’m no longer doing HIIT routines or doing crazy high speed interval runs, I just started jogging again today and will continue doing it while I am comfortable, plus elliptical exercises, strength training, and yoga.

“Ginger is good for nausea, but don’t eat too much ginger, otherwise it’s too spicy for the baby!” —> No, mom. No. First of all, I don’t think I could drink more than two cups of ginger tea, and second of all, nothing is too spicy for the baby. 😀

She says it all out of love and worry. I get it. In some ways, I appreciate her warnings and her nags because that’s what caring moms are supposed to do. It still feels good and comforting, in some strange way, to have someone who cares in a way that is different than your friends or your spouse.

Steamed broccoli is foul

I had two pounds of broccoli that my friend had left for us in our fridge, and while my standard method of cooking broccoli is to roast it in the oven, I was too lazy to empty out all the contents of the oven (I’m Asian, which means the oven is prime storage space!!), so I decided to just do the easier thing and steam them over the stove, then toss them in the Sambal Lady’s lime leaf sambal. Unfortunately, halfway through the steaming process, Chris noted that something smelled off, and I realized he was referring to the broccoli. When you are the one cooking something, sometimes the smells do not affect you in the same way as it does someone who’s not in the kitchen, so I thought nothing of what he said. That is — until I went to take out the trash and came back, and I entered the apartment again. OMG, I thought. That smell is atrocious! It smells like a mix of bad, rotten vegetables and maybe sulfur mixed in. No wonder so many kids hate broccoli, I finally empathized. If I was served broccoli that smelled like THIS, there’s no way I would have enjoyed broccoli growing up!

Well, I am never making that mistake ever again. I am never steaming broccoli ever, ever again. Broccoli needs to be roasted, baked, stir-fried, or even eaten raw in a slaw-form. Steaming broccoli is just pure nastiness.

Food crawling through Queens

Although I’ve been to the subway stop at Jamaica so many times in Queens to get to JFK airport, the only time I’ve actually gotten out of the train at that stop and walked around was the one time I had jury duty in 2010. Other than that, I’d never explored the area. What I do know is that the area has a lot of good Jamaican food. What I didn’t know, which is what Chris found, is that there’s a hidden northern Chinese gem there: Beijing Dumpling House. They make Beiing style noodles and dumplings, and if you pay $1 extra, they will top your dumplings with chili oil, lots of minced garlic, and cilantro. We got the pork and chive dumplings, and they were incredible! Something about the texture was just different than most of the other dumplings we’ve had here. I kind of want to go back just to pick up a bag or two of their frozen dumplings.

We also explored the South Richmond Hill area of Queens, which is walking distance from Jamaica. It’s an area known as “Little Guyana,” which is crazy because I had no idea this existed in New York City and can pretty much bet no one else here, except those who live in the area, are aware of this. We had some jerk chicken fried rice and a delicious piece of cassava pone (a delicious, chewy, lightly sweetened cake).

The pandemic has forced us to find and rediscover New York. I can’t get over the diversity of this city and how it never ceases to amaze me.

Snack heaven

Since my friend has been staying with us, not only has she been buying groceries for the apartment, but she’s also been introducing us to all kinds of of new snacks at Trader Joe’s. Although I do shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s regularly, I rarely, if ever, walk down the snack aisles at either store. Before living with Chris, I rarely snacked outside of eating fruit or vegetables and the occasional rice krispy or handful of nuts at work. But with Chris, we have endless Aussie treats, from Arnott’s biscuits like Tim Tams and Scotch Fingers to All Naturals Fruit Confectionary fruit snacks. Since my friend left earlier this week, she left these goodies that are addictive. I hate her for introducing these to us, but love her for how sweet she is. These things are too good and will likely go into junk food rotation in this apartment:

Dill pickle kettle chips: perfect kettle crunch and texture, and they taste exactly as you think they would given their name!

iMango iMango fruit and yogurt gummy candies: they have real mango juice in them and are unbelievably good. They really do taste like real fruit!

Kung pao chicken mochi balls: really good chewy texture on the outside, and the filling is savory and not too salty like most frozen foods.

Portuguese egg tarts (imported from Trader Joe’s): Haven’t opened these yet and popped them in the oven, but they look and sound very promising!

Matcha green tea ice cream: My friend said this iteration is a new formula and is really good. It’s not the best matcha ice cream, but it’s a close second!

Being present but grieving

My mind has been racing since it was confirmed yesterday that I am, in fact, pregnant with identical twins. Of course, I showed my therapist a picture of the sonogram this morning during our session and told her. I told her I’ve been having anxiety before each appointment, wondering if my HCG levels would drop or if they’d find something abnormal on the ultrasound.

“Yvonne, today, you are pregnant with twins,” my therapist said. “You are pregnant with twins. Be in the present. We have no idea and no control what will happen tomorrow, so focus on this moment right here and right now.”

I’ve been practicing my breathing exercises and continuing with my meditation to center myself more. But aside from that, I’ve also thought a lot recently about Ed and how he would react to know that his sister was pregnant with identical twins. He would be so excited at the idea of twins. I always knew that once I were to have kids, he’d likely spoil them rotten, give them candy behind my back, and give them all the latest toys on the market. That’s just how generous and loving he was. He had no clue how to be otherwise. He’d also likely never help with diapers or anything dirty, but, well, at least he’d be consistent. No, none of this is being present, but it’s grieving the past and what should be here now that is not.

“It’s really fucking unfair that he cannot be here,” I told my therapist, tearing up. “He should be able to be here to experience this joy with me.”

I told her that when I first made the appointment for the consultation at this clinic, I originally requested the appointment with another doctor that my OB-GYN recommended to me. Because her schedule was backed up for another month, the clinical assistant scheduling me suggested that I meet with the second doctor (there were only two doctors here given this is a boutique clinic), who had availability that was sooner. Given I just wanted a consult, I agreed. And when I saw his first name was Edward, I thought… well, maybe it’s a sign. He has the same name as my brother, so maybe he will be successful at helping us get pregnant.

The second sign was when the night before my egg retrieval, I dreamt that Ed took me to my egg retrieval procedure. It felt like he was watching over me, hoping for the best for us.

I shared this with my therapist, and she said it’s all likely true: I’ve found a way to incorporate him into my life even though he’s not physically here, and he is watching over us, trying to do what he can to help us.

The world is a really unfair, unequal place. There are so many people who have died for reasons that should never have happened. So many people face injustices completely out of their control or line of sight. So many couples and women face sub- and infertility for years and years longer than we ever did and have yet to see a positive pregnancy test. I am still waking up each morning, thankful that we have gotten even this far and hoping for the best for our two miracle survivor embryos to continue growing and becoming eventual little humans on this earth.

2nd Obstetrical Ultrasound: Week 6

Today, I came in for my fourth post-transfer appointment at the clinic. This time, Chris came with me because the nurse let me know that at this stage, it’s possible that we could see a heartbeat.

After having the usual bloodwork to check my HCG and progesterone levels, I was called into the exam room. Mina, my sonographer, came in and greeted us. She started the exam, and before I could even see anything on the screen, she gasped, “Ohmigod!”

Well, when you’re at a doctor’s appointment to monitor your pregnancy progression, “ohmigod!” coming out of your sonographer’s mouth can either be a really good thing… or a really, really bad thing.

“Mina!” I exclaimed. “Is that a good ‘ohmigod’ or a bad ‘ohmigod’?!”

She broke out into a huge smile. “Yvonne, you’re having twins! CONGRATULATIONS!”

Chris went completely silent. All I could say was, “OHMIGOD!” My mind went a little numb; we’re having twins???? OUR LITTLE EMBRYO THAT COULD…. SPLIT! It was a complete marvel to see so clearly on the screen. Mina didn’t even need to zoom in on the uterus for us to see it: two distinct gestational sacs with two distinct yolk sacs, each with their own fetal pole, which is where you can see the first little flickers of a heartbeat. And both little fetal poles were flickering; it was loud and clear.

I was in total awe. I just couldn’t believe it. Back in January, I was devastated at the end of our IVF cycle when the embryology lab informed us that we only had one embryo survive to the blastocyst stage to go on for PGT-A genetic screening; I wasn’t even sure if the evaluation would come back normal. And when the test did come back normal, I wondered if this little blastocyst would survive and result in our first and only baby. Was this our only shot? Was this a sign? I thought then.

Mina told us that the development of both looked really good and both heartbeats were very clear, and she’d see us back here in a week.

Walking back together, I was still in disbelief. I could not believe we could see two little heartbeats. Last week, we could see a semblance of two gestational sacs, with only one having a tiny developing yolk sac; the second one didn’t even have a yolk sac yet, which is why the sonographer wasn’t sure if it was even a gestational sac or not. Somehow, that second gestational sac has managed to catch up to the first one in just seven days, and both were so clear. At every stage of this process, I just cannot get over the wonders of the female human body. How does this even happen? A single embryo splitting is still a total mystery in the medical and reproductive communities. We still don’t understand fully how or why this happens.

“Well, at least the ROI on this is good,” Chris said, still in complete shock that this happened. “We get two for the price of one!!”

For the HCG level stats we’re tracking to ensure the pregnancy is going well:

9 Days Post Transfer: 45.91

11 Days Post Transfer: 127

16 Days Post Transfer: 1,695

23 Days Post Transfer: 16,059

The nurse called early in the afternoon to let me know that since the HCG levels have consistently looked good, this would be my last blood test, and moving forward until I “graduate” from the clinic, I would come in weekly just for the ultrasound for monitoring and no more bloodwork. This was also a relief to hear… especially since both of my arms are looking quite bruised from all the endless blood draws I’ve been required to get. She also congratulated me on twins: “They’re going to be identical because they split from one embryo! After you left, Mina came into the office and showed everyone your ultrasound picture, and it was endless squeals! We don’t see too many single embryos split!”

At home this evening, I kept staring at the picture of the embryos that Mina printed for us: TWIN A, TWIN B, both labeled on the sonogram. Are these going to be my miracle babies? Am I going to be able to get them to survive through the next 34 weeks? I need all the good wishes and prayers and hopes in the world now. I need to have my little babies survive. This feels like a sign to me that this was meant to happen, and I have to do everything in my power to do right by them.