The Turkish Mediterranean coast

When Chris first booked this Turkey trip, he made sure that we’d be flying in and out of Istanbul with a good amount of time to explore and enjoy this multifaceted city, and at the same time, he also booked us a side trip to visit Antalya, a city in Southern Turkey along the Mediterranean coast that is also known as Turkey’s largest international seaside resort. He had some second thoughts about whether our side trip should have been here or to Cappadocia, a famous region in central Turkey known for its strange rock formations and hot air balloon rides. So he asked me to look up whether I’d prefer to go there instead since the flights and Antalya hotel were fully refundable. But when I read a quick description about Antalya vs. Cappadocia, I didn’t really have much of a decision to make: a seaside town with lots of historical spots and beautiful beaches would be a far more relaxing trip than a place like Cappadocia, where hiking would likely be the bulk of our activities. And while I normally do love hiking and look forward to our hikes on trips, while pregnant and obviously carrying extra weight that has changed my center of gravity, especially at this stage of pregnancy, I would prefer being by the water and having a more relaxing side trip.

And so we flew to Antalya this morning and already got a glimpse from the plane of the gorgeous turquoise waters. This area is also known as the Turkish Riviera, or the “turquoise coast,” and it’s pretty obvious why when you see it. The waters are literally crystal clear. And the mountains along the beaches in Antalya are reminiscent of the mountains that lined the famous beaches of Rio when we visited seven years ago now (hard to believe it was that long ago!).

While the beaches and the Old Town of Kaleici are quite famous in Antalya, the surrounding areas of Antalya are also famous for having a number of historical sites and monuments that have been well preserved, ranging from Perge the Ancient City to the Aspendos theater, and also a cable car “teleferik” that raises you high above the city and water for an aerial view of the Turquoise Coast. We started our day with yet another decadent kahvalti spread, but this was our first one overlooking the Turkish Riviera at a restaurant that had covered outdoor seating with a great view of the beach. And when we sat down and looked over the glistening ocean, I thought, yep, this is the place to be. Although I was initially hesitant about traveling internationally with the current pandemic and the growing concern of the Delta variant, this view itself had to have been worth the travel.

Kahvalti – the beautiful Turkish breakfast

If there is just one thing that I could get behind in terms of taking as a Turkish tradition and bringing to my day to day (or at least, weekend) life, it could be Turkish breakfast, aka kahvalti, aka the most colorful and beautiful breakfast spread that likely exists in the entire world. When I was first exposed to it during morning rise-and-shines during my first Istanbul visit at the cozy family-owned hotel where I stayed, I was immediately hooked. Who could possibly decline a beautiful breakfast spread consisting of a rainbow variety of cheeses, olives, breads, jam, fresh fruits and vegetables, and eggs? Not only is it aesthetically pleasing with its many colors, textures, and shapes, but it’s also tasty and so satisfying, as there’s savory, sweet, umami, fresh — everything! As health experts always say, we really need to eat the rainbow in order to have a balanced diet, so I’m definitely on board with this.

While American children are oftentimes sent off to school with an Eggo waffle, Pop Tart, or a sugary sweet granola bar, Turkish children are told to eat a handful of cheese, olives, fruit, and/or a simit (a deliciously crunchy and soft Turkish version of a bagel, which can be easily found all over Turkey for less than 2 lira, or 25 US cents) before going off on their merry way.

Turkish breakfast spreads greatly vary depending on the day of week and where you are getting it from, but the general categories of foods you can expect to find on the table are: cheeses, olives, breads, fruit and jam spreads, fresh cut vegetables, eggs, and tea. On weekdays, the spreads may just be a handful of little plates, while on weekends when there is more time for preparation (and indulgence), you can expect the spread to overtake the table. And with all the above, there is rarely just one type of anything; there are always at least 2-3 types of cheese, two types of olives, several types of jam (my favorites were the sour cherry, fig, and apricot preserves), and two types of fruits or vegetables. Turks also love their tahini, so we oftentimes had a little dish of this on our table, as well, that would seem to be lightly sweetened, plus a hazelnut spread (mmmm, Nutella). And Chris would get very excited when he’d see a little dish of honeycomb with honey dripping off of it mixed with a bit of clotted cream — this really defined decadence on our breakfast table.

I really could not get enough of the fresh figs. Turkish people love their figs, as do many people in the Middle East, so not only are they plentiful here, but they are also cheap, whether they are fresh or dried. Figs are not only beautiful to look at (it always shows up heavily in my Instagram feed in the autumn), especially when cut in half, but they are just so sweet and delicious. They are a very underrated fruit back home and one I wish I had better and easier (and cheaper) access to in New York. Sometimes, I just wanted to stare at and photograph them without even eating them!

The other crazy thing is that the spreads, when you have them at restaurants, are quite inexpensive. We just had one today that was quite elaborate and complete with fried bagels, and it was only 80 Turkish lira (about $10 USD) for the two of us. That’s plenty for us to enjoy for a small price, plus no dishes for us to wash (and there are SO many dishes with these breakfasts!).

Suleymaniye Camii (Mosque)

The learning of history and art in western countries like the U.S. is sad and pathetic, with an almost complete focus on western countries and a nearly total dismissal of Asian and African countries. However, the area where it can become grey in terms of what is actually covered is for empires such as the Ottoman Empire. Most of us here in the U.S. learned about the Roman and Ottoman Empires in school, and because of this, we got to learn a little bit about Islam as well as some of the famous mosque structures that were built during these grand old times. When I took art history in high school, we also covered these famous mosques, now in modern day Istanbul, and among the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in terms of fame and admiration was also the Suleymaniye Mosque. This mosque sits on the Third Hill of Istanbul, Turkey, and was originally commissioned by Suleyman the Magnificent, a sultan at the time during the Ottoman Empire in about 1550. Like most mosques of its time, the entrance has a beautiful, grand courtyard with a fountain leading into the mosque itself, and the structure is made up mostly of marble and granite. I’m not even sure what I admire more: the interior of these grand mosques or the courtyards themselves. They all have great symmetry and design, and I can’t get enough of the arches and the elaborate tile details. While a lot of people look back at the Roman Empire and admire the architecture then, I think I get more excited at the Muslim style architecture of this period instead. In retrospect, I actually hated learning about Roman architecture in general, especially all the annoying nude statues that had overemphasized penises. That is NOT a turn-on for me.

What I always admire the most about mosques like these are how well preserved they are. It takes so much time, money, and energy to preserve these great, historical structures, and I always feel so lucky to be able to have the privilege of seeing them in real life with my own eyes.

First time back to Istanbul in 10 years

When I first visited Istanbul in July 2011, everything about the city felt like a magical wonderland. It was the closest I’d ever been to the Middle East, and it was the first Muslim-majority country I’d ever visited. The level of kindness and hospitality I felt everywhere from the hotel where I stayed to the restaurants and sweet shops I visited astounded me. I’d never been inside a mosque, and so visiting historical sites like the Hagia Sophia and the Suleymaniye Mosque felt quite unreal. And the beautiful and colorful Turkish breakfast spreads, the richness and thickness of the Turkish coffee, and the complex sweetness of the endless varieties of baklava and lokum (Turkish delight) had my taste buds in a total whirlwind. At that point in my life, I really hadn’t traveled much, so everything made me feel wide-eyed and amazed. But coming back to this city ten years later made me realize that the amazement and awe I felt of the city was not just because I was then a newbie traveler; it was because Istanbul has a unique charm and beauty all its own.

After an overnight flight and a quick nap at the hotel, we ventured out into the city and didn’t come back until about 9pm that evening, which was surprising because of how exhausted I was. I think the exhaustion was partly because of the heat and humidity, partly because of the lack of sleep, and also since I’m now over 24 weeks pregnant and thus carrying extra weight (and the extra need to pee all the time). Chris and I have always been efficient travelers, traveling light and always adjusting quickly to whatever time zone we’d fly into, but this time was a little different since I’m pregnant. I’d forgotten how steep the hills could get in this city, as well; Istanbul’s steep and winding hills make San Francisco seem like a flat stroll in the park.

A lot about the city has changed, but a lot is also the same. Walking across the Galata Bridge, you can always expect to see men of various ages fishing at all hours of the day and evening, waiting to catch just a handful of small fish or buckets full if they are lucky. Birds are constantly flying over the Bosphorus River, oftentimes highlighted by the bright lights of the bridge at night as well as the mosques. The various bazaars are full of hawkers trying to sell their treats and wares, although one after the other is actually selling the exact same thing, and it’s really just a matter of who is most persuasive to pull you in with sweet meats and teas to guarantee your purchase.

The city was always an eclectic mix of old and new, historical and modern, old and young. When I first visited 10 years ago, I remember the couple of days I wore outfits that revealed my shoulders, I was definitely the minority; both men and women gawked at me in disbelief that I’d dress so scantily in a Muslim environment. Now, though I can’t tell if they are locals or other European tourists, it was more normal to see women bare their shoulders and legs. In 2011 when I visited, the Hagia Sophia was a museum; its status has now changed back to a mosque, which not only means it’s more accessible to everyone given there’s no charge to enter, but as such, it’s more crowded and packed with people. In addition, they no longer allow you to ascend to the higher levels of the mosque for different perspectives, which I was sad about. The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Cami) was mostly under construction, so unfortunately, Chris couldn’t see it in all its full glory. The underground Cistern, which was incredible in 2011, was also closed for construction. While it was good to see that they’re repairing these famous sites, it was just terrible timing for us since Chris couldn’t enjoy them.

Another difference this time around was the sweet shop that I went to a few times my last visit, Hafiz Mustafa. There were always multiple locations of this shop and cafe, but back then, the samples were ample, and the service was always warm and friendly. Attendants would basically stuff you with samples of baklava and lokum to the point that you nearly had a dessert meal just walking through there. Now, Hafiz Mustafa’s branding went through a total overhaul at some point in the last ten years; I didn’t even recognize their logo. And the inside looked like some modern, shiny, high end dessert/pastry shop. The prices are also a lot higher than I remember them being in 2011. Funnily enough, this was the same shop I purchased lokum from and also got a gift box from for Chris then. We still have the box sitting on our dresser now with all of our little display Christmas houses.

Istanbul is one of the only cities in the world that is in both Europe and Asia. It’s no wonder it’s one of the most traveled to cities in the world and one that I continue to love and admire. Who could not appreciate a city full of so much history, culture, and delicious food?

Glucose test #1 follow-up

On the way to the airport this morning, my OB’s office called with my first glucose test results. The assistant informed me that my result was a few points over the desirable limit (her exact words were, “slightly elevated”), so my doctor wants me to come back in before my 28th week for a second glucose test.

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. Needless to say, I was not thrilled to hear this.

For the second glucose test, they ask you to fast for at least 9-12 hours before you come in to drink the glucola a second time. When you come in, they give you the same bottle of glucola, you drink it, then wait an hour. Then, they draw your blood again to see what the result is. I’ve read that for many women who “fail” the first test, the vast majority end up having no issues and do not have gestational diabetes – this is somewhere between 85-90 percent of women. Maybe I will be one of those lucky 85-90 percent of women? Please? Please…

Me? Potentially having gestational diabetes? Why? I exercise a ton and keep active. I eat a very balanced diet and don’t even eat that much refined sugar. This is just really terrible luck if I end up having it. They say that it’s not the pregnant woman’s fault when she gets it, and little can be done to “prevent” it. It’s just genetics and plain bad luck unless you are already obese/overweight, do not exercise, or have a terrible diet.

Just need to keep positive. I really, really hope I pass the next test. It’s scheduled for the Wednesday after we come back from Turkey, and I have to go first thing in the morning. Ughhhhh.

When Ed turns 42

If Ed were alive today, he’d be turning 42 years old. It’s a sad thought every year when his birthday comes. I wonder who else thinks about him on this day. Do my parents actually think about him and think about him deeply? Or do they just think he wasted his life away as they always did say and think while he was alive?

Throughout this pregnancy, I’ve thought about him a lot, but I was especially grief-stricken when I went to visit him at the Columbarium when we went back to San Francisco last month. I “showed” him my pregnant belly, and Chris snapped a photo and video of the moment. And I just felt empty and blank. I didn’t feel angry. I didn’t feel resentful. I just felt nothing. My brother is never going to meet his little niece. If I ever have any other children, he will never meet any of them, either. He will never have the chance to be an uncle, and we will never have the chance to spend time as a family ever again. After staring blankly into his niche, I went into the bathroom and just cried.

I wish he could be alive and healthy. I wish our parents were more supportive of him. I wish they hadn’t antagonized him so much. I was chatting with my therapist about Ed a few weeks ago, and she suggested that it may not be fully fair to have lingering anger against my parents because some people, regardless of how much support they have, still end their lives. That is true, I admitted to her, but she and I have not spoken about the exact extent to which my parents antagonized, bullied, and made my brother suffer.

At the end of the day, “you feel what you feel.” I’ve made enough peace with my parents about Ed’s passing as I could, otherwise I would no longer have a relationship with them. But it should go without saying that he should still be here today.

Glucose test – the prenatal test every woman loves

So today, I had my inevitable glucose test. This is the test where, between week 24 and 28 of pregnancy, your OB asks you to drink 10 ounces of a sickly sweet drink called “glucola” in ten minutes. Then, an hour later, they draw your blood and evaluate it to see if you have gestational diabetes. If you test positive for it, they will screen you for further tests to see how severe it is. Then, depending on the severity of it, you will be required to prick your finger multiple times a day and adjust your diet accordingly. That basically means: limiting or eliminating refined sugar, reducing refined carbs (goodbye, white rice, white flour anything, ahhhhhhhhhhh). This needs to be done until you give birth for the health and well being of your baby. And if you test negative, well, congratulations! It means you can eat and live your life as you did before the test.

I know too many women who have developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy, and although it is temporary, it still is no walk in the park. Women always say their lives are already restricted because of pregnancy, and a gestational diabetes diagnosis just restricts your life even further. I’m hoping and praying that I test negative for it.

In the days leading up to the test, I reduced any refined sugar/refined carb intake and even didn’t eat any fruit before my appointment. It’s also been said that regular exercise in pregnancy can reduce your chance of gestational diabetes by more than 70 percent. I hope this will include me.

If I test negative for it, I am definitely celebrating by baking chocolate chip miso cookies. That will be my reward for myself.

“Sharing a story”

“Maybe you can get your mom to stop antagonizing you and being negative by just telling her that it’s bad for the baby,” my friend suggested. “No one wants to stress out a pregnant woman, right, because that could stress out the baby!”

If only things were that simple. If only my mom just stopped talking about a topic simply because I asked her to stop. She really has no idea when to stop, and the worst part is that she is manipulative and tries to make it seem like I am actually the problem when she is choosing to be negative and bring up bad stories from the past of “wrongs” that people have committed against her 5, 10, 15, 20+ years ago.

My uncle recently asked me to share my new address with him, and so I thought I’d just be efficient and share our new address via email with all my family members. In the email, I also let everyone know that I’m pregnant. I BCCed everyone (minus a psychotic aunt) since I know my dad has a tendency to report back to my mom (who is also basically HIS mom) every single detail of every message or action he’s aware about that I’ve done online. And he certainly did not forget to do that this time around.

So my mom called yesterday, and I knew it wasn’t going to be good because she started the conversation in her surly voice with one of her favorite starter phrases. “You know, you aren’t going to like this, but I need to share something with you” (when does a conversation ever go to a good place with a preface like that?).

So then she starts raising her voice and saying that I better not have emailed a specific cousin and a specific aunt because they are trash and they don’t care about me or my baby or my new address. She then starts reminding me (for the 10th or 20th time) of grievances she holds against them for things they’ve supposed done to “hurt” her. When I repeatedly try to tell her that I don’t want to hear this and that she’s shared this pretty much every year for the last ten years, she interrupts me and says, “Why can’t I share a story with you? We’re close, so I should be able to share a story with you. Why do you have to be so mean? I told you that you need to be NICE to me!” With each time that I interrupt her, she continues talking as though I’ve said nothing and allows her story to just keep droning on and on and on.

When I finally say that I don’t want to hear this anymore, she gets angry and says, “You know, it’s clear you are in a very bad mood today. So if that’s the case, then maybe we will talk another time.”

At that point, I was really done. “Okay, if you don’t think I’m in a good mood, then maybe I’m not in a good mood and we don’t need to talk. Have a good day. Bye!” I waited a few seconds for her to respond, and she mumbled “okay,” and I hung up.

In her mind, everyone else is always the problem. She is never the problem. It doesn’t matter what age my parents get to, or what age anyone ever gets to. Holding grudges is toxic and unhealthy and says more about the person holding the grudge than the person who the grudge is against. The person who the grudge is against has likely forgotten or potentially even had zero awareness that there was ever the problem. The person with the grudge is the person held hostage in her own negativity, in the past, and always incapable of being in the present or even thinking productively about the future. Wouldn’t it be so amazing if instead of brooding over the past, which both of my parents constantly do, that they were actually firmly set in the present and appreciative of all their life’s blessings and good fortunes? Well, that’s impossible because they will never be happy regardless of what they have. Something is always wrong with other people, and they themselves are untouchable.

Birth doula

I’ve read a lot of really inspiring stories about moms who have been fortunate enough to experience a natural, unmedicated birth. The most inspiring book I read was Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth; it was really eye-opening to me how amazing and magical the birth process can be when you can fully be immersed in the moment and be completely present. Some have given birth at birth centers. Others have given birth at home in their own bathtub (or on a chair, and even standing up!). Some women have had the double privilege of giving birth at a birth center that is affiliated and attached to a hospital. Unfortunately, I just found out that Mount Sinai West, the hospital closest to us that is just one block away, recently closed their birth center in December 2019. Fortunately, though, all their midwives are still delivering with their usual philosophy and methods at the maternity ward at Mount Sinai, and they also work closely with OB-GYNs if medical intervention is needed. But again, the unfortunate part of this? The Central Park Midwifery group that delivers babies here is 100 percent out of network, much to my dismay. So that’s a no-go for me.

I really like my OB-GYN, as I’ve been going to her for nearly ten years now. I love her practice, and I’ve enjoyed meeting with her practice partners. They are actually known as being one of the practices in Manhattan that advocates for “low intervention,” meaning that they will not force a c-section or episiotomy or epidural on you unless there’s actually a medical necessity for that. It’s sad that I cannot say that about all practices in this city or country given that doctors and hospitals clearly profit more from c-sections and the addition of more procedures/medications than from less.

But despite liking my OB a lot, she’s not going to be with me throughout the entire labor process, as she will be on call at the hospital and attending to many moms in labor. She will likely only be able to pop in at the very end of the pushing stage. For that reason, I feel like I may want a birth doula for emotional support and guidance. I need someone who’s going to know what stages I am going through, how to help from a physical and emotional perspective (do I need my hips pressed? my back massaged? do I need a slow dance to relieve pelvic pain?), and how to ultimately advocate for me. A lot of people say that’s what your partner is for, but to me, that’s a little like the blind leading the blind; my husband has never attended to a birth, nor does he have the faintest idea what is going to help relieve labor pain or the right touch or massage techniques to make me feel better in these moments.

I’ve started meeting with some potential birth doulas. I don’t think I’ve found the right fit just yet, but I am interested to see who I mesh with and how this all turns out.

Approaching the third trimester and what to expect

One of my good friends, in her third trimester of pregnancy, developed pregnancy carpal tunnel syndrome. It was so bad that she could barely hold ceramic mugs that had liquid in them and could only carry really light things up until the point she gave birth to her baby. Another friend told me she had milder carpal tunnel, then developed other muscular issues with her thumbs and index finger once the baby had arrived. “Don’t get rid of your wrist splints!” she warned me. “You’re going to need them again!”

Because of these stories, plus ones I’ve read, I have no doubt that I will have exacerbated carpal tunnel soon. It’s not that I WANT it — it’s more that I already know I have mild cubital tunnel and even milder carpal tunnel symptoms from my daily discomfort in my elbows, wrists, and hands (plus my nerve test that confirmed this), so why would it NOT get worse in the third trimester given all the information above with constricting blood flow? Today, I started noticing my palms under my thumbs on both sides were sore, and my elbows and fingers in general have just been feeling more awkward and stiff. It doesn’t seem to matter how much “nerve gliding” I do, but it still just feels uncomfortable. If this does end up happening to me, I hope my body will give me some grace and give me less third trimester symptoms of other sorts.