AFSP Out of the Darkness Manhattan Walk – 2021

After the 2020 pandemic year when the AFSP Out of the Darkness Manhattan walk was cancelled (well, it was “virtual”), AFSP restarted their OOTD walks this year, and the Manhattan one was located again at Pier 16 downtown. I actually raised more money this year than I did last year, which I wasn’t sure about since this is the eighth year I’ve done this, and sometimes people get donation fatigue, but this year I did decently well. The walk had a pretty good turnout for the crowd, larger than I had imagined, but it was less involved: they ran out of t-shirts by the time I arrived, so they said they’d be mailing me one. A lot of the previous booths that were set up weren’t there this time. No snacks or drinks were provided, either, but I didn’t really miss that anyway. It’s always one of those sad but empowering events every year for me. It’s sad to see how many people have lost loved ones from all walks of life at these events, but it’s at the same time inspiring to see people who actually care and want to make a difference for people suffering today and in the future.

It’s been eight years since I lost Ed. Every year that passes, I get farther and farther away from remembering what he was like, what his voice sounded like, what his being was about. But I still try hard to remember. This event seemed different for me personally though, because at this event, little Pookie Bear came along, too, snuggled up inside my womb. This year, she walked for her uncle’s honor and memory. And next year, I hope she will be able to come, too, in her stroller that her dad will push, to continue Uncle Ed’s legacy in her life.

Old colleagues meetup

Yesterday afternoon, I met up with two colleagues from my last company. One of them is originally from New York but has spent the last five years living in San Francisco, so she was out here to see family and hang out. The second one is a New York native and someone I was quite close to while working at the last company. We were on a texting basis when working together about all the dirt at the last place, yet I knew that once we no longer worked together, we’d have little to nothing in common. The visiting ex-colleague reached out to organize a coffee meetup, so we got some drinks and brought them back to my rooftop and chatted for about an hour. It really wasn’t that long because one of them needed to head back to Queens for dinner, and well, the other reason was that we really don’t have much in common anymore. Sadly, it didn’t really feel that natural to be interacting with them, and it felt a little forced at times. It’s not that I think they are bad people, as I definitely do not think that at all. It’s more that we’re not really people who could ever be friends outside of work. Sometimes, that’s just the way it is with certain people. Once you take away the one thing you used to complain about and commiserate on together, it’s kind of over for you all. It’s always a bit of a gamble seeing former colleagues when they are no longer your colleagues because the one thing you had in common, work, is no longer a commonality anymore. I knew we didn’t have much in common in the way of hobbies or life interests in general, but at least we caught up on each other’s lives, respective work, and how that was all going. And with the pandemic’s end not really being in sight, we talked about how we coped with that and how our families managed, as well.

It was a good attempt, but oh well. You can’t always remain friends with former colleagues even if you were really close while working together. C’est la vie.

32-week doctor’s appointment

I went in to the doctor’s for my 32-week OB appointment yesterday. There are four doctors and one nurse practitioner at the practice I go to, and so really any five of them could be there when I birth my baby, so they wanted me to ensure I met with all the providers before the baby comes. That’s a pretty easy thing to arrange since now until 36 weeks, I have appointments every two weeks, then after 36 weeks, the appointments are every week. And if I go over my due date at 40 weeks, they ask you to come in TWO TIMES per week. I met with the last doctor, who had a great bedside manner and answered all my questions really thoroughly and thoughtfully. She said our baby is still in the “perfect place,” meaning she’s head down still, and as of today, she is approximately 4 pounds, 5 ounces. My little munchkin has grown exactly a pound in just the last two weeks! These are all weight estimates from the ultrasound, and there can be minor inaccuracies once the baby is born, but this sounded pretty good to me and on track from what the doctor said.

I told the doctor about my concerns about pre-term labor, which is defined as labor that is before the 37th week mark. She said that it’s very rare, and she didn’t think I was at risk for it given how everything has been looking to date, plus I haven’t had any weird symptoms or bleeding that would indicate it could happen to me. But it still sits in the back of my mind since I know quite a handful of people who have gone into labor at 28, 32, 33, and 34 weeks. One of my friends had her water break at 34 weeks, but because she was in Amsterdam and had a nurse see her every week after the initial first week in the hospital for close monitoring, she gave birth at 37 weeks.

I want my little baby to bake as much as possible so that she’s as healthy as possible before she comes out. Her lungs still need developing, but the doctor said that that in the event pre-term labor happened, medication could be given to expedite lung growth to prepare the baby for life outside the womb. So at least there is that that’s been developed over the years to help premie babies.

Precipitous labor

This week, one of my favorite colleagues returned from a five-month-long maternity leave. She was born and raised in a part of Oregon where home births are relatively normal, and well… vaccination is not embraced. Her mother birthed both her and her sister at home, and her mom was born at home, as well. So she was a little bit of a weirdo when she decided that she would give birth in a hospital, but have a birth doula for emotional support and also what she hoped would be a natural, unmedicated birth.

A day before her due date, she started having real contractions, and lucky for her, she actually gave birth just six hours later. They call labor that is this short “precipitous labor.” It’s extremely unusual (and lucky!) for a first-time birthing person to have a labor this short. She said that her contractions got stronger and closer together within the first hour or so, and when she told her doula that she really thought she needed to go to the hospital, her doula told her that she probably had another 24+ hours to go, so maybe should just try to relax. But by the time she got to the hospital a couple hours later, she was almost completely dilated and in so much pain that she just kept on screaming and yelling, “GET ME A FUCKING EPIDURAL!” over and over, so loud that the entire hospital floor could hear her (she said she has no memory of this ever happening, but her husband told her after, and this also explained why some of the nurses were a bit intimidated to interact with her after the baby was birthed). By the time she asked for the epidural, the nurses and doula told her it was too late and it was time to push, so in the end, she got what she wanted: an unmedicated vaginal birth, plus the added bonus of one of the shortest labors ever for a first-time mom.

I would love to have a labor that short. Maybe she can send some of her short labor vibes over to me.

Cholesterol rise during pregnancy

Last week, I went to see my GP doctor for my usual routine annual. We talked about health, COVID-19, life, and my pregnancy. And as per usual, I had my lipid panel done with an overnight fast, which is routine for these visits.

However, what I wasn’t expecting were the results I’d get a week later, which totally shocked me. Every year I’ve had my cholesterol levels checked, I’ve always been in a healthy range. My healthy cholesterol is high (which is good), and my “bad” cholesterol had been low. I’d never even reached a total cholesterol level even close to 200 (over 200 is considered undesirable/bad). But when my doctor emailed me with my results today, I was beyond shocked and grossed out. Last year, my HDL (good) cholesterol was 73, and my LDL (bad) was 71. She’s always been impressed by how all my labs have been each year and has applauded me (thankfully, I didn’t inherit my dad’s terrible cholesterol genes, which tend to pass down on the men’s side but luckily not the women’s side). But this year, though she seemed happy about my results, my initial reaction out loud was “what the actual FUCK?” This year, the good cholesterol was 84, which is considered very good. But the bad cholesterol I balked at – 126. ONE HUNDRED TWENTY SIX WHAT? I immediately looked up last year’s results to compare, and to see the bad jump up by this much had zero explanation. Did I need to go.. VEGAN? The only other explanation for this could be my pregnancy. Does pregnancy cause one’s cholesterol to increase?

Apparently, it does. I asked her this, and at the same time also did a quick Google search. The rationale is for several reasons: cholesterol level tends to increase as your weight goes up, and with a healthy pregnancy, weight has to increase to accommodate your growing baby, her “house,” and the extra fat stores your body needs to produce to optimally nourish your tiny growing human. Your increasing cholesterol also serves to provide additional nutrients needed for a growing fetus overall, even for women who have normal cholesterol levels pre-pregnancy. Cholesterol level tends to peak during the third trimester, which is what I’m currently at, and then decline once the baby is born and once you lose the extra baby weight. My doctor responded immediately and said that she had zero concerns about my increase and that in fact, this was very healthy considering the baseline I started at pre-pregnancy, which was “phenomenal” in her own words.

The numbers still freaked me out, though. My triglyceride level also went up like crazy, which she said is also normal during pregnancy. To someone who is generally very aware of diet, nutrition, and exercise, this was really alarming, but at least I know this will be temporarily. Or well, I hope it will be. It better be…

Gift giving in the eyes of my mother

When I originally set up the baby gift registry, I knew my mom was going to pry and try to find out who gave me what and basically calculate the “value” of each gift. Granted, she’s not that computer savvy, so it’s not like she’s going to make me send her specific links for who bought what off the registry, but that’s just the kind of person she is. When it’s come to pretty much every event, whether it’s a birthday, graduation, wedding, when she finds out what someone has given me, she has either opened up the envelope (amazing and classic her) or gift, or done a mental calculation in her head of the value of the gift. For her, gift giving is purely quid pro quo — if she’s given the person a gift of say, $100 in the past, she expects a gift of that value in the future for herself or for me. It’s pretty exhausting and infuriating.

So when the baby registry gifts have been coming in, she tries to ask who has given what, but I give very broad-stroked responses, “Oh, she bought the baby swaddles and bibs,” or “He got the baby a bunch of toys.” I don’t tell the quantity or the exact item name because I know she will try to get my dad to open the registry and actually do a calculation.

When I give a gift, I just want to give a gift. I don’t want to obsess over what that person will give me for a future event or expect a “payback” in the future. I used to think similarly to my mom since that’s what I was taught and what I knew, but my thinking on gift giving has evolved. I will give a gift if I want to do it. I should feel good doing it. I should feel good about the item I’ve chosen to give. I don’t really expect something of the exact same value in return. At the end of the day, not everyone is of the same means as me, and others have more or less, so gift giving is what it is, and I’m grateful for anyone to give me or my child anything because at the end of the day, no one “owes” me anything. Also, not all “gifts” are physical or can have an exact dollar amount assigned to them. That’s not a concept that my mom can quite wrap her head around.

Braxton-Hicks contractions

Probably around 22-24 weeks into pregnancy, I started getting Braxton Hicks contractions. I’m not sure why they are called that, but they are essentially “fake” contractions where your stomach gets really hard, and it can be quite uncomfortable. They tend to last for a minute or more, sometimes even as long as 5-10 minutes, and then they stop, and your stomach relaxes and becomes softer. It’s a little unnerving in the beginning because they really come out of nowhere. They are tense and sometimes can make you short of breath, but they aren’t usually painful. The first few times I got them, I was running on the treadmill and had to slow down to catch my breath. They eventually go away once you change your sitting/standing/lying down position or if you just adjust your breathing. The idea behind them is that they are “practice” contractions, getting your body ready for the Big Day.

Since the third trimester started for me, these fake contractions have been hitting me regularly. I have them nearly every day, and today after dinner, I had my longest and most uncomfortable one yet; it felt like it lasted almost ten minutes. I felt uncomfortable walking, sitting, or lying down. Nothing was comfortable, and I felt a little short of breath. Eventually, it went away, but it still felt a little scary.

I’m trying to think through the birthing process and get through it by different types of meditation and affirmations. One of my favorite ones is “I can totally fucking do this” (I suppose that one is helpful with any challenge). Another one that is helpful is “I am stronger than this contraction.” Usually, pain is registered by your brain as danger, but pain with birth and labor is just telling you that your body is ready to birth your baby. So I need to re-frame the thought in my head to get through this.

Nesting in the form of cooking and baking

I was looking at the calendar and wondering how time flew by during this pregnancy. I’m already in week 32 of pregnancy, and I still have all these cooking projects I want to do: no-knead brioche! Scallion milk bread! Browned butter miso chocolate chip cookies! Semi-traditional almond cookies! Passion fruit cake! More alfajores! Cream puffs! Will I actually accomplish making all these things, or will these go into a long, long back log of things I’ll make when I’m finally able to come up for air and breathe after the baby has arrived?

Nesting is defined as an instinct that finds moms-to-be preparing their homes (also known as their “nests”) for their baby’s impending arrival. While we have certainly been gathering items needed for Pookie Bear’s arrival, and I’ve been taking classes on childbirth, breastfeeding, etc., and also listening to endless podcasts about the birthing process and motherhood, the other kind of nesting that comes to mind is… just getting stuff done I want to do, like bake all these not-super-necessary things I noted above. Some of it may even be freezer friendly (I’m looking specifically at the scallion milk bread or the brioche, yum) to stock up on food to easily reheat or toast once baby arrives, once I don’t have much time or energy to make food. I also want to stock up on freezer-friendly, homemade food for our freezer so that we’re not reliant on takeout or delivery, as well. It’s a long list of things that have to get done, so I keep having short pep talks with Pookie Bear each day to take her time growing and wiggling around in my uterus, that she can’t come too early, otherwise we won’t fully be prepared for her. And doesn’t she want us to be physically and mentally prepared to take care of her and ourselves?

Asian food takes over Manhattan

Since I first moved to New York City in June 2008, it’s clear that Asian food, whether it’s Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese and beyond, has really been taking over neighborhoods one by one throughout Manhattan. Once upon a time, each kind of food kind of had its own area: Chinese food had multiple Chinatowns ranging from Manhattan Chinatown, Brooklyn Chinatown, Elmhurst “Chinatown” along Broadway, Flushing (obviously); Vietnamese food had certain blocks occupied in Manhattan Chinatown. Japanese food had the 40s on the east side of Manhattan with a sprinkling of places throughout the East Village. Korean food had “Korea Way” on 32nd between Broadway and 5th Avenue. Since then, Koreatown has spread so that Korean restaurants have gone all the east along 32nd Street to Madison, and even a little north to 33rd-35th Streets. East Village has become a haven for many Asian cuisines, including a number of ramen and xiao long bao (soup dumpling) spots. Even more high-end, Michelin rated Japanese restaurants are spread throughout the island of Manhattan that I cannot even keep track of them anymore. And Chinese food, well, it has no boundaries whatsoever. You can even find authentic, western Chinese food up in Harlem/Sugar Hill.

Today, we went to the Sugar Hill area of Manhattan up north and of many places, tried The Handpulled Noodle, which has been on my list for over two years. The noodles are a bit flatter and thicker than the traditional and well known Lanzhou, Gansu-style hand-pulled noodle that tends to dominate hand-pulled noodle shops in Chinatowns around the country. Some of the noodles are more like pulled and flattened small rectangles and squares that are quite toothy. We shared a bowl of their stir-fried cumin-beef flat and pounded pull noodles, and according to Chris, I was totally addicted. We nearly inhaled that bowl of noodles; the noodles were super al dente and chewy, totally mesmerizing. The sauce had a good amount of fresh cumin spice, not to mention a hint of heat from the chilies. And the meat was light and shredded. If that place were near our apartment, I’d likely have them on speed dial for takeout on the regular. Unfortunately, they don’t deliver to our area since we’re too far south from them, but maybe that’s actually a good thing for our waist lines.

So much delicious food is out there to explore and try, even in cuisines that we think we are familiar and well-versed in. I’m always discovering new Chinese and Vietnamese food despite them being the cultures I grew up in. It just feels boundless what you can discover and taste.

Prenatal massage indulgence

I’ve been quite lucky during my pregnancy in that I have not had any major pains or aches… other than that blip with sciatica from a couple of weeks ago. I knew that before the baby came, I wanted to indulge in a prenatal massage, especially given that with my growing belly, a regular massage would not be possible. Prenatal massages, almost by definition, are never going to be as “cheap” as a regular massage in Chinatown since they require a bit more special training for a pregnant person’s shifting gravity and specific needs. After my bout with sciatica, my doulas and my doctor also suggested I get a prenatal massage, as prenatal masseuses are also able to give suggestions for what may help, and their professional touch may help to alleviate pain/aches associated with sciatica and getting the baby in the right position for birth.

I recently downloaded the Peanut app in hopes of making nearby, local new-mom friends in the area. Peanut is basically like Tinder, where you swipe up and down for other moms in your area who could be potential friends/support/provide tiny friends for your future tiny person. Someone I had been having chats with here and there on Peanut suggested Remedy Massage on the Upper West Side for prenatal massage, and a specific masseuse there, as she was able to help with a lot of her pains throughout her pregnancy. So after reading some reviews, I made a reservation for a massage this morning, which was my day off, with a masseuse named Sharon. And I was really impressed right away. The make-shift table/bed they have you lie on is elevated with a special pillow/cushion for your belly to go into. And as soon as I laid down on it, stomach down, I felt ahhhhhhh. Soooo good. Sharon started softly but worked her way up in her firmness, and during those 75 minutes, I was in total bliss. She asked a lot of questions about my sciatica which I had noted in my original booking request, and she really focused on my IT bands and lower back, which are directly impacted by my sciatic nerve. She also suggested I get a slimmer pillow between my legs when sleeping at night, as that could actually be hyper-extending my right side, which is where the sciatica was occurring.

I totally get why people do prenatal massage, even if it is a very expensive and luxurious indulgence. It’s important for pregnant people to pamper themselves during this time since our bodies have the enormous task of growing a tiny new human. And once the baby comes, all the focus will be on the baby, and most people won’t care about how mom is doing. It’s a shame that this is yet another way that society devalues women. We have some of the hardest jobs in the world being the sole sex able to reproduce and make humans, yet our happiness, livelihoods, and health take a backseat, which is why postpartum care is significantly lacking in pretty much every western society on earth.