When the hand and elbow pain gets worse

A good friend of mine had not only offered to come for a day and stay the night and help out with bottle feeding the baby, but she also offered to do a grocery run for me at Trader Joe’s. So I gave her a list of things that I wanted, and she graciously brought them all over. While she was over, we caught up on a lot of things that we hadn’t talked about since we had last seen her on the day after we came home from the hospital. She wanted to stay away given the rise in Omicron cases  and the fact that she works at a grocery store and is thus exposed a bit more than the average person.

When she was over, I realized that even when she was helping me with all the bottle feeds and keeping the baby upright after eating, I still had pretty much no free time to myself. I took one one-hour long nap while she was there, and the rest of the time, I was pumping, cleaning bottles, prepping bottles, measuring out breast milk, cleaning the kitchen, preparing food for me and for my friend…. and I was just exhausted. I wasn’t even sure if I felt like I had less to do even though I did have less to do because I wasn’t doing the bottle feeds anymore. What the hell was going on?  I could not believe it. She came specifically to help and relieve me, yet I did not feel relieved. Yes, I did prepare food for her. I did clean all the bottles that she used to feed my baby. And maybe that took up extra time . But I couldn’t believe that I still felt overwhelmed. 

Pumping had really taken over my life, and I really resented it. I resented the fact that I was able to lactate and Chris was not. It started to infuriate me that my body was the only body that was able to produce food for my baby to eat. Even though I was the one who wanted to exclusively nurse her up until the point that I went back to work, I still got angry about this anyway.  This is a huge responsibility for one person, to be a sole food provider for a tiny little human. Yes, there is formula as everyone would remind me, but my breastmilk is the best milk for my baby. How do I know this? My baby spits up less when she has my breastmilk. The baby’s face appears happier when she has my breastmilk. When she has a bottle of formula, she gives Chris a funny look and tentatively takes the nipple of the bottle into her mouth. She has even refused bottles of formula before when we’ve given her breast milk after. These are all signs that she wants mommy‘s milk and not “fake” milk. 

When the night nurse comes, Chris is able to sleep a full night’s sleep and I am not. I have to still wake up in the middle of the night to pump to maintain my milk supply. My supply has still not regulated yet, and so I was too scared to remove my middle of the night pump in fear that my output would take a dive, and I really didn’t want to do that because I already was not producing 100% of the baby’s needs. If the baby is having about seven feeds a day, depending on the day, she gets between 5 to 6 bottles of breastmilk / 1 to 2 bottles of formula. This has been huge shift for me because I have finally increased my supply to a point where I can provide approximately 75 to 80% of the baby’s needs, and this was my goal all along. We started at giving her only about 30 percent breast milk to 70 percent formula supplementation. I doubt that I could get to 100% at this point, but hey, you never know. I had heard stories of women whose supplies had increased at around the 14 or 15-week mark, so I did not completely eliminate that possibility from my mind. I probably got, at most, one extra hour of sleep when the night nurse is here because when she is not here, I do the baby’s last bottle feed of the night at 10 PM, and then I have to pump before I go to sleep. Then, I wake up somewhere between 2:30 and 3am to do my middle of the night pump. I go to sleep again, and then I wake up around 7:15 to 7:30 to do my first morning pump. 

I think all of this frustration and anger were really stemming from the fact that the pain in my fingers, hands, wrists, and elbows had really been at an all-time high this week. It was almost like my body knew that Chris was not going to be around, and so, why not piss Yvonne off more by ramping up the pain? The littlest things made my hands hurt. I could barely rub soap on my hands without feeling a little bit of pain in my fingers and in the base of my thumbs, and I was really sick of it. The pain in the base of my thumbs felt like a permanent bruising. Some of the pain is due to actions that I chose to take repeatedly, such as hand expression and breast compressions while pumping. But all of these things were to benefit the baby because they would increase my milk output, so can you really blame me? The rest, I was just predisposed to carpal and cubital tunnel before ever even getting pregnant. But it’s not like I could just stop pumping or stop taking care of my baby. I still had to cook because I was hell-bent on having home cooked food. That was ultimately why I prepared our freezer with all kinds of ready to eat homemade foods before baby came… Because I did not want to just eat takeout and delivery in my weeks after giving birth. I wanted wholesome, nourishing food that was not laden with excess fat and salt, which is typically what food is when you get takeout. That’s how restaurants hook you: having extra fat and extra salt to make you want more.

I just felt tired and frustrated and annoyed that pumping was taking over my life and the pain was just getting worse. I felt alone in my pumping journey. I was resenting pumping in general and wished it could be easier. My friend gave me a hand and arm massage while she was here, and I am regularly using the new Thera-gun that Chris bought, but it just wasn’t enough. I just wanted a break, a full night’s sleep, some sort of acknowledgment from the world that what I was doing was really fucking hard. IVF required a certain level of mental toughness, but exclusive pumping required a whole ‘nother level of mental toughness that I never thought I’d get myself into after giving birth. I did not want to end my breast-feeding and pumping journey with paralysis in my hands or limited mobility in my arms and then be a cripple. Because what could possibly be worse than a cripple mom?

Fetal movements at 28.5 weeks pregnant

Since the baby is getting bigger, her movements are definitely becoming more and more pronounced as the days go on. I’ve realized that anytime I am in a social situation and am being very animated, or whenever I am doing presentations for work on Zoom, she tends to start going a little wild with her movements. I can’t quite tell the difference between her hands and feet yet, but she gets very active whenever I speak loudly or laugh a lot. She was very active on the night of Sambal Lady’s backyard outing in Brooklyn last week. This week, she’s been kicking and flailing a lot during my more active speaking during meetings. And sometimes, when the music on the TV is on a bit louder than usual, she starts moving a lot. When I am not in meetings and have YouTube music on during the weekday, I’ve been removing my headphones so that she can listen. And well, my music is a bit dated to the 1990s and 2000s/2010s, but the baby is definitely getting more acquainted with Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys, and Adele. It’s almost like when all the socializing and music is happening, her movements are saying, “Hey! I’m here, too! Let me in on the fun!”

I read that at about 28 weeks, babies can hear sounds outside the womb, and sometimes, if they hear the same song or sound over and over again, it can serve to be like a lullaby that will calm them down or hush them. Who knows — maybe Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” or Mariah Carey’s “Hero” will be the baby’s lullaby song.

New roommate

On a Zoom catchup with friends the other night, I was talking about my cooking and baking, and how since the city had begun opening up in June that I started sharing baked goods with our building staff again. I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with them before then… given we had no idea how contagious COVID-19 was and whether it could be transmitted through food. But since then, they’ve been happy to accept my baked goods and eat whatever I make. I also made a comment, saying that I wish I had more people to cook for. Before the pandemic, I used to have friends com over and eat food I’d make, and well, that’s clearly come to an end. No more using friends as guinea pigs for test dishes. It’s just Chris now.

Well, I guess got what I wanted…just not exactly how I thought. My good friend is in the process of breaking up with her boyfriend, so she is staying with us temporarily until she finds her own place. Tonight, I made her a cheesy chutney toastie sandwich with the olive bread I picked up from Le Fournil Bakery in East Village. And well, now that I have another mouth to cook for, I can make more food. 🙂 Chris also cannot walk around the apartment in his underwear anymore, but hey, it’s give and take.

When you over water your rice

When cooking brown rice, I always soak it for at least a few hours after rinsing, then I cook it in the rice cooker with a ratio of 2 parts water to one part rice. Unfortunately, I have no idea how I did this, but I was multitasking when I was measuring the water out for the rice, and I somehow added too much water to the rice cooker. So when the rice had finished cooking, it was way, way too soft! I thought that if I dried it out in the fridge overnight that it would help, but the next day, it was still too soft. I did not find it that pleasant to eat, so I decided to make… a mushy fried rice out of it. I figured that if I added cha siu, eggs, seasonings, and scallions to my mushy rice, it would at least be tasty mushy rice. And so, that’s how you save food – add other tasty food to it.

ERA test

So after chatting with my reproductive endocrinologist and thinking about how I’d eventually like to STOP going to the clinic completely and actually have a child, I decided that even though the numbers weren’t that convincing that I’d suck it up and do an ERA test alongsidea mock embryo transfer cycle. Most people, even those who have gone through IVF, may not even know what this test is. It’s become more common for IVF patients to do this in the last 20 years, particularly after failed embryo transfers, but it stands for endometrial receptivity analysis test. During this test, the doctor will take a biopsy of your endometrium, which is the lining of your uterus, and also the place where a woman’s body prepares for the arrival of an embryo each month. The endometrium, in that sense, is essentially a “home” where the embryo implants and resides during gestation. An embryo is able to implant during a specific receptive period of a time during a woman’s cycle, and this is called the “window of implantation.”

I’m not really that excited about having a ‘biopsy’ done of anything of mine, but I’ve figured… I’ve come so far in this whole terrible process that if there is just one more thing I need to do to give myself some level of reassurance that we’re doing what we can to ensure success, then I will just do it. I was reading about how this test feels, and it is supposed to be about 5 to 10 seconds of an intense menstrual cramp. The worst procedure I’ve had to do during this period that was like that feeling was the HSG exam, where they check to see if your fallopian tubes are open (and YES, both of mine are). It only lasted 10 seconds, but it hurt so badly that I felt faint and light-headed for a good 30 seconds after. The doctor even had to ask me if I wanted some water before getting onto my feet.

So now, this procedure is scheduled next Tuesday. I will be awake for it, so right after, I can just walk back home and go “back to work.” No one ever tells you before you start fertility clinic visits how LONG EVERYTHING SEEMS TO TAKE. There is so much waiting, so little definitive aspects, so much uncertainty.

Palestinian cuisine in New York City

In a city as diverse and colorful as New York City, it is a bit funny to say that cuisine solely labeled “Palestinian” is not particularly common here. “Middle Eastern” tends to be the blanket term that ends up being the category for food of cultures from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and surrounding countries. So when we found out that the new Palestinian restaurant Ayat NYC had opened in Bay Ridge just 2 months ago, we were ecstatic and knew we had to come try it out.

We had a number of small plates ranging from the delicious kibbeh (finely ground bulgur wheat and meat filled with ground beef, onions, and Mediterranean spices), to cheese manaquish (fresh sajj bread sandwiching a delicious, savory, and tangy akkawi cheese dotted with sesame and I believe nigella seeds), labneh (the thickest and most decadent strained and whipped yogurt topped generously with olive oil), to the dreamy beitenjan — fried baby eggplants drizzled with tahini and pomegranate molasses. This was my very first time having a number of these delicious bites including the sajj, the Palestinian bread, and it was amazing: stretchy, almost bouncy and soft in texture, not to mention wheaty and a little nutty. I’m a cheese lover, and the akkawi cheese did not disappoint: it was salty, tangy, with a strong savory flavor. I could get used to eating that more often! And the labneh here was the thickest and creamiest labneh I’ve ever had; it almost felt and tasted like I was just eating fully strained cream!

These cozy neighborhood spots are the places I love most when exploring New York City, the ones owned by locals and immigrants alike that just want to share their food with you and hope you will love their flavors as much as they do. They feel so homely, and the political messages and symbolism as depicted on the restaurant’s interior murals also made it a funky place to hang out.

All our money is spent on food now

With all the refunds being issued back for purchases on theater tickets and even flights, it’s almost like we’re spending money on nothing now other than food. Our grocery runs have been the biggest they’ve ever been. In the past, I was so used to making a quick stop by Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods en route home for just a handful of items whenever I needed them. Now, I’m thinking about food that we’re going to eat tonight, tomorrow, in a week, and even weeks from now, just so that we have it in stock and that I don’t have to think about it… and so that I don’t have to queue up in yet another long line for groceries the way I did last week when I waited over 40 minutes just to enter Trader Joe’s. While it was nice to shop in a nearly empty Trader Joe’s on the Upper West Side given that they are limiting the number of people entering for social distancing reasons, it was also quite eerie and surreal.

Chris is so used to having barista made coffee at work when he’s not doing work travel, so now we’re spending a lot more on fancy coffee beans than ever before. I used to rely on my office for things like bananas, morning yogurt, or even oat/cow milk for my morning tea, and now I have to buy more of all of that now. We led such frou-frou, privileged lives before in our white-tower tech companies that we never really thought much about all the “savings” we got by working at these places. And don’t even get me started on kitchen/bathroom supplies like toilet paper and paper towels. When you only use one toilet for all your bathroom runs… that toilet paper really goes much quicker than you’d think. I’ve been getting better at not using kitchen paper towels and instead relying on cloth towels, but with toilet paper, there’s really no other alternative, is there?

We’re also eating more at home, which means we are running the dishwasher more, which means more dishwasher tablets need to be purchased. And with always being home and being on high alert for the virus, we’re washing our hands even more than before, which means we need more soap. The cycle never seems to end during a pandemic of all the things you use more of that you need that you never really thought much about before.

Darkness came early

The sky was black at around 4pm today. I’d never seen people in my office trickle out so quickly. It was as though we were all under the same depressed spell, and by 5pm, nearly every single person was out of the office. When I left at around 5:15, it was as though I was the one who “stayed late.”

Even when people tell you they love autumn and winter (and I do, too, for all the cooking, baking, holidays, autumn foliage, etc.), as much as they love it, they just want to get the heck home and away from the office much earlier than they normally do.

Alone in the most populous country in the world

When I’ve spoken with people who have traveled around China, most often say that Beijing is not one of their favorite places. Whether that is related to the food, the constant feeling of the government watching you everywhere given that it is China’s capital, to the sense of arrogance one can encounter from Beijingers, it seems to generally be agreed upon.

So, I wasn’t that surprised when we arrived, and I immediately felt irritated not only by the level of heat and humidity, but also by the constant stream of cabbies who either tried to lie and tell me that their meter wasn’t working and that they’d have to offer me a fixed fare, or they’d tell me that they’d only take me if I’d pay them 100 yuan (for a ride that probably shouldn’t cost more than 15-20). It was never like this in Shanghai, in 2006 or a few days ago. It was absolutely nothing like this in Chengdu or Leshan. So this was just infuriating. I would yell at them and tell them I wouldn’t accept it, that they were trying to cheat me and that they were con men. I’d then walk away in a huff. Chris, more aggressively, would yell at them, leave their cab doors open, and even kick their cars (to which they seemed genuinely frightened. I mean, he’s a brown man in a yellow country, after all… and they can never quite predict what the brown man would do, right?).

So, it was a welcome break to spend half a day with Zhang Feng, our driver, who took us to Huanghuacheng, or the “yellow flower” section of the Great Wall, about 90 minutes outside of Beijing. I’d read previously that this section of the Great Wall had previously been closed to the public, but two years ago, they’d opened it back up. It is not maintained and restored at all, and the section where you actually enter is technically on private land that is owned by some local people, who Feng paid via WeChat (seems sketchy, but I’m okay with that… but if you think about it, this is private land for a public landmark… what…?!). I asked him how much the admission was that these people were charging, and I think he said it was only 30 yuan, which is crazy to me.

Zhang was a bit relieved when he found out that I could speak some Chinese. I knew when I booked this that the company I was interfacing with had run out of English guides, but given I was desperate to a) go to a section of the wall that would be less crowded and more unpreserved and b) not do a big group tour, I told the person I was corresponding with that a driver who speaks limited English would be fine… since that was all that was available. If he was just our driver, he could just be that. And if he would be willing to chat, I could always translate to Chris. And through chatting with Feng, I realized “limited” English really just meant that he could say hello, goodbye, and thank you. But he was smart in that he used his mobile device’s translation app when he wanted to convey things he couldn’t do with language. In the end it was fine because it meant I could practice my Chinese and work on my listening skills. He was extremely chatty, asking about everything from our trip to what the U.S. was like to my family, even asking me when I was planning to have kids (I expected this when I told him how old I was. Chinese people don’t seem to think any topic is off limits, especially when they are talking to people of their “own kind”).

So he took us to this section of the wall, which is also known as being the only section of the 13,000+ mile-long wall that has a body of water. The wall stretches from Gansu province in the west all the way to Liaoning in the east — if you take a look at a map of the wall laid out over China — that’s pretty darn long. It was a bit ominous given that we could see that an entire section had broken off. He kept yelling from afar not to get too close to the break-off point at the end, otherwise we’d literally fall into the lake. And it was even more ominous given that it was grey and raining, so it was extremely wet and slippery everywhere. In many sections of the wall, there are no steps; it’s just a steep incline that you’re supposed to navigate on your own. Going up is fine… coming down might be a concern. With the slippery surfaces, many times, we were forced to use our hands to actually climb up. I understand why now, the description on their website suggested that anyone who is elderly or pregnant not visit this section.

The greatest part of coming here, though, was that there was almost no one there. At most, we probably saw 16-20 other people total, but most of the time, we were together for a few minutes in passing, and they’d leave. The rain eventually stopped, and given the heat and humidity, the bricks from the wall started slowly but surely drying up, so when it was time for us to climb back down, it wasn’t so bad. We kept looking out into this endlessly long wall and fortress that would keep going and going, and see absolutely no one. It was the eeriest feeling standing along the wall and looking out to see no one. There were many moments when I didn’t take any photos and just kept looking out into the mountains and the zigzagging wall, wondering… how strange it is to literally be standing in the most populous country on earth… in what feels like its most deserted area, all by ourselves. We’re alone here, and no one else is here. It almost felt like an echo in my head. It was a very strange feeling, but so peaceful and calm. I smiled to myself. This is really amazing.

Feng was extremely enthusiastic and took endless photos of us in all different angles. He got worried about my photo quality, especially when I was wearing the poncho he gave me to stay dry. “That won’t look good in your photos at home when you frame them and show them to family and friends!” he kept saying. And as we passed through for him to pay the locals our entrance fare, the women fussed over Chris, insisting he either use an umbrella or buy a poncho, otherwise he’d catch a cold and get really sick. Chris was unamused by the mothering.

This was Chris’s second time visiting the Great Wall, and he said that the last section he visited definitely had far more people, and this was an altogether very different experience from his first time.

It felt so strange to be at a tiny section of the Great Wall today, something that was put into production beginning in the seventh century; it’s hard to even fathom anything still standing from them. I was standing on the longest man-made construction in the world, of all time. How crazy, I kept thinking. And it’s far more beautiful in person than I’d imagined from the photos I’d seen before. It’s so famous, something that everyone knows and recognizes, yet not everyone actually goes to see. But then if you think about it, given how long it is, no one ever really goes to see the very beginning or the very end of the wall; the majority of the people who come to see it are like us, visiting from Beijing and doing a half-day or day trip there. I would really love to see what this wall is like at the ends, whether it is in Gansu or in Liaoning.

Conclusions about the workplace

It’s been nearly 11 years that I’ve been working full time, and in that 11 years, these are the conclusions I’ve come to:

  1. HR is pretty useless when it actually comes to making employees feel heard, appreciated, or like their opinions and feelings matter. They do not exist to protect you; they exist to protect the company, its reputation, and its senior leadership.
  2. White men still have all the power.
  3. Discrimination and bias are nearly impossible to prove.
  4. Even when you work at a company that is, by industry standards, “progressive,” you still realize that there’s an impossibly long way to go and that there’s really no use in comparing yourself to the lowest of the low in life. You won’t feel better.
  5. When recruiters, internal or external, say they are looking for a diverse set of candidates who are truly “culture adds,” they’re definitely lying unless they are actually financially incentivized to do exactly that. And we know none of them are.
  6. As I meet younger and younger people who are just getting out of school and into the workforce, I cannot help but notice how entitled they are to demand salaries that are $100-200K+ just a year or two out of college. Entitlement seems to be a common of those younger than me. But… did people who were in their 30s think that of me when I was at that age…?
  7. Doing your job and doing it well isn’t enough. You have to play the political game to get ahead. That means sucking up in some cases, and in others, socializing with colleagues and higher-ups you wouldn’t otherwise care to be around.
  8. Just because you are kind and friendly and helpful does not mean everyone at work will like you. In fact, there will always be someone out there who secretly, or not so secretly, doesn’t like you, and will make sure you find out some way, somehow.
  9. When your manager tells you that she wants to hear your opinions, she really doesn’t mean that. What she really means is… she wants you to package in a certain way that sounds good to her ears. In other words, don’t be a complainer. Figure out how to do to that, and you will get along just swell.
  10. What you might consider “common sense” in the workplace really is not so “common.” Sad, isn’t it?