Our DFA Experience

Dealing with Philippine government offices is always as hassle and I arrive at their offices expecting the worst. That way, when things turn out faster than they do, I'll be pleasantly surprised. That pretty much sums up my experience at the DFA when Big C and I went with J to get our passports.

It was our first time with the passport appointment system. Basically, all I did was to go to the DFA Passport Appointment System website and submitted the online applications for a new passport for J and renewals for me and Big C. We filed ours under the Family Appointment System, which is pretty much batch processing.

After I filled out the application forms, they provided me with a list of documentary requirements for each of us. For the renewals, all we needed were photocopies of the first three pages, last page and pages with the latest immigration stamps of your old passport. For J's new application, we needed to present his original birth certificate. There are more requirements depending on who's going with the child to the DFA, if the child is legitimate, etc. The website is pretty comprehensive and detailed when it comes to the requirements. Then they'll ask you to pick a date and a time for your appointment. After this, they'll email you the copy of your application forms, which you will need to print out and bring to the DFA. Along with this email is a confirmation link to confirm your appointment.

Our appointment was set for 2:00 pm, and we were required to be there by 1:30. To our dismay, when we got there, there was a whole crush of people standing outside the DFA waiting in line. Inside the gates were more people sitting in waiting areas under tents in the midday heat. Since we were with J, I was not looking forward to staying there and waiting, because J would surely get cranky in the heat.

The first stop upon entering the DFA gates was a station where they would recheck to see if you do have an appointment for the day, by scanning the bar code on your application forms. We were then sent to one of the waiting areas under the tents. I asked the person at the confirmation table and asked for the special lane for family application processing and said that we were with a child. She told me that was only for those with children under a year old. I sighed and settled in for a long wait.

Luckily, Big C flagged down a passing guard and asked again where to go for family appointments with children. The guard told us to go straight inside the building and ask for the courtesy lane. And so it goes. The rest of our appointment was spent inside the deliciously airconditioned building of the DFA.

We went straight to the second floor, to the courtesy lane. Be warned though. If you process through the courtesy lane, you'll be paying for rush processing (P1200) instead of regular processing (P950).

We presented our documents and we went to pay for the passports. The line for the payment took me about 5 minutes, which wasn't bad. We were sent to encoding, to get our data inputted and our pictures taken. Again, in the encoding area, there was a huge crowd seated on benches and I wondered what they were doing. Big C told me that those people were in line for encoding. We had lined up to get our numbers for encoding and because of the family appointment and the fact that we were applying with a child, we were in a special line and our wait was mercifully short. The last step was to pay for the delivery of our passports, which cost us P120 per passport. About 30 minutes later, we exited the DFA.

All in all, I'd have to say not a bad experience. Quick, easy and simple. But I think that's only because we were processing with a child as a family. I'm not really sure how it would go for people without kids. But hopefully, by the time Big C and I need to apply for our passports without the kids, they'll have streamlined it enough to make it more efficient.

A Month Full of Blessings!

Hello all!

It's been a while since my last post, and while I meant to make my gratitude journal a weekly thing, it kind of got away from me, because we're once again adjusting to have a newborn in the household. But while I've been remiss in writing them down, I have been fully aware of all the wonderful blessings that I and my family have received in the past month.

  • My wonderful new son, Little C, who came into the world far earlier than any of us expected, but has been a joy in our life, in our home and in our hearts since the minute he arrived. He is now six weeks old and growing bigger by the day.
  • An uncomplicated delivery and a speedy recovery
  • Seeing my husband fall more in love with his boys every day
  • Wonderful mothers who took care of me after giving birth. To my mom, who was a big help in the early days of breastfeeding Little C, and to my mother-in-law, who supervised my ge-lai, especially my meals.
  • Despite being on mixed feedings, Little C is getting far more of my milk that big brother J ever did. At the moment, Little C's diet is 2/3 breastmilk and 1/3 formula. I still haven't given up on my original goal of making sure he gets nothing but breastmilk, but as far as I'm concerned, we're in a pretty good place right now.
  • My first Happy Lemon drink after giving birth!
  • Getting rid of a crappy maid without having to fire her and getting a better one as a replacement
  • A quick and painless DFA experience (watch out for a post on this!)
That's all for now. I just snuck off to write a quick post and I have to get back to my boys. Later, it's the hunt for an ice cream cake for Big C's birthday and a dinner with old friends to look forward to! :)

Ge-Lai: Chinese Post-partum Care

A lot of my Filipino friends ask me about ge-lai, or the Chinese method of post-partum care. What is it anyway?

This is my third time to undergo ge-lai and I've been very lucky because both my mother-in-law and my mom take really good care of me at this time. Ge-lai actually requires a lot of work, not for the new mother, but for the people who take care of her. Based on my experience, my MIL supervises the preparation of all my meals. My mother also takes the time to bring me ge-lai dishes that she prepares at home.

A disclaimer before I go on, though. What is described in this post is based on my experience of ge-lai. Because we live in a country that is a melting pot of various Asian cultures, some of the practices may be different from what is traditionally practiced in China. And even so, each family has different beliefs about what ge-lai is and what it entails. What I write about here, is ge-lai as I have experienced it and as it was explained to me by my mom and my mother-in-law.

Ge-lai, or po-ge-lai, takes place during the first month after birth where a new mother is under a strict regimen to restore her qi after childbirth. The Chinese believe that the woman's body gets cold, or chin, after giving birth so the body should be heated with food that is considered warming, or diyet to restore the balance of the body by observing the following:

1. Drinking Tonics: these are usually soups/drinks made from boiled Chinese medicinal herbs.
  • Seng-hwa-theng: According to my mom, this is meant to flush out the "dirty blood" that remains in the woman's body after birth. I'm guessing this means ensuring that the uterus is cleaned out properly and that whatever remains of the placenta are expelled with the postpartum bleeding. You drink this first thing in the morning for the first three days after giving birth.
  • O-tso-tong-sim: Since the new mother isn't allowed to drink water after giving birth (more on this below), she is given a boiled drink that has prunes and dates and longgans in it that will serve as her main source of hydration. It doesn't really quench your thirst, but I still find it helpful because it softens your poop so you're not constipated. Believe me, with stitches on your lady parts, you do not want to strain that area any more than you have to.
  • Sip-tsuan-tai-po: This is taken 21 days after giving birth, right around the time the postpartum bleeding stops. It's an expensive herbal medicine that tastes awful, but is supposed to be very nutritious for a recovering mother.
2. Ge-Lai Meals:
  • Breakfast was usually oatmeal cooked with chocolate tablea with an egg stirred in. Chocolate is considered diyet, which is why it's good for new mothers.
  • Eggs: Eggs are mixed into my morning oatmeal, and if I'm in the mood for it, I can have egg that is cooked in sugar water for meryenda. Eggs are considered very nutritious in general, probably cause of the protein, so I'm guessing that's why it's part of the ge-lai diet. Big C came up with a new invention which I love: eggs cooked in fresh milk. That's what I have for breakfast instead of chocolate oatmeal on some days.
  • Soups: I usually have 5 meals a day: breakfast, morning merienda, lunch, two afternoon meriendas and dinner. Apart from breakfast, I have soup for all those meals. Usually it's fish soup, which helps with lactation as well. 
  • Chicken and ginger soup that is more ginger than chicken, mixed with mushrooms and banana blossoms. This soup is very warming because it's spicy. You drink it and sweat really breaks out all over your body.
  • Sesame oil and ginger: These are two staple ingredients for ge-lai. For example, I have fried rice with every meal, but it's not your usual garlic rice. For ge-lai, fried rice is rice cooked in ginger and sesame oil, two ingredients that are considered very diyet, and therefore, good for mommy's recovering body. Most of my viands are also cooked with these two ingredients, from black chicken, to regular fried chicken, to pork chops and steak.
3. Dietary Restrictions:
  • No water for 40 days. Because water is refreshing, it's considered chin, so it's a no-no for new moms. Diyet substances only. In place of water, I drank the o-tso-tong-sim. 
  • No fruits and veggies for 40 days. Like water, fruits and veggies are considered chin food. Even malunggay supplements to boost up my milk supply were not allowed. I think this is the biggest contrast between the Chinese and Filipino post-partum recovery methods. 
  • Nothing cold. Obviously, since the point of ge-lai is to warm the body up, cold foods are out of the question. 
4. Other Restrictions:
  • No bathing. I think I hate this most of all. Haha. No bathing for a month, and even after a month, you can't take a bath daily. You have to ease back into it. In my case, the day I took my first bath after giving birth, I waited two days, then took a bath on the third day. After a few cycles of that, you can then ease into baths every other day, then every day. 
  • No getting wet, even hand washing. Generally, water is cold, especially from the tap, so the idea is to keep your body away from cold stuff. This is supposed to help reduce the aches and pains we may experience as we get older. In my case, I was advised to use rubber gloves to protect my hands if I do need to wash things.
  • No going out. It's house arrest for a month, ladies. And while you'll experience cabin fever, you'll find that you'll want to keep your first outing after ge-lai short. You'll actually miss being in the house and near your baby (well, at least that's what I experienced).
  • No strenuous exertion and activities. In my case, I was forbidden to pick J up, which was also difficult for me. He's been a bit clingy and demanding lately, I guess, adjusting to having to share Mommy with his little brother, so he would ask me to carry him. The most I could do was cuddle him while seated.
So that's what my ge-lai experience was like. I still have 3 days more to go and I would have to say that it's a challenging experience. The no bathing part is the obvious difficulty, and eating five meals a day is easier said than done, especially when you have a newborn and a toddler demanding your constant attention. But if you're lucky enough to have someone want who cares enough to perform the ge-lai rituals for you, take the opportunity. After all, there's no harm in obeying the rules that our mothers, grandmothers and other predecessors have followed for years. At the very least, you have a month where you're not expected to worry about anything except taking care of your baby and resting. Believe me, that's something every new mom needs, even second-time moms like me.

Little C's 3rd Week!

Hello all! It's been three weeks since my Little C joined our family and today also marks my third week with breastfeeding. Now, three weeks may not seem like much, especially in comparison with moms who have breastfed for 6 months, a year, 2 years or even 5 years (Hats off to you, Mommy Abbie!), but in comparison to my breastfeeding experience with J, three weeks is a big deal for me.

For the most part, Little C is breastfed, but there have been some days when I needed to supplement, first with glucose water in the hospital, then with formula when we got home. Despite supplementing, I am really happy with the fact that a large part of his nutrition is sustained by my milk. It's a whole lot better than it was during J's time, when my milk barely came to a third of J's needs.

In his first few days while we were at the hospital, Little C was nursed 24/7, but for some reason, he would get frustrated and have a hard time nursing. I don't really know why. At the suggestion of the pedia resident, we would let him latch, but use a dropper to give him glucose water. Latching made sure that he was stimulating milk production and letting him practice sucking, but the sugar water satisfied him enough to keep nursing from me. I wasn't happy about giving him glucose water, but for me, it was a lesser evil compared to giving him a bottle.

After two nights, I succumbed to the need for rest and would pump milk at night while Yaya gave him expressed milk using our Calma teat. But during the daytime, Little C nurses directly from me, until about 9 in the evening when I nurse him for the last time. At night, he'd take expressed breastmilk. Most nights, the milk I provide is enough, but on the nights that I'd come up short, we gave him formula, using the Medela Calma teat. This works pretty well for us, since Little C hasn't had any problems so far latching during the day even though he's bottle fed at night. I'd recommend the Calma teat for moms who feel the need to supplement with a bottle. In our experience (so far) it really doesn't interfere with direct feeding.

Breastfeeding is hard. No one is ever really prepared for it, and I think that the only reason why I'm not having such a hard time with it now is because my experience with nursing J has given me an idea of the challenges I should expect. But still, I'm dealing with the discomfort of sore nipples, of being tied to that one chair where we breastfeed, to have to gobble down food because Little C is already asking to be fed even though it's time for Mommy to eat, and to take bathroom breaks when I can. I'm still trying to find the balance of feeding Little C, while still giving J the attention he badly needs, especially now that he has to share everything with his new brother.

Despite these adjustments, breastfeeding is still the more convenient choice, at least now that I'm still confined to staying home. All I have to do is pull up my shirt, let him latch and Little C is happy. And one of the most wonderful and heartwarming memories I will keep from nursing my son is the image I have of him unlatching from my breast as he sleeps, milk pooling at the corner of his little mouth. Nothing affirms my mother's heart more than the knowledge that my son rests contentedly because he is full from the milk that I have provided for him. While he doesn't gain weight as quickly as J did, Little C is alert, already aware of his surroundings. At less than a week old, he turns to his side by himself, and is learning to hold his head up when we have tummy time.

However, I'm preparing myself to transition to exclusive pumping.

You see, I've had to take a good long look about what it would be like for us when I am allowed to rejoin the world (in 10 more days!). Despite my willingness to try babywearing, I have to confess that I'm not so comfortable taking Little C around with me while he's still so small. Also, since we live a bit far from most places, it's really not possible for me to just be gone for two hours in between feedings. The travel time alone would take me an hour and a half. Because of that, I'd really be stuck at home. Hence, the decision to express milk for Little C. I've gotten a lot of support and advice from other moms who have done the same thing, and have successfully managed to keep their kids on breastmilk.

When I was still pregnant I was determined to exclusively breastfeed. But each day brings new lessons, and I guess my experience with mothering two kids so far has affirmed what I already know. That parenting choices varies from family to family and you have to go with what works. After much deliberation, I felt that the decision to express milk is a good compromise. It will allow me to provide the best possible nutrition for Little C, but also give me the time to spend with J. Apart from that, it will allow me to take time and breathing room for myself. Much as I love my kids, from my experience with J, I know that it's important to take "me" time. I also need time to spend with my husband, just as a wife and not as a mother. We still have our quality time as a family, but it is also important for me that Big C and I have quality time as a couple.

So starting Monday, I will attempt to become an EP (exclusively pumping) mom. Hopefully, my supply will sustain itself and increase as I go along, because I have a growing boy on my hands! In the meantime, say hello to my little cutie, who turned three weeks old today. :-)