Tuesday, August 29, 2017

on mamahood: the early days

This is a story about how I was 9 weeks pregnant before I actually realized, for sure, that I was.

And all the random, abstract moments in between.

Maybe you read my last post, and you remember how much of a clusterfuck (excuse my language, mom and employers) the months leading up to April were for us. Moving, practicum, health. So when I started feeling extremely sad, overwhelmed, and so tired that I had to close the door to my tiny office in between clients and lean my head against the wall to take a short nap, I thought it was just that. Nothing more.

Even when my cycle was a few weeks late, I chalked it up to stress and life (since that does happen sometimes).

Even though we were actively trying to get pregnant.

There were so many hurdles we were trying to navigate in life that my brain truly had no space to contemplate what this could be. Coupled with this strange and paranoid idea I'd fostered since I was a teenager, that I was somehow probably quite infertile and it would take a lot of time for anything to happen at all. 

Anyway. After I was 4 weeks late, and admitted as much to B,  he (being the imminently wiser and more pragmatic one during this moment) said: maybe you should take a test, babe.

I put it off for another week. I was like: I hate wasting money, if this is a false alarm. ($20, LOL). 

He bought us a test anyway. 

On week 5 of being late, I peed on a stick and within seconds really, it said PREGNANT/ ENCEINTE/ 3+.

Bryan hooted and hollered. 

My heart started beating really fast and my brain was so confused and in denial, that it took 15 minutes of me being like, sure it says pregnant, but it ALSO says enceinte and MAYBE that's french for MAYBE NOT SO PREGNANT. 

So B had to pull out his phone and type in enceinte in google translate, and kept pressing play over and over again as the robot-lady voice said: pregnant! pregnant! pregnant!

Then, I got it. And I ran around and around and around my living room with B close at my heels, as we chanted enceinte! enceinte! enceinte!

After that, we went to the doctor to confirm. As a person who loves and abides by rules, it would take a person wearing a white coat to convince me. A small percentage of me was still skeptical, and half expected that I would be told it was a false alarm.  Our doctor walked in and announced:

Joann, you're pregnant! with a big smile on her face.

Then with the kind of math and alchemy that I still don't understand yet, she told us I was NINE WEEKS PREGNANT. Which is 3 weeks shy of the first trimester being basically over! When we had tried to do the math on our own with the most probable date of conception, we had come up with 5-6 weeks. So... 9 was a bit of a shock.

9 weeks. Whoa.

Symptoms and feelings of these early days:

- Nasusea X 1 day (then B researched online and told me to snack more throughout the day. Magic!)
- Night nausea during first trimester (no cure but time for this one, ugh)
- Super fatigue. Naps after breakfast type of fatigue.
- Immense sense of calm and grounded perspective. Small anxieties about practicum and life goes away. Begin instilling healthy boundaries for myself, immediately.
- Feeling private, like guarding the most beautiful secret
- Awe and denial
- Two more times of wearing tight button up jean overalls, then they are put away forever. 
- Double chin
- Bewilderment over weight gain -- rational brain says, yay, healthy for the baby! socialized self says, WTF is this.

At 15 weeks, we plan to tell our families.  We skype B's family during the day, when his dad is visiting the family in Vermont, and tell our niece that Uncle Bryan drew her something. Instead of a drawing, we show them the ultrasound of our littlest, littlest nugget (truly, they look like a fingerling potato or large worm at that stage) and watch their confusion turn into excitement.

On my side, Sister and Dad have birthdays in early June, so we arrange their birthday presents to be the way we announce the news. I wrap Sister's grey shirt, embroidered with a coral 'auntie' and Dad's navy blue shirt, embroidered in mint green with 'gong gong' (maternal grandfather).
I hide the brown paper packages in my purse at dinner, as it is two weeks before their actual birthdays, and they are not expecting any fanfare tonight.

We act nonchalant during the meal.

I casually say that we have early presents for them that are 'time sensitive' and should be opened tonight.

Baby announcement! from Joann Liu on Vimeo.

Such joy! I still grin, watching this. Please note my mom's delayed reaction.
And my dad saying such gems as "Are you sure?" and in cantonese "Are you lying?"

The moments of this pregnancy that I will remember for a long while:

20 week ultrasound. Secretly scared for bad news. In the inbetween of doctor visits, I never know what is happening, has happened, to my baby. Feeling so vulnerable. After 15 minutes of silence from the technician, she lets B into the room and he gasps, and I finally turn around to look at the screen and see 
a head and 
kicking legs and 
a spine and 
a strong heartbeat and and and
my whole future, on a black and white screen.


The first time I felt baby. During my Month 5 check-up, I shyly ask the nurse practioner why I might not have felt any activity yet. The book said typically baby starts being very active around now, but there hadn't been anything, and I was trying not to be worried about it (but worrying is in my DNA.)
She said it was fine, and baby would probably announce itself soon. Minutes later, she gave me a sidelong glance, with her hand on my belly, and said: do you feel that? Ah! Yes. Baby is here. Tap tap tap. Like the presence of a little God. 


Lying on the couch with husband, and putting his hand on my belly as he feels baby for the first time. His face. Tears. Love beams straight to the heart. 

Best friend remarked to me that when she was pregnant, the feeling of her baby's movements felt exactly like what you would imagine a little being kicking you from the inside would feel like. I kept on waiting to see if that's what my experience would be, but instead:

A list of ways I would describe what baby's movements feel like to me

- a frog croaking
- the way your stomach flips when you fall in love
- bad gas
- that feeling when you jerk awake from sleep
- a back spasm, but in your belly
- a tectonic plate shuddering
- when you visit Yosemite park and you see the earth belching
- hiccups

A confession: 

In the book What to Expect When You're Expecting, in month 6, they share that one feeling you may be experiencing is boredom that all anyone talks about is the baby. Sometimes, I really understand this sentiment. There's a big part of me that still does not comprehend yet what is happening, what is going to happen soon, and has 32 years of other things to talk about still. 

Often, I'm truly stunned that I talk more about this life inside me, than the fact that I completed my Masters in June. In the case of the latter, I worked my ass off for 2+ years deliberately, actively. In the case of the former, I feel lucky to have been able to conceive, but my body has been doing the rest for me invisibly (and sometimes, very visibly). For me, it is almost a passive process, if that makes any sense. I am along for the ride.

To be clear: I'm so grateful for all of the love, support and excitement we've received. I hope I'm not coming off unappreciative. It is more a Grappling With Identity moment, where I am becoming more than just an individual, I'm a mama! and it is really, really strange to integrate the two. I cherish how people in my life ask after me and my little bean. But my other self also yearns to keep talking about my nerdy obsession with counselling, or feminism, or tv shows. It still is bewildered when everyone tells me to be careful all the time.

So anyway. I still go on the weekend canoe trip. I still go camping on a very, very long roadtrip at 6 months pregnant to California. I'll still get on my bike this week. 

I'm a mama now. AND I'm also all my other selves, still. 

Stereotypical pregnant women characteristics that I am surprised I do now at 26.5 weeks:

- Waddle
- Snore
- Complain about my back
- Complain about my swollen feet
- Find it hard to get up off low surfaces
- a BIT of 'baby brain' (ugh. I really hate this one. It feels so demeaning. Or I'm a person with too much pride, and I can't accept my occasional absent-mindedness.) ((But yesterday, I took the gas nozzle out of the car and squeezed it and got gasoline all. over. myself. So maybe some truth to it.))

It is my 33rd birthday in two days. The same age my momma was when she had me. There is some symmetry in that that comforts me.

B asked me the other day what was the intention I wanted to carry into this birthday year--

I said, to surrender. 

To surrender to pain, fear, joy, love, the unknown. To surrender the parts of myself that wholly seek control and perfection. The hope I pin to baby's personality (will they be kind?) and health (will they be okay? tell me tell me). To surrender my eternal quest for certainty. To surrender to the idea that I do not know what the future holds for my little babe, but that no matter what happens, I am its house and womb and everything for now-- and that is all we have.

Every moment so far has been an honour.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

of late: January to .... oh man

                                   1/ sea gazing therapy   2/ from our digs on the sunshine coast
                                   3/ made for a dear friend, and her new baby  4/ visit from Rowan!
                                   5/ view from on high, at the new house   6/ in spring, the window is a green canopied painting
                                   7/ Saturna, Russell's Reef  8/ citrus
                                   9/ iced tea, clogs, backyard  10/ a joy to host in our new space
                                 11/ LA! LA! LA!   12/ school wife and I, frolicking on Santa Monica beach

Of late...

January ++++ was //

A millenia ago. I'm almost laughing and shaking my head as I write this, as I'm not sure how to sum up the past seven (?!) months for you in any adequate way. I marvel at how times passes so quickly, and how it came to be that I ceased to write to you monthly, as per tradition.

But then of course, I squint my eyes at the images of the past few months and I go Oh yes, this period was a blur and you were only holding on for dear life and where would writing have fit into that?

I was submerged, in a non-drowning sort of way, and now I have risen above to take a gulp of air and feel the salt of life on my skin and it is GOOD. It is GOOD to see you again, friend.

On Endings//

In counselling, at some point you have to part ways with a client -- because the work is done, or it's stalled and not getting done, or for so many reasons, really-- and this is often called termination. Termination of therapy: a clean and clear goodbye to the relationship. My beloved supervisor really flinched at the  aggression of the word, and advised us to say ending, instead. 

Maybe I can tell you of my recent endings so that you can begin to know of what was happening in my absence.

I ended my time in Clinic in April, and said goodbyes to the three clients that have helped shape my new burgeoning baby therapist self. I won't soon forget them. I ended with my Clinic team of feminist, badass women that supported each other every Thursday night for the past half year.

On April 1st, Bry and I ended our time at the Fraser house, because an opportunity to move to a bigger apartment with a huge, spacious backyard dropped into our laps, and I said a tearful goodbye to the place we have cherished since we first moved to Vancouver.

In a whirlwind, I started my practicum a few days later, which meant jumping into two different counselling sites with new supervisors, new teams, new styles... I closed my office door often in those first few weeks, and tried to surf my overwhelm (and also, napped). 
From April - end of June, I breathed in school and community counselling on the daily and hustled to get my 500 practicum hours completed. I saw an average of 15-18 (!!!) clients a week, ran two counselling groups, and felt my brain get fuller, just as my heart and my Counsellor spine grew stronger.

On the last week of practicum in June, I had to end with all of those clients. Can you imagine? 10 weeks together, and then in one fell swoop. My best wishes to you, goodbye. It was a lot for me. I imagine it was a lot for each one of them too, to part ways with someone who has walked weekly with them for this time. When I say it was a lot for me, I mean to meaningfully process 18 endings one after another -- with integrity, with honesty, with intimacy-- I don't know about you, but I'm not doing that a lot in my own life. I can get skittish around real life goodbyes, throw out a cheerful Hey! We'll see you soon, thanks a mill, then run away unscathed. It's a heart protector thing.

But this was different because I was holding space and helping each person sit in the discomfort (and sometimes awkwardness) of our ending, making eye contact and saying my truths

This is how you impacted me, 
I have seen this growth in you, 
I notice I have tears in my eyes,
What is it like to hear me say that,
What is our ending like for you,
You have mattered to me.

I still get goosebumps when I think about those endings, especially the ones where we both were vulnerable and said the truth in our heart, rather than shrugging or laughing off the ending. This transparency (which is scary, by the way) has taught me how clean and good an ending can be. That despite the risk, you can tell a person what they meant to you, so that you can say goodbye without walking away with regrets that you held yourself back. 

I am so grateful for this time in my life.
I never knew that I would leave this program being a better person, not just a better counsellor.

What Else Did You Love?//  

♥ Our escapes. We tried to implement a getaway weekend once a month, money be damned, to remind ourselves that life is not just work and goals. I firmly believe that the Sunshine Coast in February, Bowen Island in April, and Saturna in May saved my sanity. We brought only books of fiction, and stared at many different bodies of water and perspectives of sky. 

♥ Loving our new space. To be clear, I was deeply not in love with it at first, because I had no energy to do my usual magic. We had too little furniture for the size of the apartment, and neither of us had hung any art, so it was bare beige walls for a long time. Paint fumes that somehow lasted 2 months. Spring was also super late this year, so there was no bounty for us in the backyard, just empty soil beds and dormant trees. It did not feel like home. So I really am overjoyed that in the past little while, we have put in the effort to make this house a home, and I LOVE it now, and cannot believe I almost said 'no thanks' to this place. The garden and how peaceful it is out there is BANANAS.

♥ After almost a year without, I got a new bike! She's a beauty, and I even have a secure place to store her at our new house, so may this one have safe harbour and help me go real fast, for a long time. 

♥ That moment when I finished my last bit of paperwork, submitted it to UBC, applied for graduation, and was told that my file had been closed and I was officially done. DONE. MY. MASTERS. I don't have words for this. I am so so so many things about this. 

♥ Hopping on a plane with School Wife 4 hours after our last practicum day (we don't waste any time!) to fly to LA and properly celebrate our achievement. As it turned out, she and I were some of the first ones to be finished our practicum requirements -- the rest of my comrades will be done a bit later, and I'm thinking of you!-- and it was such a blessing to share in this moment with her. She has been by my side, both of us taking turns commiserating and revelling in our journeys these past two years, that it was just so perfect to be eating huge brunches, spontaneously jumping into paddle boats at Echo Lake, and riding along the boardwalk from Venice to Santa Monica at sunset with her. 

♥ Making things with my hands. I felted that cute baby mobile above for a friend, and am gearing up to do another. I also recently did an indigo dying workshop with Lauren, and feel so much satisfaction hanging up my art work in my home.

♥ Spending $$$ on plants and things for the home

♥ Getting my first school counsellor interview, and getting hired! Rejoicing with husband that he also got a permanent teaching job for next year!  

Body is//

Such a good, sensitive reminder of everything. When moving to a new place, clinic ending and practicum beginning all fell in the span of a few days in April (worse timing possible), Skin chirped up as usual and delivered a mighty boom that was impossible to ignore. My face was so swollen and in pain, that there was nothing to do but to take a week off to heal. I was upset and felt sorry for myself for a bit, and then came to understand that this 'break' (as hard as it was), was something that was really needed. So on the teal couch I sat.
By the end of April, after I heeded its call and slowed down my expectations of myself, and reintroduced some self-love back to my world, body mellowed out and bounced back pretty quickly.

When I look back at how long these flares used to last me, I notice that while they haven't gone away entirely, I surrender now when it comes back. I say hello old friend, and because it feels more accepted in my house, it doesn't overstay its welcome any longer. 

Things I Ate That Were Good//

- I wanted to tell you that I am no longer obsessed with doughnuts, as there are no shops in close proximity to our new place. So it was a contextual, site specific love affair?
- I actually don't know what to say here. . .

- Neither of us had interest in cooking very often, so there were lots of chicken tenders from the freezer, or Annie's mac n' cheese for a few months

- BUT! With all my free time now, I care about cooking again so: our bbq steak tacos with chimichurri, my blueberry pie, Bryan's homemade dan dan mein with soba noodles

- Tacofino Commissary's fish taco / kale/squash taco on Taco Tuesdays

- the burger we had at Cafe Stella in LA, and the chicken parm sandwich at Little Dom's

5 Items in my Kitchen right now, on the weekly rotation//

- Lemons
- Strawberries
- Blueberries
- Samosas
- Greek Yoghurt


There is still so much to tell you. But that's for another day ;)

We are looking forward to summer school being over in 2 weeks so that I can have my husband back, from the clutches of a condensed curriculum. He is working so so hard. As soon as he is done, we are hopping in Ninja Turtle and have a three week camping trip down the coast to California planned.

Oh! And canoe camping next weekend, to solidify a tradition

And we turn 4 years old in our marriage tomorrow!

So many good, sweet, pure things.

My hope for you, as always, is that the world is feeding you and keeping your heart safe.

With all my love,

Your pen pal

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

2016 in Pictures

Holy moly.

2016 feels like it was a decade ago already. Here we are, firmly in the lap of 2017, and I haven't engaged in this reflective ritual of mine.  If you've been around for awhile, you know I've done some form of this annual post since I was a wee bitty undergraduate student, living at home.

I almost bypassed it entirely, but as I was nostalgically thumbing through (it's not thumbing, more like scrolling, but the former sounds so much more beautiful and reflective) my older entries where I've reviewed a whole year of being alive, I knew that one day I would regret it if there was a gap in this collection.

I do it for my future 80 year old self; I do it for my future 17 year old daughter.

So here we go. Late as always, but still: an account of what it was like to be a 32 year old woman, in her third year of marriage to a 37 year old man, in their seventh year of teaching, their third year back in the city, her first year in a Masters program.

(If this was a drinking game, you could take a sip for every number I have quoted in this entry. For those of us non-drinkers, perhaps a potato chip.)


Like in 2015, we started off the shiny new year on Saturna. This time, no pipes froze, we didn't bike onto the island, but it was still as full of trees and mouthfuls of quiet as it usually is. As someone who is fairly allergic to the festivities of NYE, my heart was delighted.

In January, I went through a pretty rough time without talking about it much to anyone. Essentially, I was trying to be an academic/professional/counsellor wonder woman who could still make roast chicken dinners mid-week, be light hearted and generally hilarious to everyone who had a conversation with me, and wash my hair regularly.


(I literally just gasped when I remembered that that was the semester I was taking THREE so-heavy-on-the-brain-and-heart counselling courses while fulfilling all the other roles in my life. I take one course right now -- which is LIGHT ON READING-- while doing my Clinic, and am so tired, so hair unwashed.)

To practice self-care, I started drawing and practicing calligraphy, which were things that were just for me. Not my clients, my professors, my husband, my friends, my pre-frontal cortex. 

I also started telling the truth to those who would listen, and it would be an understatement to say that choice shifted my life, that it continues to impact me in rippling waves of peace and care.

In February, the BFFs came down from the Yukon to visit. We met this precious child for the first time. We became backup legal guardians / godparents to Rowan, which explains why I am now a gushing, obnoxious person who can't just choose one picture to post of a baby, and had to put up all of them.

Evolution is so smart: you make 'em so cute, so that you have no choice but to protect them forever.

Spring came in the nick of time to save my sanity, and it was warm and colourful and full of opportunity. I continued to be obsessed with flowers in 2016. Please note: I was wearing short sleeve shirts around March (as I stare forlornly out the window at the 57th snowfall of the year, at the time of writing this to you.)

In April, after 9 (yes, 9) assignments were handed in over a span of a month, we celebrated in the best way we know how: a road trip. This time, a decadent long weekend in Portland, where cider, pie, burgers, ice cream and mac n' cheese hot dogs were our most favourite companions. Bry turned a year older, and got a whole library full of whiskey and tequila to celebrate.

We remarked afterwards that amongst all of the trips we have taken, in all these years of being together, it stands out for how happy we were, the whole time we were there. For me, sometimes the planning of a trip is better than the trip itself, but sunny Portland in the spring was just pure light.


We spent much of this season outdoors, continuing our 2015 mantra of adventures in nature. If I wasn't behind a book or a computer, I was staring at something green, or lying down on something scratchy. Bry had been working his butt off in a short term contract since January, so we needed oxygen and photosynthesis to augment our sedentary days. It was so warm and alive outside.


In May, we rented a canoe and took her on a weekend camping trip up Indian Arm. I will never forget how easy it was, how many jelly fish we saw, how dark chocolate tastes under a moon. It was a highlight for sure, and one that I hope we replicate as often as we can.

The school year came to an end, heralding summer, and we were flipping stoked. I swear, teachers have got to be more excited about the break than the student. I must have had a handful of 'celebration' dinners in quick succession; any reason at all to raise a glass, put on lipstick. It wasn't a free summer for me, since I was in school Monday - Thursday, but there's always time for the beach after studying!

In July, M & C and Rowan came to visit again, and this time he was twice as big. Cousin hosted us at their cabin at Buccaneer Bay, and it was sandy and briney and a respite from city living. We love our chosen and actual families.

August came, and summer school ended. (I really don't know what I'll do with myself when I get my summers back this year. What do you meaaaaaaan I will get to do what I want M-F, with no one to answer to, no books to crack open?) I got to choose my birthday trip getaway, so to Ucluelet we went! With stops in Tofino and Victoria, and so much rain and water all around us, it was the calming celebration I was looking for. That, and surfing ruled.

I turned 32 with friends and laughter and dancing, bidding adieu to 31 and a full summer.


Fall began, rather abruptly, and we were in the professional saddle. I started my second (and hopefully last) year in the Masters program, and also started Clinic. This meant I was seeing real client for the first time in this capacity, and it was nerve-wracking and everything I had hoped it would be. Counselling, in the flesh, was and is so humbling.

Another trend of this year. All the amazing baby friends my life :

And this baby, too. 2016 felt like a really solid year for our marriage. 

We ended our year with a trip out east to Montreal over the Christmas break. I think all we did was eat and sleep for three days . . .

. . . Before driving across the border into Vermont, to visit our family on their beautiful farm. We had a sweet Christmas with the excitement of two little ones under foot, and lots of cuddles.

We rang in the new year by going to bed by 11pm after watching TV, and called it a truly lovely year.

2016: thanks for your challenges and your grace.

I'll tell you more about how 2017 is going soon.

A look back at : 2015/  2014 2013 2012