In the beginning of February, Michal and I found out we were expecting again.
We had just arrived from our long travels through the major cities, beaches and rain forest areas of Malaysia (a country recently added to the CDC’s Zika list). Our first child Sophia had just turned nine months old, and we had just started sleep training her as well as supplementing my breastfeeding with formula. (I didn’t realize the recent decrease in milk production was an early sign of pregnancy.)
In our first sonogram, the technician showed us twins.
Neither Michal nor I have twins or multiples in our families. We were already surprised about the second pregnancy so soon after having Sophia in the midst of our expat lifestyle, so we were really shocked to see those two babies on the screen. What a miracle and another reminder of the theme of our blog here in Seoul – that there is only so much we can control.
After we found out about the pregnancy and recounted our recent vacation to my obstetrician, the entire family underwent Zika testing. After a couple weeks of information gathering and processing, (thankfully) all tests came out negative.
However, my OB at the time expressed initial concerns with the first sonogram as one baby seemed to be larger than the other. And then at a later appointment and sonogram, the second baby had no heartbeat. We held out hope, praying with close friends and family for the life of both babies.
Eventually, I miscarried the second baby at the end of my first trimester. The medical conclusion was Vanishing Twin Syndrome, more common among women over 30.
I felt a strange juxtaposition of sadness, relief and guilt. To have lost one baby that was a part of me, but to see the other one is healthy and growing, unaffected. To be in awe of the gift of two babies. But to also be overwhelmed with the future of caring for three babies under two years old, all while living abroad away from close friends and family. And then to feel guilt at being relieved of now only having to manage two babies under two years old.
Letting Sophia run free.
Sophia leads the way.
Trying hard to keep up!
If I’m being completely honest, I feel even more guilt and heartache with knowing many who currently struggle with infertility and/or have experienced pregnancy loss at a later stage.
Now, in the thick of second trimester, I still waver between these moments of grief and joy as we tell more people we are expecting and I stop myself from saying “two babies” like I said earlier. We are excited in anticipation of our next addition to our family, but also want to always remember the one we lost, who we have named Enoch.
Enoch “walked with God; then he was no more; because God took him.” (Genesis 5:21-24)
Sophia’s birthday is an easy one to remember – for multiple reasons.
May 5 is Children’s Day, a national holiday in Korea that everyone gets off of work and school in order to (fittingly) spend quality time with our children. May 5 is also Cinco de Mayo – a celebration of Mexican culture that also happens to be an unofficial drinking holiday in the States (making for an easy theme for her 21st birthday party). Moreover, May 5 is etched into our memory as the day our marriage/relationship forever changed with the addition of our first child to our family.
Finding the best way to celebrate the big day was a bit tricky. We knew we would be going on vacation because there were three other national holidays during her birthday week that made it very easy to travel. However, we also wanted to have a special party with friends just for her.
Of course, we ended up doing it all over the span of a couple weeks, which then stretched over Mother’s Day and Michal’s birthday. Just so many reasons to par-tay in the Filipowski household during the month of May!
Familiar faces in new places: Our holiday in China
We’ve had Shanghai on our “To-Visit” list for a while as we have family friends and friends from undergrad who have been living as expats there for the past few years. Our family friends from Michigan have a 12-year-old and 3-year-old, and our fellow MSU friends have a 2-year-old – all willing, energetic companions for Sophia. Not to mention, Michal has a friend from high school who recently began working at Shanghai Disneyland. Plus, it’s a short flight from Seoul (about one and half hours) – perfect for Sophia now that she is a full-fledged walker who does not like to be held down.
In addition to Shanghai, we traveled to nearby Suzhou (half-hour speed train away) and Hangzhou (one-hour speed train away). Suzhou is like the “Venice of China” with all its canals – We even did a gondola ride with Sophia! – and it has serene classical gardens with much fewer crowds in contrast to Shanghai. The gems of Hangzhou also involve water as the Xixi wetlands (comparable to the Florida Everglades) and – most famously -the West Lake scenic areas are the main tourist attractions.
Although it was much harder for us to get around China than Korea (fewer family accommodations like nursing rooms, diaper-changing rooms, elevators, etc. as well as much less English than we’re used to seeing in Seoul and the inconvenient blockage of Google, Facebook, Instagram, etc.), we were grateful to have the ability to reconnect with our close friends from back home in a new environment and for Sophia to meet them too!
One is the most fun: Traditional first birthday party in Korea
Once everyone in Seoul was back from their holidays, we couldn’t resist throwing her a Korean-style first birthday. The weekend after getting back from our travels, we invited friends and their babies to join us.
Sophia donned the traditional hanbok dress and participated in the doljabi ceremony of predicting her future career path. She was initially distracted by someone’s iPhone. She – eventually – picked a thermometer to represent a career in medicine. But she also played a lot with the rosary/cross, which we interpreted that she would toy with the religious path as a nun.
Multiple milestones at 12 months
Sophia sprouted two more teeth! She has one upper tooth and two lower ones.
She tried cow’s milk for the first time and started eating egg white (mixed in scrambled eggs). Thank God for no allergic reactions! She is also experimenting with using utensils, having picked up spoon and fork on her own.
She learned how to climb with efficiency as our family friends had five flights of stairs for her to practice this new skill. She climbs the playground slide stairs over and over again now that we’re back home.
She prefers to walk instead of stay in a stroller or carrier, although she isn’t very fast yet and gets easily distracted along the path.
She talks in her own language – I’m guessing it’s a blend of what she hears (English, Korean, Polish), along with some baby talk. She has a steady stream of chatter that seems to mimick the cadence and flow of sentences and she looks at us like we should know what she is saying and could respond.
She has a undergone a sleep regression. 😦 She did pretty well through our travels despite sleeping in new places and napping on the go, as she didn’t wake up through the night. But now a week out from her true birthday, she’s started to wake during the night – maybe once or twice – and has been fighting her nap times.
Time capsule tributes
In looking back at the past year, I opened a little “time capsule” I stored away electronically via Google docs of her birth story. I was just reflecting on it with a group of friends from back home in Michigan. If you’re interested in reading the details about the most thrilling and joyful moment of lives, click on thislink. Cliff notes version: Sophia was a natural birth, lasting a total of about five hours from the time I was admitted at 4 cm dilated to the time of delivery. It wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our doula, midwife, OB and Michal!
We’ve also kept up with a scrapbook this past year that close friends from the Detroit and Chicago areas created for Sophia. It was an incredible collaboration as each page/section had a different theme for each stage (e.g. first holidays, baptism, bath time, travel) and all Michal and I had to do was print out photos and stick them in the appropriate spots, along with record any thoughts and special dates. If interested in seeing how the scrapbook turned out, click on thislink.
Birthday wishes for our sweet Sophia
The past year has been one of trials and triumphs for Sophia, for our marriage and for us as a family unit, especially while living away from family and friends as new parents and expats in Seoul. Our little one is growing up faster than we realize. We are truly in awe of what surprises come each day with her, and we (try to) embrace the unpredictable. Here’s to you, Sophia, for making our lives more challenging yet more fulfilling. Wishing you health and happiness in the years to come!