Friday, 6 February 2015

The Birth Story Part II

The Waiting Game.
Gwyn held my hand firmly as she prepared for the next wave of contractions. I could feel her grip increase every time she sunk her face into the sofa and grimaced in pain. I felt helpless being unable to take any of the pain off her. All I could do was to be by her side and measure her contractions whenever they started. By now, she was feeling contractions twelve minutes apart and for around sixty seconds each time. These were early signs of labor and we realised that the wait had just begun.

It was now 1pm. Kristin had just arrived at our door step.

"How is everyone doing?" she greeted us with a smile.

Kristin must have seen these situations happen too often. She looked calm and collected. On the other hand, I was entirely green and quietly panicking under my skin about what was to come next. 

We explained the situation to her. The contractions were now consistent. We got into a routine of timing them like clockwork. The intervals between each set of contractions remained roughly the same at twelve minutes apart for a long while, although from Gwyn's expression, the pain seemed to increase more and more each time.

"Let's have a look." said Kristin as we made our way to the bedroom.

She requested for an old towel to be spread on our mattress and then asked Gwyn to lie down. I stood by at the side and watched on attentively. Reaching into her black nurse bag, she grabbed a pair of medical gloves and promptly put them on.

"This may hurt a little." she warned before proceeding with the inspection.

Almost immediately, Gwyn yelled and her body crouched together instinctively. I stood still, rooted to the ground and was in shock. It was clear that she was in great pain and yet there was nothing I could do. Again, I felt helpless and could only offer words of encouragement. I have always considered Gwyn's threshold for pain to be quite high. For her to react the way she did, it must have been intolerable.

"You are about 2cm dilated." stated Kristin.

"What?!? Only 2cm?" was our initial response. We were somewhat expecting a lot more because of the amount of pain Gwyn was in.

"Do you want to stay home first or do you prefer to go to the delivery unit now?" she asked.

We had devised a birth plan and the idea was to stay home for as long as we can before going to the delivery unit. We wanted to stay relaxed during the build up and home was the perfect environment to do so.

Guessing that it could take a while before dilating fully, we decided to stay put. There was ample time for Gwyn to take a shower and Mum to prepare curry chicken for dinner. Kristin went home to rest and prepare for the night ahead. I started packing the hospital bag.

Over the next few hours, the contractions would continue steadily with the intervals between each set gradually reducing. At about 5pm, we sat around the dining table for an early dinner.

"Eat more." Mum told Gwyn. "You'll need the energy."

Friday, 30 January 2015

The Birth Story Part I

The Early Signs.
It was Tuesday, January 14th, 7am. I had just woken up after snoozing thrice. Rubbing my eyes, I dragged my feet across the hall way to the bathroom and back. I put on my suit and lugged on a new pair of socks. It seemed like a typical work day morning until Gwyn sat next to me on our bed and said:"There was some blood."

My eyes suddenly lit up. She wasn't due for another five days, but we always knew that it could happen anytime near the due date. Was this going to be the day she goes into labour?

I asked her if she felt any contractions. "Some slight ones but could be nothing." she replied.

"Should I stay home today and not go to work then?" I wondered.

It sounds like a silly question but both of us didn't know the answer then. After a long silent pause, she decided:"I think you should carry on and go to work because it could be nothing. And, even if it is something, there will be enough time for you to come home. Remember they were sharing during antenatal class, it doesn't happen straight away."

With that, I left for work feeling nervous. Subconsiously, my gut was telling me that this could be the day. I arrived at the office, went straight to my boss and told him about what had happened in the morning. I was pre-empting my colleagues at work because when Gwyn does go into labour, I would be dropping everything right away and be gone for the next two weeks.

The morning felt really slow as I struggled to concentrate on the office tasks on hand. I was constantly texting and checking on her. She had gone for a walk to the village cafe with Mum and the dogs. They were having breakfast and everything seemed alright. It was at 11am when things started to change. "I think you better come back now." read her text.

We live about forty five minutes drive away from the office but I got home in slightly over half an hour. When I entered the living room, I saw her standing up and leaning forward against the back of our sofa. Her right hand was on her tummy and she looked like she was in pain. "Are you alright? Have you called Kristin?" I asked.

Kristin was our midwife and lead maternity caregiver. She had been visiting us regularly since Gwyn became pregnant. She was in her late fifties and had a very sociable and gentle personality. We chose her as our midwife because we got along well and shared very similar views on labour. She was also a very experienced midwife, having done it for more than thirty years.

It wasn't long ago that we last met her. In fact, we had only just saw her on Sunday at the Lavender farm in Otaki. "See you soon." when we bade farewell at the farm now seems all the more ironic.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Baby Bibs

Look at what we found in our mail the other day.

Gorgeous hand made bibs from Juju's Patch

Auntie Juliana from Gisborne had hand sewn them specially for Kate. Juliana has a real knack for sewing and recently started Juju's Patch, which specialises in hand made items from different sorts of gorgeous fabric. The thing about hand made stuff is that everything will be unique and there is no two alike, just like Kate. :)   

She likes it.

Bibs. They are absolute must haves for new parents. Especially when baby reaches about 4 months old and starts to grow teeth. Along with teething comes drooling, lots of drooling.

While we could get away with using facial wipes during the first 3 months, it was more practical and economical to use bibs after that. On a long day out, we would bring along at least 4 bibs to last the day. At home, we have bibs strategically stationed around the house to facilitate a quick change.

To help you, we've compiled a list of items to look out for when shopping for a bib for baby.

1. Soft Material
Because you're wiping baby's face all the time and you want it to be as smooth an experience as possible. The very same rationale why we go for 3 ply tissues over 1 ply sandpaper.

Soft and smooth.

2. Look Good Or Cute
The bibs should really look good or cute because the reality is that they will be covering most of what baby is wearing. When baby looks good, mummy and daddy feel good too.

Lookin good.

3. The One That Holds It Altogether
The connector that most bibs come with are either a strip of velcro, a pair of pinned buttons or a piece of string. Our order of preference would be velcro followed by pinned buttons and then strings. In fact, we would avoid the ones with strings completely because seriously, have you ever tried tying a knot with one hand?

The "couldn't agree more" look.

4. And Finally Try To Set Them Up Nice.
Unless, baby sees the lighter side of things.

She's havin a laugh.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Wellington Open Day

Wellington Open Day is back and entry to participating attractions in Wellington was just a gold coin. That's one or two dollars!

The Open Day is such a great idea because it gives everyone the opportunity to visit the different places of attraction around town, without having to worry too much about cost.

This year, there was quite an extensive list of places that we could choose from. We could have taken the scenic cable car ride or explore one of the many museums in Wellington. We could have gone to the Carter Observatory to gaze at the stars or hike along Zealandia to the sights and sounds of the protected wildlife sanctuary.

We were spoilt for choice but our final decision was easy and unanimous. "We're goin to the zoo, zoo, zoo..."

Wellington Zoo is very different from the Singapore Zoo. Area wise, it felt a lot smaller, although the animal displays were by no means any less impressive. It was just a pity that the weather was far from being the best. Wellington has been hit by strong winds of 140km/h throughout the weekend. That kept some of the animals away from their usual parading grounds.

Kate was very well behaved on her first field trip to the zoo. She must have been wondering where we were because she had that curious look on her face the moment we got there, constantly looking around. I don't think she has ever seen so many people in Wellington at the same place and time.

Trying to spot the Sun Bear

Up close and personal

"The only red thing is me!"

We also dropped by Matchbox Studios along Cuba Street to support Shufen, who was participating in ten minute potrait sessions. To draw a potrait of a stranger in ten minutes certainly requires a lot of talent and skill. She has definitely got both and you can view more of her work here.

We thought about a family potrait but ten minutes of posing(not moving) and an awake Kate didn't really match up. Maybe, next time.

On another note, we reckon Kate may have taken a liking for art too, judging from the smiles that we got from her as we walked through the exhibition. What do you think?

Sunday, 23 June 2013

SG2NZ Chapter 3: The Job Hunt

In this chapter, we continue to share our experience of making the move from Singapore to New Zealand. Having settled our accommodation for the first six weeks before arriving in New Zealand, securing a job was the next priority. We knew that the longer we went without income, the tougher it would be for us to settle down. Despite the harsh and pressing reality, we were also aware that it was important we remained calm and patient.

The Strategy
Start early. The plan was to begin applying for jobs even before arriving in New Zealand. Seek and Trademe were the two primary job sites that we found most effective - lots of listings and regular updates. We also did some research and came up with a list of possible Wellington based companies that could become our potential employers and applied directly via their career/job portal. Because we were applying from offshore, response was lukewarm and it was understandably so. After all, realistically, most employers would prefer their potential candidates to be available for face to face interviews. Hence, we found it useful confirming an expected arrival date in New Zealand and including that in our applications.

Two weeks before leaving Singapore, I had a couple of phone interviews with different organisations, both job recruitment firms and the company employing. In the last week, I scheduled at least five catch ups with various job recruiting firms in Wellington. When we finally got to Wellington, my first week was already packed with meet ups with recruiters and interviews with various organisations.

The Interview
I went through a fair bit of interviews during the first two weeks and I must say that the interview experience is very different compared to Singapore. With the two organisations I was speaking to in the first week, the first round of interview was done at a cafe, over a cup of coffee. It was relaxed yet formal. It wasn't just about work. We were talking about sports, difference in cultures and how I'll experience four seasons in a day in Wellington. Back in Singapore, interviews were likely to be more formal, less chat more serious. I was pleasantly surprised with how interviews were generally conducted here. It was then that I realised I got my first hint of work life balance.

When it did get serious, it got serious. For one organisation, I had to take a practical technical test over the weekend and present my results the following Monday. For the other, I was put through a really tough session with senior management. With some talent and more divine intervention, I had two job offers by the end of week two. It was surreal. There could have been more interviews set up with different organisations, but by then I already had my heart set on one.

Gwyn's job hunt experience began after six months of rest. Coming from a fashion background, it was always going to be challenging looking for a similar role in Wellington. Luxury fashion brands are just non-existent here. If there is one thing that we learnt from her experience, it was the importance to re-invent yourself to fit the climate you're in. While there are no opportunities in fashion/branding, there are transferable skills that can be ported over into other fields. Twelve months down the road, Gwyn has done very well to re-invent herself to be in the public sector. From fashion to government, now that's two opposite ends of the spectrum.

In a nutshell, the job search in a new country can be daunting and straining at times, but it's really important to stay calm and patient. Starting early is always a good idea and being adaptable is another virtue. Have faith, be humble, believe in yourself and you could go further than you think you could. For anyone thinking of making a similar move to New Zealand, we hope you can gain something out from our experience. Best of luck in that job hunt!

For more Singaporean Guide on Moving to NZ (SG2NZ), click here

Thursday, 6 June 2013

SG2NZ Chapter 2: Having Faith and Roof Over Head

Once we got our sparkling blue stickers in the mail, we sold the car, quit our jobs, packed our bags and moved to New Zealand, arriving at Wellington airport with just a backpack, suitcase and bicycle each. It was a bold move but we didn't really give much thought to it. We just knew that we should at least give it a shot. Like the old saying, never try never know. Besides, if things don't work out, we'll just come home.

It was not all spontaneous though as we still did arrive with a plan of some sort. Our focus from the get go was always about settling our accommodation and securing a job.

Having friends in Wellington was a good start. We were fortunate to have known some friends who were already based in Wellington and they gladly offered to take us in when we first arrived. For the first two weeks, we bunked in their living room while slowly finding our feet on New Zealand soil.

Prior to leaving Singapore, we had contacted two hosts from Helpx. Helpx, also known as Help Exchange, is an online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farm stays, home stays, ranches, lodges, Bed & Breakfasts, backpackers hostels who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation. On average, 3-4 hours work is expected and exact working hours are flexible depending on hosts. For instance, we could work in the morning on some days or afternoon on others. This arrangement was ideal for us as it allowed us to schedule interviews during our job hunt, while working for food and accommodation. We planned two weeks each with Moana Lodge, a backpacker hostel, and a home stay with wonderful hosts, now good friends and dim sum buddies, Niels and Janette.

In our opinion, Helpx is a really good way to start for anyone new to the country. It's a great and effective way to know more people, especially locals, build relationships and gain valuable experience about living in New Zealand. We have made so many friends, many of which we still keep close contact with and learned so much from our stays.  By working for your food and accommodation, it is also a good way to manage your checkbooks. How we started, we had secured six weeks of accommodation without taking too much out from our kitty.

With so much uncertainty, we were living in the moment, day by day, one step at a time. Faith played an important role for us as well. I remember visiting church often and keeping our faith with constant prayers. Keeping a positive mindset was also extremely important.

Any plans made were short term and things were always changing. I remember how close we were twice to committing to rent, only for better options to arise at both times. The first was when Moana Lodge offered us to stay on for another 6 weeks to help run the place while the owner had to go away for a knee operation. The other time was when Janette recommended us to her neighbors who were going away to Europe for four months, to help them look after their property while they were away. One thing led to another and we ended up house sitting for Robin and Russell in their lovely home for four months. They even left us both their cars to use. Up to this day, we count our blessings and are still amazed by how things have worked out. Surely there was divine intervention.

In a nutshell, adopting an open and positive mindset is certainly crucial when you first arrive in a new country. Things may not always go according to plan and you must always be ready to make changes. Staying with friends, volunteering with Helpx and house sitting arrangements are great ways to secure accommodation. We're not saying that it will definitely work for you, but it did for us and who knows, it might for you too.

For Chapter 3: The Job Hunt , click here

For more Singaporean Guide on Moving to NZ (SG2NZ), click here

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

SG2NZ Chapter 1: Our Journey to New Zealand

Time flies and in a blink of an eye, it's been more than a year since we moved to New Zealand. In the past year, we've been asked on numerous occasions how the relocation process was like. So, I thought it might be a good idea to share our journey and for anyone out there thinking of a similar move, this might be worth reading.
It all started in 2010 when there was a campaign run by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) attracting Singaporeans to work and live in New Zealand. We were always fascinated with the idea of working and living abroad, ever since we spent a good three months away from home in Australia together. From the campaign, New Zealand promised a better work and life balance and we just thought why not? Still, migration was a big move and we haven't been to New Zealand before, so we were very keen to experience the culture ourselves before making any decision. We booked flights for a holiday in New Zealand, spent two weeks exploring and embracing the culture and absorbing every minute of our time there. It was all good.

Sunset in Spring
Prior to our New Zealand holiday, we attended a seminar run by an independent immigration agency held in Singapore. We managed to speak with an immigration consultant to figure out our options. Because of what I do, we concluded that the best approach for us moving forward was to apply via the Skilled Migrant Category with me as the primary applicant, as my occupation was on the Long Term Skill Shortage List (LTSSL).

From then on, we were presented with two options. Option A - Apply through an immigration agent who will charge you a five figure fee but handle all your paper work and prepare you for the interview process (more about this later in the entry). Or Option B - Apply directly on the INZ website, paying only the compulsory application fees but handle all our paper work and prepare for the interview by ourselves. Being the adventurous (cheapskate or practical) us, we decided on the latter. And so it began.

Summer Stand Up Paddle Boarding
The Expression of Interest (EOI), is an online application form that processes your application against a set of criteria like your education, age, character, work experiences, language spoken etc, and scores it against a points systems. The minimum score required for an EOI to be placed into a pool for consideration is 100. Every fortnight, a predetermined number of EOI are picked from the order of highest score. Unpicked EOI remain in the pool for up to three months before being removed. Our score of 130 was selected within two weeks. We were now invited to apply for New Zealand Residency under the skilled migrants scheme.

The Invitation to Apply (ITA), is a set of application forms sent to you from an INZ office. Our ITA was processed by the Bangkok office. Unlike the EOI which can be completed online, the ITA required us to send over copies of a list of supporting documents to validate the information we provided in our EOI. We had to provide our passports, education and marriage certificates, as well as employment letters, phone and utility bills. I also remember us making countless trips to the lawyer's office to get our documents stamped, going to the Police headquarters at Cantonment Complex to get proof of us being good citizens and undergoing a full medical check up including X-rays and blood tests. We were given 3 months to gather all the required documents. Our advice will be to start early and not leave things to the last minute. Certain steps like the health checks and police certificate will require processing time.

Autumn Evening

After submitting our ITA in February 2011, we were at the stage we call the waiting game. A Case Officer (CO) will now be assigned to process our application. From now on, he/she will be the main point of contact for all matters related to our application. The CO will go through all the supporting documents and decide if we are who we say we are. This might include reference checks with any previous schools or companies included in our application. Our application from this point in time was taken over by the Shanghai branch. We call it the waiting game because there is a wide variation of known processing times before the next stage, also the final stage - the interview. We've known cases whereby applications have been processed for over a year, while others took only about 6 months. Ours took 7 months. Our interview was scheduled for September 2011.

There are three outcomes from this final interview stage. Outcome A - New Zealand Residence visa issued. Outcome B - Work to Residence (WTR) visa issued. Outcome C - Application for residence rejected. C is rare, A is less common and B is the more likely outcome, especially for applicants who do not have an offer of employment in New Zealand.  The difference between NZ residence visa and the WTR visa is that the WTR comes with a 1 year validity period. The 1 year period is for the applicant to arrive and land a job. Once he/she has successfully done so, he/she can then apply for NZ residence. Else, the WTR will expire and the applicant will have to undergo the entire application process again.

Ohakune, Winter 2012
Preparing for the interview is probably where an immigration agent earns most of his paycheck. While there is not much added value getting through all the paper work, tips for the interview can go a long way. Thanks to the internet, we managed to get very good tips from the good people at ENZ forum, people who have gone through a similar process before. The waiting period for our results were nerve wrecking times. Two months after our interview, we got our results. I remember my heart skipping a beat when I received the notification on my email. Accessing it from my mobile phone and scrolling to the section of the document on the tiny screen were the longest seconds I've ever known. When I finally got there, it read Approved in Principle. My eyes lit up, there was glee and a spring formed in my step. Yes, we did it! We have been issued New Zealand residency. It was the best possible outcome.

The final step was to mail our physical passports to INZ  and have our visas stamped. All in all, from the time we submitted our EOI to the time we received our residence visas, it took almost fourteen months.

We had a year's grace to arrive in New Zealand from the moment our visas were issued and kick start our new life adventure. With the sparkling blue stickers now on our passports, it certainly didn't take us long to decide to uproot and take the leap of faith onto New Zealand shores.

Sunset during Winter
For Chapter 2: Having Faith and Roof Over Head , click here

For more Singaporean Guide on Moving to NZ (SG2NZ), click here