HELLO ALIVIA

Hello Alivia

My pregnancy was what some call a “unicorn” one. My morning sickness was brief, I had few food aversions (cilantro was off limits for a month, the same month I craved tomato and egg noodle soup for every meal) and generally my energy levels were good, although Stephen may disagree. I swelled, but mostly as expected in the third trimester. And although I had the best intentions of gaining only the minimum amount of weight (ha.), the scale climbed by a pound or two weekly seemingly regardless of my diet.

My pregnant belly measured average at each OB appointment and I had no reason to think labour and delivery would be anything but textbook.

I’ve always been cavalier about my health because I’ve been extremely lucky. I often joke with Stephen that my iron stomach and average immune system are my best selling points. So although the possibility of giving birth before 40 weeks went through my mind, I didn’t think the probability high. An unplanned C Section didn’t even cross my mind.

I left lots of life to-dos to weeks 38 and 39 of my pregnancy, crossing my fingers that Alivia would be paitient.

Friday was my last day of work. Saturday and Sunday were spent packing the condo for our move on Monday, the morning of which I promptly fell ill. I proceeded to pass out on various pieces of furniture as they travelled across the city. Stephen handled everything and I slept for almost 24 hours. 

I woke up feeling healthy on Tuesday and we headed to a growth ultrasound. My OB was worried Alivia was tracking big for my small frame to deliver, but she was away that week so I had an appointment with another doctor on Thursday to review the results. The ultrasound showed Alivia was actually on the small side, under the 21st percentile, but I was told there was nothing to worry about since I had a small frame. After our appointment it was Stephen’s turn to be sick. I spent that week trying my best to keep him hydrated while he rested in our unfinished house, a challenging task without a working kitchen at 39 weeks pregnant. To isolate him, I stayed in the living room.

Going in for my week 39 check up 2 days before my due date, we found out the ultrasound showed Alivia had asymmetrical IUGR. My placenta was failing and she was eating into the fat stores in her liver. I had a hard time processing the news. Maybe the ultrasound was wrong? Maybe it showed her stomach measuring small because I spent Monday sleeping and didn’t eat anything. Maybe it was because I was sick.

I was going to be induced that weekend. I was still in disbelief.

We arrived at the hospital on Sunday morning with over packed hospital bags and two pillows. The hospital was on lock down, the reason for which we would find out 3 days later was much more serious than we assumed. What it meant at that moment though was that I would only have one support person and my mom needed to leave immediately. A hiccup I wasn’t prepared for, but we didn’t have a choice and it was procedure.

11am, I was hooked up to the fetal heart rate monitor and started on Picotin to induce labour. I didn’t realize that from this point on I was bedridden, that I wouldn’t be able to flip sides without the help of a nurse to re-position the monitors and would have to wheel my IV stand into the washroom with me. The hospital bed was not comfortable. By that evening, I had dilated 3cm with the help of a foley balloon and contractions were still mild. I slept.

3am, I was at 4–5cm and my OB said it was time to break my water. The contractions intensified instantly and became back to back. I was lucky. The anetheologist was already on the floor and I could get my epidural within 20 minutes.

5am, I’d made it to 8cm dilated but Alivia’s heartbeat kept dropping. I was losing more blood than the nurses expected. My urine bag was a muddy red. It seemed like Alivia’s head was tilted, not in a position for delivery. I was turned to my left side and a peanut shaped exercise ball was placed between my knees in an effort to help her turn. I had even less mobility.

6am, I couldn’t sleep, the urge to push and the pressure inside cut through the epidural. The nurses gave me a button to up the pain medication. It helped.

9am, there was a shift change and my OB was no longer on call. The new doctor came to introduce herself and checked my cervix. To her, I was only at 6cm. I didn’t know you could go backwards.

10am, we were told a C Section was recommended as my labour was failing to progress and it would be best for Alivia to stop trying for a vaginal delivery. At most, I could give my body another hour but she didn’t recomment it.

I was devastated.

I had been prepared for a lengthy labour and a lot of pain. I was prepared to grit my teeth, scream, tear and poop. I was not prepared to stop before the pushing even began.

How Alivia joined us was as unplanned as her conception was. For those that know me, that know about my life plan Excel sheet, know how much added stress the unexpected nature of her delivery was to my recovery. Not because it was a C section, but because I felt utterly out of control. Quite suddenly, my by the book pregnancy had been taken out of my hands.

I felt like I was failing motherhood from the get go.

In her last week residing within me, Alivia should have gained 1 lb. At birth, she was only 2oz heavier than the estimate at my week 38 ultrasound. Of course those estimates can be off by a mile, but my emotions did not care for logic at the time.

Did I not exercise enough during my pregnancy? Was it because I skipped my iron supplement too many times? The mom guilt was real and would take quite a few tears and lots of reassurance from Stephen to overcome.

All this and we hadn’t even started breastfeeding yet.

Ultimately, Alivia arrived at 2pm after 26 hours of labour and an unplanned C section. In that moment it didn’t matter how I felt, I would reconcile those emotions in weeks to come, what mattered was that she arrived healthy, pink, bloody, screaming and peed through 7 blankets as the nurses weighed her.

Hello AliviaHello Alivia

VENICE – THE FOOD

Venice – The Food

Venice was one city where I wasn’t too concerned about food since our plan for the day was to wander. I had researched a few spots but for the most part was content to wing it as I didn’t know where our wandering would take us by dinner time. The one meal I had planned was lunch at Dal Moro’s, which didn’t even work out because they were closed that day. Oops.

Lunch ended up being near St. Mark’s square, which wasn’t terrible, but wasn’t very good either. It was a 3 course set menu at one of the many restaurants with an English menu outside, which should’ve been our first sign to keep walking, but we were hungry. I tried the seafood pasta while Stephen opted for some fried seafood. Neither was memorable enough for me to even make note of the restaurant name. In the same neighbourhood, many of the restaurants had displays of fresh seafood to entice diners.

Around mid-afternoon we found a grocery store and picked up fresh buns and prosciutto for under €5, making two very filling sandwiches. We ended the night at a cozy restaurant near our Airbnb that had a great beer selection.

Dal Moro’s: The famed pasta in a cup restaurant, recently opened in Toronto. Pick a fresh pasta and sauce, served in a convenient to go container for €5-€7.

Bigoi: The pasta in a cup restaurant we went to because Dal Moro’s was closed. We both enjoyed the al dente pasta and rich sauces. Each bowl was topped with a generous spoonful of parmesan. The sauces were helpfully labeled in English and with pictures (pig, cow, duck, etc.). Great price and pretty tasty. Their specialty is the cuttlefish in Black Venetian sauce. There was no seating but a small standing counter.

Stickhouse Venezia: Gelato on a stick and gourmet popsicles with multiple locations in Venice. Also offered a variety of lactose free desserts with soy gelatos and sorbets. Once you pick your popsicle, you can have it dipped in chocolate and coated with crushed nuts.

Acqua e Mais: Deep fried seafood in a cone, made fresh to order with a good variety. My cone had shrimp, fish and calamari for around €5. There is also a cone of just squid. The seafood was fresh and the batter very light.

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VENICE – THE VIEWS

Venice – The Views

As I planned our Italy trip, I debated between Milan and Venice. After Rome, the two cities diverged in opposite directions and as is we would only have a day to spend wherever we went. Ultimately Venice won out as Milan was more about shopping and our entire trip was more about sightseeing (which also meant I had to get my shopping done in Rome).

Arriving
We caught the 6:50am train departing Rome to arrive in Venice 3 and a half hours later. This gave us enough time to check into our Airbnb and eat lunch in the city. Just outside the train station was the main Vaporetto (water taxi) station. The route maps were easy to understand and we made it to our destination without difficulties. Once we started walking though, it turned out that Google Maps and the actual street signs in Venice didn’t match up for the specific street we were looking for. Stephen and I circled the same two blocks a few times before our host greeted us from a window above. Without that, we probably would’ve never found the apartment.
Tip: Since we were only staying for a day and planned to walk most of the time, we only bought water taxi tickets to get us to and from our Airbnb. Although in hindsight, a 1 day pass would have been more useful and a better value. If you’re staying longer or staying off the island I’d recommend looking into their day passes.

Do you need to stay on the island?
Honestly, the answer’s a definite no. I wanted to stay on the island because I thought it would be romantic and I read about romantic evenings in St. Mark’s Square enjoying a glass of wine and listening to live music. Actually, we ate dinner close to our AirBnB and was in bed by early evening, worn out from the early start and the full day of walking. Maybe with an afternoon nap, we would’ve made it later into the night. Once the sunset, there were also not a lot of people around. This was our most expensive Airbnb the entire trip.
Tip: With easy transit to Mestre (just 30 minutes) late into the night, finding accomodations off island the island would be more economical and you’re really not missing much.

The Tourist Sites
My plan for Venice was just to wander. I had made note of the 3 main tourist attractions but had no real plan or course plotted. The entire island was gorgeous and filled with adorable shops and eateries. Pretty much every bridge, building, street was stunning.
Tip: On every corner, there were street signs on the buildings, which made the confusing city fairly easy to navigate. However, because of all the canals and bridges, getting from point A to B usually took lots of detours and there were no straight lines. Be sure to allocate more time if you’re on any kind of schedule.

We didn’t venture inside St. Mark’s Basilica or the Doge’s Palace but enjoyed taking in the sights walking through St. Mark’s Square. Do not eat near the area though, most restaurants were tourist traps with overpriced and mediocre food. We thought we had ventured away far enough however with the winding streets, actually ended up at a restaurant just around the corner. I really liked walking through Rialto Market and we strolled across the famous Rialto Bridge although it was under construction. By this point in our trip, I was content with all the historic sites we saw in Rome and Naples that I was ok with spending our time exploring the shops and streets of Venice versus touring buildings. Every corner and building was picturesque.
Tip: There were lots of signs leading to paid public washrooms, although the signs start far away from the actual washroom. We followed them for at least 10 minutes before getting to the facilities. Be sure to have some change on you.

To Gondola or not to Gondola
Heading into the trip, I was very much on the fence about taking a gondola ride, on one hand it seemed really expensive and I’d rather spend the budget on a meal, on the other it would likely be a once in a lifetime experience (I don’t foresee us returning to Venice in the near future). While walking by the main gondola stops at lunch, the boats were filled with tourists and the whole deal seemed too crowded and forced. I did not feel like I was missing out and was willing to see if I changed my mind later in the afternoon.

As luck would have it, on our way out of the grocery store with lunch ingredients (bread and so much prosciutto for under €5!), a French couple approached Stephen and I to share a gondola boat with them and a grandmother and granddaughter duo. We wouldn’t have had the courage to arrange to split a ride so this was incredibly lucky. The French lady had already arranged everything with a Gondolier to pick us up right where we were. There are gondola stops all over the city if you’d like to avoid crowds, just look for an empty boat as you’re wandering.

So we got our gondola ride at a reasonable price and we barely saw any other boats the entirety of our ride.
Tip: Find people to split the ride. Each gondola fits 6 people and is a set rate per boat by time (‎€80 for 40 minutes). The ride also gets more expensive in the evenings as most tourists want the sunset views. Split between 3 pairs of 2, the once in a lifetime experience becomes far more reasonable.

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ROME – PANTHEON & TREVI FOUNTAIN

Rome – Pantheon & Trevi Fountain

One aspect I loved about Rome was how we could see so many historic sites and plazas from just walking from one attraction to the next. Many historical sites were free of charge to visit and part of experiencing the city was wandering through the heart of it. After our morning at the Colosseum and a quick bite, Stephen and I set off for The Pantheon. Along the way, we stopped by shops, took lots of photos on cobblestoned streets and of course, ate a lot more gelato.

This was one of our afternoons where we had no set plans, just a list of landmarks we wanted to see in a geographical area and time to explore.

Tip: This area of Rome was super walkable and filled with shops, cafes and gelato! Washrooms however, were hard to find. Most cafes only allow customers to use the in-store facilities so gelato breaks were much welcomed.

Entrance to The Pantheon was free of charge and open to visitors from 9am to 5:30pm Monday to Saturday, closing earlier on Sundays. Street performers entertained crowds in the square just outside and there were a few horse drawn cart vendors. Like in any crowded tourist area, I would recommend carrying backups at the front and making sure any valuables are stored in zippered inside pockets.

Tip: If you’re using Google maps, scenic sites are marked with a camera icon. Stephen and I stopped by a few on our walk (like the Fontana delle Tartarughe and Palazzo Cipolla) and really enjoyed each one.

Our next stop was the Trevi Fountain, which was beautiful and definitely worth a stop. Even with the large crowd of tourists we were able to enjoy the view, throw in a coin and get close enough to feel the fountain splash. There was room around the fountain to sit and enjoy an afternoon snack. From here we headed towards the Spanish Steps (with a few shopping stops along the way). Unfortunately, the steps were under renovation and mostly fenced off.

Tip: The area near the Spanish steps is known for a plethora of high end designer boutiques, similar to Bloor St. and 5th Ave. We popped into Prada to browse and Salvatore Ferragamo for some more serious shoe shopping.

The afternoon of walking was the perfect way to work up an appetite for dinner (even with two gelato stops).

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Rome – Pantheon & Trevi Fountain