Feeling Natalie's kicks brings such a calm and peaceful feeling over me (even though her kicks are getting stronger and wakes me up in the middle of the night and in the wee hours of the morning haha) and I'm constantly reminded of this little miracle inside of me and how amazing the human body is to be able to create another life. I'm telling you now, women are amazing!! I've honestly never in my life been so happy, content, and grateful  -- I absolutely LOVE being pregnant and I love the feeling of being one with Natalie. In a way I'm a bit sad that this journey is coming to an end soon (Natalie weighs 2606g at 37 weeks and has been packing on 200g every week for the past 3 weeks; I'm already 1cm dilated apparently) and that Natalie and I will be two separate individuals when she's born.. Don't know if everyone feels this way when they're about to have their first baby and it might sound strange and even a bit selfish, but if I could I want her inside a bit longer!! I'm not ready for her to come out yet even though I can't wait to meet her and actually be able to hold her in my arms. It's a strange feeling and I get a bit emotional when I think about it.. All I know is that I'll probably cry just like her when she's born lol. It's a whole new kind of love that only a mother can have for their child and it's so fulfilling it's incredible. It fills me up completely :) And one more thing that would make all of this even more perfect is if Oli was here so he could be with me when I go into labor and meet Natalie at the same time, but alas that's not going to happen..sadness... We'll just have to make do with photos and skype for now!

Oh, and I've fiinnaaalllyy packed my hospital bag! Cutting it a bit close but I can now say I'm fully prepared to go to the hospital
I started knitting a baby blanket for her recently. It took me more than a week to decide on colour, thickness of yarn, design, and size and drove my mum crazy by asking her her opinion on all of the above. I just want it to be perfect even though I'm a beginner knitter and a self-taught one at that. I must admit it's not too shabby and I'm excited for the finished product. The yarn itself is 100% organic wool and it's so incredibly soft. I didn't want the yarn too thick because it doesn't get very hot in Australia but am planning to make it a bit big so I can wrap her around a few times in case it does get chilly in the winter months. I'm so into knitting now and considering a lot of my friends are pregnant or already have little babies, might start knitting some for presents :) Also want to try knitting beanies and clothes if I have the time to teach myself after Natalie's born hehe!!

Top row (in weeks): 8, 12, 16; Middle row: 20, 24, 28; Bottom: 32; 37
I've been thoroughly enjoying watching my belly grow! At 20 weeks I was still barely showing and at 24 I thought I popped out all of a sudden but at week 28 I've grown even more. Natalie's in her final growth spurt and fattening up before she enters this world so I wouldn't be surprised if my belly grows even more. I love how round it is and it feels so good to just rub my belly every chance I get. I give my belly a massage 3 times a day with mixing oil and massage lotion (Neways products) in the morning, when I take a bath at night, and when I get out of the bath. It's one of my favourite things to do (Natalie and my private alone time <3) and I talk to Natalie and try to guess how she's positioned inside. She tends to be on my right side all the time and her little bum protrudes out from below my right rib cage. When I give her a little nudge she always moves -- maybe she's a bit shy to get her little bum touched lol. Right now at 35 weeks she's still high up under the right side of my ribs and it's getting increasingly uncomfortable. I can't curl my back or lean forward because she's in the way and my ribs ache and so does my upper back (and only my right upper back because that's the side she's always in). If Oli was here I would get him to give me a massage every day..too bad for me he isn't :(

My nieces Hana and Mei are getting so excited to meet baby Natalie. The younger one Mei, who's turning 3 in May, comes up to me all the time and rubs my belly saying "Natalie, Natalieeeeee!" and asks me when she's going to be born. It's so adorable to watch and she gives my belly little kisses too. When Hana and Mei both rub my belly and call out her name Natalie tends to move in response to their voices so I'm sure she knows her cousins' voices now.

Since week 28 or so it's been getting harder and harder to bend down and put on my shoes and put on pants -- basically any movement that requires bending down and reaching over or bringing my legs up because my belly's getting so big. I sometimes have a fitful sleep because I can't get comfortable. Sleeping on my back is out of the question because after a while I feel like I'm suffocating and not getting enough air when I breathe..this is actually true even when I'm just sitting and not doing anything because my uterus has expanded to accommodate the growing baby and it's pushing on and cramping up all of my other organs, including my lungs. It's amazing to think my uterus basically takes up most of my insides now! We'll see if I grow much bigger in the next few weeks left of my pregnancy! I can't believe it's already May. Her due date is June 1 so really not long to go now!!!

Warning: this will be a pretty long entry :P I've divided it up so it's easier to get back to if you need more than one sitting to read through it hehe

Morning sickness: what morning sickness??? I didn't really expect myself to get it because neither my mum nor my sister got it when they were pregnant. The closest I got to having morning sickness is not being able to eat as much in my first 12 weeks of pregnancy. I'd get really really hungry and when I get that hungry I'm happy to eat absolutely anything -- I usually think of what I want to eat in my head and it sounds so good that I start salivating just from the thought. But in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy that wasn't the case. I was SO picky with what I wanted to eat and even when I made a big batch of food from being really hungry, I was only able to have a few bites before feeling a tiny  bit nauseous... In fact just thinking of food sometimes made me feel a bit nauseous and Oli was getting pretty worried about me and the baby by about 10 weeks, but in the 13th week all of that stopped like clockwork. I started craving sweets like cakes, chocolates, muffins, and ice cream (things I never usually pay attention to coz I don't have a sweet tooth). I was still pretty picky though, and I had completely stopped eating beef. My sense of smell has always been pretty good but it basically became canine-like and the smell of beef (red meat) put me off BIG TIME but Oli loves his red meat so we had to cook different meals at times.

Considering there are women out there that can't get out of bed or are constantly throwing up throughout the day, or even get hospitalized, I consider my pregnancy to be free of morning sickness and feel very lucky indeed.

Weight gain: what weight gain?? Haha, just kidding. I was already overweight when I first got pregnant.. Dr. Campbell, a general practitioner at a clinic, weighed me and I was 50kg (-_-) which is quite a lot considering my tiny stature..sigh. Anyway, I'm at 35 weeks now and am 55.6kg so I'm doing great! I kept gaining 1kg every 2 weeks (after 24 weeks I have to go see them every 2 weeks) and got into trouble about it from the midwives and the doc a couple of times but then I manage to either lose weight or maintain it the next 2 weeks so all in all I only gain about 1kg a month. When I first got here it was impossible to NOT eat what I wanted because the food and desserts here are oh so delicious! Considering I'm 55.6kg now and still could have 5 weeks to go and assuming Natalie will be at least 3000g, I can only gain 2kg extra which I should be able to do! ;)

Cravings: a few weeks into pregnancy I started dreaming of desserts -- me walking into a massive refrigerated room full of different flavoured ice cream, cakes, cookies, muffins, etc. all free and all for me. I swear I have never in my life dreamed of desserts before. Oli didn't let me buy anything I wanted to though and that pissed me off at times (especially coz I was hormonal) and we got into a couple of huge arguments in the grocery store lol. Funny to think back on it now but seriously pissed me off at the time. I also only ate white bread with delicious organic raspberry jam and hot milk tea for breakfast everyday. Ask anyone, I never ate jam with such frequency ever before in my life so that was a big change for me. Since I've been back here I have the Neways protein shake for brekky every day (which has fixed my constipation big time) and I've also been craving for and stuffing my face with apples and apple juice. I only have 6 weeks or so to go until the little one decides to come into the world and I don't think my food cravings will differ much anymore.

Ultrasounds/Natalie's acrobatics: I only had 2 scans while I was in Australia, the first one to see how far along I was (at 8 weeks) and a second one when I was 20 weeks to find out the gender of the little one and whether everything was developing normally. The 20 week scan was amazing. I started feeling Natalie's little kicks at 18 weeks which felt like little flutters. I wasn't so sure at first but realized that it couldn't be anything else and once I started paying attention to them I could feel her moving a lot throughout the day. Oli and I both thought it was going to be a boy and with how much Natalie was moving Oli was saying "it's got to be a boy because he's moving so much. Girls are a bit more lazy so if it was a girl she wouldn't be moving this much." Well well well look who was completely off, lol! At the 20 week scan he was still referring to the baby as "he/him" and the radiologist said, "well...it's actually a girl". That was a bit embarrassing and we all had a bit of a laugh then. It's funny though because we had such a hard time coming up with a good name for a boy and we were still thinking about it when we found out it was a girl and I knew straight away that her name was going to be Natalie so it must have been a sign :) She was moving around a lot at the start of the scan and even looked like she was waving at us. Everything was perfectly normal which is what every parent wants to hear.

As I mentioned earlier you get a scan every time you go to the doctor here so I've enjoyed watching her grow over the last several weeks. The doctor also tells us the baby's approximate weight and Natalie's been gaining about 200g every fortnight. At 34 weeks she was just over 2000g which means she'll probably go through her last growth spurt in the next few weeks left of this journey. My belly's already about 92cm around so don't know how much bigger it will get but the growth of the baby isn't proportionate to that of your belly so it's impossible to tell. It's hard to see her face in the scan now because it's getting tighter and tighter in there and when we manage to catch her face it looks like someone who has their face squished against a window lol. She's definitely packed on some fat because even at 24 weeks her face looked like a skull, thanks to the ultrasound that tend to mostly catch bone structure more than cartilage or fat depending on the angle. Regardless I think she looks gorgeous and Oli does too :D

She's been moving around like crazy and right now she still hasn't dropped at 35 weeks which is all good because I want her to be in there for 40 weeks. She tends to be on the right side all the time, kicking and whatnot so my ribs are getting really sore these days. My right upper back starts aching when I'm sitting for a long time
and I can't curl my back to stretch it because she's in the way so it gets quite uncomfortable... You can easily see her movements with the naked eye now and my stomach moves in waves and sometimes you can see a little foot poke out. When I felt her little foot moving against my hand for the first time it freaked me out a bit because I wasn't expecting it lol. It's a surreal feeling and I truly love it. I always have my hand on my stomach when I get into bed and her movements sort of rock me to sleep.. I always think "if only Oli was here to feel her little kicks and experience everything with me" and get sad at times, but thank God for skype and the internet. We're able to keep in touch and talk to each other almost every day which is the best we can do until we're all together again for the first time as a family <3

I'm honestly really happy that I'm in Japan to have my first baby because I would have been absolutely clueless on so many things if I was in Australia. It's a fact that there are fundamental differences between Japanese and Caucasian women especially in their diet which leads to big differences in their height and build, etc. For example, Americans tend to have higher body temperatures than Japanese people and their bigger boned so a lot of what I learned in Japan might not pertain to everyone. Obviously women have perfectly fine pregnancies and child birth without knowing what I learned, but for me it has really made my pregnancy easier.

Weight gain & exercise: they're pretty strict with weight gain and exercising to maintain your strength for when it comes time to give birth. They tell you at the start when they measure your height and starting weight how much you can gain max. I got into trouble the first few times I went to the hospital because I was gaining 1kg every two weeks lol. They said that's way too much and if I kept going like that I would end up gaining close to 20kg by the time I have the baby and I wouldn't be able to put my maximum strength when it comes time to push. It's also not too good for the baby. When you think about it it's pretty crazy the GP only weighed me at the very start.. I also started walking at least an hour a day, but since I hit 33 weeks my stomach tends to get really tight the day after which isn't good when you're pregnant so I haven't been walking much at all.

Tightness: talking about tightness, I used to think it was normal that my belly felt really hard because your uterus is stretching out. It made sense to me. When I started to show a little bit around 20 weeks and was still in Australia I'd be touching my belly and it felt like an exercise ball that's pumped up to the max or perhaps a full blown balloon -- pretty hard and tight when you poke it. I only learned that it wasn't good or normal when this happens. It's another sign that your belly's not warm enough and could lead to premature birth so one of the first things the midwife told me was if you're walking or doing anything and it starts to get tight or painful, to just sit and relax.

Stay warm!: midwives also tell you to keep your belly super warm ALWAYS and I didn't realize how important that was until I came here. In Australia I was sleeping in my underwear with the fan blasting (we didn't have a/c in our bedroom) and I was so hot every night I could barely sleep.. I tended to get really bad stomach cramps and get diarrhea and always thought it was because of something I ate/drank, but I found out after coming here that it's because my belly wasn't warm enough. The midwives say it doesn't matter how hotyou yourself are, you should always keep your belly warm and eat food that warms up your body like ginger. Lots and lots of ginger haha. I was also getting up to pee over 5 times a night, another symptom of a cool belly. When I got to Japan I immediately listened to the midwives and my sister and started wearing proper maternity underwear that covers your entire belly, a tube top looking thing that's designed go around your growing belly only, and up to 4 layers on top (it helped because I got here when it was still cold). I also started taking a bath every night which the midwives also said is a must to warm your body. In Australia I never took a bath, only showers, and that wasn't enough. Since I started doing all those things I only go pee max 3 times a night (even now  at 35 weeks) and I haven't gotten stomach cramps once since I've been back. Truly amazing and I felt I needed to apologize to baby Natalie because it must have been so cold for her..

The "Toko-chan belt": even when my belly wasn't showing, I started feeling some sciatic nerve pain in my left side near my tail bone. The pain didn't run down my leg or anything, it was concentrated in one spot and it would hurt when I put too much weight on it so getting up/down and walking was sometimes a bit painful. The pregnancy sites that I looked at all said it was normal to get sciatic nerve pain when you get pregnant either because the baby is pushing against your nerves (but Natalie wasn't even that big yet as I was barely showing) and also because of the hormone relaxin which starts to loosen up your muscles and joints to allow your baby to grow. The websites basically recommended you do some stretches to ease the pain and other than that you gotta live with it.
    Well!! That's only partly true. When I came to Japan I discovered this wonderful belt called the "Toko-chan belt". My sister used it throughout her pregnancy and for a while after giving birth. Over here it's recommended for every pregnant woman to use so it's basic knowledge and any midwife would tell you to get one if you were complaining of nerve pain. The story behind it is based on the hormone relaxin which I mentioned above. Back in the old days before cars and public transport etc. women did hard labour -- they walked for kilometers to get from point A to B, worked in the fields and the like. Today we all drive cars, we have convenient vacuum cleaners to clean the house instead of going on all fours to wipe floors, and in general we just don't move use our bodies the same way women used to. As a result they had very well developed muscles in their hips, thighs, and abdomen compared to women today and the hormone relaxin that's secreted to loosen your body and prepare you for birth worked perfectly well for them. Today, we don't have the same muscle structure anymore and relaxin loosens us up TOO much. This causes our pelvic bone to rotate in strange directions especially if you have bad posture when you sit or walk and the Toko-chan belt is designed to come right around your pubic bone (a little below your hips) and you tighten it as much as possible. It uses velcro so it's easy to do and undo and miraculously, as soon as I started wearing it when I went for walks my sciatic nerve pain stopped.CRAZINESS!!!! So my pain was basically coming from the fact that my bones were getting a bit too loose and I needed the belt to hold them in place.
    Another amazing property of the belt is that it prevents miscarriage. With your pelvic bones getting too loose too early, your bowels start to sink and so does your baby which can cause miscarriage (and constipation). By putting the belt on it keeps your hips nice and tight and prevents that from happening so it's seriously a MUST have! Helps prevent pain and miscarriage -- what more could a mother-to-be ask for?? I really can't live without it now that I've experienced it first-hand. Also good for after you give birth to help your body tighten back up :)
    At 33 weeks the pain tended to come back the day after I would go for walks and was extremely painful and the belt didn't help much then..plus my stomach got really tight so I haven't walked much since then and now (35 weeks) the pain is gone and the tightness in my belly is gone. The pain was probably a lot more intense because I'm getting further along in my pregnancy, but boy am I glad I've been able to avoid the nerve pains...!

Reaching up: only a quick one here. One should apparently avoid reaching for high places such as getting dishes from a high cupboard, window cleaning, or anything else that requires you to reach above your head. This posture apparently opens up your pelvic bones and could cause your baby to drop early and/or cause miscarriage. The midwife said though that once you reach 37 weeks you're more than welcome to do so because from that point forward your baby isn't considered premature and will be perfectly fine if he/she is born.

Oh Japan how I love your in-depth knowledge and little inventions!!

Hospitals vs maternity clinics: I got to Japan when I was 22 weeks on Feb 8, 2013, and had to look for which hospital/maternity clinic to go to. I didn't really know the difference between the two so I'm really lucky I have an older sister who's had 2 babies, the first one (Hana) at the hospital and the second one (Mei) at a maternity clinic. The main difference is that at a maternity clinic they try to keep everything natural so no crazy hospital equipment and no doctors only midwives (obviously if there are any unforeseen complications during birth there's always a doctor on call and the clinics are close to hospitals so they can take you there if you need emergency help of any kind). That means you and your baby have to be completely healthy and there can't be any pregnancy complications, so if you've had complications conceiving in the first place, are taking medication or other hormones, if you've ever had a miscarriage, if you're bleeding, any other major problems that you've had either in the past or while you're pregnant, and if you have to have a C-section for any reason. The midwives are only there to help encourage you while you're giving birth and you have to use your own strength to give birth.

The hospital I've chosen has a maternity ward so I have both options but unfortunately because I came a bit too late at 22 weeks I have to give birth in the hospital delivery room with all its bright lights and dazzling gadgets. I'm not too worried about it other than the fact that I have no choice but to give birth lying on my back. I would have preferred giving birth on all fours or some other way where gravity will help but oh well! Other than that at this hospital there isn't any big difference between the two birthing choices.

Japan vs Australia: The doctors here are great. I said earlier that I was glad the GP in Australia was a woman because if it was a man I don't know if he would have had much knowledge all..only real basic stuff.. But the doctor I see here is great. He's a man but specializes in pregnancy (I don't know what they're called haha) so I feel a lot more at ease. There's always a midwife present too. The GP I saw in Australia said I only need to start worrying about which hospital to give birth in  when I get to about 30 weeks and even then go to the hospital at the very end of my pregnancy where they do other sorts of tests to make sure everything's okay. In Japan you make this decision at the very start when you find out you're pregnant and see the same doctor each time. They give you a booklet that's full of information about what to expect during pregnancy and areas for the docs to fill out each time -- weight, blood pressure, how big your belly is, how big your baby is, 3 pee tests they perform for example to check if your pee is clear of excess protein (which could lead to preeclampsia). There's also another booklet for after your baby's born where it gives you information on breastfeeding, when to start feeding solids, what to feed them etc., and an area for doctors to keep track of immunizations and other health checks. I was absolutely amazed at this. At the GP I was in and out of there in 5-10mins where she just checked my blood pressure and asked how I was doing. Here they fill out the booklet each time, see you once a month until 28 weeks, then every two weeks until 37 weeks, and every week after that until your baby's born. I really can't ask for better care.

After I give birth I'm also required to be hospitalized for about a week and this is so that you can rest and bond with your baby one-on-one. The midwives are always there to take over if you've had a difficult delivery and you're just too exhausted and they teach you basics like changing nappies, how to give them a bath, how to do breast massages if they get clogged, etc. They also keep track of your blood loss during and after you give birth. I heard that in America and some other western countries they release you after a day (is that true??) unless you've had a C-section and that's incredible. The mothers must be exhausted as well as be pretty anxious about how to go about caring for a newborn especially if it's their first child. I'm really glad I'll get to rest up at the hospital and learn all the essential things that I'm clueless about. They also make you breast feed (if you're producing milk without any problems) every 3 hours and when I went to the last maternity class they said they'll even wake us up if we're asleep lol. I've been sleeping a lot lately so hopefully I'll survive, but having Natalie there and knowing it's for her will probably make everything alright! Argghhh I can't wait to meet her!!

Oli and I first found out I was pregnant around mid-September. It was he who bought the pregnancy test from the pharmacy on his way home from work one day and told me to take it, and sure enough it was a positive read. I tested myself again the next morning to make sure it wasn't a false alarm. I have to say, I was extremely excited but quite apprehensive at the same time.. Ever since I turned 27 and even more so when I turned 28, I was feeling very clucky but knew that I can't just get pregnant because I felt that way. I was also unsure about how Oli might take the news.

First thing we did was to make an appointment at a nearby clinic to get a proper pee and blood test to confirm the pregnancy and then decide what to do from there. When that was properly taken care of and I was definitely without a shadow of a doubt pregnant, we booked an ultrasound to see approximately how far along I was and the results told us I was about 4 weeks pregnant. With this life-changing news that we were unprepared for, it took us a fair few weeks and lots of ups and downs (excitement, anxiety, long talks, tears at times) to decide what we should do.. I was in my last year of uni and only had two months to go before graduation. I had excellent job prospects as a graduate accountant for the new year 2013 and both Oli and I had a lot of things we both wanted to do before thinking of settling down or having any children.

But alas, we both decided that we wanted to keep the baby and here I am today, 32 weeks pregnant and having only 8 weeks to go until the little one enters this world :D Oli and I are both extremely excited and are ready for the various challenges and changes our little girl will bring about in our lives.