So many of our friends are having babies lately. Some have just delivered, while others have one on the way. It’s a really exciting time.
I just spoke to one such couple who are that the 32nd week of pregnancy. During our conversation, some of their concerns surfaced:
“Is labour painful? Does it take long? How was yours?”
“We’ve bought some baby stuff already but I don’t feel prepared.”
“Does the baby get up often at night? How often does yours do this? How long does it go on for?”
It’s funny how things look like on the other side i.e. once you’ve transitioned from being a married person to becoming a parent.
Just 7 or 8 months ago, I was in the same position they were in.
Fretting about the delivery of the baby. About whether I’d be able to remain sane while having to work the required night shifts of feeding, changing and soothing a crying infant.
Well, looking back, I guess Deric and I haven’t done too badly. Our 7+ month old baby is doing well. He’s happy most of the time, and he tells us so through his frequent smiles and laughter (which occur even in his sleep!). He’s gained weight and stretched taller. He’s pooping and peeing all the time.
We have a pretty good understanding of what Jamie wants by now. We recognise what we call his Pangsai Face as well as his sleepy and feeding cues.
We have a rough bedtime routine that mostly works (though there are, of course, those nights where Jamie is wide eyed and nothing in the whole wide world can make him fall asleep until he’s ready).
We know now what our weekly routine looks like, feels like and what we need to do to get through a typical day as a family.
We are also able to take Jamie out for trips out on the town, mostly without incident. Yet we also remained unfazed to keep doing so even when we are faced with disastrous events like a diaper blowout or a complete meltdown crying episode.
Are we perfect parents? Not in the least. But we ARE parents, and we ARE making it through. And we’re finding out that while there are challenges to raising a baby, they aren’t always all that bad.
If any parents-to-be were to ask me about how they should prepare for parenthood, I’d tell them this: There is no way you can possibly be 100% prepared for what’s ahead of you.
That’s because you cannot really fathom what it involves until you’ve got yourself fully immersed in the experience of parenthood itself.
So while you do what you can to get ready, there should be a part of you that says, “I won’t worry too much about this big challenge called parenthood that’s in front of me. God has graciously blessed me with a child, and He will just as surely grant me the strength to raise him/her.”
As for the pains of labour or the possible complications that might eventuate during delivery, it’s pretty much the same deal.
You can read up about pain relief, and how to recognise contractions (something that nobody seems to be able to describe properly to a first time parent, much to my frustration back then).
You can draw up a birth plan of ideals. Discuss concerns with your obstetrician/gynaecologist.
But it is only on the actual day itself, as things unfold, that you’ll learn what works best for you as you make those split second decisions while the baby descends and makes its journey out into the world.
There are some bits of advice that I could give regarding delivery and coping with the early days of parenthood, but I’ll save that for another post, another day.
For now, what I’d like to put out there is this:
If you have a child on the way, if this is your first time, if you’ve got a ton of worries clouding your head and heart… I just want you to know that you CAN do this.
You don’t have to be perfect to parent your child. In fact, you’ll soon realise that your baby is much more accepting and forgiving of you than you probably are towards yourself.
Arm yourself with information wherever necessary. But more than that, learn to rest in the assurance that you have what it takes. You’ve gotten this far into the pregnancy. You’ve put in the best of your efforts to lovingly prepare your home to welcome a new family member.
You’re all set. Really, you are.
Just determine to parent with all the love you can muster in your heart. The rest of it will come with ease.
At some point, every parent will catch themselves using baby-talk in adult conversation or humming a children’s song while alone (Wheels On the Bus, anyone?) It’s probably at that moment when you realise you have become fluent in the oft-parodied mark of Life After Baby – parentese.
Few traits so obviously distinguish parents from non-parents than the boo boos of goo goo ga ga, a.k.a parentese.
What drives us to e-nun-ci-ate every syllable or cutesify (is there even such a word?) conversation with rhymes and repetition?
Here’s some common parentese habits, demystified.
Referring to your spouse as “mummy” or “daddy”
After junior comes into the world, “honey” or “darling” very quickly becomes plain old “mama” and “papa”. We probably pick up this term of address from our own parents. Or maybe it’s a habit acquired from constantly speaking from the child’s point of view. Or it’s just too confusing to switch from one pronoun to another.
Always referring to yourself in the third person
Pronouns are cool. Mummy loves Pronouns. But when mummy talks with a tiny human like RJ, simplicity is key. So mummy will refer to mummy as mummy instead of “me” or “I”. Hopefully that will make RJ learn to say mummy faster. Yay. Oops, did I call myself mummy again?
Speaking to others through your child
What you say : “Daddy will get ready the bath water for you.”
What you mean : “Dear, could you please prepare the bath water for the baby?”
Using a singsong voice
Blame it on those catchy children songs, popular wisdom tells a high-pitched singsong voice works best to hold the child’s attention.
Repetition, repetition, repetition
I don’t really know-know why I talk like this-this sometimes. Maybe I subconsciously think it’s easier for baby-baby to learn the word ball-ball if I repeat it.
Having a conversation with an adult, in the presence of your child
People will talk to baby and expect you to answer. I.e : “aww, you’re crying. Is it time for your feed yet?”
Sometimes the conversation with veer seamlessly from your child to you. I.e : “Hi baby, what big eyes you have!” (babytalk voice, looking at baby) “so will you be going to the wedding next week?” (grown up voice, making eye contact with you) “yes, what a happy baby you are…” (back to interacting with baby)
When an adult with a child talks to you and your child
I’m not entirely sure what the etiquette is supposed to be like here. Inevitably adults will end up talking to and through the children, interjected with some grown up lines being exchanged.
Typically it may sound like this :
Mother A: “baby, can you hand the ball to mei mei (little sister)?”
Mother B: “honey, where is the ball? Can you play with Jie Jie (big sister)?”
Mother A: So how’s her feeding these days?
Restricting your vocabulary to child-appropriate words only This is more out of necessity than anything else. Censoring impolite language is vital unless you want baby to pick up the less than savoury words. Kids do say the darndest things!
*Disclaimer: the above is just a tongue-in-cheek look at the strange quirks in this fascinating new world of parenting. I do not advocate the above as a default way of speech.
Speaking PARENTESE is sometimes silly, and feels like a regression (especially if you accidentally lapse into it in important business meeting-meetings, baybeeeeee.)
Incidentally, it is recommended to use full sentences as soon as possible and not truncate one’s vocabulary when speaking to the child. This aids their linguistic development because their brains can pick up nuances in language, dialect and tone much earlier than we realise. In fact, they can distinguish between different languages as early as a few months old!
So go ahead and ditch the parentese for proper conversation, or even phonics, if you prefer hot housing. Nothing beats the singular pleasure of hearing your child speak his first word, or string her first sentence. Can’t wait for RJ to start speaking (I may regret saying this in a few month’s time…) That would be great-great.
I recently came across an article on my Facebook timeline that promised “8 Things Top CEOs Do Before 8am”, the title made me laugh. Look at me, it’s 8am today and I have already been awake for two hours. What have I done in that time?
I managed to pump milk, eat breakfast, bathe, do the laundry, plan for lunch, and now I’m trying to squeeze in a quick blog post. Hey, that’s an achievement when tending to a three-month-old baby.
I must admit life has changed tremendously in the short period of time since my daughter was born. As my dear daughter RJ turns 100 days today, here are some thoughts on what i’ve learnt so far.
1. Wanting to have a child is one thing… wanting to become a mother is another thing altogether
Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? It SHOULD strike you that becoming a mother is synonymous with having a child, but let me tell you, these are two different things – one is a physical act, the other is a complete, irreversible redefining of your state of being.
All the guide books in the world can prepare you for the physiological changes in your body that pregnancy brings, or coach you on how to go through labour and childbirth. But no guru can adequately explain the identity metamorphosis you undergo after becoming a mother. It alters who you are, for better or for worse. Let’s just say I enjoyed the “watching-my-child-blossom-and-grow” part a lot, but not so much the “watching-my-body-expand-and-contract” part.
Yes, I always imagined being a mother Some Day, I just didn’t count on the package including turning into this person who looks like the auntie in the pasar, and speaks like (*horror of horrors*) my mother!
2. People look at you differently
Which brings me to my second point about being perceived differently. Because of the baby in my arms, people who have never given me a second glance before, now open up to me. Walking around in my condo, older ladies inevitably strike up a conversation, comment on/ try to touch/ give unsolicited advice about RJ. Several times, kind coffee shop proprietors have offered me a chair with a back instead of the typical plastic stool.
Of course, while it has opened up a new world of kindness and potential friendships, it also closes the door of who I used to be. Since I no longer wear the high heels, tight black skirts and crisp jackets of a trial lawyer, salespeople automatically perceive me to be of a different tax bracket. When my husband accompanied me to shop for a car, the salesman talked specs and figures to him, all the while ignoring me as the “tag along” who might be consulted on for colour choice. The good news about this new physical appearance is that it works as good “armour” against pesky credit card promoters. Heh. (If you are a credit card promoter, no hard feelings :p)
3. Being a mother is not a full time job… it’s a lifelong relationship
A friend asked me, do you ever get tired of looking after her? I thought for awhile about the frustrating moments and I said, yes, there are moments in the day when I feel tired of looking after the baby. But those moments pass. They do not linger long enough to cloud my memory of her smiling half-moon eyes, or make me forget the pealing bells of her laughter when I steal a kiss.
Becoming a mother is not a job or duty, I discovered. It is a relationship. In every worthwhile relationship, the bad moments do not detract from the larger satisfaction. In the big picture of life, there will be decades worth of moments to share with my daughter. Thousands of hours, millions of minutes. So what if she cries for five of those minutes? It’s a drop in the ocean of love. The crying will pass, but our bond will hold. Thankfully, she will grow up.
4. Until you become a mother, you’ll never appreciate hygiene so much, yet be so unfazed about grossness
This one is a bit gross, feel free to skip it if you’re squeamish. (Don’t say you weren’t warned).
It starts around the first month of pregnancy, when you become hyper aware of your food cleanliness and environmental hygiene (hello nesting instinct). It exacerbates when baby is newly born and you become obsessed with sterilizing equipment, washing hands, wiping surfaces, and basically wanting to obliterate every particle and atom that comes into contact with the atmosphere your baby is in. (hello paranoia).
You find yourself doing strange things like steam washing mattresses, deep cleaning sofas, cleaning out every corner and crevice, and more than once fantasizing about getting rid of every single piece of furniture in the house until all that’s left is the essential pieces that are easy to clean and child-friendly.
At the same time, you find yourself amazed that you don’t freak out at diaper explosions, baby peeing (or poo-ing!) on you, milk stains on the bed, and other disgusting tales that are now simple facts of life. True story.
5. Time is elastic
Is it just me, or does three minutes feels like thirty, when a colicky baby cries? Also, pumping for ten minutes might feel like an hour, but an hour of baby’s sleep may pass by like it was only ten minutes! When you’re in it, the first week feels like forever… but after your maternity leave is over and it’s time to go back to work, you’ll feel that time flew by.
On my first day home alone with RJ, the day felt impossibly long. I was convinced the batteries in my clock were spoilt because the minute hand never seemed to move! After three months, I’ve learnt to chop up the day into segments, and to have mini goals to aim for in each segment (two naps before lunch, etc.) If all else fails, I learnt to take a deep breath and step back. After all, this too will pass.
6. Things I thought would make my baby happy vs. What actually made us happy
Before RJ was born, my woozy pregnant self wanted to have a pretty decorated nursery with a handmade mobile, beautiful cot linen and perfectly sorted drawer organisers. Turns out, she is not even sleeping in her room yet (at three months). Of course, there is nothing wrong with making beautiful preparations to welcome baby. I just learnt that the prettiest Pinterest ideas were not always the ones that made our days happy.
Instead, we were happiest during her bath time, when she lies on her changing mat, when mummy kisses her neck, when she plays with a cloth napkin, and when people interact with/ make faces at/ play with her. Oh and my personal favorite thing-that-makes-me-happy is baby wipes that are folded so that when you pull out one piece, the “tail” of next one comes out too. So. Convenient.
7. You can be happy even when baby is grumpy
Spend enough time with a baby and you’ll see his mood change from a smiling “ten” to a screaming “zero”, then back to ten again – all in a flash. What gives? Even when baby is fed, cleaned, and rested, he could still cry or be restless/ grumpy. So don’t take a grumpy baby as a sign that you’re doing something wrong. Also, never allow baby’s fickle emotions to dictate yours.
One of my best discoveries was that sometimes, RJ’s shrieking cries were not an indicator of excruciating pain, but a call for attention and affection. Aha! Busted! As mothers, we tend to channel or be affected by our babies’ emotions. In fact, they are sometimes mirroring ours. They are so perceptive and can often pick up our feelings even though we don’t say it out loud.
My wake-up call came when i realised that my baby’s default frowning face probably came from imitating my frowns of concentration as I struggled to make sure everything is up to par. I’ve since stopped putting happiness on hold and embraced the joy of living in the imperfect moment. Nowadays when she acts up out of the blue, I stay calm and tell her “I refuse to be upset even though you are grumpy. I’m going to smile and enjoy the moment with you, even if you’re not enjoying yourself right now.” More often than not, she would soon cheer up after that.
8. It’s not about you, but it IS about you
For awhile after giving birth, I felt like my identity had been usurped, or the “I” that I had spent years cultivating, had disappeared overnight. People tended to ask, “how is the baby?” or “how is motherhood?” all the time, as if my life revolved around it. It took some time to adjust to a new normal state, where I embraced RJ as part of my life, without her overshadowing everything else.
It’s easy to get sucked into the Mama Vortex, when your life has temporarily shrunk to a small room and an endless cycle of feed-sleep-clean. Sometimes you feel the pressure to be the fountain that never runs dry (of energy to stay up all hours, of patience to care for baby, of milk to feed baby… you see where this is going?)
Remind yourself that there’s life outside the four walls, that above and beyond being a mother, you are also a person with needs, interests, and goals. Have a conversation with your husband about non-baby/ motherhood related stuff. Meet up with friends who are not parents. Once in awhile, do something just for you – and don’t feel guilty about it.
9. Each stage has enough challenges of its own… don’t worry about the next one
The chinese have a saying that for every mountain, there is a higher mountain. I find that true in motherhood as well as life. If you thought breastfeeding was tough, wait til you try potty training. If you couldn’t wait for baby to turn over soon enough, wait till he starts crawling all over the place. If you were eager for baby to start talking quickly, wait till he becomes a chatty toddler and never stops asking questions. You get the picture.
There are different challenges that come with every stage of the child’s life, so instead of worrying about the next big milestone, enjoy the moment you are in, while it lasts. After all, like every wistful empty-nester will tell you, they grow up so fast.
10. You never knew how much you were capable of, until you became a mother
Becoming a mother is also about discovering hidden superpowers. Late-risers, you never knew how little sleep you could get by with. Short-fuses, you discover just how patient you can be. Timid ones, you are surprised to hear your voice speaking up boldly for your child.
You learn courage in labour and childbirth. You discover how resilient your body is. You realise how few things you actually need to survive. You manage to stretch every ringgit and marvel how the same salary can expand to include baby’s ever-growing needs. You learn to work quickly, with multiple interruptions. You reach a new level of multi-tasking. (Hey, i’m breastfeeding while writing this. Top that.)
To a student, three months spans a semester of academic life. To a new employee, three months represent the probation period that will make or break their future with the company. To a pregnant woman, three months or a trimester, makes all the difference between puking your guts out every morning, and glowing with life and vitality.
To me, the past three months have been a transition from a high-flying career woman to a domestic (not-so-)diva. Boy, has the ride been a bumpy one. Here’s to more lessons, and hopefully laughter, in the months to come!