When D and I suspected that I could be pregnant, we had a running joke where one of us would ask the other (wearing a mock terrified facial expression), “what if we’re really pregnant?”
Inevitably, the other one of us would answer the question with, “then we’ll become parents”.
I’m sure there are many people who calculate the exact financial costs, plan parenting/ caregiving roles, or have every hypothetical scenario figured out before they even start trying to conceive. That was not us.
Looking back, we were really naive and underestimated the whole process (hey, it was only 4 months after the wedding). You betcha, finding out freaked us me out.
Here’s my first #flashbackFriday post on my initial reactions (physical/ mental/ emotional) towards pregnancy.
I was hungry hangry all the time
It didn’t help that I fell pregnant in the middle of the annual NECF 40-day Prayer and Fasting period. No wonder I was doubly hungry! And I mean, the vicious, raw, eat-food-straight-from-the-pot, “Give Me Food And Nobody Gets Hurt” kind of hungry. My fingers would literally shake from hunger, and I would literally experience light-headedness during those “hangry” spells.
The world didn’t stop turning, but my stomach didn’t stop churning either… I later found out that the sudden “crash” I experienced was actually a drop in blood glucose levels attributed to gestational diabetes (GD). On the bright side, I got to eat anything I wanted (before the GD diagnosis) without feeling guilty.
I couldn’t accept all the weird things happening to my body!
Forget pregnancy glow. Pregnancy felt like a second puberty to me – a time of body changes, confusion, and lots of “what is happening to me?!” moments. For the most part, it is an uncomfortable, at times excruciating process! Pregnancy’s potent hormone cocktail – while necessary for growing a tiny human- also bestows some “wonderful” side effects. These differ for each pregnancy/ woman.
While I didn’t get the vomiting that many women have, I got the “basketball tummy”, temporary skin disfigurement, amazing expanding mole (don’t ask), and an unholy trinity of stretch marks in other places besides my tummy (please, don’t ask).
Oh, and my gestational diabetes was diagnosed a week before Chinese New Year. Fantastic. Thanks to the “Eliminate Sugar and Carbs” diet that my tormentor gynae helpfully prescribed, I sat at the reunion dinner with all D’s relatives eating only veggies and soup. “Miserable” doesn’t begin to describe it.
Body issues/ insecurity
I put on a lot of pregnancy weight. A LOT. As in, in my first trimester, people were already asking if I was carrying twins. It didn’t help that most of my pregnant friends were petite, with bumps that hardly showed. (I’m looking at you, Su!)
In fact, I had to stifle my reaction when one day Susanna happily told me, “today, someone finally noticed my baby bump and asked if I’m pregnant!” Grrr… I couldn’t help feeling a tad ugly and insecure at my swollen, watermelon-sized tummy that outgrew a new underwear size every month. That was the same week several people asked if my delivery date was soon… although I was only in the second trimester.
Shopping was depressing, because nothing could fit, and the ones that did, let’s just say they looked very…motherly (no offence). Sleeping took effort, with the huge belly pressing on me, I could hardly breathe properly! Waking up several times at night to pee became de rigeur, little did I know it was a foreshadow of things to come. Oh, and don’t get me started on walking. At some point in my ballooning growth, left thigh met right thigh…and they became inseparable. Sigh. I began to realise why pregnant women seemed self-absorbed and grumpy all the time.
If you’ve ever had a horror movie scene stuck in your head that you couldn’t erase, multiply that by twenty and basically that were the kind of irrational worries swimming around in my pregnant head. All sorts of worst case scenarios that you could imagine, would play in my thoughts. When I was walking over the concrete drain covers, I would be afraid that they would crack and I would fall down. When I was bathing, I would worry about being electrocuted in the shower, especially if it was raining.
One night, I was sitting in the car when D went to bungkus a Ramli burger. He didn’t lock the door. My huge belly prevented me from leaning over to do it. I sat frozen in the passenger’s seat and watched my surroundings like a hawk, paralysed at the thought that some passer by would carjack the 10-year-old Myvi, complete with visions of dramatic screeching tires and D throwing himself in front of the car, while I bumped my head and lost consciousness. Yes, I’m a dramatic person.
I’ve not been able to write anything new here for awhile thanks to being so busy with Jamie. He’s been having a fussy week or two, and has been rearing his grumpy side at home more than usual.
In general, Jamie is mostly a fuss free baby, so it’s a bit surprising for me to see him behaving the way he has lately. Initially, I chalked it down to the after effects of his last round of vaccinations, since I noted that the fussy spells started to happen more often after he recovered from a bout of fever after getting his shots.
But then again, it could just be him reaching another growth milestone. I’ve read that babies tend to become a bit more on the fussy side on growth spurt days. What made this round more unbearable, however, was the fact that I was experiencing Growth Spurt Week rather than just a couple of Growth Spurt Days like how it had been in the transition period between the first and second month of Jamie’s life.
Now, in his third (and soon reaching his fourth, in fact), his overall behaviour seems to have drastically shifted gears.
Not only is he more active, he is more likely to display drastic mood swings where he can be really happy one moment and terribly grouchy in the next. He is also more likely to get distracted during feeding times, much to my dismay.
Whenever he fusses, it is hard to figure out what he really wants and even when I do, it’s disheartening to realise that what he’s asking for is to be constantly carried around the home. If I try to put him down in the cot or bouncer or anywhere at all, he will make lots of noise to make sure I know he disapproves.
Some days, he naps really little in the daytime. He also has greater trouble falling asleep at night. And although he can now sleep through the night on certain days, on other nights he wakes up for at least two feeds (thus confusing my poor boobs who continue to produce milk faithfully every night regardless of whether Jamie is there to lap it up or not. Sigh).
He also has this terrible habit of grabbing bits of my hair in his fists and not letting go.
But at the same time, Jamie is more expressive and vocal, which are things that have been wonderfully amusing to experience with him. That also means though that when he is upset or seeking attention, he will not hesitate to tell us so. Something that I don’t always enjoy at times, as he can now complain really loudly. Never mind that I cannot understand what he is saying, the sheer noise he makes is enough to compel you enough to want to pick him up just so he will quieten down).
In addition to dealing with his fussiness, I am almost always fretting about whether anything Jamie does or his appearance is an indication that he is unwell. Most times, it’s just me being paranoid, but presently, Jamie really is sick and is down with a flu.
The worst part of it all is that I’m pretty sure I was the one who passed the bug to him since I myself had been similarly unwell a little earlier in the week.
But as unsettling, tiring and inconvenient as it is to take care of Jamie in times like these, there are still redeeming factors to keep me going. His smiles and the way he always looks around the room for me (even when others are carrying him) are certainly among them.
While going through this slightly more difficult season with Jamie, I got round to re-examining why we want certain things as parents.
Most parents of infants just can’t wait for their little one to start doing certain things. Stuff like sleeping through the night, feeding from a bottle (as opposed to directly latching onto the breast), taking longer naps and being able to sit up on their own and hold their head upright.
If we dig deeper into why we want our babies to achieve these abilities, we’ll often find that one of the underlying reasons is that it will ultimately make our lives easier. That’s nice and all, but didn’t we sign up for parenthood knowing all along that it would be hard at times? Why do we then keep wishing for the easy way out?
Well, I’ll admit that it’s good for the baby himself too in the long run if he is able to achieve these things. But what I’m questioning here is more of why we are always wishing for our child to be something else other than what they are right now. The danger here being that we may focus too much on wishing for the day when they are less troublesome to us to the point that we miss out on cherishing who they are at present.
Jamie can’t sit up on a high chair yet. He still doesn’t really like drinking from the bottle so I have to feed him by letting him latch on directly to my breasts for all of his meals. He wants to be found in my arms and to suckle at the breast every night before he falls asleep. He interrupts nearly every meal I have each day so he can have his feeds and also delays my trips to the toilet for the same reason.
I can’t say that these inconveniences do not irk me at times, but I’m learning to appreciate who he is in spite of these challenges. Some day he’ll grow up and be so independent that he’ll not need to live in the same home as I do or even relate to me anymore to get by. And when that time comes, I want to make sure I have no regrets.
Today you had trouble sleeping. It was daddy’s turn to be home with you, while mummy went to work.
I kissed you goodbye before getting into my car and buried my nose in your neck, a gesture that is supposed to make you laugh in delight. Instead, you scrunched up your face and turned your head away. Your fists were clenched into a tight ball and your eyes looked at me imploringly. “Don’t leave me,” they seemed to say.
Leaving for work inevitably brings a mixed bag of feelings.
There is the elation of getting to spend a day wearing “proper” clothes and in the company of adults.
There is sadness at the thought of probably missing a milestone moment, like the time when you turned over and I wasn’t there to witness it.
There is guilt at the fact that Daddy will have to tend to you, all alone.
There is pride in your growing independence and Daddy’s natural aptitude at caring for you, there is happiness that this time together will be a special Father and Daughter bonding time.
There is confidence that I am doing what is right for our family, that my choice to work is not only for economic necessity but also for my own long term personal growth – and this example will serve you well in the long run.
There is some anxiousness about how you will fare away from me. Will you reject the bottle? Will you make that shrieking inconsolable cry? Do you think that I have abandoned you?
It was a busy day at work today, I barely had time to pump twice, instead of the three times I had planned to. Gone was my 11am, 2pm, 5pm pumping schedule that I told myself I would keep.
Sitting in a quiet room in the office to pump, I tried to assuage any sense of insecurity at the paper-thin blinds that separated me from the pantry. As I sat with my back towards the window, pump dangling awkwardly like a weapon, I felt painfully aware of the few inches of glass between the rest of the office and me.
“Can they hear my pump?” I wondered. “Can they see me?” Under such circumstances, it’s hard to relax and let down.
I browsed videos and photos of you on the phone, and found myself chuckling quietly at your antics as the milk trickled out. Daddy says you have the potential to become a football player, and the video of you aiming and kicking at your toys certainly shows great promise.
I thought about the way your eyes follow me constantly, watching my every move like a wise owl. I remembered the solemn pursing of lips that earned you the nickname “katak”, and the relentless stare that has become your default facial expression.
Two feet behind me, someone washed a glass in the sink. I was in the middle of removing my pumping bra, feeling vulnerable and exposed. At the back of my mind, I tried not to let it bother me. Try not to worry about supply dropping and whether the milk will go bad during travelling time.
Back to the desk to work. Replied emails, trying to rush and finish everything as soon as possible to get home. I told Daddy I would cook dinner.
An hour later, I’m still stuck in office, frantically finishing up. Finally, I’ve tied up all the loose ends. I carefully remove the milk from the fridge and pack everything in the cooler bag. The fridge smells bad. I throw away some old bottles of unclaimed food. Make a mental note to get the cleaning lady to defrost it. Hopefully you won’t notice the smell.
Quickly exit the building. Call Daddy to apologise (again) that I’m late. He doesn’t pick up. Feel guilty and wonder if it’s a good day and he’s cooking dinner, or if it’s a bad day and you’re crying non-stop.
Rush hour is over, but there is still some stretches of congestion. The car in front of me has a problem in the Smart Tag lane. Try not to be frustrated at being held up. Feel guilty. Feel entitled. Feel bad. Promise myself I’ll make it up to you both, later.
Ten minutes later, Daddy calls me back. No sooner do I say “hello” and hear his reply, when you start wailing in the background. My heart lurches to my a sinking pit in the middle of my stomach.
“She was feeding fine at the bottle”, Daddy says, “until she heard your voice. Then she started crying.”
Not sure how to feel. Am I happy that you missed me? Should I be worried about you, My Overly Attached Baby (MOAB)? Are you becoming too clingy?
When I get home, I quickly put the milk into the fridge. I find you both in the bedroom. Daddy is holding you, because you didn’t stop crying since you heard my voice. Your eyes find mine reproachfully, then light up in a smile.
Is this what separation anxiety is about?
Take a deep breath. It’s only the third day that I have left you alone with Daddy. It’s okay. I only go into office two days a week.
One bad day doesn’t make you a bad baby, or us bad parents.
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!