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Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places

Month

January 2011

Butterfly kisses

So either I had indigestion, or Blob blew me a few kisses two nights ago.

The quickening. It sounds like the title of an alien movie, and maybe it’s not too far off. It’s all about the First Hello, the pitter patter of whatever that tells you yes, you are not going insane. You are carrying someone else inside of you. It’s freaky groovy, and for me… it felt like a series of bubbles.

Perhaps Blob was practising blowing amniotic fluid out its tiny little nose. Perhaps it was lying back and having a stretch. Other freaky fact: my countdown timer now tells me that Blob is 25cm from head to toe. 25cm! That’s a Chihuahua! But it’s all rather confusing, because other websites liken Blob to a sweet potato. And either that’s a mutant potato, or something’s rather off with everyone’s calculations.

Also, other weird observation: those persistent bubbles happened real close to my left rib cage. I was expecting action from way lower. But I had a chat with YogaMate who’s been experiencing flutters for a couple of weeks now, and she said the baby goes where it wants to go. And it kicks whatever it wants to kick.

Awesome.

Pregnancy mythbusters

I was having lunch with a colleague who, like me, hails from Southeast Asia and thus has the happy conundrum of being saddled with two versions of everything. And when it comes to pregnancy superstition and “do-this-or-else…”, the East has always excelled in scaring the daylights out of poor hapless n00b moms… but the West can hold their own in this department, too.

There are heaps, HEAPS out there and I’m sure it depends on generation and upbringing, but here’s a choice pick from both my worlds.

1. Avoid soft cheeses because of the risk of listeria

Two things seem to be linked to the harbouring of listeria in soft cheeses: pasteurisation and how the cheese is ripened. White mould cheese, such as brie and camembert (yum), are surface ripened, and their near neutral PH value and high moisture content make them that extra conducive for the listeria bacteria to grow.

The thing is, Australian law likes its milk and cheese pasteurised. And listeria, like love, is all around us anyway. We are already exposed to the bacteria whether we like it or not because it’s in the environment. Yes, pregnant women are at risk – but the risk is low, especially in Australia. In 2006, only 61 cases of listeriosis were registered with the Department of Health and only 8 were cases where a mother and baby were infected. And we don’t know that soft cheese was the culprit either, since there are many ways you can get exposed to listeria

BTW, if you’re suffering from leg cramps (especially with your calf muscles), it’s likely due to a lack of calcium. And that’s far more common a symptom in pregnant women than listeria.

So get some perspective, and if you’re still wiggy about it, nuke the little buggers by having your soft cheese piping hot and runny. Yummm… 

2. Don’t bathe or wash your hair during your confinement

The logic goes that if you bathe or wash your hair during confinement, ‘wind’ will enter your body and you can get rheumatism, among other ills.

You have GOT to grow up in a Chinese household to understand the concept of “heat”, “cool” and “wind” to not look at me like I’m talking about breathing in someone else’s farts.

BTW, I’m not talking a couple of days after the birth, or even a week. Some households have the no-hairwash limit at 12 days, and the no-bath limit at 40!

Fact: if you want to be a yummy mummy, then smell like one. And let’s not even get into stating the obvious, like good personal hygiene and the reduced risk of skin and wound infection.

3. If you eat sushi, you are basically a baby killer

Okay, first of all, sushi ≠sashimi. And fat, happy, pregnant Japanese women still have sashimi because man, the fish oil is great for baby. If you believe Dr Phil, Omega 3 fats

enhance the development of the baby’s brain, improve the baby’s IQ, make the baby a better sleeper after birth, prevent premature contractions and premature labor, prevent high blood pressure during pregnancy, and act as an anti-inflammatory that prevent infection.

But yes, we also have to think about mercury levels and other contaminants. So do a bit of sleuthing and figure out which fish is safer. The rule of thumb seems to be young, fresh white fish and canned light tuna. Basically, young white fish good, big old sea-going fish bad.

As for me, because I can’t attest to the refrigeration standards of soi disant local sushi chefs, I’ve decided to avoid the raw anything – mostly because it’d be horrible to deal with pregnancy AND salmonella at the same time. But I miss it like a fat kid misses cake.

4. Don’t watch scary movies when you’re pregnant

Another Eastern gem. Basically, stay clear of horror flicks as you might scare the baby witless.

And just to prove how deeply embedded this superstition is among certain folks, apparently some Chinese horror flicks place the following disclaimer before running:

Important to NOTE: this movie is not suitable for expecting mothers.

I think the myth speaks for itself, but I just had to add this one in because the movie bit was priceless. I say this with much affection for Chinese ghost stories. They are usually funnier than they are scary. Except for Ring. That was just insiduously freaky. But then again, it was Japanese.  

BTW, Tony and I have been completely blowing this one as we’ve been catching up on Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the last 3 weeks. It’s our stay-home dinner date and I wouldn’t miss the excuse to snuggle up with him even for Blob.

5. Don’t eat spicy foods as you will induce premature childbirth

Pffft. My comeback to that: India and China’s populations. ‘Nuff said.

6. Ginger and liquor keep the body’s vigour

Again with the wind. And please don’t take this as evidence of my knocking the “wind” theory in Asia. It does sometimes work and besides – the food that forms part of the remedy can be SO yum.

Basically, Singapore Chinese confinement foods include lots of ginger and sesame oil to deal with excess gas, and alcohol to promote better blood circulation. I’ve actually tasted confinement food, and some of it is just sublime. Possibly because some dishes are fattening beyond belief. But I digress.

However, the bit about the liquor especially flies in the fact of Western thinking and I have to agree with my Western counterparts on this one. If you’re breastfeeding, then getting liquored up isn’t great for bub. Then again, alcohol burns up when heated in foods, so I’m not sure cooking with it is so terrible after all.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Heaps more to talk about of course, but I’ll stop here. I’m not a nutritionist or some pregnancy guru, so check these out for yourself and form your own opinion. I wanted to do this exercise so that I could know my own mind. After this, whether I choose to comply with the myths “just in case”, or to keep the peace with the older generation for my own sanity, remains a subject entirely separate.

Destination Maternity: a deconstruction

So I’d listed Destination Maternity as one of my Sartorial Savvy links after looking at their online catalogue and getting very impressed by their prices and their bigness (they’re apparently the world’s largest designer and retailer of maternity apparel). And because I’m outgrowing my work clothes faster than you can wail, “Veronica Maine is no longer my friend!”, I decided to get some DM goodness shipped to Canberra.

Well.

Their clothes are very affordable. I picked out this cute little empire-waisted black and white polka dot number, a pair of sensible work pants, and a work skirt with a ribbon-belt thing. And then I went to pay.

It was $40+ for shipping and handling. Why? Because I’m located in the backside of Mother Earth, as far as America is concerned.

Okay. So I tell myself, the company’s got to make money from somewhere, and the clothes are dirt cheap ($30 for a work dress!) because they hide the real cost in the shipping. I get it. Fine. It’s still cheaper than spending $240 in Australia, so I go ahead with it.

The skirt is out of stock. And because I had stupidly opted for them to ship the balance to me instead of waiting for items to come back in stock (because, you know, I’m on a clock here. You’re only pregnant for so long), I am now paying $20+ per item for shipping.

Suddenly, the prices are looking less shiny.

The thing I didn’t understand at the time, even after reading the terms and conditions (and yes, I read them sometimes), is that they get a third party to manage all their shipping. Their international shipping service has an innocuous, self-referencing sort of name (“International Checkout”, I kid you not). What I did NOT realise is that International Checkout uses DHL as their delivery service.

What you have to understand about DHL is that they take the non-delivery of your goods very, very seriously. In fact, I’m convinced the Devil himself moonlights as a DHL lackey, just for the entertainment.

So here goes.

I placed the order on 5 January. DHL man comes with the package on 17 January. We’re not home – he leaves a docket in our letterbox. It gives us three options. We could

  • opt to collect our shipment from the local DHL office
  • redirect the shipment to a business address
  • get DHL to re-deliver the goods with the authority to leave the package at our door.

Because the local DHL office is near enough to our offices, I call DHL the very next day to ask when they are open until (5.30pm), and to tell them I’m coming to pick up my package.

We rock up at Fyshwick with five minutes to spare. The doors are locked.

I call the DHL local office and no one picks up the phone. I get redirected to their national line and give them a polite verbal bollocking, before being put on hold for ages. Purely by coincidence, someone rather surly looking emerges from the DHL office. From the external glass doors, I mime-command him to let me in. It helps to look pregnant, hot and irate because I doubt he would have bothered otherwise. He is, coincidentally, wearing a rugby jersey that’s completely branded by my company. The jersey is lovely, but completely clashes with the sour expression on his face. I remain unfazed.

Until they tell me that they’d happily passed my package along to Australia Post, and I have to go down the street and retrieve the package myself. Australia Post closes at 6.00pm, better hurry.

Running out of time and patience, Tony and I dash over to the Australia Post warehouse place thingy, and are relieved to find it open. But the service staff are bewildered and tetchy. Because DHL had sent our package along as registered post so no, they cannot find the package “at the back”, and DHL should really stop sending customers to Australia Post to retrieve their packages because it just doesn’t work like that. They’ve been doing this the whole day.

So to sum things up, I had just paid $40+ for my goods to be sent to me by registered local mail. Which I then have to go and collect from the mailhouse another day. I love that DHL left me a card with three options to give me the illusion of choice. That has got to be the knife twist.

We collected the package today. The pants fit me great, which is a relief. The dress is cute, although the armholes are rather huge so I might have to take them in, or else learn to fly with ’em flappy material. The dress has no lining. I just wrote Destination Maternity an email, asking if there’s another way to get clothes shipped to Australia that doesn’t involve paying extortionate dollars for pretty Kmart-material clothes.

And oh. I’m praying not to find any defects in my clothes. Because under their return and exchange policy, defective merchandise can be exchanged or refunded but I’d have to pay all associated shipping fees. Cheeky little…

You have been warned.

The Hee Hee Pee

It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally someone at work will accidentally enter the “_all users” option in the address field and send a private email to the entire company.

All 1,200 of us.

There was one time a few years ago when someone sent the entire company an invoice for cleaning services relating to “feminine hygiene”. Needless to say, that email got retracted rather quickly. The second email that went out read pretty much like this:

“Apologies for previous email. Obviously not meant to go out to everyone.

“Sorry for the incontinence.”

I’ve been reading about pregnancy incontinence, lately. Fact: about 40% of pregnant women experience some involuntary peeing during pregnancy, and about 30% have incontinence after delivery. That’s, like, 2 in 5 for the first instance, and 1 in 3 for the second. Those are freakishly high odds. Another study gave odds as high as 79%. That is a lot of accidental pee.

It gets worse. You can pee when you’re laughing, coughing or sneezing. I laugh often and loud. I also sneeze in multiples of three. There is no single get-it-out-of-the-system ha-choo for me. It’s ha-Choo! Ha-chee! Chee! Chee! Chee! Chee! Ha-CHEE! ‘Scuse me, sorry, epileptic fit, don’t mind me…

And now they tell me I’m going to inadvertently wet myself, on top of that?

I have no idea what pelvic floor muscles are and how to exercise them. Or whether I’m even moving the right muscles when I do. But man, am I going to work those babies.

Why Chinese mothers are superior

Not that I believe they are, but it’s a catchy title, huh. Read this rather controversial article today with the same title, and had to really think about it before I decided to publicly “like” it on Facebook.

It wasn’t an easy read. It wasn’t even all that familiar in bits, because my mother had never been that crazy – thank you God! But the article scored gold stars with me for the following reasons.

  • The author displayed absolute guts in presenting a single version of Asian values in a very Western publication with – no doubt – a highly opinionated target audience poised to pounce and protect their way of life.
  • The author practically glorified the crazy competitive nature that seems dyed in Asian wool – and gave it a name, a face, an explanation that wasn’t centred around saving face or sadism.
  • While she sounded rather abusive and nuts in places, the author wasn’t that off the mark. She had some valid points. She wasn’t completely bonkers.

I’ve survived the Singapore educational system. It’s nothing to sneeze at and as much as I look back on some of the years and shudder, I am strangely proud to be a product of its rigour. I had my most difficult school years in Singapore. By the time I got to Uni in Australia, it was a breeze. And while I really didn’t enjoy aspects of my school life in Singapore, I learnt this much at least.

  • Life doesn’t slow down to wait for you to catch up.
    Sometimes, you just have to force yourself to learn. When it comes to learning about do-or-die, I think I’d rather learn it early over a math book, than later in a job that pays my mortgage.
  • Keen competition with others is good.
    It tells you never to be complacent. It instills humility because you know there’s always someone better, brighter, faster, more diligent. It teaches you to get over yourself after your 5 seconds of glory.
  • Everything requires hard work and perseverance.
    Even subjects you think you’re good at. The whole concept of reaching your full potential is very much the pulse of Asian upbringing. And the drum beats even stronger in Asian churches. Do your very best for God. Be a testament for Him. Laziness is sin.
  • Self-esteem and job satisfaction comes from doing it proper.
    Praise for every single non-event is empty indeed. Praise earned for a job truly well done is a prize far greater and worth striving for.

There are heinous stereotypes about Eastern and Western parenting styles in the article that the author was quick to acknowledge from the start. I’m not saying I agree with all she said. But a part of me read it, and felt proud because yeah… the work ethic that Asian families instill in their young is so invaluable. I see so many wimpy, aimless, idle, ungrateful teens today that I want to shake – hard! And give them a dose of REAL school homework and school activities so hectic, they stay out of mischief. Simplistic, but a girl’s gotta dream.

And yet, I wished the Singapore school system – in my time – didn’t force us all to be bilingual. Wasn’t so terribly pragmatic that it forced us to be doctors, accountants, engineers all. Didn’t make our local exams so difficult that MENSA students couldn’t even answer a Primary 6 math question easily. Didn’t pigeon hole us before we barely reached puberty. Didn’t litter our holidays with private tuition and extra classes. Didn’t ostracise us for wanting to attend a church camp instead of choir practice for the national finals.

But still, I look back largely with fondness. Because it was a rite of passage. And it was tough. And I survived by the grace of God and extra tuition. And made tremendous friendships. And got equipped with invaluable life skills.

I know I’m not a parent yet, and I’m still relatively new to my borrowed and Western country of residence. I don’t profess to have all the answers. But I had a chat with Tony today, and we know we want to find a happy medium between our two educational cultures for our children.

Rub my belly like I’m Buddha

I had my first belly-grab today! You know, when someone reaches out and touches your tummy because you’re pregnant and it’s now apparently in the public domain? That’s the one.

Pregnant women the blogosphere over howl about the intrusion of having their bellies touched, but because I love this morning’s belly-toucher (she’s one of my many surrogate mothers here), I didn’t mind it one bit.

Anyhoo. Read someone’s comment about belly-touching on an old Mommyland post today, and burst out laughing.

I had a horrible time emotionally when I was preggo with my second. I had absolutely NO brain-mouth filter so what.ever. I thought came right out. In Target one day a complete stranger, middle aged woman-aren’t they the worst about this?, came up to me, put both her hands on my belly and said “Oh my, you feel about 8 months along.” So I reached out and grabbed both her boobs and said “Oh my, you feel like about a C cup.” She called security, I laughed and left.

How NOT to be a Yummy Mummy

As long as there’s unsolicited advice, good intentions, cluelessness and insensitivity… as long as we are required as a human race to interact with one another, there’s bound to be angst. And as I’ve discussed before, when it comes to Motherhood, everyone has an opinion. Because everyone’s either had a mother, knows a mother, or is a mother.

Which is why there’s heaps of pregnancy/new mother blogs which dedicate at least one post to a Top 10 list on Things Never to Say to a Pregnant Woman. Even I had started a draft (but abandoned it because really, I haven’t had too many colossally silly things said to me yet so I’d just be rehashing someone else’s material.) And these lists are all valid, because people do say the darndest things without thinking. Read another one today forwarded by ElilyMommy, and #10 has got to be one of the funniest horrible things to say to a woman who’s just given birth. I’d give any woman Godiva chocolates for decking the clod that said it first.

HOWEVER… there is a HOWEVER…

Pregnant women and n00b Moms are equally guilty of saying and doing obnoxious things. We can be equally insensitive and clueless, equally self-absorbed and hurtful. People CAN want to throw things at us that aren’t compliments. It’s probably slightly worse for them actually, for while we seem to get away with crazy hormonal outbursts “because of our condition”, it’s rather un-PC to seethe at pregnant women and babies.

So. Here’s my list of top things not to say/do as a new mother.

1. Insist others share in your joy. Literally.

A friend once hopped online and without much preamble, insisted that Tony and I started spawning because “it’s just the best thing you can do – giving life! It’s so beautiful! Nothing beats it!” etc etc. He was bubbling over with excitement because he was a new dad. Which is lovely to watch. But by the nth hyperbole on how “there’s nothing like it” and I was “missing out”, I was starting to feel like he believed Tony and I could never imagine real happiness as a family until we had children. Which is just unfair and untrue.

Takeaway: Parenthood isn’t for everyone, and it isn’t for everyone right this minute. So remember that.

2. Jump on the baby express and get tunnel vision

I am getting very guilty of this, because I’m starting to become The Most boring conversationalist – if you’re not interested in the whole baby thang. Remember the life you had before you fell pregnant, and don’t knock it. There are people in your life who share that version of you, and you have to remember that they won’t all know or care about the pregnancy or the new bub. As much as they love you.

Takeaway: Step away from the baby stuff every so often and be generous. You ARE capable of being interested in others, and what’s going on in their lives and in the world at large.

3. Information overshare

Related to the previous point, although in this instance I refer more to the delightful way pregnant women and mothers seem to delve into the gory details. We’re talking blood and mucus and puke and vaginal secretions and tearing and stitching and piles and poo and pee and breasts engorging and nipples cracking and stretch marks and flatulence and constipation and nausea and vomiting…

Get my drift?

It’s like a filter has been removed, and suddenly we lose our mystery. The men don’t like it. Non-pregnant women don’t like it. And who can blame them? Because when you play it all back with your pre-pregnant ears on, it’s not elegant dinner conversation, is it.

Takeaway: You may have changed, but the audience around you probably hasn’t. Don’t gross out your friends and colleagues, because you may need them for babysitting later.   

4. Expect congratulations

It’s quite arrogant really, but I think as expecting or new mothers, we suffer from a serious entitlement complex because we get majorly offended and hurt when the receipt of our happy news is muted at best, or even hostile. We stand there with our fancy baby announcement, tap-tapping our foot for the inevitable avalanche of gushing, and are gobsmacked if someone had the temerity to say something snide or – worse – be completely indifferent. Especially if they’re people we like.

The thing is, having babies ISN’T everyone’s cup of tea and some people really aren’t excited about them. Alternatively, your baby news might be the very last straw for someone who’s been trying for AGES while you just tripped over a door stop and fell pregnant.

Takeaway: While this joyous time is all about you, it also isn’t always all about you. Profound, huh.

5. Offer unsolicited advice

Just as it’s annoying for someone to tell us how good parenting ought to be, it’s annoying to be given unsolicited advice about labour, fertility, the importance of getting married/getting a job first/getting a house first before starting a family… you name it. There always is some sort of weird pecking order in the world, and being pregnant or becoming a new mum sometimes gives us the illusion that we now have the right to tell someone else how things ought to be done.

Now, I’m not saying there is never a place and time for good advice. But providing a listening ear and an open heart is probably heaps more helpful than shoving our newfound opinions and experience down their throats.

Takeaways: “Pay it forward” isn’t always a great policy. Make it about what they need, and not about you feeling needed.

 

And remember: don’t be a dummy. Be a yummy mummy. <cheesey wink>

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