Finding The Happy

Looking for joy in all the right places


May 2011

The magical powers of midwives

So we had our last antenatal class this evening, which was all about what to do with the munchkin once she enters the world. Up until this class, we’ve covered the grizzly details of labour and birth, including

  • a real, live placenta hot off the press, so to speak.
    In fact, we had a bonus that particular evening because we saw TWO placentas – one that contained twins. Which is like saying that we had a bonus that evening because we got served a quivering mass of raw pork livers at a crazy Chinese restaurant, and then came back for seconds. (Also, nothing like looking at something that squishy and Sci-Fi Weird to reinforce the fact that your adorable baby is, in fact, like Alien.)
  • lovely powerpoint slides about pain management, complete with diagram of epidural needle cheerfully weaving up your spine.
  • what usually happens when it all goes to crap and you need an emergency caesarean. And stitches. Everywhere.

But this evening finally got fun. Because we had a real-life 3-day-old baby in the room, grizzly from wind and needing to give a good butt-fluff. And our midwife proceeded to mesmerise the room into a common state of Awwww… by demonstrating how to bathe baby.

And right before our very eyes, we saw her transform this tetchy, unhappy, piteously crying bundle of joy who loathed his bath yesterday, into the picture of utter contentment when she deftly flipped him over to his tummy and submerged his entire body in the bath, nothing but his chin calmly resting on her hand.

He basically laid sprawled eagle like that in the bath for a full five minutes without so much as a whimper, his eyes getting droopy, his face completely relaxed, his body in utter surrender, in suspended animation. He almost fell asleep, he was that cushy. It was the funniest, most precious thing I’d ever seen because he looked like a cross between an Anne Geddes moment and a drunken frog. I wish I thought to take a photo, although I’m guessing the proud father would probably not have appreciated my randomly taking happy snaps of his son and posting them on this blog. Some people are funny that way.

But wait, there’s more! For the magical midwife also demonstrated the ancient art of shushing a baby by flipping a super-secret switch on his forehead.

In Singapore, whenever we got decked out for Racial Harmony Day at school, we tended to wear someone else’s cultural costume. You know, Malays in sam foos, Indians in sarong kebayas, Chinese in saris, etc. And as always, there’s bound to be someone to make some lame joke about the bindi, and how it’s really a mute button. Whatever.

Turns out, this midwife has always known its real powers because before our very eyes, she stroked the middle of his frowny, fussy forehead and he became as tame as a bunny wabbit. Every baby, apparently, has an “off” button.

I’m hoping Blobette comes with instructions, but I’m guessing she won’t. I’m starting to believe that’s ‘cos some midwives might be hiding the manual.

8 is the natural number following 7 and preceding 9

Sing it with me – “It’s the Final Countdooooown! DOO-DOO-DOOOO-DOOOOOO! DOO-DOO-DOOT-DOOT-DOOOOO….”

We are 8 months today, if you’re following the second ultrasound and ignoring the other dates the midwives have since flung in our general direction. (“29 June! 25 June! 4 July!”) Not that it really matters, as friends and colleagues who have recently spouted babies can attest. Each baby has its own clock and the turkeys decide they’re done when they’re done.

I have five business days left in the office. Seven, if I’m going into the office this weekend. Eight, if I’m sneaking into the office next Saturday to clean my desk. Today, we had work drinkies and it was just surreal to think that this is my second-last official Friday with the office folk for a long time. I think I grew fonder of all of them just by the sudden realisation that I won’t be sharing their collective company for a while. It was almost an Oprah moment, really.

Anyhoo, while I’m relatively bulbous but still not at the “get out of my body puh-lease” stage of my delicate condition, I thought I’d reflect on what I’ll miss most about being pregnant.

The inside of my belly-button

As disgusting as this sounds, I have to say that one of the most cool-weird things about being pregnant is the fact that I can check out the full splendour of my belly-button. I’ve always had an innie. Now I have a flattie with a slight upper-lip pout. And because the skin in one’s belly-button is still rather unspoiled and untouched by age and harsh elements, it’s a five-cent piece of almost-virgin skin that’s soft as what I’d imagine a baby would feel. Uber weird and too much information? Probably. But I’m going to miss my new belly-button.

Random strangers, talking to my tummy

Note to new migrants: if you’re having a tough time integrating in Australia, go and grow a human being. Because there’s no better ice-breaker, I reckon. One ceases to need shared history and culture to easily bond with another when one is so obviously experiencing such a universally common part of life – growing one. I’ve had more smiles, goodwill and conversation starts from strangers thrown my way in the last 4 months than in the 8 years I’ve lived in Australia. Mostly because people around me suddenly have something obvious and fun to chat to me about.

Letting it all hang out

As far as pregnancy diets go, I subscribe to the “well-rounded” theory. Which involves eating what I normally eat, except 30% more of it. So none of this avoiding-everything-till-all-I-have-left-is-bread-water-and-beetroot rubbish. She needs nutrients, I need nutrients, and as long as I’m not being stupid about food hygiene, I say bring it on. Also, chocolate, ice-cream, cheese and curries fall into the She Needs Calcium category. So let’s have more of that, please. And the bestest, bestest part about being pregnant? Licence to wear fat clothes. I’ve not sucked in my tummy for the last 7 months since I found out about Blobette. Do you know how AWESOME that is???

Happy Hormones

The crazy work year I’ve had has made me cranky in parts but overall, I’ve been goofy-glad. I sing more. I dance silly jigs even when someone’s looking. I laugh very loudly. And I’m as gooey as a teenager with her first crush. Of course, a part of me is aware that once these hormones switch off, I might plummet into post-partum depression and be Ultra-Bitch from Hell. But until then, I’m swimming in so much oestrogen and isn’t my man gorgeous and isn’t everyone just being wonderful and funny and I love everybodeeeeee…

I like the way you move

I love that I can feel her groovin’. I say this, even though she’s now big enough to wake me up in mid-slumber from a well-placed kick at 4.00am, and even though neither of us can agree on a good sleeping position. (I cannot stay on my right side as it feels unnatural, she protesteth much when I lie on my left. Neither of us can stand me being on my back.) There’s nothing like a sudden wriggle to remind the self that she is a separate being, already with a mind of her own, already with instincts apart from mine. It blows my mind, but in the best posssible way. Most men get to pee standing up. Some women get to feel this. I think we win.

I’m sure there’s heaps more, but these are the ones that spring to mind with each passing day. I know some women have it tough, and I know having babies isn’t for everyone, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being pregnant thus far. It’s been da BOMB.

Birth plans: this century’s oxymoron

The first time I read about drafting a birth plan, I thought, “Geez. Anal-retentive much?” (Don’t get me started on how inappropriate and ironic that statement is. It has dawned on me since.) Birth plans, as it turns out, are tremendously in vogue. They are the done thing in my day and age, part and parcel of the whole pregnancy shebang. Like an internet plan with a new home, so is a birth plan with a new pregnancy. What? Your house didn’t come with ethernet ports and fibre to the premise? Get with the programme, dah-link.

Except, I still don’t quite get it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen the templates and the samples, and I can see how some of it can useful. But the biggest thing that’s doing my head in is the fact we’re encouraged to think we can control what’s going to happen, when it happens, how it happens, and why. Some of the birth plans I’ve come across read like Hollywood scripts. The baby emerges with a lusty cry after a natural, calm birth, minimum tearing and no episiotomy. Mother and child bond at once with skin to skin contact. Breastfeeding ensues. Exchange of lovey dovey looks with birth partner. End scene.

But birth plans I’ve come across seldom include the following scenarios:

  • very early arrivals
  • very late arrivals
  • babies in distress
  • mothers in distress
  • birth partner out of action (late, still trying to park the darn car, fainted on the floor)
  • I-didn’t-quite-make-it-across-the-parking-lot-help!
  • emergency c-sections
  • “no room at the inn” (overcrowding at birth centre, private ward)
  • complete and utter exhaustion coupled with zero physical strength after XXth hour

and most importantly,

  • crazy changes of the mind, because you’re in the most gawdawful and intense pain you’ve ever known in your thus-far sheltered life.

Are we in danger of setting ourselves up for a huge disappointment – and literally a world of pain – if it all goes to crap? Are we fooling ourselves into thinking we can control almost every moment of our child’s birth? Every older woman I talk to almost snorts in derision whenever they hear the words ‘birth plan’. “Yeah,” they chortle. “Good luck.” (The polite ones mock you only with their eyes.) I can see why they’re sceptical. The birth stories I’ve heard so far have all to do with reacting to the moment and doing whatever works, and hardly resemble anything the mother envisioned or articulated beforehand.

After a bit of scrounging around, I learnt that the whole birth-plan idea emerged around the 1990s with the return-to-natural-birth movement. Great. I actually like the idea of NOT being confined to the bed, on my back, whimpering softly and breathing like a choo-choo train (hee-hee-hoo!). I think there’s much to be said about birth positions that capitalise on the laws of gravity, and I’m all for involving Tony as much as possible in this tremendous journey. But as with anything the world comes up with, I am inundated with conflicting messages.

On the one hand, we’re told that we are each entitled to a natural birth, that having a baby vaginally is within our control, and that we can each facilitate a less painful birth if only we knew how.

On the other hand, we’re told that natural birth is all about losing control and letting go. Wanna have your while baby squatting on one leg and bellowing the Haka? Whatever works, hon! Wanna have your baby in the bath while the lullaby rendition of Rocky’s theme is playing softly in the background? Whatever floats your boat, ma’am. Take off ALL your clothes while you’re at it. None of us are strangers here. (Except, the doctor, the midwives, the anesthetist…)

So… wrest control and lose control. Got it?

I’ve heard of birth plans referred to as birth wishlists. In some ways, that’s even worse. My wishlist would involve any of the painless births I’ve had in my dreams – with no tearing, no pushing, and midwives in my bathtub with 1950s showercaps on. It might also result in birthing a cuddly black labrador puppy instead of a healthy baby. (Don’t ask. I don’t even want to know where my subsconscious got that bit of inspiration.)

So, where to from here?

As much as I want to bag out the whole birth plan idea, I think there’s merit in visualising success before entering into any challenge. And perhaps our birth plan can help Tony and I scenario-test the less desirable situations and talk about what worries us and what helps us cope. Hope and pray for the best, prepare for the worst. Pray for strength regardless.

As for my preliminary list, here’s a few nuggets.

I plan:

  • not to swear like a sailor, no matter how painful things get.
    This is actually harder than you think, because I can get pretty potty-mouthed like the best of them when under crazy-stress. And this will be crazy-stress.
  • not to take my pain out on Tony through verbal abuse and blame.
    The whole “Deees eees YOUR FAULT!” may be tempting – and practically a given in Hollywood births – but is unfair to the poor chap. And I know he’ll try his hardest to be there for me on the day. It’s going to be a special kind of hell for him while his wife is baying like a wounded animal and he cannot do much about much. He’s going to hate that.
  • to trust that things will work out.
    Am I nervous? Oh yes. We had an antenatal class this week where they passed around the epidural needle and my hair was already standing from that. But I am holding on to the promise that we will not be tried beyond what we cannot bear. So meanwhile, I’ll try not to rule anything out and enjoy as much of it as humanly possible.

And you know I’ll keep you guys posted. :)

The yuck factor. Coming soon to a baby near you.

One of the things I’ve been told by a midwife to bring to the hospital is a Snappi nappy fastener – the modern and supposedly safer equivalent of the old nappy pin to hold a traditional cloth nappy together. Apparently, the hospital insists on using cloth nappies for the duration of our stay, as that enables them to monitor baby’s output easily.

Those suckers are really hard to find. Tried the usual suspects – BigW and Target – and got nothing. I stared and stared at a packet of nappy safety pins (the old-fashioned ones) and tried to imagine myself fastening the nappy competently. One scenario had me fastening the nappy so loosely, it dropped as soon as I picked up Blobette. One other scenario made me blanche. There is no way I want to wield a sharp object anywhere near a very soft, piercable baby.

So it was back to the Snappi hunt. Tonight, I thought I’d turn to the interweb to scrounge around for an online seller, only to read about this… er… health warning on the Natural Parenting website:

WARNING Snappy/ Nappy Nippa danger

Today a mum from the south east of Sydney experienced first hand the dangers of nappy Snappy’s (known as Nappy Nippa’s in the northern hemisphere). Whilst manouvering over-flowing faeces, feet, flannels & fingers in an attempt to change her baby, the bottom Snappy teeth, which were covered in rouge faeces, got re-caught on the nappy. When the mum applied a combination of wriggling & pressure to release the Snappy it suddenly flung faeces at great speed directly into her mouth. Authorities have released an offical warning.

Yah. The joys of parenthood. Admit it – you’re now cursing my name, and surreptitiously scraping imaginary baby poo from the roof of your mouth. I hear that other people’s babies excretions are always gross, but you’ll be fine with your own baby’s liquid goods. I’m counting on the fact that God might have hardwired mothers and fathers to remain impervious and immune to their child’s stinky bits. But we’ll see.

Stop press! We have an above-average kid!

Olga rocking horseSo yesterday, I dreamt a won a race.

Now. I don’t usually win races, but you see this one involved galloping about on a giant rocking horse that looks something like the specimen on the right, except HUGE. It involved starting from the back and galloping that wooden horse for all its worth through the neighbourhood hawker centre near my mother’s house, overtaking a mass of IT systems people, the entire large business sales team, and finally my own director of sales, marketing and corporate affairs. It ended when I got bored, and decided to sit down and tuck into some Ipoh Hor Fun.

I think this had a little to do with the obstetrician visit.

We had an ultrasound yesterday. Bear in mind that the last time we had any happy snaps, it was 14 weeks ago so she’s changed a lot since then. After weeks of being told that my tummy is tiny and that I couldn’t possibly only have eight/seven/six weeks to go, I asked my midwife if I was travelling alright, and she said I was pretty much textbook to the point of being “boring”. And then my obstetrician did a bit of sleuthing by ultrasound and lo and behold, our little girl now weighs a healthy 2.3kg and at 34 weeks, has beautiful long legs of a 36-week old.

And would you believe, something primal and stupid tripped inside my head and heart, and suddenly I was ridiculously proud that my daughter was already above average in something. As if either of us had a direct hand in the business of lengthening her femur. “My babe,” I say proudly, “is going to be a babe.”

Has it begun? I hear about mothers groups getting really competitive. And suddenly it’s about height and weight gain, and whose child is crawling first, and whose child still isn’t sleeping through the night, and whose child can perform the Aria. And then it’s brain training classes, and getting into the best gymboree, and which mommy handstitches all her child’s clothes, bakes like a demon, got her flat tummy within a week of the birth sans stretch marks, and looks like a million dollars.

And it sounds silly but hey, I have a competitive streak a mile long. Guys, women are crazy competitive. We’re just not always competitive about the same things that men are, but boy we’re competitive and we’re sneaky competitive, too. We don’t come out with arms swinging. But we count our wins like the best of them and boy, can we fight dirty…

So you’ve been warned. And yeah, my daughter is gonna be leggy. YEAH!

Confessions of a bargain hunter

We had a big shopping spree yesterday – the pointy end of the sudden realisation that

  • I am 3 weeks out to full-term
  • babies can come early
  • I can no longer put on my house socks without resembling an inebriated Sumo wrestler in a dizzy bat race. Very unglamorous.

Prior to yesterday’s shopping spree, I had waxed lyrical about the different kinds of shopping mommies out there, and I’ve learnt I vacillate between The Bargain Hunter and The Accidental Splurger. And truth be told, I hardly splurged – which surprised me very much. The biggest surprise is how much I’ve enjoyed bargain hunting with Tony – who, as it turns out, is great at scouring AllClassifieds for cool deals.

Anyhoo… after months of bargain hunting, I thought I’d compile some tips and tricks we’ve gleaned along the way.

Pace yourself

So you’ve just peed on the stick and you know you’ve got months to get things in order. Don’t start too late. It’s a budgeting thing, really – if you can afford to spend $2,000 at a go towards the end, good on you. But chances are, you’ll need to spread the cost over a few months. Especially if you’re starting from scratch because you have no hand-me-downs.

Decide what’s new, what’s pre-loved

One of the things I struggled with initially was the guilt that I wasn’t being prudent enough with money. So the temptation is to go against your gut and try and buy everything second-hand. Only to go home with dregs and realise that you’ve just wasted $120 rather than saved $170, because now you’re stuck with a second-hand electric breastmilk expressor that you can’t bear to use because you keep picturing some other random woman’s lady bits in them, and faint mooing in the background. Or whatever. And look, it’s an individual thing but Tony and I eventually figured out what we absolutely wanted to buy first-hand, and what we were happy to buy pre-loved. It’s okay to buy some things brand new.

Know what the going rate is

Once I figured out what I wanted to get, what was absolutely necessary to me and what I felt were optional extras, I started a list that has lived in my handbag ever since. I also did a bit of online sleuthing beforehand and dropped in the best recommended retail prices (RRP) I could find in that list. Those RRPs formed my price ceiling. That way, if I happened to walk past a shop or find something online for cheaper, I had a benchmark from which to work. It made impulse on-the-spot buying a lot easier and cheaper. And oh look – I’ve even included my Shopping list template!

Go in pairs

You are a pregnant woman. Chances are, you are going to slow down by 30% by the time you reach 6 months, and waddle by the time you’re 8. So think about your safety, and turn up at the door with someone else who can

  1. yank you to safety, or
  2. have the presence of mind not hampered by Pregnant Brain to defend you if you should come into harm’s way.

If you’re responding to an advert to suss out pre-loved goods at someone’s house, remember that they are strangers – even if they sound lovely on the phone. Also, having someone else with you to bounce off ideas wouldn’t hurt.

Get your code straightened out

Whether you’re turning up at the Baby & Kids Market, or at someone’s home sussing out their wares, it can be hard to walk away from an offer that just doesn’t meet your minimum standards. Especially if the owner (usually the Mommy) is standing there, rocking her gorgeous baby, and sharing how he/she “absolutely loved playing with it”, and how it was his/her “favourite toy”. Couple that awkwardness with your shopping partner and you trying to discuss the merits and demerits of the item in question while the owner listens in, and you’re more likely to find yourself leaving the stall/house with crap you didn’t want. So yes – get some kind of pig latin going between you and your shopping partner. Learn to read each other’s signals – especially if one of you is uncomfortable and wants to say ‘no’.

Bargains can come from anywhere

I’ll relay a recent shopping win that best illustrates this point. Those floor-gym thingies with overhanging toys that encourage newborns and toddlers to get tactile? They are colourful, educational, and freakishly expensive. Tony and I were eyeing a Lamaze one that was retailing for $99.99 on average. He found a second-hand one online for $50 – score! So he set up the appointment… and I happened to waltz into Target, found the same unit, did a price check… and walked away with a $14.84 bargain. Brand new. True story. Very smug still. Moral of the story: just because it’s in a department store, doesn’t mean you can’t find freak deals. Leave no stone unturned.

Plan to recycle

So you’ve made your bargain buys. Now what? Document how much you actually paid for each item. And then keep the packaging. Take photos of how the item came packed, if you have to. Because when it’s your turn to play babyware seller for some other bargain hunter, you’ll know exactly how much to price your stuff and you have a better chance of selling your wares if your packaging looks pristine. And who knows – you might be able to make a tidy profit.

To be a reader breeder

ElilyMommy is a voracious reader, so it’s really no surprise that she’s read more books about Mommydom than I can count on all the fingers and toes in my household (formed and forming). And while I’ve had difficulty digesting some of the other volumes she’s passed to me because she has infinitely more patience than I do with long-winded authors (Tony and I keep hollering GET TO THE POINT! at Babywise, for instance), I’m absolutely loving The Read-aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease.

Basically, it’s a book about instilling the love of reading in a brand new human being – and it’s chockful of statistics and case studies that wow and inspire the likes of Tony and I. We’d both decided ages ago that our child’s love of electronic nannies (television shows, computer games) should never trump the love of reading – mostly because we have a hunch about the benefits of reading as we’ve each been its beneficiary. This book turns the hunches to ah-hahs. It also tells us why we should start by reading aloud to the child, pretty much the moment she can hear you.

Which, for Blobette, would be right about now.

It’s weird reading to your own belly. As much as I feel I should sit and read “Where’s the green sheep?” to my protruding middle torso, I fear it gives me the giggles and the distinct sense of You’re on Candid Camera. But when I was nine years old, I loved my borrowed copy of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes so much, that I made myself memorise the shortest tale. So much so that I can recite it to this day.

So this is what Blobette’s been hearing from me. (Might be slightly inaccurate, as I’m typing this from memory. Haven’t bought my own copy yet.)

As soon as Wolf began to feel
That he would like a decent meal,
He went to knock on Grandma’s door,
And when she opened it, she saw
The sharp white teeth, the horrid grin.
Then Wolfie said, “May I come in?”

Poor Grandmama was terrified.
“He’s gonna eat me up!” she cried.
And she was absolutely right –
He ate her up, in one big bite!

But Grandmama was small and tough,
And Wolfie cried, “That’s not enough!”
He ran around the kitchen yelping,
“I’ve gotta have a second helping!”
Then added, with a frightful leer,
“Therefore, I’m going to wait right here
Till Little Miss Red Riding Hood
Comes home from walking in the wood.”

In came the little girl in red.
She stopped. She stared. And then she said,

“Grandma… what big eyes you have!”

“All the better to see you with.”

“Grandma… what big ears you have!”

“All the better to hear you with.”

The Wolf sat watching her, and smiled.
He thought, “I’m going to eat this child.
Compared to her old Grandmama,
She’s going to taste like caviar!”

Then Little Red Riding Hood said,
“Grandma, what a lovely, furry coat you have on!

“That’s wrong!” cried Wolf.
“Have you forgot?
To ask me what big teeth I’ve got?
But ah, no matter what you say,
I’m going to eat you anyway!”

The little girl smiles. Her eyelid flickers.
She takes a pistol from her knickers.
Aims it at the Wolfie’s head,
And bang, bang, bang! She shoots him dead.

A few weeks later in the wood,
I came across Miss Riding Hood.
But what a change – no cloak of red!
No silly hood upon her head!

She says, “Hello… and do please note
My lovely, furry wolf-skin coat.”

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