Category Archives: Dear Faith

Family Photography: Grow Old With Me

Moments. The biggest ones that make your heart leap. The most insignificant ones that escape your consciousness. The ones when you laugh till your belly hurts. The ones that you’d rather others not know about. There are, too, the quiet ones when time stands still, and those pauses that seem to take far too long to skip. They make up our lives, our passage here in the world we know, and they make more difference, in the lives of the people who love you, than you think they do.

When I was on the cusp of my teens through to my twenties, I hated being photographed. I didn’t know how to smile for the camera and I certainly didn’t like the way I looked. All that changed when I started dating the love of my life. Suddenly, I was desperate to record every waking moment spent with M, determined not to let those times slip away because…really, I have the memory of a goldfish and I don’t want to forget the moments that we share. Never mind the huge cystic pimple on my nose when I headed to London to visit him, never mind the crooked teeth, I just wanted to capture as many smiles (awkward ones too) as possible.

When I moved to London, I dabbled in very (very) amateur photography. It started with food photography and styling, and then I tried my hand at taking travel shots. M often rolled his eyes at me for trying to take photographs of him too, but hey, good or bad, we now have tonnes of memories to fill the album with.

Now that we have children, I make it a point to do a family photoshoot once a year, much to the horror of M initially. “A few hundred bucks spent on photos?!” That’s what he used to say until he saw the coffee table albums I put together and realised how precious it was to be able to thumb through beautifully captured moments of the kids growing up and of our family just hanging out together. It has come to a point where he goes, “Let’s get A (our usual family photographer) to take our photographs again this year!” Because you see, sometimes when life gets tough and discouraging, M and I often snuggle up in bed at night to look at our family photos, and that is all it takes to get us back up on our feet again.

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Not all photoshoots are created equal though. I had one where the photographer physically moved our body parts (can I just say we were absolutely stiff and it was hard for the photog to move us too) so that we looked perfect for the shot; while that works for people who aren’t as stiff and are more intuitive at posing for photographs (I am absolutely envious of people who know how to work the camera), M and I just end up looking and feeling ridiculous and self-conscious because we aren’t naturals in front of the camera.

When Gideon from Grow Old With Me approached us to do a photoshoot, the first thing I did was to check out his portfolio to make sure that our styles align. As we aren’t good in front of the camera, we needed a photographer who can coax genuine emotions out of us and that’s what I saw in his work with other families. Eyes squeezed shut amidst hearty laughs, flailing arms that end in the biggest hugs, thoughtful, quiet exchanges, knowing smiles. And that’s exactly what we got out of the hour we had with Gideon.

He made an effort to get to know us, what we do, who we are, how we parent; he even knows what makes us joyful and what makes us tick. My kids usually take pretty long to warm up to people but they took to Gideon very quickly. He has a way with children, getting to their eye levels, asking questions and playing games with them; that is pretty much how he worked his magic to get Faith and Ethan to be at ease and just hang out as they usually do with us. It didn’t matter if two cameras were clicking away. The entire session was easy, comfortable and it felt like we were catching up with an old friend. Many shots were taken while we were still chatting away with Gideon, some were taken in the midst of a guided conversation we had with the kids, and others were captured when we were just having a grand ol’ time being outdoors. Sure, the children did whine a little because of the heat, but that’s to be expected anyway.

The best thing about Gideon is he wants to be there. He shared that Grow Old With Me came about because it was a natural progression to grow with the newlyweds that he has photographed, as they begin their journeys in parenthood. He recognises the ups and downs of parenthood, and sees each photoshoot as an opportunity for the family to bond. It is this that drives him to capture the moments that might have otherwise gone unnoticed in our daily lives, and I am thankful that he shared this ethos with us. Our exact sentiments, really.

We really like how the photos turned out; in fact, I just spent two hours grinning like a goofball while reliving the moments we shared that day (someone’s got to do the hard work of picking out photos to put up on the blog, there are too many good ones!). I shall leave the photos with you (it’s a slideshow and may take a while to load) and don’t forget to check out the promotion below!

Promotion:

I heard from Gideon that Grow Old With Me is looking to plan some activities that would help parents better capture moments with their children, and I honestly can’t wait to see how that pans out. While that is still work in progress, if you are looking to do a family photoshoot, you might be glad to know that Grow Old With Me is offering a 20% discount on the hour-long ‘The Family Bonding’ package (usually priced at $328), which which suits a family of 6 people (max). All photos will be processed and returned in high resolution (digital format) within a week. It’s a pretty amazing deal, if you ask me, so hurry and book a slot with Grow Old With Me! The promotional code GOWM is valid until the end of April 2017.

Like Grow Old With Me on Facebook and stay updated on Instagram over @growoldwithmesg as well!

*I was gifted a photography session for the review. No additional monetary compensation has been received. All opinions expressed are entirely my own and written according to my experience in using the products/services. Sponsors have been notified that I am not obliged to write a review upon receipt of sponsored service/items, should I find the products/services unsuitable.

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Mine

I nursed my little boy for the last time on 27 February 2017. There were no tears from the 23-month-old the next day, but boy, did Mama weep.

It all started a few weeks before that, when the husband and I felt that he could do away with the morning and pre-nap feeds as I noticed he was merely comfort-sucking and not actually taking in any milk. Those feeds were, surprisingly, incredibly easy to wean off. All I had to do was plonk him on my lap in the mornings and tell him that there was no need for Mama’s milk, and he would happily run off to the living room to rummage through his toys. For naps, I used to lie down beside him on my bed and have him feed until he drifted off to sleep, but when it came to weaning the pre-nap feed, I told him that he could hug me instead and we could fall asleep together, and he happily did just that too. It all seemed too easy.

I didn’t think too much of weaning E off those two feeds, because I still had the opportunity to nurse him at bedtime and I didn’t really mind doing that except for the fact that he was due to start school soon; from our experience, we reckoned it was just better to at least plan to wean him off completely before he embarked on the next phase in life. I didn’t have a date or plan in mind, in part due to my lack of experience in actively weaning a child (F weaned herself off the final morning feed at 21 months old, she simply ran into our bedroom while we were holidaying in Hanoi and watched cartoons before breakfast was served) and also my reluctance to let go of my baby, who seemed to have sprouted overnight, far quicker than what Mama’s heart could cope with.

I don’t know what prompted me to start weaning E off the bedtime feed on the last day of February. M was working late that evening, and I had just cleaned the kids up after getting them fed at dinner. Before I knew it, I whipped out the bedtime story (Time For Bed by Mem Fox)  that I have been reading to F for years and told E that Mama’s milk was ‘spoilt’, that we could read a book instead and I would cuddle him as he falls asleep, and he…said, “Okay!” He was clearly ready. I wasn’t, and I still don’t know what possessed me to wean him off before I was done.

This went on for a few nights and that…was it. No tears, no drama, just my boy reading (what is now) his favourite book whilst sitting on my lap, and me cuddling him to sleep. A week after the final feed, E even said this a few times while we were in the car on the way to F’s school, “No more Mama milk. Spoil spoil. Read book, okay? Sleep sleep.”

Oh, how my heart broke.

Breastfeeding had been a part of my life for the past five years. It’s almost all I know about feeding a child. You see, both my children refused the bottle and I latched them on for 99.98% of their milk feeds (0.2% being the bottle feeds which failed spectacularly). I had felt trapped at first. I couldn’t go anywhere without them. I barely slept because no one else could bottle-feed them. If I went anywhere without them, it was for my annual haircut, and even then, I was anxious the whole time and sped home just to be back in time for the next feed. Both F and E had painful reflux too, E being the one who suffered from a more severe form than F did. E, especially, screamed hysterically and arched whenever I tried to feed him; for two months, I thought he hated me. Every feed had me wrestling him (not kidding) until I perspired and both of us ended in tears. He was underweight (completely off the chart, not even on the lowest percentile) and yet, was pained by nursing. I was devastated and exhausted and at my wit’s end as to how I should help him put on weight without causing him pain. It was cruel and punishing to go through this, even as I fended off naysayers who had much to say about my breastfeeding. Our paediatrician then put him on MUPS and much too slowly, breastfeeding grew to be a mildly better experience. But it was too late, breastfeeding had scarred me physically and emotionally. I was bone-tired, resentful, and I felt unattractive, having to bear witness to what pregnancy and motherhood had done to my body over the past five years.

Yet, I didn’t want to stop nursing my children. As much as I felt tied down, it was the one way I knew how to mother. If I couldn’t meet their other needs, I could still nurse them. If nothing else went right in motherhood, there was nursing to count on. And there were plenty of occasions when they smiled and cooed and played peekaboo with me as they nursed. Breastfeeding, as gruelling as it was, forged unbreakable bonds between my children and me, and weaning felt like some sort of an un-welcomed rite of passage.

They are growing up much too quickly for me to play catch-up. I am losing them.

For both F and E, I checked on my supply each time I was in the shower after they weaned. It took more than a month before my supply dried up for F. It took two weeks in E’s case. I cried in the shower that evening. We were holidaying in Bali, and there I was, standing in the shower,  relieved (and feeling guilty at the relief) that I need not sacrifice my body that way again just to keep my children alive, mourning every single night when I had the opportunity to hold them close to me and comfort them, wincing as I tried to forget the hurtful remarks that people had hurled at me for breastfeeding my children, trying desperately to recall that twinkle in my baby’s eye as he or she nursed, stroking my fingers absent-mindedly as I struggled to remember how they clung onto my index finger with their tiny, tiny hands. Five years went much too quickly, but the days were so very long and at times, painful indeed.

A month has since passed and E has cheekily asked for Mama’s milk on a few occasions. Sometimes, I catch myself lifting up my top when I hold E in my arms as I put him to bed, only to stop halfway and realise that I have nothing left to give. But I guess we still have cuddles. I will always have cuddles, so long as they let me.

And when that is no longer, the memories are forever mine to keep.

 Photography: Grow Old With Me

The Things Faith Says #8: What’s Tickle in Chinese? 

We have been making a conscious effort to practise speaking Mandarin with Faith. She understands much better than she speaks and we thought to help her along by speaking the language more frequently to her. M is more fluent in Mandarin than I am, so I tend to only remember to practise with F when he’s back home from work.

I was cuddled up in bed with F yesterday night, watching SING on the iPad when M came home from work. F loves to get us to tickle her and she asked her daddy if he could do that.

M (in Mandarin): Try speaking in Mandarin, Faith.

F: Mama, what’s tickle in Chinese?

I turned to M, who turned to look at me as well, and I grew tomato-red before bursting into laughter.

Me: Errrrr…..(laughs hysterically) GOO JI?!!!!

(For those of you who aren’t familiar with dialects/slangs, ‘Goo Ji’ means to tickle but it’s definitely not Mandarin!)

M glared at me and then started laughing as well.

M: It’s 搔痒 lah!!!

I mean, seriously, did you guys not think of ‘Goo Ji’ too?!

I think 冯老师 (my Higher Chinese Language teacher in secondary school) is going to throw my desk out of the classroom (she used to do that with students who weren’t okay in her books). I came from a reputable Chinese school and I think it’s safe to say that I am now a disgrace to my alma mater.

(Well, I know this should belong to the category ‘Things Mama Says’ but I hope I don’t make that many bloopers to fill up a new category, so I am just going to archive this conversation here.)

The Girl On The Airplane

Credit. Something that I generously give everyone but myself.

Each time someone pays me a compliment, I’d immediately blurt out, in a manner akin to a knee-jerk reflex, that the stars, moon and sun aligned at the exact time I reached up to scratch an itch on my right cheek to cause things to turn out so marvellously. You get the picture…I’d honestly believe in any cause other than my efforts or talent, and this is the way I have been since I was a little girl. I didn’t know how to say thank you to people who said nice things to me, until M told me that it was rude to  brush off people’s compliments; after all, they went the extra mile to voice their opinions when they didn’t have to. That’s when I started to practise saying thank you, but only because I want to be polite to others and not because I truly believe in what they say.

I know I don’t make sense. I think the world of people who have done something good out there. Mamas who go to work just because. Mamas who stay home just because. Mamas who know when to let their hair down because they deserve a breather. Mamas who refuse to take a break even if they are on the brink of a burnout. Mamas who hold it together in tough times. Mamas who sob into their knees in their bathrooms when the kids are asleep. I see so much good and strength and resilience in people, especially after becoming a mother, but I fail to give credit to yours truly where credit is due. Each time I may have done something worthwhile, I brush it off and believe that it is something that others could and would have done (and they would have excelled at it instead of scraping by just like I was) if they were in my position. No biggie, is what I’d say.

Now, I didn’t realise what a slippery road that mindset has led me to. Up until yesterday, I had discredited myself so many times that I have unknowingly reduced my self-worth to zilch over the years. And it took a heart-wrenching, tearful conversation with M after our weekly brisk walk  for me to realise that.

It all started when I told M I overheard someone telling a mother that she was incredibly brave to drive her two young children out on her own. I thought the mama deserved a pat on her back too, and I thought that friend was very sweet to have pointed it out to her. Two minutes later, it dawned on me that I have been doing that since E was born. Many mothers would be home with their newborns during confinement and even in the first few months while their partners or family members help take the older kid(s) to and from school, but after M’s week-long paternity leave was over, I was driving a screaming newborn and a petrified F (because she didn’t understand why her new brother was crying) for a total of two hours everyday, come rain or shine. I didn’t have help to ferry F around and I just had to step up to do it, even if I were exhausted, scared, confused and recovering from the physical trauma of childbirth. I remember the days when all three of us would arrive at F’s school soaking wet because I didn’t know how to balance an umbrella whilst fishing E out of the car seat to pop him into the sling and getting F out of the car with her bags in tow. I remember the days when I would cry as I drove a screaming E home after dropping F at school. I remember the days when I just wanted to curl up in bed and not confront the fear of having to anticipate E’s crying (in crescendo, no less) that comes on cue whenever I loosen the sling to pop him into that damned car seat. It is easier these days, having had almost two years of practice in juggling two on school, errand, clinic and fun-time runs. But when I was in the midst of all that and taking deep breaths to dive headfirst into my fears and worries that accompany what others might think is a ‘damn simple school run, liddat also cannot handle ah’, all I could think of was how I failed whenever I broke down or leapt into wishful thinking that help would come in some form. Or when I got the kids all drenched because I couldn’t work out whether it was best to get kid number 1 out of the car first or kid number 2 into the sling before anything else. Many times, I felt defeated by what I thought must be the easiest thing to do (heck, I don’t even have to do that on public transport, I have a car, for crying out loud), and I didn’t dare tell anyone I was feeling that way about a simple school run for fear of wagging tongues and pointy fingers. And shame.

This applies to everything else. I just don’t give myself credit where it is due. I don’t pat myself on the back when an awfully long day is over even though I managed to feed the kids and keep them alive. When people tell me I made a great meal or baked some lovely cookies, I’d say thank you out of courtesy and silently wonder, “Really? I think they are just being polite and they didn’t want to hurt my feelings.” When others marvel at how I manage to take care of the kids and cook and bake, I’d be thick with guilt and shame and say, “I don’t need to go to work and I have help with cleaning and chores, so that leaves me time and energy to do the rest…” Because, somewhere in my pea-sized brain, I have come to think that all I do is the bare minimum that is required of human civilisation, that even if I succeed, it’s luck, that everyone can do what I do and they are stronger, better and just so damn awesome while I have been reduced to some kind of a weak sauce because I can’t drive my screaming newborn around without feeling anxious, for instance.

Then, M said, “You are not weak. Not at all. You are one of the strongest people that I know, and I am not saying this because you are my wife. Remember the day when we were at the Uncle Ringo fair, and Faith suddenly walked straight up to the airplane ride and said that she wanted to go on it, much to our surprise? Remember how she sat there so stiffly and quietly, with her lips steeled in absolute determination and her eyes brimming with fear? We all know that she has always been terrified of rides like this, and yet, when you asked her why she went on the ride without any of us prompting her to go on it, she said, “I was trying not to be scared, Mama. I really try.” She fought a battle that would seem insignificant to others, but she is far from weak. So what if you have help with chores and cleaning? You don’t have to put meals on the table but you do it regardless. You are talented and you bake the most beautiful things, and that has nothing to do with whether you have help or not. You can leave the children and go out and have fun but you refuse to because you want to be the one taking care of them even if it overwhelms you. You could have forced me to squeeze in school runs or made our parents do it and caused them much inconvenience but you stepped up and now you drive yourself and the kids around just so you become independent. No one is stronger than another, dear. The strongest person is one who fights a battle he or she fears most, however trivial it may seem to others, and that is what truly matters. That is why you are one of the strongest people I know. Believe me.”

I was in tears by the time he finished. I knew he was right. Any protests that I had worked out in my mind  before he started talking fell silent and I was completely thoughtful after that. In the evening breeze, I sat by the pool and recalled countless things that I admired other people for, and realised that I too have overcome similar challenges. For the first time in many, many years, I see myself in new light. I have been giving myself so much pressure, and thinking that everything I am doing is a norm that I have taught myself, unknowingly, to forget that I have actually done some pretty wonderful deeds in my life, that I am more than decent. That I am more than what I think I am, that I am not that weak a person or that lousy a mother. Perhaps, this seems pretty obvious to most people, the fact that one is still getting up to do something that trips her in the smallest or biggest of ways is an effort that is worth applauding. It is such an astounding revelation to me and today, I woke up feeling better and calmer than I have in a painfully long time. And all I had to do was to remember the look on my four-year-old’s face and her white knuckles as she held on tightly to that ride at Uncle Ringo’s. She tried…I try.

That courage, and this lesson…I will never forget.

Dear Faith: And You Are Four

Dear Faith,

I am not sure why but I feel like the mother of the bride on the eve of the wedding. As I put you to bed this evening, I struggled to hold onto your last night as a three-year-old. Tomorrow, you will be four and my heart aches a little at the thought of that. I am pining for you already, like a mother missing her newly-married daughter. Yet, I am looking forward to see how your growth might lend you room to embrace and explore this world, to experience joy and all that life has to offer (even amidst trials and tribulations), much like how the mother of the bride yearns for her child to experience and contribute to the joys of marriage and life after that.

The past year has zipped by much too quickly for my appetite. Your little brother, Ethan, was only a little over four months old when you turned three, and I have been spending a lot of time taking care of his needs, making sure that we are all fed and alive. I am sorry that you had to spend the same amount of time pottering about on your own, telling stories to your bears, singing to no one in particular, waiting for what must seem like an eternity when I ask you to hold on as I hastily complete the tasks at hand and generally, growing up so that I can cope with two children.

As much as I have noticed your new quirks this year and caught on the most astounding conversations with you, I am convinced that I have missed out as many precious moments and I hope that if you have ever resented me for not being there 100% of the time, that you would forgive me. Because I have tried my best to be as present as I could be, my love, and I will strive to do that for as long as you want me to.

Speaking of those moments that I have had the privilege of sharing with you…there are so many quirks of yours that I wish I were the most prolific writer to document every bit of you as a three-year-old, because you are worth celebrating over and over again.

You’d surprise me with the passionate and incredibly cheeky girl you have become (a far cry from the shy tot you once were), parading traits which are reserved for us and only us. Like how you would suddenly drop your toys, run towards me, cup my saggy cheeks in your tiny hands, grit your teeth and exclaim, “Arrrgggggh, I love you soooooo much!” And when I ask you how much is much, you’d shout, “TWENTY TIMES!” (If you must know, twenty is the largest number you can understand in the concept of math right now, and I know that you are trying to tell me that you love me with everything you have.) Or when you shake your booty in the most comedic fashion (like a waddling duck!) whilst wearing a duck face complete with slitty eyes to make your father and I choke on our laughter, before you collapse in giggles. Or when you ‘host’ TV shows and insist that Papa and I watch you whilst you cue us to applaud or laugh hysterically at the most appropriate moments.

At times, you’d show maturity beyond your years and lead by example on how we should live. Like when you chide us for wasting water because you have been designated a part of the ‘water police’ in school, and “Mama, it is very important, you know!” Or when you remind me firmly that I mustn’t shout when I lose my temper at Ethan because, “Shouting is wrong, Mama. You must talk nicely to Didi, just tell him not to do it anymore.” Or when you use your smarts to sneak into our bed more than once a week. “But Mama, Papa is working late again, so I can sleep in your bed tonight, right?” Or when Ethan screams in the car seat and as I check on how you are whilst I drive amidst the ruckus, you calmly announce, “Mama, I am being patient.” And then there’s the bedtime prayer, which you lead every night. “Dear God, thank you for the food. Thank you for our home. Thank you for Papa, Mama and Didi. Please take care of us, keep us healthy and safe. Please take care of E from N1 (your schoolmate who has leukaemia), Teacher J (who is pregnant) and baby, Teacher N (who is also pregnant) and baby, and Aunty S and baby F. Amen.” And your empathetic heart would always make room for people whom you think need God’s help depending on what has happened on that day.

Of course, there are those tender moments that tug at my heartstrings when you remind me that you are really just a three-year-old and still my baby deep down inside. Like when you get awoken by thunder and lighting, and cry inconsolably for us to comfort you before winding up in our bed so we can cuddle you to sleep and make you feel safe from the storm brewing outside. Like when you insist that you don’t ever want to get married and have babies because “I only want Mummy, and I want to be a baby.” Or when you insist on reading the same bedtime story (It’s Time For Bed by Mem Fox) even though we have been putting you to bed with the same lines since you were nine months old, because it makes you feel secure. I, too, recall on many occasions that you would sob quietly in a corner after you spot my white hairs, “Mama, are you going to die? I don’t want you to die, Mama. I don’t want you to die…” How about the nightly requests you make of us after we turn off the lights? “I want bubbles and (to go to the) playground and (to go) swimming, I want Papa Mama (to) come. I want chocolate milk and chocolate bread and cornflakes and milk. Goodnight! 我爱你,爸爸。我爱妳,妈妈。”

All these moments, told and untold, are slipping away as you approach the grand age of four. And my heart…I am not sure if I am ready to let it all go just yet because I haven’t had the luxury of savouring every moment with you this year.

But I know this. That I yearn to make new memories with you and I will hold on to them as tightly as I can until the day I draw my last breath. That I will try my best, however daunting it is, to help you make sense of and navigate the world that can be at times cruel and brutal like the thunderstorms that strike fear in you at night. That I will live out my grey hairs loving you and watching you blossom, if God would give me the time and opportunity to do so. Time and tide waits for no man. Yes, you will be four tomorrow, and we will say goodbye to the years behind us and look forward to what’s to come; it’s not going to be easy on my heart but I think I am feeling a little braver because we are doing this with your not-so-little hand in mine.

I love you twenty times, darling. Until you know what thirty means.

Mama

The Things Faith Says #7: On Girly Things

At 3 years and almost 8 months old, Faith has taken a very keen interest in my belongings. Makeup (lipstick, which she refers to as lip balm, in particular), shoes, imaginary bags (I don’t carry any except for a burly knapsack for diapering purposes).

She likes to watch me put on makeup when we head out on Sundays, always wondering out loud why I do that then, and not on other days.

“Mama, why are you putting on makeup? Where are your spectacles?”

And, she would rush to rummage through her handbag for a natural lip balm that I have given her, before smearing her lips with it. I would remind her not to do that, and to only apply the lip balm once around her lips.

“Mama, one time only. One time, okay?”

She has also, somehow, staked a claim to my belongings.

“Mama, when I grow up, when I am a big girl, you share with me, okay? You share your shoes with me, okay? You must also share your lip balm with me. Mmm, okay, GOOD.”

Most days, she would be so used to me looking like I needed some severe grooming, that she would go, “Mama, I want you to wear spectacles. And I want your hair up, not down (referring to how I wear my fringe up with a hairband and tie the rest up in a ponytail).”

Man. Can she stop growing up so quickly?

 

Ethan’s Birth Story 

TALK ABOUT LATE.

This post must have shrivelled up in the draft folder, almost a year after Ethan was born, and nothing kicks my arse into penning this properly AND publishing it, like his first birthday approaching at the end of this week. EEEPS.

(Son, please don’t take this the wrong way; Mama has been far too busy cuddling you to even pay much attention to this space anymore. Please don’t ever think that the glaring absence of your birth story over here means that Mama loves you any less.)

SO. When I was about to pop Faith out of my hoo-ha back in 2012, it was barely a brain-teaser. All I had to do was to show up, scream in pain and push. SIMPLES. Okay, maybe I packed and re-packed my hospital bag a little too often, and I freaked out about what labour might be like. But with Ethan, I went through a gazillion plans in my mind (along with another gazillion back-up plans) as the due date approached, as we had to make sure that Faith would be well taken care of, regardless of where, when and how labour kicked in. I had every route to my parents’ and to the hospital from possible locations of where I might be mapped out according to different times of the day, and briefed everyone (shy of barking instructions at the neighbour’s dog) on what to do with Faith when the time comes. Her well-being was all I could think about in the weeks leading up to the due date, as I had not spent a night away from her prior to giving birth to Ethan and I was nervous about how she might react…being away from me and all that.

Amidst rehearsing plans over and over during waking hours and in my sleep, a few nights before Ethan’s birth, I thought I was going into labour. I was 38 weeks along then. I had felt cramps in the lower back which grew into aching contractions that came around every three minutes and lasted 30-60 seconds each. They were painful enough for me to know that those were not Braxton-Hicks. This went on from when I picked Faith up from school at about 4pm until 9pm. Ethan was also strangely not moving at all during this period, and that freaked me out. After we put Faith to bed at about 8.30pm, we were pretty certain of getting my parents to stay over at ours whilst we headed to the hospital, when the contractions suddenly stopped at 9pm and E started cartwheeling in my uterus again. That was when I decided to just sleep it off, but I had diarrhoea instead and I was horrified that I couldn’t tell a bad tummy ache apart from labour. Anyhow, all of our bags, including Faith’s school and home things, were packed and we were ready to put the plans into action should I go into labour.

Two nights later, on the eve of the day that Ethan was born (also the day I was scheduled to go in for a CTG and VE), the contractions came back. They were similar in frequency and length to what I had experienced two days ago, and the episode lasted for about five hours again before calling it quits on me. E also barely moved until the contractions stopped. Once the episode was over, I had diarrhoea and by this time, I was extremely frustrated at myself for not recognising the signs properly. I mean, I SHOULD KNOW THIS, HAVING HAD ONE KID BEFORE AND SHAT SO MANY TIMES IN MY LIFE, SHOULDN’T I?! GEEZ.

All this time, I was hoping to labour naturally, even if it meant chaos would ensue in terms of making sure F was in good hands before we headed to the hospital. But, E had been small throughout gestation and Dr K was concerned about getting him out before the womb became too stressful an environment for him. After all, he had shown signs of stress and I had bled during the pregnancy. Dr K had mentioned a C-section by 38.5 weeks if he was still in breech (he turned a few days before that, thank God) or to induce labour if the amniotic fluid volume decreased and if his weight didn’t get up to a decent number. Getting cut up was something that I was very reluctant to go through owing to the slow recovery time (I wanted to bounce right back and be able to carry and cuddle both of my children after giving birth). I was also resistant to the idea of getting induced again this time round, as I was induced with F and the rapid escalation in highly intense contractions that didn’t pace well with the lack of cervical dilation, had me cave into getting the epidural. I was banging on a drug-free birth with E, and I know that I wouldn’t stand a chance of doing that if I were to be induced.

Morning came around (it was the eve of Good Friday), we stuck all of F’s bags in a corner of our house, dropped F at school and headed to the clinic at Mt Elizabeth with the hospital bag in tow. We didn’t get good news. Well, I didn’t get the news that I wanted. Dr K was certain that E would face unnecessary stress should he continue to bunk in, and strongly recommended for me to be induced. The amniotic fluid volume was thinning out and I experienced long hours of painful, frequent contractions in the days before. The discussion was peppered with lots of choked-up and feeble ‘but’s’ from me. M, however was supportive of what Dr K suggested, and somehow, I agreed to her plan even though it was killing me to say yes. Dr K sent me out for a big brunch and asked me to be admitted at 12.45pm, and I walked out of the clinic simmering with anger and disappointment.

M took me to Paragon to hunt for lunch options, and as we walked to PS Cafe, I broke down. Yes, I did a really ugly cry in public, and everyone who was early enough to do some shopping at Paragon that morning saw this pregnant lady bawling like a baby. I couldn’t accept that I was going to be induced, that I was going to be a mother-of-two when I was not mentally ready (though, on hindsight, one will NEVER be ready). I WAS GOING TO LABOUR NATURALLY AND GO FOR A DRUG-FREE BIRTH AT 40 WEEKS, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, YOU TWO EVIL DOCTORS WHO ARE CONSPIRING AGAINST ME, AND YES, I MEAN YOU TOO, HUSBAND! I started going on and on (gesturing wildly, if I might add) about how Dr K must have suggested an induction because she didn’t want to come to work over the Easter weekend, about how no one respected my decision and what I wanted, and about how E wasn’t really under stress. M grew from being extremely patient and empathetic, to slightly mad when I got hysterical. He said that if I didn’t want to be induced, he would march us back to Dr K’s clinic and we would call it off. For some reason, I calmed down just enough for him to take me to PS Cafe, and as I bulldozed the fish and chips, I asked him why he agreed with Dr K and I listened intently as he explained his stance. He said that he could understand my concern as a parent and as a patient with a desired birth plan, but he also said that Dr K has decades of experience under her belt and that we, of all people, having been taken care of by her when we were expecting Faith, should know that she would never push for me to go for an induction just so she didn’t have to come in to work over the Easter weekend. As a doctor, he agreed that the signs (couldn’t remember all the jargon he blabbered on) pointed to the fact that it was better to get E out via natural birth (even if it is induced) than to end up in a emergency C-section if something went awry. Also, with an induction, we would  know exactly how, where and when to place F, and my parents need not be stressed with middle-of-the-night calls from us to help look after F. The instant he mentioned emergency C-section and F, I was sold. 12.45pm to the labour ward, it was then. Between the fish and chips and 12.45pm, M and I rang our parents to let them know that we were having Ethan that day, and my folks knew to pick F up from school and to care for her for a night as Dr K expected E to be out in the late evening.

12.45pm: We arrived at the labour ward. This time, I walked in instead of getting wheeled in. My ward was getting cleaned up by the nurses. Whilst we waited, I could see the charts of other labouring mothers blipping on the screens at the nurses’ station. The ward was unusually quiet. Why is no one moaning? 

1pm: The nurse finally had time to take my documents and admit me properly. The ward looked far too familiar. M was obviously a seasoned pro. He headed straight for the couch, unpacked our bags to unearth the necessary stuff  – camera, phone, charger, magazines – and made himself at home. I hopped onto the bed and played around with the buttons until I made myself comfortable.

2pm: Ethan was super active. There were minor contractions and I had a really bad tummy ache, so bad that I practically ran to the loo. I thought I had food poisoning (sorry if this is TMI) and when I was finished, the nurse came in to ask if I needed to be administered the Fleet enema. Well, let’s just say I cleared my bowels sufficiently for the week ahead, so I told her it wasn’t necessary. When the nurse left, I wondered if diarrhoea could be a sign of labour and Googled it. It turned out that it was, and I started to think that the 5-hour-long painful contractions plus episodes of diarrhoea I had in the days leading up to this point were my body’s way of preparing for labour after all! Mother Nature’s way of reducing the likelihood of mothers crapping while they push their babies out. How clever. And considerate for everyone who would be present at the birth.

2.20pm: Dr K swung by and did a VE. I was 2cm dilated. She broke my water bag and whaddaya know, E was under stress after all! There was meconium in the amniotic fluid. So the contractions, episodes of diarrhoea WERE signs of labour, signs that E was giving me to get him out! At this point, I was relieved and thankful that I heeded Dr K’s and M’s advice. And mildly embarrassed that I cried in public earlier that morning.

2.30pm: The contractions were getting stronger but they were very bearable. 2/10 on the pain scale.

3.20pm: I was given a low dose of syntocin to speed things up by artificially inducing strong contractions. Blood was taken from me as part of the procedure required of cord blood donation to SCBB. The contractions got to above 100 for a few, and I rated them 7/10 on the pain scale, but most contractions were small and irregular.

4.30pm: The midwife came in and upped the dose for syntocin. Having gone through an induced delivery before, I knew I was in for a rough ride and braced myself for the abrupt escalation in pain.

5.15pm: The contractions were unbearable. They were of near maximum amplitudes on the chart, and there were 3 to 4 of them every 5 minutes. This was worse than what I had experienced when giving birth to Faith and there was NO time for rest in between the strong contractions, but I held out and told M I wanted to try and wait until 5.45pm before deciding if I wanted an epidural.

5.30pm: The pain was truly excruciating by now, nothing like what I felt with F, and I cried partly because of the pain and partly because of what it meant.  I asked for a VE and on learning that I was only 3cm dilated, I knew I wouldn’t be able to withstand 3 to 4 maximal contractions every 5 minutes until I was 10cm dilated. With a heavy heart, I asked for an epidural.

6.10pm: The same anaesthetist who hooked me up to an epidural when I was giving birth to F came by again this time. The catheter insertion took much longer and the process was more uncomfortable this time. The contractions were so painful that I trembled. The midwife and anaesthetist had to hold me down to stop me from trembling and finally, the epidural was safely administered. The anaesthetist said that she gave me a very low dose of epidural to take the edge off, instead of numbing everything out. Before the epidural took effect, the midwife did a quick VE and I was already 5cm dilated. At this point, I was a little disappointed that I asked for an epidural, given that I dilated pretty quickly since the last VE. I thought I should have waited but the deed was done and I just had to live with my decision.

6.30pm: 6cm dilated and I felt a very strong urge to push. I was shivering from the epidural. I could still move my legs. Felt nauseated and I stopped drinking water even though I was parched. A catheter was inserted to empty my bladder as I was bed-bound.

6.45pm: 7cm dilated and I felt an even stronger urge to push. I could still move my legs and felt pain in my right bum as baby tried to make its way out. The midwife told me to try not to push, and man, was that a tall order!

7.10pm: I was 9cm dilated this time and if it was even possible at all, I felt an even stronger urge to push. The pain in my right bum was rather intense as baby tried to get out. The midwife had me practise pushing as she gowned up and prepared me for delivery. After a few attempts, I finally got past my fear of pooping and pushed properly. Chin down, bump up, it was!

7.15pm: Dr K arrived and I continued pushing properly as she gowned up and prepared for the final stage of delivery. I felt Ethan crowning, something that I hadn’t felt before with F as I was on a particularly lose dose of epidural this time. There was a burning sensation and I certainly felt like I was tearing apart when baby crowned and his shoulders went past. I was told to relax and to stop pushing once his shoulders were out.

7.20pm:  Ethan was born. Dr K placed him on my tummy and I couldn’t believe how small he was. My heart broke a little at this point. M cut E’s umbilical cord and E was carried to the warmer for checks and to be cleaned. M scooted over to take good look at him and took some videos for our archives. Dr K collected the cord blood and delivered the placenta. Whilst it was whole, the placenta was one-third the size of Faith’s placenta, and suddenly, it made sense as to why Ethan had been so small during gestation. I was relieved to have listened to Dr K to get him out earlier, and felt that I was to blame for E’s slower growth. Was it my diet or something I did? I’ll never know. As Dr K stitched me up, I could feel the pain from the needle and thread but I distracted myself by looking on as the midwife cleaned up and weighed E. After Dr K left, we took a family photo and I asked to have a go at latching Ethan. He suckled and licked but wasn’t able to latch properly. I made a conscious attempt not to be stressed out about this and decided to simply enjoy the moment we had with E in our arms.

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It took two hours for us to be done at the labour ward before getting transferred to the maternity ward. As I was wheeled out to the lobby, I was received by my sister, bro-in-law and my in-laws. They stayed on for a while and took photos with E before heading home. M stayed with me that evening and wasted no time in falling asleep. Even though I was exhausted, I couldn’t sleep. I knew I had to get some rest to prepare myself for the two-to-three-hourly feeds, but I was missing F terribly and wondered how she was doing at my parents’. I didn’t want to call my folks and disrupt her bedtime routine, and I was very thankful when Papa sent me a photo of Mama showering her. She looked delighted to be spending the night at my parents’ and I was immensely relieved to know that.

The rest of the night was filled with cuddles with a very sleepy E, latching attempts and checks on my BP and bleeding. I was also in a lot of pain, more so than when I delivered F. My insides felt like they have been thoroughly bruised but I resisted taking meds to relieve the pain as I was breastfeeding. Whenever E was brought to me that night, I took some videos and photos of him in the quiet whilst M snored away, and each time I held him, I couldn’t wait for morning to come. I didn’t know how F would take to E, and rehearsed their first meeting in my mind. Like how I would have E in the bassinet when F arrives, so she wouldn’t feel jealous. And how we would present E’s gift to her (a ginormous teddy bear). I pictured how she would cradle E in her arms and kiss him like the loving big sister I hope she would be, and prayed that we would cope and be happy as a family of four here on out.

Before I knew it, morning came and I was exhausted with nary a trace of sleep but I was so very elated when my little girl stepped into the ward ever so tentatively. I guess she couldn’t fully comprehend why I was away at a strange place. She squealed in delight when she saw me and hopped into my bed to give me a big hug. I took a deep whiff of her freshly washed hair, realising that I had missed her even more than I thought I would. Then, I explained to her that Didi (Mandarin for little brother), who was in my belly previously, finally arrived and that he had a gift for her. She was very shy and reserved when she received the teddy bear, as all eyes were on her, and she was very quiet when we placed E in her arms. I was biting my nails and watching her nervously, but all fears were displaced when I saw her leaning over to give E a kiss on his forehead. There and then, time stood still and I knew that God was at work, that God has been at work all our lives. We wouldn’t have made it to that point otherwise. The sight of my new baby boy in my firstborn’s arms is not something I would or could ever forget.

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Some days, being the human that I am, I wonder what it would have been like if my birth plan, well, went according to plan, or if I had made other decisions in the moments leading up to Ethan’s birth. Many days, I wonder if I had done anything wrong for the placenta to be so small, so much so that it affected E’s growth. But most days, those things don’t matter at all for I am most blessed to be the mother of these two very beautiful and healthy children. Suffice to say that my life is complete, and I am thankful that it is, no matter how we got here today. So there you go, the birth stories of my children. Not quite spectacular births right there, but so precious all the same.

The Things Faith Says #6: There is Milo On Your Face

This afternoon, I gave F a packet of cold Milo as a treat and she was happily slurping it down when she stopped in her tracks, leaned forward and peered at me very, very seriously.

“Mama…there is Milo on your face. Hmm, yes, Milo.” She deadpanned.

I was puzzled because I wasn’t drinking any Milo and she certainly hadn’t spilled any on me. And then I realised what she was referring to.

That damned blotchy patch of pigmentation on my face. Someone hand me the laser, please? 

The Things Faith Says #5: He Didn’t Sleep Well

Every morning, I creep into F’s room, sit by her bed and rub her back gently to wake her up. We’d then have a conversation on what we would be doing for the day and whether she slept well. Nothing out of the ordinary, usually, but today, F got me laughing. 

Me: Faith, did you sleep well?

F (rubbing her eyes): Yes, I slept well. 

Me (stroking her hair): Good!

F (pulling Dumbo, one of the many stuffed toys she goes to bed with): But I think Elephant didn’t sleep well because he didn’t close his eyes like me.

And she gestured at Dumbo’s big, unblinking eyes as she related her thoughts to me. 

The things kids say…!

Dear Faith: Three and A Half

Dear Faith,

Mama’s (not) at it again and did a little something cheeky to this letter. Yes, yes, I am late in writing to you once more, and we’re in-between timelines now but really, who cares about timelines when I have so much to say to you right this second? So, three-and-more-than-a-quarter under the guise of three-and-a-half, let’s go.

Where do I even begin? Since my previous note to you, so much has changed and yet, nothing has. Your baby brother, Ethan, is finally here with us (in fact, he arrived very shortly after my previous letter to you) and he is 9 months old now; suffice to say that our days have been filled with so much more love and joy than what I thought my heart could ever wrap around. Papa and I did not have to worry about carving out space within to accommodate the both of you, for there just is and more for the two of you. Infinity, as we have learnt, does exist in love and hope, even if it is sorely lacking in time, sleep, the number of limbs we have and patience.

Whilst you have been absolutely amazing at being a new, big sister, I can’t say the same for myself as a second-time mum. You have demonstrated incredible tolerance for my limited bandwidth over the past 9 months. I’ve seen you look longingly at me as I nursed your baby brother. I’ve caught more than a few glimpses of you waiting patiently by my side while I struggled to put him to bed as quickly as I can so that I could spend time with you. What about the times when you chose to sit quietly by my feet, just so you could be physically close to me, whilst I rushed to put food on the table most crazy evenings? You, my dear, are far more mature than a three-year-old, and I thank God everyday for this grace, yours and His. “Please wait, Faith”; oh, how I have lost count of the number of times I have had to say this to you. “Faith, can you please help Mama with this?” is a close-second. At times, I wish you knew how my heart breaks whenever you choke back tears at my insistence that you go to school, even though you yearn to be home with me. I wish you knew how much I want to “play Lego” with you instead of asking you to build yet another playground or pile more ‘patties’ on the ‘burger’ on your own. I wish you knew how much I want to be alone with you, how much I love having you sleep next to me when the opportunity arises during holidays, even if it means having your foot in my face or one of your lanky limbs jabbing me in the ribs in the middle of the night. I wish you could count the number of kisses that I plant on your cheeks or the whiffs I take of your hair when I return to the bed after nursing your brother at night.  Sometimes, I even jump for joy when you run a fever and are barred from attending school as a result, because it means I have a shot at shared naps with Ethan and you by my side, even if it means I run a risk of not having any of us nap because synchronised naps are mythical beasts. I know, I’m a weirdo.

Of course, there have been tantrums and meltdowns and arguments. Like when you just wouldn’t have it if I wouldn’t let you put on your Snow White costume at home. Or when your old socks, which have lost the elasticity, wouldn’t pull up and just stay put like you want them to. Or when you insist on spending more time wrinkling your fingers and toes in the pool, even if Papa says that you have to go as your lips have turned blue from the cold. And the persistent and ubiquitous “NO!”, let’s just say life would be easier without them. But, you are all of three years old and you have not directed your anger, disappointment and lack of patience with us at your brother, and that is simply remarkable.  I am not even sure if I, at 33, can compartmentalise my emotions all that well. Papa and I are incredibly proud of you, my love.

As I held your little hand yesterday morning, walked you to your first day of N2, and saw how reluctant you were to be away from me when you stifled sobs, it struck me that as much as you are my baby girl, you have grown so, so much. When we first moved into our new home early last year, we transited you from sleeping in the cot to a big girl’s bed because we thought to free up the cot for your baby brother, and you nailed it in a mere few days. You woke up a few times a night, looking for Papa Pig and Bear Bear which we always tuck you in with, and Papa would go in to soothe you; surprisingly, you went back to bed without kicking up a fuss. A few nights later, you slept through again and woke up in the morning, proudly exclaiming, “MAMA, I SLEEP WELL IN MY OWN BED!” We also had you enrolled you in a new school which is closer to home, and you blossomed from that quiet, little girl to a confident speaker in class who loves her friends, music and dance; sometimes, you even take on the role of little Miss Bossypants, much to my amusement and horror. When I was heavily pregnant with your brother, you would stroke my bump ever so gently whenever you caught me wincing in pain and asked me if I was okay. When your brother arrived, we spent our first two nights apart from each other and you did so well at Gong Gong’s and Ma Ma’s that I teared up a fair bit, wondering if you missed me and wondering how you have gone from baby to young lady in the blink of an eye. I could tell you were struggling to make sense of your brother when you first laid eyes on him at the hospital. I was so worried that you would be jealous that I made sure not to carry him when you arrived at the ward. I watched you intently as Papa handed you the big bear that your brother gifted you, and said a silent prayer as you accepted it tentatively and took a closer peek at your new brother. My heart sang as you cradled a wrinkly Ethan gently in your arms and leaned forward to kiss him on the forehead.  You looked up at the audience that had gone all quiet watching the two of you, stole a few more curious glances at your brother and kept very still as you held him. I swore you grew up in that few minutes; my heart ached and soared to witness that. Who knew that that was the point of no return?

Soon, you would sit by my side in the dimly lit nursery, trying your best to understand why I would ask you to pipe down when I put your brother to bed. Soon, you would pack Ethan’s diaper bag on my behalf and bring me his towels and changing mat. You would read to him, play with him and soothe him whenever I ask you to keep an eye on him so I could take a quick shower. You would tell him not to cry because “Mama has to cook, Didi. Mama is busy and she will carry you later.” You have become much too big much too quickly.

I don’t know whether to be happy or sad whenever I spot you quietly playing with Playdoh, Lego and jigsaw puzzles, three of your favourite toys in the world, as I pace the corridor trying to get your brother to nap. One half of me yearns to be there with you, 100% with you, and the other half applauds that my three-year-old plays independently. I don’t know whether to be happy or sad when you tell us that you “want to play with bubbles, and go swimming and go to the playground. I want Papa and Mama to come. I want chocolate milk and chocolate bread and cornflakes for breakfast” night after night when we put you to bed. Because it’s very telling of what you yearn for, our exclusive company and your favourite things which we haven’t been able to give you consistently since we became a family of four, and yet, you share your childlike desires with us so cheerfully that it reminds us you are still a small person who looks forward to the future, like we hope for you to be. How conflicted my poor mother’s heart is right now but it all boils down to me loving you that much. This tug-of-war of emotions is a good thing, I suppose. It makes me want to do more for you, and damn, am I trying.

Until Mama gets it right, my dear girl, please be patient with me, as you have been all this while. And I promise to be more patient with you. Less ‘hurry up’s and more time to let you apply your lip balm when you spot me putting on makeup. Less ‘come on’s and more prancing in front of the mirror whilst you twirl in your favourite dresses. Less ‘that’s enough’s and more Playdoh bits that get stuck on the upholstery. Because upstolstery can be cleaned, even if not to perfection. Because you would only fit in those size 3 dresses until you grow out of them too soon. Because you would only want to admire Mama while she dolls up until you think you are too cool for your parents. Because I love you too much for these meaningless battles to get in the way of your childhood. Because even though you are now a big sister, you are only three and a half for one day and no longer.

我爱你. *tweet* (Ask me what this means if you have forgotten about it.)

Forever yours,

Mama

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