Fatherhood, Day 2

Well, my boy is… Hang on, what’s 8:30pm on April 4 to now. Hmmm. Thirty-six-and-a-half hours I’d say. In one of the longest days of my life yesterday (and I’ve seen days chemically assisted into glacial epochs), we met him properly, fed him, saw him sleep, saw him poop, and so on. Baby Ray got grouchy (well, wouldn’t you if a big hand cut you out of your sofa and plopped you under a heat lamp?); he got a little sick. He slept; he stared at nothingness. Time marched on.

We left him in the nursery at about 8pm last night so that we could get much-needed sleep (this after consulting the Internet, which agreed with this strategy) but he wailed for the nipple and came back to us. At 2:30am he was returned to the nursery, and he is there now having been a little sick again. Rebecca is sleeping. I’ve had about 400 cups of tea and here we are. It’s 9:30am on April 6.

Rebecca is worried that she cares about baby Ray only in a compassionate sense, rather than a bonding, motherly sense. Me too, I guess: about fatherhood. It’s really hard to say: measuring human feeling is so clearly subjective that one man’s pork is very much another’s poop. No one can look anyone else in the eye and say: I am sure that this feeling I have is the same as yours. That is until scientists invent the feel-o-meter.

I do know that when I looked into baby’s eyes last night as I walked him around the hospital corridor, I felt a connection. Whether this is only because I am, in general, a sensitive, empathetic kind of person is hard to say. When he cried during his Hep B vaccination I felt wrenched inside, but also somewhat detached as I knew it was for his benefit. Oh emotion, how fickle thou art.

I also went back to my own early childhood in the past 24 or so hours to re-examine feelings and emotions. Raised well by parents that were not overly cossetting but also not overly remote, I feel somewhat normal.

I can say that my mum (God bless her and rescue her) is hardly sentimental, but I do remember her crying when I went to school one day, head hung low with another pretend throaty thing (oh, what a callous child). My dad isn’t demonstrably affectionate but then I wasn’t as a child either. We have a mutual respect for each other now that’s grown out of intellectual affinity, a shared bitter and wry humor and a love of great TV, music and film.

My own childhood was about 40 years ago, of course. These days, we are encouraged to share our lives with strangers, and many feel the need to divulge and expose emotions with strangers, almost as if to validate them. Now it seems that if a “feeling” can’t be expressed in an open and obvious way, it is questionable or un-normal.

This topic is hackneyed so I won’t dwell on it. But I can imagine what my mum or her mum would have said. Back in the day there was no time to ponder bonding or anything else intangible. The reality was that you had a baby: you dealt with it, or it died. I can’t help but think that life was easier back then. Not better; just easier.

Ray, a drop of golden sun.

Ray, a drop of golden sun.

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On family, friends…

Way, waaaay back, to almost what seems like a thousand years ago now, Rebecca and I visited our family and friend in the UK. The trip was notable for many reasons, chiefly among these being that it was the first time Rebecca had met “the fam” on home turf, and for being possibly the last time I see my mum in a fully functioning state.

There were other notables: a lovely blessing of our wedding at Romsey Abbey, a rainy and cold trip to London, and a wonderful Christmas day. But I am seeing the trip more and more through the lens of what could be the last time I see my family “as was” notwithstanding the fact that my sister was (and is) recovering from a life-threatening illness. And that same illness has clutched its fist around my mum since that time, and has recently led to complications that are ongoing and possibly irreversible.

Time will, as always, tell.

On the Christmas trip itself, well it couldn’t have been better overall. Our flight was with Singapore Airlines and so was made somewhat humane with decent grub and good movies (and during the transits between JKT and SG, we were treated to excellent service courtesy of the ground staff, with Rebecca six months pregnant at that time).

With a 39-degree difference in overall temperature comfort, the UK was its usual dreary self, but somewhat brightened by Christmas cheer. I had forgotten that almost all houses would be warmly lit from the inside with tinsel and tat whatever the drear level outside. I had forgotten the spirit of Christmas; while I don’t believe that Christ was born on December 25, the spirit of forgiveness, of family and of friends and of celebration, should prevail, as should the spirit of giving.

I am especially happy that I was given the opportunity to see all of the four main women in my life in one place: my sister, my grandmother and my mother, all of whom are at varying stages of un-wellness (plus Rebecca, of course). And to see my dad, who, it turns out, is currently our rock—while he and I didn’t actually have a traditionally “difficult” relationship at any time, what we do have has grown much stronger and more personal over the past 20 years as we’ve realized that, indeed, the apple does not fall far from the tree.

In the past few weeks, he has been called on to support the rest of our family and has not been found wanting. He is proving capable and caring.

Happy times late last year.

Happy times late last year.

I wish I could say the same for myself in other respects as regards the UK trip. When I visited there was some attempted manipulation of friends before I went and when I was there, to try to avert what I saw as potential conflicts of interest between friends and myself. Of course, there was no such conflict.

The other potential bone of contention is that I have found faith, while my friends, presumably have not, although for me, this is no deal-breaker since I am not anti-atheist and nor am I a Bible-thumping evangelist. And I would hope that they would know that I’m still, in essence, “me.”

This is why in the first paragraph, I put “family and friend” since I only saw one guy—my best man, whom I’ve known since I was 13. I wish I’d not been so worried about other people and just called them up instead of hiding behind email.

As it turns out, what with things being the way they are, I’m glad to have seen so much of mum and dad and my sister. But in a life in which I’ve seen two major upheavals that involve me changing countries of residence in the past 13 years, friends help to anchor you wherever you are by providing a sense of context and comparison in a life like mine. And without them, there can occasionally be a strong sense of being adrift in a distant land.

So, chin-chin to those reading this. I hope to see you again.

“Good friends are like stars; you don’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.”

Further father musings

Well, D-day draws ever nearer. Or B-day, I should say. And our pregnancy has been largely uncomplicated it seems (likely because I keep watching extreme pregnancy shows like 29 Cats, 13 Dogs, 27 Kids and Counting My Secret Pregnancy Fat Body).

There have been some worries: we found out that our baby has an abnormal heartbeat this week, for example (it beats like a speeded-up waltz—sort of) but the doc says that this is normal—it will right itself and is nothing to be worried about (I still worry).

Then there’s my concern that I’m somehow not planning properly, or that I’m not pre-bonding, or that I’m not supporting Rebecca enough. Again, this is common for dads-to-be, apparently (so says the pregnancy bible, What to Expect When You’re Expecting) and nothing to be worried about (I still worry).

Apropos of this, the latter fear is a little like a recurring nightmare I used to have: I’d find myself at school (possibly in my dinosaur pajamas or naked) only to find that I have an important exam that day, and have done absolutely no preparation. This, I’ve been led to believe, is also common for insecure people. (And nothing to worry about, nor, ironically, to be insecure about.)

So I do hope I’m baby-prepared; I do know that I am somewhat baby-competent already, having helped a few friends baby-sit here and there over the past 20 years.

So, tick tock: time moves ever onwards, such is its nature. These last fleeting weeks of being just a couple have been increasingly precious. We planned to do so much (the canceled Bali pre-babymoon, for example), but in the end, it’s just being together that counts, be it slumped in bed watching gloomy, clunky US cop shows, or slumped in Starbucks, post-shopping.

I only hope the increase in slumping conserves the time and energy needed for the post-baby chaos.

And on this point, for me there’s been an ongoing and very necessary readjustment of some deeply ingrained personality traits. I am a neatness and routine freak to the point of being obsessive-compulsive. I have my bedtime routine, my waking routine (and more), and a very strong need to be in control of what I am doing, and in my surroundings.

This can lead to antisocial behavior and attitudes: I don’t like people coming into the apartment and neither do I like being in large crowds. I am a man of few friends. I am at my happiest staying in with Rebecca and a cup of tea and a good movie. I turn my phone off at every opportunity and only reluctantly check email.

(How much of this is a converse reaction to some very-hard-partying in my 20s is arguable, and best argued with a shrink or pharmacologist. That said, I do swim and sunbathe and work out: I’m not a hermit, just a loner.)

So having a baby, with all the baby baggage, thousand-strong relatives, chaos, sick and poo and wee, and sleepless nights… All will require some considerable effort on my part—and so it should.

But I am making great strides already, I’m happy to report, at ease as I am now around Rebecca’s family with much-improved language and social skills, and with a sunnier disposition than I’ve had for many a year. I’m also enjoying talking to Rebecca’s tummy.

I am going to miss my “me time,” of course, and we will miss our “us time.” But in April there will only be “we time” for forever more. A daunting thought, but hey: just how hard can it be to be a parent?

Thoughts on impending fatherhood

Rebecca said something unexpected to me the other night as we settled down at our somewhat geriatric bedtime of 8pm. She said that she feared I was not or would not bond with our April arrival.

Neither is true, I hope, but detachment is something a lot of to-be fathers feel, as I’ve found out in my extensive Internet studies into the matter (done in between researching ailments, conspiracies and news about cats).

Despite appearances, I’m not detached, though. What Rebecca sees in me is, to some extent, the classic English reserve. To another extent it’s that I somehow don’t believe it and/or my mind is mashed from all those stellar days at the office from Mondays to Fridays.

Actually, I’m over the moon; I just don’t shout it from the rooftops. But it has brought on a number of odd realizations and feelings, and it’s these I’d like to share. Well, if they weren’t odd, you wouldn’t want to read them, would you? Hmmm. As I thought.

1. Mirrors reflecting mirrors
Ever stood in a mirrored lift and seen your reflection going backwards right on to infinity? You can achieve the same effect with a handheld mirror and a wall-mounted mirror, but it’s awkward and somewhat rubbish.

So I see my future now, in a forward arc of smaller “me’s”, but getting less like me as time goes on and my genetic information is diluted. Behind me, my father, my grandfathers, and so on and so forth ad infinitum, only getting less like me. The result is a feeling of humility but also one of dwindling importance overall.

To illustrate some of the above, Rebecca will take a snapshot of her with our unborn child in the same pose / dress as one of my mum, with me inside, from 1969 before I even tasted the April 1970 daylight.

2. The biological imperative
So, for better or worse, I’ve now done what drives us humans to have sex (if it wasn’t fun, we wouldn’t do it, and no children would be born). I’ve passed on my genetic material to a new generation. This has essentially made me a useful human being when it comes to population growth, and it means—at least to me—that I’ve done the thing I was meant to do. Which begs the question: what next? Fatherhood, I suppose.

3. Memories of my parents: am I too old / young?
My dad was 30 when I was born. My mum was 26. I am now 42 and remember being 12 (and 11, 10, 9, 8 … 4). This means I was 12 when my dad was as old as I am now. Back then, he was juggling a job he hated, as well as the family. Mum worked, too, and I clearly remember them being stressed out. Sometimes I was the cause. Still am, from time to time.

Now without getting all psychoanalytic on this point, I don’t feel 42. I don’t even feel grown up sometimes (Rebecca would concur that I am not, I’m sure). It’s not that I feel young, young at heart or any other clichés. I just don’t feel that I’ve reached the point where I can say, while beating my chest: I am man.

At the other end of this is the feeling that I’m somewhat late in this particular game. When our child is 42, I will be 84. And that really is old.

4. Repeating past mistakes
Are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes our parents made? Philip Larkin certainly thought so in this rather rude poem (not for kids). Kate Bush also had some thoughts:

Just look at your father
And you’ll see how you took after him.
Me, I’m just another
Like my brothers
Of my mother’s genes.

The whims that we’re weeping for
Our parents would be beaten for
Leave the breast
And then the nest
And then regret you ever left.

All we’re ever looking for
Is another open door.
All we ever look for–another womb.
All we ever look for–our own tomb.
All we ever look for–ooh, la lune.
All we ever look for–a little bit of you, too.
All we ever look for,
But we never do score.

Kate’s rather perceptive in a screwy sort of way. But we love her for it.

I do remember my dad telling me more than once that he hoped I wouldn’t end up like him, working in the media (he was in advertising). And here I am, helping to run a publishing company and it causes me a little bit of anguish from time to time (though it is successful and so on). I’ve also made some quite misjudged life choices in the past, oooh, 30 years. And while I may not be the man I am today had I not made those choices, I’d have done one or two (or 10) things differently.

There again, we’re the product of our histories, striding blindly into the future. There is no past: only an ever-folding succession of presents.

Anyhoo. Just some musings while waiting for Rebecca to come back and talk at me. I hope you’ve found them interesting. At least worth reading anyway.

Sweet Seventeen (weeks old)

I kind of realized that in my last post I wasn’t painting a pretty picture of my pregnancy. You must understand: for someone who lives in a fast-paced and carefully planned life, a sudden addition to the family could be overwhelming. If you ask Matthew and I, “If you could redo it, would you still want to delay the pregnancy?” we both would say “Yes!”

However, when we think about the many people we personally know who are having trouble conceiving or who have lost their babies, we could not be thankful enough for this. We conceived on our first “try.” Thus far, we’ve sailed through this pregnancy without any serious complication.

Would you look at that spine!

The lowest point by far was probably what happened a couple of weeks ago. Matthew and I woke up at 6am, which is incredibly early for us, feeling like going to the gym. I had been going back to the gym on a weekly basis since I regained my strength past the first trimester mark. Then I had rice for breakfast at 7am. Then we went to church for a council meeting. Six hours later we went and had kebab for lunch. I only had a few bites and urged to go home. A few minutes down the road, I vomited my entire breakfast up. It was still in food form — that is, not digested at all.

At home, Matthew gave me banana milkshake as I couldn’t and didn’t want to eat anything. At 7pm I was still weak, so we walked to the nearest Emergency Room (or, as Matthew considers it, a swanky hotel for Jakarta mosquitoes). I was given an anti-nausea tablet, which I vomited back up five minutes later along with the banana milkshake I had drunk three hours before. I then decided that I have to take both nutrition and medication intravenously.

We rushed by taxi (which took forever to arrive) to Brawijaya Women and Children’s Hospital, where I normally go for routine check-ups. On the way, I booked myself a room by phone. But lo and behold, they were fully booked.

Then I thought: no vacant taxis and no vacant room in a Women’s hospital? Of course! It’s November 10th, i.e. 10-11-12. It’s THE day people want to get married and give birth. Oh, Asians and your obsession with numbers… T_T

I then said goodbye to my money and got me a “presidential” suite at that hospital. It’s actually bigger than my old Bali apartment; it had a bathtub and a shower, as well as a sofa bed for dear husband, a living room with flat-screen cable TV, and a dining room. Eighty percent of total cost of this hospitalization was the room charge.

I could live here if only there were no crying babies next door.

Anyway, the nurses and doctors were surprised and a bit confused as to why someone who’s 17 weeks along could be throwing up. And there was really nothing wrong with me. No symptom of virus or bacteria or toxic or allergy reaction. My digestive system was just out of order and I needed an IV drip to stabilize.

I was discharged two days later. The following morning, my fetus turned 18 weeks and it was the first time I felt it kicking and punching in my tummy. Amazingly, I didn’t feel like throwing up 🙂

First trimester is a b*tch

*) And so am I!

I am typing this after wiping my own barf from my husband’s bathroom sink.
[Aside: we have separate bathrooms to keep us together. This was a sound advice from Meryl Streep whose Hollywood marriage lasts for more than 40 years.]

It would have been two seconds too late to throw up in the toilet bowl. And after I saw the damage all over my neat-freak husband’s sink, I panicked. I then scraped my half-digested pizza/leftover breakfast out from the sink and into the trash bin. It was my new personal low as far as vomiting goes. Because: 1) I was not hung over after a night of partying⎯something a girl in her twenties would feasibly do⎯and 2) I’m pregnant and I had pizza for breakfast!

Yeah, even my stomach was like: “What the hell are you trying to feed your growing baby? You should be ashamed of yourself, woman!”

Seriously, it wasn’t even morning sickness. I am in my second trimester, for crying out loud. I was just being irresponsible and my body put my mind to shame. While others glow in the second trimester, I’m just making it an extension to my first trimester, which sucked.

I should probably tell you that this pregnancy was, in a way, an accident. Due to my business travel schedule and wish to have an extended honeymoon period, Matthew and I planned to wait till December ’12 to even try. But a bad reaction to birth control pill put me off it. And like dumb love struck teenagers, we didn’t use any form of protection or preventative measures. Within a week after being off birth control, we conceived. Of course.

(Let this be a warning to you dummies who think that you can’t get pregnant if you only have unprotected sex once. Quick biology lesson: one time is all it takes.)

And I knew we conceived before the next page of the calendar. All I was feeling those weeks was best summed as: not well.
These are things I experienced weeks before the stick finally turns blue.
1. I couldn’t sleep well.
2. All I wanted and could do was curl up in the sofa.
3. I wanted to eat but couldn’t really enjoy it.
4. I only had the energy of an 80-year-old grandmother.
5. I could only run for 15 minutes before feeling like I’ve just finished a marathon.
6. My stomach was a bit plump, hard and tight.
7. My breasts hurt.
8. I need to pee all the time.
9. I need to sleep all the time.
10. I wept at the slightest touching scene on television.

But no, four home pregnancy tests said I wasn’t pregnant.

Matthew insisted that I was just having an epic PMS due to coming off birth control pill mid-cycle. It makes sense. Some research does say that I could have been experiencing that. But I refused to believe it despite an ultrasound that said my uterus line was thickened but there’s nothing else there.

Aug 4, 2012., the screen says nothing.

Matthew and I got our blood tested. Mine: to detect the smallest trace of human chorionic gonadotropin, if there is any. His: to check his blood type and group to determine whether or not there’s a possibility of conceiving a baby with negative rhesus blood group since I am a B+.

[Aside: Matthew’s lack of knowledge in his own blood is so inconsistent with the fact that he’s a hypochondriac. Oh, and his parents also forgot his blood type.]

The result: Matthew is an A+ and I had 2.56 hCG, which is half the amount for a woman to be considered pregnant. My doctor said that I did conceive but the pregnancy may not “take” so I should expect a natural miscarriage in form of heavy period within the week.

I thought, at least I was right: we did conceive. But, I didn’t want to lose this pregnancy, especially as I had all the symptoms! I didn’t want to suffer for nothing. Yes, I’m a selfish bitch.

Two weeks later, still no period or bleeding, I was scheduled to fly. Matthew insisted I should retry peeing on the stick. It was a faint positive! Wow! Then I wanted to make sure that I was not endangering my baby and inconvenience fellow passengers, so I got another ultrasound.

The doctor saw the prominent gestational sac and that I was healthy and strong. He explained that we had what’s called a delayed conception. My ovulation day was postponed by a week due to the whole birth control saga.

Aug 14, 2012: there’s the little black dot that is the gestational sac, where my baby claims residency for a while.

He said, “Congratulations on the success of your first try. Here’s your flying permit.”

Yep. Have bump. Will travel.

My first travel picture as a 4-week pregnant woman!

Sigh… First-world problems

This morning I found myself suffering from increased anxiety on the way to work (as opposed to my usual background anxiety), because the music compilation CD I had made featured some rather indulgent prog rock excesses. (If you must know, it was Yes’s early-seventies masterpiece Close to the Edge. And yeah, yeah, yeah: I’ve heard all the comments before. Don’t even start.)

The cause of the anxiety? That my Indonesian driver would think I have weird tastes, since the music is somewhat annoying to many (most) people. Twenty-minute symphonic rock masterpieces with complex time signatures, tight harmonies and monophonic Moog synths don’t always span cultural differences I’ve found.

So there I was, worried that my driver will think less of me because of my eclectic tastes. Then the CD started jumping and it also became a battle of wits and wills as to whether I tell him to turn it off, or he tried to move it to the next track, and who’d do which first.

All in all, these trips are quite eventful for me in terms of mentally grappling with in-car entertainment choices, among other things (like do I open the sunroof today?). But this is, of course, what we term a “first world problem.” And it got me thinking about other such issues Rebecca and I regularly encounter in our somewhat cosseted life here in Jakarta.

One example would be my almost continual battle with the staff at our serviced apartment over the number of fresh towels they give us. I need at least two: one for my regular swims in the adjoining huge swimming pool, and one for post-shower, plus a small one for my face.

Most times they leave only one big one, leading me to curse and mutter under my breath about inadequate towelage and how-complicated-can-it-be comments to anyone in earshot (that means Rebecca, who normally filters these sorts of things out).

And the staff always, always leave free soap and shampoo when we don’t need any, since we always take the free amenities at all the five-star hotels we visit. It’s something of a chore to collect up all the freebies and redistribute them to family and friends. Elsewhere in our serviced apartment, a faulty humidifier occasionally means the air in the bedroom is dry and gives us sore throats and sneezes.

There are more. To list them all would be exhaustive (and I’m already drained from having to lift to my mouth the cup of hot tea that the office maid brings to my desk every hour), but they include: really chilly shopping malls as well as over-zealous salespeople with no product knowledge. There’s also the loud housekeeping service every morning; a (free in the room) washing machine that makes annoying beeping noises; and the perennial problem of the fact that our apartment lifts often take a little bit too long to arrive.

Of course, reading the above would make you think we’re a couple of whining ingrates, which we are from time to time, I will freely admit. And though much of it was written with tongue firmly in cheek, all the examples are real in that we’ve both moaned about them (and when I say “both” I mean mostly me).

As to my driver? He supports a large family on a fraction of my salary, and works very long days with a smile and with humility, even through the mind-bending tedium of a lengthy Pink Floyd epic at 5:30pm in gridlocked traffic. I learn a lot from observing him. And more often than not these days, I simply don’t ask him to put the music on to save us both. It’s the kindest thing for both our sakes.

 

My secretary forgot to change my amusing cat calendar date. Now I have to do it myself. Tis a hard life to be sure.