10 + 1 why I am in love with Matt Leppard by Rebecca Leppard

1. It is not beyond him to make up the bed, mop the kid’s accidental poop off the floor or out of the bath, and carry my feminine purse around the mall if I need to carry the kid.

2. He asks me if I want anything for breakfast and then makes it and puts on chilli flakes automatically.

3. He shoves vitamins on my lazy mouth every morning to make sure that I’m not gonna be ill during the flu season, which seems to happen every month these days! But when I am ill, he is my doctor and he is my nurse.

4. He lends his hears to my shouty mouth when I am angry and/or aggravated for a vast variety of reasons: a shopkeeper not giving the answer I need, a taxi driver not knowing the way, politicians say idiotic things on TV, someone wasting the tap water, and every single work problem.

5. He will dance with the silliest moves just to make me laugh and try to forget all the above.

6. He reads the Bible and understands it.

7. He supports my causes. Even when we have so little, his generous heart never discourage me to give whatever that we have spare.

8. He is funny. And he is funny the British way, which is my kind of funny.

9. He watches Fashion Police as religiously as I do.

10. He is handsome in my eyes but not in his.

+1 He is not only the father of my child but he really fathers my son so well that the kid literally jumps up and down welcoming him back from workL only for him, not me. And that is the kind of man one should marry. How lucky am I?

The kind of man one should marry.

The kind of man one should marry.

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Happy anniversary, honey!

The last few years of my life have been full of so much change and turmoil, it’s hard to remember that it was only three years ago that Rebecca and I tied the knot. In between that momentous and overwhelmingly joyous occasion and today, we’ve all but lost my mother to a dreadful brain disorder, lost my grandmother, my sister has battled (and beaten) cancer, we have had to up sticks and move home at very short notice, and, of course, given birth and reared our active, playful, boisterous and definitely full-on 2-year-old son, Rayven.

Today (April 7) marks our third anniversary. And Rebecca will be the first to tell you — and I will be first to admit — that I am generally bad with cards and presents, while Rebecca excels not only at selecting imaginative and appropriate gifts, but also in fashioning the most creative home-made cards possible. She is the consummate planner and most thoughtful partner.

But I do have a gift, I think, and that’s the gift of words, so this is my message to Rebecca on this day; I hope she gets to read it.

First off, I am grateful that she agreed to marry me in the first place. Our engagement wasn’t much of a success because of me: I fluffed the proposal in spite of having a unique engagement gift in the form of my grandmother’s antique ring. What an idiot, and all through lack of planning and bad execution.

Then we had my parents out in December 2011, a trip they barely survived (partly because of AirAsia’s shabby long-haul service) and which involved them attending an Indonesian-style engagement party that must have been overwhelming to them (it was to me). It’s a testament to Rebecca’s organizational skills and their endurance that we all lived to tell the tale after.

Secondly, I have Rebecca – and only Rebecca – to thank for organizing and executing the wedding. Now that I’ve been in Indonesia for some time and seen how things work, or rather how they don’t work much of the time, it’s all the more impressive that she was able to handle everything from selecting the invites to choosing the catering. I recall that I selected some of the music for the after-party and did some food tasting, but generally I was an observer of the Rebecca-as-professional-planner show.

I still don’t know how much it all cost: I daren’t ask. But Rebecca is CFO of our family unit (see how much I rely on her?) and she balanced it all out so that we paid for our reasonably lavish wedding without having to ask anyone to contribute financially. It was a marvellous day, resplendent in sunshine, smiles and love. From the service sheet to the piano melody of “In My Life” by the Beatles (“our” song) that played as she walked down the aisle, it all went like clockwork. And it was all down to Rebecca – even helping with everything from my best man buying a suit in Bali at the last minute to helping my sister and my nephew with their Bali orientation program.

Since that time, I’ve grown to rely on, and love, Rebecca even more than I did then. She always describes herself as unlikeable, but to me, she is more than likeable: she is a wife and mother to two boys. She is a reliable wing-man; an honest confessor; a trusted advisor; and, of course, a valued co-parent. I have to confess that even though I have spent far more time with Rayven than she has, it’s Rebecca’s influence that has driven most of his accomplishments to date, including calling me “daddy.”

When she accepted her current job, I have to admit that I wasn’t happy with the decision, but she has balanced the role of mother and wife with being a communications director with aplomb. And we couldn’t have survived my recent six months of unemployment if she hadn’t been working. She also took the lead on our two trips to the UK, and organizes every trip we make to Bali, plus my Singapore visa trips, and our fantastic trip to the Gili islands a year or so ago.

So without playing down my role too much, you can see how much Rebecca shoulders in our partnership. She thinks I don’t notice, but that’s only because I am not the most demonstrative partner (although I am getting better). I do notice, appreciate and thank her for all she has done and continues to do, from the bottom of my heart.

Honey, I love you with all my being. Thanks for being there for this flawed, imperfect man. Here’s to three years and to many more happy times ahead.

With love, Matthew (and a kiss from Rayven)

Happiest day of my life so far

Happiest day of my life so far, along with the birth of our son

The day I fell in love with my son

One question I’d like to ask fellow mothers is: when did you fall in love with your baby?

This can be a hard question because books say (and society expects) for you to fall in love at the first sight (sight of positive home pregnancy test, ultrasound result, or newborn baby). Some mothers do experience that but some don’t. And those who don’t might feel pressured or confused or guilty, and these feelings can lead to baby blues. Unidentified prolonged baby blues can turn into post-partum depression. So you see now how my question can be a tough question to answer honestly.

I personally didn’t fall in love with my son at the first sight and I did experience baby blues. The two had no causative relation but were equally worrying.

I felt blue because of a number of reasons. One of them is that things didn’t go to my birth plan. (I know birthing process has a life of its own but for a control freak, this freaked me out!) My 27-hour-long early labor that ended with a caesarean *and* endometriosis operation was a guarantee to a long recovery time. I didn’t cry when I saw my baby for the first time. But tears came down my eyes as Matthew and I decided to move forward with the C-section. “This is not what I wanted,” I cried. (Matt’s note: I did cry when I saw our son for the first time, for the record.)

Emotionally, I couldn’t be too excited about the new baby because I was still mourning the loss of my mother-in-law. She was and is still alive, but she lost her memory completely and suddenly. We never had the chance to say goodbye to her lucid self. She had prepared Ray’s christening present before she fell ill. I haven’t opened it yet, but it will surely be treasured.

So yeah, it was hard for me to “feel” anything towards my child other than the logical thoughts to protect and keep him healthy. I just saw him as a responsibility. I know Matthew often tells me that I’m callous (half the time he’s being serious) but I thought I should feel something!

One morning when he was 11 days old, I noticed his right eye had some gunk. I wiped it off and wiped it off again. It got worse. Apparently it was an infection and my midwife aunt told me to just give it a couple of drops of my breast milk and it should be fine in a few days.

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our poor little guy

 

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healing breast milk eye-drops

I realized it was his first illness and he looked weak and rather awful with pus coming out of his swollen red eye. I looked at him for a long time, at his imperfect face. At that point I learned that I do love him and I love him unconditionally.

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cured within three days

You see, I don’t like kids and I especially don’t like ugly kids, so I must have been in love with my son even with his poor eye. Now, thanks to the miraculous power of breast milk Ray is well and healthy (if fat and mushy), and I love him to death.

Ten weeks? Ten years? How long?

They grow up right before your eyes, don’t they? Indeed. Another old statement of the very obvious is proven right again: our son is definitely growing… well, not up, but more outwards. What Brits and Scots (and some Americans, probably) would call “bonny,” Ray weighs in at a hefty six-kilos-plus now.

But at least he’s a happy, if somewhat chubby, chap. Or happier. Yes, he still does the reverse of turning a frown upside down (i.e. frowns) and cries his little socks off (literally: his socks do fall off) and wails and wails as if it’s the end of his cossetted little world. But he’s also started to gurgle and coo and to smile and to hold our eyes as we gaze at him. He even “talks” back as we chat about our days and (in my case) how tortuous they’ve been.

This is truly a magical time and an experience to be treasured and it makes all the crying and the ridiculously unpleasant farts* all worth it, although that opinion can take a severe knocking at 10pm when he won’t sleep.

It’s also a time when we know we can really shape his development, so we’re playing music, reading and talking, and encouraging him to crawl, look at things and all the other stuff that could help boost his little brainpower.

It also brings us closer as a couple, although I still wander off absentmindedly sometimes on some little mission (forgot the remote, forgot to take my socks off, forgot what I was doing, etc.) and have to be called back loudly. But we can really share in the joys of togetherness where before, it was crying Ray with me and contented Ray at Rebecca’s breast. I can also confidently send Rebecca to bed as I take the 8pm-12am shift, feeding Ray at 11:30 as he dozes in a pillow with me softly whispering to him.

Fatherhood’s great, mostly. But that said, would we go through the first 10 months again in a hurry? Probably not. That’s why humans are built so we can’t. And so we forget over time, too. So I’m told by those older and wiser than me, and who am I to contradict them?

Ray at play in what is laughably called a "gym." He barely breaks a sweat!

Ray at play in what is laughably called a “gym.” He barely even breaks into a sweat!

*Yes, among the things they don’t tell you in the “things they don’t tell you about parenting” lists is the horrendous guffs that babies can emit. Or maybe it’s just Ray’s special gift.

Cry baby cry*

Ahh, you poor, poor, dear, dear soul, baby Ray. Tortured and tormented by hidden demons of discomfort and distention. Confounded by climate settings of cool, medium and hot. Stressed by overbearing relatives half the time and left all alone—the loneliest person in the world—the other half. Serenity, wherefore art thou?

Why do newborn babies cry so much? It’s an oft-asked question, the Internet tells me. It’s because crying is the only form of communication they have, I read, and because life outside the womb is so jarringly shocking. I know and agree because I too was a testy tot once upon a time 43 years ago. Apparently I cried for three years non-stop, which is an awful load of old colics.

But really. No, really. Is it really necessary for newborns to shriek so violently for no apparent reason? Surely it would be better if humans were born able to speak and point and nod and indicate rather than just crap and cry? I can’t see the logic in them being born so unusually useless. It’s a tricky question both for evolutionists (are humans as evolved as they should and could be) and also for creationists (why were baby humans built so bad).

As to me and to Rebecca? We just muddle on. The most heartbreaking thing is that while I hate to wish my life away, I am looking towards the 2- to 3-month mark when Ray becomes an infant and not a newborn. But, as they say, I’ll never get those three months back. Perhaps best just to put up and shut up. Which is what I’d like Ray to do, if only he understood logic and sense… Bless his little heart, of course.

One of these has reasons to be happy. The other is a muppet.

One of these has reasons to be happy. The other is a muppet.

*Sang along to the Beatles song of the same name

In the family way: birthday boy

Take oxygen, carbon and nitrogen and mix in with them some calcium, phosphorous and potassium, plus a dash of chlorine, sodium, and magnesium. Season with a pinch of iron, cobalt, copper, zinc, iodine, selenium, and fluorine, and fling this proverbial bun mixture into a warm oven for nine months and hey presto, you’ve got a human.

Yep, looking up the chemical composition of a human being on Wikipedia as a dubious lead into a blog post is almost as easy as it was to conceive our son—although it required a lot less effort. And now he’s here.

Three weeks ago this evening, baby Rayven* Matthew Leppard was dragged kicking and screaming from his mother’s belly and into the arms of a green-garbed doctor who then manhandled him under a heat lamp and scraped all the gunk off him. I say dragged from his mother: there seemed to be an awful lot of pushing involved, and none of it from mum.

You see, after 27 hours of labor pains and inducement (induction?) we decided to opt for a C-section, and fortunately so, it turns out: baby Ray was not positioned right and would never have slipped out like a bar of soap. This explains why the inducing (induction?) led to painful contractions on the part of mum, and intense in-belly wriggling on the part of baby. He was being pushed hard and had nowhere to go.

At 2cm dilated. And all for nothing. Such is life... We had it all planned out.

At 2cm dilated. And all for nothing. Such is life… We had it all planned out.

So we clad ourselves in ludicrous hospital clothes and went to the OR (it’s not called operating theater any more, apparently). There, Rebecca was given a local anaesthetic for about 10 minutes and then a general knockout for about 10 more minutes as the docs really got to work on her insides. This part of the proceedings was done on the other side of a cloth wall that stopped Rebecca and (importantly) me from seeing the slicing and dicing that was going on “downstairs.” Seeing Rebecca talking to me and then going cross-eyed and then slipping away into blackout was quite upsetting, and thinking about it again now as I write this leaves me feeling a bit generally anxious.

DO NOT TAKE MEDICAL ADVICE FROM THIS MAN!

DO NOT TAKE MEDICAL ADVICE FROM THIS MAN!

Then the pushing: nurses, doctors, all pushing downwards on Rebecca’s upper abdomen with such violence that it made me very concerned that they’d crack a rib or something. (It was all due to Ray’s weird position.) Still, thanks to Rebecca’s un-squeamish approach to documenting every single aspect of our lives, we have the whole thing on video anyway, except the bit where I cry a little after seeing the baby.

Unlike the horror stories I had read of babies being whipped away from their mums after a C-section, tiny Ray was placed on Rebecca’s breast and encouraged to feed right away, which we somehow muddled through as a threesome. Then he was put into an incubator and taken outside for the family to see, and then off to observation. We next saw him in the wee hours of the morning.

The morning after the night before: a getting-to-know-you session with Ray

The morning after the night before: a getting-to-know-you session with Ray

Surviving amid the throngs of visitors we had to cope with. And when I say we, I mean I. Rebecca copes already.

Surviving amid the throngs of visitors we tried to cope with. And when I say we, I mean I. Rebecca copes adequately already.

A days-old Ray with the first raft of gifts and cards.

A days-old Ray with the first raft of gifts and cards.

And that, as they say, was that. ‘Tis a miracle to be sure. When everything in the universe other than life moves inexorably towards entropy and chaos and randomness, Rebecca and I (well, mostly Rebecca) built, from 46 chromosomes and a lot of food and water, a small human being. A person and a future.

There’s way more to this story to come. I really hope that the story doesn’t end and that it continues with Ray and his brothers and sisters and their own families (my stab at genetic immortality). But that’s the lot for now. I need to get home and help with the breast pumping and the other delights that go with new parenthood. Ah, but when I look into his eyes: yes, all worth it. And when I see Ray and Rebecca sleeping side by side and in the same pose (as I did this very morning), well, my cup runneth over.

COMING NEXT: Survival of the fittest: the first month

*We wanted R and M as the initials: these stand for Rebecca and Matthew and Roger and Mary (my parents) as well as Rebecca’s kind-of-actual surname, Manalu. Ray we already had, since the family on my side has gone through (and is still going through) its fair share of tribulations at the moment. So Ray is a “drop of golden sun,” as the song goes. A raven is also a black bird, and Blackbird by The Beatles is one of a few songs we both adore. It is also the first bird that Noah sent out from the ark, and a bird that is associated with the Tower of London. It has been said since Charles II that if the resident ravens leave the Tower, it will fall into enemy hands. Hence the spelling of Rayven. Oh, and when Rebecca was growing up, one of her nicknames was “Re” and pronounced (you guessed it…) Ray. So there.

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.