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.

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.”