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

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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.

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.

Eat, drink, (not) be merry?

I gained 11 kilos during my university years due to eating high-calorie meals five times a day, including midnight snacking during crushing deadlines. I kept the weight until I started working and finally could afford gym membership and a nutritionist. I managed to lose 3 kilos and 10 cm in girth.

After four years of solid career work in Jakarta, I moved to Bali and pretty much threw in the towel on the diet front. I thought: I’m young and I want to live an island life: eat, drink and be merry. My only cardio was walking around five-star resorts in heels.

The alcohol- and pork-induced carefree life I had was over as soon as I moved back to Jakarta and subsequently became pregnant. I became very aware about my weight gain. First: my weight is recorded by the nurse. Second: if I gain more than 2 kilos in a month, my Obgyn will frown on me.

I’ve gained 15 kilos during my pregnancy and I still have a couple of weeks to go. But you know what: weight gain was the least of my problems, and I learned that the hard way.

As this pregnancy came much sooner than expected, Matthew and I wanted to savor our twosome time as much as we could. We’d planned a weekend getaway as our pre-babymoon. Tickets and hotel were booked and paid in advance. We got our flight permit from the Obgyn (even at 32 weeks along). At nine hours before the flight, I decided to cancel the trip.

COD: severe heartburn.

What a stupid reason to cancel a romantic trip, you’d say. You’re right! For weeks I had been having this terrible heartburn and we all thought it’s just the hormones. Well, it was the progesterone level that caused it but we should have worked around it. We should have altered my diet, which is hardly rocket science.

It’s now been a month since I quit red meat, high-fiber high-gas vegetables, acidic fruit, pasta, noodles, tea, coffee, baked goods, and chilli/sambal. It works! I no longer need to swallow an antacid every four hours. I no longer have to wake up in the middle of the night just to burp or let go of a massive fart (yes, pregnancy is really glamorous). I no longer have nausea. And more importantly, I feel normal and up for doing more activities like yoga and powerwalking.

Every day since I’ve been feeling better, I say to myself: if only we thought of this much sooner, we would’ve had that weekend away and we wouldn’t have spent millions of rupiah for nothing.

That was just a small example of how your diet really would define your health (and at the end: finance). People think diet only has to do with wight gain/loss. But no—so much physical discomfort is caused by a wrong or unbalanced diet. And by wrong, I don’t mean just junk food; I mean the wrong type of food for your personal lifestyle and preceeding health condition.

Yes it sucks to know that you can’t eat or drink certain things, but if you pay enough attention, your body won’t have to pay for it, and in the long run, you wont have to literally pay for it. There’s no point of living a long life full of discomfort, aches and pains, and to be drug dependant. My plan is to live large and die fabulous even when it means very limited access to sambal.

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(Pretending to cook) Wagyu and lobster fried rice at main kitchen of Flying Fish, Bali.

Wife/Mother/Personal Assistant

I recently read someone’s blog, which said that the first day a woman becomes a mother is the day she conceives (or the day she knew she has conceived) because that’s the day she started taking care of the little pea inside her womb. My mother was sitting next to me when I was reading it and I asked her when she thinks a woman becomes a mother: “The day she got herself a husband,” she said with no doubt.

 

I think I know what she’s saying. For a long time I thought it wasn’t joke when people would say that a woman’s first child is her husband. When I observe married men around me, from different generations and colors, many of them do rely on their wives. And I’m not talking about things like cooking and cleaning: I’m talking about running their lives for them so that they only need to breathe and walk.

 

It may have something to do with their birth order and upbringing as young men. It may have something to do with when they flew out of the nest, if at all. For me, I think it also depends on the woman he is with.

 

Matthew is the firstborn of two and was brought up doing the dishes and making his own bed. However, he never really flew the nest until he was 27 (and subsequently moved across the globe when he was 29). He is generally clean, tidy, and a good cook [and not a bad editor, he adds in here].

 

He doesn’t need me to survive daily life. But every morning I tell myself to get up and prepare his breakfast and that day’s wear. I also pack him lunch and style his hair before he leaves. I do administration and planning for all of our travels and family finances. So yeah, all he’s got to do is breathe and walk.

 

I have to add that I can do all that because I work from home. I don’t have the stress level of big-city commuters. But if you think about it, I could also choose not to do anything at all. I could have said 50-50, partner! It’s very traditional of me to do all that for my husband without resentment—and I’m a feminist.

 

But hey: there isn’t just one formula to make things work in a relationship. Our formula includes having separate bathrooms and a joint account. This may not be necessary for your relationship. Nonetheless, there are things you cannot change in the equation: that women are the ones to get pregnant and that women are the mothers of the family, whether it’s a family of two or 20.

 

So when is the day do you think a woman becomes a mum?

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With my mum and baby brother when they came to visit me in Bali.

 

 

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 🙂

Two years later…

There’s something about heading towards your 30’s. It makes you think about your 20’s. I have to say, though, I did not enjoy my early 20’s. From 20 to 24, I was under pressure to succeed: graduate on time with honours (√) and get my name on the masthead of a national publication (√).

After I got a job, I worked hard both to lose weight and get a promotion, which means working 9 to 9 and be at the gym for an hour everyday. Again, I achieved both and still unhappy. I didn’t know what it was; I thought it was just a quarter-life crisis. So before my 25th birthday in September 2008, I made a conscious decision to live my life carefree. (See the irony there? I planned to be more spontaneous.)

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Slingshot ride to celebrate 25th birthday

I quit my job in August 2008, joined a new company and after 8 months, accepted another job offer in June 2009. I still have the piles of old business cards in mint condition! I couldn’t (be bothered to) file my tax form because I had three jobs in one year.

I remember being miserable at 2009 New Year’s Eve party because I had nothing to look forward to. That’s what I said to my best friend that night. Especially that I wasn’t really happy with my new job I felt had nothing exciting waiting for me that year. Boy, could I be more wrong?

I made my biggest career move to Bali by mid 2009 and subsequently broke up a short-lived relationship that was not right anyway.

I finally learned that one really couldn’t plan one’s future. With that thought, I refused to buy a car or a house in Bali despite people’s advice. I couldn’t even commit to a year-advance airline promotion because my job required me to be able to travel in short notice.

One of those business trips was to Singapore, attending a trade event. The event is regular, but I didn’t know if I was gonna go and how long I was gonna be there because there’s a black-tie event in Jakarta that I also had to attend.

Little that I knew that it was THE trip that changed my life.

If you don’t know me, I should tell you that I lived my life like a Samantha Jones of Sex and The City. True to form: I was a PR pro who refused to settle down and saw men as interchangeable parts of a woman’s life.

So I went to Singapore with my “Samantha Jones” costumes lined up, along with the attitude *snaps*. That was without knowing that it was going to be my last stint as a carefree single woman.

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That night! (Notice how we sort of wanted to get closer to each other?)

It was the party where crème de la crème of Asian travel industry gathered where I met Matthew, the man of the evening and who eventually made an honest woman out of me. (Didn’t know it was possible!)

And just after Matthew and I recently mapped out our Q3 and Q4 travel plans, including my monthly business trip to Bali, my birthday celebration in London, and Christmas vacation in Hanoi, we were again being laughed at by fate.

Yup, mere two years after our first encounter at the coffee stand of Suntec Convention Centre Singapore, we found out: we’re pregnant.

Happy anniversary, honey! All I want for anniversary present is a good back rub and foot massage please 🙂