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

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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.”

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.

 

 

Have bump. Will travel.

The day after I ditched my birth control pill, I experienced bleeding and just found out about this on the way to the airport. What did I do? I traveled to Kuala Lumpur and back.

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On the way to Petronas Tower!

A few weeks after, I fell pregnant. What did I do? I kept my commitment to my students and flew to Bali to deliver their course.

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At Bali Tourism Board HQ

As an inter-cultural international couple, our wedding was a two-parter. After a Christian ceremony and reception in Indonesia, we were due to have a marriage blessing in the UK that same year. What did I do? I became a six-months-along pregnant bride in the middle of winter (at the gorgeous Romsey Abbey no less).

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*pretending that we were not cold*

Now, I’m entering my ninth month pregnancy with fourteen flights under my (extra-large) belt. No more flights for me these days but not because I’m not allowed to but mostly because my husband is the ultimate worrier [note from Matt: I don’t think I am but I worry that Rebecca thinks I am]. 

For other ladies out there who have doubts about traveling while “turning food into human,” here’s the rule of thumb: as long as your doctor deems your pregnancy normal (no complications), and as long as you are up for it, pack your bags and go!

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Boarding into my last flight to Singapore at 7.5 months along!

Based on my experience of traveling while pregnant, both short- and long-haul, both business and leisure, here are my top tips:

  1. Book your flight only after you get a flying permit letter from your Obgyn. In my case, I was always up for it so I booked it anyway and then go see the doctor a few days prior to my flight. You have to be in tune with your body, too. I had to cancel one trip once because of sudden, terrible heartburn nine hours before my flight—despite the flying permit.
  2. If you can choose your seat, ask for aisle and no more than five rows from the toilet, for hopefully obvious reasons.
  3. Upon checking in, tell the airline staff that you’re pregnant and show them your flying permit. You should keep the permit for your returning flight, so they normally just look at it or scan/photocopy it. Some airlines, like AirAsia, Lion Air and Garuda Indonesia, ask you to fill out and sign a disclaimer form.
  4. If you’re more than six months along and on a long-haul flight with transit/connection, do ask for a special assistance. They will assign ground staff to wheel you to your next flight and wheel you to the car/taxi at your destination. Low-cost carriers may charge you for this (AirAsia charges S$20 for assistance at Changi, whereas Singapore Airlines doesn’t charge at all—yay for SQ).
  5. Dress in comfortable material and in layers. Pregnancy makes you warm, but the aircon in planes can be chilly.
  6. Wear flat shoes, and for long-haul flights wear also anti-deep vein thrombosis socks. Pharmacies at international airport normally sell anti-DVT socks, which look like very tight and very thin stockings.
  7. If you’re flying with a low-cost carrier, bring snacks in your carry-on bag. If you’re flying with a full-service carrier, don’t be afraid to keep asking for snacks. You normally need to eat small portions every hour or two. However, be careful not to consume high sodium food like salted peanuts, as this will make you even more dehydrated and bloated, which comes with the territory when flying anyway.
  8. Airlines don’t allow you to take more than 100ml in liquid forms into the cabin, but when flying out of Singapore (and other airports probably), do take an empty bottle, which you can fill with water from the fountain inside the boarding lounge. I once flew with AirAsia from Jakarta airport and the security officer told me to just carry the full 600ml bottled water because he saw I was massively pregnant.
  9. On a long-haul flight, always, always allocate time to walk around (or rather, back and forth) the aisle. I did it on the way from Singapore to London and I arrived fabulous (or only as one can be after 13-hour journey). I did not do it on the way back because it was an evening flight so everybody including me was asleep. I ended up with pillow-like feet I could barely fit into my shoes.
  10. At your destination, if you can afford it, get a foot and back massage to release tension so you can enjoy your trip or recover from it. (And yes, pregnant women are allowed to get massages as long as you sit or lay on your side) I normally research spas that can handle pregnant clients and book it before the trip just because I’m a control freak.

If I could add one more tip, it would be to take more pictures of your pregnant self at different destinations, because you will want to show your little one that they started racking up mileage before they even had a passport!

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At London Waterloo station.

FIVE TIPS FROM MATT:

  1. I’d also add that given low mobility when pregnant, take everything you need out of your carry-on luggage and to your seat area and ensure you have easy access to everything from iPod to DVT socks. That way, you avoid having to stretch and reach—or have your partner do it.
  2. When you get your food, horde the small cup of water they give you and ask for refill from the attendant even before you need it. You may need it later when you don’t have access or there’s turbulence.
  3. Always travel with earplugs, eye-pads and medicines. This is a general rule of thumb for life.
  4. Ensure that all the arrangements as described above, like ground staff assistance, are made and confirmed way in advance and again with the cabin crew. Avoid missed expectations.
  5. Always be patient with your pregnant wife. Don’t lose your cool and be even more supportive than usual. Remember: the bulge she carries is a small piece of life, not 20 years of accumulated beer fat.
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On London’s double-decker tour bus!