Sleeping with the enemy

I feel the tension every night when my husband, two baby girls and I squeeze into our tiny queen-sized bed. To put it plainly, not everybody wants to snuggle. In fact, my eldest daughter doesn’t even want to come to bed until my youngest has stopped fussing and is sound asleep.

Ok, before we go any further, my ‘eldest’ is my 9-year-old chihuahua, and my ‘youngest’ is my 10-month-old human baby. If you think I’m one of those crazy women who refers to her pets as her furbabies and has a dedicated pet Instagram account, well… guilty as charged. (The handle is @tottochi.) I think of my chihuahua as my baby, and so does she.

Sleeping
Unwilling bedfellows.

You can’t blame us. Chihuahua are like newborns in so many ways. They weigh as much as newborns, and cuddle as much as newborns. Some of them are even as noisy as newborns. (Not my Totto, thank goodness! Think of her as a chihuahua on mute.)

My husband and I got her four months into dating. We were exploring Pasir Ris and wandered into a chihuahua farm. Yes, on hindsight, I never should have stepped into a puppy mill. But I did, and I fell in love.

Totto was scrawny and weak when we first found her. She had these awful bald patches on her forehead and front paw. At seven months, she was smaller than other four-month-old pups of her breed. The dog farm owner suggested I pick a healthier puppy. But I knew she was the one.

All the way home, she curled up into a tiny weightless ball on my lap, and didn’t even move. When we brought her to the vet the next day, the vet offered to write us a letter to return her to the pet farm. (Yes, this actually happened!)

But precisely because Totto was so frail, she brought out the maternal instincts I never knew I had. I poured all my love upon her. I slept with her, worked with her by my side, hand-fed her mangoes, and took her along on my dates.

And day after day, she blossomed. Her bald patches disappeared, her fur grew out, and she filled out her little body. She grew into a loving, fluffy, cuddly, slightly overweight 3kg forever-puppy – the sweetest dog anyone could ask for.

3
Look how Totto blossomed!

The first few years of our marriage were somewhat tumultuous – we were still finding out feet as a couple. My husband will tell you how Totto placed herself between us when we had a fight, and how she’d quietly comforted whoever felt more upset. She also shared all our happiest moments. She’d be beside us as we blew out birthday candles, and she joined us on sunset walks and breakfast dates.

So when I was pregnant with Baby Lily, I naturally assumed that she’d love whoever I loved. I imagined the lazy afternoons we’d spend together, our mini adventures in the park, and the nights we’d cuddle together.

I was so wrong.

I think it was because when I first returned from hospital, I completely neglected Totto. I’d just had a c-section and couldn’t bend down to pick her up or sit on the floor with her like I used to. It also took me a while to get the hang of breastfeeding. And for the first month, I was simply exhausted from round-the-clock feedings, pumping, caring for a newborn, recovering from my wound and following the silly rules of confinement.

I first noticed how jealous Totto was when I was breastfeeding in bed. Since she was such as small dog, she’d use a special step ladder to climb on and off our bed. However, she suddenly refused to use the ladder whenever I was breastfeeding. Instead, she’d insist on being carried onto bed. Because latching was so hard for me at first, I refused to do it until after I’d finished nursing.

I think that’s why she began to see Lily as the competition, or maybe worse – the enemy. Even after I decided to pause mid-feed and carry her onto the bed, she refused to co-exist with Lily, and would climb down. Each night, she’d run off and wait till Lily was sound asleep before returning to cuddle with us in bed.

Interestingly enough, as Lily grew, she became more and more fascinated with Totto despite the daily rejection. One of the first words she said (right after ‘Mama’ and ‘Dada’) was ‘Tata’. In her cute little way, she’d try to ingratiate herself with her fur-sister, smile at her, wave at her from across the room, crawl after her, and try to share her treats. The more Lily tried, the more Totto would snub her. It’s as if my baby were the uncool kid in school, and Totto were the cool worldly older girl she was always trying to impress.

Baby and Chi
Totto: Somebody please extricate me!

Believe me when I say I’ve tried to bridge this divide. However, it’s been 10 months, and I’ve kind of given up, and decided to let them work it out in their own time, on their own terms.

But as I write this, both of them are asleep on my bed. It’s 5am in the morning, and they look lost to the world. There’s a special bliss in watching your babies sleep peacefully, counting each rise and fall of their chest, and listening for each soft almost-soundless breath.

I want to hug them both and say, ‘let’s just stay here like this forever’. Because I know even as I write this that the Earth is spinning relentlessly, and each second is secretly sneaking away from us and disappearing into the void of time.

I want to tell them that world may change with the wind, and people may come and go. But we are family and family is forever.

Family is the anchor against all of life’s storms. Family must love one another. No matter what happens during the day, when we come home at night and lay down together, we should put aside our insecurities and differences, leave behind any wariness and scepticism, and pull down all invisible walls.

Laying down to rest together like that is one of the greatest comforts and intimacies we can enjoy in life. In a life marked by long stretches of solitude and loneliness, this may be the closest we’ll ever be to another person.

Having said that, it’d simply be so sad to hate the person you lay your head beside each night, wouldn’t it? That’s what I want to tell my baby girls. But how do you explain this to a chihuahua and baby?

 

About My Baby’s Nose…

Baby 3
Note: This baby does not come with a free Photoshop App

Last week, when we were on our regular walk in the park, an elderly lady came up to us and pinched Lily’s cheeks. We exchanged greetings and as she walked away, I heard her mutter softly under her breath (not for my ears, of course): “She is cute, but her nose is too flat.”

At that time, I didn’t think to react. She seemed like a kindly lady, and she is of course entitled to her opinion. But that night, I found myself telling my husband about it. And over the next few days, it simmers and stewed in my mind.

Yes, the minute they placed Lily in my arms, she became the most beautiful thing on Earth I’ve ever seen. I’m sure other mothers can relate to this feeling. But of course, I don’t expect the world to feel the same way.

Without my special mummy lenses, Lily is a regular baby. Many people still can’t tell if she’s a boy or a girl. If you really want to run a physical audit like that elderly lady, you could also say her nose might be sharper, her eyes could be bigger, and her thighs a little thinner.

But couldn’t you say the same thing for just about 98% of us – non-babies included? If you were to look at me, I know there are at least 10 things that you could change for the better. Scratch that – probably substantially more than 10 things.

And I’ll be the first to admit that throughout my teenage and early adult years, I was fixated on these imperfections. At an unconscious level, I have always felt ugly. If you told me that I could fix my imperfections non-surgically, I’d sign up in a heartbeat.

Thinking back, I realise that ironically, at a time in my life when I was supposed to experience the most freedom, I was instead shackled to this overwhelming sense of imperfection and inadequacy. Before I ran in the rain, I’d worry about whether my dark eye circles would show after my concealer washes off, or if I was wearing the right bra for getting wet.

And I suspect it’s inevitable that my baby will feel this way in her teenage years as well. But she certainly shouldn’t feel this way at the age of ten-and-a-half-months old, not at the age of five, not even at ten!

What I want for Lily is to experience freedom in her childhood. To run till her clothes stick to her back, and she smells of salt, sunshine and grass.

To dash through the rain, splash across the river in our park, and roll on the floor with my chihuahua and cats. To know unbridled happiness, and free-spirited beauty without worrying about what others think of her and the way she looks.

I hope that even when she grows up, and even if the world catches up with her and she’s buried under makeup and corporate politics, she will always keep this sacred space inside her. Somewhere in her heart, she will always remember what true beauty is, and what real happiness feels like. And anytime she gets tired of the flavour of bullshit the world is serving, she can always return to this.

If I do this right (and I really hope I can come close), this is what I wish for her.

So for the moment, I really wish to protect her from debilitating self-consciousness. From criticism on how she might be prettier if her nose were sharper or her eyes were bigger. But I also want to protect her from well-meaning physical compliments – the most common one being how fair and translucent her skin is – which in my opinion, is a totally archaic standard of beauty in Singapore. I don’t wish her to concern herself with such vain and superficial things.

What I wish for her to know is how beautifully her eyes twinkle when she’s happy – like the fairy lights at Christmas; and how bright her laughter rings – like a wind chime just before rain. I want her to know how perfect she is in every way – because I am her mother, and I am allowed to be biased. And with that knowledge and security, I want her to explore the world with more confidence than I had.

Trust the Magic of New Beginnings

Lily 1

Dear Baby Lily,

I had all the feels to write something on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. But the festive season can get so busy. And just like that, the days have blown past me like a hot clammy breeze – they are gone now, never to return.

Now it’s almost the end of the second day of the new year. Like most ‘second days of the year’, today’s a bit of a letdown from the exuberant promise of New Year’s Day. After all that toasting and feasting, most of us don’t set out on anything resembling a grand adventure.

Life hands us a blank canvas. We write a few New Year resolutions on it. And then, we trek to the nearest cafe for a comforting coffee to resume the life we’ve always known.

Which is so scary. Because, the years pile on insidiously. Sometime in your 30s, time starts to chase you like a psychopath with a machete in a bad thriller – the kind with no clear plot and 2 hours of gratuitous screaming.

If you’ve watched a bad thriller, you’ll know that it’s a losing race. Each year, you can buy a new calendar, buy a new set of face creams, change your wardrobe and pretend you are starting afresh. But slowly and surely, time chips away at you with that machete. Each year, it takes a little of your energy, your glow, your body, and past a certain age, the lucidity of your mind.

If this sounds gloomy, it is not.

Because last year, you came into my world. Out of nowhere, you appeared and utterly flipped the script.

I named you Lily after your decreased grandmother not because I knew her well (she passed away when I was four). I named you after your grandma because to me that signifies life coming full circle; it signifies renewal.

You see, your grandma has been dead for 33 years now. She didn’t really bring me up. I didn’t really get to know her. All I know is that she desperately wanted to have me. She had fertility issues, and went to see several doctors. She later discovered something wrong with her fallopian tube, and had an operation before she got pregnant with me.

Because she had me, today, I have you. You carry within you, a piece of her DNA, her spirit and her hope. Because of you, she is never ‘dead’. She is renewed again in you – Lily.

To me, you are a daily reminder that the love we give blossoms in ways beyond our understanding. It reminds me that things that seem to have withered and faded may be infinitely revived.

As I turn the page on 2018, I would like to share with you what a crazy year it has been. I have never been busier in my life. When you first arrived, you were the klutziest little thing I’ve ever met. One time, you pulled your hair so hard, but didn’t know you were pulling your own hair, cried in pain, and pulled even harder… As I was trying to extricate you, I was so afraid you’d pull your scalp out.

Because you couldn’t help yourself, I made 2018 all about you. I dedicated 100% of myself to you. And that left me with so little for myself or anything else. I had to learn to let go of things beyond my control.

But you’re almost nine months old now – you’re a big girl. I can see you gaining independence and confidence each day, and I’m so proud of you.

And because of this, I also think it’s time to reclaim myself a little.

So in 2019, there will be lots of times mummy can’t be there for you 100% like before. Because mummy is not only your mummy. I am also a friend, wife, daughter, traveller, writer, and proud human to two cats and a chihuahua.

This year, my only resolution is to continue to nurture those things, so I can become more than I was before… so that when you grow up, you may get to know me as a multi-faceted person, not just your mum. That I should be able to have a meaningful and interesting conversation with you not just when you’re 5, but when you’re 25, 35 or 45 (if I should live long enough).

You’ve given me so much in 2018, baby girl. You taught me the power of hope, renewal and new beginnings. And because of you, I no longer fear time with its stupid machete.

I know the pieces of us that time chips away are renewed in ways beyond our imagination, and transfigured in beauty. You are a living manifestation of that.

Happy New Year, baby girl! I can’t wait to see what 2019 has in store for us.

An Open Letter to My 8-month-old Daughter

An Open Letter to My 8-month-old Daughter

Pick a flower on Earth and you move the farthest star.

Dearest Baby Lily,

The day you were born, a star in another galaxy shifted. Nothing seemed to have changed in our world. But yet, in every meaningful, mystical way, nothing could ever be the same again.

It was a terribly ordinary day in April. On our way to the hospital, the taxi driver was listening to some Mandarin FM chatter punctuated with terribly unsubtle ads. As I was suffering through my contractions while waiting for my cervix to dilate, I remember feeling a little let down because the hospital Subway had run out of peanut butter cookies.

That was it. The day my world shifted ever so imperceptibly and irrevocably on its axis.

I’m sure that in cubicles everywhere, no one even sneezed different. Nobody’s heart skipped a beat. No irate driver whose lane had just been cut felt the magic in the air.

Why am I writing this, baby girl? Because I want to tell you that some of the most extraordinary things in the world can seem so ordinary to the naked eye. Just like the day you arrived like an astronaut, an alien or a budding flower from another galaxy to light up my world.

You, whose little body fills up with so much personality each day that it periodically bursts forth in rippling laughter. You, who taught me everything I thought I knew but didn’t — love at first sight, all-encompassing love, how to throw my head back when I laugh, how to crinkle every inch of my face when I smile, how to sing out-of-tune lullabies when I’m nursing a cough, how to dance till I can’t catch my breath…

Why am I writing this, baby girl? Because as I see you learning to take your first fearless steps, I imagine the day you’ll spread your wings and go forth alone into this world – this wonderful, magical world; this (sometimes) unimaginative and unkind world.

I’m so excited for you, baby girl. But I’m also scared… scared that someday, you’ll want something that seems a little out of your reach, fall in love with someone who doesn’t love you back, or lose faith in something you’ve always thought you wanted. That the world might break your heart and your spirit. And, for a moment, you just might think you are (and life is) ordinary.

But if you could see yourself through my eyes, as you are today, chuckling uncontrollably on your baby mat, you will know that that can’t be true.

You, life, the entire universe you brought with you when you came to this world, is anything but ordinary. Even if I may not be around then to catch you, kiss you and rock you to sleep, you will always be my most beloved, beautiful little girl. Even when you can’t see it, like the stars, my love for you will follow you wherever you go.

And you will always be special, irreplaceable, un-dimmable, no matter what they say.

Lily, the day you were born, you moved the farthest star in another galaxy. Nothing will ever be the same again. Mummy was there, and I swear it’s true.

Annie’s Artisan Human Milk

Annie’s Artisan Human Milk

Sometime in April this year, I became an artisan. I began to produce small batch, preservative-free, single-origin, so-hip-that-it-hurts unpasteurised milk.

I started breastfeeding.

Why is breastfeeding such a monumental endeavour for many new mums like me? Because in a world where most people eat imported processed food straight out of plastic boxes that we blast in microwaves, we forget what it’s like to create food from scratch. And when I say ‘from scratch’, I mean ‘from scratch‘.

Making your food from scratch is actually a somewhat messy and very intimate experience. In fact, breastfeeding takes experiential dining to a whole new level. You meet the ‘chef’, you meet the ‘cow’, and after dinner, you, chef and cow sleep together.

As someone who rarely even goes out to buy her own food and prefers to shop for groceries on iherb, I had never considered making food from scratch. However, after they placed the most angelic creature I’ve ever seen in my grubby arms, I really wanted to try to give her this whole ‘ultra-intimate experiential dining experience’.

Understandably, being an artisan of any sort is an arduous learning experience. First, I had to endure a few mortifying breakdowns. I actually came up with a list of 10. But in the interest of time and because my baby takes short naps, I’ve cut it down to two.

#1 Being Milked By 10 Different Strangers

So I’ve just been cut open, stitched up and thrown back into my ward. Trying to sleep is like trying to sleep after a Category 5 hurricane demolished your tiny little ship, casted you into crashing waves, washed you onto a strange beach. To put it mildly, you’re still trying to catch your breath. A mere hour later, a nurse brings your newborn daughter, who also miraculously washed onto shore with you. Then, she asks you to nurse her, and when you fail, helps to milk you.

This is the exact sequence of events.

In all normal social situations, I’d balk at the idea. But my too-small-to-latch baby was wailing like an injured kitten, and my boobs were becoming as hard as rocks. So I allowed myself to be milked.

If you’ve ever gotten milked, you’ll know it’s no fun. It feels like you have a huge abscess and someone is trying to squeeze the pus from your wound. Regardless, over the two days of my hospitalisation, ten different nurses had the unpleasant task of milking me. By the fifth one, I didn’t even flinch anymore.

#2 Syringe Feeding My Baby

Usually, when you think of breastfeeding, you’d conjure up this (heavily edited) picture of a mother dressed in white flowy clothes bent lovingly over a tiny infant, literally radiating love. Well, nobody looks so pretty and pulled together while their uterus is still contracting.

Breastmilk (if you’re lucky enough to be well-stocked) leaks, squirt and sprays. A strong jet of breastmilk could wet your infant, your pet or if you’re not careful, an unfortunate stranger sitting in front of you on the bus. I imagine getting sprayed by milk is as annoying as (and even more awkward than) getting sneezed on.

There’s also the problem of getting it into the tummy of your shrieking struggling infant. If your baby, like mine, can’t latch well, lactation consultants might advocate syringe feeding. Because if you use a milk bottle right from the start, your little one might get nipple confusion, and won’t know how to ‘use’ your nipple anymore.

Syringe feeding needs some explaining because it’s not one of those things you read about in your ‘intro to motherhood’ magazines. During the first couple of days, when you’ve only got 10-30ml of colostrum, this involves manually squeezing out these sticky droplets and collecting them with a syringe (the sort that I use to feed my cats their medicine).

This whole painstaking process could take me and my husband 30-45 minutes of agony and pure frustration. Then we had to painstakingly syringe feed Lily and sometimes watch half of this oh-so-precious fluid spill out of her mouth. Two hours later, we’d repeat this cycle again.

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There you have it. I know this is not an Instagrammable picture of motherhood. But it pretty much sums up the first two weeks of my life as a new mother – hysterical, hilarious; dysfunctional and disheveled. And I refuse to airbrush my experience even though it’s oh so very messy.

Because love is messy. Life is messy.

The wound is the place where the light enters you

The wound is the place where the light enters you

Exactly 8 months ago, a lot of light entered me.

At that time, as I lay paralysed, half-naked and fully conscious in a room where masked men were cutting me open, it felt like a blood-red full-coloured reenactment of an old black-and-white horror movie.

Surprisingly, it probably only took 5 to 8 minutes to cut through the seven layers – skin, fat, the coating outside the abs, the abs, that layer surrounding the organs, the loose peritoneum, and the uterus. (But then again, it only takes 18 seconds to debone a chicken, according to YouTube.)

Through the crack, they pushed you out – wet, wide-eyed and wriggling. You were such a funny little thing. They lay you in my arms even before they stitched me up. There was still a gaping hole in my middle. I craned my head forward to kiss you but I forgot to smell you. I should have memorised your smell.

You felt so small – almost weightless – it felt unreal. But you seemed to relax in my arms, as if you trusted me. And I think it was at that very moment that I decided I’d do my best for you. In the passion of the moment…… theoretically…… yes, for you, I’ll always do my best.

Then I brought you home, and the first couple of months became the most difficult two months of my life. I know some mothers are naturals. Not me. I was (am still) a mess. You were too small to latch, you were not drinking enough, you were not growing healthily, I was sleeping one hour at a time, I was still recovering from my wound, I still had work obligations, and Daddy started quarrelling with the nanny.

You know, those images that show mothers in an otherworldly Goddess-of-the-earth Gaia-like glow? Lies! Either that, or they have superior DNA. Because I’ve never felt uglier in my life.

I had probably put on 18kg and was sweating like a middle aged man. But because of a list of archaic confinement beliefs (see number 4 on this HoneyKidsAsia list), I could only take a herbal bath once a day and was not allowed to sit in front of a fan. As you can imagine, at 33°C, I felt and smelt like a decomposing piece of very fatty pork.

Another confinement practise I absolutely hated – I had to blow my hair dry every day. Who gets a blowout when they don’t have time to sleep? – I ask you. I just rushed through it, putting the hairdryer way too close to my strands that I emerged from my confinement with fried locks. So if you would, please add to your mental image a decomposing pig with burnt frizzy hair that stuck out in all directions. (Click here for furry pigs that look like sheep if you need a pictorial representation)

There are other visible scars. The wound, which I was afraid to even look at, was at first, a weird shade of mangosteen purple. My eye bags and dark circles looked like a bruised fruit that’d been dropped too many times , and no matter what I wore, I always smelt like spoilt milk.

I felt grotesque.

But it wasn’t just that my body had fallen apart. My old life, my world, seemed to have fallen to pieces too. My new weight and the heat made me feel completely exhausted, all the time. And it didn’t help that I didn’t have time for self-care, for self-repair, and to do the things that helped create my old sense of self. Things that I liked, did, watched, read and thought were suddenly effaced.

Because there is less time in a day, everything I do seem to come at a heavier opportunity cost now. Now, I’d think – if I met a friend, I’d miss my only chance to get some exercise this week. If I read a chapter of this book, I’d miss my evening walk with you. During the first few months, I struggled with this sense of confusion, helplessness, loss, guilt and self-loathing.

Despite my self-loathing, you blossomed each day, and your laughter and squeals now fills the house like a tinkling bell. How could someone like me bring such a spontaneous, happy, angelic creature into this world?

Because you are so happy, your joy and delight also seep through my cracks and fill me up. So that my imperfections are no longer just grotesque – they are also beautiful.

We are beautiful not in spite of imperfections, but because of them, right?

That’s what I’d hope to tell you when you feel insecure or inadequate in future.

And as I slowly pick up the pieces and continue to navigate this new world and new life, I am learning to embrace my cracks, imperfections and inadequacies; and cultivate a deeper sense of beauty in my life.

Because the wound is the place the light enters you.

(My first diary in 5 years – dedicated to my baby girl #LilyRaisin.

What My Chihuahua Taught Me About Making Small Talk

What My Chihuahua Taught Me About Making Small Talk

Another one from my Chihuahua Series. As you can tell, I can’t draw, and my sexy women’s legs look like they’ve been twisted in a fall. But my own overweight chihuahua insists that underdogs have voices too, and that they deserve to be heard as much as anybody else. And I’m just trying to be a good mummy to her even though she always tells me I’m full of shit.
On that note, happy weekend-socialising!

Chi ST 1

Chi ST 2

Chi ST 3

For more chihuahua rants here: Monday Blue Pooches