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.

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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?

 

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.