Today is the sweet spot. The day between my birthday which was yesterday and my wife’s, which is tomorrow. It being a Friday normally would mean that we would be knee deep in a satisfying meal tonight but as it stands we are not.
Instead we’ve been spending time shuffling between hospital departments, paying for stuff, waking up incrementally throughout the night because of the need to feed, paying for more stuff, out the car, in the car, alarm rings after alarm rings. as Netflix drones on in the background of our confinement centre room, mostly unwatched. This is the new normal, at least for us, at least for now. Why?
Because our baby girl was born last Sunday.
I’ve always been a little detached about celebrating my birthday. Yes, you were born on that day. But is it something really worth celebrating by anyone other than yourself? The answer felt like a no before Sunday, but since then, I would say a big yes. Witnessing the process that led to our girl being born made me feel like for someone to have been birthed into this world, it would’ve taken a Herculean effort and force to will it into being.
Mainly because there is a plethora of things that could go wrong within the course of the months or years leading up to the pregnancy, the nine months of pregnancy and the hours leading up to the delivery. It’s a journey with many complicated and moving parts and shifts that requires various people of diverse skillsets making the right decisions at all times just to facilitate the birth of this life.
In many ways, I can now see why there is a special heartbreak that parents endure when they see their child wasting or throwing their life away meaninglessly – It was not easy to produce their life. That labour of love creates a special bond between parents and child. It is important for parents to not foolishly throw that bond away in the name of college majors, career paths and life partner choices. It has to be protected as sacred. This is something I will remind myself of everyday. To work hard to maintain that bond.
Our journey had a few bumps along the road, namely the scare we had in September. But ‘worrying’ is the main product one procures as soon as one decides to become a parent. Our last scare just before her birth was the worrying underdevelopment of her femur. The only comfort the doctor could offer us initially was, ‘Oh, looking at you guys, I wouldn’t be too concerned.’ Thanks doc. So we plunged ourselves into worry and concern. My wife analysing each printed report after a visit with a fine comb, studying trends and graphical movement. As it turns out, we had nothing much to worry about because her femur is fine. I mean, I don’t know if I can guarantee she will have a future on a fashion runway but we can always pray and hope. I am adding this along to my recent prayers to God about blessing her with the ability to walk to the toilet on her own (zero diaper change goal baby, come on!), sleep when we want her to (notably when mummy and daddy wants to watch Netflix) and being a David Bowie fan.
Okay jokes aside (not joking about Bowie), God has really fulfilled his end of the bargain throughout these months. We would pray to Him for something different for her every night. ranging from her having good hearing to her having a compassionate heart. Although programming for the last few weeks leading to her birth was a rerun of ‘femur length’ constantly. If prayers were cumulative, we should be expecting some Miranda Kerr legs on her right God? Just kidding (also not kidding).
We’ve had a relatively easy pregnancy. My wife was still out and about doing morning walks and yoga days before her first contractions came. We’ve had scares certainly but God allayed each of them in spectacular fashion. He’s blessed us with good doctors, nurses and friends, gosh what friends we have. Constantly supporting us, encouraging us, checking up on us and giving us stuff. We have enough breast pumps that I probably can be subbed in as well. I did warn our baby as she was crying yesterday that if she continued crying I may have to offer her my boobs. She stopped for a moment.
And yes, just like that she’s out into the world now and in my arms.
39 weeks suspended in a flurry of animation within my wife’s womb, hearing every conversation we’ve had with each other (understanding probably very little of it), bouncing to the steps of our weekend walks, sampling a tasting menu of the food we’ve consumed and just like that, the last page of pregnancy was turned and a new life steps into this world last Sunday at 8.00am.
I’ve written and processed a lot about being a father. In the grand scheme of roles that we assign to ourselves in this life such as ‘son’, ‘husband’ or ‘friend’; ‘father’ was never one I was particularly wedded to, mostly brought about by fear of being a lousy one and also never being with a partner who could awaken that collective desire until I met my wife. Yes, it is a collective desire. At least it should be.
In the course of trying to lull her to sleep last night by singing to her and having a conversation with her, I referred to myself as ‘daddy’. It still felt a little surreal. I’m a father now. Yes, I am a father now. And there is no turning back.
In my bid to grow into the role, I fashioned a daily project to talk and interact with her while she was in the womb. I would sing her a song I loved every night and give her one fun fact about the world she would soon be born into. Since September, I’ve sang a total of 165 songs to her and delivered 160 daily cool facts to her, every night. I was going to say without fail but there were fails, a day or two where I was ill and probably one where I was too sleepy. Daddy is not perfect.
I mostly sang to her in our bedroom but I did croak her a possibly painful version of ‘Across the Universe’ in a hotel in Taiping, a strategically selected ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ up in the cool heights of Cameron Highlands and delivered a thankful version of Wilco’s ‘My Darling’ to her in the hospital delivery room, 7-hours before she made her life-changing entrance into our lives. I sang her a total of 104 Beatles songs and 61 songs by a range of artistes that were important to me from Cure to Springsteen to The Flaming Lips.
Throughout the days I also gave her really cool facts about the world, like how dogs sniff good smells with their left nostril, that turkeys can blush and that the tiny pocket in jeans was originally designed to store pocket watches (I especially loved this one).
These sessions were my favorite moments of those days. I’ve really had the time of my life these past 6-months doing them. But nothing could prepare me for the 14-minutes that led up to her birth into this loud and disorientating world. To say those 14-minutes represented the most beautiful and jaw-dropping thing I’ve ever witnessed and experienced in my life is to put it very, very conservatively.
I went into this process as I always do with anything that’s important – numbskully optimistic but also blockheadly clueless. To be fair, the data I was given to crunch so I could form an idea of what a delivery experience would be like was so wide and diverse, I might as well been told that it’s like walking around a mall with a bag of doughnuts in my hand while being chased by a pink unicorn.
There are mentions of the mother being able to walk around. She will be able to eat whatever she likes. That she will be on drips. That she will be hooked to a machine that measures baby heart rate and contractions. That she will be able to watch TV. Bounce on a birthing ball. Shoot a machine gun. Swim in the ocean with sharks. Okay, just kidding. But only about the sharks. There are probably some parts of the world where the wife may empty a clip into the husband in the process of giving birth.
So yeah, I had no idea what it was going to be like.
Doesn’t help that Tinseltown has done a lot to gloss over the birthing process, so this Latchkey kid learned nothing from it. It’s often represented by a sudden belly ache experienced by the mother (they occasionally show the water bag bursting), a mad dash to the hospital and the inevitable coach/pep talk by husband or doctor leading to a single push which results in a baby that often looks like it’s been nursed and bathed for months and if given a chance, could probably walk to the nearest parlor and order herself an ice-cream.
What films don’t tell you is that the water bag doesn’t always break, contractions don’t come just before a birth but sometimes, days even a week before and that single push that results in the baby coming out is the open goal tap-in at the end of a 54-pass move. Oh sorry, football analogy. Let me try again, it’s basically the last kahuna push after many kahuna pushes that’s been happening possibly for the last 2-hours. We can see how that doesn’t exactly translate to a tangy watch.
My wife’s contractions came deep into Wednesday night, four days before the eventual delivery. In hindsight, I realised I was being very insensitive to her when I suggested if a contraction basically feels like a terrible diarrhea. “I guess, if you needed a reference point,” was her answer when the right one would be to boot my head through the nearest window. No, seeing what my wife went through for four days, I can concur it is not like a terrible diarrhea. A terrible diarrhea does not render you incapable to move or speak when it comes. This was something else.
Our family and friends suggested inducing the pregnancy after two days of contractions but my wife said no, “What if she’s not ready to come out yet?” I can only draw a parallel with me being asked to throw the thrash after I am showered and comfortably seated on our couch with the TV remote in my hand. “Okay, let’s wait for her.” But in 24-hours, the pain had gotten unbearable and my wife agreed to induce on Saturday night.
Civilization may have attempted to dress up the birthing process in clean air-conditioned rooms and plushy pillows but the truth is, it remains as primal an experience as it did thousands of years ago. There are strange-looking discharges, a lot of writhing in pain and well, blood. I was standing next to my wife comforting and encouraging her, two-feet away from the action and I still got blood on my shorts and hands. There was blood on the floor and on the sheets over the operating equipment.
I was standing there, like a man seeing a UFO, eyes and mouth gaped when the doctor suggested the use of forceps and proceeded to access these two things that looked like cricket bats (at least to me at the time) and within seconds, he pulled out our baby girl and dropped her on to my wife’s chest, caked in blood. The next few seconds were a mingling of panic, relief and excitement as they stuffed a tube into our girl’s mouth to get the excesss liquid out all while she screamed and cried, like she was dragged rudely to a party she did not wanted to go to. Well, she was.
And now she’s here. An autonomous being with her own personality, wants and moods. She is now a part of the tapestry of the world. Her story will be embedded into the story of the world. Her life will now become intertwined with the lives of others. There is no reversing this process. She isn’t going to be climbing back up into the womb after a week. She isn’t going to dissolve into stardust after a year. There is no return policy.
It’s done and our lives will never be the same again.
And why would we want it to be what it was before after seeing her, hearing her and smelling her? She is the most beautiful thing we’ve laid our eyes on and the mere gurgle from her causes both our hearts to feel like it wants to explode with love, joy and contentment. We want this life, not the one before anymore.
A lot is often made about the sacrifices one would have to make to raise a child. There are tons. The sleep is the first to go. The TV binges. The lazy weekend afternoon on the couch. Korean BBQ (at least for a while). But all these things just shade into the background as me and my wife cheer on each successful latch by her like we’ve won the World Cup. It’s like your life gets re-orientated and refurbished into something new. It’s in the same space, but things do not feel nor look the same anymore. And that is really very okay.
I sang her Wilco’s ‘My Darling’ on the night before she was born and I sang it to her again two nights ago, trying to put her to sleep. I teared, with joy, at the meaning of it all and how life will be from now on.
I can’t wait for each day to happen.
Go back to sleep now, my darling
I’ll try to keep the bad dreams away
Breathe now, breathe easier
And I’ll think of all the right things to say
Because we made you, my darling
With the love in each of our hearts
We were a family, my darling
Right from the start
Grow up now
Please, don’t you grow up too fast
And be sure
To make all the good times last
Because we made you, my darling
With the love in each of our hearts
We were a family, my darling
Right from the start