I am a new mum.
During the last 38 weeks of my pregnancy, I armed myself with all the knowledge I thought I would need. From reading books on child cognitive behaviours to downloading infant related Ted Talks on my playlist.
I had tons of conversations with experienced mothers, new mothers and mothers-to-be who were further along than I was. I was as prepared as I could be, striving to be the perfect mother. I got this.
Or so I thought. The moment my baby came into this world, (almost) all the knowledge I acquired got tossed into oblivion. It quickly dawned on me that there was no foundation course to motherhood, but a fast track to the main event.
The past few weeks have flown by in a blink of an eye. I’ve lost track of days and dates, and my sense of time is determined by feeding and nap schedules.
I have a growing list of personal agendas that need to be done – I’ve mastered the art of speed eating, quick showers and even speedy toilet breaks.
Despite being a fashion stylist for the past 15 years, my home wardrobe choices have become atrocious, determined by a combination of breastfeeding-friendly over stretched milk stained tops and the husband’s old long sleeved shirts (adhering to the ‘rules’ of confinement).
"The moment my baby came into this world, (almost) every knowledge I had got tossed into oblivion."
Between sleepless nights and raging hormones, I spent the first few days overwhelmed and insecure. I joke that looking after a baby is like looking after a very drunk person. You feed him, support his floppy body and get vomited on while enduring spontaneous tantrums. And just when you think you finally got him to sleep, he craps himself.
Sitting in the glow of my laptop at 4am, I currently try for the umpteenth time to get some work done before my one-month old son rouses for his next feed.
Facebook reminds me that a year ago, I was sipping vodka sodas at my studio’s wrap party and jumping on a yacht the morning after, chugging champagne from the bottle.
The only bottles I clutch these days are milk bottles, stuck firmly to my breast, hooked up to an overpriced machine, literally sucking me dry.
Breast is best. Or like Ali Wong famously said, breast is (not) free.
However, breastfeeding was definitely not what I had expected it to be. No one truly prepares you for the world of breastfeeding. I expected supply and demand – letting nature take its course and supply my body with the amount needed to nourish my spawn with him latching on like puppies do.
My son latched on beautifully, at first, but to a semi empty tank. Within the first 24 hours, despite the three-hour latch on the first night, I was told that I was starving my baby, producing only one fifth of his demand.
Then came news that he was jaundiced due to the difference in our blood types and hence needed more milk than usual. Mother’s guilt crashed in like a bullet train.
He was swiftly removed from my bedside and taken to the nursery, leaving me to wallow in self pity, stunned and dejected. We had not even gone home and already I failed the first expectation.
Every notion and concept I had about breastfeeding and its maternal connotations were pushed aside and I had to focus on what needed to be done. It was no longer about fulfilling my expectations of being the perfect (breastfeeding) mother, but stepping up to doing what was best for my child – for us, that meant supplementary feeding.
My milk supply eventually came in, however it turns out that the little one is choosey about his taps (nipples). On a good day, he latches on fully till the end – others, he thrashes about because the flow is too fast, too slow or simply because the nipple needed a break before the next let down. It’s an extremely helpless feeling – these are the only two (nipples) I have.
We’ve finally settled for a schedule of bottle and breast, with formula in the nights. Exclusive breastfeeding just did not work for us, nor his jaundice.
Besides, formula feeding at night ensures him (as well as us) a longer much-needed nap, and there is no shame in that. Despite the hiccups, I do treasure my breastfeeding moments because it allows me to connect with my child that is special only to the both of us.
The one common advice everyone gave me during my pregnancy was to, ‘enjoy your sleep’. I heard stories of babies who wake every hour for a feed, change, fuss and anticipated delirious days to come.
In my last trimester, I was waking at three-hour intervals through the night so I guess the baby sleep-trained me! Between the husband and myself taking shifts in our nightly feeds, the sleep deprivation is bearable thanks to his somewhat predictable schedule, as well as what I suspect is ‘mummy adrenalin’.
As parents, we no longer sleep, we take naps. On a good night, he feeds, burps and sleeps almost like clockwork, and on trickier sessions, it takes up to two-hours of cradling a wide-eyed baby, multiple feeds in small doses and rocking him back to sleepiness. I take pleasure in these nights, as the quietness of the night gives me and the bubs some quality bonding time. I did however develop a nasty case of mommy’s thumb (Quervain’s tendonitis).
"As parents, we no longer sleep, we take naps."
Having a child is a very individual experience, as it is one’s own special journey to embark on. Sure, there are a few guidelines one could use when it comes to having a baby, but these guidelines have parameters that are far and wide.
One of the best advice I have gotten was to go with my gut, as our maternal spidey senses were bestowed unto us for a reason. I might not know everything, and might even do the occasional ‘bad mom’ thing from time to time.
Amidst the good and the bad, I am reminded to see the glass as half full, and to be patient and empathetic, as well as to let go of all expectations and ego. I may not be the perfect mother, but my baby is definitely teaching me to become a better person, for us.