At 5:58 am we hear a gasp from the next room and…
G2: It’s morning! G1 wake up! It’s morning! Wake up! Wake up!
And so another day begins…
The sun rises too early here.
Nurture for the Future
Becoming a mother has changed a lot of things – my life, my ideas, and me. In fact, the change from “childless me” to “Mummy me” can be likened to the superhero transformation in a story when the main character discovers his super powers. For instance, I have developed super hearing. I might be deaf to everything else but I’ll hear it when it’s my children. Then there is the Mummy sense. It’s kind of like the “spidy senses” Spiderman gets before something bad is about to happen except that the “Mummy sense” only works with things relating to my kids.
As Ben Parker (uncle of Peter Parker aka Spiderman) once said: “with great power come great responsibility”. Indeed, along with these new super powers I’ve developed, I have also inherited great responsibility in the form of two little lives. What I was content to be – with all my faults and short comings – is no longer enough nor is it acceptable. I must constantly strive to be better so that I may be the example I want my children to aspire towards. And everyday, when I lose my temper with the kids and flip out over small things, I am reminded, yet again, just how much improvement I require…
They say we are only human and as humans we err, but have you ever noticed that children are often held accountable to higher standards than the ones we set for ourselves? There are many times when I have noticed myself tolerating behaviours from others that I would not allow in my children. Heck, I even forgive myself for losing my temper but refuse to tolerate temper tantrums from my children that I perceive to be an act of defiance. Don’t I behave the same way when I feel someone has “wronged” me? Don’t I get snarky when I’m tired or having a bad day? Our children may be little but they are still people with feelings and emotions. In fact, as little children with less experience and practice in the world that we live in, they have even more reason to lose control than we do with our many more years of living.
How can I forgive myself for “losing it” and “being human” and yet hold my children to a higher standard when I expect them to deny their emotions by demanding that they NOT throw tantrums in the face of big disappointments? While they may not be “big” in my world, they most certainly are in the world of a child. And that is really the issue with a lot of disciplinary matters relating to children, isn’t it? It becomes “do as I say and not as I do”.
What gives us the right as adults to behave in one way when we do not allow our children to behave in that manner? Because we’re adults and they are children? It certainly seems that way. It is the propagation of the way discipline was conducted when we were children. Despite “knowing better” now, we still fall prey to our instincts and memories from our childhood.
So this is me trying to be better – to acknowledge my failings and over come them…
I have a problem. I have anger management issues. Instead of maintaining my composure when my children act up, I lose it. While I have somewhat better control over my desire to employ corporal punishment as a method of discipline – just – I won’t lie and deny that having Hercules as a child has never caused me to question my decision. However, when I am in the right frame of mind – cool, calm and collected – I know I cannot condone it and I cannot allow myself to employ this method on my children.
Everyday, I must remind myself to be more understanding towards my children. They may make mistakes and they may behave poorly and more often than not, that behaviour is going to annoy me to no end. However, as their parent, it is my duty to teach them the right way to deal with it. That doesn’t mean they must deny how they feel because it is okay for them to be upset. It is not okay for them to hurt others or damage property. So my responsibility then is to help them accept their feelings and channel those feelings constructively.
I’m going to take a deep breath and try to stay cool because that’s the behaviour I should be trying to model for them. Some days, I might succeed and other days, I won’t. And if I don’t, I should acknowledge I was wrong and apologise for it because my children will do the same. If they can see me admitting to my mistakes, they will learn it is okay to admit it when they are wrong and to apologise for it.
On the evening of Thursday 30 December 2010, I had a miscarriage. My baby was almost 10 weeks old. After some period-like cramps and then uncontrollable bleeding, I rushed to hospital where I was informed I had had an incomplete miscarriage. My doctor performed a D&C to clean out my womb.
I had initially decided not to write about it. But to gloss over the event like my baby never existed felt wrong. Although I had my baby for only 10 weeks, of which, I knew of its existence for only 5 weeks, it was long enough for me to form an attachment. We had not planned this pregnancy. In fact, we had even decided that we were not going to have any more children. To say that the surprise was a welcomed one would be a lie. I hadn’t wanted this baby when I found out I was pregnant. But babies have a way of changing your heart even when you think it cannot be changed.
It has been an emotional 5 weeks. The fact that we knew early on that this was not the usual pregnancy and that miscarriage was a possibility has helped me prepare for this outcome but has not lessened the grief that I feel. It was difficult knowing that I needed to rest but had two young children who still depended on me very much. It is hard to say that even if I had had complete bed rest, this baby might still be alive. It was hard to ignore my two sons when they needed me so I did what I could and rested when I was able. It was also hard to ignore the guilt I felt because I was incapable of giving all I could to all my children.
Despite knowing that I was true to my expectations of myself as a mother, I cannot help but replay the events in my head wondering if things could have panned out differently if I had acted differently. Perhaps if I had rushed to the hospital when I started cramping instead of going home first – who knows if the doctors would have been able to do anything to stop the miscarriage from taking place.
During my first visit to Dr Wong, he noted that the attachment of the foetus was weak. I was advised to rest as much as possible and to avoid carrying heavy objects – including the baby. How do you stop carrying your one year old baby and make him understand when he cries for you that you cannot carry him because you are pregnant with his unborn sibling? How do you tell him that he needs to sleep through the night so you can rest, too?
Two weeks after my first visit to Dr Wong, I started bleeding. I received and injection to strengthen the womb and oral progesterone. I continued to bleed on and off for the next two weeks. On Thursday evening, I started having period-like cramps – just the mild, dull ache that accompanies most periods. We had taken the boys for ice cream and were heading home. I probably should not have gone out that night. On the way home in the car, the cramps came like waves of contractions and I knew I was losing the baby. It was late and Dr Wong was no longer in his clinic so I couldn’t call for advice.
By the time I got home, I took a shower and was about to head straight to bed when I started bleeding. It wouldn’t stop. I put on a pad but there was so much blood that it was soaked through before I could even get dressed. I put on an overnight pad and that bought me enough time to get dressed and into the car. By the time I arrived at the hospital, I could see little rivulets of blood seeping through my pants.
In the ER, I threw up – which I understand is the result of my body going into shock after losing so much blood. The emergency doctor made an accessment, although I knew even before I asked that I had lost the baby. It was an incomplete miscarriage that required a D&C under GA. The procedure was quick – 10 minutes in the OT and I was back in the recovery room. After an overnight stay in hospital, I was discharged the following day.
Perhaps if I had done things differently, the baby might still be around today. Perhaps if I had had complete bed rest, I might still have lost the baby. The body has a reason for aborting a pregnancy when it is simply not viable. No amount of medical intervention can save a baby that isn’t meant to be. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the way we feel about that baby.
To my unborn child – although you did not live past 10 weeks of your life, you were still my baby for just a little while and I loved you as I love your brothers.
My being absentminded and forgetful has always been the brunt of hubby’s jokes. When I got pregnant, I finally had an excuse. They say that the pregnant brain actually shrinks which they accounted for the increased absentmindedness. However, they also say that the “Mum brain” goes away after the pregnancy and all recall faculties should be back to normal. Yet, I am still as forgetful as ever.
Some time back, I read an article (sorry I can’t remember the link) about a study performed on mothers and non-mothers to further understand the theory of the “Mum brain”. They found that there actually is no such thing as the “Mum brain”. What they discovered is that the reason why some mothers are so forgetful is because they have too much on their plate. They tested both mothers and non-mothers in test conditions and found there was no significant difference in memory power. The real key was when they asked all the subjects to post a letter back the following day. They found that more mothers forgot to post the letter back. The study concluded that mothers were more forgetful because they had too many things to focus on (yeah well, having to remember everything for your kids tends to do that). The answer to the problem was to scale back on things.
Last Sunday, I thought it was Gavin’s friend’s birthday party. Turns out the party is actually this Sunday. I’ve been forgetting a lot of things that I never would have forgotten back in the days when I was single. I forget to reply emails, text messages, and return phone calls – which are actually some of the more basic things. I often double book myself forgetting that Gavin has a class, or Gareth has a doctor’s appointment.
It almost seems laughable that I used to be asked what I do with my time while I stayed home looking after the kids. These days, it is easy to feel isolated because it is so difficult to find mutually-free time to hook up with Mummy friends – thank God for the internet. If I’m not busy taking the kids to classes, I’m busy ferrying them around, or trying to get Gareth’s sleep patterns just right so he won’t get cranky. Gareth may be more easy going than Gavin was as a baby (for which I am enormously grateful) but he’s still a long shot from being the angel baby.
Despite the fact that I’m doing the best that I know how for my kids, there are days when I feel I’m not doing enough. I feel guilty about Gavin who now has to share my attention with a sibling and is struggling to cope with it. I’m trying to make it up to him, but how do you make it up to a child who used to have 100%? At the same time, I feel guilty for neglecting Gareth because he doesn’t get the kind of attention I used to lavish on Gavin when he was this age. But how do you give your second that kind of exclusive attention when you have the older child demanding for your time?
I should also add that being a Mum is like going through school all over again, except this time my Masters is in Parenting. The last time I read this many books simultaneously was when I was in Uni. That Shichida book is a real b**** to get through. Reminds me of Neuroscience all over again. No wonder nobody in Shichida is forthcoming with information. It’s not that they don’t want to share, it’s because it’s too complicated to explain. I feel a need to go through the book a few times just to get a handle on what Shichida was trying to share.
If I’m not busy studying to be a better parent, I’m busy implementing what I’ve learned. So yeah, if I forget to return your calls, reply your messages, etc., this is me apologising in advanced. This is also me confessing that I’m not the great Mum that I always envisage myself to be and I’m trying to accept that. I’m trying to do the best that I can, but I feel like I’m always falling short of expectations – my expectations, and my childrens’ expectations (I’ve long ago learned to stop worrying about other people’s expectations – something about becoming a mother does that, I think).
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, maybe I can go to sleep…
I’ve always maintained that children have such individual personalities that it is sometimes unfair to make blanket comments over their behaviours and developmental progress. I have also been aware that the differences even between siblings can be so different that parenting for the second time can be a completely new experience. Yet, despite being a believer of this philosophy, I still fell prey to the mistaken assumption that handling Gareth would be a breeze now that I have had the experience of handling Gavin under my belt.
Perhaps I could be forgiven for the oversight as both my boys do look incredibly similar at birth…
From the moment he was born, Gareth instinctively knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it. He was incredibly vocal about it, too. He was also perpetually at my breast, suckling non-stop – for which I attribute to the fact that he is a big baby with a somewhat larger stomach than the majority of most newborns.
Being more confident the second time around, I had Gareth room in with me as soon as the nurses were able to release him. I kept him with me overnight and nursed him lying down so we could both rest together. I expected it to be a breeze. Indeed the nursing part was a breeze. Gareth latched on like a pro and had a much easier time breastfeeding compared to Gavin. I think this is partly to do with the fact that I am now a more experienced nursing partner and feel more relaxed and confident this time around. The other reason, I believe, is because Gavin has already pre-shaped my nipples through nursing which has made it a lot easier for Gareth to latch on.
Nursing aside, there were still things I didn’t know. For instance, Gareth would nurse wonderfully during the day time and fall asleep easily and comfortably. I would let him co-sleep with me while I rested in bed. On our first night together, he was incredibly fussy. Despite nursing at my breast and co-sleeping with me, he was still upset about something and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Perplexed beyond a solution, it was needless to say that I didn’t get much rest that night.
That said, I did manage to employ certain tactics which I learned from my experience of motherhood the first time around. For instance, I used Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s to help settle Gareth when nursing and co-sleeping were unable to calm him.
I also found that it was easier to pick up the signs of what could be wrong since the foundation of my parenting database was already in place. For instance, on the second night, Gareth became very fussy again at about the same time as the first night – during the wee hours of the morning of about 3-4am. Nursing did not help. Rocking did not help. “Shushing” did not help. Gareth was wriggling so much he kept breaking out of his swaddle. I tried to burp him but that didn’t help either.
Finally, after shifting positions, he went back onto the breast and seemed to settle down after a while. He fell asleep for a while and then I noticed he tugged his legs up to his chest. It was followed by a soft, liquid sound and I realised he had pooped. Shortly later, the sensation of poop woke him and I opened his swaddle to check his diaper. Indeed, there was an enormous puddle of dark brown poop.
From that experience, I realised that it was true what they said about babies and natural infant hygiene – babies (some more than others) have a strong instinct not to soil themselves and get extremely fussy in a dirty diaper. Gareth is one of those babies. One of the reasons he fusses is because he needs to poop or he has soiled himself.
On the third night (just moments ago), when Gareth started to get fussy again, I noticed him tugging his legs to his chest. He was wriggling around a lot and fussing quite a bit despite being on the breast. I knew one of two things was happening – he was either about to poop or he had already soiled himself. Sure enough, there was a little bit of poop in his diaper. Once the nurse had changed him, he seemed much happier. He went back to nursing and promptly fell asleep.
Conclusion? Second time motherhood is definitely easier because of the experience and knowledge gleaned from looking after the first baby, however, it is far from the “walk in the park” that I had initially envisioned.
I understand that there are mothers who have to work because they have no other choice. I also understand that there are mothers who struggle between their desire for a career and a desire to raise their babies. But what I used to find difficult to understand are the mothers who would rather work than stay at home.
Once upon a time, I thought that I would rather work than be stuck at home. However, the arrival of Gavin changed all of that. How could I possibly run off to work and pull the kind of hours I used to back when I had a career and still feel okay about it? The fear of becoming estranged from my son is far too great for me to accept it – especially not when I have a child.
However, as my son grows older and becomes a more challenging person to interact with, I begin to understand some of the feelings that those mothers have. Being a stay-at-home-Mum (SAHM) is often a thankless job. You don’t get paid for it, you don’t get a pat on the back for a job well done, you spend a lot of time on OT, people rarely appreciate you for what you are and no one ever remembers that you need a break, too.
To top it off, you get screamed at – by your child and sometimes by other people – and are often criticised when your child plays up, throws a tantrum, hurts himself or refuses to eat. At times like these you almost have to wonder whether it is worth it.
People look down on you because of that dreadful stigma associated with being a housewife. It doesn’t matter what you used to do because nobody remembers any of it. Even hubby challenged me the other day on the number of primary teeth a child should have. I said it was twenty and he argued that it was twenty-four. Hello? I used to be a dentist? I studied this subject for 5 years and you wonder if I can remember how many deciduous teeth a child should have? Please! I know my brain shrank a little when I got pregnant but I haven’t completely lost all function of my brain cells!
What probably makes it all worse is that because you’re so busy being a SAHM, most of your daily activities involve your child. The subjects you talk about usually revolved around your child and child rearing. Yet these subjects are often considered boring and tedious. Most other people talk about work or the lives they have outside of work, but since raising your child is your work and your life, you really don’t have much else to talk about.
Nobody really wants to hear about your child’s development (save the relatives and perhaps the friends with children). Let’s be honest. I used to be like that – before I had a child. If a mother came and told me about the little milestones her son had been achieving, I would think, “Good grief! Get over it already.” And now, I can think of nothing more fascinating.
If you talk about parenting practices and philosophies, you’re the preachy, know-it-all mother trying to convert the world to her way of thinking. Yes, the subject of parenting can be as sensitive as religion. A few times when I’ve gotten over-excited talking to friends about interesting ideas, facts, styles of parenting, hubby tells me I’ve been preaching.
Don’t get me wrong. It is an enormous joy to be a mother and to be able to witness your child’s developments on a daily basis and know that you were a part of it. However, when you are a SAHM, the chance to have an outlet for yourself as a person is rather limited.
Hence the reason why I blog – it offers me the opportunity to validate myself as someone with something worth listening to (or rather reading).
Are you a SAHM? Do you sometimes feel this way too? Perhaps you might like to share something in the comments below.
SHEN-LI LEE, author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”, is best known for her parenting website, figur8.net. Formally trained in dentistry, Lee found her calling when she discovered the challenge in seeking consolidated resources for raising a “wholesome child” in Malaysia. Garnering more than 20,000 visitors every month, figur8.net is a chronicle of Lee’s experience in raising children in the 21st Century. Read More…