24 April 2011, by Tan Yi Lin
Don’t worry, this isn’t a call for help (at least not just yet!)
The baby’s growing fine (average size, average growth rate, which is good – let’s keep things that way. I don’t need to make “squeezing a 99th percentile baby out” a personal accomplishment) and these happy parents-to-be are doing well too. People are spot on when they say that the second trimester is the best part of the pregnancy. Energy levels are high, mood is good, appetite is strong, the bump is growing but not so large as to render me immobile and it’s so cool to feel the baby moving, which she does everyday.
The funny thing is, I’ve stopped hankering after salty hawker food and am slowly gravitating back to my pre-pregancy preference for ice-cream and chocolate. Especially chocolate. Is it a sign that Dan’s ingenious suggestion of “Cho Colette” is here to stay? Everybody else definitely seems to have taken a liking to the name. Friends address questions like “How’s chocolette?” to my bump and people send us online recipes for Colette’s Chocolate Cake… Am not kidding.
Back to this entry: I’ve been asked countless times by interested people about whether anybody will be helping us care for the baby once she arrives. I guess in a society where it’s the norm to return to work after birth and entrust childcare duties to hired help, people just want to know if you’re exploring any other options.
So this entry is about the help that I will be getting – and have already secured (albeit not through my own organisational skills) – come end-August. Before that, some background info to put things into context:
– Dan and I live with my parents, younger sister and younger brother in the eastern part of the island.
– We used to have our own flat in Bishan but we sold it last March after staying in it for five years and moved in with my parents.
– Dan’s parents stay in Serangoon. My mother-in-law works full-time at a hospital and my father-in-law is retired.
– I intend to return to full-time work immediately after four months of maternity leave. Simply because I enjoy my work and office life, I enjoy reaping my full salary, I don’t think that having one child justifies having to go part-time and I can’t see myself being a stay-at-home mum for now.
– There are infant care services available at my and Dan’s respective office buildings.
When people hear that we stay with my parents, they ask the obvious question: “Oh, so your parents are going to help you look after the baby when you return to work?” Well, no, not quite. My parents are both working still. Although they are nearing retirement age, I believe that they do enjoy their jobs and the corporate lifestyle. They are both still very active in their respective fields of work too. My mum travels frequently within Asia on work trips and occasionally hand-makes jewellery, cakes and cookies for charity sales organised by the company; my dad travels fairly extensively too for conferences and stays-young-at-heart by partaking in numerous student activities at the university where he works.
We are fortunate in that the family hires help to look after the house. But it hasn’t always been the case. My mum has been working all her life even before I was born. Back then, hiring maids wasn’t the norm and women were given only a few weeks maternity leave, a far cry from the four months that we have today. My grandparents were either not capable (in terms of health) to look after young charges or had passed on quite early, so my parents didn’t have the luxury of looking to their parents for support. But at least they had siblings. Babysitting duties were shared between my mum and her sister, who lived nearby. My aunt and her husband used to work shift hours, so they juggled me between themselves during the day until the evening when my mum came to pick me up. The family only started having domestic help four years later when my sister was born.
I really have to give it to my mum. Not only did she singlehandedly organise all the childcare arrangements for her three children while working full-time for the last 35 years, she has now taken it upon herself to source for and settle childcare arrangements for my baby too! Aaannddd…. no, the plan doesn’t involve either her or my dad having to retire.
So mummy dearest sat me down over a meal one day and briefed me on the plan:
– She would accumulate her vacation leave and take a month off from end-August to end-September to see me through the first month after delivery.
– Thereafter, she has arranged to be re-employed on a part-time basis, where she would start work at 10.30am instead of 8.30am. So that she can help me administer the morning feeds and bath when I return to work.
– Our helper, Mary, would help spot the baby from late morning to early afternoon. Mary has been with us for a good number of years and she herself has SEVEN children back in the Philippines, ranging between 17 and 25 years old. Oh, and a nine-month old granddaughter too. I think our baby will be in very good and experienced motherly hands.
– She has spoken to my aunt and uncle (yes, the very same ones who looked after me as a child) and reported that they would be happy to come over after lunch once their shifts end and stay till the evening when I get back from work.
– On top of this, my father-in-law can drive over and visit whenever he’s available too.
I know – 31 years old is a tad too old to still have your mum make plans and help organise your life for you. But how could I argue against such a plan? It’s PERFECT. Maybe her expertise in handling human resources for her organisation spilled over into family life too, haha. I love my mum!
I’m really grateful for all the family support that we have. Even my mum-in-law, who works full-time and stays in Serangoon, has offered to take leave to help with confinement and even look after the baby “so that you and Dan can go on holiday”. Awwww. And it’s not just immediate family, but also my aunt, uncle and even Mary, whose helping hands will go miles in allaying the stress of washing and cleaning piles of baby paraphernalia too.
Of course, my situation is very different from that of new parents who live on their own – and far away from both sets of parents. My colleague who has two young children aged two and four, calls them “velcro babies” – they have to go everywhere with you. No such thing as dashing out on a supermarket run without them – the babies come with you, thus transforming a quick drive into a full-blown family outing. I notice that depending on their individual childcare arrangements, new parents shop for very different things too. If you have to bring your child everywhere with you, even for a couple of hours, investing in a good quality and lightweight pram for frequent usage is top priority. Whereas for us, since we will be able to leave the baby at home with minders, we just gladly took whatever gigantic pram and old stroller that came our way, such as the 23 year-old antique that my very own brother sat in:
Sometimes, when people comment that we’re lucky to have such extensive family support at hand, I ask them whether they’ve approached their family members for help. The reply is often, “I don’t think my parents would want to…” or “I don’t want to burden them…” While it’s true that we should take on full responsibility for our own children, parents or other family members may be more than happy to chip in where necessary. It could be that all they are waiting for is an invitation to be part of it all. I’ve also heard grandparents commenting, “I don’t think my son/daughter want me involved…” or “I dare not offer my help in case my son-in-law or daughter-in-law think I’m trying to interfere…”
So if you’re a mum/dad-to-be and think that you could really use additional hands or babysitters when your newborn arrives, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s not a reflection of your ability to handle or organise your own life. More importantly, it’s about the new life that you now have to care and provide for – and about creating as many platforms as possible to share the joy (and inadvertently, some trouble and inconvenience) with your baby’s grandparents and extended family.
You never know: it really could be as simple as hitting F9.