14 November 2011, by Tan Yi Lin
Dan and I took a short vacation without the baby during the first week of November. Together with another couple, we spent a lazy four days in Krabi just relaxing by the resort’s infinity pool, beer-ing (as opposed to wining) and dining, exploring the seaside town of Ao Nang, catching up on sleep and simply enjoying our time as a couple without the distractions that come with having a young infant in tow.
We treated ourselves to Thai massages twice daily. Since the kneading massage technique isn’t quite the gentle type that lulls you to sleep, I had a lot of time to reflect upon my life as a new mum over the past two and a half months. Time, coupled with inspiration fuelled by a pregnant friend’s recent blog entry about her plan for motherhood (and her frustration over people telling her what’s best for her), made me want to jot down my thoughts on parenting (so far).
What do I know about parenting given that I only have one baby who isn’t even three months old yet? Well, compared to experienced mums out there, I don’t know much at all. But becoming a mum has brought me closer to friends who had babies just prior to Coco’s arrival, as well as friends who had babies after I did. Through sharing of experiences, I think I am now able to understand – and empathise – what it is like to be a parent.
So here goes… *deep breath*
(Before that, let’s put in a disclaimer. A good friend said that it’s always good to have a disclaimer. I agree, especially where personal – and possibly controversial – views are shared.)
Disclaimer: What I’m sharing here are my thoughts, possibly half-baked and not very well thought through, but my thoughts nonetheless based on my personal experience as a new mum. By no means am I saying that what I do is right and what other parents do is wrong. So comment if you must but there’s no need to get your panties in a knot should you disagree with what I’ve written.
Life for newly-minted parents revolves around three main things: childbirth, feeding and childcare. The key learning point in my short parenting experience thus far is that although childbirth, feeding and childcare are completely personal matters, EVERYBODY will have SOMETHING to say about all three. Nevermind that how you choose to deliver, feed and care for your baby has no impact on anybody else’s life whatsoever. While I think it’s perfectly fine – and sometimes, welcomed – to share your ideas, experiences and suggestions, it’s quite another thing altogether to advise an expectant woman that it’s “better to deliver naturally” or a new mum that “you’ll be throwing in cloth nappies in exchange for disposables soon enough”.
Everybody loves to share a glorified birth story whether it’s their own, their sister’s, their friend’s, a friend of a friend of a friend, or “somebody I know”. While that’s fine – and mostly just for entertainment rather than of any real help to the expectant mother – it gets on my nerves a little when I hear “I tell you just take the epidural lah, it’s damn painful one, just take it. Trust me.” (gee, not very encouraging and empowering advice, is it?) or “It’s better not to take the epidural. Got side effects. Can be dangerous.” Pregnant women are more than equipped to research on and develop their own plan for the birth they aspire to have. All they need is the encouragement and support to see it through. That’s all. No horror stories. No disbelieving reactions. No disagreement. As highly as I rated the epidural experience 100/100 when asked to by the hospital, I can equally respect and wholeheartedly support a friend’s decision to go with hypnobirthing (even though I don’t know very much about it), simply because she has done her research on it and has made it her choice for the birth of her child.
On a point of the epidural, I need to put in a couple of words for this poor maligned form of pain relief. It’s not necessarily true that your body goes completely numb during an epidural to the extent that you won’t know when to push. The level of pain relief can be adjusted so that you can still feel the contractions coming, just that they don’t hurt.
It kinda irks me when people say that it’s better to go drug-free for the sake of the baby because drugs make the baby drowsy, etc. Well, I had an epidural and Coco came out completely alert. Her eyes were wide open and her cry, powerful. She had an APGAR score of 9/10 within a minute of birth, latched on perfectly minutes later and stayed alert for the rest of the day. A friend who started out intent on hypnobirthing but had to eventually have an epidural said the same thing about her baby.
Yes, as with any other drugs, the use of pain relief drugs comes with a degree of risk and possible side effects. But under proper administration and monitoring, the risks are minimal and the side effects, manageable. Even Entonox – or ‘laughing gas’ – freely given to women opting to go “drug-free” is medically classified as a drug and has side effects too, albeit to a lesser extent. So while I truly admire women who choose to deliver without the aid of an epidural (and am even slightly envious of their willpower and courage to do so), let’s not tell another expectant mum that it is “best” to go “drug-free” because giving birth to a couple of bubs does not make anybody enough of an expert to decide what is best for other people.
After labour and birth, I think breastfeeding is the next most challenging task for a new mother. It all seems so natural and so easy – just pop the baby onto your breast and it happens, complete with a cute little burp from the sated baby. In reality, there is a long list of things that could go wrong (there is an entire website dedicated to breastfeeding problems) and any of them can make a first-time mum feel that she’s not living up to expectations. Her own expectations, as well as those of people who question her ability and decision whether or not to breastfeed. While I was lucky not to experience any pain at all beyond the first couple of days, I now know that some women go through unbearable pain just to breastfeed. Others don’t have sufficient milk – or none at all – to meet their baby’s demand, no matter what they try.
So the last thing a new mum struggling to breastfeed a hungry baby wants to hear is, “Ooooh, you should breastfeed. It’s so easy, just pull down your blouse. So convenient, no bottles to wash and sterilise.” Every mother knows the mantra that “breast is best”, but maybe, what is best in this case is to supplement or switch to formula if the need arises, so that the poor mum can get some much-needed rest in order to recover and handle the other aspects of childcare, and relieve herself of the physical pain of sore nipples and mental anguish of “not enough milk”.
On the point of bottle feeding, I know that some mums are reluctant to introduce the bottle too early for fear of nipple confusion. My hunch is that some babies refuse the breast after being on the bottle not out of nipple confusion, but because it’s easier to get milk from the bottle than the breast. Babies are pretty smart creatures. They aren’t confused at all. They know how to slack off and still get fed!
There are mums who believe wholeheartedly in having a confinement nanny and there are those who don’t see the need for one. People could go on and on forever just discussing how good or bad confinement nannies are. Whether somebody is “good” or “bad” is all so subjective – I guess it just depends on how much control you want over your health as you recover from childbirth and how you want your new baby to be cared for. Similarly with having babies, those who choose to hire a confinement nanny will probably only have one – at most two (I guess after two bad experiences you would just give up hiring one altogether) – nannies in their lifetime. Added to the fact that most would probably need a nanny for only a month, having hired one doesn’t make anybody qualified to tell other women that they must – or shouldn’t bother to – hire a nanny during confinement.
On the point of long term childcare, I really marvel at couples who do it on their own without any live-in help. I wish I could say that I’m a supermum who does everything herself but I’m not. I know that our children are our own responsibility and not our parents’ or the maid’s. But I really do enjoy having the support and the help around the house. And since we live with my parents, it’s really hard to refuse help from my family, helper and aunt who are around every day to watch over Coco. It’s also their chance to enjoy being with her. There is always food on the table (our helper cooks and my uncle buys me lunch every single day even though I ask him not to) and the laundry is always done. I’m either very blessed or very spoilt. It really doesn’t matter which because putting label on it is not going to change the fact that this is our living arrangement – and by default our childcare arrangement – for now. I know that we can survive just as well if we stayed on our own, but I guess there’s no point in spending a million dollars to get our own place just to prove a point – and physically distance the baby from all who love her.
Then there is this whole “cloth nappies vs disposable diapers” conversation. My take is – just use whatever works for you. There’s no need to laugh at pro-nappy users for being idealistic or chide the disposable diaper camp for being environmentally unfriendly. Why not use a mix of both? I used disposable diapers throughout the first month, and now on Mondays (because our helper gets a day off on Sunday so the laundry tends to pile up by Monday), rainy days (to lessen the laundry load and also so that the baby doesn’t lie around with a cold wet butt on a chilly day) and at night. Even then, I don’t necessarily use a cloth nappy from Tuesday to Sunday even if it’s sunny. But when I do, I feel good that the baby got her bum aired in breathable muslin cloth and that I tossed one less used disposable into the trash. I set out to use cloth nappies throughout and even though that plan didn’t materialise, I’m happy to have found an arrangement that works for me.
It’s the same with sleeping positions. Some people abide by the rule NEVER to use a baby pillow or let the baby sleep on her stomach because “it is dangerous”. Nothing in itself is bad or dangerous. It all depends on how you use it. We have no qualms about letting Coco sleep on a baby pillow, especially since she has not yet learnt to roll over. Propping her head up helped to keep spit-up from going back down her throat when she was smaller. Recently, it helped alleviate her blocked nose, thus helping her sleep more comfortably. But we do recognise the danger of babies rolling onto their tummies and putting their noses into their pillows, and will remove the pillow soon enough to prevent that from happening. Similarly, we let Coco nap on her tummy, but only in the daytime with somebody watching over her. Never at night.
Pacifier vs Thumb: Parents sure have a lot to say about whether to let their baby suck on a dummy or their fingers. Ideally, I would like to have the best of both worlds and it’s working with Coco so far. She readily accepts the pacifier when she wants to sleep. If it falls out of her mouth midway, she goes for her fingers. As much as we don’t encourage thumb-sucking, it IS nice to have your baby learn to self-soothe without the use of a pacifier, so we allow it – to some degree.
Modify. Create Options. Adapt.
I like having options. Maybe it’s a Libra thing. Extremes are too, well, extreme. Options give us the flexibility to change and adapt as we go along. I’ve come to realise that in parenting, there is no black and white. No right nor wrong. No points to make. No sides to take. No camps to join.
Because, I’ve also come to realise that all these arguments and comparisons will never end. For now, it’s feeding and childcare. Then it will be, say, medications. Then discipline tactics. Then schools. Etc, etc, etc.
A year from now, nobody is going to remember whether your baby was breast or formula-fed. Nor whether she’s wearing a cloth nappy or disposable diaper. Nor whether you took an epidural or not during childbirth. To put it bluntly, nobody cares.
So work smartly, modify, mix and adapt what’s out there to suit your lifestyle and parenting aspirations. It doesn’t have to be ‘Either/Or’ all the time. Instead of wasting time comparing with others and arguing over the pros and cons of your chosen path, focus on bonding with newborn and being confident that you are doing what is best for you and your baby. Whatever that is – that is The Right Thing.
Need more assurance that you are doing it right? Read this link that Maybebaby shared on their Facebook fan page a few months ago. And really, that is all that matters.
To end the post, here are some of my favourite photos of Coco (and one of Dannie, heh) from the past month or so:
Yeah. I’m pretty sure that we’re getting this parenthood thing right to some degree.