Emma is 38 days old. She gave us a big surprise this morning. My mother was carrying her when I called out to her. She turned her chubby face to look at me, and gave me the sweetest smile. My heart melted. Emma gave mummy her very first smile. Then, we brought her downstairs to the living room since she was wide awake and didn’t seem sleepy yet. My husband came to join us a little later. When he arrived, he called out to her. She looked at him for a brief moment, and then gave him a smile. She gave daddy her first smile too! It was a good day.
However, it wasn’t always like this since she was born. I have come to realize that newborn care is not an easy job. I find it even more challenging as compared to math. At least, with math there is usually always a unique answer to each solution. With a baby … we never know what the true answer is to her cries and frustration. It seems as though we are constantly playing a guessing game, perhaps getting slightly better day by day at understanding her crying cues. And we forget, babies can only communicate to us through their cries. Sometimes it’s just a small cry for attention, where she usually does a little pout on her mouth. Sometimes it’s a loud cry because she’s really upset. There are times where she cries because she is frightened. Those cries are very piercing and it is in fact very frightening to our ears.
I remember clearly the first day we arrived home from the hospital. Everything seemed to be going smoothly. She was sleeping soundly in the car seat. When we arrived home, we transferred her to her crib. The one thing I wasn’t prepared for was feeding her myself. While I was resting at the hospital, the nurses had taken care of Emma. I had not established any milk supply then. The emergency c-section I had delayed my milk supply. My heart hurt when I heard her upsetting cries of hunger each time she latched on to my empty breasts. Therefore, I allowed the nursery at the hospital to feed her with formula milk. The nurses advised me to feed her with a cup as that’s what they had been using too. This is to avoid baby getting nipple confusion between bottle and breast. But they only told us how to do it. We never had a chance to practice it hands on before we left. The nurses were too busy to stay in the ward to teach us. When Emma woke up to feed, she was already starving. I guess she did oversleep, and so she was screaming for milk. We were struggling to fee d her with the cup. Cup feeding is messy, and it gets even more stressful when you have both mother and mother-in-law making negative comments about it without considering the fact that I am new at it too. In the end, I gave up. Emma was crying too hard and not feeding properly from the cup. I was exhausted from the day. I gave in and let Emma use the bottle. I let someone else feed her, and then walked into the bathroom and cried. In my efforts to try and breastfeed this baby, I had already failed the first two important steps. Yes, I admit … I wasn’t strong enough as other mothers in efforts to exclusively breastfeed their baby.
When my milk came in the next day, I was able to let her feed directly from my breasts. The supply was low, and it was way less than what she was already feeding. Therefore, currently I am feeding her a mix of breast milk and formula milk. A few days later, the baby blues really hit me hard. It had seemed like whatever I was trying to do, or learn how to care for her was not effective. Moreover, I was feeling extremely uncomfortable with the restrictions of post-natal confinement. Post-natal confinement is a rest and recovery period practised by Malaysian mothers after labor. It is believed that a woman’s body is at its weakest after giving birth. Typically, the baby stays at home with the mother during the confinement period as well. There is loss of a lot of energy and because now that the womb is empty, there is a lot of “wind” in the body. The mother’s body, if not cared for properly, will be more vulnerable to old age ailments in the near future. Post-natal confinement diet and daily activities are unique and strict in order to effectively remove “wind” as well as re-nourish the mother’s body. I was only allowed to take a bath twice during the first 12 days. Can you imagine the discomfort I felt, especially in this hot and humid Malaysian weather? In addition, the guilt I felt was great, and it burdened me in ways that I actually considered the possibility of giving Emma to someone else, such as my mother-in-law, to care for. I tried not to blame everything on myself because she is crying, but it is easier said than done. True enough, one can never understand what a mother goes through until she herself becomes a mother of her own child. While I admire how other mothers seem to be able to sacrifice everything else to give baby the best milk … in the practical scheme of things this sole decision to give baby 100% attention affects everybody else around me. My husband needs my attention too. My body needs my love too. I have decided to wean her early because it is getting very tiring for me, especially now that my husband will be away at work for long periods and I’ll be on my own. My milk supply is still low, and going back and forth between the bottle and breast at each feeding is proving to be very difficult now that Emma is getting more aware of it. I am going to miss breastfeeding her. It is heartbreaking. For the past month, this bonding that I have shared with her at the breast is one that only I can give to her … and now, I have to stop it. Naturally, there is the guilty feeling, of not being able to provide her the comfort, security and health of nursing at my breasts. I have to remind myself that the child will still survive, and there are other ways I can ensure Emma to be healthy and strong as she grows up. I’ll still try and pump milk as much as I can so that she can feed breast milk from the bottle.
In a blink of an eye, my baby is now one month old. Time does fly by very fast. I used to be able to stress over minute things in life but now this baby has overpowered that. My time to sleep/rest and care for baby when she’s awake takes priority now. I have to say, things are slightly easier now that I have a wee bit more experience. We celebrated Emma’s full moon last weekend, whereby friends and relatives gathered to meet the baby and shower Emma with gifts and well wishes of health. A baby’s full moon, which is celebrated 30 days from the baby’s birth, is a Chinese tradition passed down through many generations although simplified in this modern age. On the morning of the full moon, we bathed baby in water filled with chrysanthemum flowers and pomelo leaves. Then, we dressed her in new clothes. As usual, the auspicious colour is red or pink. We also snipped a little of her hair to symbolize that she is a “big” girl now, since she has past one month of her life. There were ceremonial prayers done to the heaven, earth and ancestors, and then we took Emma for her first ride out of the house. Red hard-boiled eggs, which symbolize fertility, are distributed to family and friends. My mother-in-law cooked the traditional pig’s trotter stewed in black vinegar dish for everyone to eat. Emma was very curious about the whole commotion. Naturally, she felt over-stimulated and tired from all the attention. This important life event is equivalent to a baby shower, which I understand is celebrated in most Western cultures. The only difference is this baby shower occurs after the birth of the baby, where everybody gets a chance to meet the little one. Most Chinese families are very superstitious about celebrating something that has not occured. Therefore, a baby shower during pregnancy is a big no-no. In retrospect, the possibility that something bad could happen during the pregnancy resulting in loss of baby could occur, and so it is best not to celebrate the arrival of a newborn until it actually occurs. I think it makes more sense to celebrate when the baby is here. That way I don’t feel as guilty in receiving all the gifts from people!
And so, the announcement has been made … the baby has arrived … our lives have significantly changed. My parents’ lives have changed too. I’m sure everybody is happy to have this new addition in the family. I cannot believe that I have truly become a mother. It is definitely not the easiest job in the world, but I feel it is the most rewarding.