Pregnancy

We’re moving!

I just popped in to say: we’re six days away from our house move, and my to-do list is pretty daunting right now. Very little packing has actually been occurring. Most of the work has been annoying little administrative tasks like getting utilities transferred and addresses changed and internet / TV subscriptions sorted out and damaged wall fixed and blah blah… oh, and lots of purging. We are moving from a 1050 square foot apartment to a 980 square foot one, with a particularly small living area, an additional bedroom, two useless balconies and bay windows galore, which basically translates to – no storage. I handed over 4 gigantic garbage bags of clothes to my mother for her to recycle three weeks ago, and every weekend I’ve been handing her more stuff. An insane amount of stuff. I even threw out half of our books (you’d be interested to know, Gina Ford’s Contented Baby book got thrown out immediately *shudder*).

So we’re closing out the year with lots of activity, and an apparently healthy mini-baby. =) Teeny tiny little baby with five fingers on each hand. I didn’t see him/her move, which bothers me slightly, but everything seemed to be in order at 11+ weeks.

By the way, if you thought the Two Week Wait sucked, I assure you that the Four Week Wait between first trimester ultrasounds is absolutely unbearable. That month was the slowest of my life. You sort of mull over that iffy bean-like image for four weeks, wondering if it has sprouted proper limbs etc, and although you obsessively check which fruit your baby most closely resembles each week (“the size of a fig from crown to rump”), that’s all theory. It’s like anticipating a blind date – you know the specs, but don’t really know what the substance of it is going to be until you’re face to face. And then there it was, finally, up on the screen, my baby looking entirely baby-like, with legs raised in that froggy way and ten fingers and ten toes, arms gently floating on a thick cloud of amniotic fluid, pulsing with every assertive heartbeat. It was an assertive heartbeat. I will probably ask that at every doctor’s visit. “How’s the heartbeat?” (Does it look like it may stop?)

I go back one and a half weeks later. I don’t think I will stop being nervous until I feel him/her kick.

Round Two

My period returned exactly 6 weeks after the D&C. I was all for trying again immediately, having gotten the green light from my doctor.

And then, on the brink of ovulation season, I started asking myself and my husband questions which had never really came up earlier, like, “Um, are we ready for another baby?” “WILL WE SURVIVE ANOTHER BABY?” And the answers were, “Don’t feel ready, nope, not at all!” and “I don’t know.” Even now, immediately after conception season has ended, I’m ambivalent.

We ask ourselves these questions knowing that the answers are irrelevant. We are going to have another baby, regardless. We are forging ahead. That’s the insanity of this baby making business. Despite the fact that another infant may – I don’t know – wreck our marriage, or our bodies, or our mental soundnesses, it is somehow crystal clear to us that we need another baby, on some emotional, visceral, even rational level. And it may as well be now, because seriously, I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to execute the squatting duck walk beneath the jungle gyms in eight years time. The timing is right for us now, not later. My husband is 8 years older than I am. (I have never seen him execute the squatting duck walk.)

And personally, I really want to be done with pregnancy, and pushing babies out of my vagina and feeding them with my breasts, as soon as possible.

But back to needing another baby. The answer came to me a couple of weeks back, when I realised that Michael is not just worth all the crap that has followed (don’t be fooled, babies are like Trojan horses, you let them in because they are so cute and the next thing you know, you have an army of crazy soldiers invading your erstwhile peaceful head space and running amok in your household and shouting really loudly at 2am and doing things which make you reach the end of yourself), but if I’m being conservative, he is worth it ten times over. At least. Even in the depths of parental despair, I am confident that I would assess this the same way. Ten times over. And actually, priceless, of course.

I did that math deep down, knowing that it was true, and everything inside me clicked. I became absolutely sure that I wanted another, despite the consequences, and the risks. I want another “ten times over” kid.

It will probably break us, and make us, and break us, and make us.

Confinement, or something like it

On the afternoon after my D&C, I woke from my nap to find that Christmas had arrived. Or rather, the Eu Yan Sang fairy had come and gone. One of my best friends had quietly dropped off a giant package containing several bags of mysterious Chinese herbs and fruits, all sorted into Weeks 1-4, with detailed instructions as to what to drink when, and for what. As well as two bars of chocolate (“coz herbs can get boring”) and a couple of boxes of raspberry leaf tea. It was exactly what I’d wanted to wake up to, without knowing it.

Up until that moment, I’d been a TCM unbeliever. I’d never gotten into the postnatal (or, in this case, post miscarriage) confinement thing because well…the whole not bathing for a month stipulation kind of undermines its credibility somewhat, and from there it just seemed like a lot of hogwash. My main argument was that the rest of the non-Asian world seems to get along fine without red date tea and pigs trotters in black vinegar and rice wine everythings, so let’s just eat like normal human beings and get on with life, shall we?

Except, after Michael was born, I wasn’t really eating like a normal human being. The first few postnatal months were a chaotic mess of disorganized and unbalanced meals, coupled with limited knowledge on what a wildly hormonal woman who’d just lost 500kg of blood and flesh should be eating. I was too exhausted, busy and depressed to even consider turning on the stove, so my well meaning mother-in-law took over the kitchen and basically cooked chicken in rice wine for twenty days, as a kind of nod to confinement principles. Generally, I was eating poorly. There was no real breakfast, lunch or dinner. I just pecked at whatever happened to be in the fridge, or left out on the stove, whenever I had the heart to. Eating was really the last of my priorities, behind “Stop Michael from crying” and way, way behind “Clean up poop situation that just happened on the rug”. It was even behind “Lie down on the couch and stare blankly at the wall”. I really didn’t have much appetite, even with all the breastfeeding going on.

On hindsight, I think poor nutrition held back my recovery somewhat. Of course it did. It’s so stupidly obvious, saying it (or writing it) out loud now. I was weak. I would have been less weak, if I’d eaten regularly and properly, at the bare minimum.

But the confinement diet is another thing all together. And I have no idea why I became a believer, that afternoon. All I know is – sifting through that package of twigs and shavings and wrinkled fruits all neatly bagged and tagged with my friend’s authoritative notes on how “This revitalising soup will strengthen your constitution and replace lost energy”, I somehow embraced it all. The love emanating from that large shopping bag held some kind of evangelistic, persuasive power. And there is something almost mathematically satisfying about every component having its own particular purpose. The ingredients to benevolent magic potions refined through the centuries by grannies fanning charcoal fires.

Instead of archaic, it has all started to seem… wise?

Whatever it is, this feels good for me. It feels like I’m taking care of myself, and that in itself brings me surprising comfort.

So here it is – I leave you with the iconic, the legendary, the Most Wanted potion of all – Red Date Tea. (Do me a favour and google the health benefits of red dates. And you thought quinoa was a superfood!) I’ve been drinking litres of this stuff, every day, and I can bet you millions of postpartum women are right now swigging this very tea all across Asia. I would have it dripped directly into my veins if I could, because it is actually oddly wonderful once you get into it. In fact, it sends me to sleep at night like a warm lullaby, and guess what – that’s what it’s supposed to do. Longans! And dates! They do that! I told you it works! Embarrassing to only discover it now, and even more embarrassing to provide a recipe for it. But here it is, folks.

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Red Date Tea

25 dried red dates (the big long ones, not the shriveled small round ones)
20 dried black dates
4 sticks of radix codonopsis (dang shen)
30 dried longans (obviously, ain’t nobody counting this, just do a handful)

This is by no means a strict recipe. Leave out the radix codonopsis, or replace the black dates with red dates, if you like – though black dates apparently have even more nutritional value than red.

Give everything a rinse and then throw it into a pot containing 4 litres of water. Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer over low heat for 5-6 hours. You should then be rewarded with a dark liquid which is sweet and possibly a little bit tangy. Drink it warm, and if you’re hardcore (or just in need of fibre, like I am) go ahead and eat the dates and longans too.

Be well!

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Week 11

“But I can’t find the heartbeat.” Her voice was soft.

* * *

I’d been sitting in the waiting area, reaching the end of my patience and considering leaving and coming back another day. Michael was probably whining up a storm in the park next door by now. But it was too much trouble to make another appointment and besides, I was already at week 11, I couldn’t really delay any longer. I would just do a quick ultrasound, get the photos, leave the blood tests to another day.

Dr Choo apologised for the wait and within seconds I was up on her little bench, pants down and my phone in my hand.

“There’s the gestational sac…”

I was a little distracted fiddling with the buttons, trying to get the video function going, and in the background I could see the swirling, murky images as her wand danced across my belly. In the periphery of my mind, or my gut, I sensed it, like a nightmare suddenly crystallizing around the edges and becoming real.

Eight seconds of silence.

“Can’t see anything?” I half joked.

“I can see something…” Dr Choo replied cautiously, and zoomed in on the image. Something white, bean shaped, and then a little head came into focus. I started to smile with relief.

“But I can’t find the heartbeat.”

Two seconds of devastating silence.

“You can’t find the heartbeat??” My voice was rising into some kind of hysteria.

Dr Choo sighed, and it was her sadness that sealed it. There was no doubt, no room for negotiation.

“It could have stopped about a week or two ago. I’m so sorry.”

* * *

I catapulted myself into the empty room next door, where I was left alone to sob, to scream “Our baby is dead!” into the phone. There seemed to be no other way to make myself understood. Dead. You understand dead.

* * *

I waited three days to get cleaned out. And in those three days, there were moments of perfect normalcy and moments of perfect grief.

There are different ways of looking at this. For me, there has been only one way. She was my baby. My baby, from the time she’d been two little cells and then four and then twenty and grew a small head with eyes and ears and sprouted two arms and legs with tiny fingers and toes.

The second pregnancy, one moves into motherhood instantly. Another one, to take into the fold and to embrace. I’d been down this road before, and I was already at the destination, waiting. There was no “embryo”, no “foetus”, no emotional defence that could have been erected. She existed, and she was mine. My baby.

It didn’t matter that she was the size of a grape. It hurt me, that she was the size of a grape. That she was so small. That she would dissipate into nothing, in the blink of an eye, through a straw.

* * *

I cried for never being able to hold her. I cried for her never getting to know me, to see my face, to hear my voice. I cried for the loneliness of it. The two of us, closer than any two humans could be, and yet I couldn’t reach her. It was a terrible, silent gulf that I couldn’t cross.

* * *

The day before the procedure, I bought flowers. I walked into the supermarket and I bought everything pretty. I told Michael that these were for his baby sister (or maybe brother), and he cooed over them dutifully. I was happy, I felt productive.

That night, I let everybody else take care of dinner, and I trimmed and arranged the flowers in water with grim determination. I’m making something pretty for you. You will not just go, this way. This is the only thing I will ever buy you, and I hope you like them. I think I like them. When I was finished with them, I sat them on my side table.

That was the funeral.

And it was beautiful enough. I cried. I cried and cried.

 * **

I’d kind of hoped that I’d get a final ultrasound, just before the procedure. I had no souvenir of her, nothing to remember her by, except a one second memory of her little head. It was important for her to know that I saw her.

But there was no time for sentimentality. The pills I took to “soften the cervix” three hours before the procedure had apparently caused me to finally miscarry. I was bleeding chunks, barely making it into the hospital toilet in time, blood dripping down my legs, and I sobbed as I examined everything that came out of me. Terrified that I would see her, and hoping that I would.

 * * *

“Why are you crying?” The nurse asked.

My eyes were closed, coming out of the sedation.

“I’m sad,” I replied. “I’m not in pain.”

“Don’t cry, you’ll get a headache.”

Tissue at my eyelids, a hand wiping my tears away.

I cried a little bit more, not really sure what was going on. But this was better. There was nothing left now for me to dread. It was all over.

* * *

Baby, I know you’re growing up in heaven with all the other kids. I’m sure it’s lots of fun, and you’re doing well, and you are perfectly happy. I’m the only maman you will ever have, and I’m sorry that I can’t be by your side for now. It is so hard for me. That is the hardest thing for a mother – to be separated from her child, and not being able to do a thing about it. But it brings me peace knowing that you are fine. One day I will get to hold you. In the meantime, I know you are watching all of us – you are laughing at your silly, wonderful brother. You are getting to know me, and your papa. One day, we will be reunited and we will finally be able to look into each other’s eyes, and laugh together. I do wonder about your laugh, how it sounds like.

I will see you later. I love you, and always will.

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Kegels, kegels, kegels.

“Are you showing yet?” A friend asked.

I paused. It’s hard to tell where the old first pregnancy paunch ends and the burgeoning one begins. So much for getting back into shape before the next pregnancy! Parts of me are thinner and feel worn away, while other parts have remained stubbornly and weirdly flabby, like the excess skin has nowhere to go. Never, ever, as a young woman in my twenties, would I have guessed that my taut, moderately fit and springy body would ever be so suddenly changed, within the next decade. I am not as elastic as I may have once believed, and all that inflation and deflation of various body parts has loosened things. The few times that I’ve looked down at myself (and I certainly don’t do this intentionally), I’ve been slightly taken aback, as if I’m not really looking at myself but at my own mother’s body superimposed onto mine. Motherhood is apparently all radiance and glowing fecundity, but it is also…the exact opposite sometimes.

There is no fallow period for the young-but-not-so-young woman bent on having multiple children. You just put your head down and plummet forward with grim determination – promising yourself that the horror is best suffered all at once, while one has momentum, while one’s eggs are still fresh, while one’s body is still able to do battle and win. Childbirth is not for the old. It is wrenchingly, awesomely physical. As my friend once put, “the toughest workout I’ve experienced in my life”. Not to mention the after birth: nights (and days) spent lifting and rocking a large, larger, larger baby. I’m not sure if that keeps us fit or wears us down. It’s as if manipulating a heavy baby develops hidden muscles deep within our bodies, while leaving the other more obvious muscles untouched. Certain joints feel more vulnerable than ever. We are careful with our backs, because we’ve all injured ourselves at some point within the first year of our child’s life. It just takes one bad lift out of the crib, or one careless lunge towards our baby as he topples off the couch. I feel approximately five years – ten? – older than I should be.

The battle with postnatal weight is actually the least of it. There is the other stuff that can’t be fixed by diet or exercise. Stuff that’s a little less obvious, involving vaginas and rectums and pelvic floors and breasts. Speaking of which, I told my friend that I am seriously considering a boob job when my breasts are done and ready to retire. It’s weird but I feel like I owe them this after all that good work that they’ve done.

And what a work. All those body parts graciously shifting, changing, straining, for the growth of another person. My body simultaneously awes and mildly horrifies me at the same time, like a badly wounded soldier returning home after his tour of duty. Here are your medals, I’m so proud of you, (no really, I’m so proud of you) and now it’s World War Two and we’re in for another round, so gear up.

It goes without saying, of course, that it’s worth it. For all my griping, I know this. So what if glorious motherhood comes with a side of hemorrhoids, incontinence and droopy breasts? (Although, how I wish it didn’t.) If I had to choose youth and fitness on one hand and a baby on the other, I would make the same choice again. I am, above all, incredibly grateful to this body which in all its former glory I never suspected would in fact be this strong and able. This persevering and tenacious. There may be cracks but I am still standing, healthy and strong enough to sign on again.

In the meantime, I’ve started to tell myself that my body is not my identity. (Ah, a stay-at-home mother’s crisis of identity. Surely, that deserves its own post.) I try to ride the wave of gratitude, and cherish the scars as reminders of what was accomplished. I shelve my vanity as best I can, and attempt to fix the parts which are supposedly fixable. I’ve just started using an anti ageing serum (Biotherm, Blue Therapy by the way) and it’s doing wonders for my skin which is usually a mess during pregnancy. My hair is still falling out, thanks to sheer neglect or something more insidious, I have no idea, but the new shampoo and treatment seem to be working somewhat. I do my Kegels when I remember (I really need to start sticking up reminders around the house), haul myself into the occasional painful plank before dinner. Finally, I reach for that revelation in the middle of the night just before I fall asleep: my youth shall be renewed like the eagle’s. I shall run and not grow weary. I will walk and not be faint. Renew me, Lord, there is no one else who can.