You’re never really ready for the big things in life. Motherhood included. You make a decision. It happens. And suddenly you’re in love a second time for the rest of your life.
I never used to like kids. I found them noisy and hyperactive most of the time. It didn’t help that every time I tried to carry a friend’s baby, he or she would explode into tears. Meanwhile, the ones who could toddle usually toddled away in the other direction.
Maybe kids can sense my prejudices towards them. Maybe they know I have no sugar up my sleeves. Or just maybe I was too conceited and thought everything was about me.
After I converted to Catholicism in 2005, the head of Sunday school at my church roped me into service. I had initially chosen to serve my parish by joining one of her many choirs. Well, in my head, anyway. But then, Sister Jane robbed me of my dreams of being a singing sensation when she decided to deposit me into a Form 1 Sunday school class to assist a senior teacher there.
The first thing I learnt about Sunday school was, kids didn’t hate me. They just didn’t like Sunday school and tended to take it out on the teachers by giving inane answers (Q: “Who is Pontius Pilate?” A: “He flew a plane that crashed into Jesus and killed him.”) or fiddling with their hand phones (“I’m multi-tasking, Teacher.”). The second thing I learnt about Sunday school was, I didn’t hate kids; I just didn’t know what to do with them. Once I did, though, it wasn’t so awkward. And I made some friends, too. Some of those midgets are now 15 years old and 5’10”. It’s a lot harder to hug them now that I’m the midget.
At the beginning of my second year in teaching, I got married. I also turned 33 years old. Married life was fun. You see, my husband and I had been friends for 8 years before we tied the knot and being married to a good friend is always fun. But after two years of ‘fun’, of traveling, clubbing, wining and dining with close friends, catching midnight movies and working out at the gym together – not losing anything in the process except any hope of becoming Elle MacPherson (for me) or those buff actors in ‘300’ (for him) – I felt that life had to be more than just being about us. The Sunday school experience simply reinforced that feeling.
“Let’s have a kid.” I said to my husband one day.
“It’s going to be tough.”
“Yeah, because you skipped so many classes at school and Spawn’s going to ask what a cumulonimbus is.”
“What’s a cumulonimbus?”
When you’re 14 and just about reaching puberty, adults make a big deal out of getting pregnant. They make it sound easy. As easy as just kissing a boy you like, actually. When you’re 34, it’s as easy as finding the cure for cancer: it’s a lot of trial, misfires, and false alarms.
“Honey, I think I’m pregnant.”
“No, honey, that’s a (insert name of any favourite local food here) bump.”
Also, if you want to get pregnant and you’re not a spring chicken anymore, sex can’t be spontaneous all the time anymore either.
“Honey, what are you trying to do?”
“ Starting some TLC.”
“But I’m not ovulating.
Praise God, we scored a home-run after two tries. At first, the excitement was palpable and consuming. I overbought the baby stuff. I changed my job from a full time thing to a flexi-time thing. I found myself reading tons of materials on pregnancy; and terms like folic acid, breech presentation and epidural rolled off my tongue the way prima facie, ex parte and mea culpa rolled off those of lawyers.
Then morning sickness set in. And amid violent reactions to the smell of rice cooking, the sight of garlic and sound of frying, I crazily wondered if the foetus was protesting an existence initiated by a woman who didn’t even like children not too long ago.
As my hormone levels continued to spike and plummet, I found myself dissolving into tears quite easily. Some days the trigger would be something quite reasonable.
“Honey, why are you crying?”
“I’m not sure I’ll be a good mother.”
Other days, well, you’d be forgiven to think I was one sandwich short of a picnic.
“Honey, why are you crying?”
“Your nose…it’s so big.”
After battling the urge to throw up 24/7 in the first trimester, came time to deflect the deluge of advice that poured forth mercilessly.
“Read to your foetus now if you want him or her to start talking early!”
“Exposing your foetus to Mozart from early on can predispose him or her to genius tendencies!”
“Don’t eat pineapple unless you want to abort your baby!”
“If you want a strong, intelligent baby, it’s breast milk or nothing!”
Nobody knew that my biggest worry was that I’d drop the baby once he got handed over to me. Not how smart he was going to be. And certainly not how efficient the milk factory was going to be.
One night during the 7th month, I couldn’t feel the baby kicking and panicked. My husband – roused from sleep – simply rolled the other way and murmured, “Honey, it’s midnight. Kicking would be the last thing on my agenda if I were the baby.” Was I satisfied with that answer? Of course not. I promptly kicked hubby out of bed and made him drive me to the nearest A&E so all the sleepy and grumpy nurses could hook me up to the ultrasound machine and prove to me that my husband was right.
A month before the due date, my husband and I decided to go over the list of names we’d each shortlisted for our baby boy.
“Pedro!” my husband quipped for reasons unknown to me till today.
“Sure,” I said with a yawn, “if you want him to be a comedian all his life.”
“Justice!” I offered when it was my turn, explaining my dream of having our son represent the very thing the world needed more of.
“Cool,” replied my husband sarcastically, “especially if he becomes a gangster!”
He had a point. (A point that made me ponder for days over whether I’d still love our son if he extorted and beat up people during the day but returned home every night to drink my lotus root soup.)
Of course, being a Manchester United fan, my husband did try to squeeze a couple of obvious names in. But we pictured him looking Indian and being called out by his schoolteacher, “Manchester United Pereira, balik ke tempat duduk sekarang!” and quickly settled for a humble priest by the name of St. Aidan of Ferns who apparently loved animals and was kind to his community.
One night, just 2 weeks before Aidan was to arrive, my gynaecologist called up with bad news, “Lisa, I’m afraid I have an emergency to attend to beginning 20th of February. “I’ll be away for 3 weeks.” I was 38 weeks pregnant at the time and waiting for the good doctor to return was not an option. Neither was settling for an understudy. So he suggested we went for inducement the following week.
We picked a Friday for my husband’s convenience and it so happened it was the 13th of February, a day before Valentine’s Day. “Oh God,” I said to my husband, “what if he arrives tomorrow?” I remember him shrugging nonchalantly, “He’ll just be nicknamed Romeo for the rest of his life. So maybe calling him Pedro wouldn’t be so bad after all.”
The next day, around late morning, the gynaecologist came into the room and stuck a pill inside me to kick-start labour. I remember feeling like I was being skewered but I know I didn’t pass out because I also remember hearing him say, “Over the next few hours, you’ll start to feel some contractions and your cervix should start opening. The nurse will come to check on the dilation, ok?”
The contractions built in strength and intensity over time. And I would’ve gotten used to it had the maternity wing not been enveloped in darkness and humidity that night due to a TNB substation blowout. For 10 hours from 4 pm onward, I was cramping in a pool of sweat and wondering if I could kill someone. So to avoid headlines in the newspapers that read something like ‘Woman in labour murders nurses in heat of moment’, my husband walked me to his car in the open car-park lot and played me my favourite tunes on the CD player.
At 1.30 am, the nurse visited the room again to reexamine my cervix; I felt my heart stop. The ‘discomfort’ they always refer to is really pain and the hospitals should really call it that. Discomfort is sitting in sweaty underwear. Having your cervix fingered is formally known as frigging pain.
Now as Friday the 13th would have it, my cervix did not dilate beyond 1/3 cm and so, a second pill went in. This time round, it felt like a torpedo being shoved up all the way to my lungs. “Hmm,” she said after 6 hours had lapsed, pressing here and there as if I were a robot with zero pain receptors, “it looks like the Great Wall of Cervix is tenacious. I’ll inform Dr. Guna and we’ll make preparations for a C-section.”
That was how my idealistic plan for natural birth went kaboom.
At about 8.30am on Sunday the 15th of February, I was wheeled into the operating theatre. There, the anaesthesiologist prepped me up for the epidural, which basically meant having a canon-sized needle stuck into my spine so they could cut me up and extract the baby without my feeling a thing. Lucky I didn’t, too, as throughout the 45-minute procedure, my husband described everything. Right down to “Oh, honey, they just lifted a whole flap of your uterus out of your stomach and flipped it over.”
Then before I knew it, he was out.
The first thing I heard wasn’t even the little guy’s cries. It was Dr. Guna saying, “Congratulations guys, Aidan’s here. As with everything he’s supposed to have.” And then of course, I took one look at spawn and started crying. “Are you relieved it’s a day AFTER Valentine’s Day?” my husband asked. But the truth was, I was simply overwhelmed.
Far beyond the simple joy of meeting our son for the first time, was the unadulterated awe at the idea of creation, at the thought of two becoming one to make three. This didn’t make me feel like God. On the contrary, it made me feel vulnerable. Now there was a reason to fear death. Because I’d want to stick around long enough to ensure he grew up okay and that meant forever to mothers. Now, more than ever, there was no excuse to turn away from my weaknesses or to justify them lest they became his examples. And now, our marriage would be put to the test as my husband and I would cease to be first in each other’s lives (at least for the first few years).
What if I really screwed up? What if I failed in both jobs as wife and mother, and both my husband and kid ended up hating me?
“I think I’m officially petrified now.” I said to my husband after the nurses took Aidan for his first bath. But he shook his head. “I think you’re officially in love.”
(Aidan turns 3 this 15th of February. Maybe when he’s older, he’ll run into this post and deny he’s our son.)