the fifth and final month of maternity leave

homg guys i can’t believe we’re here already … the fifth and final month of my maternity leave. nooooo! on the first night of my maternity leave, i was rolling my hips on my exercise ball, talking to Watermelon inside my bump about how i can’t stand the fact that i didn’t know when she was coming out, but that i’d try to be patient, relaxed, and submit wholeheartedly to Allah swt’s plans. that very night, my waterbag leaked. and 5 months later … here we are. alhamdulillah, and masyaAllah πŸ™‚

i think of maternity leave as a really sweet period in life: when else am i going to get paid while staying at home?! it has been really, REALLY nice being able to sleep in, spend lots of time with Watermelon and NG, and not worry about work. alas, life has to go on, and i’ve to throw myself into a huge series of changes as i experience for myself what it’s really like to be a working mum of one.

anyhoos, highlights for this month:

infantcare (!)

when we toured the infantcare centre last year, the principal mentioned that it’ll be good to enroll our baby early, before she starts recognising faces and/or developing separation anxiety. hence we enrolled Watermelon this month so that she’ll get a gentle transition into infantcare, and can slowly get to know her new caregivers.

on paper, they said that one parent is allowed to accompany the child until 1.00pm on the first two days. it was going to be me, and i was planning to bring her back early. however, they ended up letting both NG and me in on her first day, though NG dragged me out after an hour because he felt that we were imposing on the principal who was layan-ing us, AND that i was starting to ask ngada2 questions like requesting for them not to put Watermelon in their Bumbo seats and asking why almost all the babies had runny noses πŸ€·πŸ»β€β™€οΈ

the second day, i went again because i wanted to observe the shower process (Ngiao Mother alert!) but i had to rush back due to some unforeseen circumstances, so boo. when i fetched her though, i hung around while they fed her (it happened to be close to her feeding time) and i played with the other kids instead. the older ones were super friendly and fun to play with. hopefully once Watermelon is their age, she’ll be friendly and independent too.

y’know, before infantcare started, i imagined dropping off Watermelon at the centre and then hiding behind one of the pillars to cry. but actually never leh. Watermelon has not cried (yet) when we drop her off. mostly she looks blur/confused, lulz. so what actually happens is that i’ll drop her off and then go home to SLEEP. i love her and everything, but it was also really nice to have a few hours to myself. a part of me wondered whether i’d regret not spending every possible minute with her while i still can, though another part figured out that i’m in a better place when i can have some me-time and then take care of her again in the afternoon when i’m more recharged.

it’s barely been a month but so far it’s been quite good alhamdulillah. i really like the principal — and Watermelon likes her too! — because she’s bubbly, approachable, and engages well. like she’d update me about how Watermelon adapted that day and say some encouraging things like “she’s okay with all the teachers here” or “she can play!” apparently Watermelon gets very angry, like “can shake the earth” when she’s hungry. and refuses to let go of her milk bottle even when it’s empty πŸ˜³πŸ˜‚

most importantly, i’m comfortable with our arrangement. although i hate it when people comment “kesian…” (poor thing…) when they find out she’s in infantcare. like please don’t pity my daughter, insyaAllah she’s in good hands.

ramadhan 2017

wow, this year’s ramadhan experience is much better! last year, i was feeling all bluek from morning sickness and prenatal blues. so it’s nice to be thriving again. fasting while breastfeeding was okay for me, alhamdulillah. water parade is a must: i aim to drink close to 3L of water from buka till sahur every night.

i also had to start pumping milk since infantcare started. i often fall short of my own targets, and it’s not like i even aim for much, so i have to squeeze in extra pump sessions 😦 though i read that i should just serve Watermelon how little expressed bm i have, so that she can get the cue to drink more when she’s direct latching. but with the repeated feedback on her hangry-ness, i think i better chiong on my pumping lah eh.

i finally learnt (after all the internet articles!) the importance of the nutrition quality of our sahur and buka. one time we went out to The Ramen Stall at 4.30am for sahur, thinking it was nice to #yolo and enjoy the empty streets. by 9-10am though, i was filled with regret coz the amount of sodium in the ramen was totes dehydrating my body. eeps.

NG and i started the month enthusiastically cooking our own meals, though we soon grew lazier and started getting takeaways or relying on our mums. oh well, it was nice though when we were semangat about meal planning and grocery shopping. don’t know what’s the chances that we can keep it up once work starts.

final reflections

i’m really glad i extended my maternity leave by about 6 weeks, and got to spend ramadhan at home. otherwise i can’t imagine how overwhelming it would be to adapt back to work life + get used to a pumping regime + establish our own sahur and buka routines since moving into our own home, etc etc.

now that this stay-at-home phase is ending, i’m suddenly missing the confinement period. the first month was hard; all the learning, adapting, struggling. but it was also the sweetest, as NG and i started trying to figure out this parenting thing and marvelled at the novelty of having a newborn at home. plus i’m proud of us for mostly managing it on our own, partly thanks to NG’s flexi work hours. otherwise i’m not sure i would have lived on to blog this right now. ok, i exaggerate. 

these days Watermelon’s growing so fast. she’s developing motor skills rapidly, and that unfortunately includes pinching and scratching us owwwwww. it’s going to be a blink of an eye before she starts crawling, walking, and suddenly becoming a toddler with a mind of her own. and i’ll look back at this phase thinking about all the sweet memories we had when she was in the first few months of her life.

just a few months ago, i couldn’t see myself as a person who could gush genuinely about motherhood because it’s no walk in the park. feels more like a boot camp to me, to be honest. only Allah swt knows each of our struggles eh. but today, i look back and think: alhamdulillah, masyaAllah, subhanAllah. thank you Allah for lending us Watermelon. she has truly been a blessing in our lives, from the very beginning ❀

 

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the fourth month of maternity leave

helluuuu. once again, the month started out wonderful: Watermelon was smiling and cooing more, and even started to giggle! the first time i heard her giggle, i was like, “what is that sound? is that a new cry?” only to realise that ohhhh, she is laughing lah. (with her abah, who else? πŸ™„) (he wasn’t even that funny) (all he did was ask where she was) (and she LAUGHED!) (whuuud) (clearly she does not know who the funnier parent is)

also as usual, we ran into a rough patch somewhere in the middle of the month. her beautiful sleep habits got ruined. nooooo! on one bizarre night, she woke up at 3+ am for a feed and remained awake, chatting away. i was like hello??? it’s 3am??? normal people go back to sleep???

on other tough nights, she refuuuused to sleep or cried lots in the wee hours, which is not her usual behaviour. still don’t know what caused that. could have been a vaccination side effect; growth spurt; the infamous 4 month sleep regression; or very likely, all of the above.

but! to have a smiley and occasionally giggly baby is really sweet lah, masyaAllah. so i say this milestone overpowered the fact that she was fighting sleep like an MMA gal. 

things have suddenly improved dramatically and she’s sleeping for longer stretches than before. yay alhamdulillah, what a nice treat πŸ€— though they say it ain’t over till it’s over, so who knows when things will change again. plus her next jab is coming up soon, so not looking forward to another regression  πŸ˜•

also, team work with the spouse and a sense of humour goes a long way during tough times!

other exciting happenings: i’ve been introducing dangling toys to Watermelon (e.g. the baby gym that i bought super early in my pregnancy) and it’s been lovely observing her stare up the toys before tentatively reaching out for them. she still hasn’t been able to grasp or appreciate the (non-dangling) stuffed toys i got her though. hopefully soon!

in spirit of our 2nd wedding anniversary earlier this month (yay!), i signed us up for a family photoshoot. and got myself a make up artist teehee. it rained lots on the scheduled day, though. i was facing the windows as my MUA @cleochangmakeup worked on me, watching as it poured outside. in my heart, i prepared myself for the worst: that the make up would be for nothing; that the money i paid her to doll me up would go to waste; that i would have to pay for a makeover again if we had to reschedule the shoot. but syukur alhamdulillah the weather improved, and so the shoot went on at Coney Island.


her latest thing, playing with saliva bubbles


the weather cleared up and we got to shoot against gorgeous light through the trees!


planting a giant yawn into my tudung. also, i got some babywearing shots done!


NG doing his funny thing to make her laugh πŸ™„πŸ™„


two little kisses for our daughter!


her toes against the light πŸ’• so glad i rushed to wash this dress the night before

Mira from Tiny Toes (a spin off from Colossal Weddings) was absolutely lovely to work with. she works hard, she has a good eye for great corners to take photos at, and she gives simple and clear directions to help with the posing. will totes recommend to anyone looking for a maternity shoot.

ya actually her package is for pregnant mamas, but i ownself turned it into a family shoot coz i wanted nice photos of Watermelon while she’s still a tiny squish. and of me and NG while we’re young and healthy. hopefully these will make nice photos to look back on say 10 years from now.

what else … oh yes, i’ve been very anxious about whether i can pump enough milk for Watermelon once i return to work. i believe i have enough supply for her whenever we direct latch, but for some reason my body doesn’t seem to respond well to my breast pump. i mean, i see photos of filled-to-the-brim bottles of expressed milk, usually on those lactation cookie instagram accounts, and think to myself that my current yields are so far from that.

so i spoke to an experienced mummy friend and did some reading on Breastfeeding USA and lactation consultant Nancy Mohrbacher’s blog and learned that research has found that babies aged between 1 to 6 months drink on average 90-120ml of milk per feeding. this is a lot more doable, and means that i don’t need to pump full bottles (~150ml) per session. i guess i’m stressed because i don’t know what i don’t know, and i really hope that everything will balance out and work out perfectly. like maybe she’ll drink more whenever she’s with me to make up for any shortfalls in my pumping. above all, i just don’t want her to cry from being hungry while at infantcare, which would create undue pressure on her caregivers there and eventually, on me. 

as it is, mama kraken keeps giving me the Tepung Talk (milk powder talk) and i have to keep insisting that we’re doing fine. 

as for Korean dramas, earlier this month we watched Signal. omg omg omg it is SO GOOD. a little intense at some parts, the plot twists are riveting, and there’s real good acting everywhere. plus all the main characters are so likeable. so glad our friend recommended it to us. 

NG had a super long 3 week reservist cycle this month. an interesting experience because (i) i practised driving after a long time, (ii) i practised driving with Watermelon alone behind, and (iii) his fixed schedule made me feeling feeling SAHM (coz normally, his work hours are flexi). verdict? i was motivated to be more hardworking and while it did feel nice, i’m not sure i have the sanity to be a full fledged SAHM. i got left behind alone with baby from morning till night for two days in a row and already felt burnt out and was whining πŸ™ŠπŸ™Š so here’s a salute to all single and stay at home mums!

the third month of maternity leave

so, the month started well: Watermelon was generally easy, and i was getting a better hang of things. we began to understand her different cries. she had a predictable poop pattern, which gave me a peace of mind when we went out, coz i only had to worry about wet diapers.

week 10 rolled by, and then the growth spurt happened. oh lordy. it was a huge test of my iman. instead of crying, she was freaking yelling the house — no, i mean the block — down. she fought naps. and refused to sleep in her cot, by waking up every 15-30 min in the early night 😩

i raised the white flag and let her sleep in our bed again, after a month of her sleeping well in the cot. sigh! it felt like ten steps backwards into square one. plus i slept better as a heavily pregnant woman than as a new mummy squeezed into a thin slice of the bed, careful not to crush Watermelon into pulp.

thankfully the phase passed, and she returned to sleeping inside her cot. she still gets clingy and fussy every now and then, during which i try to be veeeery patient.

***

this month, we went out A LOT! for instance, after we collected her passport from ICA Building, we went straight into JB. and have brought her twice more, with mama kraken as well. also started doing morning stroller dates with mummy friends around bedok reservoir, i love love being there during off peak hours. such a luxury!

i feel like i grow a lot as a person whenever i bring my baby out alone. it pushes me out of my comfort zone, and i have to learn how to get comfy, fast. i also have to strategise about a lot of things that i never had to worry about pre-Watermelon e.g. stroller vs ring sling, back pack vs tote, etc.

the first time i brought her alone was to Tampines interchange. in the feeder bus on the way there, she already started crying in the ring sling. ooh, awkward… i tried to remain calm while eagerly anticipating for the bus to reach the interchange, thinking that maybe she preferred me to be walking. then i zipped around the mall running my errands to buy this, and to buy that. before long, she was wailing loudly again, attracting onlookers’ attention. so i popped by the nursing room before heading home. i was terrified of the bus ride back, and even contemplated walking home which honestly might have killed me given the shopping bags, but thankfully she slept throughout. phew! what a memorable first experience though.

the gahmen allowed open strollers on buses earlier this month, and so i tried it once. it’s still not very easy, because there was a medium sized gap between the bus and bus stop kerb. i froze at the exit doors, not knowing what to do. luckily this kind uncle who chatted me up about Watermelon also happened to alight at the same bus stop, and he helped me carry her stroller over. another phew! moment. that’s when i learnt that when i have the stroller, i have to be a bit more smiley and look more approachable and hopefully attract the good vibes of kind strangers who offer to help ✨ plus the moment i got home, i practised carrying the stroller with Watermelon inside lol. gotta know where to grip!

going out with baby alone sends my stress levels through the roof, espesh when things can’t go as planned. but once i’ve reached home safely, i think to myself: let’s do it again! it’s like a sick addiction.

we also brought her to watch a movie ….. Fast and Furious 8. our friend volunteered to hold her throughout the movie, a request that NG and i gladly agreed to. Watermelon slept through most of it, and stirred herself awake towards the end. she body surfed two bodies down to reach me. i was a bit gancheong trying to latch her swiftly in the dark, and alhamdulillah did not have to struggle much. so we survived the experience, but i’m not sure i would do this again.

***

i’ve also started pumping what i call freedom milk. each bag signifies my freedom to be away from baby. i’ve cashed them in for a movie date with NG (beauty & the beast — thought it was alright, like not much value add from the animated version? whoops), zumba sessions (just two so far — my postpartum fitness level leaves much to be desired) and the best one of all, a trip to the salon. woohoo! i really dressed up for this one, even though i was going alone. haha.

i guess i’m a little more used to pumping now, than when i first started out. i aim for once a day, though sometimes i miss sessions. or sometimes i don’t pump, and instead collect milk in my Haakaa silicone pump throughout the day.

bottle training went relatively smoothly, though i had to “downgrade” her teat from the 1 month old’s to newborn’s. all these from the Avent Newborn Starter Kit (Natural) which i bought from my first baby fair. i was worried i was introducing the bottle too early at 7 weeks, but on hindsight, it was a good time, otherwise a little late. i’m using the smallest bottle size because i’m paranoid about Watermelon swallowing too much air. plus i’m not the most diligent mama when it comes to burping the baby…

this month’s Korean drama pick was Hello Monster, mostly so i could watch more of Park Bo Gum. *melts into goo* well i quite enjoyed it, loved how the villains were smart and cunning, and a fair match for the smart policemen. 

all in all, the month started well but sadly could not stay that way. moments, whether bad or good, pass quickly. some days i’m like “yeahhh i did it!” and other days i think i’m not going to make it as a new mum. motherhood is a tough teacher … it makes me sad and bitter sometimes. i know i’m not alone but yet, i feel alone.

picking up her infantcare registration forms earlier this week gave me a jolt, though. as tough and rapidly changing things are, it’s not going to be easy going back to work and being away from her for most of the day either, so i better appreciate and enjoy all of this. we’re only in her third month of life, and i’m already missing the first.

the second month of maternity leave

i was hoping that the second month would be easier since i already have one month experience, but no. our second month was as hard, or maybe harder.

some highlights / lowlights:

1. had to settle my own meals. my confinement food catering ended, so in theory i had to start cooking my own meals. in practice, i ordered some meals online, or NG cooked for us, or we ate out. haiz. i’m not the sort to be excited or curious about cooking, and to be honest the kitchen terrifies me. so there is a huge inertia for me to cook. i’d love to cook malay dishes, but i look up the recipes and get turned off by the long list of ingredients … some of which i don’t recognise, heh.

recently, Aida Azlin shared in one of The Shawl Label’s love letters that she wasn’t a good cook when she first got married, but she cooked consistently and eventually got better. reading it gave me some motivation to cook even if i suck at it. i can learn from my mistakes as i try to cook more, so hopefully i’ll get better. in time for ramadhan, especially.

2. babywearing begins! and not to a good start. Watermelon continued crying when i put her in my stretchy wrap on one particular clingy and tough day, and i felt horribly frustrated and paralysed. so i called a babywearing consultant, Nurjanna Ng from Jars of Fluff to my house for a 2h session. she taught me how to wear a stretchy wrap, ring sling, and how to do the FWCC on a woven wrap. she is suuuper nice and friendly, and i really enjoyed our session. i’ve tried watching YouTube videos, but having someone to guide and critique my attempts was so much better. after our session, i sent her photos of my ring sling attempts (it’s harder than it looks, boo) and she gave helpful pointers on how to improve. so i highly, highly recommend her services 😊

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the first month of maternity leaveΒ 

Dr Harvey Karp from the Happiest Baby on the Block shared this theory that human babies are immature at birth, compared to other mammals. human babies’ brains are only 25% of their adult size, while other mammal babies’ brains are between 60% to 90% of their adults’. human babies are born 3-4 months earlier, before their heads become too large to pass through the birth canal. that’s why this period is sometimes referred to as the “fourth trimester”.

our first month at home has been about getting to know Watermelon and her temperaments. the first night at home, she wailed and wailed instead of falling asleep. NG and i stared at her blankly as we exhausted the different soothing tricks we learnt during our childbirth class — none of which worked. i was so desperate i almost wanted to Phone a Nenek for some emergency help.

on hindsight though, i would have given her the boob. i didn’t at that time because i had this notion that newborns feed every 3-4h in the early days, and i had just fed her. i didn’t know that babies can want feeds that are 5 min apart. but now i do. ha! and also the day that Watermelon becomes inconsolable by the boob will be the worst day of my life. it’s been a great solution for almost everything hurhur.

luckily we didn’t have anymore wailing + panicked nights. nonetheless the first few nights were still scary. i took things night by night, and learnt to adjust to her various behaviours. some nights i was sooo tired during feeds because i hadn’t napped enough in the day. other nights were quite shiok because she slept relatively long, usually when she’s beside me in bed. there was one night in the first week which was a good night because she mostly slept in the cot. the thing i still struggle with is getting her to sleep in her cot peacefully. it’s something i really want to work towards for the long term, but i think i’ll give us more time coz some nights i really don’t have the perseverance to re-nurse her to sleep after she wakes up crying in the cot. hai~

i also noticed that she seemed calmer around both our mums and my makcik urut. apparently babies can sense if you’re anxious or scared, so i tried to work on my ~energy~ in the initial days, as abstract as that sounds. tried to be more calm and firm, especially when swaddling her. makcik urut even joked that her hands have handled so many babies that Watermelon can probably smell her “members” and therefore feels relaxed/assured by it. lol!

but yes going by the fourth trimester theory above, sometimes i pity her also lah. nine months of being in a womb and suddenly out in this big, open world … because i miss my pregnancy, she would have been welcome to stay longer. notwithstanding the problems that will arise from that, this is just my fantasy talking ya. so sometimes i will “manjakan” her and let her sleep in my arms, on or beside me, so she knows that i’m still around for her.

i hope she will gradually learn to be more independent though coz if we really go the infantcare route, ain’t nobody going to do these for her there πŸ˜”

other than that, breastfeeding has been going relatively well so far, alhamdulillah. the sweetest parts are to be needed and to be able to give. the least savoury parts are when she wants to nurse AGAIN! and when she wants to nurse during my meal time … almost every time.

i swear babies take a pledge in the womb underworld that goes like this:

we will eat when they want to eat, and will wake up when they want to sleep.

i try not to worry about my milk supply, and instead trust that my body will produce enough based on our direct latching. i’ve not tried pumping yet. i also consciously try not to be overly stressed or upset though this is sometimes hard, very hard.

my confinement food is catered by Nar Bakings’ and Culinary. so far i’m quite happy with the service, though i also don’t have high expectations because it is after all, confinement food. i’m just glad that i get to eat balanced meals and that i don’t have to cook … for now. (cue: horror movie music)

i also opted for a 7-day post natal massage. i was scared that it would hurt but it turned out to be so gooood. it was such a nice treat for myself. the breast massage was the most painful to me, but it helped prevent engorgement and blocked ducts — two things that i don’t know much about, especially in the early days — so i didn’t mind. i cried when the 7 days ended. and sobbed a little more when i saw that sweet makcik urut left a little envelope for Watermelon. heh, hormones!

other first month achievements include watching the Korean drama Goblin! heard friends raving about it and decided to reserve it for my maternity leave. NG taught me how to stream the videos on our TV (i’m so left behind on TV technology) so seeing Gong Yoo’s face on our TV instead of my phone screen is just urgh! 😍 am currently watching Reply 1988 after seeing a few people mention that it’s one of their all time favourites. it’s funny how much TV i’ve started watching.

i almost can’t believe i’ve been a mum for one month now! some days i still have a bit of an identity crisis, wondering how to juggle my new responsibilities; why women  have it tough when new dads have it seemingly easy; and when my hips will shrink back and stretch marks fade…

can’t wait for her to start smiling and recognising us. till then, Watermelon you sleep lots, get chubby, and grow back your hair ok!!