Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Turning 32

In two days' time, I will be 32 years old. Time to look back on the year that was and forward into the year to come:

Embracing Motherhood
There was a time when I had 4 jobs at the same time. Project Manager for a mobile content provider from 9-5 during the week, Marketing Consultant for a bookstore on the side, New York City Ballet Workout Instructor after work twice a week and wedding coordinator on weekends. It was just a matter of efficient time management, and I've always been good at multitasking.

By the time I gave birth, my sources of income had disappeared: the bookstore found a full-time Marketing Manager, my wedding coordinating partner gave up the business, a bout of spotting in the first trimester made teaching the workout class impossible, and my boss at the mobile content provider decided to downsize the business and eliminate my position. The timing couldn't have been better - I was ready, with some trepidation, to devote all my time to the baby.

God had smiled down on us and my husband was offered a position with an international investment house. The roles were now reversed. He used to work in the mornings and play golf in the afternoons while I sat behind a computer all day; now I would be a full-time wife and mother while he put on a tie and started to spend 12 hours a day at the office.

Full-time motherhood makes working 4 jobs simultaneously a child's play. Suddenly I was on call 24/7, and the demands were far more tiring than employment had ever been. When my husband came home from work and relaxed in front of the tv, I still had to bathe, feed and put my son to bed. But after the initial adjustment to being home all day, I started to enjoy the Stepford life.

Separation Anxiety
When Little A was 6 months old, I planned to resume my part-time jobs - teaching the ballet workout class and freelance events and marketing gigs. But I found myself turning down a wedding that would have meant being away from him for 12 hours and delaying my return to teaching, despite the numerous requests for my class to resume.

Because he is exclusively breastfed and we don't have a nanny or child-minder, Little A and I have been together almost the entire time since he was born. While he grows more independent daily and I know the time will come when I will have to leave him in someone else's capable hands for at least an hour, that day is yet to come.

In the coming year, I hope to fulfill the dream of achieving goddess-level domesticity, which includes owning a sewing machine and a KitchenAid. On a smaller scale, spending an hour or two on my own getting my nails done for the first time in a year would be good too.

Roll on 32, let's see what's in store.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Pound for Pound

I have discovered the secret to losing weight and keeping it off. Not that I even needed to, as I've been underweight all my life despite having a very large appetite for my size. People are amazed at how much I eat, more so because they don't know where the food goes (hollow legs?) on my small frame.

So ladies, here it is. The surefire guide to weight loss: Have a baby. Nursing, lack of sleep and just looking after an active baby as it grows will melt the pounds off without your even being aware of it.

I gained 22.5 lbs when I was pregnant. One week after giving birth I'd already lost 12, the other 10.5 came off within 3 more weeks, followed by 4 more. My pre-pregnancy clothes were falling off me, and I had to dig into my wardrobe and pull out shorts I hadn't worn since I was 18 years old.

Of course I can't speak for all mothers, as there are many who seem to have problems losing their pregnancy weight. But I honestly can't understand how it stays on, provided one takes an active role in caring for their own child (or children - surely the more you have, the more weight you lose?). Most of the women I know (including my sister, who has always longed to be that little bit thinner) have gotten to their lowest weights ever without even trying just by having children. Keeping up with them is a sure calorie burner, and it keeps you fit as well. I eat more now than I ever did while I was pregnant, and still the weight stays off. Those elusive 2 kilos!

Sadly, we live in a country where it is the norm for most families to hire nannies exclusively to look after their children. While this is inevitable when women need to work, too many mothers who don't have full-time jobs prefer to leave their children in the care of others, and this mystifies me. Who wouldn't want the irreplaceable memories that come from bathing, feeding and changing your own baby? It would break my heart if my child took a tumble on the playground and ran howling to his nanny instead of looking for me, as I've seen many children do. I know mothers who've never cut their babies' nails, bathed them, or even put them to sleep. On the nannies' days off, they have no idea how to care for their own children. Sad.

As my husband says, and rightly too, one day our son won't want to hug or kiss us or even be seen in public with us, so we need to take advantage of these precious moments while we can. I fully intend to do so.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Liquid Gold

To say I am an advocate of breastfeeding is a huge understatement. When I was pregnant, I didn't have much of an opinion on the whole natural versus drugged birth issue, but one thing I was completely certain of was that I wanted to breastfeed my son. Memories of throwing up constantly as a child haunted me. I was allergic to nearly everything edible when I was young, so eating was something of a traumatic experience until the age of 8 or 9, when I started to love food (and still do to this day).

The spirit is willing, but the flesh may be weak. Despite my ardent desire to breastfeed, I wasn't entirely sure it would be possible. Both my sisters didn't have enough milk to nurse their eldest children, and fearful the same thing might happen to me, I did my homework. What I discovered encouraged me. Other mothers-to-be out there, take note.

1. There is no such thing as "not having enough milk." A newborn's stomach is the size of a thimble and half a teaspoonful of liquid is enough to fill it. Stimulating the breasts by suckling will ensure that enough is produced in between feeding times to keep your baby nourished.

2. Colostrum, the first liquid produced after childbirth, is extremely rich in nutrients and antibodies. The best way to get started is to put your baby to the breast every 2-3 hours after birth, even if they only suck for a couple of minutes at a time to begin with. The real milk comes in 3-4 days after the baby is born.

3. Human milk is best for human babies, cow's milk is best for calves. I am lactose intolerant, so dairy really doesn't sit well with me. My mother recalls that I was allergic to nearly every brand of baby milk on the market when I was born, and it was really difficult to feed me. Back then, many people were of the opinion that formula was better than breast milk. How wrong they were!

4. You don't need to drink milk to make milk. Again, an old way of thinking is that it takes milk to make milk. Cows eat grass and produce milk, so where that idea came from, I don't know. All you need is food and liquids, plenty of both. Water is the best. Lots of it. 2-3 glasses every time you nurse, more in between, and plenty of brothy soups to get the milk flowing.

5. No matter how great advertising for baby formula sounds, it's still a substitute for mother's milk. Ersatz breast milk, and that's the truth. My mom is of the old school way of thinking, and keeps telling me to put my son on formula because it has all these added nutrients - taurine, iron and all the rest of it. The real reason they keep adding things to formula is because years of studies have still left laboratories unable to replicate what real breast milk provides, and studies on babies have shown that those that are breast fed are far healthier and more advanced than those who aren't. Why give a substitute when you can give the real thing, for free? Formula is scandalously expensive.

There are still more factors that help the breastfeeding cause - quicker post-childbirth weight loss, a stronger mother-baby bond, the convenience of not having to wash and sterilise bottles every day, but those were only secondary to the greatness that comes from giving your child the best nourishment possible and fulfilling your mammalian obligations, as it were.

So - breastfeeding it must be. None of that supplementing with formula crap. I wanted to go all the way. And thankfully, I succeeded. My sister gave me the tip about drinking lots of water, my parents showered me with food and my in-laws brought lots of soups loaded with malunggay, the leaves of the horseradish plant that are known to increase milk supply.

Today, my son is nearly 8 and a half months old and while his weight gain is tapering off, (he was born 2.9 kilos and weighed in at 5.35 six weeks later) he is healthy and strong and ahead of other babies developmentally. He rolled over at 2 months, sat up unassisted at 5, stood on his own at 6.5 and is now ready to take those first steps. He eats three times a day, but milk is still a baby's primary source of nourishment til they are over a year old, so I plan to continue nursing him for a few more months at least.

Now, nursing when his teeth come in is a different matter altogether. Stay tuned for what happens then.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mornings at the Ridge

I am not a morning person. In the days BB, (Before Baby) I would wake up between 8:30 and 9am, stumble out of bed, turn on my laptop, then wander into the kitchen for a bowl of cereal or toast to munch on while checking my email. The only time I'd look out the window would be to see what the weather was like so I could plan what to wear to work later in the day.

These days I'm awakened at what feels like the crack of dawn (but in reality is closer to 7am) by my 8 month old son, Little A. He rolls over, sits up, and looks at the window. If there is light filtering though the cracks in the blinds, he knows it's time to get up. He's a considerate baby; if it's still dark he lies back down and tries valiantly to get back to sleep. This usually involves a lot of rolling around the bed and frustrated baby noises and if he has no success, he crawls over to me for some milk. But 7am, or 8am (if I'm lucky) is official wake-up time.

After his breakfast, we go for a stroll around the concrete common area shared by the two buildings that make up our condominium complex. Mornings are cool and crisp, with no hint of the oppressive heat that is sure to come later. After observing the pool man and gardener at work, we go in search of other friends. There are the occasional other children and their nannies, but more interesting to my son are the grownups we come across from time to time.

There is Tai Chi Man, an elderly Chinese (?) gentleman who is wiry and white-haired and moves with the grace of a ballerina as he does the morning exercises that call to mind green grass and the parks of Hong Kong. Once done, he walks over to a paper bag on the ground, pulls out a state-of-the-art digital SLR camera and proceeds to photograph the birds and the trees on the golf course next door. Truly a mix of the old and the new.

Fitness Man is another elderly gentleman who begins his day walking around and around the concrete podium area. Dressed in navy track pants, running shoes and an immaculately pressed sport shirt, he walks up to the swimming pool when he is done. Off come the trousers, shoes and shirt, all of which are laid neatly on a chair. Underneath he wears black cycling shorts. From a small backpack he takes out a pair of swim goggles, puts them on and gets into the pool. He does a number of laps and then gets out, dries himself off with a small towel and gets dressed.

Complete strangers are quick to make friends with a curious baby. Tai Chi Man loves to hold my son, and has taken several photos of him with his high-tech camera. Fitness Man splashes him from the swimming pool and talks seriously to him about the importance of regular exercise. The gardener and pool man are always ready to make him smile.

What I enjoy most though, is the fresh morning air and the sight of blue skies, white clouds and birds flying overhead. Mornings are full of promise, and I never learned to appreciate them before. Everything looks clean and new. Thanks to the inevitable changes that life with a baby brings, gone are the days when I stumbled blearily out of bed in search of caffeine. I now look forward to these morning walks as much as he does.