Baby Love My Baby Love, Special Occasions

“Happy” (A Post for Father’s Day)

In one of my baby showers before I gave birth, we played a game where Jan and I were asked an assortment of questions that we had to answer separately. At the end of the game, we would then see which answers matched. One question, perhaps playing on the stereotype of mixed Asian-Caucasian kids, asked, “if your boy could only be either an athlete or actor, what would you prefer him to be?” I readily scribbled, “athlete” and in my mind thinking, “with two post-graduate degrees”. When it was time to reveal our answers, I found out that my husband (playing fast and easy with the rules, per usual) wrote: HAPPY.

A few months after Jan Andres was born, we were again talking about what we wanted him to be in the future. “Doctor!” I readily said, in full Tiger Mom mode. Jan then said, “he should be what he wants to be. He can be a carpenter, as long as he’s…. (wait for it)…. happy.” I rolled my eyes at him, promptly accusing him of first-world privilege and ascribing his answer to the naïveté of someone born to a country where you can be a carpenter and still be able to send your kids to good schools and not have financial worries.

Reflecting on it further, however, I now see how important it is to be genuinely and truly committed to your child’s future happiness. I know, as parents, we all say “I want my child to be happy”, but have we really unpacked what that means? In the face of hard choices, can we still commit to our children’s happiness? (Parents of an LGBT child who refuse to accept their child’s gender identity probably also said to each other when their child was a toddler, “I want our child to be happy.”) With happiness as starting point, our children have the emotional resources to navigate towards success, self-improvement, social responsibility. They know they have a safe place from which to begin their journey, and to which they can always come back.

Like my Papa was my safe place growing up, I know my son will have a safe place in his Heit. His mom is a work in progress, she will need to be told sometimes to check her Tiger Mama impulses. She’s good for some things too: making sure that Jan Andres becomes the absolute best he can be, that he eats everything on the table without being picky, that he checks his privilege at the door. Oh and trust her to pay for things like Kumon enrichment classes, because well, Asian mom.

But I reckon it is from Heit that he will learn that grades do not define a person, and that life can beat with a slow and easy tempo. He’ll learn from Heit that weekends are for sleeping in and taking long baths, and that sometimes it’s ok to eat meals on the bed when your feet are tangled up under the covers with the one you love. Heit will teach him that in showing someone you care, consistency trumps flash and flourish; and that marriage is about sending buzzfeed articles about farting to each other. He’ll learn to see the perfect in the imperfect, the beauty in the mundane. He’ll learn that safe places are not structures you seek out, but spaces you create for the people you love through the everyday hard work of showing up, being around, staying present.

He’ll learn all these things, because he’ll be learning from the best.

Baby Love My Baby Love, Uncategorized

Trying your best is best

I remember one afternoon, while on holiday in Singapore, I was breastfeeding my child at a nursing area. A woman and her child then sat on the seat in front of me. I smiled the mommy-solidarity smile, and then looked curiously at the bottle, only because it was of an odd shape. She caught my glance, misinterpreted it, and then said, “yeah, breast is best, right?”. I was startled for a few seconds, not knowing what to say. Finally, I just said, “no, no, I was just looking at your bottle. That’s an Interesting thing inside.” (It turned out to be a vent system against colic). She then smiled, like she didn’t believe me, and we went our separate feeding ways. Then when she was done, as she was packing up and leaving, she glanced at me and said, “For me, fed is best” and then walked out. I didn’t know how to react at that moment, but felt several things: resentment at being lumped into a ‘camp’ I didn’t want to be in, and whose members I actually dislike (the sanctimonious nursing-nazi camp), compassion for moms that feel judged all the time, sadness that there are even camps to begin with.

Few things divide moms as much as the “breast is best” vs the “fed is best” debate. Let me get one thing out of the way: I think there is enough peer-reviewed scientific evidence to demonstrate the superior benefits of breastmilk compared to formula. For this reason, I have chosen to breastfeed my child exclusively for his first year. I also think that the tag “fed is best” is problematic even semantically, because, err, feeding your child is the minimum. Starvation is, I think we will all agree, unacceptable. How can fed be the best and the minimum at the same time? Lastly, there are credible reports of milk companies that use predatory practices to aggressively push formula, and this should not be countenanced.

AT THE SAME TIME, I think something really needs to be said about the self-righteousness of “breast is best” advocates, and how this self-righteousness is really not helping further the breastfeeding agenda. Women are made to feel they are not trying hard enough, and are shamed for considering mixed-feeding or switching to formula altogether. In a breastfeeding group I used to belong to, moms were always told “unli-latch lang yan!” to virtually each and every breastfeeding difficulty reported on. Do they have any clue how hard it is to have a hungry, wailing child at the breast because no milk is coming out? Because I do. Do they know how stressful it is to be pumping like a fiend in the middle of the day, between work meetings, and then getting only 2 oz after thirty minutes of pumping? Because I do.

Yes, I soldiered on. And yes, I successfully exclusively breastfed my child for his first year, but it’s not because I’m some wondermama. it’s also because I’m in a position of privilege. I have a job where I know I won’t get fired for taking long breaks to pump milk. I was given maternity leave in accordance with law. These are things that are not readily available to a female worker working in a factory or fastfood joint on contractual status. Are they any less a wondermama than I am? I think not.

And so this is my alternative formulation for women (like me) who feel caught in the middle of ‘breast is best’ and ‘fed is best’: Trying your best is best. For mommies, let’s try to breastfeed our children, because the evidence of its benefits are incontrovertible. But if it doesn’t work out, we need to tell ourselves that we are not lesser moms for looking for acceptable, medically-sound alternatives. We need not only to forgive ourselves, but to trust that the best we can give is truly the best for our child.

For communities that surround mommies, for families and friends of mommies, the ‘trying your best is best’ framework means that, while we ensure the availability of information and resources to enable breastfeeding, we are not allowed to second-guess women when they say that they try but that it’s not happening. We are allowed to heckle pharmaceutical companies that push formula to moms, but we are not allowed to make mothers feel inadequate for the choices they make. We put the needs of babies as paramount, but we should not ignore the mental health needs of new mothers who are already overwhelmed by this bewildering new frontier called motherhood. Most of all, we need to trust that all mothers want the best for their child and would give an arm and a leg to nourish them in the best way possible.

Because when mothers give their best, they give enough.

Baby Love My Baby Love

1:00 am

No, my baby doesn’t sleep through the night.

He is 14 months old, he is put to bed at 8:30pm, and every 1am without fail, he wakes up, makes his “awake-ness” known to the whole house, gets breastmilk, and then — depending on whether or not the goddesses are on my side — either slips back to sleep or gets cranked up and demands mommy time.

Yes, I know that babies past the age of 6 months *SHOULD* sleep through the night with no difficulty.

Everybody has told me that. I have been inundated with suggestions on how to get him sleeping for 8 hours straight. It has been suggested that I am an overindulgent mom, and my son, a despot in a teacup. A particularly pushy Tita has told me, “there is no medical reason a child above one needs to feed between dinner and breakfast.”

Of course, I’ve read all sorts of books to get him sorted. I’ve spoken to sleep coaches. We have had some improvement after employing some sleep training methods: after the post-midnight feed, we’ve gotten a straight stretch of sleep until 6am. I have gotten a bit used to it, and my body clock has adjusted accordingly.

But here’s the thing: there still is, it seems, enormous social pressure to drop the midnight feed. In the mommy blogs, in the self-help books, in the parenting forums.

I have decided recently to say SCREW IT.

No, it’s not just because I want to make sure my baby is fed when he’s hungry. Or comforted when he needs comforting. Or my warm body when his crib feels big and empty, and his room dark and forbidding.

It’s because that sliver of time when the universe around me fades to a whisper, is the only time my child and I truly have to be alone together. At 1:00am, when the work WhatsApps taper to a halt, when my husband is softly snoring beside me, when our household staff have retired to bed, I feel my child’s heartbeat next to mine. At 1:00am, I breathe his baby smells — milk and powder and little-boy wonder — and trace my fingers on the curvature of his head. I watch him sleepily look for my fingers to hold, reassured by the feel of our palms touching. At 1:00am, I watch what my embrace does to him, how it quiets the swirling chaos, and I wonder to myself how long my embraces will continue having that effect.

At 1:00am, I am his and he is mine.