Being happy

Last night, I lost my cool. It wasn’t the first time of course.

It was 4am, and the little one refused to sleep after her night feed. She twisted around like an enthusiastic wrestler, grabbed everything in sight including my hair and top, and repeatedly flipped onto her tummy (and then complained at the top of her voice after that because she doesn’t know how to flip back). I lost count of the number of times I went to her crib to pick her up and put her down, or to flip her back like a prata man.

I was mad. I was frustrated. I was desolate.

I tossed bolsters around and fluffed the covers angrily. I stared into space. I held my head in my hands and wondered about my life. I told my beleaguered husband I have no idea what else to do.

After close to 2 hours battling her and trying to drown out her shrieks, I latched her again and she blissfully sank into sleep for the next 2.5 hours.

In the brightness of the morning and the cheeriness of her smiles, I was wracked with guilt. I’m a horrible mum, I told myself. Why can’t I just be better, be more patient, be more loving, I chided myself tearily.

As I was lamenting to my good friend Em about how difficult it was to be a good person, a good mum, and to be happy, she said something profound. “Happy is hard. I’m not happy too, even though I’m trying. I’ve concluded that it’s okay to not be happy. That’s life.”

It struck me. Why are we always putting pressure on ourselves to achieve picture perfect happiness? Part of the reason why I’ve been so hard on myself is because I find it so hard to be happy with my new life. Movies, TV, social media – they all tell us that motherhood is a dream, that it’s an honour, it’s a beautiful life filled with sentimental music, slow-motion dancing, sparkles and smiles.

Don’t get me wrong. My baby is an absolutely adorable cherub and her smiles are truly the best gift I’ve received. Needless to say, I love her with all my heart. But happiness is overrated. Real life is hard work. It’s stressful, and it’s full of emotional upheavals and questions and doubts. The good stuff you see? They last, oh, about 3 minutes before that wide-eyed innocent face descends into a scrunched up red-faced squall that lasts for an hour or more.

Perhaps it’s better for our sanity if we just accept that life is gritty and harsh. Shit happens. Angry/ugly cries are normal. Like what Em reminded me, life is about dealing with crap that comes our way, over and over again. And that perhaps what life is all about, is learning to be more resilient.

We shouldn’t be striving for that elusive happiness. We should be striving for gratitude. That things are alright. For me, I have an amazing husband, a very loving and supportive father and brother, really good friends, a home to live in, food to eat, and a happy and healthy baby.

I may have no time to nap/eat and a proper night life – or sleep for that matter – might be a thing of the past, but I have good things in my life. Will things turn out better in the end? They may not. But I’d be better equipped to handle it (here’s hoping).

And there are always the small split-second picture-perfect moments to enjoy. Enjoy them we must, because they don’t last forever.


My little village

They say it takes a village to raise a child. That phrase has never rung truer for me.

My mother passed away on Feb 16, 2016, after a lengthy cancer battle. It was three-and-a-half weeks to my wedding. A lover of all things baby, I know she would have loved to care for mine. She knew it too, but she was also aware she had run out of time. “Aiyo I don’t think I can make it for hers! I think I’ll just play with yours,” she told my pregnant best friend then when she visited her at the hospital (she didn’t make it for hers either).

It has been a struggle. Taking care of a squalling little human is incredibly frightening, frustrating and draining. It’s also a very isolating process, especially when you’re alone at home, facing this confusing little blob and desperately trying to troubleshoot her distress and her poor naps. My only solace came from frantically googling, frantically texting friends who are parents and frantically crying tears of my own. There have been moments where I would be holding onto baby R, rocking her to sleep, as tears streamed down my face.

I miss my mum every day. This deep loneliness is exacerbated by her gaping absence. Not having anyone to ask for advice, not knowing what she went through when she was having my brother and I, pains me all the time.

Now I don’t have a helper or a daytime nanny, and I don’t intend on hiring one. Most of our relatives are either working, elderly, or don’t have experience with newborns, so we’re pretty much alone day-to-day.

But it is in this period of deep despair that I have also experienced the greatest and kindest gestures from others. People who come by to feed and play with the baby for just a few hours, or to be my lunch company. Or who asked their mums to help take care of the bub for a while, so I can catch a breather. Or who pop by to demonstrate how to use a carrier for an infant so that I can finally step out of the house. Or ask me out for tea. Or send me things that would help make the caring process easier and cut the meltdowns (hers, and conversely, mine). Many check in on me often to see if I’m okay. Others encourage me with moral support, telling me I’m doing fine and to not be afraid.

All these gestures are precious.

There are setbacks. All. The. Time. Juggling so many roles and trying to do some freelance work at the same time is hard hard hard. I know I fall short. But even as I try not to sink into these feelings of worthlessness, confusion and guilt, I’m constantly reminding myself that I’m surrounded by people who have my back and who love me. It does take a village to take care of a chid, but more importantly it takes a village to hold up the mum.

This is a post with no solution or conclusion. But all I know is everyone’s trying their best to help me. Now all I need to do is to help (and love) myself.

Confessions of a new mum

Yesterday, for a brief few minutes, I forgot I had a child.

I was walking to my block from the lift, hands clutching plastic bags, shoulders free. I had just returned from a business meeting and a baby shower, and I was wearing a short off-shoulder frock that felt nice and jaunty. It felt just like an ordinary day and for a moment, I felt like I could set my bags down, take a shower, play with my dog, put on a show and snack with my feet up while watching it.

And then I remembered – and the familiar dread came descending down again. That was my old life. This, my new life, would just mean I would go home to my husband who was bravely holding down the fort for five-and-a-half-hours for the first time, and take over mummy duties.

And that was what happened. What followed next was three hours of feeding, diaper changes, burping, rocking and sssh-ing, a 30 minute nap (her, not me), and trying to soothe a cranky baby girl after she woke up from it, while my knackered husband took a nap.

To say I’m exhausted would be an understatement. The truth is, I’m barely holding myself together.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my baby very much. Her beautiful face, her gummy toothless smiles whenever I talk to her in the mornings, her defying-gravity spiky hair, and her expressive big doe eyes. I love them all. We made her, and by some miracle she turned out to be this wonderful, adorable little human who is more than what we could ask for.

But, and there’s always a but, I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus – every day.

We have very little day-to-day family support, so we rely a lot on ourselves and the occasional charitable help from relatives, friends, friends’ mothers, and my dad’s helper.

My husband is a rock. He helps with everything when he’s back from work, and tries his best to reduce the amount of things I have to do when I’m home alone. Poor guy is pretty much tired and overwhelmed himself.

But alone, I feel inadequate, helpless, lost and useless most of the time, especially when she cries from being overtired because I’m unable to settle her down for a nap, or from gas/colic. And she cries. A lot. I find myself constantly in dread, with barely enough time to do anything in between crying bouts.

The darkness is real.

They say motherhood is instinctual, but not to me. It’s a painful, arduous learning journey, filled with anxiety, endless googling, bombardment to mummy Whatsapp groups and cries of despair to the hapless husband. It’s the toughest, more gruelling thing I’ve ever done in my life.

And part of the problem is my unwillingness to let go of my previous life. If only, oh if only I could just let go of that incredible sadness overwhelming me whenever I think about how this is my life now, things will be better for me. But that’s another battle I have to fight on my own.

I know this will pass. The saying goes: “The days are long but the years are short.” That’s what’s keeping me going. That soon she will grow up too fast and not need me anymore, and I will grow old and need her more.

So despite every day being a rollercoaster, I tell myself to hold on tight for the ride. Because it’ll be over soon before I know it. And her smiles, with that gorgeous twinkle in her bright eyes, make every pain worth it.

Just need to find a good buckle to strap me in so I don’t fall off.

Hello there

Before I became a journalist in 2008, I used to be a prolific blog writer. Movie reviews, mopey updates about my life, overly-enthusiastic sharing of my day or on my random purchases – you name it. My defunct blog – a jarringly different and whimsical site filled with sparkly dreams, raw fears and pining musings – can still be found somewhere in this great big web.

But you know what they say: When you do something you love as a full-time career, you stop doing it out of love. So, personal thoughts and remarks along with an insight into my brain slowly gave way to cautious less-than-140-characters status updates, and even more slowly to silence, apart from an occasional inane photo post or a shared link.

Now that I’ve quit, I’m still searching for my love for the word. The mind, once filled with sentimentality and romance, has been replaced by a stoic, practical voice that reports rather than sings. Hopefully with this post, it’s a beginning where I can start writing for myself.