Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A different point of view

More shots from Richard's phone of the little darling that makes our world go round. Enjoy!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Showing our guest around town

I mentioned previously that my mother stayed over in the last week of July. A week after she left, we had my cousin sister stay over for about 2.5 weeks (she just left a couple of days ago). She was on an informal internship with me at my firm so she went with me to work everyday.

To be honest, before this visit, my cousin and I had hardly spent any time getting to know each other. We are almost 20 years apart in age and we see each other only once a year, during Chinese New Year. So it was wonderful to be able to spend some time with her, to get to know her and to share a bit of our life with her.

With a house guest, we did have to make some adjustments - we didn't do many activities with Ryan (whether at home or outside) and we didn't go for children-centric activities/venues. Actually, this is always what happens when we have guests - we try not to do activities which would make our guests feel like outsiders. On balance, we probably give our guests a very different impression of what we normally do, but that can’t really be helped.

I wasn't a very good host for the first week, because I was feeling extreme fatigue from the pregnancy. Every night after work and after dinner I would just crawl into bed and leave everyone to their own devices. Blogging was definitely not on the cards. After I had the evacuation done, our evenings were spent sitting around in the living room. Ryan would play with his train set and his Lego, which are kept in the living room. Ryan also got a lot of DVD time (and I really mean A LOT) so he certainly had no complaints. He still wanted to have his reading-time every night though.

On the weekends, we spent a lot of time out and about, going around some of the tourist attractions with my cousin and watching performances (Voca People at Max Pavilion at the Expo, The Lion King at Marina Bay Sands Theatre).

Don't worry, this isn't going to be yet another post with no photos - here they come!

We brought my cousin for a go on the Singapore Flyer. This is the view from one of the capsules.

We took her up to the Skypark at Marina Bay Sands. Almost the same view.

We showed her how to fly a kite at Marina Barrage.


We brought her for brunch at the marina at Keppel Bay.

I had the evacuation done in the first week that my cousin was here and having a guest to take care of did help me to  bounce back into life. It forced me to wake up for work everyday, to get myself up and running, to think of things to do and places to eat and not to let my mind run away with despairing thoughts. It served as a reminder that the loss was only a bump in the road and that life still had lots of great stuff in store for us.

[All iPhone photos were taken by Richard, plus some of the pictures at Marina Barrage. The rest were shot by me.]

Friday, August 26, 2011

For the bravehearted

I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of supportive comments, private emails, sms/whatsapp messages, etc. following my last post. It is a blessing to know that there are prayers and good vibes being sent our way. On behalf of our little family, thank you all so very very much.

There were some wonderful ladies who shared with me their own losses and their own personal journeys (in the comments and via private email) and I want to specifically thank those ladies for speaking up. Those are brave, strong women.

My resolution for this year was to live in the present. Not to worry about what might or might not happen in the future, not to fret over the past. This experience put me to the test.

I know many people, including myself, who want another child but who will never tell you outright that they are trying. In public, they dismiss it casually, like an afterthought - "Oh, if it happens, it happens". Or they give the impression that they're halfhearted about it - "We want to, but we have no time/no help/no childcare options/no money/no space/[insert any excuse you can think of]". I've even heard, "We're trying but not actively" (I have no idea what that means). We keep looking at the "ifs" and "buts" and we distract ourselves from the present.

Maybe we don't want to tempt fate, maybe we don't want to jinx things, maybe we just don't want to share. More often, I think that we want to protect ourselves from disappointment. The more we want something, the more disappointed we feel when we don't get it, and most of the time, we want that baby pretty badly. So we feign indifference, we act nonchalant, we behave as if it's not a big deal. All the while, we're secretly crossing our fingers for that positive pregnancy test.

When we do get pregnant, we become even more secretive. We think that the pregnancy is not yet stable so we can't share the news. We think that the secrecy protects us and our baby. In truth, it makes no sense at all. If the pregnancy goes well, all logic will tell you that keeping things secret was not the reason for success. Now, what if the pregnancy does not go well? We then find ourselves isolated in our grief. Nobody knew about the baby so there's nobody to listen to our sadness, nobody to tell us that things will be all right. There is the husband, but nobody else. And the husband, not wanting to burden his grieving wife further, has nobody. So, having kept the pregnancy a secret, we then bury its loss. As if it never happened. As if it was too insignificant to be remembered. We put on our happy face and attack life with a vengeance. Now we shouldn't be moping around being miserable forever but we should allow ourselves time to grieve. If we don't acknowledge it, if we don't respect it, if we don't permit ourselves to mourn it, if we try to bury it or toss it off casually, we may never heal completely. And all this pretense and secrecy ain't helping us one bit.

Yes, it's not easy to listen to your heart, to embrace life's ups and downs, to keep the faith, to live fully in the present. It takes a brave woman to shout out and admit that yes! she's trying! and trying hard! for a baby. It takes confidence for a newly pregnant woman to declare her pregnancy and in doing so, make herself vulnerable to disappointment. And, in the wake of loss, it takes courage to tell others, "I didn't make it and I'm devastated that I didn't."

Well, I got the last one ticked off. The next time round, I'll get the first two.

"Dance like nobody's watching; love like you've never been hurt.
Sing like nobody's listening; live like it's heaven on earth."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I know there’s been radio silence around these parts. So much has happened to our little family in the last month that blogging just had to take a back seat. There’s been a lot to deal with, whether physically, mentally or emotionally, work-wise or at home. The last post (Chinese lessons at home) was written a couple of months ago, and kept in draft as a back-up post for when my blogging mind was switched off, as it has been for the past month.

Anyway, I’m back and I will fill up the blog with our updates over the next few posts. In today’s post, I will start with the thing that affected us the most and which was also the first factor that caused my temporary withdrawal from the blog.

I was pregnant.

And then I was not.

Let me explain.

Richard and I have always wanted to expand our little family and recently we decided it was time to get down to business. I did all the calculations to make sure we didn’t miss the window in late June and, lo and behold, in the first week of July, a home pregnancy test confirmed we were pregnant. We were ecstatic and started dreaming of names for the baby. We weren’t ready to share the news yet though so life went on as normal. We went to work, we met up with friends, we even went to Ho Chi Minh City for a short break and, when we got back, we went to see my gynae. The scan showed the sac clearly enough, but we didn’t see the heartbeat. My gynae said the baby could still be too small/young for the machine to pick up the heartbeat but other than that, everything looked fine. We were less than 6 weeks pregnant then. Dr Chan told us to come back and see him in two or three weeks’ time. I decided that three weeks would be fine.

In the following three weeks, nausea and fatigue were my constant companions. I felt ill most of the time and I was extremely sensitive to smells. Although I didn’t actually throw up, I had to eat every two hours to keep the nausea at bay. My milk supply dropped drastically and there was nothing I could do about it.

Two days after Singapore’s National Day, we went back to see Dr Chan. Our excitement disintegrated when we saw the scan. The baby had hardly grown and there was no heartbeat. Our baby had died. Dr Chan explained that I was still feeling pregnancy symptoms because the placenta was still live and working. The medical term for this is a “missed abortion”.

We did an evacuation later the same day at the clinic. I went back to work the next day, preferring to surround myself with people and work, instead of moping around the house.

So what happened? According to Dr Chan, it was plain bad luck. He reassured me that there was nothing I could have done, there was nothing I did/didn’t do, there was nothing I ate/didn’t eat, that would have made any difference. I could have been pumped with all sorts of hormones and injections and put on complete bedrest - the result would have been the same. More importantly, Dr Chan reassured me that it was not a sign of infertility and it has absolutely no bearing on future attempts to get pregnant.

I'm feeling all right now. Once the placenta was evacuated, the nausea went away and things went back to normal pretty quickly. There was some cramping as the womb contracted and a little bit of bleeding, which is normal. We're going back to see Dr Chan next week to check that the placenta is all cleared and the womb is all good.

I’m keeping this post as unemotional as possible because I don’t want this experience to stand out as a horrible, terrible thing. Of course, it was a horrible, terrible thing, don't get me wrong. Richard and I were on the top of the world when we saw that positive home pregnancy test, and when we found out it was not meant to be, we were crushed. But we have done our mourning, we’ve reconciled matters and we've come to terms with it.

I thought long and hard about whether I should share all this on the blog. In the end, I decided that it shouldn't be forgotten as an unpleasant experience. Instead, it should be documented as a prelude to a happy ending. It's not the end of a chapter but the start of our journey and remembering the tough times we went through will help us better appreciate and treasure the successful outcome. We got knocked down for sure, but let's pick ourselves up and keep moving towards the target.

Some of you may know that we had a miscarriage before Ryan came along. Our baby girl died at 10-11 weeks gestation because she had Down’s Syndrome. They tell you that your risk of a Down’s Syndrome baby shoots up when you turn 35. I wasn’t 35 yet and I had drawn the short straw. Once again, plain bad luck, nothing to do with anything I did/didn’t do, no implication on fertility. And yes, the happy ending came eventually, in the form of our beautiful baby boy. He was so healthy, he didn’t even have clinical jaundice. I like to think that we purged all the bad stuff and got it out of the way so that Ryan would be perfect, and he was.

That’s the context in which Richard and I want to view what happened. We’re focusing on our happy ending. The bad stuff is just what happens along the way. Of course I don’t want to shrug off what happened as just one of life’s curveballs, but neither do I want to give it so much significance that it paralyses us and keeps us from moving forward.

It’s like pregnancy itself. There is a lot of discomfort to go through. Some mothers-to-be go through hell and high water to have their babies - some battling with morning sickness all through the pregnancy, some having to deal with gestational diabetes/high blood pressure/anaemia, some having to be put on bed rest. Even if your pregnancy is medically smooth, you still have to adjust your wardrobe, your diet, your lifestyle. You have to carry all that weight around in the day and sleep upright at night because of the heartburn. Half of the time you’re hormonal and the other half you’re too tired to care. Then there's the delivery which can be torturous and painful for some. I actually do know some women who are reluctant to have another child, because they dread going through pregnancy again.

Yet - and I am sure that most mothers can relate to this - the moment Ryan was placed in my arms, the moment I embraced that tiny bundle of goodness, all the discomfort was instantly forgotten. The bad stuff was just part of the journey and, knowing that the journey to get to my pot of gold was so uncomfortable/stressful/etc, would I be willing to go through all of it again? Hell, yeah.

I guess for most of everything in life, the more valuable it is, the harder you have to work for it. If you want better grades, you study harder. If you want a promotion, you work harder and prove you deserve it over the person next to you. If you want to excel at something, you put in hours of practice. Nothing of value comes without a price and, generally, the more valuable it is, the higher the price you have to pay. In our case, it looks like we have to "pay" a little bit more than the nine months of pregnancy - Ryan came after a miscarriage and it looks like our next one cost us a pregnancy as well. It doesn't matter. To us, the outcome fully rewards the effort.

So, let's get this show officially on the road! We've been de-railed but once Dr Chan gives us the all-clear and my cycle is back on track, it's all systems go!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chinese lessons at home

I have been teaching Ryan to read Chinese.

Yes, believe me, I know how ludicrous that sounds.

In a nation where primary school students spout Chinese idioms and, not only write compositions, but write creative compositions, my Chinese is considered to be... how shall I put it... well, "hopeless" would be a fair description.

Growing up, my family did not speak Chinese (Mandarin) at home, although we spoke a bunch of other languages/dialects. My father, who was fluent in Mandarin, recognised the importance of it and so he engaged a tutor to come to our house a few times a week to teach me to read and write in Chinese. My father was a smart man - he roped in my best friend who lived two doors down to take the class with me so that I would be more interested. In truth, I was very interested to learn something new, so I didn't need any persuasion.

I have good memories of those sessions, sitting around my huge round dining table in the afternoons, we two girls laughing at some secret joke, while our tutor diligently read our books out loud into a tape recorder for us to play back in our spare time. I remember showing my homework to my father in the evening, he in his armchair and me with my brown exercise book on the floor. I was supposed to construct sentences using words we learned and, of course, this was extremely difficult for the first few lessons because I didn't know enough words to make up a sentence. Daddy to the rescue of course! He literally did all my homework for me for the first few sessions. I told him, in English, the sentence I wanted and he would write it in Chinese for me! If I paused too long, he would come up with his own sentence and start writing away diligently.

Sometime in primary three, Chinese was introduced in my school under the "POL" (Pupil's Own Language) programme. There were no exams, it was very basic and it felt almost as if the school just needed to fill up the time with something. I breezed through the Chinese lessons with no problems, thanks to my tutoring. The POL programme didn't last very long and was soon replaced with sewing classes.

When I was ten, the tutoring stopped and from then, I had no reason to read or write Chinese until I won a scholarship and came to Singapore, the land of Chinese idiom-spouting ten year-olds. Our group of scholarship holders comprised a motley crew - some had been Chinese-educated, while others had been educated in national schools (like I was). It was highly entertaining to the former whenever the latter attempted to speak in Chinese. A mate of mine tried to order "One bowl of noodles, please" and the hawker laughed and said "I'll give you two kisses, no problem!" (she had confused the Chinese word for "bowl" with the word for "kiss").

Different accents notwithstanding, I found myself in the peculiar position of being able to understand what was being said to me in Chinese but reluctant to express myself in Chinese. I could hear the words in my head, sometimes I could even read them, but they just wouldn't come out of my mouth the way I intended. It's like a right-handed person trying to write with his left foot. You know what you want to write, you know how it should be written, but you just can't control your left foot well enough to do it. When I did try, it sounded terrible, like I was murdering it. There were long pauses between each word, as if I was dense in the head. Even with some sign language thrown in, and lots of "na ke, na ke" ("that one", "that one"), I took five times as long to say something that my Chinese-educated mates could say in a heartbeat. Not cool.

After I had lived in Singapore for a while, I realised, to my relief, that I could get by perfectly fine in Singapore without knowing a word of Chinese. Everything I needed to know was in English. Everyone I dealt with spoke English (and those who didn't, usually the old folks, understood Cantonese, which I could do). In my line of work, English is the only language that is used. In fact, if I come across a Chinese document, I am obliged to send it to a translator for an "official" translation into English.

In fact, none of us scholars who came to Singapore from Malaysia devoted any attention to improving our Chinese. Those who were Chinese-educated were already streaks ahead of their Singaporean counterparts. Those who were from national schools took Malay in school to satisfy the requirement of a second language for their A-levels and just carried on with English in daily life. That mate of mine who ordered the kisses? Her Chinese never progressed beyond that and it made no difference - she's now employed by IBM in Singapore.

It is no wonder therefore that, in recent years, the standard of Chinese in Singapore is said to have suffered a drop. My own has diminished from "passable" to "laughable".

The drop in standard has been attributed to the way the language was taught in schools, rote learning and drilling, which they say works only for the short term and for passing Chinese language exams in school. They say that, if it is not taught in an enjoyable way, children will resist learning it. They say that, if it is not used often, it's not going to stick. I agree with that.

Mind you, the "drop" in standard does not make a difference to me. I've seen the Chinese workbooks for pre-school (yes, let me say that again, the workbooks for pre-school!!!) and the textbooks for Chinese language at Primary 1. Very scary. Without external help, there is no way that a child like Ryan, coming from an English-speaking family, will be able to survive the subject in school.

So begins our journey into the Chinese language. I figured that, since he can learn his ABCs and his 123s, he can learn some Chinese characters too. At their very basic, ABCs, 123s and Chinese characters are all abstract representations of sounds that carry meaning.

So far, Ryan can recognise and read about 30-40 characters. The pronunciation is not spot-on - if you thought that my pronunciation is too Western, wait till you hear Ryan's - but I'm not concerned about that at this stage. I think he's doing well and hopefully we can continue to make good progress!

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