Byron dragged home a dead tree branch, with panting puppy in tow following their afternoon run on Wednesday. I hosed the sand from the bare, lifeless wood as twigs snapped away under the water pressure. I needn't have bothered as the afternoon storm brought a brief, heavy downpour in the early evening.
On Thursday B lugged the branch up the stairs and set about arranging large white stones about the base to secure the 'tree' vertically. With one arm snug around our babe, I began to hang the strings of homemade decorations, which I had crafted over the years from colourful glass beads and collected seashells carefully threaded together with fishing line.
B wound strings of coloured LED lights arounds the thicker limbs and after an hour we stood back, our little family of three to marvel at Love's first seaside Christmas tree.
I've gradually been collecting items for the children next door. Gifts to stimulate learning, encourage outdoor play and respect for nature. For Master Three: a (wrapped) box of interactive flashcards with sliding picture panels to assist with speech and reading; for Master Six: a frisbee (call me enthusiastic, but I hope to introduce him to the fun of Ultimate Frisbee) and a Where's Wally picture and puzzle book. I decided on the puzzle book after a recent visit where I cut my walk short due to the ominous dark storm clouds approaching from the west. I watched him circle letters in a find-a-word, his short, lean body tummy-side-down on the carpet, knees bent with wriggly-toed feet bobbing in the air, his tongue poking out, smearing saliva across his lower lip and chin. I don't think he would have noticed we were there had I not asked him what he was doing... For Miss Six: a beautiful green succulent with the prettiest purple flowers in a glazed cobalt blue terracotta pot. Somewhere, deep in the darkest corners of my wardrobe lies a small array of colourful gemstones to add to her growing collection for crystal healing.
Finally, there are thrifted clothes and handmade presents yet to be wrapped, including neatly framed hand and footprints taken of Love when she was 29 days old. These prints are reserved for our nearest and dearest who, we hope, will treasure the tiny black splotches on stiff, white paper torn from my art book. These prints will be accompanied by the story of how Byron and I found ourselves covered in smears of sticky black paint as we attempted and failed time and time again to make accurate impressions of our newborn's tiny hands and feet. I recall how she curled her tiny hands into a fist and scrunched her tiny toes as we pressed the paper against her skin, silently rejoicing, mouths agape, with each toe print we managed to transfer. Three toes this time! Getting closer! We smiled at each other before applying a lick or two of more paint to her feet in deft brush strokes.
Anyone who may view our earlier attempts could be forgiven for thinking we had birthed a mutant single-toed baby...
So that has been our life lately. How about you? Any fun stories? Do you celebrate Christmas? Do you have a strange or more traditional tree? Any stories about attempting artworks with babies? I'd love to read about it in the comments below.
Here's the link to our little home movie, documenting Love's journey through her growth in my womb to her birth and 'fourth trimester', or first three months in our arms...
We love her more than words can adequately express. Her sweet nature, bubbly giggles, smiling eyes and curious stares at her surroundings fill our hearts with pride, joy, love and gratitude.
I'm also working on some colourful, nutritious breakfast recipes that are suitable for everyone, especially the breastfeeding mamas. Cannot wait to share these with you all, beginning with vegan banana bread (including a variation with blueberries), and colourful smoothie bowls for the happy morning people, Yoginis, surfers and lovers of the outdoors at sunrise.
Stay tuned for updates on instagram!
9am post-breakfast stroll | 10am kicking up her heels
11am the mama top-knot | 12pm puppy smiles and sandy toes
1pm low tide| 3pm quiet play time
4pm ironing papa's uniform | 5pm tired face
2pm was spent reclining nervously in a dentist chair whilst I anxiously twisted my fingers. I received a $3200 quote for a short section of braces spanning six teeth along my upper jaw, then there's the ceramic crown and retainer to be made when the braces are removed in nine months time; an additional $2000. I think I'll give it a miss. There's beauty in imperfection I tell myself.
I'd much rather come home to play with this sweet girl as the thunder clouds roll over the mountains, rumbling all the way to the sea.
I had written her birth story and somehow accidentally (probably through sheer exhaustion) replaced this important entry with the contents of my post on Taking Stock. Feeling a little deflated after pouring much emotion into the words that formed her story, I have decided to rewrite her birth journey. I may share it with you later however, in the meantime I wanted to write about some of the quirks, surprises, endearing features, new parent experiences and other observations we made in her first month.
Weight: 3.5 kg / 7 lbs 11 oz
Head circumference: 34.5cm
If it weren't for this gravitational pull, thick with emotion, fear, joy and love towards this tiny baby I might feel like this whole experience did not happen at all. Dreamlike, my consciousness floats from surprise to acceptance and back to surprise again that we, a young couple in love could have made a person together. Happy birthday my sweet girl.
Our first night together as mother and daughter was dark and still, save for the constant stirring of either Love or the newborn on the other side of the curtain in our share room. The other new mother could be heard trying to soothe her baby and my heart truly went out to them both as her daughter had difficulty latching.
In the dim light of that room I could just make out baby Love's tiny lips, forming a neat seal against my breast as she drank from first the left and then the right side. I hadn't realised that she could suckle for 50 or so minutes for each feed. I had been warned that breastfeeding could be a painful experience however, she knew instinctually what to do and so we figured it out together, with the gentle encouragement of different midwives as they came and went with the hours. The only breast feeding discomfort I felt during the first week occurred from the second day and it only persisted for the first two or three suckles before she began to rhythmically draw colostrum from my breast.
I stole every opportunity available to me to inhale her sweet newborn scent, to gaze at her intently and marvel at her ethereal beauty, her dark chocolate hair, her delicate fingers and tiny toes. So small and dependent on her mother for nourishment, warmth, frequent nappy changes, burping, and comfort. I was dependent on her too, I felt as though my heart would stop beating at any sign of distress in her tiny face or body language.
Her first week involved many emotions that were amplified by changing hormones, little sleep and disbelief that we are now parents.
I loved her from the moment we knew she was growing inside me but meeting her as she rested against my chest for the first time on her birthday, so tiny, her limbs trembling at the shock of leaving her water environment, her small, round head covered in thick, dark chocolate hair, her skin moist, fleshy pink, warm and covered in creamy vernix caseosa.
I was shocked that she was a girl, having been told by nearly every person I met that they 'could tell' from the shape or height of my bump that I was carrying a son. When Byron wrapped his arms around the two of us and whispered with a voice broken with love, 'We have a daughter', I was in disbelief. Until he said that, even as she rested against me for the first time, I was convinced this baby was a little boy. It was the greatest surprise of my life and one that I will never regret waiting to find out the answer. She was finally here and she was perfect.
I've complied a list of some of the little things that seemed particularly memorable from her first week.
Baby Love: Her sweet newborn smell and her dark chocolate hair, the softest I have ever caressed within the palm of my hands. Her newborn fingernails were surprisingly long at birth, so much so that we realised her nails would need to be trimmed shortly after her first bath. The vernix caseosa was thick and creamy white at birth. We delayed her first bath until the afternoon of her second day to allow the vernix to moisturise and protect her skin.
Her first three days were spent wrapped in tiny white cotton hospital gowns so small they looked as though they had been designed for dolls and yet somehow appeared loose and oversized on her tiny frame. I was surprised at how often her cloth nappies would soak through almost immediately following a feed. Our routine became feed, burp, soothe, change her nappy and tightly secure with happy snaps, sleep, repeat. The sticky dark meconium, thick and tar-like was a little harder to wipe from her skin than I had anticipated however, it only lasted for three or so days before I began to produce milk.
Her eyebrows were so faint, they appeared to vanish in dim light and her tiny eyelashes, almost invisible at birth began to extend a little beyond her eyelids in the first week. Tiny flakes of skin peeled from hands and feet and lips in her first days- I was not expecting this but they soon healed. The outer edges of her tiny ears were covered in the finest black hairs and her first sneeze, almost a squeak, melted our hearts.
I had stocked up on cloth nappies, which were washed and line dried, soft and ready for use in the weeks before she arrived however, I did not expect the adjustable nappies to be too large for her and so we used the disposable newborn nappies gifted to me from my work at my farewell. I'm environmentally conscious and reluctantly packed these nappies as an afterthought, thinking at the time that I probably would not use them but they were very much needed at our discharge from hospital. Thank you, dear work friends, for your kindness.
On her discharge from hospital we discussed several medical matters with a paediatrician, including her jaundice. Most babies have some level of jaundice in the days to weeks following birth and so we were instructed to be vigilant in monitoring her appearance and behaviour for any signs of increased yellowing of her skin and the whites of her eyes and excessive sleepiness. This baffled me somewhat as I had no way to gauge whether this newborn of ours was overly sleepy or not, or whether she was jaundiced due to some health complication or merely due to the breastmilk or her Chinese-Malaysian heritage (more on this in my second post-birth instalment, her Second Month).
This baby loves to be bathed, she relaxes and floats, her head supported above the water by my forearm as I gently trickle warm water over her skin. She is not so relaxed when it comes time to dry her and so we heat her towels first by draping them over an oil heater and work as quickly and carefully as possible to dry her before her tiny body loses too much warmth. I have found that the best way to comfort her post-bathing is to offer her my breast and allow her to self-soothe as she drinks until she sleeps. This is a quiet, beautiful time for us to bond. Baby Love, I learn so much about motherhood from you during these precious, fleeting moments.
Papa: Papa was not permitted to stay over night and so he visited every day for the whole day, with small excursions to purchase supplies in town. Slippers for mama, gluten free snacks. He brought my phone charger from home (I assume many women accidentally forget certain items from their hospital bag), along with our camera which was not present during her birth. I had wanted to document the event prior to labour but our priorities changed a day or two beforehand when we decided we'd rather focus on what was happening, rather than Byron standing back to take photographs.
Watching him with her was like experiencing my heart double in size and fill with love. Two people who mean everything to me. He looked both nervous and natural with her as he cradled her in his arms and softly sang Hokkien baby songs to encourage her to relax and sleep. Mai hau, mai hau, oh oh oh.
Mama: I still cannot quite believe that my left foot was infected during this whole process. I limped around throughout her birth and afterwards. It made night time feeds and changes, going to the bathroom, turning over in bed, any movement involving my foot uncomfortable.
Her first feed was from my right breast, in the bright lights of the birthing suite. She latched perfectly and suckled for a short time as Byron and I cooed and cried with happiness. Any woman who has breast fed from birth could tell you that colostrum feeds are frequent for the first three or so days. The hospital policy was that no baby should go six hours without a feed and so she fed every two to three hours for up to an hour at a time, switching between breasts after every 20 to 30 minutes. The length of each feed slowly tapered off to around ten to fifteen minutes by her fourth day and she fed less frequently due to her growing stomach staying fuller for longer.
I had stitches, many stitches which I began to notice after Love was fed, changed and nestled in her large clear cot beside my bed. When the lights were low and Byron had left for the evening and it was just the two of us, the discomfort of the aftermath of birth began to settle in. Coupled with the occasional twinge of afterbirth contractions with every feed and a catheter which became blocked, her first night was a challenging one. I recall buzzing the midwives three times to request the catheter be removed as I felt uncomfortable, like my bladder was full. After two midwives came and went without touching the catheter as 'the doctor would need to ok it's removal first' and my third button call did not result in anyone coming to assist me, I pulled myself out of bed and limped along the corridor until I reached the nurses desk. I explained how uncomfortable I felt and that I believed the catheter was obstructed or twisted or something as I needed to use the bathroom. For the third time I was told that a doctor would need to approve the removal of the catheter when he or she came on shift.
As the sun rose on her second day, a friendly midwife came on shift and offered to check my catheter. 'Oh dear, it appears to be blocked' she chirped and promptly removed it. I was instructed to void into a bed pan positioned over the toilet. 1.3 litres, say that slowly to yourself... Thirteen ... Hundred... Millilitres was collected. Surely that has to be some kind of record...
I managed to sleep for two hours each night for the first three nights. I recall staring at the thin black hands of the white wall clock at the end of my bed and feeling disbelief at how rapidly the hours ticked by, all the while wishing for the sun to rise so Byron could visit at 8am and I could safely leave her in his care whilst I showered.
By her third day I had slept only six out of 72 hours and the feelings of self-doubt and exhaustion quickly began to creep under my skin causing me to cry. I was overwhelmed but felt like I would endure the exhaustion for as long as it took. When I was unable to settle her on our last night in hospital, one of the midwives quietly walked into my room, offered to take her from my arms and told me not to worry about crying, it was just the three day blues caused by the raging hormones and lack of sleep. She reassured me that many mothers experience this moment and though I tried to settle my baby, I may have actually been overstimulating her due to the scent of my breastmilk. I hobbled along the corridor to collect ice from the patient fridge for my swelling and broke down on my return to my bed when Love began to cry as soon as I entered the room.
'Don't cry dear' the midwife soothed, 'She can smell you, she knows it's you, that's all.' That was the moment I realised how difficult parenthood could be.
Appetite: I did not expect to feel so ravenous and yet I managed to devour the meals provided from egg salad, with sides of yoghurt and fruit, dry gluten free bread with strawberry jam and honey, to mashed potato with salmon, steamed vegetables and small cartons of milk. I ate everything brought to my table, a sign perhaps that I required the fuel to produce breast milk and energy to tend to her at any hour. I even nibbled on some chocolate at 3am following one feed as I needed the energy. Thankfully, Byron brought coconut water and bananas with him when he visited.
By the evening of her third day... Helloooo milk. My misshapen breasts were fully engorged and uncomfortable. Physically I looked as if I had undergone a radical breast augmentation where uneven implants too large for my frame were inserted. Milk over supply is an understatement and if it weren't for thick cotton breast pads, I would have saturated every shirt I wore. Thank goodness Love had an appetite to rival my own.
Most evenings I drank over one litre of water to quench my thirst and keep up the supply. I generally know when Love is due for a feed by the size and slight discomfort level of my bust. We'll get there baby girl...
In terms of what I am producing, I am unable to breakdown cellulose (like the rest of us) and so my high fibre diet must contribute to bowel movements. The first movement post-birth is tricky and you may find that you experience some constipation. For those of you who are yet to deliver, keep up those fluids, the fibre and regular gentle exercise. As for the rest of the mamas out there, I can imagine you silently nodding in agreement. It's not pleasant but it is necessary so looking after yourself is key. Apart from the healthy diet and water, when attempting the post-birth number two, I ensured my legs were slightly elevated by lifting my heels (you could use a foot stool), pressing down into my toes, leaning my body forward and remembering to breathe, not strain. Don't be surprised if your first movements have changed in form, frequency or colour, simply take it easy and ask for assistance if needed.
The majority of week one was spent with myself on bed rest when I wasn't feeding, changing, showering or using the bathroom. I sat up in my bed and watched over her as she slept.
The room: Our home for the first three days of her life. I shared a room with a girl from our antenatal class. I was so grateful to have someone as new to this experience as I resting behind a thick green curtain. At different times throughout the night we would apologise to one another for making noise and not knowing how to respond to the different cries and stirring noises made by our newborn babies, their births separated by two hours and two walls. We were supportive of one another and I was grateful that I wasn't alone with Love for her first night.
Bunches of blooming flowers began to arrive at the hospital in the hours following her birth. Every morning a pair of elderly women in musk pink coloured polo shirts would arrive to place the flowers in vases.
Visitors in the form of family members came to see us the morning following her birth. This was an emotional time and one I won't soon forget.
The midwives were friendly, helpful and supportive, especially our student midwife, with whom we formed a very special bond. Baby Love is named after her, we shared this news with her as she stroked my forehead during labour.
'If it's a girl, we decided to name her after you' Byron told her.
'Now I know it's a girl' she smiled as she sat next to the birthing pool, counting with me through each surge.
Home: On her third day we were discharged from hospital. Unexpectedly, I had mixed emotions about this. On the one hand I was excited to be heading back to the comfort of our own bed, our own food, the sound of the ocean, seeing our fur babies (Max and Coco) and welcoming baby Love to her first home. However, this also meant no more support from the midwives, no more meals delivered to my bedside (or so I thought at the time), and the security of knowing we were where we needed to be should she require urgent medical attention.
The drive home was slow, I sat in the backseat watching over my tiny baby in her car seat with the attention of a hawk. Byron asked for regular updates every few minutes as I narrated her sleeping posture, tiny pursed lips and clenched fists.
We arrived home in the late afternoon, warm golden rays of sunlight penetrated the spikey leaves of the pandas trees casting long shadows across our driveway. As the winter sun dipped low in the sky, Byron unclipped baby Love from her car seat as I took a tiny newborn singlet which Love had worn inside our house where our little dog trembled with excitement and possible anxiety from our three day long separation. She yelped a high pitch bark and leaped from lounge to floor to lounge again, unable to sit still. I wrapped my hands around her small furry chest to calm her down, her heartbeat pounding away at alarming speed. Next, I produced the singlet for her to sniff the baby's scent but to my surprise and horror, Coco ripped the singlet from my fingertips and shook the fabric so violently it appeared as though she was trying to kill it.
It was then that I realised that she was playing and did not grasp what I was trying to do. Seconds later Byron appeared at the door holding our tiny daughter. Coco began to bark again and we hushed her through gritted teeth. Byron knelt down with Love and Coco raced over to him before skidding to a halt to cautiously sniff the baby. The moment of truth... She appeared unsure before racing back to me, too excited at my return.
Home life was a flurry of quiet helpers washing clothes, preparing meals, bringing each meal to my bedside on an aqua fold away tray table. Home was navigating my way to the bathroom in the darkness, passed the bassinet and air mattress in the middle of the floor where our sister slept soundly. I was somewhat confined, per Chinese culture to rest for the first month with Love. Home was bed rest, neighbourhood visitors who dropped off gifts and cards of congratulations without seeing Love as she slept. Home was greeting one very excited little dog who thought I had forgotten her and one apathetic cat, who really couldn't care less about the additional human. Home was receiving ang pau (traditional red packets containing gifts of money for Love) from Byron's family, late night discussions on religion, quiet celebration, joy, and bittersweet happiness that Byron's family had the opportunity to meet Love briefly before they returned home to Sydney and Dubai.
My infected foot and post-birth healing continued, and my milk (over) supply was still all over the place. Baby Love had her very first outing to a nearby coastal village. That evening I woke up drenched in breast milk and had caught a cold. My mother-in-law (Mom) had remained to provide assistance to us and Oh! The food! Hands down the fastest recovery time for a cold, thanks to the delicious meals prepared by Mom and the mandatory bed rest. Mom helped out a lot, I was left wondering, have the fairies been here? Her family recipe for chicken essence ensured my breastmilk (neng neng) continued to flow, and on many occasions, squirt.
Each morning we woke to find that her little features had changed overnight, her little nose was no longer flat, her blue eyes had begun to cloud, her fingernails were longer. Her tiny pearly white milk spots (milia) on her nose had begun to disappear.
I was fearful of cutting her with the infant nail clippers and scissors as her fingers were tiny. If she flinched, as she sometimes did with the Moro (startle) reflex, I risked snipping her skin and so we covered her hands with mittens or baby socks; socks were preferable as they stayed in place.
We had a home visit from a local midwife who weighed her and discussed breast feeding and support services in our local area. I was pleased to learn that she had regained almost all of the weight she lost in hospital and should continue to gain between 150 to 200 grams per week in the first month or so. Her jaundice was still concerning and so we were instructed to expose her to morning sunlight for short periods. It was either sunshine or formula and that for me is a last resort, if at all.
Mom returned to Dubai this week and Byron extended his leave from one fortnight to one month. This week heralded the beginning of our quiet little life of three (plus Coco and Maxi). We coped surprisingly well, settling into our daily rhythm. Love feeds on demand, there are no routines or 'trying to fill her up' before bed. We co-sleep together, all three of us, which assists me with night time feeds as I don't need to get out of bed as often. My stitches continue to heal, although none have dissolved yet.
Love is reaching new milestones, she holds mutual gaze for a few extra seconds compared to her first week and she can throw her head backwards when I burp her. I take this as a sign that she is gaining strength in her neck muscles but I do need to be careful to support her properly particularly when she flops forward as her face has bumped against my collarbone and that is painful, Mama.
We attended her second midwife appointment this week, only this time we ventured to the next town. Love is steadily gaining weight and has now been called 'a little guts', which I wasn't too impressed to hear. Yes, she feeds well. No, she is not a guts, she is hungry and gaining weight as she should. I am not spoiling my daughter by feeding her.
Our friends Jade and Jimmy came to visit. Jimmy cooked Morrocan chicken with Arab rice as we talked about parenthood, Jimmy's childhood in Saudi and how the weather is gradually warming up in Armidale, where they live. This was our first social interaction with friends since before she was born and it was truly relaxing to be in their company. Jade told me how in Chinese culture it is customary to shave a baby's head at their one month birthday and to celebrate their full moon with a party. We're not going to shave the soft, fine strands of her precious chocolate hair but I do like the idea of celebrating her full moon, even if it's just the three of us.
This was Papa's last week at home before work. I recall having similar feelings to that first night, of being nervous at the thought of being alone with her, wondering if I am competent at being a mama. Can I cope for the hours with just the two of us? Can I really care for her without the midwife/ family/ Papa safety net?
Has it really been one month already?! Where has the time gone? How did she grow so quickly?
She sounds different now, her noises for food differ to those she makes for wanting to be held or changed, she's learning and so are we. She's even beginning to enjoy tummy time, which is a vast improvement on week one where she either slept or cried when placed on her tummy. Our baby girl can lift her tiny head, sure it shakes and bobs, much like her limb movements but they tremble less. She's gaining strength with each passing day.
So here we are, at her full moon, her first month in this bright, noisy and confronting world. Learning the different cries is an ongoing process. I'm not going to claim that I know what each sound she makes means. I go through the little checklist. Is she hungry? Uncomfortable? Wet? Too warm or cool? Does she want to be held? Is she unwell? Over or under stimulated? We're learning together, from one another and it's beautiful.
When she was born her tiny eyelashes were so fine they were almost invisible. Gazing down on her as she feeds, I can see the gentle upward curve of her eyelashes form as she grows each week. Her eyes, once a deep blue are beginning to change colour. We wonder whether they will be as dark and alluring as her papa's espresso eyes or perhaps a lighter shade of chocolate, like mine.
There is no place I'd rather be than right here, watching the rise and fall of her tiny body as she nestles close to my heart.