The name of our son is Zef, and his chinese character has a 𦊊 inside. It's pronounced as tian1, same as 天. Now that character is so old schooled that the common dictionary does not have it, and it's quite hard to type it out in chinese. Now imagine we face the same issues when registering for the birth certificate at ICA. First, I was told that they couldn't type it in. The very nice officer hinted to me that perhaps I might want to change it to the more commonplace 天, but I firmly refused. Before our son was born, we actually went to the National library at Bugis, reference section, to check out the character. We took pictures of it, and I thought that would be good enough, but it wasn't. The officer went back and fro to consult her supervisors, and I was told that they need to have a cover of the dictionary, as well as the page with the character, in order for them to input that character into their system to process the birth certificate. And so I have to travel to the library again, photocopy the required dictionary cover (thankfully I still remember which!) and go back to ICA again. The officer accepted it, but made no promises that they can input the character into their system.
A few days later, I received a call from them and got the good news that I want. Sometimes in life, we just need to push through the difficulties. Everything is negotiable, and I'm definitely not going to let a little inconvenience get into the way of what I want.
Here's the letter from a mother to her son:
|Newborn babies are always photographed either sleeping or smiling. Why should photographs always be about happy memories? Both the good and bad are good memories to have. And so I'm going to take a photo of him crying|
In order to know who we are, and who we might be, it is essential to know how we came about into this world. Everyone has an ‘origin myth’, a tale of trials, tribulations and transformation. Before the myth gets muddled by the passing of time, I am going to tell you the legend of Zef, how you came into existence, and what meanings you might infer from it in the future.
You had been a great blessing right from the start. Your father and I had planned for a baby at the beginning of 2016, and we went for a health check to ascertain that we are both healthy and are able to start a family. The interesting thing is, during the health check, the doctor who was examining me advised me to have a child soon due to my age, and said that she’s seen many women who faced difficulties in conceiving. Her words affirmed my conviction, and your father and I began to try for a child. I was fully aware of that natural conception isn’t easy, and was entertaining all sorts of possibilities – ranging from IVF to adoption – if our attempt at natural conception was unsuccessful. However, much to our relief and pleasant surprise, you came along and responded to the ‘vacancy’ and was conceived ‘spontaneously’ without any medical interventions.
Since then, I’ve established a firm belief in the ‘natural’ ways, and when I was expecting, your father and I decided to have a ‘natural’ childbirth – a childbirth that involves minimum medical interventions. However, I soon discovered that the ‘natural’ childbirth that I had envisioned was deemed ‘unnatural’, even radical, in our modern society. In fact, childbirth had been ‘medicalised’, and the ‘medicalisation of childbirth’ was apparent in many aspects – from the ‘experts’ we can consult with, to the processes involved. For instance, I had to go to an obstetrician (OB) instead of a midwife, and that medical interventions pervaded all aspects of the delivery. Also, the delivery ward differs drastically from what is intended in nature. Animals seek out a closed, cosy and dark place to birth their young in seclusion. If you ever step into a delivery ward, you’ll notice that it is not the cosy and comfortable place intended by Nature. Instead, it is a clean, cold, and clinical venue that is marked by constant interference from the medical professionals. At one point in time, the nurse that was attending to me was walking in and out of the room nonchalantly during my contractions to get supplies, and I had to remind her to respect my privacy and knock before coming in. Thus from the very start, it was a battle to have the kind of ‘natural’ childbirth that we envisioned, which consists of the following 6 tenets:
1) Let Labor Begin On Its Own
2) Walk, Move, and Change Positions
3) Have Continuous Support
4) Avoid Unnecessary Interventions
5) Get Upright and Follow Urges to Push
6) Keep Your Baby With You After Birth
The first tenet of ‘natural’ childbirth is to ‘let labour begin on its own’. However, our plan for that was nearly thwarted because you were considered ‘overdue’ by the OB based on the estimated delivery date (EDD) of 24/01/2017, and he suggested that we induced the labour on the 31/01/2017 at 8am. I was rather distressed by the decision, and had even planned to resist it by skipping the appointment. Your father was very supportive of the rebellion, and pointed out that the given EDD is arbitrary, as the original was on the 27/01/2017, but had been revised to 24/01/2017. He even joked that if you don’t arrive on time, you’ll be ‘evicted’ on the 31/01/2017. Thankfully, you did not let us down, and decided to beat the doctor’s timing and announce your impending arrival by breaking the water bag at 6 am on the 31/01/2017. So you have decided that you’ll rather move on your own, than be induced by the OB.
The second tenet is to ‘walk, move, and change positions’. However, once we check into the delivery suite, mobility and movement is heavily restricted. For instance, once we are in the suite, we are not allowed to leave until you are born. So when we went in at 7 am, we were confined to that small space till you came out at 11 pm. Also, the focus of the room is the delivery bed, and is the central piece of equipment for the delivery. The labouring mother is expected to lie in the bed throughout the labour process and her movements are further restrained by the use of foetal and contractions monitoring pads. I had requested that I be allowed to move freely during the labour process and wanted the wireless monitoring pads so that I don’t have to be bed bound. After some difficulties I was finally given the wireless version. I also asked for a birthing ball to help me ease the pain in my birth plan. To my horror, they couldn’t find the copy of my birth plan, and said that they don’t provide the birthing ball due to hygiene. I was flabbergasted, as I’ve been practicing pain relieving techniques on a birthing ball during my entire pregnancy, and now when it’s time to tap on my practice, the key prop is missing! Eventually, I had use the doctor’s stool as a substitute for the birthing ball, and spent most of my time walking around the room, standing up and leaning over the bed and cabinet tops, and rolling from side to side on the stool. I was hardly on the bed throughout the whole process.
The third tenet is to ‘have continuous support’, and in fact this is one of the most crucial point. The irony is that the ‘expert’ I’ve engaged for the delivery was hardly there. The OB only appeared twice during the entire labour: when I first arrived to do a vaginal examination to determine my dilation, and when you are ‘crowning’. In between, I only have the constant support of your father, who was so committed that he even refused to leave my side and go for lunch. He was there all the time, feeding me snippets of snacks (nuts, bread and cream crackers) that we smuggled in and giving me sips of water in between the contractions. It is only when his hunger threatens to overwhelm him that he left for a short while to grab a sandwich and Milo at 4pm from the vending machine outside. Other than that, I have the intermittent support of the nurses that were on shift. I had three nurses due to the duration of the labour, and the last one was extremely supportive. I can still recall her confidence in me – “You can make it”.
The fourth tenet is to ‘avoid unnecessary interventions’, and this is one of the tenets which is the hardest to abide by. The medical interventions are pervasive – and they range from something as innocuous as placing the IV port on my left hand to facilitate the intravenous injection of medication when necessary to the use of ‘oxytocin’ to ‘augment’ the labour by making the contractions faster and harder and even the use of epidural to numb the pain of contractions. I refused to succumb to the use of epidural because I am wary of the impact that it has on you – the greater stress that you have to go through when the contractions becomes artificially stronger and longer. Both of us share the same sensations of the contracting uterus, albeit from different sides – you on the inside, and I on the outside. Although I can escape the pain by opting for epidural, I am determined to stand by you and go through the same discomfort that you have to experience. I will not escape the pain and leave you to face it alone. However, a medical officer came in during the later stage of my labour and attempted to persuade to opt for the epidural by dangling a deadline – the epidural can only be prescribed before the dilation has proceeded too far. Once the dilation reaches 9 cm, I’ll not be able to ask for the epidural. At that point in time when the offer was made, I was already delirious and weakened from the pain of contractions. It was your father, who affirmed my wishes, and declined the use of the epidural on my behalf.
The fifth tenet which is to ‘get upright and follow urges to push’ is also another challenge I’ve to face in the labour process. For instance, in order to have a more reliable reading of the foetal heart rate, I eventually had to swap the wireless monitoring pads for the wired ones, and this curtailed my movements and confined me to the bed. Also, the medical staff advised me against pushing, and wanted me to control the urge till I am fully dilated. However, the waves of contractions become increasing excruciating, and eventually I gave in to my instincts and followed my body’s cue to push. At one point in time, I even have to call the attending doctor to come in before the appointed time to examine me and to ascertain the dilation. However, the doctor was away for an emergency C Section, and it was the nurse who had to do the vaginal examination for me.
The last tenet was the only one which was fulfilled. When you were born, you were placed on my chest for a while before you were whisked away for a battery of tests like the Apgar score and cleaned up. The nurse also started to assist me to breastfeed you, and since then, I’ve been breastfeeding you all the while without the use of any formula milk.
So this is how you came into the world. So what meanings can you infer from such an arduous journey? The first important lesson is this: although there were trials and tribulations, we can overcome any adversities once we were certain of our convictions and made our stand. Once we were convinced that the ‘natural’ childbirth was what we wanted for you, we managed to persist and achieve our aim. Secondly, there will always be at least two people in the world, who loved you more than anything else, and is willing to go through thick and thin with you. When you were still in my belly, your father would often whisper this mantra to you:
“𦊊𦊊, 你还没出世, 但世上已有两个很喜欢你的人喔: 你的爸爸和妈妈!”
When I was in labour, I was determined to go through the pain so that we can go through the furnace together and forge a strong bond. I am honoured to have shared this wonderful journey with worthy companions like your father and you. Lastly, remember that you are a great blessing, and you are a strong boy who can stand by your mother stoically and endure an 18 hour long labour and did not cave in to the countless contractions. There may be pain, but there need not be fear, and I’m happy that you have proven yourself to be pro-bravery. You rose up to the test and managed to take the stresses and did not develop any signs of foetal distress like meconium in the amniotic fluid or a decrease in the heart rate, for if you do show such signs, then the only viable option would be an emergency C Section. Thank you for standing up to the struggles with me, and if you fight alongside with me, I will fight for you.
So the legend goes:
“Men become warriors through death and destruction;
Women become warriors through birth and creation.”
Well met, S/O (mother’s name). Welcome to the world, Zef.
Part 3: Comprehensive financial cost from pregnancy to birth