The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

When two become five – A family of five

on September 30, 2013

A journalist friend, Mrs Shell, got me thinking about how it’s not only the two years we thought we would spend in Singapore that have become five. Our family of two has now expanded to a family of five. I know! It’s because of the lack of gainful employment I suspect.

This weekend we celebrated the first Birthday of #3. A momentous occasion in the life calendar of all parents. With your first child it’s a celebration that you all made it through in one piece and applauding easier times ahead. With subsequent children, you know that once the initial sleep deprived nights pass, the rest of the year flies by and whilst things do get easier, they also become different. New challenges are at every turn and looking back, a baby is much easier to look after than a child that has selective hearing, no sense of urgency and a wonderful ability to answer back to everything. A baby only stays tiny and kitten like as depicted in that Athena poster with the bare chested buff male model, for a very short space of time and before you know it, you are wrestling with a lion cub. I am holding #3 upright seemingly in control and then without warning, she almost leaps out of my arms because she has spotted something she wants to eat off the floor.

When I expressed sadness over how fast #3 was growing up, a few people said “It’s time for another baby then’ but that of course is not the answer. On her Birthday, I thought I would be more upset that #3 has reached the end of the baby journey but I wasn’t because I can see that she’s ready to explore a bigger world. Instead, I am filled with pride and excitement over what will come next. For a long while it has felt like #1 and 2 plus the baby but the baby is growing up and playing less of a passive role with the older two and she wants us to get to know the little person she is becoming.

I won’t go into glorious technicolour detail over pregnancy, labour and birth but I will tell you a few things that will have marked my experience in Singapore so very different to my counterparts in the UK. With #1, I spent the first 21 weeks of care under the NHS with my notes all kept together in one folder (this is how I identified Mad Cat Woman as a fellow Brit as she too had one of these folders), switching between GP and hospital trainee midwife. In Singapore, all the pregnancy stuff, delivery and aftercare is led by one Obstetrician (so no personal notes for #2 and 3). An advantage is that you know and ought to feel relaxed with the person who is handling your ungainly position for the end result. If you should choose all the pain relief in the world that too is at your request and not restricted by NHS budgets or the availability of an anaesthetist. You can stay in a single room, or at most share with three other women, after delivery for two or three nights before returning home with your new addition. #1 and 2 were induced because I had pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure) and we actually checked into the private hospital the night before, like booking into a hotel with a porter to carry your bags to your room. #3 decided to arrive on her own which was very exciting to feel what going into labour was like and have a middle of the night taxi ride to the hospital.

There seems to be a fairly low pain threshold in Singapore, or a stronger belief that if you don’t need to suffer pain then why bother. A lot of Obstetricians and midwives advocate some form of pain relief and I know my Ob would have suggested a c-section if things did not progress as they should within a reasonable time frame. The focus is the safe arrival of the baby. #1 was delivered by forceps due to the unfortunate timing of taking pethidine (not to be repeated) and the course of nature suddenly gearing up a notch. It may not have been an ideal start and to this day I still don’t know what forceps look like but as Mrs BA said, after day 10 you’ll feel like a whole new person.

Whilst this may sound all rather good, there is little by way of alternative deliveries such as water births. It exists but at select hospitals. The biggest disadvantage I have found though, is that whilst your physical needs are met with meticulous attention, your emotional well being is not. There is no health care visitor to check that you are coping well. There are private centres where you can go and get your baby checked over by former midwives and attend New Mother’s Support Groups to meet other women which is what I did and met a wonderful group of new mums going through what I was. But you have to seek out these places yourself. Do you see why I place so much store with the women who helped me out so much at the start? You need people to look out for you because who else would know whether you were struggling a bit more than just the normal level of baby blues? Without family and an established support network around me, I was so afraid I would develop Post Natal Depression and nobody would be there that I worried about it a lot until Mrs BA told me ‘Do you think I’m not looking out for you? I would have told you if I thought it’. With that, my fear melted away because whilst I had this new baby to look after, someone else (besides Husband) was also looking out for me.

It cost us around $9,000 (£4,500) in all the medical fees for each child and that was the cheaper end of the scale. There’s a different price for an emergency c-section and an elective one is cheaper. I’m telling you this more out of interest than anything. I do feel very lucky though to have had consistent and good quality care. I rather like our Obstetrician, a very kindly, calm gentleman with salt and pepper hair who has a passion for bird watching. I think that’s what you want in a man who is delivering your baby. Bird watching requires patience and you don’t want to be told to hurry yourself along. I’ll never forget the moment #3 was about to pop out and I’m trying hard not to shout expletives and I see the Obstetrician stood in front of me in his checked shirt and tie with his pens sticking out of his top pocket going ‘Good, good, all looks well, I think it’s time’. You think? So then he gets his white coat on and his white wellies, pulls up a stool and brings along a bucket like he’s about to milk a cow.

There are no plans for #4, I am blessed with three and that is a privilege. I have met many people whose path to becoming parents has been long and stressful.

But just when I thought I would never see a brand new, freshly popped out baby again, you would never believe what fate had in store. Having only every stayed at the top end, I found myself in the middle just two months ago. I had arranged to meet an old neighbour for coffee before she was due to give birth soon and that morning she went into labour. It wasn’t a dramatic mad rush to the hospital that day but a rather leisurely one. Her Obstetrician said the baby wouldn’t arrive until late the next day or the day after. Even so I was full of nerves and anticipation because her husband was out of the country and not due back until the next morning. There was no back up and I became it! Morning arrived and the baby was obviously waiting for her Dad so I went back to normal business.

But things change. There was a rush to the hospital. I had #3 in the car with me and had to call Husband to come to the hospital in a taxi to take her home so I could go into the Delivery Room. If I had had any romantic notion of what being in labour was like (the mother in law once said to me it was a nice kind of pain), I soon didn’t. I watched her face grimacing with pain, gripping the sheets as the contractions grew stronger and more frequent; I felt her sucking in the gas and air for divine relief and I thought to myself, ‘I don’t think I’ll do this again’. Her husband did make it back in time, he arrived two hours before the baby did. I thought this would be my chance to exit but it wasn’t. She asked me to stay. I couldn’t say No. Of course I would help her in any way she needed. This was my own unplanned, unexpected adventure.

Have you ever tried to make yourself scarce in a small room with a woman in the throes of labour and just reunited with her husband she hasn’t seen for a few days? Talk about playing gooseberry. I tried to give them some space without seeming to give off the impression I’d rather be elsewhere. I wasn’t sure if I would throw up or faint, I’ve heard some men do. The atmosphere of expectation swelled. Then suddenly, it was time. The baby was on the way. The midwife asks my friend ‘Do you feel like passing motion?’. Why do they do that? Just at the critical stage where the pushing ought to start, you ask someone if they need to poo. If that isn’t going to hinder one’s ability to push for fear of shitting oneself in front of husband and strangers then I don’t know what will. There was a lot of commotion, a lot of yelling and shouting (I don’t know how Scientologists do it) and I could see she was so close at one end but ready to give up at the other with exhaustion and pain etched on her face. I really willed her on, encouraging her to give it some more power and she pulled on all her reserves and did it. She was such a trooper. The baby popped out landing surprisingly far from the exit, and everything was calm and peaceful. I never thought I would hold a minutes old brand new, freshly popped out baby again, hours old maybe but not minutes. It was such a special moment to hold this tiny purple faced bundle of gorgeous baby. Quite a memory to behold don’t you think?

I want to finish by telling you about my friend’s Obstetrician who came waltzing in all perfect make up and immaculate hair, dressed more for Afternoon Tea than to deliver a baby. She looks over and says in her softly spoken way, ‘How are we all doing?’, seemingly oblivious to my odd presence there and places her posh handbag over by the monitor to pop on her white coat but no wellies. Afterwards she beams a ‘Congratulations and well done’, picks up her posh handbag and exits the room with not a hair out of place, leaving me a gooseberry again. Needless to say I made a swift exit shortly afterwards to let this family get better acquainted. Was it weird to be with someone during their most vulnerable and emotionally raw time? It was beforehand, especially when I don’t know her that well but perhaps it was because of this which made it all ok. Would I do it again? I’m quite sure I would, you wouldn’t turn down someone when they needed you.

I never thought this mini series of posts would go on so long but I think I’ll be done by the next one. In the meantime, thanks for stopping by. I’ve reached over 1,200 total views on my blog now. I know some blogs have that kind of traffic (get me and my technical terms) every day but I’m only sharing this blog through Facebook with you so I’m rather pleased. I’m happy for you to share it further if you thought a post was sort of good. I also want you to start thinking of a story of your own that you are willing to share with me at some point. It’s not all about me you know.

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