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Saturday, 4 October 2014

Trials of first-time parents

I WAS determined not to write about my baby. Surely there must be something else I can talk about.

But since I have been living and breathing parenthood in the past six weeks, nothing appears to be more rele-vant than my baby girl, Raphie.

Everything in my daily life these days is centred on baby, and one of the main reasons for this is the status that I’m currently known for — first-time parent.

It is easy to spot first-time parents — the ones who frequent the doctor’s clinic for every minute ailment such as a tiny rash on their baby, those with cameras following their babies on short trips to their local park, and the parents who own assorted (unnecessary) baby merchandise.

Life as first-time parents starts before the birth — in the antenatal classes where many others are bundled together in a room for a session similar to any support group where participants are encouraged to share their fears, ideals and future plans.

It is here that the truth sinks in, that first-time parents know nothing about parenting.

And they disguise this by assembling all the merchandise they think are needed for their baby’s nursery — moses basket, crib, cot, thermometer, state-of-the-art prams and travel systems, mobiles, bouncer seats, soft toys and everything else.

First-time parents have an overpowering desire to provide the best care, attention and comfort for their new babies.

The real reason for this lies in the fact that first-time parents in the western world often lack the support from other family members.

For example, in Malaysia, new parents often receive help from mum, dad, grandma and grandpa who live under one roof or in the vicinity, making parenting of a new baby a walk in the park compared to their Western counterparts.

This is what me and a dozen other new mums I’ve befriended through my antenatal class have in common — we live far away from our families and find ourselves in a situation where we are solely responsible for our infants and with not a clue in the world about what to do.

Some may argue that we are never alone in the Internet age, as in my case, where there are 20 other virtual parents (uncles, aunties and grandparents in Malaysia) looming over Raphie on WhatsApp and Skype, warning my husband and I about what we should or should not do when caring for our baby.

For instance, if I were still living in Malaysia, I would probably have to supplement breastfeeding with formula feeding as my mum thought that Raphie was not developing baby Michelin looks quickly enough.

Instead of trying 101 methods to soothe her whenever she cries, I have been advised to try the cry-it-out solution.

And when Raphie developed baby rash, which was an entirely normal thing to happen to an infant, I have been asked to take numerous precautions when handling her.

I hasten to add that breast-fed babies are leaner as they have an amazing ability to self-regulate their calorie intake according to their individual needs, and tend to be healthier in the long run.

Aside from that, soothing Raphie whenever she is upset comes naturally to me.

In doing so, I found out that it would help her feel safe and secure, and thus build the foundation of her self-confidence and self-esteem.

Fourteen books later (from breastfeeding specialist guides, baby whisperer and how to talk in baby language to a minute-by-minute guide on how to survive the first year) and 10 trips to the doctor’s clinic to weigh and examine Raphie, our brains swell with so many fandangle theories that we almost forget who we are, let alone what to have for dinner.

The truth is, this makes for a lonely, isolated experience. We are certainly doing our best to care for Raphie and do not need the extra parental guilt that have been piled on us, and not just by family.

For some reason, anyone who has been a mother and experienced caring for a child have the tendency to impart well-meaning but often conflicting advice too.

Babies are different, and what worked for them may not work on Raphie.

As first-time parents, the best thing we can do to survive the trials of new parenthood and to get through the fussy first three months of a baby’s life is to be proud of being new to it all.

The experience, challenging as it can be, will also provide delight and unmatched satisfaction, especially when you have overcome your baby’s developmental hurdles and they smile at you for the first time.

Meanwhile, you can amuse yourself and your partner by going out in matching family outfits, going for walks with a photo shoot set-up that will make everyone’s eyes water and turning off the Internet.

Your mothering instincts are enough.

As for me, I am beginning to settle into guilt-free parenthood where the love for my baby girl is growing ever more every day.

Last night when I woke up in the wee hours to feed her, the blue hue from dawn was just seeping through the window when her big gentle eyes looked up at me.

I just knew then, what they mean when they say parenting is the most rewarding experience in life.

By making life, you begin to understand life.

> Samantha Hiew has been in the UK for the last decade. Follow her stories on http://samanthahiew.com 

Tags / Keywords: Central Region , Tale of Two Cities , first time parent , Samantha Hiew

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