Friday, March 16, 2018


There is a photo - amongst hundreds of photos - that I love of me and my son.

It is early morning, and the sun is streaming into the room we sleep in. I am smiling up at the camera, bare-faced; eyes full of contentment. He is sprawled on my chest asleep, a wild mess of chestnut brown hair pushing into my chin and one chubby arm extended upwards past my shoulder, fingers curled into a fist.

Every time I look at that photo of us, I am reminded of the unrescindable bond between us - that of a mother and child. After he was born, I had a vision of us meeting underwater in a vast ocean, seeing each other for the first time - me, reaching out to him and he, swimming steadily towards me. It was very much a sense of, "Ah, there you are." Because I had waited for him all my life.

It is a more romanticised version of how we actually first met, with me having labored for 42 hours and losing four pints of blood and him being abruptly pulled from me with forceps, sustaining significant bruising, given five "rescue breaths" and rushed to special care without us having any skin-to-skin contact. I was in a daze when they brought him to my side in the operating room, my finger just grazing his cheek. Even then, his eyes flickered toward me as I said shakily, "Hello, sweetie."

I didn't see him for 36 hours after that.

But - as crazy as it sounds - we already had an inexplicable connection. After all, he spent 8 months residing within me, his arms and legs stretching as they do now when I pick him up for night-time feeds.

In his early days, doctor worried that he hadn't passed his first meconium, the dark, tarry stool that newborns produce. They murmured about possible blockages and x-rayed his abdomen as he lay in his incubator receiving phototherapy for jaundice - wires connected to his hands, nose, chest, and feet.

So I asked to hold him, and the first thing I did was cup his knees: to feel the familiarity of them under my hands, as they had felt jutting out under my ribs when I was pregnant. Then I patted his bottom, just like I did when I was pregnant with him. And he let out a little heave and voila: he pooped! I laughed and felt like a miracle worker.

Two days after we'd been discharged, we were readmitted to the hospital again. Doctors told me I needed to feed him 60 ml of formula or breast milk on a three-hourly basis, to boost his plummeting weight. "It would be exhausting and impossible for you to express 60 ml of milk for him at each feed," the consultant explained. Having exclusively breastfed him for the first couple weeks of his life, I stared at the empty bottles and teats they placed before me and cried. Then I stared at the bottles of formula they'd put on the table and cried harder.

So, I sat and proceeded to express 130 ml of breast milk in one sitting - and continued to express at least 60 ml for him after every short stint of nursing.

I did this despite my body being in the full throes of exhaustion and recovery. I was fatigued and beside myself with worry. At just over a week postpartum, I could barely walk from the hospital bed beside him to the bathroom down the hall - I shuffled and grimaced in pain every time I sat down.

I cried all the time.

But somehow, my body continued to provide for him.

So I laughed when I read the concerned email my dad sent me yesterday, saying I looked "tired and wasted" in that beloved photo of me and my son. I read it while nursing him at midnight, stroking the chubby folds of his neck as he suckled in a dream-like state.

Because, to me, I have never looked more beautiful, or healthier, or happier.

Even though I'm my son's mother, I hadn't felt that way until I saw myself in that photo - mothering. I fed him, bathed him, advocated for him, and worried tremendously about him ... but I still didn't feel like a mother.

But now I notice how he reacts when I walk into the room or when he hears my voice; when he falls asleep against me when I take him out for a walk in the sling, or when he curls his fingers around mine and brings it into his chest as I feed him.

And that grainy photo, taken on my phone, of the two of us, is a reminder of all these things.

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