About My Baby’s Nose…

Baby 3
Note: This baby does not come with a free Photoshop App

Last week, when we were on our regular walk in the park, an elderly lady came up to us and pinched Lily’s cheeks. We exchanged greetings and as she walked away, I heard her mutter softly under her breath (not for my ears, of course): “She is cute, but her nose is too flat.”

At that time, I didn’t think to react. She seemed like a kindly lady, and she is of course entitled to her opinion. But that night, I found myself telling my husband about it. And over the next few days, it simmers and stewed in my mind.

Yes, the minute they placed Lily in my arms, she became the most beautiful thing on Earth I’ve ever seen. I’m sure other mothers can relate to this feeling. But of course, I don’t expect the world to feel the same way.

Without my special mummy lenses, Lily is a regular baby. Many people still can’t tell if she’s a boy or a girl. If you really want to run a physical audit like that elderly lady, you could also say her nose might be sharper, her eyes could be bigger, and her thighs a little thinner.

But couldn’t you say the same thing for just about 98% of us – non-babies included? If you were to look at me, I know there are at least 10 things that you could change for the better. Scratch that – probably substantially more than 10 things.

And I’ll be the first to admit that throughout my teenage and early adult years, I was fixated on these imperfections. At an unconscious level, I have always felt ugly. If you told me that I could fix my imperfections non-surgically, I’d sign up in a heartbeat.

Thinking back, I realise that ironically, at a time in my life when I was supposed to experience the most freedom, I was instead shackled to this overwhelming sense of imperfection and inadequacy. Before I ran in the rain, I’d worry about whether my dark eye circles would show after my concealer washes off, or if I was wearing the right bra for getting wet.

And I suspect it’s inevitable that my baby will feel this way in her teenage years as well. But she certainly shouldn’t feel this way at the age of ten-and-a-half-months old, not at the age of five, not even at ten!

What I want for Lily is to experience freedom in her childhood. To run till her clothes stick to her back, and she smells of salt, sunshine and grass.

To dash through the rain, splash across the river in our park, and roll on the floor with my chihuahua and cats. To know unbridled happiness, and free-spirited beauty without worrying about what others think of her and the way she looks.

I hope that even when she grows up, and even if the world catches up with her and she’s buried under makeup and corporate politics, she will always keep this sacred space inside her. Somewhere in her heart, she will always remember what true beauty is, and what real happiness feels like. And anytime she gets tired of the flavour of bullshit the world is serving, she can always return to this.

If I do this right (and I really hope I can come close), this is what I wish for her.

So for the moment, I really wish to protect her from debilitating self-consciousness. From criticism on how she might be prettier if her nose were sharper or her eyes were bigger. But I also want to protect her from well-meaning physical compliments – the most common one being how fair and translucent her skin is – which in my opinion, is a totally archaic standard of beauty in Singapore. I don’t wish her to concern herself with such vain and superficial things.

What I wish for her to know is how beautifully her eyes twinkle when she’s happy – like the fairy lights at Christmas; and how bright her laughter rings – like a wind chime just before rain. I want her to know how perfect she is in every way – because I am her mother, and I am allowed to be biased. And with that knowledge and security, I want her to explore the world with more confidence than I had.

The wound is the place where the light enters you

Exactly 8 months ago, a lot of light entered me.

At that time, as I lay paralysed, half-naked and fully conscious in a room where masked men were cutting me open, it felt like a blood-red full-coloured reenactment of an old black-and-white horror movie.

Surprisingly, it probably only took 5 to 8 minutes to cut through the seven layers – skin, fat, the coating outside the abs, the abs, that layer surrounding the organs, the loose peritoneum, and the uterus. (But then again, it only takes 18 seconds to debone a chicken, according to YouTube.)

Through the crack, they pushed you out – wet, wide-eyed and wriggling. You were such a funny little thing. They lay you in my arms even before they stitched me up. There was still a gaping hole in my middle. I craned my head forward to kiss you but I forgot to smell you. I should have memorised your smell.

You felt so small – almost weightless – it felt unreal. But you seemed to relax in my arms, as if you trusted me. And I think it was at that very moment that I decided I’d do my best for you. In the passion of the moment…… theoretically…… yes, for you, I’ll always do my best.

Then I brought you home, and the first couple of months became the most difficult two months of my life. I know some mothers are naturals. Not me. I was (am still) a mess. You were too small to latch, you were not drinking enough, you were not growing healthily, I was sleeping one hour at a time, I was still recovering from my wound, I still had work obligations, and Daddy started quarrelling with the nanny.

You know, those images that show mothers in an otherworldly Goddess-of-the-earth Gaia-like glow? Lies! Either that, or they have superior DNA. Because I’ve never felt uglier in my life.

I had probably put on 18kg and was sweating like a middle aged man. But because of a list of archaic confinement beliefs (see number 4 on this HoneyKidsAsia list), I could only take a herbal bath once a day and was not allowed to sit in front of a fan. As you can imagine, at 33°C, I felt and smelt like a decomposing piece of very fatty pork.

Another confinement practise I absolutely hated – I had to blow my hair dry every day. Who gets a blowout when they don’t have time to sleep? – I ask you. I just rushed through it, putting the hairdryer way too close to my strands that I emerged from my confinement with fried locks. So if you would, please add to your mental image a decomposing pig with burnt frizzy hair that stuck out in all directions. (Click here for furry pigs that look like sheep if you need a pictorial representation)

There are other visible scars. The wound, which I was afraid to even look at, was at first, a weird shade of mangosteen purple. My eye bags and dark circles looked like a bruised fruit that’d been dropped too many times , and no matter what I wore, I always smelt like spoilt milk.

I felt grotesque.

But it wasn’t just that my body had fallen apart. My old life, my world, seemed to have fallen to pieces too. My new weight and the heat made me feel completely exhausted, all the time. And it didn’t help that I didn’t have time for self-care, for self-repair, and to do the things that helped create my old sense of self. Things that I liked, did, watched, read and thought were suddenly effaced.

Because there is less time in a day, everything I do seem to come at a heavier opportunity cost now. Now, I’d think – if I met a friend, I’d miss my only chance to get some exercise this week. If I read a chapter of this book, I’d miss my evening walk with you. During the first few months, I struggled with this sense of confusion, helplessness, loss, guilt and self-loathing.

Despite my self-loathing, you blossomed each day, and your laughter and squeals now fills the house like a tinkling bell. How could someone like me bring such a spontaneous, happy, angelic creature into this world?

Because you are so happy, your joy and delight also seep through my cracks and fill me up. So that my imperfections are no longer just grotesque – they are also beautiful.

We are beautiful not in spite of imperfections, but because of them, right?

That’s what I’d hope to tell you when you feel insecure or inadequate in future.

And as I slowly pick up the pieces and continue to navigate this new world and new life, I am learning to embrace my cracks, imperfections and inadequacies; and cultivate a deeper sense of beauty in my life.

Because the wound is the place the light enters you.

(My first diary in 5 years – dedicated to my baby girl #LilyRaisin.