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The real ever afterHE WALKS up to her, sweeps her into his arms and they gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes. Hand in hand, they walk into the sunset.

The ethereal nature of this scene has crept up many times during the twilight years of my adolescence and later in my twenties.

I searched for the ever after, the beautiful union with a soulmate who would complete and protect me. I looked for the magic that only some of us are lucky to find, while others may never, no matter how long they live.

Throughout this search, and explorations that could be best described as meanderings, I encountered those stars-in-our-eyes moments, variations of “walks into the sunset” and “butterflies fluttering in the stomach.”

Perhaps a result of my parents’ realist nurture, at the end of the day after all the candlelit dinners, serenading and romantic holidays have faded, all that mattered to me was whether the person before me would have my back if ever my world fell apart.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in romantic love, it’s just not in the way that we have been led to believe.

Now that I am married and with a child, I appear to be living in the “ever after,” the part that Disney cartoons often end with but have rarely explained.

Far from living in a palace and wearing expensive ballgowns, my palace is strewn with early learning toys and baby books, and my outfit of the day is often a comfy pair of cotton pyjamas. And as I wash pureed soup off my baby’s bowl one night, I see the reflection of the woman standing before me. Her hair is coiled up in a bun and eye bags testified nine months of sleep deprivation.

Even without children, couples that have been together for a long time rarely love each other like they used to. Love changes over time because our lives change, and if you had the luxury of being with the same person your whole life, you get to grow up together and witness the mental, emotional and spiritual growth that takes place at intervening time and space.

Although I didn’t have the opportunity to meet my husband at 18, I’ve certainly experienced spiritual growth while — and perhaps, because — he is in my life. Where once I would swoon over a bouquet of red roses and dinner in a fancy restaurant, I’m now stoked if he rises at 6am to take our daughter out to the living room for her breakfast so I can have a lie-in.

Anyone can give you flowers but who will, before they leave for work in the morning, clean the house and put a meal in the slow-cooker so you will be able to spend quality time with your baby?

Who will volunteer to come straight back from a long day at work only to go straight to rocking our baby to sleep all night so you can go out with your friends in the evening? Much more meaningful than any serenade or fancy poetry, my hubby listens to every word of my dreams and worries and seeks to transform these situations in the ways that he knows how.

In return for his hard work, he rarely gets more than a “thank you” for it. The same goes for me, I look after our daughter all day, in sickness and in health, without so much of a “thank you.”

Here’s the thing, it’s expected of us to care and provide for our family in the roles that we have conformed to. We maintain a rigorous operation of child rearing and home keeping, day in day out, potentially until our daughter leaves home for university.

My wise friend Julian once told me that the hallmark of a successful relationship is in how well you both withstand pressure together. And life is full of pressure, from work, dealing with a messy house, commute in busy traffic, making deadlines, keeping up with finances and looking after a baby who’s grouchy from a stubborn cold.

Studies show that new parents experience 40% increase in arguments, about trivial things from whose turn it is to do the washing up to who needs to wake up for the baby when they’re both sleep deprived. These situations are far from distinct; it’s just that no one ever talks about them.

The secret to surviving marital or new-parents pressure is to learn to shift the blame from “you” to “we.” Perhaps we are both at fault, and while you are at it, you can try changing accusing statements into the ones that can resolve a situation.

When you are both feeling stretched by the stressful routine, remember to come up for air.

If you have to fight, walk and fight. Many arguments stem more from being cooped up together in confined spaces than from the issue at hand.

Arrange a weekend away to unplug, do something fun. Just because you live in the ever-after, you don’t have to stop searching for magic in your life.

As Roald Dahl, the most celebrated children’s book author, wrote, “And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

May you live in a happy and real ever-after.

As published in June’s online and paper edition of The Star Metro.

9035949895_77fcdbc0fd_bJust as I plopped on the comfy sofa that I had forgotten I even owned, her cry began.

The distinctive all-out cry of my beloved offspring, intended just for me, as only her mother would suffice.

Even when I’m in the midst of writing this article and I know that my baby is safe with my husband, I cannot ignore it.

It’s nature’s trickery on us mothers, as we are biologically wired to respond to our baby’s distinct cries.

A study from the University of Trento, Italy, in 2013 shows that a mother is interrupted from her thoughts when exposed to the sounds of a baby’s hunger, whereas men can carry on without interruption.

It is exactly this biochemical composition that turned me into the “Hugger mum” that I’ve become – who, according to Oliver James, the author of How Not to F*** Them Up — “is a mother who places the needs of the baby ahead of everything.”

The baby may sleep in the Hugger’s bed, be fed on demand and made into the centre of her world.

In early infancy, my baby cried a lot, as though she was grumpy at being expelled from the gold class accommodation that was my womb, where her needs of survival and warmth were met consistently and I’ve naturally tried to accommodate her every need since.

Eight months have passed and I’ve learnt so much about love, maternal nurturing and devotion, but the problem with being a “Hugger” is that you don’t have much time to pursue your own goals.

My maternal instinct is telling me that dancing to Old MacDonald Had A Farmnursery rhyme at this time in my life is natural and I should embrace it, but my inner drive to pursue my own ambitions is also burning stronger by the day and pulling me in the opposite direction.

From a young age I have been career-orientated, fighting hard for the next qualification and pursuing ambitious goals, as they seemed to quench my thirst for growth.

While I have submitted to the idea that my career would be on plateau for a while, I still need to challenge my mind with activities on top of spending most of my days speaking in high-pitched syllables, singing nursery rhymes and dancing around the living room.

Back home in Malaysia, it’s very common for a mother to return to her career within a few months of giving birth and although I wouldn’t want to give up the one-year maternity leave that we are luckily entitled to in Britain, I would certainly make good use of the willing hands of my family to play with baby while I took some much needed downtime.

No doubt choosing to live in London has countless advantages for me and my daughter, such as the wealth of nature and parks to stroll in, the easy transport links to take us around the city and lots of baby-orientated classes on our doorstep, but there is one very big disadvantage that has been playing on my mind for some time and that is that I am far from the helping hands of my family.

Without their help to take care of my daughter whom I feel is still too young to be put in a nursery, I’m left with limited options.

Like many mothers before me, perhaps I could create a part-time career for myself which involves my baby as my main source of inspiration.

There are plenty of services I need as a mother that aren’t available around me, so finding a gap in the market isn’t difficult.

Whether it’s organising a local playgroup, writing books for children or selling homemade baby items, there are endless possibilities.

Since becoming a mother, I’ve felt a shift in my perception of my ideal future.

When I witnessed the innocence of infancy first-hand – where wealth means nothing to a baby and being outdoors brings a huge smile to her face – I found myself striving for something more spiritually fulfilling than a desk job. One that involves creating things with my hands that will enrich someone else’s life.

However, all of these ideas must start with a seed to sow and nurture and that is exactly what I try to do in these rare moments of calm when my mind settles just enough to envisage a potential future with the right balance for my baby and myself.

And so, until the baby alarm inevitably propels me off the sofa, I will continue to plan my dream future.

> Samantha Hiew has been in the UK for the past decade.

As published in May’s online and paper edition of The Star Metro.

A fortnight has passed since we returned from our holiday in Malaysia.

Coming back to London, it struck me just how quiet my home is compared to my parents’ and how different this city is to Kuala Lumpur — the people, the infrastructure, the mentality and the attitude to friends. Published in April’s online and paper edition of The Star Metro.

AT THE time of writing this, I have been housebound for six days. Aside from trips to the paediatrician in the past week, I have been spending Chinese New Year (CNY) indoors nursing my sick baby. Published in March’s online and paper edition of The Star Metro. 

This year marks the first time in ten years that I’ve been in Malaysia for Chinese New Year. Gone are the carefree travelling days of strolling down the airport’s moving walkways with my freshly blow-dried hair waving in the wind, perhaps reading a good book before casting a wistful look over London as the plane takes off. Published in February’s paper edition of The Star Metro. 

As I look out of the bedroom window to rolling hills and snow capped mountains in the horizon, I reminisced on all the different window views I’ve had on the last day of every year since I left Malaysia in 2004. Published in January’s paper and online edition of the Star Metro.

It seems that my current state is what my younger self had always wished for.

As far as happy ending goes in rom-coms, this is the part where the guy holds the girl’s hand and they walk into the sunset. Or in Disney cartoons, the happy-ever-after. Published in December’s paper and online edition of The Star Metro.

In recent weeks, my 9 week old Raphie had begun to recognise faces and became increasingly aware of the arty decor, books, and toys in our home. So, I thought it would be interesting to see whether she would like a soothing massage. Published in November’s paper edition of The Star Metro.   

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.

Published in October’s paper and online edition of The Star Metro. 

 

As I begin writing this, my 9-day old daughter is breathing gently on my chest. I am trying to balance an F5-sized moleskin, a sleeping baby, muslin square and feeding cup on my body – a feat that seemed utterly impossible just days ago. As they say, it does get better. Published in September’s paper and online edition of The Star Metro.