When I first got the news that I was pregnant, I told my sister first! The next person I told was my confinement lady. Yes, such a strange second choice. It was not because I was ‘kiasu’ and wanted to ‘book’ her immediately. It was not because I had no one else to tell. You see, I did not have an ordinary confinement lady.
For starters, she has a day job as the CFO of a public-listed entity. She has a very well-established career and there was really no need for her to be moonlighting as a confinement lady. Plus, she is a loving mother to 4 gregarious children, 2 in university in the UK and another 2 teenagers back in Malaysia. She is an active church member, especially gifted with the piano. She did not have any experience being a confinement lady either. She could not cook nor has she ever needed to, seeing as she has always had a live-in helper. She was familiar with some of the confinement practices, having been through 4 births but she was not an expert. Some women have their mothers or mothers-in-law as confinement companions, but she is neither to me.
So who is she to me? She is none other than my dearest cousin, several years older than I am as our fathers were brothers with a large age gap. Our families have always been close. In my early years as a child, I watched my cousin as a beautiful (what can I say, she is quite a looker) young graduate from University Malaya journey through her successful life and career. Somehow, she has always found the time for me, to encourage me through my childhood, my student years, my early working years, the death of my father, my wedding and I couldn’t think of anything better than having her with me at the beginning of my next adventure as a mother. Plus, I really had no clue what I was doing!
There I was, 40 weeks pregnant and still no sign of the baby yet. My cousin arrives at Heathrow airport from Malaysia, managing to pack 2 months’ worth of well labelled post-natal herbal remedies in her luggage bags from Eu Yan Sang AND the hugest double boiler I’ve ever laid my eyes on. She came armed with confinement food recipes and I could tell she was nervous as she’s never cooked before, in her life! We figured, as long as we added sesame oil and ginger, that would pretty much comply with the definition of confinement food. She looked stern when she found out that I’ve been trying to climb a hill every day in hopes of getting my contractions going. “You should be resting!” she said in a chiding tone, falling easily into her confinement lady role.
Incidentally or accidentally, I managed to leave out the fact that I was having a home birth.
Although completely horrified, I thought she took it pretty well. Her eyes were as round as saucers as I sat her down to explain that there will be two experienced home birth midwives present, we had the ambulance on speed dial and really, it will all be okay because I was healthy and had an uncomplicated, straightforward pregnancy. I wanted to avoid epidural and unnecessary interventions but I knew that she didn’t approve and she was worried. At that stage, she was probably leaving it all up to God!
The day of the birth came and went in a haze of contractions. I recall my cousin sitting in my small open plan kitchen on a stool while I was birthing (very noisily) in a birthing pool in the middle of my tiny living room. She had her eyes closed and her hands were clasped in prayer. She didn’t stop praying until V1’s cries were heard, a sign that all was well. My baby was caught and whooshed out of the water by my one and only amazing midwife (the second midwife didn’t arrive on time) and placed on my chest. My cousin continued to sit by the kitchen as I birthed the placenta (sorry cousin!) and later on, she helped me into bed after a hot shower.
The pursuant nights, I wouldn’t have been able to survive without her. My husband was with me but he needed his sleep as he had to function at work and I was breastfeeding V1 every 2 hours. Some nights she didn’t hear me wake but I realised just knowing that she was there in the next room made me feel calm. The days were bearable because she was there, making me smile with her anecdotes of her children, watching her cuddle and fawn over V1, talking to me about my dad and her dad. There were nights I would wake with V1 asleep in my arms and she was there, gently taking V1 away so I could get some sleep before the next feed. Other nights I would sneak past her room to change V1, hearing her breathing and sleeping soundly as she was exhausted as well. There were days when I was breastfeeding with severe mastitis and all I could remember was my cousin holding my hand and comforting me while I wept tears of pain.
She is extraordinary not because she knew everything or could do everything. She is extraordinary because she gave a little bit of herself with every dish she cooked and every load of laundry she washed, every nappy she changed, every bath she gave to V1. She did it all out of the goodness and kindness in her heart, without expecting anything in return. She had this power of making me feel strong and able, like I could soldier through anything. At the end of her 3 weeks stay, I was so sad to see her go. She left specific and stern instructions to my next confinement lady – my husband.
After a rather stressful confinement period with this writer, Ms C decided to stick to her day job as CFO and pleaded family commitments when this writer was pregnant with No. 2. Especially when she found out it was another home birth, again. Not. A. Chance.