The Rain

The rains have arrived, 
An hour or so and it is beautiful, dampens the earth, glistens leaves, wets the playground equipment
But weeks and months of it, and then it swells and builds into a flood, sweeping homes, filling your lungs, separating families, orphaning children

The rains are amoral and blind
It does not care if you are a good person or a bad one
It does not see the colour of your skin
It does not care where you went to school, whether you were the dux, a wallflower, or the class clown
It does not check to see whether you dropped out or climbed all the way to the top
It does not care which footy team you barrack for
It falls equally on you whichever god you believe in
It will fall

It will fall on you if you are a couch potato or if you exercise four hours a day
It will fall on you whether you voted Liberal or Labor in your last election
It will fall in certain suburbs first but it will roll its way through all the postcodes eventually

The rain does not care if you are a child or a grandparent
Whether you are at the start of your journey or near its end
It does not look at your uniform, it will fall on your scrubs and your hi-vis, whether you rise early to bake or wake with the moon for your night shift

It does not care whether English is your first or second language
It is deaf to your pleas and your threats
It does not care if you are in a relationship, single, divorced or if ‘it’s complicated’
It does not care if you are a dog lover or cat enthusiast
It does not look at your bank account, your social media or your passport to decide whether or not to fall on you

The rain does not care if you believe in it or not
The rain is not changed by your opinion of it
It does not care if you are scared of it, or if you are bravely defiant
It will fall, and fall on us all.

The only thing the rains respect is whether you have chosen shelter
A raised umbrella, a poncho with a rolled-up sleeve,
We may still get wet but we won’t be drenched. 



‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star…’

Monday, 6 April 2020

Today is a day of grieving, of saying goodbye, extinguishing one light of hope.

It was a 1.30 pm initial appointment with our new Obs, Dr L. She had come recommended, and after we passed the extra cleaning and screening required in these COVID times, we sat waiting for her in the socially distanced chairs of her private rooms.

She was lovely and human – warm, knowledgeable and gentle as she took a history from Karen about what it was like when she had Lexie. Lexie was twirling in the background, pulling at my arms.

And then came time for the ultrasound. ‘We’re looking for a peanut with a heartbeat,’ she said cheerily as Karen lied down on the examination bed. The transabdominal showed the peanut, but no obvious heartbeat.

‘That’s okay,’ she said and she got ready the transvaginal probe. I had been watching with Lexie till then and we stepped out to give Karen some privacy.

A minute later and she says ‘Heng, come in here and see this,’ she says. And I push past the curtains with Lexie. ‘I’m asking you to see this because I can’t find a heartbeat.’

My mind did not really register what she was telling me. I guess we had come in never even expecting there to be any other outcome other than a viable pregnancy and baby coming along well. This was meant to be a discussion about the next steps for baby, but it had turned quickly into a breaking the bad news session we had trained so often for in our profession.

‘…doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. You’ll lose this baby and then after that settles, you can try again when you’re ready…’
‘…chromosomal abnormalities and this is the body’s natural way of dealing with it…’
‘… it is hard enough to raise a normal child, you know…’

The shock slows everything down, muddies everything up, muffles the amount of information you are now meant to absorb…

‘Are you okay? How do you feel?’ she asks, her face furrowed with concern.

‘Well obviously this was not the news we were hoping for, but I’m glad that it is you who is delivering it,’ Karen manages to blurt out, the news stealing our breaths. 

She talks us through a natural miscarriage and also a D+C and we make a hasty exit, our congenial introduction sullied into awkwardness by this unexpected bad news. It was no one’s fault, and yet it was not right either.

We get home, and we put Lexie down for her afternoon nap. And we sit on the couch and talk. Karen cries a little, and we tell the ones dearest to us about this difficult turn of events. The responses come fast, and they are kind and loving, and we count ourselves lucky to have such good friends and close family.

Talk goes from processing our current grief and loss and slowly evolves to stories of our other friends or colleagues who have had the same situation, and later into planning our next steps.

It wasn’t until later that night when I was putting Lexie to bed that it hit me like a wave.

‘Why is Mummy sleeping on the couch?’ she asks me looking worried. She had noticed Mummy being more languid than usual tonight and she was watching her from the top stairs through the slats, all the while sucking her thumb as she does when deep in concentration.

I bring her to her room and gently sit her on me while I looked at her in the eyes. ‘Well you know the baby that was supposed to be coming?’ She nodded.

‘Well, when we went to the doctor’s today, we saw that the baby was not growing anymore.’ I told her.

‘Baby not growing anymore?’ she asked.

Yup, I said. Baby’s not growing anymore so we have to say goodbye to the baby. And that’s why Mummy’s sad.

‘Did Jesus take the baby away?’

Her simple question catches me off guard, and I find myself crying.

‘Yes, I guess so,’ my eyes were wet with tears, my voice quivering as I tried to soldier through my explanation, ‘Jesus has taken the baby somewhere safe.’

She was confused by my tears, as in her mind ‘grown ups don’t cry, only babies do’. Some little part of her 3-year-old brain registered the gravity of the situation and she began to cry too. And not just a silent sob but a full deep wailing somewhere from the depths of her little three year old self. And I began to sob uncontrollably too, as we grieved the sibling she was not going to have and the hope of a child now extinguished this time. 


‘… how I wonder what you are.’

The Littlest Wizard

Ah, three – such a magical age.

Lexie is now going through a phase now where she is a princess sometimes and on her more fabulous days, a fairy princess even.

(Apparently Mummy is the Queen and I am the Handsome Prince – ie. not Charles.)

Part of her Fairy Princess duties is flitting around the house in her fairy wings, waving around her magical Fairy Wand and turning you… into a frog.

I take it she is not the Good Fairy Princess.

Blame it on her three-year-old imagination, blame it on that cursed pig they call Peppa – the Queen and the Handsome Prince have been turned into frogs more times than Our Royal Selves can care to remember.


During these days of repeated Trans-frog-ification, I sometimes catch myself frowning, as I try to make out this eerie echo from a faraway cobwebbed corner of my mind.

‘I’m gon’ turn you into a frog! I’m gon’ turn you into a frog. I’m gon’ turn you into a…’


Once again I am seven and back in my primary school in Malaysia, and I am anxiously sweating. My best friend WK and I had just finished arguing (over which cartoon character was better, or whatever important things it is seven-year-olds argue about) and in his rage, he had placed a curse on me, turning me into a pre-char siew version of myself.

‘But I don’t look like a pig what!’ I channelled my inner Sherlock Holmes.

‘Stupid! It only happens when you close your eyes lah!’ he said, unblinking.


Ah, poop. I forgot he could do that.


WK and I were best of friends from the very first day of school, united by the fact that we were the only dry eyes when our families dropped us off. We both looked around, bemused at the sea of wailing classmates in various stages of clinging on to Mum or Dad or auntie.

We bonded quickly and were soon sharing recess together, chasing each other down school corridors, throwing pebbles at other kids. Who knows what bond knits two boys together, but very soon it felt like an us-against-the rest-of-the-world situation.

We had somewhat similar personalities, quick to laugh but also to flare up whenever provoked. And a seven-year-old class of boys is fertile ground for provocation.

I remember one day we were arguing with a group of other kids who kept throwing names at us and getting under our skin while playing cops and robbers. WK was disputing their claims that they had caught him, and he suddenly stood up with all the authority of a Chinese schoolteacher, pointed at one of the cops and said ‘Ngo peen lei cho chu! (I’ll turn you into a pig!)’.

He said it with such conviction, like an evil Asian Harry Potter crying out ‘Wingardium Leviosa!’, that the other boy suddenly stopped in his tracks, stunned, his little mind trying to process if this could, indeed, be true.

He starts to cry.

Ngo mm oi cho chu! (I don’t want to be a pig!)’.

You could see the cogwheels beginning to turn as WK turns to him and said, ‘Well, if you don’t want to be a pig, then say you didn’t catch me before!’

That was the beginning of WK’s reign of terror.

Every time someone crossed us, out would come his Finger-wand, invisible magic shooting out of his index finger to change you into a piggy version of yourself.

Soon he had half the class eating out of his hand. Drunk with power, his repertoire grew as his reputation grew, and soon anyone trespassing him could also be turned into mice, or cockroaches or centipedes. Even as his best friend, I wasn’t spared the wand when we argued or when he was annoyed with me.

Ummmm…. I not any different what, we would protest in uncertain defiance.

Stupid it only happens when your eyes are closed!

Quick! Look at me, and tell me if I change into a pig when my eyes closed.

Stupid it only happens at night when you go to bed! With your eyes closed!

I asked my Mummy yesterday whether I turn into a pig when I closed my eyes and, and she said no and… and… and… she told me that is the stupid thing she ever heard!

Stupid it only happens when she leaves the room!


On and on his lies built, did our little Rasputin, and lunches went his way, homework got done for him and everyone knew to be on his good side. Only when his anger with you had faded, or you had begged your way back into his good books, would he undo the spell with his finger-wand, so that you could remain a seven-year-old boy when you were sleeping and no one else was looking.

The cracks started to show as we went to Standard Two, our critical eight-year-old minds finally starting to question the highly conditional nature of his ‘magic’.

I think he started to tire too of his Wizard of Oz routine, as his fearful cult started thinning out. One day from our constant badgering he finally laughs it off, saying ‘Of course not lah! It was a lie all along – only you were stupid enough to believe it!’

We should have lynched him, the little liar – he had strung us along for an entire year and then some. But then seven-year-olds don’t carry pitchforks, they carry olive branches. We were just relieved that this once larger than life tyrant could now become our friend again, as we chased each other down the sun-striped corridors once more, free from the fear of little Voldemort’s finger-wand.

The Terriblic Twos

Parenting is humbling.

Remember that time not so long ago when you were young and childless and totally rolling your eyes at the parents whose child was having a meltdown in the supermarket aisle. Or your judgmental heartsink when you saw the couple with their two toddlers screaming their way into the front of your airplane cabin.

‘Here we go,’ you sighed with contempt.

And then fast forward to the not-too-distant present and suddenly it is your child yelling down Aisle 4 in Woolworth’s because you won’t get her that Peppa Pig magazine; one day it is you avoiding the death stares of your fellow passengers as you carry your overtired child like an angry surfboard, kicking and screaming onto your airplane seat.

Karma, as they say, is a …puppy. A two-year-old kicking and screaming, hot tears streaming down their righteous face puppy.

Just as you’re starting to pull away from the sleep deprivation and the eternal game of Guess What Baby Wants Charades, just as you think you’ve found your parenting feet, your Parent’s Taxi pulls right up into Terrible Two-land.

You Have To Be This Patient To Survive This Ride.

The tantrums. Oh the tantrums. Or tanties, as we’d like to call it. A cute name for the equivalent of your child pulling your pants down in public so that everyone can see what a Bad Parent you are. One of Lexie’s first words to us was actually in a Singaporean cab. ‘No no no no no,’ she said to us in her cute voice, shaking her little one-year-old head. ‘No no no no no,’ we would mimic her, encouraging her very first expressions. Little did we know Karma was sitting in the front seat, laughing an evil knowing laugh to herself.

When Lexie doesn’t want to do something now she will resort to a few versions of ‘no’s. Let’s just say she has more delaying tactics than an inpatient registrar not wanting to accept an admission.

These include:

The sleep. Thumb in mouth. Eyes closed. Sorry Mummy and Daddy. Lexie can’t hear you telling me to go upstairs to bed now because I am legit asleep. On the cold hard floor. Downstairs.

The ‘I don’t like it. Ew.’ Copied from all the online nursery videos she has been watching where the parent is trying to coax the child to do something they don’t want to. Unfortunately the solution offered in said videos do not really work in real life. Accompanied by actual two-year-old shoving displayed in said videos.

The Angry Windmill.  Especially when trying to seat your toddler in the child-safe car seat that will prevent their actual death. Anything between full flailing of the arms and feet like someone resisting arrest or jumping to the front of the car, because y’know – ‘Lexie turn to drive.’

The cheeky smile. This is a hard one. They do something borderline naughty and then look up at you with a mischievous disarming smile. ‘Funny, Daddy’ she would say. ‘Not funny,’ you would try and hold your Stern Face together, and turn quickly away to break into a smile or snigger despite yourself.

The Green Mile to Bed. Our little one is starting to learn how to negotiate, and struggles with the concept of a promise. Soon the two books before bedtime become four, or she makes you read the same book again if you won’t reach for a new one. Devious.

The worst of these is the Full Blown Meltdown. The hot angry tears and the angry cries when you deprive her of something or she doesn’t get her way. Occasionally accompanied by The Angry Windmill ™, or even a smack or two in your direction. Get ready also for the Piercing Judgmental Stares of Strangers if you are in public with this one.


All is not lost, however, and there are many strategies out there to negotiate this difficult time in their/your life, including:

The Threat. The arsenal of every parent, this tried and true method of ‘I’m going to count to 3, and you’d better stop, or else…’ Just remember to complete the sentence, and then follow through. Kids remember when you don’t follow through.

The removal of privilege, or just plain bribery. TV time, favourite snacks, favourite toys, or chocolate as a last resort. Useful negotiation tools to get your toddler to comply. Threaten to take away the ice-cream if she doesn’t sit straight, and then watch your toddler’s posture magically be better than the Queen’s.

The fake choice. ‘Do you want to have broccoli or cauliflower, Lexie? You choose.’ Either way, they’re getting a cruciferous vegetable of your choosing.

The negotiation. ‘If you go down for a nap now, we can go out for some frozen yoghurt later,’ gets her down faster than any lullaby or storybook, I can tell you that. Give her something to look forward to after that arduous task of sleeping.

These said strategies are not exhaustive, of course, and may be deployed on their own, combined – or in times of desperation – in total.

Yes, it has been a trying time of parenting, but it still is a beautiful age.

When things are good, when your child is well-slept, well-fed and somewhat compliant, this is a magical age indeed. They surprise you with their stringed-together words expressing their wishes in a clumsy endearing manner. They tickle your ears with with mispronounciations like ‘Gwass’ (for Grass) or Mahto (for Tomatoes), or our favourite one ‘Happycopter’ (for an ecstatic helicopter).

They are beginning to understand instructions, test their boundaries, and enjoy things like juice and French fries. Feel your little heart explode when you see them fake-reading a book, running their hands through the sentences and then making the story completely up on their own. The same with made-up songs. And twirling dances.

This little squiggling larva that was once upon a time dependent on you to help her change nappies and drink milk is now choosing which pair of Unicorn shorts she’ll be wearing today. Her unbridled enthusiasm and energy is a joy (or terror, depending on your own levels of energy) to behold.

It is why you will hear some parents wanting to keep their children forever this age. Toddlers are the tempest and the calm, the rain and the rainbow, the devastation and delight – a wonderful loveable contradiction packaged into this hilariously annoying little version of you.

Everything they’ve ever told me about young parenting has proven true so far. Just as you are finally taking a breath from this mad roller coaster ride that is Terrible Two-land, and patting yourself on your severely bruised back, brace yourself, lucky folks – you are about to enter Threenager-world.

Of Average Mums and Superdads

One of the more robust conversations that happens in our household is this – every time I look after Lexie a little bit more or cook or bathe her or clean or iron clothes while working almost full time, I want a gold star.

Not to be Father of the Year, for that is for men with ambition. Just a Father of The Day, In This Current Neighbourhood, perhaps, would be nice. I would like my efforts to be acknowledged, that I have Done More Than Most Working Fathers Would – so erhem; gold star, please.

Imagine my disdain and utter disappointment when my wife, the love of my life, stares at me with those dead (loving) eyes and asks ‘What about me? I work full time too, and I have to cook and…’

That’s when the disagreements begin, and sometimes I can’t hear her point of view so well, given that I am so far up in the atmosphere on my High Horse atop my Father of the Day (In This Current Neighbourhood)’s pedestal.

But I do more than most men, I point out. I bathe Lexie, occasionally wash her clothes, iron ours and… my list dwindles down to silent nothingness because it is at this point that my wife can no longer see me (on account of how far her eyes have rolled into the back of her head).

I sound like Bambi’s Father if he were the one who had been shot – I imagine rolling around dramatically crying out about how much pain I was in, bidding goodbye to this cruel world, looking Lexie in the eye and telling her to remember how much Daddy loves her and has done for her, and to remember to erect a Deer Daddy of the Day statue when I have passed on.

One of the liberations Karen has found at work is the support of like-minded working mothers who she has posed this conundrum to. Should Dads be celebrated more even when doing the basic minimum a parent should be doing? They collectively roll their eyes (it’s contagious in the workplace, apparently) and then lean in with their own stories about how much persuasion their partners have needed in order to share the child-raising and housework at home.

There is a pretty amazing quote that I came across the other day which encapsulates this sentiment – ‘The burden of working mothers is that you are expected to look after your children as if you didn’t have a job, and then to work as if you didn’t have children.’

While we pride ourselves in being a modern progressive nation in 2018, the echoes of a patriarchal society remain. Our childcares are expensive and do not support mothers going back into full-time work. Parental leave is at least 18 weeks (or a little more depending on where you work) for working mothers while partners/fathers get 2 weeks’ paid leave.

How are working mothers meant to thrive in such an environment, and how are fathers meant to view parenting as a shared effort?

Already there is so much grappling with guilt once you choose to become a working mother. Of all the hobs burning simultaneously – which one do you turn down? Your working life, by working reduced hours or in a lesser capacity? Your family life, where you can’t be at home on time every night to cook or put the kids to bed on time? Or do you give up your personal health and wellbeing, falling ill and spiralling with your guilt due to the lack of self-care and attention to your own wellbeing?

Often personal health is the ball that gets dropped, which unfortunately impacts both work and family life.

Karen once said this – there is very little recognition of the super Mums – you are either just a mother or a bad one. But how fast does society jump in to praise the Superdads out there – all those who do just a little bit more than most Dads would for their kids?

Maybe the answer is this – that Dads need to get off their high horses (careful, Daddies, it’s a long way down) and mutually acknowledge that child-raising and working full time is always going to be a juggle, no matter what.

As fathers we do not really have the birthright to a fulfilling career while being involved at the sidelines when it comes to our families. We need to pull our weight, raise our expectations about what it is a man should do in the household, and as a colleague of Karen’s said, ‘put on our big boy pants’.

The only way to successfully juggle all the balls in the air is to have two pairs of hands. We need to thank and acknowledge each other’s sacrifices and work in tandem in order to keep our work going and our families thriving.

The Day After Valentine’s Day.

rose with leaves on the wood table in black and white

It was a pretty hectic Monday for the family – we had friends and family over, I was at work and couldn’t get home in time to shower Lexie. Dinner was a raucous affair and Karen as usual whipped up a feast for everyone. I was trying to flit between playing the good host and performing my Specialty Housekeeping Skill – Dishwashing. (I also do Advanced Ironing.)

The night ended lounging lazily around to the sound of some tunes and some horrendous guitar playing and some caterwauling by yours truly while Karen continued to potter around the kitchen, cleaning up the odds and ends that I had half-done.

We plonked into bed pretty exhausted at the end of the day – trying to juggle this parenting thing with any attempt at any semblance of normal living is hard work.

I was trying to get to sleep as I had an early start the next day, but I could see that Karen was upset. If there is one unwritten rule in our relationship, is that we never go to bed angry – we try and work things out before we put our heads down to the pillow.

Sometimes it is hard work trying to figure out what is wrong exactly in the midst of our minds still trying to process the day. Sure it has been a long, tiring day, but it was spent in the presence of good friends and loved ones. I guess we were all a little physically and emotionally spent from these early days of young parenthood while trying to juggle the demands of life at the same time.

Of all the things that we spoke about, something she said struck me which bore the crux of the problem –

‘You know, at some point tonight, I just felt like you have not thought about me or my needs,’ she told me in a small voice.

Sometimes I think as we are working out our relationships (and we are always working out our relationships), it is during these points – these precious moments of weakness and vulnerability when our truest wants come out.

You have not thought about me or my needs.

Wedding composition the bride and groom holding hand in hand black and white image

How did I get here? How did I get to a point where I had been thoughtful and considerate to everyone except the one who should matter to me most?

Of course, it is not a malevolent indifference to her, but more a benign negligence – one that develops over years of familiarity. Sometimes we have become so close, we have started to become each other’s shadows – and you don’t notice your own shadow.

When I think about relationships that end up not working out, rarely do they ever fracture – seldom is there one big moment that destroys a relationship that has been going on for awhile. Instead couples become unstuck –  a more insidious ungluing of two pieces that were once inseparable.

It is the overfamiliarity – the taking of each other for granted where it slowly happens. It is in the distracted tone when she is trying to tell you about the day, it is in the seemingly harmless disparaging remark about an opinion she has, it is in the quiet resentment about how the other is dealing with their young child.

If we are not careful, we drift apart. Even the phrase itself is suggestive of how subtly we fall out of love.

The only way to save this, of course – is vigilance. The discipline of confession is so important in relationships – we need a safe space to be able to say when we feel unloved and to voice our needs. What we choose to do with that vulnerability will determine the longevity of our relationship.

I woke up on Valentine’s Day morning, and mindfully spared a thought for Karen and what she would like. I felt a little embarrassed about how infrequently I have had that thought recently. And so a quick trip after work to pick up her favourite sushi/sashimi platter, and we had a redemptive Valentine’s Day lunch and a great evening together.

More important than Valentine’s Day, then, is the day after Valentine’s Day, and the days after that, as the challenge is to remember not to take each other for granted, and to think about how to love, and serve each other better.

Two children are walking down a sunshine trail in the woods holding a rainbow umbrella for a friendship hope or happiness concept.

A Little EXtra Affection.


You were small, they said. Tracking on the 1st centile. Healthy, but tracking along the smallest of the small babies here.

So we decided to welcome you early to the world, and Mummy and I packed our bags and headed towards the hospital, where they would help open up the door a little so you would come out a bit earlier.

We arrived in the dark of the night, and the doctor comes in. He feels for the opening of the door, and he is a little surprised, but it is already ajar. ‘Come back tomorrow morning,’ he tells us. ‘Sleep in your own bed tonight.’

We are a little bemused and somewhat relieved, and we head home with both our luggages – a big one for Mummy and Daddy, and a little one for you.

We get to sleep in our own bed as a couple for one more night before you come barrelling into our lives.

Back in the same hospital room the next morning, and the doctor comes in and puts a drip into Mummy. They start a medicine that will massage the outer bag holding  you, and he reaches in and makes a little hole in the inner bag holding you. A gush of water comes out, the warm pool you have been swimming in for the past 9 months quickly empties.

Come out of the pool, we say. It is nice and warm out here in the world, we coax you. It’s lies, but hey, you don’t know better – you weren’t born yesterday.


Mummy starts to feel the pull of the bag inside her. It is pulling and twisting inside her as she tries to help bring you out into the world. It is painful, as promised, but she didn’t expect how painful it would  be. She sucks on some laughing gas from a tube, but she is not laughing. Another doctor is called and he runs a plastic snake up her back where more medicine goes in, helping her with the most painful thing to happen to a lady.

Daddy sits there, and he is helpless. He holds Mummy’s hands, and he cheers her on, a powerless supporter on the sideline. He massages Mummy’s back, and a list of his favourite songs is playing from his phone on the speaker behind Mummy.

And so 4 hours later, Mummy really feels the need to push. Daddy asks the nurse to check if you were almost out. Oh no no no she smiles it’s far too early. Could you please just humour me and check, Daddy asks. Sure she wears a smirk as she puts on a glove, and feels inside Mummy. Her smile quickly fades as she is surprised by your hairy head. Okay, some nice deep breaths! she says as Daddy hears the nurse’s own breathing become quicker and more shallow. I’m going to call your doctor.

The trolley comes in with the cloths and equipment he needs to help you come easier into this world. They put a machine on to hear your heartbeat and it becomes slower. The doctor knows it, the nurse knows it and your Daddy knows it. Mummy is totally focussed on pushing and bringing you out, so Daddy leans over and says to her – hey, Mummy, with the next one you really need to push.

The next moment goes quickly, in slow motion. As Mr Bon Jovi sings in the background, ‘I will always love youuuuu….’, Mummy gives one final almighty push, and your slimy head pops out. The doctor puts his finger around your neck ‘Ah, here’s the problem!’ and frees you from the cord that is coiled around it. He invites Daddy to come and deliver the rest of you, and then passes over the scissors for me to cut the cord, your own personal vending machine for these past 9 months.

You are quiet when you come out, and a little purple. Everyone is a little worried, it seems like we’ve all held our breaths together. We wrap you in a towel, and the nurse starts to rub you vigorously. She puts your whole being against Mummy, and finally, you let out the tiniest of coughs, expelling the fluid in your little airways, and let out a small cry. The whole room exhales in relief as your cries grow stronger, and everyone welcomes you with a little more confidence into this world.


We wrap you in an old colourful spotted cloth provided by the hospital, and rest you against Mummy. Both of you are tired from all the morning exertions it has taken to help your escape from the womb. Both of you take a little nap. Daddy is in the corner, having just passed out from all the excitement.

(Kidding, Daddy’s quite strong and awake actually. He just needs to rest his eyes for a little whzzzzz……)

Mummy takes a shower and finally gets to eat. She is starving from having Tough Mudder-ed you in to existence, and gobbles up the hospital lunch. As she waddles to the toilet for a shower, she feels a little sick from all the medicines flowing through her, and sees her lunch for a second time in a vomit bag.

She showers, we sleep and by some miracle you sleep too.

Having a baby’s easy, Daddy thinks, on the first day. Asleep most of the day, just lying there looking cute, and surfacing for the occasional feed. Even your nappies are fairly small and empty. We’ve got this, Daddy thinks.

Daddy has no idea.

We move to another ward of the hospital away from the birthing suite after a day. Mummy’s going well and you are going well, so they are happy to watch us a little less. We are told that the whole hospital is pouring out of its ears with babies, and joke about how people always seem to assemble their babies around the Christmas holidays.


The second day was mainly sleeping, and having some nice friends of Mummy and Daddy bring food over, because the hospital food in this new room, is well, hospital food. But then the night comes, and with it, your loud protesting cries. We are not sure what’s going on, because Mummy and Daddy are new at this – we check the diapers, we put you to Mummy’s boob (henceforth the Milk Maker ™) and we try and sing you to sleep. Nothing works.

Keep putting her to the breast, the midwives say, as they dance in and out of the room. You lose weight with each passing day and turn a little more yellow than your Chinese heritage allows, and they keep telling us to put you to the Milk Maker ™.

The next few days are a whirlwind of smiley faces of family and friends bringing food and gifts, everyone so excited to say Hi! and welcome to the world, and please be nice to Mummy and Daddy.

And then they leave, and it is quiet, and it is just you and Mummy and Daddy. And every night you cry almost every half an hour to an hour, and you lose weight and turn more yellow.

Mummy and Daddy are almost at their wit’s end by the third night, and this male midwife walks into the room. Let’s try a bit longer on the breast first, he says. We are trying to listen but we are distracted by his leathered skin and the ear-ring on his left ear. If it doesn’t work, we’ll just give the baby formula, because she looks hungry and Mummy needs a rest as well.

Formula? Mummy and Daddy thought. It seemed to be an ‘F-word’ (Erm…  go ask your Mummy) around these parts. We try once more and you are still crying every thirty minutes, and so we ask for help.


He walks in with a bottle of formula milk, picks you up in confidence, and gives you your first full feed in your first few days here on earth. You finally go to sleep and we also finally get to go to sleep as well. Your yellow colour goes away each day and you start to put on weight as we feed you the formula while Mummy works on filling up the Milk Maker ™.

The male midwife is your unexpected saviour, a voice of reason amidst the army of midwives who cannot see beyond the breast. You are now happy, and soon a rested Mummy’s milk comes in, and you start to put on a bit of weight and look a lot less yellow each day.  We feel less guilty and confused, and almost a little angry at how no one showed us in the first couple of days what you really needed.

We bring you home on the fourth day, a new adventure awaits us now as a family. More tears and laughter awaits us outside the hospital doors.


And so welcome to the world Alexa Jia Xuan Cheok. In case you were wondering, the name Alexa means ‘Defender of Man’, not because we want you to become a lawyer (haha! How Asian parents of us!) or Lexie Warrior Princess. We hope that you will be part of the solution to making the world we live in a better place, defending us against cynicism and destruction, sowing hope and life instead.

And Jia Xuan means Good News, which you have already heralded with your healthy birth despite all the things we were told when you were still in Mummy’s tummy, and may you continue to bring good news into a world that so sorely needs it.


We Need To Talk About The First 12 Weeks.

Pregnancy belly with fingers heart symbol. Dark tone.

I know I have promised you the story about how we came to find out we were pregnant, but also to let you in on what kind of a hell the first trimester can be.

Let’s just say this pregnancy came as a bit of a surprise.

All those in this season of your lives know the annoying ladder of questions that you always get asked:

‘So are you seeing someone yet?’
‘Oh when do we get to meet him/her?’
‘So when is he going to propose?’
‘Oh, I’m so happy for you I’m starting to tear up, so when’s the wedding?’
‘Congratulations! And when’s the first child coming?’
‘Oh, they’re great, aren’t they? When are you going to have a second one?’

On and on the unremitting glacier of questions keep coming.

I always find it odd when people ask – have you been trying? Which is the polite way of saying ‘Have you been trying to fall pregnant?’ but actually sounds a lot more like ‘Have your matrimonial intercourses been calculated and forced instead of playful and spontaneous?’

(Have you been trying? Sure.

Yeah, but, have you been actively trying? No, I just lay there and she does all the work.)

Karen and I are in the que sera sera camp – we have been hopeful but not actively trying. Sure, there’s the urgency of time because you know, you’re not getting any younger, but let’s just say we had in our minds a trip planned to Italy to eat all the cheese and drink all the wine in the middle of this year. We would then come back from the trip and then go full active, if you know what I mean.

Couple holding hands having sex inside a car with a steamy window

Like Titanic active you know? 

Which is why the phone call at work came as a surprise.

You see, Karen had been feeling a little unwell lately. We were emceeing a good friend’s wedding in January and she did not touch very much of the wine, which for her was a little odd. (Yes, she enjoys it responsibly. No, she does not have a problem.) We came home the next day and she then proceeded to complain about how she has been feeling rather bloated and constipated of late, and just a little tired.

I put my Emergency Doctor hat on, stroked my chin thoughtfully and came to these conclusions:

i) she had a gluten intolerance
ii) she had a lactose intolerance
iii) she was housing some kind of parasite

which was why I recommended she saw our family doctor to have it checked out.

I wish you could have seen the look on my face when I took the call from Karen that day at work. ‘Erm, hon. So the GP asked me to pee onto a stick, and erm, I’m pregnant!’ I burst out laughing incredulously and kicked myself for being the World’s Stupidest Father/Husband/Doctor. I walked past the curtains in a daze.

‘Sorry for interrupting our conversation,’ I told my patient. ‘That was my wife on the phone. Erm, I, erm –  we’re – erm, pregnant.’ which made the patient and her husband forget her worries for awhile to roundly congratulate me.

They were the first ones I told. Like the announcement of Jesus to some random shepherds and unknown wise men, I shared the news of our pregnancy first with complete strangers.

The second person I told was a fellow colleague of mine, a female ED consultant.

‘Erm, I just got a call from my wife. You know, she has been feeling tired and bloaty these last few weeks, and…’

‘Oh, she’s pregnant! Congratulations!’ came the quickfire reply.

HOW DO YOU KNOW?’ I shot back, surprised. Was I really such a terrible doctor? ‘I was telling her all kinds of other things she might have been suffering from like you know, parasites…’

‘That’s because you’re a boy…‘ she concluded, correctly, with a dismissive wave of her hand.

And that’s how I found out we were pregnant.


The First 12 Weeks

Let’s see, how should I phrase this?

This is the single most crazy thing you can do to your body. Not a poorly thought through tramp stamp, not a tongue piercing connected by a chain to your nose piercing, not even swallowing a sword to impress your street audience. Pregnancy is the most unnaturally natural thing – the craziest thing you can do to your body.


The World’s Worst Superpower (and we’re not talkin’ ’bout North Korea)

If you could have one superpower (Marvel, obviously, not DC), what would you ask for? Would you want spider senses and the ability to climb walls? Or perhaps you want to be able to read people’s minds, or take down a tree with your laser-blasting vision. You know – cool, useful stuff.

When you’re pregnant, you can smell everything. And I mean, everything – you can smell what your neighbours are cooking, you can smell if someone had smoked in your office four hours ago, you can probably smell the colour purple.

The hormones drive up your sense of smell by a thousand fold. I don’t even understand how this is a protective mechanism for mothers carrying a life in their bellies. Karen could tell if I had used softener in our laundry (which I have, since I have known laundry) and politely asked if I could stop using it (otherwise she would kill me in my sleep). Part of the reason we had to give up the dogs was because she suddenly became really sensitive to the way they smelt, especially Toby (a.k.a. Sir Pee-A-Lot).

And so we were captives in our own home, trapped in the only bedroom in our house with a ceiling fan, blowing away the co-mingled smells of sickly sweet laundry softener and wet dog fur, while praying this sickness would pass.

I was talking to some of my female colleagues at work to debrief, and someone said she would get nauseous and throw up even at the sight of McDonald’s golden arches.

At least she is not sensitive to how you smell, they laugh. And they tell you stories of men who had to sleep in the living room just because their wives could not stand the smell of them.

I silently vow to shower more often.

Beautiful adult woman vomiting in toilet.

The Hunger-Hurling Cycle

With the smells came the vomiting. Like on your knees vomiting. Like Friday night after 20 ill-advised vodka shots vomiting. Like wishing you would die vomiting.

But then you would be ravenously hungry afterwards. The hunger itself makes you want to vomit. And your poor husband, who can only cook instant noodles and make terrible sandwiches is now cursing his lack of cooking prowess in the kitchen as he is stirring in your sixth cup of Milo for the day.

So much Milo.

And so hungry for carbs. You start to eat rice like your husband does. He joins you in your eight meals a day and then he, too, ends up with a food baby.

And then you rush home from the restaurant and you hurl the contents all into your toilet bowl.

And then he makes you your seventh Milo.

Hungry, hurl, eat, hurl, Milo, hurl, lie in bed, hurl.

We went to the GP and we got a whole arsenal of medications – maxalon tablets, ondansetron wafers. Works for some women, doesn’t work for you. You start stocking up chocolates and dry biscuits in the drawer next to your bed.

That’s actually the only thing that helps – snacking small amounts throughout the day. Of course you still vomit, but at least you keep some of it down. It is about survival.

Pregnant Woman Suffering With Morning Sickness In Bathroom

It Is Like A Chronic Illness 

If you are lucky, the morning sickness only lasts for three months. If you are extremely lucky, you might just feel a little nauseous without throwing up for the whole nine months. If you are really unlucky, you vomit the whole nine months (although it gets a bit better after the third month).

I cannot describe to you how miserable Karen felt during those first three months. Each day dragged on like a week, and each week dragged on like a year. We got a glimpse into what living with a chronic illness must be like – it is not like a passing flu, or a week of gut-cleansing diarrhoeal purge.

It is waking up not knowing whether today would be a good day or a bad day. It is fearing that you would spend most of your day in bed being afraid of the next time you’re going to throw up. It is not being able to enjoy the things used to bring you joy in life – wine, cheese, any kind of edible food, really. It is the taste of acid and undigested food burning your gullet and your tongue. It is throwing out your back from vomiting so violently and so often. You have gone from a working independent woman to being a prisoner of your bed.

It is hell.

I am told many women who suffer severe morning sickness take time off work just to get through these difficult first few months. I can see why now.

You Are Helpless

I watch from the sides as the frustrated husband.

On the one part, I feel responsible for this, you know? You alternate between the guilt of doing this to your wife, and helplessness of watching the pills not work and not knowing what to do next. There are times when you see her through the gap in the toilet door, one hand holding her hair and another bracing the toilet bowl, and you think Seriously, again?! A tiny voice is convinced your partner will not survive these crazy protracted, vomiting episodes.

I have spoken with other husbands and fathers who are watching helplessly from the side too. Some are adamant they would never have another child or at least take a good break before having the next one, because of how much their wives have suffered during this pregnancy.


But they tell you it is worth it in the end.

They tell you that all is forgotten once you hold that bundle of joy, and then all of these things fall away.

I must say the second trimester has been a good one. Karen’s energy is back, she is working again and the nausea has well and truly abated. The house is filled with the smell of her cooking. Out of habit, I no longer put softener in my laundry. The days are flying past and we have
been to two ultrasound scans which show a healthy baby girl who we have dared to give a name to already.

It is easy in these moments to forget just how hard the first few months were. I write this to remember but also to encourage all the couples out there, that you are not alone in your journey. Just as we were not alone in ours. This is a written form of all the verbal encouragement and wisdom we received from our friends who have told us, hey, it’s not easy, but it will be okay in the end.

They pat us reassuringly on our shoulders and comfort us –

‘Wait till the baby comes. Then you will know what true suffering is.’

The End of One Adventure…

It has been almost a week now, and the house is deafeningly quiet.

On Monday, we made the hardest journey we have had to make for a long time. A few things have changed for us in the past couple of months, and after much discussion and heartache, we made the very difficult decision of rehoming Toby and Tootsie. After 7 months of pats, snuggles, training, licks, walks and eternal feeds, we finally said goodbye for the last time to team Toto.

The main thing that has changed for us is this:


But that is a story for another post.

The thing about being pregnant, however, is that you are suddenly gifted with the unwanted superpower of a heightened sense of smell. This has made Karen really sensitive to the dogs around the house to a point where she can’t even pat them without rushing to the toilet for an almighty spew. Which meant that for the last 2 months I have had to be both the breadwinner and caregiver to both a really ill Karen and these two dogs, and I must say, it nearly broke me.

There were some nights when I would wake up at 1 am, make Karen something to eat after she has had a big vomit, wake up at 4 am to deal with the mosquitoes that were eating us alive in the summer heat, and then be woken up by the dogs again at 6 am to feed them and train them before heading off to work. This went on for a few weeks, and it really started to take its toll on me.

Toby especially was confused by the sudden change of attention from Mummy, who could no longer reach down to pat him or lift him up for a customary cuddle, and he became really sad and a bit withdrawn. You know he is love-starved when he suddenly comes to me for attention. This translated into him peeing anxiously around the house, and our couch in particular which meant that Karen could never come downstairs due to the noxious mix of dog urine and laundry smells (you would understand this as a vomiting pregnant lady), which made us captives in our own house.


He was still the baby of the house, the more sensitive of the two, and Toby would lie outside the toilet door, watching on with what I can only imagine is a mix of pity and disappointment as Karen emptied her guts into the toilet bowl from all the smells in the house.

Tootsie, on the other hand, was oblivious to everything. One thing I have come to realise about her is this – Tootsie could only love one person, and that was herself. I didn’t know any different at the beginning because this was my first time owning dogs, but it has been pointed out to me that as a dog she doesn’t really give all that much emotionally. What I had taken for insanity was actually a little more complex than that.

She was the Narcissist of the doggy world – everything Tootsie did was driven by the need to soothe her own anxieties and fulfil her own agenda, be it pushing Toby aside in the competition for pats, forcing herself onto your lap for a cuddle, barking at you to wake up because it is time to play or lunging at other dogs to defend her territory.

The most dramatic of walks happened about two weeks ago – twice Tootsie slipped from my grasp and faced off against two dogs. The first one was a boxer cross who towered above her. I rushed down the road to catch her leash but I also watched to see what would happen – a friend and fellow dog owner told me that he let his new little dog loose in a dog park and the dog started barking annoyingly at other dogs. The other dogs barked back and gave a warning bite which caused his dog to stop barking or annoying them. That is how they learn to play well with other dogs.

This boxer cross barked back at Tootsie and started attacking her; the middle-aged female owner yelling at it and pulling it back violently to keep it in check. Instead of backing down, however, Tootsie stood her ground and started going even harder at the other dog. She is a fighter, is our dear Tootsie. I managed to scramble and get Tootsie back after a couple of attempts, and walked quickly away, the angry stare of the lady owner burning into the back of my head.

I don’t even remember how she slipped away a second time, but this time Tootsie took down a small spitz and continued attacking it even though it had turned onto its belly in submission. I apologised profusely but once again the owner did not take too kindly at how our badly-behaved dog had traumatised hers. 7 months of daily walks, and I am certain we were developing some kind of a notoriety around these parts.

The thing that worries me the most is that I have seen Tootsie heighten and bark at little children as well, and there is no way we are going to be able to manage her and a little child safely at the same time.

Toby and Tootsie

It is not that Tootsie is beyond salvation. We have seen her in the hands of a competent experienced dog trainer who was not afraid to discipline her to reduce her negative behaviours and reward her positive ones. It is just that I won’t be able to consolidate her learning by myself in this season.

We have tried our best with these two, truly we have. We have gotten in two separate trainers to try and work on their issues as rescue dogs – Toby’s anxious need to mark everything around the house, and Tootsie’s immense self-gratifying behaviours. Add to that caring for a very sick Karen during a tempestuous first trimester, and well, I was truly at breaking point.

It was Karen who was able to take a look at the big overall picture and it was she who had the courage to raise the very difficult discussion that I was not willing to have – we had to rehome Toby and Tootsie – both for their sakes, and ours. To be honest, I was very conflicted at this point of time, not wanting to give up on the dogs, but also realising that they were not happy and that we could not train them in a meaningful fashion during this unexpected season of our lives.

Breaking Point

I was most frayed on the Monday when I had to go for the surrender meeting. We were returning them to Second Chance Animal Rescue – we had to go in for a session to explain why we couldn’t look after these two any further and for the rescue to see if they could be rehomed. I feared to think what the alternative was, because we were clear that we could not look after them anymore.

Karen had said initially that she would follow me in for the meeting, but then things unfortunately cropped up at work which she couldn’t get out of, and I had to bring the dogs in by myself.


I tried to hide it, but I must say that this really upset me. Toby whimpered the whole way to the shelter while Tootsie just enjoyed the car ride, but there was a storm of emotions brewing inside of me.

The folks at the shelter were nothing but kind and amazing, and understood our need to rehome the dogs. They heard our problems, and came to the same conclusion that we did – that Toby and Tootsie would do well in a new environment but also away from each other. I feel like Tootsie needed special 0ne-on-one attention from an experienced hand and Toby needed to be away from her so that he could grow in confidence. She told me to bring them back next week and they would look at rehoming the dogs.

Later that evening after dropping the dogs home, I picked Karen up from work. I was still very angry about the whole thing but I felt I could not yell at my pregnant wife about how I was feeling. How do you negotiate your anger when the person who has always been your Safe Space was now the Object of your Wrath? All this negativity translated into a certain passive aggressiveness – I was very abrupt in the way I spoke to her, and once I even thumped the car door in anger when I almost took down a speeding cyclist who had beaten the lights while turning up Victoria Street.

When we finally sat down to dinner, I could not take it any more. I felt like I had to speak up what was inside of me or it would continue manifesting in all these unhealthy ways.

And so I spoke as calmly as I could about how I was feeling. That I promised that the dogs would be our idea and not hers even though she was the one who wanted them in the first place. How unfair it was that I was the only one looking after them for the past two months, (even though, of course, Karen could not help it). How alone I felt when I had to go in for the surrender meeting by myself today.

Karen took everything that I had blurted out serenely, although I think she too was a whirlwind of emotions but tried her best to speak calmly back to me.

‘You know, I am upset too that we are having to give up the dogs,’ she said. ‘I have loved them as much as you have but you know that we are doing this for them, and for us.’


And then my wife, the love of my life, the woman whose wisdom continues to astound me says this –

‘You know, I think you are grieving for the dogs.’

In that one simple sentence, she disarms me.

She stands her ground as I charge at her in full Hulk mode, and she stops me dead in my tracks with a gentle raised palm against my forehead. That one phrase unlocks me, and I lay down my weapons. The heavy gloom that has been hanging heavy over my head lifts in the light of this revelation.

Of course I was grieving the dogs. These past two months I have been the one to play with them, walk them, feed them and cuddle them. My heart has filled with actual joy when I was playing with Tootsie at home or cuddling Toby. And now, after 7 months of being family – of loving them, being angry and impatient with them sometimes, feeling so proud of how far they’ve come – I now, – we now, – had to say goodbye to these dogs.


These dogs have certainly turned our worlds upside down. They have shown me that I could actually love and care for dogs when I was so clumsy and uncertain at the start, they have taught me the meaning of unconditional love, they have given us the joy of coming home to such eager, anticipating faces and they have instilled in me some confidence of being a parent. Toby and Tootsie certainly will have a special place in our hearts and in our family story.

Thank you all who have shared the journey with us. Thank you for those who have read and encouraged us in our hardest times, thank you for your kindness and understanding when we first considered rehoming the dogs, thank you especially to those who have had the privilege to play with, and taken the time to look after Toby and Tootsie. We are grateful for all your love, and we know you share our grief.

image1 (3)

Right now, Tootsie has been rehomed with a lady who has no little ones and who is an old hand with dogs, while Toby has been placed in a new family already. I would like to believe that they are in a happier place than we could provide them in this season of our lives.

Their absence is already felt so strongly in this household but they will live on in our stories and our memories.  It is time now to remember, but soon it will come a time for new stories – and new adventures.


In The Shape of An L on His Forehead.

Dog with a first aid kit. Isolated on white.

Q: What do you call a doctor who does not have a first aid kit at home?

A: You call him an ambulance. Like now. Please?!


So I was out walking the dogs today while the house was being cleaned so that we wouldn’t have little tracking pawprints on a freshly mopped floor.

I was starting to hit my stride walking these dogs, starting to believe that I am, indeed the Professional Insane Dog Walker. It now takes me 4:28 to assemble the food for the walk, another 1:24 to slip their harnesses on, 0:12 to place two empty doggy litter bags into my right pocket, 0:10 to get the house key into my left one and then a quick snap of my left wrist to shorten the leashes and I’m out of the house.

6:14 flat.

I don’t want to brag, but I am indeed a well-oiled dog-walking machine.

Bicycles don’t figure on my worry list no more, other dogs *shrug* yeah so maybe there’ll be one or two lunges with wild barking from the Toots. Nothin’ I can’t handle. One quick snap of my wrist and we are around a corner or a car, out of sight. Barking Tootsie. Food. Barking Tootsie. Food. Quiet Tootsie. Walk. Pity treat for well-behaved Toby. No flippin’ worries, mate. The suburb I now know like the back of my hand, and I walk with the confident strut of a determined Prancerciser.

80's Fashion woman exercising

We cross the road, no problems. One shout of ‘Quick’ and the dogs bolt across the street, pulling me with them. I’m in control. It looks like I’m out of control. I’m in control.

And then Tootsie suddenly crosses in front of me, pulling the leash in front of me. ‘Hey Tootsie!’ I bark, ‘cos I’m the boss of her. ‘You watch where you’re go-‘


I had slapped my head against a road sign. A big yellow metallic 20 km/hr sign with a bump on top of it. The same bump that was forming on my forehead now. No, actually it wasn’t a bump. It was more like a slow sickening scratch of my tender forehead against a rough metallic edge. Like someone was trying to John Woo’s Face/Off me.

I started seeing stars. Alanis Morissette, to be precise.

and isn’t it ironic, don’t you think? a little too-ooo ironic, well I really do think.‘ she coos in my ear.

‘AND WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT IT FEEEGURES!’  Alanis yells in my head.

Shh, I plead. Miss Morissette, I am trying to walk the dogs here. Just. Quiet.

I stagger a bit and walk on, trying not to trip over the dogs. The skin burns on my forehead. Uh oh. I feel my forehead with my left hand. Surprisingly, there is no blood. I look at me looking back at me as we pass some parked car windows. Strangers walk past and judge the most vain dogparent they have ever come across.

I somehow complete the walk but the burning doesn’t go away. I look into the mirror and there it is – two bleeding lines running across my forehead. I am surprised it is not in the shape of an L.

They say children add to your worry lines. I didn’t know it’d be this violently.

How’d you get the scar Heng? they’ll ask. Gang fight, I’ll say. You should see the other guys, I’ll boast.

I look around the house for an antiseptic to treat the cut. I can’t find any. I am a doctor, and I cannot find an antiseptic in my own house.

Alanis steps up, takes a deep breath and grabs the mic again.

FullSizeRender (2)