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yu-en-me ´a man who leaves home to mend himself and others is a philosopher, .. he who goes from country to country guided by blind impulses of curiosity is .. a vagabond.´ - oliver goldsmith

oh baby, oh baby

ECUADOR | Monday, 10 August 2009 | Views [4450] | Comments [2]

as most of you have accurately guessed, my recent silence is because i´ve had my hands full for the last couple of months. baby noah araya-cho was born on the 10th of june, and since then, i haven´t had more than 3 hours´ continuous sleep. (ok, i exaggerate, i once made it to 4 hours before he woke me up again, cranky and hungry.) in between all the breastfeeding, nappy-changing, and vomit-wiping, here are some of the random thoughts that have gone through my sleep-deprived mind.

things that perplex me about babies in general...

- why babies respond so well to sibilant noises like ´shhhh´ or ´sssss´. from the day he was born, if noah starts to stir in his sleep or makes a face like he´s about to cry, he can usually be calmed with a ´shhh´ or ´ssss´. i noticed the same with the other 3 mothers and their newborns who shared my hospital room. no other sound, not clucking, not vowels, not other consonants, seem to work quite as well as the sibilants.

- why, unlike most other species in the animal kingdom, human babies take so long before they can move about independently. i´m not even talking walking or running, but i would´ve thought that it would be natural for the human species to evolve with babies crawling within the first week or two of life.

- what do they dream about? with his little life experience so far, what could possibly be going on in noah´s head when he´s sleeping to make him smile occasionally, or cry out suddenly, or even to wake up instantly with a scream? even during the pregnancy, i wondered what fetuses could possibly be thinking about when they´re awake and kicking, or even if the expression ´thinking about´ was appropriate.

- why babies, especially the younger ones, need to be lulled to sleep. if they´re sleepy, why don´t they just sleep? no other baby animal that i´m aware of needs such coaxing, whereas if you leave most human babies alone, they´ll usually cry or fuss for quite a bit before falling asleep by themselves. or maybe we´re all mistaken here, and babies are just tricking us all into cuddling them?

... and noah specifically

- why he´s an angel when we go out, either sleeping beatifically or making cute gurgling noises, but cries at night and whenever we´re at home

- why he spits out his dummy, only to cry for it immediately. i´ve fallen asleep so many times with my finger holding the dummy against his mouth that i´m starting to consider sticky taping it there!

different cultural ideas about baby-raising that i find curious

the chinese believe that the first month after giving birth is an opportunity for the mother´s body to be renewed. if you look after the body in this period, previous ailments will be cured, and possible future ones will be prevented. ´looking after the body´ traditionally meant things such as not showering during the 30 days, especially not washing your hair, (since getting wet increases the risk of letting the cold/wind enter your body and bones); not venturing outside at all, preferably staying in bed for the whole time; not straining yourself in holding the baby too much, only when he/she needs a feed; not reading or straining your eyes too much with games or television; only consuming ´heaty´ substances which warm up the body such as ginger, and avoiding ´cooling´ stuffs such as tea; and other such DOs and DON´Ts. of course, each woman will take the confinement period as strictly or as laxly as she wants, but from what i understand, the main ´rules´ such as not showering, staying indoors, and following the heaty/cooling food indications, are still adhered to quite strictly by most traditional chinese women.

even more alien to me was the concept of a ´confinement lady´ to help the mother during ths period: a lady who is hired for the month to cook nutritious food for the mother, to change and wash nappies (in my parents´ time, it was almost always cloth nappies), and to feed the baby (also in my parents´ time, it was the norm for babies to drink formula milk instead of being breastfed, but i imagine that even for breastfed babies, the confinement lady would be responsible for bringing the baby to the mother to feed, and then take it away to be burped and put to sleep in another part of the house). during the first 30 days then, the mother is pretty much allowed to choose her ´working hours´ as a mother, even to the extent of not seeing her baby at all during that time, if she so wishes! from what my parents say, confinement ladies were much sought after, charging quite a high sum, and often requiring that you book their service with several months´ notice. i wonder if confinement ladies still offer their services today...

having noah in ecuador, where neither marcelo nor i have family members close by, meant that almost all the women around us started giving me advice. some of it made sense, but some just sounded funny. i´m not sure how much of the following ´works´, but where possible, i did try and heed most of it (except where there were contradictions, in which case, i just did whatever i felt like): i was only meant to drink hot liquids or at least tepid drinks, such as cooled tea (contrary to the chinese belief mentioned above); i wasn´t meant to bare my shoulders or back at all since this caused my milk to dry up (giving rise to marcelo´s first dad joke about my breasts giving powdered milk); i wasn´t meant to eat pork (and this had nothing to do with the swine flu)... and there were a whole range of ideas on how to look after noah - for instance, i was told in the first week that you´re meant to burp a baby stroking UP his back to help the bubbles up his throat, and in the second week, i was told to stroke DOWN his back to help settle the milk. the more people i talk to, and the more ´advice´ i hear, the more i think that, like most things in life, there´s no right or wrong way to do anything when it comes to babies (except the obvious ´don´t shake your baby´ advice). and so after trying to please everyone at the start, i´ve decided, bugger it, i´ll listen to everything and everyone, but í´ll just do what i feel is right.

despite the different ideas that have been thrown about in our presence, one thing that everyone seems to agree on is that you have to talk to the baby. this is a slight problem, since babytalk doesn´t come naturally to me. i´m quite happy talking to someone who gives some indication that he understands, but when i´m with noah, i´m at a loss for what to say. often, i´ll start talking to him (in a normal adult voice, not a baby voice) but then end up doing my own thing while he happily plays by himself, blowing spit bubbles and going cross-eyed trying to focus his eyes. and although everyone keeps telling me that i have to talk to him ´so he can recognise your voice, so he can start talking himself,´ i distinctly remember that when we were studying speech development in babies at uni, all ´normal´ babies learn to talk whether they are spoken to directly or not. indeed, there are certain cultures (specific names escape me now, i´m sorry to say) whose members don´t see the point in talking to babies, and will only start addressing infants once they´re past the babbling stage, and have started to utter coherent words. i´m not too worried about talking to noah directly since he hears the daily conversation between marcelo and myself, not to mention all the different voices he hears when we go out each day. but i do understand the need for him to recognise the sounds of the English language, instead of just Spanish, and so i read to him as i type or out loud when i´m reading books in english. (i´m hoping that he won´t adopt an australian accent though, since i´d much prefer him to have Fez´s accent (from That 70s Show), or that of antonio banderas.)  

it (now) doesn´t surprise me that ...

it (now) doesn´t surprise me that without some form of support (medical attention, midwife, or just anyone who has assisted at a birth before), so many women die in childbirth. my experience of bringing noah into the world was supposedly an easy one: his position was ´normal´; i was only pushing for 45 minutes; and he was tiny at 2.23kg and 44cm long. yet even with all this in my favour, those 45 minutes were quite easily the most physically intense and traumatic that i´ve gone through. (for full details of the birth, go to the previous story: ´THE details´) if it weren´t for the fact that i had complete faith in the staff at the hospital, or the constant thought that ´others have done it, i´m sure i can do it too´, i would´ve been ready to give up at the 3rd push. some part of me which had detached itself from the process and was observing with horror at what my body was going through kept saying ´it would be so easy to let the pain overcome me, stop pushing, and just pass out´. of course, i didn´t do any of that. but i imagine that any woman who does, and doesn´t have immediate medical support, would die giving birth.

it (now) doesn´t surprise me that sleep deprivation has been used as a very effective form of torture, or that people who get little or irregular sleep (insomniacs, long-distance truck drivers, shift workers, parents of little babies....) start to go a little crazy.

it (now) doesn´t surprise me that in the past, (and even occasionally now,) there were so many cases of parents abandoning or killing their babies. if, after hearing such a story of baby abandonment or murder/manslaughter, someone were to now ask me ´what kind of mother would do that?´, i would reply ´the kind who has to look after the little one by herself, who has no one to tell her that ´you´re doing ok´, who has no conscious awareness of the hormonal. changes her body is going through and so can´t intellectualise why she feels so down, who has had little and irregular sleep, who has no means of getting a bit of respite whether it be through relatives, nurseries or daycare.´ it´s not hard to imagine that that´s the kind of parent who feels she has no choice but to leave the baby at a stranger´s doorstep, or who shakes/smacks the bub a little too hard out of frustration, or who´s so exhausted that she makes a fatal error such as falling asleep and rolling over the baby, or dropping it accidentally. (please, there´s no need to be concerned for noah´s welfare! i´m just saying that it doesn´t surprise me...)

it (now) doesn´t surprise me that often, having a baby either makes or breaks a couple. like in any challenging situation, you both start to show your best and your worst. either you focus on giving each other the support that you both need, and tough it out together, or you take out your frustrations on each other. they say that most separations occur in the 3rd or 4th year of marriage (or formal union) - isn´t that also around the time that most couples decide to have a baby? (again, there´s no need to be concerned, i´m just saying it doesn´t surprise me!)

it (now) doesn´t surprise me that dummies are called pacifiers. noah can be crying hysterically, throwing a tantrum with all of his little body, refusing all attempts at being calmed down, but then relaxes instantly as soon as he latches on to his dummy. it´s like a drug!

it (now) doesn´t surprise me that breastfeeding is encouraged to create a strong bond between mother and child. it doesn´t surprise me that in the days when wet nurses were used, the relationship between biological mother and child was cooler than that between the nurse and the baby. if you put so much effort into getting your sore teats out to be manhandled by a fussy baby every 3 hours, and look into his little face while he´s suckling contentedly, it´s inevitable that some sort of affectionate feeling is generated.

and finally, the cute stuff: how noah makes me smile

- the way he still sometimes scares himself with a loud burp or fart (the first time he farted in his sleep, he woke himself up)

- his look of concentration and scrunched-up face when he poos

- his wide-eyed look of utter amazement when he hears or sees something new

- his shortened breath and excited wiggles when he gets closer to the teat for a feed (much like a dog jumping up and down when he knows he´s going to be fed)

- the way he gasps at the cold when i clean his privates with a damp babywipe

- the way he likes to roll, no matter how many cushions we put on either side of him

that´s all for now, i´ve got a sleepy baby hanging off one arm and can´t type more. more photos are in the ´oh baby, oh baby´ gallery...



My husband and I are Australian and live in Cuenca. Where are you now? Cuenca still? I was googling stuff when I came across your blog and after reading through, wondered if you'd like to come to my funky home to have coffee and vegemite on toast. We've been restoring an old house on Calle Larga for the past 8 months and are about to open up as a cafe and b&b. I'm good on sympathy!!!

  Jenny Bluefields Nov 3, 2009 12:39 AM


Hi Yuen,
What a surprise, you are a mum? Congratulations! and you have a cute partner too
I've been wanting to look up for ages how and where you were!
All the best - your baby must be about 8 months old now!
Where are you going to settle with the little one or perhaps you already are, where did you meet your man and when are you coming to Australia to show off little Noah
please don't forget to ring 9434 7469 when in Melbourne angele

  angele May 15, 2010 7:23 PM



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