I always knew I would like to be a mother someday. Once I was done with travelling, had established a career, and was committed in a relationship. I knew that once I was settled and happy in who I was as a person, I would be ready to be responsible for someone else.
Pregnancy was easy for me, but once my son was born, I was overwhelmed by sleep deprivation and the noise of a constantly crying child. I was not prepared for the onslaught of emotional stress, pressure and exhaustion of being a mother and wife combined, plus the weight of expectation, of watching my every move, as I remained stuck inside the house for the traditional Chinese thirty days of confinement.
In my culture, all mothers have a confinement period of four weeks where we are housebound and cared for by our mother, mother-in-law or a special confinement support woman. The Chinese believe that the mother's body needs time to repair and heal from childbirth. The belief is that outside air, cold water and germs are dangerous in those early days.
The confinement helper is supposed to take care of everything in the household, including cooking all the meals for the new mother and helping with the baby so that the mother can focus solely on resting and healing her body.
My Mum and Dad moved in with us for four months to keep me company and offer this confinement help. With their experience and pure joy of being grandparents, they took it in their stride to take over the house and help care for their grandson.
Both my husband and I were complete beginners in parenting, and like other young parents, we had the intention of wanting to experience learning how to care for our child ourselves, but this wasn't possible during the time of confinement.
It was hard to feel sure and capable in these early days, and for my partner, the intensity of being watched and getting it right as a young Dad made him fearful of holding such a fragile baby. Made it hard for him.
For me, the emotions that were rampant, and the number of low moments were overwhelming. No one tells you the truth about how awful you can feel and how incredibly hard it actually is to be a parent. How much of a toll it takes on the relationship between you and your partner and how much energy it takes to deal with your issues, let alone helping your partner cope with the dramatic change in both your lives. Add into that soup of emotions, the tension and bubbling conflicts happening in your house when you have extra family members living together, you lose connection to your centre.
Expectation is a big word.
How often do partners discuss their expectations of each other before they get married or have a baby? We had a weekend of pre-marriage education, a counselling session before we were married at the local Catholic church. There was no in depth discussion about parenting or what we expected from each other when raising a child. We didn't talk about the waywe were each brought up or how we were going to help each other and make time for each other as a couple.
Eight years down the road, I realised that my husband and I were brought up very differently from each other, had completely different understandings of how a mother or a father should be and our opposing ways of thinking led to a multitude of misunderstandings and problems. I remember when I first told my husband about the emotional stress, the turmoil that I was feeling inside as a new Mum. He offered to take me for a five day holiday with him to Hong Kong and I tried to explain how I could not just leave our two-month old son and go with him. He said to me "You have gone completely mad. Do you want us to separate?" He was frustrated and obviously trying to find a way back to an "us" outside of the constant demands of the baby and family in the house. At that time though, he didn't have the words to know what to say.
I think men face powerful challenges when becoming a father for the first time, and when their partner's time, attention and energy are taken away from them, they feel that's not what they bargined for. Add in family pressure, they feel shoved out. They feel left behind...
Corrine's story - an excerpt of the full story for "Made Beautiful by Scars"