Chapter 4

7:30am.

I run on a twenty-four-hour shift by myself, and another one has just started.

The day works in a three-hour cycle. David sleeps for about two hours and then wakes up wanting more milk and pampering. The feeding takes almost an hour, depending on his appetite. And then comes the burping – the ultimate art of controlled violence – before he falls back to sleep again. My techniques on changing diapers and swaddling have also improved drastically. Nonetheless, as good as my service is, he still cries for no discernible reason, which then completely throws the whole routine/schedule out.

Obviously, a typical adult in a modern society is not designed for this routine. Yet I believe in evolution, and millions of years ago, humans would have had to function like this! Was it because they didn’t need to work from nine to five? Was it because they had to stay up all night anyway to watch out for some sort of animal attacks? Or is it simply because back in the days, humans were just like most other animals; reproduction was our sole purpose in life? Therefore, mothers’ primary responsibility in the household would be to breastfeed her children and nothing else?

Oh, the debate of breastfeed vs. formula. Emily and I used to have this debate too. Well, the decision was made for us…

Anyway, after a quick brush up, I go to the kitchen to start preparing for the milk. Then disaster strikes – I forgot to sterilise the bottles! I washed them all up and put them in the steriliser last night, but somehow I forgot to turn it on. Great. Now I need to boil some water to sterilise them. And expectedly, this is when David starts crying.

“David, please wait!”

I have no idea why I would even say that to a two-week-old baby. May be it’s a plea to David and myself that we both need to have more patience in order to survive this together, literally.

It feels like forever: standing there, watching the kettle of water boil while listening to David’s primal screaming. Also, sterilising milk bottles using piping hot water is not for the faint-hearted when one is still half-asleep.

And then the doorbell rings.

“Wait!”

I finally managed to get the milk to David and settled him down. I have developed a technique that supports David in a perfect feeding position while holding the milk bottle at a perfect angle as well – all on the same arm/hand! It also allows me precious Facebook/email time. Then all of a sudden, I remember there is someone at the door!

Rushing to the door with David on my arm, I open the door to see my father standing there, soaking wet. The temperature and humidity is horrible this time of the year, especially when he is waiting in the lift lobby. There is absolutely no ventilation, and he smells a bit like a wet dog.

“Oh sorry, I forgot. But you should have rung the bell again to remind me.”

“It’s okay, I know you were busy. I could hear you screaming. And by the way, hello, David!”

He is really true to his word. He is here TODAY. And he has a luggage that is not even large enough for a short trip.

“Hey, so here I am. What can I do to help?” It almost sounds like he’s cracking a joke.

“It’s okay, Dad. As you can see, David is drinking milk, and this is going to take a while. Just make yourself comfortable here. I will come back out when he is done. Oh, please wash your hands too!”

After David falls to sleep, I finally get the chance to come out and greet my father properly.

“I haven’t really prepared for anything. The guest room is over there, and this is the key. If you need other stuff, there is a supermarket nearby…”

Before I can continue, Dad says, “Don’t worry, son. I know how to take care of myself. I have been living by myself for a few years now, remember?”

Still, it’s strange to have him here. I feel as if I am obligated to do something. He feels more like a guest than my father. Perhaps this is how David is going to interact with me as well. I don’t know. Will we be this awkward?.

“Let me go to the market and buy something. I will cook you and David a nice dinner. I bet you guys haven’t had a good meal for a while.”

My dad is indeed a great cook, even though my mother did most of the cooking. I guess when you don’t have to do something every day, you enjoy it more.

“Well, Dad, you know David doesn’t eat yet….”

He interrupts again, “I have also invited your sister and her family to join us. You need to see more people! You can’t just lock yourself in this apartment. It’s not good for you.”

What? Are you serious? My father is organizing a dinner party? I haven’t really slept all that much for the last two weeks, and now I have to entertain more guests?

Chapter 3

My father called this morning.

It was the first time he’d called since we were at the hospital. He has been really quiet since the incident. As much as he’s my father, I don’t think anyone is born prepared to know how to console his own son for a tragedy like this. There is simply no training course on being a father, and if anything, it’s more of a trial and error process. Fathers and sons.

What is he supposed to say anyway?

“Take care, son, everything will be okay”?

“Time can cure anything”?

My father is a typical no-nonsense person. Coming from a humble background, he believes “talk is cheap” and “you are what you do”. He doesn’t feel the need of nor have the habit of saying things just for the sake of it, because most people in those situations would. He is always looking for a solution, and if he can’t offer one, he’d prefer to remain quiet.

So, after all the quiet, here comes his solution – he wants to move in with us.

My father has been living by himself for a few years now, ever since my mother passed away. It must have been difficult for him, because they were really close. It’s almost too cliché, though true, to say that it’s impossible for anyone to imagine them being apart. Yet he has shown remarkable resilience. He insists to live by himself, despite the fact my sister has been trying to persuade him to live with her. And he is seemingly doing quite well, too. He cooks his own food, continues to meet his friends, and stays in pretty good shape and spirits.

I was not sure if it would be a good idea for my father to move in with us. I kept quiet and never made the offer. In fact, I didn’t even make a token gesture. Apart from the problem that our apartment is a lot smaller than my sister’s, Emily and I enjoyed our freedom too much to have another person living in our home. In fact, it’s probably more on me – Emily was actually rather supportive of having him moving in.

My father and I are close, but not ‘best friends’. I’ve never considered my father as my friend. I have more than enough friends. Why do I need another friend? I just want him to be my father! We don’t want to show too much emotion. As long as we know we care about each other and understand that we are each other’s ‘last resort’, that’s more than enough.

And it’s no different this time.

“Dad, I know you want to help, but I really don’t think this is a good idea. Not now, anyway. I need some time myself.”

“Look, son, this is not about helping you. I don’t want to live by myself anymore. It’s becoming boring. What’s more? It would be awesome to play with David! You know, I really didn’t get to do that when you and your sister were a baby. I was too busy at work!”

“I really don’t know.” It’s tough to say no, especially when it’s your father, who is literally begging you.

“You need someone at home so you can go to work anyway!”

“Dad, I have already asked for a sabbatical – I am taking this year off.”

“Well, it’s too late. I am selling my apartment, so I need a place to stay.”

“What?!”

“You know it more than I do. The property market has gone crazy. It’s the right time to sell it off now. And don’t worry, I will pay you rent. I have too much money to spend after selling this place.”

My father is great at investing. I almost had no choice but to believe his primary motive to move in with me was not to take care of me, but actually trying to make a profit on the property market.

In any case, I can sense that he’s already decided.

“I don’t have much to pack anyway. I threw away most stuff when your mum left. Heck, I can’t bring any of it to my grave. I can literally be at your place tomorrow.”

After the call, I am still trying to figure out what to make of it.

I know my father is trying to help. I understand his good intentions. He is saying all the right things so I will let him move in, but I really don’t need his help. More accurately, he can’t help. For one, he has never taken care of a baby before. As he said, he was too busy at work when we were born. I can hardly remember his presence, other than his random rants about us not studying hard enough.

Many say one should control his own destiny. Be the CEO of your own life. Yet, I feel like whilst I may be the CEO of my life, my father is definitely the Chairman of the Board, or at least an influential investor. My job as a CEO is to execute his vision. I am heavily influenced, if not intimidated, by his mere presence. When I got my job and moved out, I felt it was the first time I have gained my freedom. I have bought back my company, and I am not prepared to give it up anytime soon.

However, as confused, if not frustrated, as I was, I am glad that during the call, I did not say, “I don’t need another burden right now!”

That was definitely what I was thinking. ‘Burden’ may be too harsh, but there is definitely more work, physically and emotionally, to handle another person in the household.

David just started crying again. The constant crying is starting to get to me. Yes, they call him a colicky baby, and there are medical reasons behind this behaviour, but it doesn’t make my life less miserable.

I can’t recall if I’ve actually had a chance to smile at David ever since he was born. On the other hand, all the chaos makes me think less about the future as I did before. Maybe this is for the best—taking baby steps rather than racing ahead on this journey, which we all take only once.

Enough of this. Back to the making milk and change of diapers again.

Chapter 2

What’s happened over the last few days was a blur to me. I can only vaguely remember that somehow I managed to bring David home from hospital. We have been staying at home this entire week. Lucky that we really did stock up on our baby inventory.

Since David was born, my phone has been flooded with messages congratulating us on the arrival of the baby. Yes, we have announced it to everyone we know by posting on various social media outlets that we were going to have a C-section on that day. Of course, little did they know what happened afterwards.

Then there was my brilliant idea: to post that “Emily is in God’s hand” message on Facebook, in hopes that it would broadcast the tragic news to everyone that we know. I could understand there was a need to somehow let people know about what happened, but I hated this burden. Do people really care?

Obviously, that has backfired. For the more casual friends, they responded on Facebook with “Take care!” or “What happened?”. Seriously, it felt like they were just watching some random tragic news on TV, but given they knew us a little bit, they had the obligation to respond with something.

For the closer ones, such as my colleagues, they sent a few messages to my Whatsapp. Again, part condolences and part investigation. There is really no limit to human curiosity. And then my real friends managed to pick up the phone and call me. Of course I had no mood or time to pick up any calls.

And no matter how many condolences I received, it wasn’t going to change my life one single bit. I still needed to get on with my life, get busy starting the paper work and funeral planning for Emily, still taking care of David while consoling Emily’s parents. As much as I had lost my wife, they’d lost their precious daughter.

My faimly insisted that they should take care of David for the time being. But I insisted on bringing David home. It wasn’t really to show that I could handle this tough situation, but really, taking care of David is the only reason I want to continue with my life right now. That would absolutely have been in Emily’s Will and Testament—had she gotten the chance to write one while on the operating table. ,

Finally I managed to convince them that David was going to be in good, safe hands, because I promised to post a picture of David on Facebook every day to prove it. I couldn’t help but also tag Emily to those photos as well. It would have been so different had Emily been here.

To my surprise, I have been stronger than I thought, and probably have handled the situation fairly well. Perhaps I don’t want David to see me vulnerable. He needs me. I even had the courage one night to print a black-and-white portrait of Emily and put it on the living room’s wall. In fact, I don’t recall that I cried at all.

Still, it’s tough to be a new father, let alone losing my wife at the same time. From feeding the baby, sterilising the bottles, to changing diapers every other hour, I literally didn’t sleep much the entire week. This was not what I’ve signed up for. I am supposed to be just like my friends: come home each day from work, play with the kids for a couple of hours, saying some half-hearted “I love you” while thinking about the dreadful meetings at work on the day, before sending them to bed.

However, it’s probably good that I’ve been busy. I really don’t need any spare time to think about things, because the second I’m idle, Emily would completely consume my mind.

So much is said about the unconditional love people have for their children. I have seenmany of my friends , turn themselves into these really caring fathers after having children, when their personalities are not even that caring to start off with. First, I don’t really trust them. I doubt if anyone can give so much love to their children when through all their lives, the word ‘love’ is practically foreign. Or perhaps it’s just that I don’t understand it yet.

Yes, I can appreciate a baby can be cute, and that can be deceiving for a little while. But having a child is a life-long thing and I am not sure if that cuteness is going to last forever. I’m sure even I was cute when I was a baby. Most of all, despite the fact that my son has inherited our DNA, I don’t really get to pick how he looks, what his personality or character will be. It’s similar to siblings. We are just assigned with them, and we are supposed to love each other because of that.

Yet my wife is different. I picked her and she picked me. Whether it turned out to be good or bad, we made the decision. She is the one who I trust enough to spend the rest of my life with. Or at least, until the point she was with me.

Today, I have decided I will bring David out. I have to face reality. There is only so long I can hide away. Perhaps more importantly, I am running out of formula.

As I step into the lift, I get a renewed sense of energy. I have finally picked myself up and started my journey back to reality, although it’s really just going down and getting some groceries.

All of a sudden, the lift stops. The light is off, and I am stuck in a pitch-black metal case, hanging far above ground, with David.

“What’s happening?”. I press the alarm button and start talking to the operation centre somewhere.

“Sorry sir, I think there is something wrong with the lift. Please don’t panic. We will get someone over right away.”

Panic?

Is this really going to make me panic? I am really a dead man walking with a simple mission to keep me going: to keep my son alive and well. I really couldn’t care less about anything else in life.

Fifteen minutes gone. There was still no one here to rescue us. I sat down on the floor – actually I have no idea why I stood for all that time. I could barely see David, but I could sense he was really, really calm. Perhaps he had even fallen asleep. To him, this might feel like he’s back to the womb again. Back to his mother. Back to somewhere that he’s safe and undisturbed.

As uncomfortable as this should feel, there is an unusual sense of serenity in here. In the strangest way, I feel safer too. Safer than outside, where I have to deal with reality. And the more I feel relax the more I can get a chance to reach to my inner self. I realise I don’t need to act strong all the time. At least not when David is not looking.

Finally, the tears start to fall.

Chapter 1

Today is the day.

After ten months of anticipation, we’re finally having the scheduled caesarean section today.

We just can’t wait.

For the past few months, we having been stocking up, almost excessively – from milk bottles, diapers, wipes, crib, pacifiers, and of course, countless baby clothes of all sizes. We didn’t buy them all; we got most of them as gifts from friends and families – all in preparation for today’s big event!  We were not the only ones who couldn’t wait – the excitement was shared and anticipated by literally everyone around us.

As I drove Emily to the hospital, we talked casually, with more excitement than nervousness. We had been starting to reflect on this pregnancy since long before the baby was born. It’s been a gruelling journey thus far, both physically and mentally. Oh, and financially too. Or perhaps that’s part of the mental bit.

Emily and I have been trying to conceive for years. We have tried everything. From traditional methods such as having “well-timed” sex (yes, sometimes having sex can be totally un-enjoyable), to almost too common procedures these days such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilisation (IVF), to every herbal remedy we dared to consume.

In fact, we had decided this was the very last time we would try IVF. It was painful to witness Emily having to take all those pills and needles to kick off each cycle of treatment. We literally couldn’t afford it anymore too. And the worst was every time she took the pregnancy test and got that the negative result. In fact, before the formal pregnancy tests were to be done at the clinic, we would buy lots of pregnancy testers to test it every other hour beforehand, hoping for the best. In a weird way, it was almost similar to checking the lottery ticket – where unrealistic expectation meets cold hard reality.  Yet, somehow we continued to do so.

Nothing worked. No, not even with all the advancements in Western medical science. It seemed life’s creation was still in the very safe hands of the God of your choice.

There were moments when I asked myself, Why have a baby? What’s the big deal? Life moves on, right? But of course, I would never say that to Emily; she was having to deal with enough pressure already. There still seems to be an unspoken pressure on infertile women these days. Yes, women get the blame, no matter whether scientific evidence supports it or not.

We still remembered the day when the doctor congratulated us on the result. It was such a relief.  Yes, there are always people winning the lottery.  And it’s just that this time it has happened to us.

Surprisingly, the whole 10-month pregnancy period had been fairly straightforward for Emily. She didn’t get sick too often (she had her fair share nonetheless), and most importantly, the baby has been growing on a very steady rate. Everything was worth it.

Today is the very last step of this pregnancy, and the very first day of our new lives with a baby.

“Take it easy, darling, it will be quick,” I told Emily as they brought her to the operation table.

I was in the operation room with her, too. I had my “GoPro” video camera, a seriously new SLR camera that I was still figuring out how to use and of course, my trusty iPhone backed up as the secondary camera. Yet I was too engaged talking to Emily; I totally forgot to take any pictures.  Emily was in block anaesthesia, which meant she was awake, yet couldn’t feel anything on her lower body. I really can’t imagine the feeling of not feeling part of my body, yet being completely awake.

It literally took the doctor minutes to get our baby, David, out. It was time for the Kodak moment, when we hugged the little man and welcomed him to the world. All this while the doctor was busy stitching Emily up.

The nurse then took the baby away for clean-up as we waited for the doctor to complete the procedure. All of a sudden, the doctor and nurses were seeing something wrong. They looked worried. And we started to hear the constant beeps from seemingly all the medical equipment around us.

Emily asked me, “What’s happening?”  Still wide awake, still without feeling anything physically.

Of course, I had no clue except knowing something was not quite right simply from their look and the way they talked to each other.  As much as Emily couldn’t feel anything, she looked definitely weaker. And then all of a sudden, the doctor asked me to leave the operation room.

I didn’t want to leave her alone, but after Emily convinced me not to make a scene so the doctor could focus, I reluctantly left.

“Don’t worry, darling, I will see you soon. Go see our baby!”

Emily is the boss of our family.  When she asks me to go, I go.  When she asks me to stay put, I stay put.  Because she is always right!  However, little did I know, those were the last words I heard from her.  It’s also probably the only time I should not have listened to her.

I was waiting for an hour outside, and then the doctor came out and told me the news.

“I am sorry. There were complications during the operation, and we did all we could to bring her back, but she didn’t make it.”

No, this can’t be true. We are supposed to be celebrating with a new baby. We are supposed to be welcoming a new member to the family. We are not supposed to be planning a funeral soon.

Beep… beep… beep…

I wake up with a sign of relief.

“Good Lord, that was a dream!”

With a tired body and swelling eyes, I can hear David crying. I walk to the kitchen to prepare milk for him. It’s almost a robotic reaction.

It’s such an accomplishment to feed the baby. He looks so satisfied. It’s like you have fulfilled every need he could dream of. Babies unlike adults, don’t seem to want much anyway. They only need the very basics: sleep, milk, and a regular change of diapers. And of course, a little bit of TLC.

As the baby is drinking away, I’ve got a little time off to check my Facebook account. Unlike others, I don’t share much about what I eat or where I go, but I do use it as an open diary to keep track of what has been happening to me. I have a habit of reading my statuses every now and then to reflect on things.

As I do so, one of my recent Facebook updates read, “Thank you for all your love and care. I know Emily is in the good hands of God. David is also doing well, too.”

As I look around the living room, I see a black and white portrait of Emily – only to remind me, this was not a dream. She is not here anymore.