24 Years Ago

It was after dinner. The night was windless and shrouded in haze. Annie was chatting with Josh on Whatsapp. Josh mentioned that he had a rather hectic, almost overwhelming, weekend. KK Women’s & Children’s Hospital was a scene of frantic baby boom town. Annie suggested that it was probably due to the auspicious 8th lunar month and equally auspicious year of the goat, and also providential S50 Year of Jubilee. I was sitting beside her, listening into their conversation, and memory of Josh’s birthday flooded back.

It was also the year of the more auspicious Golden Goat, 1991 and Christmas was around the corner. I was on standby, paternal leave applied in advance and waiting anxiously for the call as Josh was almost 10 days overdue. I was out on inspection of a foreign bank when the awaited phone rang. Praise God, Annie’s water bag had burst but surprisingly without any contractions. I calmed her and assured that I am coming back. I jumped onto the taxi and headed for home, anxious and excited.

I met an equally anxious face when I opened the door. We exchanged worried look that something was amiss as there were still no contractions. Haven’t we been briefed by her obstetrician & gynecologist, Dr. Kek or read somewhere or some books that the contractions were expected at onset of labor? We quickly called Dr. Kek to inform her that we are coming in. We snatched the overnight bag, grabbed a taxi and headed for Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

Mum & Son

Mum & Son

Upon checking into the maternity ward, Annie was seated on a wheel chair and immediately wheeled into the delivery suite with me in tow. She changed into clean maternity pajamas and nurses quickly strapped and linked her to all the electronic monitors. The room was faintly lavender scented, soothing music playing softly in the background, to calm any anxiety and hopefully make the delivery a pleasant and memorable one. We held hands, muttered inaudibly in prayer to comfort and waited, waited and waited, with nurses dropping in intermittently for cursory checks on Annie and quick scrutiny of the printouts from the monitors.

Dr. Kek dropped by to give some last minute words of encouragement. She went over the printouts, periods between contractions and check on state of dilation. The staff nurse whispered mutedly to Dr. Kek, she nodded and then whispered back her instructions. Apparently, December in the year of the Golden Goat was the peak season for having babies with many Monkey year babies due in early January induced to join in the crowd. Every delivery suite was needed for more imminent deliveries. Many expecting mothers were already queuing and waiting in the waiting room. Annie was wheeled into the waiting room, a rather Spartan room with 12 beds arranged in a row against the wall each bed separated by cubicle curtain. I must say, Mount Elizabeth’s delivery ward was being run like clockwork, orderly and efficient, with babies being born into the chaos, cacophony and cries of pain and joy that day.

In the waiting room, staff nurses would rush by regularly flipping up the pajamas for a quick cursory dilation checks. As quickly as one appeared, she would disappear immediately as whirlwind unless her attention was grabbed by the magical 10-cm dilation. Almost immediately as if unbeckoned a few nurses like workers bees would fuss around the lucky expecting mother like the reigning queen bee before wheeling her to the delivery suite. One nurse stopped by my missus’ bed but instead of flipping she smiled at me and cordially handed me a bag of consumables. I found out later the consumables were removed from the delivery room, not FOC and I would be charged for them.

Many were wheeled into the delivery suites to be followed by wailings of babies soon thereafter while we were left wondering and worrying in the waiting room, waiting without further dilations and contractions. We were beginning to feel anxious. It was almost dinner time. Annie was downgraded to the regular ward. We had a quick bite at the hospital canteen. Later she was hooked intravenously to induce contractions. I left with a promise to come back early the next morning.

I slept fitfully that night. The phone rang urgently, very early the next morning. The induced contractions had started and the pain was building up. I warp sped to Mount Elizabeth and Annie was wheeled into the delivery suite for the second time. Once again we waited, waited and waited but I guess Josh refused to be hurried. Contractions came in waves but the dilation did not.

As the delivery suite was needed for another more immediate delivery, Annie was again wheeled back into waiting room and I was handed and charged for another bag of consumables. The contraction pain intensified becoming too unbearable that Annie had to opt for epidural anesthesia. Later she was wheeled into the delivery suite for the last time and we waited and waited and again as before Joshua refused to be hurried.

Josh wondering?

Josh wondering?

In the evening, Dr. Kek dropped by and decided that Annie should not wait anymore and Josh would have to come out through Caesarean whether he likes it or not. We were not surprise, kind of expected it. Annie’s water bag had broken for over 24 hours ago. Further, she was just too exhausted to go through normal delivery after 17 hours of labour pain and contractions. Needless to add, Josh was just too big a baby for his petite mother. Actually, we were already prior warned by Dr. Kek during pre-natal checkups and ultra sound scans. I hugged and pecked her on her forehead before they wheeled her to prep her for operation.

I did not pace anxiously outside the operating theatre and no baby’s cry to pierce my anxiety as in the movies. Before I know it, Joshua was wheeled out in a space age transparent Perspex cot, thoroughly cleaned and snugly wrapped. Time of birth 8.13 pm. I was momentarily mesmerized, for before me for the very first time in my life was the most beautiful of God’s creation, my very own flesh and blood, my very own first born son. He was just so angelic, peacefully asleep comfortably and snuggly in his cot. I gently picked him up and tightly held him close to my chest so that he could hear my heartbeat. Joshua wriggled and let out a whimper. I drew him closer and whispered a prayer of love into his ear and he quickly went back to his sleep.

I cradled him tightly in my left arm, single handedly and confidently as if he was not my first. I paraded him proudly around the ward bragging to any and all around that evening until I was told that my missus had been moved out of the operating theatre and warded. I gently laid Joshua into his cot and handed him back to the attending nurse. I excitedly headed for Annie.

I softly opened the door. I must admit I was rather distressed to see Annie shivering rather violently despite the layers of blanket. One kind nurse calmed me when she saw the distress in my eyes. She explained that shivering is a normal bodily process to build up heat and increase core temperature post-operation. Despite her shivering, my missus muttered something through her chattering teeth. At first I could not make out what she was muttering. I put my ear nearer to her lips. Her very first question was, “How many fingers and toes?” I assured her everything was fine, every finger and toe accounted for. In fact, it was more than fine, weighing in at 3.77 kg Josh was truly the most beautiful and bouncy of babies, to me at least even though I may be bias. I left her to rest for the night.

I returned early the next morn. Unfortunately, Annie was down with high fever from her exhaustion. She was very disappointed as she could not yet breast feed her first born. I went to the nursery and wheeled Joshua to her. He was sleeping peacefully. She wanted to cradle him, hold him close to her bosoms but we just had to wait for him to stir. Words could not express our feelings as we just watched him adoringly. Joshua stretched in the tight bundle, his lovely face turning red from his effort and began to stir and opened his eyes. I quickly picked him up and gently handed him over to his mother. She held him close to her bosoms, cuddling him tightly and whispered a prayer lovingly into his ear. She then un-wrapped Josh gently and counted his tiny fingers and toes carefully and we exchanged understanding smiles affectionately. Tears began to stream down her cheeks, tears of joy and thanksgiving.

Dr. Kek & Dr. Josh

Dr. Kek & Dr. Josh

I bottled fed, burped, cleaned and changed diapers for Josh as Annie was still in bed recovering from high fever. Later that evening, she took her first step out of bed. She prayed for a speedy recovery as she was prohibited from breast feeding Josh due to her fever and medication. We took turns attending, feeding and changing Josh at every opportunity, cradling and cuddling him. Her fever subsided two days later and both mother and son were discharged the following evening. I remember vividly that evening before Christmas Eve, Orchard Road was crowded, brightly lit and merrily decorated already in full swing celebration of another birth in a manger some 2000 years ago. Of course, I can never forget my “heart attack” when I settled the bills.

In a blink, 24 years of fun, joy, mischief and heartache have passed. Josh has grown up into a fine promising young man, and quite handsome too if I may say. What more can I say, he inherited his mother’s good looks and my grey matter. He has just gone back to the country of his birth, gone home according to him, to pursue the calling and fulfill the aspiration of his life. God bless and God speed, my son, my first born, my pride and joy.

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