My obstetrician is adamant that I will deliver early. ‘Asian women tend to,’ she says, her lips lifting into a rehearsed, reassuring smile; her eyes are glassy, her thoughts already on the next patient. My pregnancy has so far been without complications: fortunate for me, uneventful for her. The signs for an imminent arrival are there: he has dropped, fully engaged, like a rocket ready for blast-off, except no one can give me a definitive hour, day or even week, for the launch. And so I wait, while the golden orb runs its daily circuit, taking its evening dip in the watery horizon of this sunburnt city; while the leaves in the park across the road transform the floor below into a purple river of blooms, time turning with the birdsong of the seasons. And so I wait, spending my days reading aloud to him and listening to classical music, because isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?
Google search history: How to prepare for childbirth. Can I eat haloumi when pregnant? Is it okay to use a dummy? Calm birthing vs hypnobirthing. How to avoid stretch marks. What happens to baby if I have an epidural? When should I start a routine with my newborn? Public vs private pregnancy cost. Can I eat salami if it’s cooked when pregnant? Pilates for pregnancy near me. What is water birthing? What do I need to pack in my hospital overnight bag? Will eating chilli bring on labour? Can I drink while pregnant? How many drinks can I have while pregnant? How do I be a good mother?
I like being pregnant. My gait changes. I walk with my hand caressing my belly, because I want strangers to know, I want them to ask. I like how my figure has filled in areas that are usually bony and angular. I like the fullness of my breasts, the way the extra kilos have filled out my face so that my mum now exclaims, ‘You look beautiful!’ rather than resorting to the customary tiger mum default of criticism. I feel womanly, I feel feminine. Perhaps it’s a power thing, knowing that I am creating life inside of me. I am mesmerised by his rhythmic hiccupping, the tiny flutters which eventually give way to Ryu-style spin-kicks. How are women not revered for this rather than being relegated to the sidelines? How did men manage to turn the creation of life against us? We are life itself. I play games with him, poking and then counting the seconds until he pokes me back. He has a great sense of humour, I know it. I feel it. I write to him because I am sentimental and already imagining sepia-filtered days of us telling stories by a fireplace, sharing secrets behind furtive hands, uncovering truths long forgotten. I say the words ‘I love you’ before I know who he is, because this love is unconditional, because this love is selflessness. Or is it selfishness? I have pledged myself to the unknown, and I am terrified, terrified of what I don’t know.
What if I ruin his life? What if I already have by the mere fact of bringing him into a world that has been condemned to a bleak and unforgiving future by virtue of humanity’s greed? What if, what if, what if?
We were meant to celebrate his one-year birthday in Hội An, Vietnam, where my parents both grew up in the same hamlet by the beach. We were meant to celebrate with the throngs of relatives, all of the bács and the chús, the côs and the bàs. We were meant to celebrate with my ông nội, whose face is lined like a gnarled tree, under whose branches I contentedly sit to soak up the serenity; who I say goodbye to every time I visit, a proper goodbye, because I don’t know if that will be the last time I will be able to breathe in that tender smile, those soft eyes, because each time I visit his memories become hazier and I start to disappear behind the fog. But we adhere to the warnings and retreat back into a new cocoon that we spin to make our own. His first birthday is spent as a trio, like every other day, except that he is allowed to lick icing off of a cake and promptly skips his naptime.
Google search history: Is it safe for my baby to be in childcare right now? Developmental milestones 1-year-old. When can toddlers have sugar? How to entertain 1-year-old at home. Should grandparents be allowed to visit? Toddler egg allergy symptoms. Should I be worried if my 1-year-old isn’t walking? Why is my toddler getting spots? Sensory play ideas. Easy snacks 1-year-old. How can I be a good mother?
The sweet smell of poo lingers in the room, his nappy the colour and texture of crunchy peanut butter. The hanging seashell mobile sways in the breeze blowing through the open bay doors that overlook the park, the park which has been my saviour, where I have spent my time doing laps, endless laps, until I am able to see myself again, past the milk-stain-encrusted clothes, past the figure that has flattened back into its bones and angles, past the crushing, immense fear. I massage his doughy folds and rub moisturiser into his spongy skin. His eyes turn towards me and his mouth pops open, pink gums showing faint white nubs. He lands a plump fist onto my hand, staking a claim on my heart, a territory that I’ve been careful to protect, because isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? I poke the crease of his thigh, and count the seconds until he pokes me back.
Camha Pham is an accredited freelance editor and sometimes writer. Her articles have appeared in The Huffington Post, SBS Life, Junkee and Broadsheet Perth. Her short story Paper Cranes was commended in the 2020 Newcastle Short Story Award.Copyright © 2020 Camha Pham.