A few nights ago I slapped my 9-week old daughter right in the face. Now before you accuse me of child abuse, let me say I did it for her own good. See, she was lying there in bed fast asleep, all plump and innocent with her wonderfully soft and powdery baby skin, and a nice, fat, contented mosquito was just sitting there on her forehead, so full of blood it couldn’t even fly away. So I smacked her on the face — whap! — to kill it before it waddled off to tell its friends about the baby buffet laying there on the bed waiting to be plundered. My little child flinched momentarily at the quick hot slap, and much to my surprise she mercifully slipped back into sleep.
As I went to wash the blood off my hands, a very scary thought crossed my newly maternal mind — what if my poor little child gets dengue? After all, here we are in Thailand, she’s barely over two months old, and she’s just had her first mosquito bite, and not even from a local Hongkie mosquito but a Thai mosqiuto. What if her tiny developing immune system can’t handle it? All kinds of guilty thoughts went through my head in the blink of an eye. Am I a bad mother to take a baby that is barely two months old to a foreign land? Should I have done like the Chinese mothers and confine their babies to the home for the first few months of their lives to keep them safe and sound and far away from the nasty germs and parasites out there in the real world? Was I crazy to take her to Koh Samui before she can even lift up her own head? What was I thinking? What kind of a mother was I?
These thoughts of doubt and guilty plagued me off and on for the whole 10 days that I was visiting my father in Koh Samui, a beautiful tropical island in southern Thailand. But you know what? In the end, this kind of experience as a new mother was exactly what I needed. I think new moms, especially first time moms, tend to be paranoid, and rightfully so, because statistically speaking babies are most likely to die, for whatever reasons, within the first three months of life. Thus the confinement period here in Hong Kong and China. This kind of paranoia can really make you go insane, and I can say for a fact that the first month of her life I was a total basket case, trying to do everything right, trying to not make any mistakes, trying to do all the good things good mothers are supposed to do.
But there I was, in Thailand, doing all the wrong things, on a daily basis. I think some of the things I did would cause any local Hong Kong mother to blanche. I took her on a plane full of foreigners and foreign germs at 8 weeks of age. We went to the Koh Samui Hash and walked around the bush in the afternoon sun. She got bitten by a few mosquitoes. She was exposed to loads and loads of friendly Thai women (many of whom were ex-prostitutes) who were begging to hold her and squeeze her and hug her up. She was often out of sight as people showed her around. She was taken out to bars at 6 pm, when most rational mothers and taking their babies home to put them to bed. She was bathed at all the wrong times. She was hot like hell in 35’C. She had little to no routine, and every day brought something new.
I worried. I won’t lie — I worried every step of the way whether doing any of these were a bad idea.
And after all that, what did the baby do?
She just looked at me and smiled, a big goofy smile.
Perfectly fine, mom. I’m happy like pappy. Nothing to worry about.
She didn’t get sick, she didn’t die, she didn’t perish.
I wasn’t a bad, crazy, neglectful mother after all!
Now that I’m back in Hong Kong, I feel a lot more relaxed about motherhood. Even my husband noticed it — that I came back with almost a sort of new found confidence about this whole parenting thing. That you of course have to do what’s best for the baby, but you CAN actually travel, and do things, and go out, and not just stay home with a baby all the time. We humans have survived much worse conditions for millions and millions of years. Going out is not going to kill your child. And maybe once in a while, you can even get a pedicure and a massage, and maintain your sanity.
Moral of the story? Travel with the baby — don’t stay home!