« Vivre la naissance d’un enfant est notre chance la plus accessible de saisir le sens du mot ‘miracle’. »
– Paul Carvel
Last Sunday we had the utmost pleasure of welcoming a new member of our family into this world: our very first niece! She was born on Sunday the 18th of October at 4.20 a.m. in Putrajaya. Another crucial detail I might add about our niece which really goes without saying is that she is cute. Extremely cute.
We arrived at the hospital at half past eleven but we weren’t allowed to go up to the ward until visitors’ hours which start at 12.30. While we were waiting, my eldest brother, now a father much to our amazement, came down to greet us. He had an unreadable expression on his face that was a bit of everything: fatigue, amazement, trauma… He told us about his experience in the labor room where he said he witnessed a lot of blood, which clearly horrified him; I suppose he finally understood that childbirth really is a messy business, and wasn’t yet open to welcoming more children in the near future.
When visitors’ hours arrived we all went up to see the mother and the newborn baby. The first time we saw our niece, she was placed in her bassinet next to the bed and the nurse was leaning over her, announcing: “Uh-oh. She pooped!” My aunt who came with us volunteered to change her diapers so we didn’t really get to cuddle her immediately.
When everything was cleaned up my mother came to hold her for the first time. For a girl, she weighed a staggering 3.5 kilograms, much heavier than my brothers or me when we were born, and when it was my turn to hold her I could feel my arms about to fall off already after ten minutes. But I held on to her because I found myself completely captivated by this tiny human being, and simply could not stop staring at her adorable face. Those tiny eyes, that tiny nose, those tiny lips — masyaAllah!
I have virtually zero experience dealing with younger children — especially babies — considering I am the youngest in my family, so it was quite a remarkable experience to suddenly find myself as an aunt with my newborn niece in my arms. I suppose all of us are quite transfixed by the sudden arrival of this baby, even though we’d known for months that she would be born around this time this year. My mother, for one, couldn’t quite believe that at the age of 50 she is now a grandmother because whenever we walk together people would always think that we are twins, or sisters. My mother’s youthful face has invited questions like, ‘At this young age, you’ve already got children finishing university; did you marry at a young age?’ from random people that we meet. (Answer: Not really. My mother got married when she was 23, which was considered a more than appropriate age to get married at that time.)
Interestingly, we were less concerned about what to call the baby than we were about what the baby is going to call us. Uncle? Auntie? Atuk? Nenek? My mother said that as the youngest aunt I should be called ‘Mak Su’ (after the word ‘bongsu‘, the traditional title for the youngest sibling in the family), but I respectfully declined as I thought it sounded… slightly unglamorous. I suggested that perhaps we should delay our naming ceremony until the baby is slightly older.
I feel extremely sad to be leaving my niece so soon after she was born, for the next time I see her when I come back she will be almost a year old. I hope we will have time to bond, but I know that not being able to observe her as she grows up will be a tremendous loss for me.
In a way the birth of our niece is a wake-up call for all of us; suddenly we (my brothers and I) all feel so old, like “it’s time to grow up”. Grow up, because now we’ve got someone to keep us on our toes and always watch us to learn what it means to be a human being that is part of a bigger society. I suppose we’ve never quite understood how huge the responsibility of a parent is, until this little bundle of joy comes along and we realize that we don’t just get to cuddle this baby, but we’ve also got to raise it too, and raise it ‘properly’ — whatever that means.
This is the beginning of a new phase in our lives that we enter with mixed feelings of excitement and apprehension. I think although we have never quite voiced this thought out loud, I know my brothers and I think the exact same thought when we look at the baby: “We vow that you will never have to go through what we went through.”
“You, kiddo, will have a better life than ours.”
[This post was inspired by Ese’s Weekly Shoot & Quote Challenge this week themed ‘Beginning’. Thanks for the prompt Ese!]