The Post-Baby Pooch

I remember seeing that photo of Kate Middleton exiting the hospital after giving birth to Prince George and thinking “Wtf, she looks like she just stepped out of a day spa.”
I’m sure she has an army of hairdressers and makeup artists at her beck and call, but it still doesn’t make average mamas like me – who literally felt (and looked) like a bloated whale after pushing a baby out, any better.

That said, one looks forward and moves onward.

It’s been nine months since that fateful day, and my weight has kind of plateaued at around +5 lbs pre-pregnancy (which wasn’t my ideal weight to begin with). I’m struggling here.

The struggle isn’t helped by the fact that I also have diastasis recti, a condition wherein the ab muscles have separated, resulting in a so-called “mom pooch.”

(To test whether you have diastasis recti too, try this self-check.)

It makes me look like I’m still preggers, hence a bit of confusion with the lovely ladies at the MRT station in the mornings who help pregnant and disabled folks get seats on the train.

(I’ve finally clarified with the train lady who usually hangs around near my usual door that I’m done giving birth. “Ooh, when?” she asked. “Erm, recently,” I said while sprinting away to a different train door. I wasn’t about to tell her exactly how long ago.)

I’m working on the pooch though, with the help of exercises, including this soothing video:

(You probably already know this, but some traditional core exercises like crunches, planks, burpees, etc. are NOT recommended when you have diastasis recti. These will only make it worse.)

I also refer to handy visual aids like these:

Tummy is definitely a work in progress for the foreseeable future.

It definitely won’t be a Kate Middleton, but hopefully the next time the MRT lady sees me she’ll leave me alone.


To the Good Days, and the Not-so-Good Ones

To all parents: there will be good days and not-so-good days.

Good days:

  • That beautiful, beautiful baby laugh that never seemed to end.

  • A smooth feeding. (With a good muscle flex at the end.)

  • A long and satisfying nap, after which he wakes up ready for more play.

The not-so-good days:

  • That stab of guilt when baby keeps looking at you as you prepare to leave for work. The feeling lurks in your thoughts throughout that day.
  • An unusually long cry-a-thon. You know (and suspect baby knows too) he’s tired, but he just. Won’t. Stop. Crying. You summon the gods of Calm and Patience. You think zen thoughts so he doesn’t catch your increasingly darkening mood.
  • Someone mentions in passing that he looks kind of skinny. Your mind wrinkles with worry. He’s a fussy eater, and will gag on purpose if he doesn’t like what he’s eating. You blend some chicken with broccoli and brown rice powder for him, but he refuses to eat. You go back to boxed cereal. You wonder if it’s enough. Or if you’re enough.
  • Baby’s strange habit that worries you a little bit, then worries you even more once you start exploring the rabbit hole that is medical sites on the internet (where every cough is a harbinger of doom).

I won’t end this post with a cliché conclusion such as “Everything happens for a reason” (no, it doesn’t) or a tired thought like “Things will get better” (while it very well might, that’s beside the point).

I only say, quite plainly, that such days will come – for everyone.

Relish the good days.

And for the rest:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Kids Read #1: Baby Faces by Margaret Miller

It’s a simple ask: I hope to raise kids who love to read.

My siblings and I love books. One of my earliest memories was struggling over the word “pebbles” in a Ladybird copy of Hansel and Gretel, and asking my mom how it was pronounced.

Reading, I felt, changed our lives in so many ways for the better, and I wanted to pass it on to my son.

Way before Squishy even arrived in our lives I was already trying to “build” a small library for my (then future) kids. I started with a few books I remembered loving as a child, and a few more I wish I knew about when I was younger.

I recalled the timeless charm in Shel Silverstein’s poems and black-and-white illustrations. The delicious thrill I felt from Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell’s scary stories. My amazing adventures with Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, and Tintin. Crying with Wilbur in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. Looking for Wally. Rhyming with the infinitely readable Dr. Seuss.

I wanted to share my love for these books with my kids. I wanted to find out what books my kids would introduce me to.

I didn’t care whether I was having a boy or a girl, or that it would be years before he/she would even be able to read them. I’m getting these books for them! I thought.

It eventually dawned on me that I had to slow my too-excited heart down. His time to read all that will come.

We all start with ABCs and 123s, so that’s where Squishy’s reading journey begins.

I read that babies love looking at people’s faces. In fact, a Stanford study (among many others) showed that “as early as four months, babies’ brains already process faces at nearly adult levels.”

That babies are so advanced at processing faces and facial expressions shouldn’t be surprising. It’s essential to their (and our!) survival.

Here’s a quote from another study, on how much babies learn from looking at faces (emphasis mine):

A lot can be learned about our social world from the faces of others. Faces provide information about age, race, gender, physical health, emotional state, and focus of attention, giving observers a window into the mental states of other human beings. During the first year after birth, infants begin to extract a large amount of information from faces: they begin to recognize identities, recognize and prefer faces from their own race, detect affect, and follow gaze. However, these sophisticated abilities are of little use if infants don’t look at faces to begin with. Put another way, to extract information from faces, infants must first attend to them.

Michael C. Frank, Edward Vul, and Scott P. Johnson, Development of infants’ attention to faces during the first year (2008)

So we made sure to talk and read to Squishy. A LOT.

One the first books we read to him is Baby Faces, a baby-friendly board book by Margaret Miller.

Start 'em young. Squishy at 3 months
Start ’em young. Squishy at 3 months

As the title implies, it’s a book with babies of different races making all sorts of facial expressions, from “Yum-yum!”, “Uh-oh!”, “Boo hoo!” to Squishy’s favorite, the “Yippee!” Baby:

baby faces

Board books are excellent for little ones especially, who often like a book more for its chewability than its content.

See? It’s so baby-friendly, Squishy can hold it in one hand!

Watcha lookin' at?
Watcha lookin’ at?

Baby Faces is a good addition to his first library, and a good start, I hope, to a lifelong love for reading.

When the time comes, I’ll be waiting with my Tintins.



Baby Faces (Look Baby! Books) (Board Book)
By Margaret Miller

Available at Kinokuniya for S$7.99

P.S. Stay tuned for more on Squishy’s books under Kids’ Read!

How to Hire a Foreign Domestic Worker in Singapore

Are you thinking of hiring a helper to care for the kids while you and your partner are at work? This is our experience of direct hiring a foreign helper in Singapore. I hope it helps.

Before I begin, a word:

Hiring full-time help is a luxury in some parts of the world. In others, it’s quite common. We lived for a while in the UK. I remember a work colleague arranging to arrive earlier than everyone else and leave earlier too, simply because he had to drop off/pick up his son from day care. Live-in nannies are wildly expensive in Europe, and I’m sure in the US too. In Singapore and Hong Kong though, hiring help (usually foreign) is quite common.

In Singapore there are special visas for foreign domestic helpers and even a cookbook written in English and Tagalog, to leave “no room for misinterpretation and confusion when the domestic helpers are using these recipes.”

(Interesting side story: Filipino domestic help make up a third of all foreign helpers here in Singapore, so they’re a pretty sizable group.)

As you can see from my ‘About’ page, I’m from the Philippines. I once mentioned to a colleague in passing that our helper back home did this-and-that, and he was all incredulous like, “You have helpers in the Philippines?” I laughed and said, duh, yes we did.

For a short and sweet primer on how Filipina nannies anywhere have made their mark on the families they care for (and who care for them too), read this essay by Anthony Bourdain on his December 2015 CNN Parts Unknown episode.)

Anyway, onward.


1. Carefully consider if hiring a full-time helper is right for you.

There are many alternatives to hiring a full-time helper: having family members help care for your baby (Squishy loves his lolas and lolos but both of our parents live abroad), childcare centers (Singaporean citizens enjoy child care subsidies, so if you’re a citizen this is a very good option), part-time nannies, confinement ladies (for very young babies), or even the option to become a stay-at-home parent. What works for one family would depend on their individual circumstances.

You must know though, that periodic costs of hiring a full-time helper include:

– her salary (certain embassies may impose minimum salaries);
– the foreign worker domestic levy of S$265 (concessionary rates available to citizens) — you can pay this via GIRO thereafter;
– required insurances and any medical expenses;
– air tickets home;
– living costs (e.g. food, etc.)

You’re also required to provide acceptable accommodations for her and let her have adequate rest, and I cannot believe we need guidelines for that because that’s just basic human decency, yes?

Note we went the direct hire route and already had an eligible helper in mind, which may not be the case for everyone. Our helper is also from the Philippines, so the process below is specific to the country.

As an employer, you also have to fulfill certain requirements and attend an Employers’ Orientation Programme. I did my EOP online so it was quite convenient.

2. Select a licensed agency to help you out.

Although we already knew who we wanted to hire, we had to go through a licensed agency. The Philippine Embassy in Singapore requires helpers who’ve worked less than 2 years at the same employer to process home leave (also known as OEC) requests through an accredited agency, so we didn’t really have much of a choice, since we wanted to have Ate C come home with us when we went back to the Philippines for Christmas.

Besides, licensed agencies already have partner agencies in the helper’s home country which would make things like arranging locally required assessments or medical exams, following up, etc. convenient and hassle-free for employers.

We selected Hart Consultancy Manpower (#02-26 in Lucky Plaza, they’re located on the second floor, near the lift fronting Orchard Road), after canvassing around five agencies in the building for whichever had the lowest fees.

After reading blogs like Pinktini’s and Get Brainy’s, I discovered that there used to be an option for employers to handle the MOM leg themselves (which would’ve been cheaper, since we pay only for the Philippine processing), but we were told that this option was no longer available at the time we applied (September 2015). 😦

As of September 2015, Hart charged S$2,350 for MOM (Singapore Ministry of Manpower) and POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration) processing – trust me, this was the lowest we could find then.

Hart’s S$2,350 fee includes:

POEA Processing
a. Authentication and verification of Employment Contract with the Philippine Embassy
b. TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) training and assessment
c. POEA insurance
d. Pag-ibig membership
d. Phil Health insurance membership
e. OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) membership and seminar
f. OEC (Overseas Employment Certificate) / Exit Pass – Though I hear that the current president is doing away with the OEC for eligible workers, FINALLY
g. A one-way airline ticket (Manila – Singapore)

MOM Processing
a. MOM application and issuance
b. Medical fee in Singapore
c. Settling-In Programme (SIP)
d. Thumb-printing
e. Fetching from the airport and lodging for a few days while her work permit and SIP is sorted
f. Work permit collection

The fee excludes personal expenses such as: medical fee in the Philippines; transportation; photos and photocopies; and lodging while attending Philippine-government mandated seminars like OWWA, TESDA, etc (although Hart provides free accommodation for 2 nights during the TESDA seminar, with food). Hart recommends around Php 7,000-8,500 for personal expenses.

Hart’s fee also excludes the S$5,000 security bond and medical insurance required by MOM and the S$2,000 performance bond required by the Philippine Embassy for direct-hire employers. The Philippine Embassy actually requires a S$7,000 bond for direct-hire employers, but because we were going through an agency and Hart already had a standing S$5,000 bond with the embassy, we only had to pay the premium for the S$2,000 extra.

We bought:
Medical insurance and security bond from NTUC Income for S$263 (Plan B)
– S$2,000 performance bond for the Philippine Embassy from Ergo Insurance (through Hart) for S$70

The whole process takes 5-7 weeks.

That’s pretty much it. Most of the legwork will be done by the agency.

The biggest hiccup we had throughout the process was Ate C’s medical exam in the Philippines.

In Singapore, all helpers have to be screened on arrival and every six months for four types of infectious diseases: tuberculosis, HIV, syphilis, and malaria. Ate C cleared this exam.

The Philippine leg also has its own medical exam, which was conducted through Hart’s partner clinic. Hart’s partner clinic initially assessed Ate C as “Unfit to Work” on the basis of the technician’s read of her X-ray results. Because Hubby’s family had hired Ate C as a helper for a while before we decided to bring her over, they were confident about her state of health. We paid for several repeat X-rays and exams to re-check the initial assessment (it ended up being incorrect). An “Unfit to Work” assessment, on its own, does not stop you from hiring an identified helper, as you can execute a waiver.

Also — don’t be tempted by anecdotes you hear of getting helpers through the tourist visa route, which is supposedly cheaper. Apart from stricter regulations where their work permits are likely to be rejected, you also don’t want to run afoul of the law, especially in Singapore. Better safe than sorry.

A final word: these women live far away from their own children and partners. Sometimes, they don’t see their families for long periods of time. They are rightfully considered one of your baby’s key caregivers, and as such have an important role to play in your kids’ healthy emotional development.

The least we can do is treat them fairly.

To paraphrase Anthony Bourdain in his essay, let’s try to do right by people who’ve been very good to us.

Thanks, Ate C!

Baby, Please Poop

It’s Singapore’s 51st birthday so… long weekend, yay! Had ambitious plans to bring the baby around to a few National Day events (okay, at least one) hosted across this tiny country.

But it’s Sunday already and we’ve been home, mostly. All because Squishy hadn’t pooped since Thursday.

Now, baby poop is one of the things you definitely won’t miss until it’s gone. 💩

We think the culprit could be the banana we mashed and introduced to him last week. Bananas are generally regarded as a “constipating food” (others include rice and cooked carrots), so I guess it’s best avoided unless baby is having soft stools.

I checked with my sister, a pediatrician. She suggested giving Squishy lactulose, to be mixed with his milk. (For dosage, check the bottle as formulations may differ.) In Singapore lactulose is available over the counter; Fairprice has two brands: Lactus (ICM Pharma) and Duphalac (Abbott).

We bought Lactus, which was slightly cheaper.
We bought Lactus, which was slightly cheaper.

If possible she suggested upping Squishy’s milk intake, and also suggested feeding him some natural laxatives such as prune juice or apple juice. According to Babycenter up to 6 ounces a day for babies older than 8 months can be given to treat constipation. (Good luck feeding your babies prune juice though — ours was squirming like he was being fed poison so we finally mixed an ounce secretly with his milk. Apple juice may be a more pleasant option for all involved.)

What amazed me about this whole ordeal was that I was the only one stressing about it. The little man was absolutely fine — giggling, screaming, crawling, and toddling around holding onto his playpen like things were a-OK. How is that possible?

Patient X, clearly suffering (also featuring his only, lonely tooth)

According to the bottle Lactus could take up to 48 hours to hit. It was almost the end of Day 2 with no results. In Singapore, all clinics are closed on Sundays so if we wanted to see a doctor today our only option would be to go to one of those 24-hour emergency walk-ins at the hospital. Since Squishy didn’t look disturbed at all so I doubted we’d be treated as a genuine emergency.

Cabin fever was taking its toll so I suggested taking him outside for a walk. When we were on our way back I thought I caught a fart-y whiff — it turns out he had done the deed quietly while we were out and about.

Finally! Let the (rest of the) long weekend begin.