Here’s an article I wrote for SBS Life about how I almost got scurvy.
The challenges of new motherhood are well documented, but Kelly Eng hadn’t counted on malnutrition being among them until her own bun was out of the oven.
I had my first baby seven months ago. Prior to the little poppet’s arrival, prophets on the other side issued warnings aplenty: of sleepless nights and consequent zombification and of irreversible damage to body parts; however, surprisingly little mention was made of the confronting transition that parenthood thrusts upon one’s food consumption.
I knew having a baby would involve some food-related adjustments, but I figured none would be too hard. Surely I could bung together a sandwich. Or a wrap with roast duck and hoi sin sauce. And I could make my own Peking duck pancakes while nursing, right? Easy!
Then, one Friday afternoon, baby came strolling into the world and booted Maslow’s hierarchy of my needs right out of the birthing suite window. Who needed self-esteem, love and friendship? Now it was all about survival, and that meant sleep and food (wiping my armpits with a Wet One was now an unattainable luxury); and when the need to eat won out, I discovered that feeding myself was more difficult than anticipated.
To explain: a baby’s sleep cycle can be as brief as 20 minutes. So once you lay the adorable muffin down, dash to the loo (three minutes) and mop baby vomit off the ceiling (four minutes), you have 13 minutes to conjure up something that contains complex carbohydrates, lean protein and at least two vegetables.
Time restrictions present but one of the challenges; noise reduction is another. Bitter experience has taught me that a 45-degree turn of a soy sauce lid or a coriander sprig falling on the floor can wake the poppet and whip her into a head-banging frenzy. And so I’ve attempted to hack into a whole pumpkin silently, flung myself at the microwave with two seconds to go before the ding and winced every time the fridge door opens with all the subtlety of the tomb of the terracotta warriors being prised open for the first time.
True enough, when baby refuses to sleep in her cot, I can sling her over my shoulder and cook one handed – have you ever tried to pleat a dumpling with one hand? – though I prefer to strap her to my front, allowing both hands free. However, reversing babykins into a 220-degree-celsius oven, human heatshield style, can feel slightly counter-mumtuitive, as can thrusting her toward the gas stove while oil and chilli paste spit hot lava our way.
Meticulous planning is required for the eventual dégustation of meals, and what a fleeting pleasure that has become. Meals are now bolted down in seconds (sans chewing) or sprayed everywhere as I belt out verses of ‘Ten in the bed’ and my husband hops about the room trying to catch the ejected gobbets between two slices of bread.
Spillage is another consideration. A serviette placed atop baby’s bouffant can help deflect a shower of rice grains, while a helmet is more appropriate in the event of a falling wonton. And don’t get me started on the perils of noodle soup. Let’s just say that it’s best to cut out the middle man completely and sip straight from the bowl.
Mostly, though, I’ve been too knackered to cook. Even scrolling through UberEats can seem too challenging. The cruellest irony is that breastfeeding gives you an insatiable appetite, and for me, a yearning for the food from my childhood. And while my Essex-born husband is a willing cook, his repertoire doesn’t quite extend to char hor fun rice noodles or chilli crab.
But there is hope. I’ve found that prepping one’s evening toast at the crack of dawn helps. As does calling on the big guns: Mum and Dad. Casually mentioning to Mother that my iron stores were low seemed to kick-start an astonishing takeaway service. Tupperware containers stuffed full of braised tofu and pickled vegetable and Kung Pao chicken suddenly materialised, while one particularly fruitful day, Dad made it his business to bus, train and tram across the city to personally deliver roasted pork belly and handmade dim sims.
And when Mother decides that I look particularly anaemic, no cow is safe from her clutches: beef stewed in master stock is served with a side of beef rendang and topped with stir fried gai lan (with beef of course).
Babykins has also benefited from the family meals on wheels service. As soon as two tiny fangs appeared, Mother arrived with a container of chicken rice porridge. Unsurprisingly, baby lapped it up, rewarding Grandmother with the gummiest of smiles (plus two fangs).