Sometimes he asks me if I’d had dreams, because I dream a lot. Vivid dreams can be a symptom of pregnancy, but even before we got knocked up I’d have a lot more dreams than he did.
This has been the first week where he had more dreams than I did.
“I dreamed last night that we already had the baby.”
“Oh, as a newborn? How did it look? What happened?”
“Nothing much… all I can remember is I was holding our baby. And I was so happy.”
“Other moms tell me it’s the best feeling in the world, when the baby is finally born, and you finally get to hold them.”
We sit quietly for a minute, not saying what we know we’re both thinking.
How can I miss someone I’ve never even met? How can I miss them so terribly when we have never – not for a second – been apart? When they’re kicking and wriggling around inside my belly and I can feel their every move?
If this is how I feel, I can’t imagine how L feels. He’s actually jealous that I can feel the baby inside me. He eagerly puts a hand on my belly and encourages baby to kick. Sometimes he’s rewarded for his patience, but usually he isn’t.
“Are we going to get another ultrasound?”
“Not unless we pay for one, darling.”
“How much will it cost? Maybe we’ll just get one so we can see it…”
I think about it for a while. Extra ultrasounds do cost a pretty penny, but it’s not the cost that I’m worried about.
“I’m always so sad when the ultrasound comes to an end.”
He laughs and mimics a back-and-forth conversation between me and a doctor: “Okay, we’re done now. No we are not! But your time is up. NO. TEN MORE MINUTES.”
“Don’t worry darling, I’m meeting the midwife again this week. She’ll check up on the baby.”
* * *
“Can I see the countdown again?”
9 weeks and 4 days, says the countdown.
He looks a little sad and extremely happy at the same time. “By the time I’m back from the work trip, it’ll be… 8 weeks and 3 days? Then after we move, it’ll be… 7 weeks. Then after my parents’ visit, it’ll be… 6 weeks and 2 days. And then…”
Usually he’s one of the calmest, most patient people in the world. But right now he’s trying to break time down into smaller, more manageable chunks that still needs to pass before he can hold his child in his arms. Waiting a whole 9 (and a half) weeks is almost too long to bear.
He would grin or chuckle as he watched me, now barely able to move without waddling like a duck.
“What is it?”
“Your belly! It’s sooooo round!” his voice is filled with sheer glee.
“Well… you did this to me.”
“I KNOW.” his grin grows even wider.
“I’m actually worried. I didn’t expect it to get this big.”
“Isn’t that a good sign? It looks perfect to me.”
“It hurts sometimes. And it’s difficult for me to move around now…”
“I’ll help you move around. I’ll rub lotions on it and rub your back and everything.”
I sit down beside him, unable to stifle a loud grunt as I do so, then with the grace of a water buffalo (and a few extra grunts), try to get into a comfortable position. I turn to look at him, still with his giant grin on.
“You did this to me.”
He chuckles and wraps his arms around me.
“I’m scared. This baby is going to be a big, Dutch-sized baby. I’m not built for carrying tall babies.”
“You can do it, honey. If it was abnormal, your midwife would have warned us. The baby is doing great, and so are you.”
We both put our hands on my belly and sigh — him with 100% pure joy and me with maybe 99% joy and 1% trepidation — as I sit very still and wait for the baby to kick.
We were in Rome, and an African man with dark brown skin and a massive white grin was walking up to shake L’s hand.
“I like your shoes man, peace. You’re not a racist. You’re black and white! Black and white, one love!”
It took me a while to realize he was talking about us — L was white and, at least in this man’s eyes, I was “black”.
Since my skin tone is almost as light as L’s, I never really saw myself as “black”. I would cop to being yellow, Asian, Chinese, East Asian, South-east Asian, and even though “Oriental” was derogatory, it would technically be more accurate than “black”.
I knew when my Chinese friends visited South Africa they had to tick a box to indicate their race, but were given only two choices: black or white. Some of them had ticked (with great uncertainty) the “white” box and been told off by immigration officers: “You don’t know that you’re black?”
Throughout our courtship, race was never an issue for me and L. We both spoke superb, neutral English, were not religious, and shared plenty of common interests. Our families stumbled a little over our cultural differences, but this was more than outweighed by the eagerness and warmth from both sides.
But as soon as they found out we were planning to have a child, our families have wondered what our child will look like. Will it have L’s thin, blonde hair? Or my thick mane of black hair that ligthens to a dark brown in the summer? Will it have my tan, even skin tone? Or L’s lightly-freckled, pale skin that refuses to tan at all? Will it have my curvy, pouty mouth and large teeth? Or L’s soft, thin lips and easy smile? Will it have my flat, round nose, or L’s perfectly straight one? Will it have my almond-shaped brown eyes, or L’s piercing blue-grays?
None of this matters to me half as much as what personality traits it will inherit, and whether it will be fit, healthy and happy. But my friends and family, excited by the sheer possibilities, throw casual speculations back and forth:
“Oh I hope it’s a girl, and a blonde one. Like a doll.”
“Boy or girl, I want it to have blue eyes.”
“Blonde babies are so cute, too bad it’s a recessive gene. Don’t worry, at the very least yours will have beautiful light brown hair.”
L and I were both beautiful babies. Big, bright eyes, heartwarming smiles, ten teeny tiny fingers and ten little toes. I’ve hung up our baby photos beside my baby’s ultrasounds, and wondered what the combination of both our genes would look like. There is a chance it will look a lot like me, or a lot like its father, or even a cross between both. Either way, looking at our happy little baby faces it was hard to imagine it would be anything short of perfect… but it’s painfully clear whose traits are getting the most “requests”.
My father described my eyes as “sparkling with a special light”. My mother often looks at me – or a picture of me – and says, “I have no idea how a woman like me birthed a beauty like you.” To this day whenever my grandmother holds a baby she would say, almost matter-of-factly, that I was “the most beautiful baby of all.” Since my mid-teens, friends, family and strangers alike have lavished praised on my looks.
But none of this has resulted in a single wish for the child to inherit my colouring over L’s. Instead I hear endless wishes for the child to emerge blond, or blue-eyed, or both.
My husband grins and points at his niece and nephew, both born platinum-blonde with sapphire eyes. “Aren’t they beautiful? Won’t it be great if our baby looks like them?”
“Or it might look just like me,” I point out, hugging my belly defensively.
“Maybe,” L admitted, then joked (without realizing he was walking on thin ice): “but it has my genes, and my genes are strong!”
“Which features of mine do you want it to inherit?”
L shrugs. “I don’t know, but we’ll see.”
I want someone to say, with the same enthusiasm that others have shown for L’s qualities, that the baby will be lucky to inherit my looks: my black hair is beautiful and thick, optometrists declared my brown eyes too pretty to hide behind glasses, and my smooth, light-olive skin is always a skip and hop away from a beautiful, light golden tan in the summer sun. I dread that if the baby is born with these traits, which were so admired before the politics of my marriage to a white husband, that someone I care about will be genuinely disappointed — and worse, they will say so out loud.
It’s ironic, really. People have called me “exotic” for years. Men of different races have approached to ask where I’m from and remark about how “exotic”, “rare” and “interesting” I am. But when it comes to my baby, it seems all I hear about is how important it will be to pass on my husband’s Caucasian traits, because black hair and brown eyes are “common” while blond hair and blue eyes are “rare”.
For now, all we have is a black-and-white ultrasound. At the time of the ultrasound, it hadn’t grown hair on its head yet and its eyes were always closed, but the doctor showed us its beautiful round head, tiny nose and lips, kicky little legs and strong, grasping hands. It has a perfectly formed heart, perfectly formed brain, and all its little organs are coming along nicely. It curls up and squirms this way and that, already utterly adorable. How could a baby possibly be more perfect?
“Ooooohhhh don’t you think his head shape kind of looks like L’s? I can’t wait to meet your blonde baby!”
“Does that light colour around its head show of blonde hair? But look at how it shines! Hair like gold, how lucky!”
Sometimes I look at my husband, thinking of the traits my child might inherit from him, and smile. It’s not because I want my child to be blonde or blue-eyed. It’s because my husband has a deep, intelligent expression that sometimes sparkles with mischief, and because his eyes fill with love when he looks at me. It’s because he smiles easily — genuinely — and has soft hair that I love to touch. It’s because he has a deep, reassuring voice and warm hands.
I know he jokes about having blond babies because in the years that he has dreamed of starting a family, he never imagined – until he met me – that he would fall in love with an Asian woman. Both his brothers may have dark brown hair now, but they were born blond just like L. Their eyes tend to change colour over the years too. Caucasian colours can be fickle that way, and neither of his brothers have chosen blonde partners. His older brother is expecting a child with his Thai-Indonesian partner, while his younger brother is expecting one with a stunning dark-skinned beauty from Suriname.
I take another look at the ultrasounds. Among full-body snaps of our child is one close-up snap of its tiny little foot. While moving the ultrasound scanner around, it caught a perfect image of my baby’s right foot and L and I cooed in unison, so the quick-thinking doctor printed it out for us.
The toes on my baby seem flat along the top. L’s toes are long, delicate and form a sharp, slanted point. My toes end in almost a flat line, all except for the smallest toe which, compared to the rest of my toes, looks like a little stub. There is no mistaking it — my baby has inherited my feet.
“Look at the toes,” I tell L. “Look at how flat they are. It has my feet!”
“You’re right!” L says, a huge smile instantly spreading across his face. “That’s so great! You have very cute feet.”
A small victory perhaps, but significant nonetheless.
And even if you are born blond, my child, I will teach you to speak Chinese.
“If you had to summon a patronus, what single happiest memory would you think about?”
“That time I finished all the bride snatching challenges, and they finally let me through the door to see you. In my eyes, that was when you became my wife.”
He’d say this throughout the day as he observed me.
He’d say it with a smile as he leaned in to kiss my belly and talk to the baby.
He’d say it with a smirk as, after bounding up the stairs to our door, he turns around to see me, usually a tad competitive about this, slowly pulling myself up step by step.
He’d say it with a soft smile when he caught me frowning at my reflection in the mirror, my usually flat tummy protruding further every day. He rubs lotion on my belly, gushing over how cute he thinks it is, and how happy he is to see it grow.
My usual snappy pace now resembles a duck waddle. My husband wraps his arms around me for a slow dance, saying pregnant women probably waddle because our babies enjoy bouncing from side to side when we take our walks.
Sleeping through the night is a challenge now, and while I used to leap out of bed at 7am to cook his breakfast and then gently coax him out of bed and into the shower, he now rises before I do, and some days I can now barely say good morning through a thick haze of sleep as he cooks his own breakfast and kisses me goodbye before leaving for work.
Instead of my usual springy self, I now grunt when I get out of the sofa, and have to push myself up with both arms. My husband gets in front of me and offers both hands to help me up.
When I try to do my nightly stretching exercises, it is a slow, awkward maneuver around my tummy until I run out of breath. My husband tells me he’s sure I’m still much more limber than he is, and proves it by quickly trying and failing to touch his toes.
My legs, while short like my mom’s and never quite model-slim, were at least shapely and toned, and able to walk steadily and rapidly for long distances without resulting in achy joints. Now they are growing stockier and it is a strain to walk more than a half hour at a time. My husband rubs lotion from my thighs to my feet, massaging away the strains of the day.
“I feel terrible for women who aren’t married to husbands like you,” I tell him, kissing him on the side of his forehead.
“Well, I feel bad for them too,” he says with a grin.