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Hello baby, goodbye routine

Arrival of third child brings chaos to a well-organised household - but also joy

This time last year, my household functioned like a well-oiled machine.

After sending the kids off to school, I would exercise and run errands before starting on my freelance work. In between interviews and writing, I would get dinner started in the slow cooker or chop up vegetables for meals.

When Jason returned from school, we had a fixed routine of lunch, bath and homework. We had lots of time to talk.

This year, any semblance of a routine has disappeared as we welcomed the newest addition to our family - Sarah, a 2.6kg bundle of joy that has thrown our lives out of whack.

The last two months have passed in a daze, not least because I'm sleep-deprived.

While I used to plan our lives and activities weeks ahead, I now take each day as it comes. It is all I can manage.


ST ILLUSTRATION: FRANCISCO

It doesn't help that I decided to do without a maid or confinement nanny. Prices double during Chinese New Year, and I planned to nurse the baby at night anyway.

So I had confinement food catered, my husband took two weeks of paternity leave, and my mother-in-law would pop by for half a day when she was free.

Even then, it is a stretch juggling three kids.

Jason, 10, was left waiting at the school gate because his papa completely forgot to pick him up; seven-year-old Shannon has little of a routine after school because I'm either too busy nursing her baby sister or too tired to get her to do much else.

Gone are the days when I scoured Popular looking for assessment books for Jason.

I never thought I would hear him say this, but the other day he told me: "Maybe you should get me an assessment book. My Chinese test is coming soon."

Grooming has been pushed down our list of priorities. Last week, the boy finally said: "I think I need a haircut. My hair has touched my ear."

The most challenging part for me is not getting enough sleep. The baby keeps her own schedule and is asleep for most of the day.

"She's nocturnal!" exclaimed Shannon one day, when she heard me describing Sarah's sleep pattern to a friend. Unfortunately, she's right.

I now consider a good night as one with five hours of interrupted sleep. A bad night can consist of hourly feeds, or colicky cries, or long stretches of awake time, or all of the above.

Coming in a close second to lack of sleep is when all three kids need attention at the same time.

The witching hour happens just before bed time, when the older two pull out a frenzy of forms or worksheets to be signed, and one suddenly remembers that there is tingxie, or dictation, the next day which has yet to be learnt, and this happens to be just the time that the baby needs to be fed or changed.

But the cherub has stolen our hearts.

The best part is seeing the older two dote on her. Jason loves sniffing her head, while Shannon tells me ever so often, "She's so cute!"

And looking at the older two, I know all too well that the nights may be long but the years are short. They grow up way too fast.

On particularly difficult nights, I remind myself to be thankful that, despite a difficult pregnancy, where I had to be on bed rest for a few months, and was vomiting daily until the day I delivered, Sarah is out and well.

I'm grateful that, even though she decided to greet the world at 35 weeks and six days, she did not require a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit despite the nurses there being put on standby.

The silver lining to my lack of time and energy is that the older two have been forced to become more independent, and dependent on each other.

Jason now takes public transport home on his own. My near-militant approach to a lunch, bath and homework routine is so ingrained in him, he now hardly needs to be told what to do when he returns from school, not that I have the energy to keep tabs on him.

Shannon is happy to play or do crafts on her own while I rest and I sometimes feel guilty about it, but perhaps much of it is self-inflicted.

During one conversation, I told her: "I'm busy with Baby but you know I love you, right?"

Her puzzled reply? "Of course I know that. Why wouldn't you love me?"

So I'm thankful my middle child does not have Middle Child Syndrome.

Once, when we realised there was no bread for breakfast the next day, Jason decided he would take Shannon for breakfast in school.

When I heard how he bought her food and waited for her to finish her breakfast before clearing the plate for her as she ran off to join her friends, I was very thankful we had forgotten to buy bread.

Some of our friends said: "You are very brave to have a third one after so many years."

We're not sure if they meant it was a foolhardy decision.

A year ago, we too couldn't imagine having to cope with night feeds, diaper changes and the demands of a newborn baby all over again. Now we're managing, one day at a time.

Perhaps it's all about perspective - it's not so bad once you've gone through with it. For example, when you have had poop all over you and your bed sheets in the middle of the night when you were half-asleep, everything just looks brighter the next day.

But I'm still hoping she will sleep through the night soon.

•Jane Ng, a former education journalist, is now a freelance writer.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2016, with the headline 'Hello baby, goodbye routine'. Print Edition | Subscribe