FIRST of all, allow me to introduce myself. I am neither a doctor nor a child expert. I am the classic example of a busy Cambodian middle-class man living in the suburbs of Phnom Penh. And in nine months I will become a father at the nubile age of 25.
I choose the moniker of Super Papa because I want to speak out for millions of other young parents in Cambodia, especially on what they are not brave enough to speak out on in public. This column will focus on the trials and tribulations of the journey to parenthood, to be kept as a DIARY for my child so that he or she will be able to understand his or her parents’ hard work in bringing a child into this world.
On Saturday night a fortnight ago, my wife, a 27-year-old accountant, took a pregnancy test with a dipstick after she missed her period for a few days and was feeling a bit under the weather. The two red lines (indicator) on the stick suddenly brought us boundless joy. We are going to be parents! Although it was almost midnight, we rattled off breaking news to our parents and relatives.
But, after that I asked myself whether I was really that happy to become a father, or because I have finally met others’ expectation of me. Yes, the transition from a couple to a small family is one of my happiest moments, but on reflection, it was actually the wish to meet great expectations that brought the stork.
We got married nearly two years ago after three years of dating. Even before that, we made many plans for our new life as a young and energetic couple: to buy a house, to own a new Toyota, to start a business and to see the world. However, what seems to be missing was to have a baby. Because it would be a big responsibility, we did not want to have a baby before we reached most of the goals on our list, probably when I reach the age of 30.
Yet, our parents, relatives and friends hardly agree with that blueprint. Everyone around us was saying that there is no better time to have a baby than NOW. Here are some of their comments to me:
“You have to make a baby now. If you wait until later, your wife will not be able to conceive a baby in her 30s.”
“If you have a baby late, you might die before your child is old enough to support themselves.”
“Aren’t you man enough to produce a baby?”
It is not strange for developing countries like Cambodia, where successful children are crucial to your retirement plan. As a result, my wife, who is two years older than me, and I were so stressed-out that we decided to postpone all our plans and focus on a baby bump. After a number of failures, we eventually did it.
Nevertheless, as I pondered the question of when a better time might be, I was convinced that we have made a mistake. Don’t get me wrong! The baby is the most precious thing that has ever happened to us, but what’s a bit screwy is the timing.
Although it’s not as though people are forcing us to do what we don’t want to do, the pressure from our parents and relatives can get us edgy. Of course, we would not be here if our parents decided not to have kids. I also have to admit that I felt shameful to see that friends who gotten married later than us, had beaten us to parenthood. Yet, need we let others affect our life-changing decision?
It is our life, and mostly, it would be us suffering if it were a bad choice. Besides, we should admit that in this modern age, there are many other priorities apart from parenthood.
Then it comes to the widely-known “inverse correlation” between women’s age and fertility rate. According to the latest studies, the popular belief that women lose their ability to bear a baby after the age of 35 is in fact based on French birth records from 1670 to 1830, a time before the entry of electricity, antibiotics, or fertility treatment! But it has been oversold. According to Jean Twenge, an American researcher and the writer of The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant, there is not a huge drop until my wife reaches her 40s! And we had not planned to wait that long.
Meanwhile, you can never be too sure that you will not die before your children are old enough to fend for themselves, no matter at what age you conceive them, with accidents killing young people and life expectancy on the rise in Cambodia. Isn’t that what life insurance and future saving plans are invented for? If your children do not need it, the return from your investments can give you a comfortable retirement.
Still, I am sold to the idea of being called “grandfather” at my child’s Graduation Day. Again, this baby has given me a new sparkle, and I am learning every day to become the real Super Papa. I look forward to sharing this real-time narrative on our journey to parenthood. But so far, the best decision on a baby should come from the couple: you and your spouse only.
Baby, you are the greatest!