Lessons from a newborn daughter

I drove a little more carefully when I left the carpark of a hospital earlier this week.

My daughter had just been born, safely - thanks to the skill and professionalism of the doctors and nurses on duty there - and I was driving my in-laws home on my baby's first night in this world.

Rebecca wasn't in the car.

But earlier on, in the delivery room, when I saw how helpless she lay - all 3.025kg - crying in my arms, her tiny fingers now curling, now straightening, I felt my shoulders tightening ever so slightly. A heavy responsibility had just been placed on them.

I couldn't afford to let anything happen to me, surely. Already, her wailing sounded to me, at times, so desperate and so insecure. The last thing in this world she needed was for her father to not have driven her grandparents home safely before returning to the hospital to look over her cot on her first night.

But as my car moved along at a moderate speed past pedestrian crossings and traffic lights, and as my eyes darted around guardedly at each figure standing by the road, fearing instinctively that one would suddenly dash into my path, I realised something else.

The day's events had made me hyper-conscious not just of the vulnerability of Rebecca's life and my own.

There was something about the preciousness of life in general that hit home that day. Everyone else around me in this world was a Rebecca to someone else, or was responsible for a Rebecca.

We may not realise it. But so much is at stake in so many things that we do on a daily basis. The smallest of actions - such as, say, checking your blind spot - can have the greatest of impact on your life or someone else's.

None of this was not already "knowledge" that I had in my head, of course, before Rebecca's birth day. But, actually, none of it is knowledge in the truest sense - the type that actually changes the way you live.

Hopefully, this heightened sense of burdensomeness will not be short-lived. Like how Sept 11 was said to have caused people to suddenly become more polite to strangers in public, for a time - before things eventually went back to normal.

In the lead-up to my wife's due date - a surreal experience in itself - the impending arrival of a child had automatically drawn my attention to news items involving children and their parents.

Sadly, neither of the top two that left the deepest impression provided any cheer.

There was the famous "sewage baby" in China - a newborn miraculously survived the experience after his mother had apparently allowed him to slip into the toilet by accident.

The Malaysian media followed up on this piece shortly after with a gruesome report about a sewage facility there where five lifeless foetuses or babies were found each year - some of them, presumably, not the result of accidents.

Closer to home, a mother had been charged with the murder of her sickly child.

Her motive and the circumstances surrounding the death of her nine-year-old son will remain a mystery at least until her trial commences. But some newspapers have already been piecing together a tragic tale of long-term illness coupled with mental and emotional exhaustion - leading ultimately to exasperation.

It is indeed a strange world that we live in.

As I sat on the hospital couch writing this article at the end of an emotional day, my daughter, thankfully asleep, peaceful as an angel, these news items seem so much more poignant.

But what is the moral of the story one is to draw?

It is this: Every now and then, something happens that drives home a point more thoroughly than ever before.

For me, it was the birth of Rebecca. But for a society, sometimes, it takes a shockingly negative piece of news, like that of a sewer baby to achieve something similar.

We owe it to ourselves to seize these moments, whether as an individual or as a society, and ask tough questions rather than to allow them to pass us by, unreflectively.

The tough question might be: Do I realise how much is at stake in a simple act like driving from point A to point B?

Or it might be: What sort of a society are we if we cause a teenager who gets pregnant out-of-wedlock to feel so ashamed and unloved that she will not talk to her parents or an elder or a doctor and get properly educated about childbirth - which nearly resulted in a death?

Or: What sort of community support system - or, perhaps, health-care system - would allow a mother to end the very life she has brought into this world? (This last one, of course, is a tentative question, until we learn more about the full facts of the case.)

In the end, tiny lives are at stake. They cannot change the world on their own. They cannot so much as fend for themselves.

They look to us. The attitudes to life we hold, the policies we write, the value systems we construct, the littlest things we do or fail to do - by these, we will come to be assessed.

For the final test for any society or community, surely, has to be about how it treats them - its tiniest members.

Singapolitics wishes all fathers a Happy Fathers' Day