In Malaysia, nothing quite sets the office gossip mill running than a female employee — especially someone who just got married recently — who is sighted with a small packet of  dried orange peel everywhere she goes. You see, Malaysians have always associated dried orange peel and other sour food stuff with pregnancy in pretty much the same way that Filipinos associate green mangoes with bagoong alamang with early pregnancy.

In the Philippines, this concept is known as lihî in Tagalog (which Malays would pronounce as [li-hik]) and pangalâ in Cebuano (pronounced in Malay as [pa-nga-lak]). In Malaysia, a pregnant woman who goes through the same thing is said to be mengidam. It’s that inexplicable temporary craving that pregnant women get, usually applying to very specific — and sometimes, weird — food items.

The funny thing about lihî is how old folks in the Philippines would warn women to eat certain foods and avoid others. For instance, they’d encourage pregnant women to eat singkamas (water chestnuts) so that the baby would turn out fair and to avoid duhat so that the baby will not end up dark-skinned. (Note how Filipinos, like most Asians, are obsessed about fairness of skin!)

In my pregnancies, I’ve only had food cravings with MyEldest (Slurpee in the first trimester, double cheeseburgers in the last trimester — I know, I know, very unhealthy!) and the twins (pineapples with soy sauce and chili, as well as mee hoon tomyam).

Paglilihi, however, is not only limited to food cravings. It can also mean a temporary obsession with a person (or persons) during the entire duration of the pregnancy or a certain portion thereof. The choice of such person(s) is something which is not necessarily logical and can even be embarrassing in retrospect. You just find yourself drawn to that person…then after the baby’s born, you lose all interest in them.

I have to confess that I actually went through this with all of my pregnancies. I now cringe at some of those ‘choices’ which were not really choices per se because I didn’t really have any choice in the matter in much the same way that some pregnant women would crave for the strangest food combinations like pickles with cheese or pizza with eggplants. So please be gentle and not make fun of me as I share this secret with you here 😛

To start off, when I was pregnant with my MyEldest, it was the time when Ricky Martin re-emerged in the music scene to sing ‘Cup of Life’ for the 1998 World Cup and having been a fan of the Puerto Rican group Menudo (of which he was a part of) in my teenage years, I was pleasantly surprised to see how he changed from a scrawny high-pitched kid to what he was in 1998. (Of course, that was waaaaay before he came out of the closet!) And so ‘pinaglihian ko siya’, as they say in Tagalog. When I got pregnant with OnlyGirl, I got obsessed with Brendan Fraser in the first trimester then switched allegiance to Ronan Keating towards the end. With RoundBoy, I was so enamoured with the Irish group Westlife. Then, finally, with the twins, it was the operatic pop vocal group Il Divo that got my full attention.

Perhaps in relation to such belief, Malays would not allow pregnant women to watch horror films or sci-fi flicks, lest the baby end up looking grotesque. This actually happened to me when I was pregnant with MyEldest. We were watching an episode of Star Trek when suddenly my husband told me to turn away because one of the aliens looked especially ugly. I really found it funny, knowing how my husband normally shuns superstitions and old wives’ tales.

But you know what? Despite my paglilihî with all those artistes, contrary to the myth, my children look nothing like them — MyEldest resembles me the most, while his siblings all take after their father. None of them ended up with aquiline noses or Caucasian looks. So the old wives’ tale about lihî and how it affects the appearance of your child? Myth busted!

When our family was in the Philippines for a week-long holiday in June 2005, I already suspected that I was pregnant. For one, my period was late. Then there were the unmistakable symptoms of nausea, dizziness and an unexplained aversion towards certain types of food.

The moment we got back to KL, I immediately made an appointment with my obstetrician-gynecologist, Dr. Z, just to get the pregnancy confirmed and for me to get started on prenatal vitamins, as well.

When the customary urine test came out positive, Dr. Z did a quick ultrasound scan to check the size of the fetus and determine my EDD (expected due date).

“Six weeks,” she proclaimed.

I looked at the tiny figure on the screen, then at the dark area surrounding it, which looked abnormally larger than usual. Could my uterus have expanded much faster than usual?

“Doctor, cuba tengok kalau ada satu lagi (Doctor, try to see if there’s another one.),” I told her in half-jest. We’re very good friends – Dr. Z and I – hence, I’ve always felt free to joke around with her. She has, after all, delivered OnlyGirl and RoundBoy, so it’s a friendship that spans a good 10 years.

She grinned, knowing how I’ve always fantasized about having twins, but playfully obliged. She spread a bit more of the cold gel over my tummy and moved the hand-held transducer. Then she froze.

Ada lagi lah, Mi! (There’s another one!)”

“Eh, Doctor! Jangan lah main-main! (Don’t pull my leg!)”

Ada!” she said firmly.

She moved the transducer up. “Here’s one.” Then she moved it slightly downwards. “And here’s another one.”

Ultrasound image of the twins at 12 weeks old. The fetuses are marked with the numbers ’1′ and ’2′.

I vaguely remember her telling me that multiple pregnancies are considered high-risk pregnancies and that I’d have to see her more often than usual. The rest of the visit was a blur because I was in total shock. But at the same time, I was deliriously happy…and absolutely scared.

I wasn’t the only one to be shell-shocked. DH was quiet for a good ten seconds when I called him to break the news. At first, I thought the phone reception was problematic (he was in South Africa at that time). Then I realized that there was nothing wrong with the line — it’s just that my normally cool and level-headed husband was having difficulty processing the information!

The children, on the other hand, were ecstatic, especially OnlyGirl. She’s been asking for a sister for such a long time and she expressed how she hoped I’d get two girls or one boy and one girl.

My mom was excited, of course, but wondered how it could have happened because we don’t have any history of twins in our family.

And so started the most unforgettable pregnancy of my life. In a future post, I will write about what it’s like to be pregnant with twins.

When I was pregnant with the twins, I started getting premature contractions sometime around the 24th or 26th week of pregnancy. Upon the doctor’s recommendation and after discussing things over with DH, I decided to stop working so that I could rest at home.

After giving birth to the twins, I also took a year off from work to take care of them, as I only had one maid at that time. It’s not easy to get a maid in Malaysia, as the paperwork and the government approval can be quite a hassle. Not to mention costly, too.

Looking back now, I believe I went through a serious case of post-partum depression. Only I didn’t know it back then. I was neck-deep in feelings of helplessness and despair, having occasional bursts of crying for no apparent reason. I merely attributed my see-sawing emotions to the fatigue and overall lack of sleep that one gets from having to breastfeed two babies…and caring for their three older siblings, who were competing for attention with the latest additions to the family.

You know what helped me a lot? ‘Tending Violet’, the journal of then first-time mom, Joyce Lollar, which chronicled her weekly challenges of caring for a baby. There was one particular entry that made me cry: ‘Week 10: So lonely I could die‘, where she spoke about her feelings of loneliness and her desperate need to talk to another adult about anything under the sun that does not involve diapers, burping or babies.

After reading that entry, I cried because I felt relief. I cried because it felt good to know that I wasn’t alone. I cried because then I knew that I wasn’t going crazy. I cried because Joyce gave me hope that, like her, I could overcome that difficult phase in my life without seeing a shrink or taking any medication.

So if you’ve just had a baby and you’re feeling down, I’d like you to know that you’re not alone. And remind yourself that this, too, shall pass. Surround yourself with family and friends. Revel in the delicious scent of your newborn baby. Enjoy those tiny little fingers and toes while they’re still tiny. Keep yourself busy. Avoid being alone too long. But do make it a point to have some time for yourself each day, even for just 10 minutes to take a shower just so you’ll feel human again. Treat yourself to some chocolate every once in a while. Get a back rub or a foot massage. Listen to music. Read. Think positive thoughts. And above all, pray.

If you don’t have a baby yet but plan on having one in the near future, don’t worry about  post-partum depression because does not necessarily happen to everyone. I’ve had three babies before the twins and I was okay. But if you do get it, then please refer to the paragraph above 😉

And Joyce Lollar — wherever you are now — thank you!!!