They say the mother-daughter relationship strengthens when the daughter becomes a mother. Finally, the daughter appreciates the hardship and sacrifices her mother has made.
As I enter my last trimester of my first pregnancy, I have a newfound respect for mum. But in my journey to motherhood, it has been my bond with my little sister that has exponentially lifted.
My sister and I are only 15 months apart. It’s a family joke that she was an accident. My parents wanted a second child, just not so soon after me.
Given our closeness in age, I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t there. We were born in Hong Kong in the early eighties. We shared the master bedroom of a small apartment. We entertained ourselves by rearranging our beds in the shape of the alphabet like L and T.
In our childhood photos, I am at least a foot taller and we look very different. These days, we are often mistaken for twins.
When we moved to Melbourne as seven and eight-year-olds, she settled much better in our new home than me. She was bubbly and had lots of friends. She wasn’t as angst ridden as me. She didn’t have as many questions about why we migrated to Australia or why we were different to the other kids. She belonged right away.
When she was in grade 5 and I was in grade 6, the school voted for house captains. I won Vice Captain of the red house. It was unexpected as I was a quiet bookworm. My sister had convinced all her friends to vote for her big sister.
In our teen years, we kept to ourselves. We had different circles of friends. I went onto study arts/communications. She went onto information systems and psychology.
Technology has allowed us to Whatsapp and Facetime regularly. We speak in our own language which is mostly English with random Cantonese in the mix
She wasn’t particularly academic and failed multiple subjects at uni. This put her on notice for expulsion and my Chinese parents into panic mode. The family priority was to support ah mui (little sister).
Instead of support, I moved to London and then to Canberra.
During my stints away, I missed two events. First was her graduation ceremony. I hadn’t gone to my own as it wasn’t important to me. For her, she didn’t think she would finish one degree, let alone two. It was important to her. I didn’t bother showing up because graduation ceremonies were boring.
The second time was when she needed surgery to remove an overactive parathyroid. The surgery required general anaesthetic and an incision to the front of the neck.
I didn’t come back then either, believing it was a common procedure and that she would be well looked after by my parents. Nonetheless, it was neck surgery which could impact her ability to speak and eat, not to mention her fears about pain, bleeding, stitches and scarring.
In both times, I was only in Canberra so coming home to Melbourne was not a big ask.
Fast forward to our thirties, she now lives in London with a cool design job that takes her from Mumbai to San Francisco, Tokyo to Buenos Aires.
Technology has allowed us to Whatsapp and Facetime regularly. We speak in our own language which is mostly English with random Cantonese in the mix. We plan trips: me to the UK/Europe, her back to Australia or half way somewhere in Asia.
Her last trip home was for my wedding two years ago. After the wedding fanfare, the expectation of a baby escalated quickly. For a while, outside of my marriage, only she knew we were experiencing fertility issues.
It was a difficult time and my sister messaged every day. She didn’t offer advice or tell me other people’s miraculous conception stories, just a hello and to check when the next appointment/test/procedure was.
She has a suitcase of baby gifts from the places she has visited since the baby announcement. She has set up a shared folder, demanding weekly pictures of the bump and daily pictures of the baby when it arrives
She also managed our caring but overzealous mother; ensuring that mum didn’t ask the questions I didn’t have the strength to answer.
When I found out I was six-weeks pregnant, she was the second person I told after my husband. When we passed our 12 weeks scan, she booked a five-week trip back to Melbourne, timed four weeks after my due date. She has a suitcase of baby gifts from the places she has visited since the baby announcement. She has set up a shared folder, demanding weekly pictures of the bump and daily pictures of the baby when it arrives.
Her love and support has been overwhelming.
I think about how much I took her for granted in the years we were growing up and how grateful I am now to have a sister by my side as I begin my new role as caring and overzealous mother.
I hope that one day, I can gift my child with a sibling. If they can experience a bond half as strong as the one I share with my sister today, they will be so lucky.
Every Family Has A Secret season 2 premieres on Tuesday 22 September at 7.30pm on SBS. Episodes will also screen as an encore on SBS VICELAND Thursdays at 11pm.
Every Family Has A Secret will be subtitled in Simplified Chinese and Arabic and added to the subtitled collection at SBS On Demand, available immediately after its premiere.