Thursday, April 24, 2014

When in Rome. . .

. . . do as the Romans do?

William is over a week old, though in some ways it seems like a lifetime ago that he was born. I've been through many changes in the past week and also so many challenges. The greatest challenge has not been taking care of an infant, but managing the cultural differences that come with taking care of an infant. The Chinese approach to infant care, breastfeeding, and a mother's recovery is vastly different from that in the U.S. I am trying to keep an open mind. Ming's mom keeps reminding me, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” or “入乡随俗” (rùxiāngsuísú) as the Chinese say. I have an idiom to respond: That's easier said than done (说起来容易,做起来难; Shuō qǐlái róngyì, zuò qǐlái nán).

Eyes are open!
As I mentioned before, after giving birth, Chinese women adhere to a strict one month confinement (坐月子zuò yuè zi). Since I had a c-section, I don't have to follow confinement rules as strictly as women who give birth vaginally. This really is a load off, as I don't think I would survive a month bed ridden during which I was forbidden to read, watch TV, or surf the internet. Despite my more lax lock down, the restrictions still seem endless. And ridiculous. I can't eat or drink anything cold and ideally not even at room temperature. This means to microwaving everything from milk for my cereal (which is disgusting) to bananas (actually not too bad). I shouldn't consume salt because it leads to blisters on the baby's lips. I'm forbidden from crying because it will dry up my milk. Obviously, I shouldn't go outside for the month, though I am allowed for the sole purpose of visiting the doctor.

Despite it all, I'm trying to stay positive. It's not easy though; I totally lost my cool the other night. It was mentioned, for the third or forth time, that the baby's watery bowel movements could only be attributed to my drinking bottled water while in the hospital. When I tried to argue that nearly all American women drink room temperature or even (the horror) cold beverage while nursing, my rationale was brushed away. After all, I'm in China, I should do as the Chinese do.  

sleepy William

Sunday, April 20, 2014

William's Birth: A Lesson in Letting Go

William Gerald Zhao born 4/16/14

It's been four days since William's birth, since then and even long before it's been a process of letting go—letting go of expectations and also realizing I am no longer in control. Thankfully, living in China for this long has prepared me a bit, so it's a lesson that has not been that painfully learned.

Though nervous about going through labor naturally, I had come to embrace the idea. I wanted to attempt it at the very least. Chinese women seemed surprised by this. Why even subject yourself to a vaginal birth when c-sections are available? A fair enough argument, I suppose, but I felt like trying things the way nature intended. Nothing against c-sections, really, as that's how I made my way into this world, but it wasn't what I wanted. But it is what I got. I suppose I'm not that surprised; I had read words of caution online, that labor and delivery pretty much never goes as you expect them to, such was the case.

Ming's mom, Ping, and William in the
I thought something might not be quite right last Monday night and Tuesday morning I voiced my concerns to Ming. We went to the doctor Tuesday afternoon and she confirmed what I was beginning to fear—I was leaking amniotic fluid. My water didn't burst, but had slowly dripped until there was hardly any left. Not only that, the baby wasn't positioned well for a vaginal birth. Then it came, her unsurprising recommendation: c-section. I felt a wave of disappointment rush over me, but after it came a sense of relief. He was going to be born and it would be soon. The waiting was over.

Doctor Xin told me I'd have to check-in to the hospital at eight o'clock the following morning. She would let me decide if I wanted to attempt an induction, but advised against it. I said I'd think it over, though I already knew I would be having a c-section. I wasn't going to fight for the labor and delivery I had wanted; I was going to heed her advice.

Tuesday night was a flurry of last minute preparations, emails, and phone calls. There would likely be no mad dash to the hospital, no apartment left in disarray, no friends and family back home wondering if the time had come. This was a fairly calm, cool, and collected approach to having a baby. And so it was, the next day I walked (waddled) to the hospital, solemnly agreed to surgery, and signed the paperwork. I was in the operating room by ten, with Ming, in scrubs, as my “translator.”

But even the c-section did not go as expected. It was no wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am procedure. The epidural didn't take well and I was feeling too much; there were several moments of excruciating pain. I moaned in Chinese, “teng, teng” (“It hurts, it hurts”) while Ming provided his unnecessary translation of “she says it hurts!” The nurse administered more drugs and I slipped into a hallucination of colors, shapes, and an overwhelming sense of dying that was narrated by the chatter of Chinese surgeons. In a space of time that felt like a moment, I regained consciousness and looked over to see Ming. “Is the baby here? Is he okay?” I asked groggily. “He's here! Look!” Ming put him in my face but all I could see was a peachy-colored blur. That was okay. He was here. He was healthy. I wasn't, in fact, dying. The time: nearly 11:30 am. His time of birth? Well, that I still haven't quite determined.

I was brought back to my room where I spent nearly two days lying flat in bed, unable to hold or even feed my baby boy. Everything was done around me, for him, and for me. And there was nothing I could do to change that. I watched in horror as they fed him water, scoffed at his “complicated” American baby clothes (that were replaced by their more practical Chinese counterparts), and pushed aside my carefully packed disposable diapers, as well as the cloth ones (Ming's mom opted for slices of old shirts instead). I was ordered not to consume anything cold or sweet or salty. I was told what to do for reasons I still don't understand and I obeyed, defying Ming's perception of me as being “so America.” In other words, I was no longer headstrong and overly confident in my own judgement, adamant about making my own decisions. Somehow, that part of me had slowly slipped away. Sometimes I wonder if it makes me somehow weaker or maybe it just makes me more mature. I guess it doesn't matter. My boy and I are both home and healthy, that's what really matters.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Double Digits: The Big One-Oh

Ming and Ping outside our apartment,
before heading to dinner 
Ming and I (about 38 weeks pregnant)
This past Saturday was Tomb Sweeping Day, a day in which Chinese honor the dead by cleaning their tombs and leaving offerings. Ming visited his father's grave, first sweeping it and then leaving behind cigarettes, alcohol, and some snacks.

In honor of the holiday, many people enjoyed a three-day weekend. Most students had off on Monday. Since Ping's 10th birthday falls on Friday this year, we decided to celebrate a little early. Ping wanted to go out to eat for her big day. We convinced her to try something new, rather than her old fallback, KFC. So we wound up at Origus, a (pretty awful) Western-style buffet that can be found throughout China. A branch of the chain was just opened in Chengde. Though the adults weren't too impressed with the food, (honestly, KFC would have been much preferable) Ping seemed to enjoy herself. She was probably even happier to come home to a small pile of presents and a homemade cheesecake.

Birthdays in China don't seem to be surrounded with the same amount of hoopla that they are in the U.S. Going out to dinner and having a simple store-bought birthday cake has become somewhat standard in China over the past several years, but birthday parties aren't yet all that common, at least among Chinese people I know. When Ming was young, he didn't get anything for his birthday, as it just wasn't customary to give presents and birthday cakes weren't yet a trend. Moreover, these were luxuries few people could afford. These days, there are sometimes gifts, but my understanding is they are pretty simple. Kids get showered with money and new clothes over Chinese New Year, not so much for birthdays. Ping is pretty lucky because she gets some stuff for Christmas, New Year's, and her birthday. Being in a mixed family sure has its benefits!

out to eat at Origus
Ping with her presents

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

38 weeks

Edvard Munch "The Scream"

I went to see the doctor again yesterday and for the first time, I was gripped by fear. This is really going to happen and it's going to happen very soon. Her prediction: late next week. My panic was elevated when I stumbled upon the delivery room, which seemed downright medieval compared to those in the U.S. Not only that, I was informed that epidurals aren't standard procedure at the hospital where I will be giving birth. I would, most likely, be doing this al natural. The thought of which didn't scare me so much before when I knew it was a possibility, but downright terrifies me now that I know it's a high probability. The doctor and Ming's mother saw the look in my eyes and tried to assuage my terror.

“You'll be fine. Your baby is a normal size and in the right position. You have wide hips—much better off than Chinese women! What's to worry about? If your progresses very slowly or you really can't manage the pain, you can opt for the epidural,” the doctor reassured me.

I didn't feel very reassured. I felt like I had something to prove, if not to them, then to myself. Why was something they found completely normal so scary to me? In America, having a medicated birth is common practice, to the point that many people feel you'd be stupid not to have some kind of drugs. While I always tried to remain open to the idea of going natural, it was more something I envisioned as a nice idea for someone else, rather than for myself.

With this new reality now facing me, I felt, for the first time, a little resentful about being a woman. I always tried to think of pregnancy and birth as a gift, something only a woman can experience and truly appreciate. A part of me used to pity men, because they can just stand by as helpless spectators to this event. Now, all of a sudden, being a spectator sounded preferable to being an active participant.

But I suppose none of this really matters. The most important thing is trying to manage my fear which I truly believe is a greater obstacle to me than the pain I will experience. Not to mention, time is going so fast, no matter what I think or fear now, this will all be a distant memory in a couple week's (or perhaps day's) time.