Saturday, May 31, 2014

My Addictions

Before William's birth, I had two addictions. Can you guess? I'm willing to bet you share in at least one of my vices. . .

Chocolate and coffee. Separate or together (few things in life beat a mocha), I keep returning to my two dark masters.

Of all the things one can be addicted to, I believe these two are among the more innocuous. During pregnancy, however, many women at some point question whether some of their rather harmless habits may be negatively affecting their baby. I know I did.

The safety of drinking coffee during pregnancy has been somewhat up for debate. Until recently, I think it was widely believed that consumption of caffeine during could be harmful to the developing fetus and many women chose to forgo it. These days, most pregnancy literature, as well as most American doctors, agree that a cup of coffee or a few cans of Coke are fine (it's generally recommended to keep caffeine consumption below 200 mg/day during pregnancy).

In China, of course, beliefs are different. My daily espresso caused many comments and looks of disapproval, mostly from my husband. Once I started showing, I was too embarrassed to order my own cup of joe at McDonald's. . . . I had friends do it for me. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I decided to give up coffee altogether. I wanted to be more or less caffeine free for at least a few weeks after the baby was born. For one, I didn't want to deal with withdrawal symptoms after giving birth, and secondly, breastfeed newborns can be sensitive to caffeine (although most things I read said it is still okay if kept under 300 mg/day as long as the baby shows no signs of ill effect).

While I did my one month confinement, I was a good girl. I didn't drink coffee. I didn't eat chocolate. But in the past couple weeks I've started reintroducing them into my diet. I allow myself one (decaf!!) espresso a day and 25 g (less than an ounce) of chocolate. These are my indulgences, but they have become the biggest point of contention between Ming and I since William's birth. I knew we'd have differences in opinion on how to raise our son, as we certainly have plenty on how to raise Ping, but I never suspected my diet would be under such intense scrutiny.

Of course, this was an issue I mentioned during one month confinement. Fine, I was expected to eat a rather strict diet while recovering from giving birth and breastfeeding a newborn. But as William grows, I figured some of the rules would be lifted. Am I really expected to drink hot water until he is fully weened? (Did I mention it was over 90 degrees F last week?). Must I continue to heat up all fruit in the microwave? And horror of all horrors, no chocolate or (decaf!!) coffee for a year?

Nearly every time the baby has trouble falling to sleep, I face cross examination. I always buckle under the pressure.

“Did you have coffee today?” Ming demands.

“Um, yeeessss. It was decaf,” I reply hostilely.

“What about chocolate? You had chocolate, didn't you?!” he accuses, knowing full-well the answer.

“Yes, a little. I have chocolate everyday! I had it yesterday and the baby slept fine!” I declare defensively.

I am then given a lecture on how selfish I am. After which I threaten to give up breastfeeding if such accusations don't stop. Well, they haven't stopped and I haven't given up breastfeeding.

I suppose the mature thing to do would be to just give up chocolate and coffee. But the thought of giving it up for a year when I truly believe it is harmless seems ridiculous. Right now the best thing to do seems to indulge in secret, which means having a secret stash of chocolate and be sure to discard of any wrappers away from the scene of the crime. Coffee is more tricky. I may reserve that treat for times when I am left home alone (not too often) and can turn on my espresso maker without notice.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Back to Work: Having it all in China

I think most married people would agree, sometimes you can't stand your spouse. I wonder if there is any other time this is more true than when taking care of an infant. I think the strain a baby puts on a marriage is one challenge that many people don't anticipate. There are a lot of issues a couple has to work through while also trying to adjust to taking care of a new, tiny person.

I'm trying my best to keep my relationship with Ming strong, though some days it's difficult. He has his faults, as do I, but in most respects he is a really great husband and father. I am reminded of this often by other people and that makes me realize I need to appreciate him more.

Last Sunday I went to my student, Sandy's home to tutor her. I thought it would be good to get out of the house to have class, as having students come to my apartment is somewhat problematic with a crying baby in the background. As soon as I arrived, Sandy asked who was taking care of the baby.

“My husband,” I answered.

“Wow,” she replied, “Most Chinese men don't take care of children. You are lucky.”

“I guess I am lucky,” I told her.

We talked a bit about gender roles and how women, in both America and China, are often expected to raise the children and take care of the home all while maintaining a career. It seems a bit unfair that women are expected to “do it all.” Moreover, in China, it seems like stay-at-home-moms are very rare. For example, most of my students come from rather wealthy families, but all of their parents work. I think Chinese women are very hesitant to give up their careers perhaps due to China's fiercely competitive job. I also think some women like the security of having their own job and not being entirely dependent on their husbands and in-laws. But it hasn't always been like this.

Ming's mom has also commented on what a good husband and father Ming is and she generally isn't one to generously dole out praise. She has compared him to his cousins who don't really help their wives with anything, while Ming often cooks, helps with the cleaning, and shares in the childcare. When I told her how unbalanced it all seems, she told me that women's roles have changed a lot over the past several decades. In the past, women didn't go to work, much like married women in America rarely worked. More and more women started working in the mid-20th century as was encouraged during the Communist takeover.

While I'm glad both Chinese and American women have the opportunity to work, sometimes I feel overwhelmed by all that is expected of us. I am really grateful to have a husband who shares in all the household and childcare responsibilities because I honestly don't think I could manage it all on my own, especially while working.  

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Full Moon

Marie feeding William
The baby's completion of his first month of life, known as mǎnyuè (full moon) in Chinese, is a significant milestone. William reached his "full moon" on May 16th. My friend, Marie, gave us a visit that day and William celebrated his one month birthday by giving us quite a scare! A normally happy baby, he began crying and screaming uncontrollably. We tried to soothe him, but found he was having difficultly swallowing the phlegm that had built up in his mouth. I didn't know what to do, worried that perhaps he was having some sort of allergic reaction--was something wrong with my breast milk? Did he swallow something I didn't know about? Was he suddenly, inexplicably ill? 

Luckily Marie kept me from spiraling into full out crisis mode. She has a background in midwifery and is quite confident in dealing with newborns. While I panicked, turning white as a ghost, she kept her cool. She held William and kept trying different strategies to calm him until he finally fell asleep upright in her arms. He woke up later as if nothing had happened. Next time, hopefully I'll be able to handle such a situation better, but it's definitely scary seeing my baby that distressed.
Marie and Willaim

But there's more to William's mǎnyuè than nearly giving Mommy a heart attack. William, like all Chinese babies, got a special dinner to celebrate the occasion. Actually, the dinner wasn't so much for William (As babies don't really give much notice to dinners and parties, do they?), but for the grown-ups. Everyone who had giving us a gift when William was born was invited out to eat. Gifts for Chinese babies are different from gifts for American babies. In America, we like to do the baby shower, giving the soon-to-be mom lots of useful baby stuff from onesies to changing tables. In China, people tend to give cold, hard cash. And lots of it. From a few dozen people, including Ming and his mom's relatives, friends and co-workers, we received about 9000 rmb (US$1500). The cash definitely helps with the out of pocket cost of my c-section (which was about 4200 rmb, US$700), though I think we'll end up using the money to start William's college fund.

a month old
The dinner itself was pretty uneventful. We brought William over to the restaurant so everyone could get a quick peek at the little guy. Chinese people believe that babies shouldn't go outside, unless absolutely necessary, until they are 100 days old, so we didn't keep him at the restaurant for long. While Ming held the baby, I shoveled in some food as fast as I could and then said a quick good-bye to our guests, finally returning back home with William. We'll get to have another dinner in his honor for his 1st birthday, which will be a bit more enjoyable as he'll actually be able to hang out and eat with us at the table. 

Go Packers!

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Week Three

Ming and me with William (three weeks old)
My one month sentence is nearly over, with roughly another week to go. For the past week, my jailers (Ming and his mom) agreed to let me out on good behavior. I am allowed an afternoon walk each day, weather permitting. I am thankful for this small bit of freedom, the chance to feel normal again. Of course, my breaking confinement have caused a variety of reactions. The elderly neighbor ladies, upon seeing me outside today, questioned if my month was already up. I nodded guiltily, knowing that admitting the truth would lead to an endless string of reproaches and tsk-tsking. Yesterday, Ms. Feng, one of my student's mothers spotted me outside.

"What are you doing out here?! Your one month isn't up yet!" she scolded.

I shrugged, "But I'm a foreigner," I protested weakly.

"That doesn't matter! This is no good, no good. You should be at home in bed! And look at your jacket!" she zipped my jacket up to my nose, despite the 70 degree weather.

Ming, bless his heart, quickly came to my defense.

"Did you know, overseas, people don't practice the one month confinement? Even many overseas Chinese! Yep, a day or two after birth women are out and about again."

Ms. Feng shock her head with a look of disapproval. Oh, well. I'm becoming quite used to people's disapproval.

In eight days it won't much matter anymore; William will be one month old. Time is passing in a blur that I don't know if I would classify as either fast or slow. Each day seems to run into the next with the constant cycle of pumping milk, feeding milk, and (praying for) sleep. In the two weeks that have passed since my last post, there have been a lot of highs and lows. Perhaps the sweetest moment is when William smiles while winking at me. He can't do a lot of fun stuff yet, but each day he seems to add another cute trick to his repertoire. I'll post some pictures to prove. . . .