Thursday, April 09, 2015

Having a Baby in China: One Year Later

William on his birth day.

William is just a week away from turning one. While I'm somewhat ashamed to admit it, there were times when I longed for this. I couldn't wait for him to get a little bit older, a little bit stronger, a little bit more independent. The past few months, I let go of that feeling. I've enjoyed him as he is, not too expectant of the future. Time really has gone by quickly. The past year has been hard though, perhaps the most difficult of my life. I knew being a mother would be challenging and it is, but the true challenge has been adapting to motherhood while living in China. I have learned a lot. Here are some of the things I've learned:

1. I'm not as open minded as I thought I was.
Admittedly, I was somewhat aware of this fact coming in. I knew I wouldn't be open to do everything The Chinese Way. I still struggle with this one. Does that make me closed-minded? Or does it just make me human? It doesn't matter, if I hear the phrase "When in Rome. . ." one more time, I might strangle someone.

William, 100 days
I have compromised on some issues, such as allowing William to drink water from birth (a Chinese practice that is not supported by western doctors). I attempted postpartum confinement. I haven't been so keen on split-seamed pants and spoon feeding Prince William his every meal. I have been downright skeptical, even hostile, towards Chinese doctors and medicines, as many of their claims seem bogus. I maintain that my son did not have diarrhea from my breast milk (tainted from my drinking of cold beverages). He did not break out in hives because he was left "crying too much." I could write at length about my frustrations with the Chinese medical system, but I rather not dwell too long on that.

2. Nothing goes as expected.
This is a given when living in China. It's also a given when raising kids, especially small ones. Put the two together and unless you have the patience of a saint, there may be times you'll be ripping your hair out. For better or worse, William's birth was nothing like I had imagined. Preparing for our trip to America was not without difficulty. But there were also times when things went surprisingly well, like when arranging his household registration, getting him vaccinated, and taking his portrait.

William, 4 months.

3. My Chinese may never be good enough.
I think some of my struggles stem from the fact that I don't fully appreciate or understand traditional Chinese culture and thinking (a problem even modern Chinese have), but it's also a language issue. Living in a small city, I don't have the luxury of western hospitals or English speaking doctors. My mother-in-law knows four words in English (hello, no, out, banana) and even my husband's English is lacking, especially when it comes to baby and medical related vocab. I've tried my best, fumbling by, now knowing Chinese words for things such as placenta, polio, episiotomy, and pacifier (there is a pretty extensive list of pregnancy related vocab that can be found here). But it's still never enough. I always feel like the language is passing over me, leaving me in the dust. I suppose one day the kids will be fluent enough that they can help smooth out some of the gaps.

4. My relationship with my mother-in-law is a precarious thing. 
William, 6 months

I've said it before and I will say it again, my mother-in-law is a great woman (despite using the phrase, "When in Rome. . ." a few too many times). She was never around much before the baby was born, but with his arrival I've spent countless hours with her. We have very different parenting styles. She is a helicopter (grand)parent, while I'm more of a free-ranger. While she has the best of intentions, I am, at times, overwhelmed by her constant hoovering and pampering. In some of my weaker and uglier moments, I have lost my temper. I may have even done some yelling (you might too if you weren't allowed cold food or drink, chocolates, or coffee for months on end). I think the situation is improving as William is getting older, but I still find myself having to bite my tongue daily.

5. Everything I thought was normal, is seen as weird or wrong.
 Breast pumps? High chairs? Disposable diapers? Frivolous crazy talk.

Letting the baby crawl around? Letting him put something, anything in his mouth?   Letting him eat with his hands? The insanity! That's not sanitary!

Allowing him to cry, to fall, to feel the slightest bit of discomfort? You can't be serious.

6. What homesickness really feels like
It was never that hard for me to be away from US. . . until it was. Feeling homesick was completely unexpected and a feeling that I haven't fully been able to shake this past year. I am, in some ways, grateful for it. Now I feel more confident that we are nearing the right time for us to leave China. 

William, 9 months
7. We are celebrities
For many foreigners, being showered with attention is not uncommon in China. Some people bask in the limelight, others would rather just blend in with the crowd. Myself, it depends on my mood. But strangers don't care about my mood. I might be out, having My Worst China Day Ever and people will freely comment on how my son is under dressed. We may be chased down and asked if we are Russian. A crowd may gather around us, pointing, commenting, and asking questions. I try to take it in stride. Sometimes their interest makes me happy, as the alternative could just as easily be contempt. There are those who hate seeing foreigners, people who despise mixed race families. Fortunately, these types of people are very rarely found in China. Most Chinese adore children and are particularly curious about foreign or mixed raced ones.

As a final note:
To anyone reading this who is planning on having or raising kids in China, be prepared for challenges, some obvious, others may be less so. Try to be patient with yourself and with your partner. If you can, try to learn a little bit about the culture and whatever you can manage with the language. Be realistic with your expectations and be honest with yourself--what customs and beliefs are you willing to compromise on and what is non-negotiable? My situation and struggles may be vastly different from yours. If I were an American man married to a Chinese woman, living in Beijing, I probably would have a total different experience raising my kids in China. But no matter what, it's an adventure!

Are you raising your kids abroad? Or is it something you would ever consider doing?  
William, nearly 12 months


A poeng said...

Hi Rosie!
I have been reading a lot of stories (Speaking Of China) that's how I found you.
First of all you have a very very cute baby I even showed your baby photo to my wife & her friends and they all said the same thing(very cute).
I truly admire you for what you been doing in China. I have no gut for that.
my wife and I are not the same race but we are Asian. she is from Laos and I came to U.S back in 1981 from war torn country ( Cambodia). Currently we reside in N.C and we have been married for 28 years now ( I still LOVE my wife).
I have been working long hours every day (over 10 hrs) because I care so so much about my wife and 2 beautiful daughters. sometimes life is not as easy as it seams to be but what it is what it is.
The MIL thing is a pain in my a$$. thank goodness she lives 1 block from me. I wish I can put her in a boot camp or she needs to move at least 5k miles a way from me.
I know a lot of expats complaint about MIL. I feel for them including you.
I can't speak mandarin.
I wonder how much have you learned the Language so far???????? fluently ?
Rosie! just hang in there Okay.

My name is AL

rosieinbj said...

Hi Al. Thanks so much for your comment and encouragement!

I really didn't think I had the courage to live in another country, especially one so different from my own, but sometimes we surprise ourselves. So you and your wife are living in North Carolina?

Mandarin. . . I wouldn't consider myself fluent. When speaking, my vocabulary often fails me, but I do understand almost everything spoken at this point. I can read probably read at a 5th grade level.

A poeng said...

Hi Rosie!
Thanks for taking time to answer my questions.
Yes we live in Kings Mountain, North Carolina.
It is a whole lot easier learning to speak then reading and spelling just like any other languages. I think you are doing very well.
in the future, I am sure someday you will be teaching foreign students how to speak Mandarin, that would be good to earn a good living.
my dad moved from from China to Cambodia that's how he met my mom.
my mom was Cantonese but was born in Cambodia.
My dad spoke Teochew Dialect only so now I speak Teochew dialect, Khmer and Southern English.
I do not speak English with my daughters, we speak Teochew only because I need to pass on to them of course they need to know more then one Languages.
too bad that I can't speak Cantonese and Mandarin.
1981 I was 17 and got thrown in high school without knowing a lick of English. It was a nightmare, imagine that. but I managed to finish high school by going to summer school for 4 summers, yep hard work paid off.

Have you ever thought about becoming a Mandarin teacher???

by the way I am not a blogger.
I can't write that good.
best wishes

rosieinbj said...

Wow, Al. You have such an interesting family history! We plan to move to the US later this year. I hope my step-daughter does okay in school. She is 11.

I don't think I'll ever be a Mandarin teacher, but who knows? The plan now is to work as a consultant and tutor for Chinese students who want to study abroad in the US. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences, Rosie :) They will be very valuable for me in the future.
BTW my mum just briefly got into "Chinese MIL mode" today and asked when I will change our dog for a baby stroller... that was a low punch, mum.

rosieinbj said...

Marta, why don't you just get a baby stroller for the dog (I've seen it done before) and then everyone wins!!z

Anonymous said...

Haha, I've seen it too!! But for small dogs, ours is too big (and wouldn't stay inside the stroller for one second, hahaha).

A poeng said...

Hi Rosie!
Well! welcome back to U.S or home.
I am pretty sure your step daughter will learn very fast because she is very young age.
back in the 80s I had very very hard hard time to comprehend the language and the culture, it was combination of culture shock and it was shocked big time because my whole 17 year young life knew nothing but war and farm work before I came to U.S
believe it or not I had my very first pair of shoes at age of 17 the funny thing about me was i had to learn how to walk with those shoes (sneakers)
But any way let's hope that your husband & step daughter won't have a hard time to adjust into new culture in the U.S.
Happy Birthday to William.
Best wishes From N.C

Xenia Olivia Lau said...

OMG how cute William is with his blonde hair and blue eyes! I thought my Liam would be more like that, but he turned out mostly Chinese :p I loved reading this, and in reply to your last question, we lived in Hong Kong and decided to move back to Spain as soon as I found out I was pregnant, haha.

rosieinbj said...

Hi Xenia Olivia. Thanks for your comment! I DID NOT expect such a fair colored baby! I don't even have blonde hair and blue eyes. :)

If I had to do it over again, I probably would go back to the US to give birth. I think it would have been a lot more enjoyable of an experience for me and less scary.