I became a mother in Shanghai, China. 6,798 miles away from family. My husband and I taught there for 3 years and As people like to point out, my baby was, in fact, made in China.
With a positive test we found ourselves giddy at our first appointment at the women’s hospital A large sign greeted us directing the way, below the Chinese writing was the English Translation; This way for cunt Examination.
Upon entering the exam room for my cunt examination the nurse took great care in making sure that my husband did not see me naked. I wondered if they were keeping these young nurses in the dark about how exactly the babies came to be.
Back in the states, our families assumed their roles as alarmists listing all of the ways the situation could end badly including concerns about the baby not getting through customs, they made sure we knew their feelings on us bringing their grandchild into the world on the other side of it.
As I reminded my mother, she gave birth to me in a 1979 Ford Econoline, so how much worse could a Chinese hospital really be?
1st trimester nausea was made worse by the unique smells of Shanghai. As foreigners in the touristy parts of the city we were used to having our picture taken by Chinese tourists. On my husband’s birthday we headed down to the bund and the cab ride made me especially sick feeling and as soon as he stopped, I handed my husband my purse and heaved onto the sidewalk. He watched and said “yep, this is actually happening” meanwhile a small crowd of Chinese Tourists took pictures of a pregnant foreigner puking on the curb while her giant white husband watched. I would like to say to those people… you’re welcome.
We came back to the United States for the summer and left again for Shanghai when I was 28 weeks pregnant. I had dreaded the family goodbyes all summer long. Hugging my mom I was overwhelmed knowing the next time she saw me, the baby would be on the outside of my body.
“It will be okay babe” she tried, “It is only three weeks…” This gross miscalculation of time was my mom’s coping mechanism. When we were away for months at time it was always just three more weeks until we got to see each other again. I learned long ago that it is best not to correct her math.
There were, of course, cultural differences in pregnancy from the US to China. Cold drinks are believed to be very hard on a pregnant woman’s body and when I rejected boiling hot water for my beverage in August at restaurants and politely asked for bing shuay, ice water it caused a parade of wait staff watching me drink the shocking and dangerous cold water. I liked to live life on the edge.
When I went into labor, we waited at home as long as possible and upon arriving at the hospital, I learned of how rare my body was because I was fully effaced but only .5 cm dilated. I labored naturally for over 24 hours and still was only .5 cm dilated. It was excruciating, exhausting and beyond frustrating. When my wonderful all natural supporting doula suggested an epidural I knew things were serious. After 50 hours of active labor and 2 hours and 45 minutes of pushing Dr. Xu took a look at things and announced to the room “I am now certain that the baby will fit through” Had I known that there was a possibility that the baby wasn’t going to fit, perhaps I would have suggested that we cut the baby out, I don’t know… 51 hours ago… just a thought.
Just after my son “fit through”, my husband filled with joy and relief picked our 90 pound doctor up over his head as though his team had just scored a touchdown.
A few days later, as planned my mom and stepdad arrived in Shanghai. I cried upon them entering our apartment in anticipation of them leaving again 10 days later. I hadn’t felt further from home in three years than I did in that moment.
Those first few weeks after bringing my little home from the hospital where unremarkable compared to other women. However, my world cracked open. It was unbelievable to me that so many women had gone through this time and didn’t end up in the nut house and that in most cases they did it AGAIN to themselves! Despite the overwhelming love I felt for my son, I said to my husband many times during those weeks… “Maybe we should have just gotten a cat.”
I had no idea what I was doing. Between the hormones, milk coming in and the lack of sleep I felt like my life was unrecognizable. I stared out of our 10th story apartment at the people walking by and I wondered to myself if I would ever just be able to walk around like a normal human again. Step by step and with the grace and support of my husband it started to get better and somehow I began to feel a bit more like myself and find some joy in my new place.
The truth I found was; Becoming a mother is moving to a foreign country. You love it some days, you hate it some days but it is always an adventure.