Monday, February 22, 2010

Spring Festival

Chinese New Year is over and we have survived!

Phil and I have been living here in China for over three years, but this was the first time we actually remained in the country for the week long celebration. Also known as the Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, it is the most significant holiday for the Chinese people. For many, it is the only time in the year that they will be able to travel back to their hometowns to see their spouses, children, and extended family!

After all of the "horror" stories we had heard from other expats- the around the clock fireworks, everything closing down, and the general mass of people in transit (which is no small thing in China); the idea to remain here over the holiday never appealed to us. We have always taken this particular holiday break to go back to the US for a family visit. Given the fact that I would be 32 weeks pregnant with our twins this time around, staying in Shanghai during the Chinese New Year was our fate.

Expecting nothing but annoying firecrackers and difficulty getting food (due to all of the closures); I was surprised to find that halfway into the holiday week- we were eating well and had no real sleep interruptions from the fireworks. I was beginning to think we were in the clear since our new apartment is not in a heavily residential area, but I wouldn’t dare verbalize this thought for fear that I would jinx us.

Just when I thought it was safe to take a deep breath- day 5 came upon us. I mentioned that we didn’t live in a large residential area right? Well, we do live in a huge retail area and it just so happens that day 5 ushers in the money god. Midnight hit, and all firecracker hell broke loose. It was absolutely amazing how many firecrackers were being lit off around our entire building. Every window I looked out had firecrackers going off. It got to the point that I couldn’t see across the street because of the heavy fog of smoke oozing from all the fireworks. These retailers wanted the money god to notice them, and they certainly won’t be able to blame this night for any poor sales in the future.

Other than that night we had a fairly relaxed and firecracker free week; and a week that we were essentially dreading turned out to be a pretty decent one.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why Not Question the Status Quo?

I’m just a writing machine lately. I guess I have a lot to write about and more time on my hands since we have unpacked and almost completely organized our previously chaotic home. Down time has been an absolute necessity for me these days, and with this extra time, I have begun to read a lot more on the actual birth process in preparation for the event. We will go for an ultrasound on the 16th of January and find out which way the babies are facing. They say that with twins, the babies’ positions are fairly decided by week 28 due to the lack of space. If baby 1 is head down and it stays that way- we are on for a natural delivery (January 16th has since passed and we did find out that baby 1 is head down!); and that brings me to the subject of this writing- natural childbirth.

I should probably start this by telling you that my desire to one day experience pregnancy was perhaps a bit different from other women. It wasn’t about having that wonderful little bundle of baby at the end of 9 months as much as it was about having the privilege and opportunity to experience childbirth. It’s true. I know some of you are thinking smugly to yourself that you would love to hear what I have to say after I actually experience childbirth. But let me encourage you instead, to think- wow, that’s really interesting; and have an open mind to other perspectives.

For many of you who know me, natural childbirth has been a passion of mine for a long time. I could blame it on the fact that my mother and “2nd mother” are both midwives and I grew up surrounded by women who were activists in the field of labor and delivery; tirelessly working to change shortcomings in the medical system as they knew it. But that really only explains a small part of where my passion comes from. After all, how many times have we been exposed to philosophies or ideas by our family, to turn around and do the exact opposite?

I used to tell my mother that if and when I had babies- they could knock me out and wake me up when it was over. I would say this in part to watch her squirm, but I would also say this in part because it was truly how I felt. So what happened to me along the way? How did I become such a proponent for natural childbirth?

Well, as I watched different girlfriends and acquaintances around me give birth with varying degrees of satisfaction, dissatisfaction, trauma, and disappointment; I began to ask questions like why? Did it have to be that way? What led to some of these really disappointing outcomes? Why did some people have really great and fulfilling labor experiences, while others were left to feel disappointed, empty, and wounded?

As I embarked on this journey of questioning, I began to see a common thread throughout those experiences that were positive and those that were not.

For all of us, I believe our top priority is giving birth to a healthy baby. Many of us are taught to think that this will often be at the cost of our labor and birth experience, when in fact it is quite the opposite. A well informed woman along with her well informed husband, have a statistically higher rate of satisfaction in the whole process; along with a statistically lower rate of intervention, cesarean and disappointment. Now this is not to say that cesarean= disappointment. There are ways to feel fulfillment through this type of birth as well; but it does take a bit more planning and preparation in order to feel positive toward an unplanned cesarean birth.

Back to the common thread I have found throughout different birth experiences... education, empowerment, and action. Women and their spouses who are educated about the birth process, their bodies, and how we were created to function are more empowered and thus more confident in taking an active role in their birth plan; making it much more possible to experience the birth they desire.

Unfortunately, a lot of us do not think about these things until after we have given birth for the first time. For many, the extent of our education comes from books like What to Expect When You’re Expecting and the readily available horror stories other women feel they should share with all expectant moms. Often, we go into the birth process feeling tentative, scared, and certain that our Dr. knows best. We assume that as things have improved with medical technology it has made birth better, and that medical intervention is therefore a good and necessary thing. As a result of all of these elements- we essentially walk in, play the good patient, and allow everyone else to make decisions for us.

Ask most women if there were things they would have changed about their birth experience, and they will tell you yes. The sad truth is that there were likely a number of things that they could have changed had they had the tools, knowledge, and confidence to do so. It is often during subsequent pregnancies that many of these women further educate themselves and take more active roles.

(Then there are those of us trying to learn from them and do this ahead of time.)

Phil and I have just finished The Birth Book by Dr. Sears and The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin; and they have been incredibly wonderful tools in preparing and empowering us both for childbirth.

Why do all of this you ask? Because I believe that child birth is a unique and sacred gift and experience that requires planning and preparation; because there are women out there who feel it has been one of the most wonderful and fulfilling experiences in their lives; because I think we have been told lies by the medical establishment and are selling ourselves and our bodies short on a daily basis when we preemptively say we can’t handle pain and just need a drug to help us cope; because we continue to give our bodies and births over to an establishment that makes decisions based on the fear of lawsuits; and because our cesarean and drug induced birth rates are climbing with each day in the US while our safety still ranks low compared to many other nations.

Mainly, I want to see what this amazing body can do in the right environment with the support of my awesome husband.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Stretchy Pants

Tomorrow marks 30 weeks in this pregnancy. Each day brings with it blessings as well as challenges. As this has become a higher risk pregnancy, the threat of premature labor is very real. So we are happy with each day that passes because it is one more day that the babies get to grow bigger and stronger and more developed.

It's amazing to me how much my body changes every day. In the past week, I have noticed a marked increase in my girth and decrease in my mobility and comfort. At this point, I have gained over 40 pounds and I have another 15- 20 to go based on growth rates for twin pregnancies! Did I mention I have gained over 40 pounds at this point? And wait, there's more. We noted during my Dr's appointment today that I have gained 3 pounds since Saturday alone; and though I am technically 30 weeks tomorrow, I am already measuring at 42 weeks!

I won't lie- it's shocking to me as well. People keep telling me that I am all belly and I look great (which is wonderful regardless of its truthfulness). I would say that I am mainly belly (which also explains the back pain after 10 minutes of standing). After all, when is the last time you had to strap 30 pounds straight off your abdomen and attempt to stand for any amount of time? Exactly.

Until recently, I have been focused on maintaining a certain level of "grooming” during this pregnancy. I didn't actually realize the degree of my vanity until I got pregnant; but I found that once I was, I didn't want to be one of those frumpy pregnant women who wore moo moos or her husbands sweats all day every day (sorry to you lovely ladies who did). As such, certain things became enemies in my mind. Things like sweat pants, tennis shoes and the god- forsaken stretchy pant; though comfortable, became symbols of all that was wrong with pregnancy and fashion. To me, they were a sign of a woman who was giving up and hiding what could be a beautiful and vibrant time in her life.

Well I am here to tell you that it's true. I gave up. I went and bought stretchy pants the other day. In fact, I specifically went out in search of said cursed garment. I did my best to find a pair that I could camouflage into looking like a proper pair of pants, but who was I kidding? Stretchy pants are stretchy pants regardless of how you try to dress them up. They also happen to be the most comfortable piece of clothing I own at this point.

Note from the author:

As I sit here writing this, it has occurred to me that I may be attempting to compensate for my loss of conviction. I have managed to fit a manicure, pedicure, waxing, hair, and massage appointment all into this one week; the one week I happened to buy the stretchy pants. Coincidence? Hmmmm....