Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Birth Day

I started this post a while ago for very different reasons to why I'm finally putting it out there now. I have been known to get on the natural birth bandwagon from time to time, and I get quite distressed when I encounter women who are absolutely terrified of giving birth naturally, to the point of choosing to have an elective caesarean instead. I was pretty terrified at one point (and I'm sure I will be again second time round), but if you go in with the right mindset and know everything you can know, it's really not that scary. Trust me, I had such a good experience I'm going to do it again! Before I go off on a tangent, let me explain that I'm telling you my story today because my amazing little man just turned 2. He went from being a helpless, floppy, completely dependent (but adorable) newborn, to a very independent, confident and talkative little boy in such a short time that I cannot believe two years have passed since the night we drove to the hospital in the pouring rain and came home with a baby. It was the most incredible night of my life, and I really feel blessed to have brought such a special little person into the world. I cannot wait to do it again (and maybe again after that :-) Here's how it all went down...

Three weeks before my son was born I got a fright in the middle of the night. Something shifted and I went into what they call "pre-labour." I was quietly dilating and contracting while going about my business, and was totally oblivious to the fact until my next doctor's appointment. I saw my obstetrician three times in those three weeks, and the first two times she examined me and swore that we would have a baby within the next 48 hours. My husband extended his leave to ensure he was by my side, ready to leap into action any time I so much as whimpered (crying out in pain one night from a leg cramp had him halfway to the car before I calmly informed him it was not "go time."), I packed my bag and together we anxiously awaited our fate. In the meantime we did everything the books tell you to do if you're trying to bring on labour, although not always at the same time; for the record, vindaloo is not conducive to romance. On the third and final visit Dr G threw her hands in the air and refused to make any promises, "he'll come when he's ready," she said. Now that I know my son better, I've accepted that as part of who he is, and I love him for it, but at the time I was so desperate to meet him that I grew increasingly frustrated. It wasn't until I gave up and realised he had to come out eventually, that he finally made an appearance.

While we waited that week, we watched a documentary on zoo animals (during a break from eating curry, doing yoga and drinking raspberry leaf tea and pineapple juice), where we learned the interesting little fact that wild animals often go into labour at night, in bad weather, when there are fewer predators around, and we joked that maybe that was what the little guy was waiting for. And so it was, on a wet, windy and cold December night, just after getting into bed, my waters broke. Since the hospital was an hour away we had been advised to leave home when my contractions were 10 minutes apart - they started at 5 minutes apart. By the time we got to the hospital at midnight I could barely walk. I was also one of those annoying women who wanted to give birth without pain relief. Trust me when I tell you that it had nothing to do with being a martyr, I just hated the idea of someone sticking a needle in my spine. So I endured three solid hours of almost back-to-back contractions, all the while dealing with a really unhelpful midwife who kept coming in and telling me that yet another "hypnobirther" in the ward had caved in and asked for an epidural. She'd follow this with "so you want drugs yet?" I had my brilliant husband and my amazing sister-in-law in the room with me and they kept me going.

I had done a lot of research before I went into labour because I wanted to be prepared for what I could expect to happen. I also had an awful lot of time on my hands while I waited. By far the most helpful thing I read was from a book called "Birth Skills" by Juju Sundin (find more info here). She talked about fear leading to tension, and tension leading to pain, or at least increasing it. She also reminds pregnant mums that the pain of childbirth is very different to the pain caused by disease or injury: it's a positive pain caused by your muscles working to help you deliver your baby. It's also a temporary pain. It all made perfect sense to me, and armed with the faith that my body knew what it was doing, I was able to relax and just go with it. You'll be pleased to know that throughout it all I stayed very calm, and only yelled at my husband once. I wasn't a complete hero I have to admit. At around 2.30am I had had just about as much as I could take. My labour had been mercifully short (if you don't count the first three weeks!) but really intense. I was ready to take whatever they could give me to make the pain go away but when the midwife had a little look-see downstairs she was surprised to find that I was ready to push. It was too late for the drugs. I made do with gas and air (a godsend, that made me feel a million bucks) and got ready to meet my son. The doctor arrived, wearing scrubs and gumboots, which I found a little alarming. She told me I'd have a baby by 5am, which seemed like an awfully long time away to me, but I didn't have to wait that long. JWC was born at 3.14 am weighing a very robust 4kgs. The relief was instant, and apart from the overwhelming love and adoration, I also felt kind of proud. I had done it, I had survived childbirth. The pain didn't kill me, I didn't give up, and my trust in my own ability proved worthwhile. Anytime after that when I was sleep deprived and miserable, days when I felt completely helpless because I had no idea what I was doing, I thought back on that night and it gave me the motivation I needed to keep going. It was such a boost - "I gave birth to an enormous (but adorable) baby without drugs, I can do anything."

Giving birth to a baby of that size, in that space of time, isn't without its drawbacks, and I have the scars to prove what I went through. But, without sounding blase or trite, I'd do it all again now that I know what I got in the end.

Those first 24 hours, in fact the first weeks and months have all been blurred in my mind, but the memory of holding my little guy for the first time will stay vividly in my memory forever. I felt like I already knew him, we'd waited so long to meet him, and he'd been with me all that time, but I knew there was still so much we had to learn about each other. We spent the first 12 months of his life focused on the basics that would keep him (and us) alive - food and sleep. Then we relaxed a little and got to know him for the person that he is, and it's been a blast. He's so much like me at times, then so much like his dad at others. Then there are the times when he's a completely unique individual and we look at each other and wonder where he came from. He loves cars, trucks, buses, planes and Thomas the Tank Engine. He adores his daddy, but only mummy's company will do last thing at night and first thing in the morning. He dances around the living room and sings us songs in Mandarin. He loves being outdoors and has been known to wear our shoes, and often looks like a very short version of my father. He eats like a sparrow, has the energy of 10 men, and likes to pretend he is a cat. And we think he is simply awesome. It's been fascinating and fantastic and very, very funny at times, and we can't wait to see what the next 12 months have in store. Happy Birthday my little J bird x

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Wheels on the Bus

I'm not a fan of public transport here in Hong Kong, especially in winter. There are times, like when visiting Discovery Bay that I don't have a choice, and that's just where I was headed on Friday morning. Friday's bus ride reminded me why I have avoided public transport as often as possible. Firstly I have to state, for the record, I would take public transport in HK over public transport in Sydney any day. Sydney's buses and trains can often resemble some of the worst I've seen in 3rd world countries, and run on some kind of system that holds no resemblance to a schedule. My main issue with transport in HK is generally my fellow commuters and their bodily fluids full of airborne diseases, and their tendency to pick their noses, cut their nails and, I kid you not, floss their teeth. I'm all for multi-tasking but there are limits people!

As I creep into my 3rd trimester of pregnancy I am becoming ever more aware of something that frustrates many expats here - local tunnel vision, and it's never more obvious than when you're pregnant or somehow incapacitated and reliant on others to notice you and open doors/give up their seats/generally be helpful when needed. This tunnel vision, I believe has evolved in the local population after decades of living in a very small area with millions of others, in a dog-eat-dog society, where competition for everything is fierce and crowds are commonplace. It's purely a survival, self-preservation tactic but can also lead to an inability to recognise the needs of others. It's not a deliberate thing, I think it's just a result of living amongst so many others, this inward focus. In my experience there are many people here who are really friendly and really helpful, but there's no middle ground, and many others are really unfriendly and really unhelpful. So on Friday morning when I clambered onto the bus, at the last minute as always, and found myself having to stand, I did what I always do - I tried to catch the eye of someone who might, by the remotest chance, offer me their seat. All of the men appeared deeply engrossed in the day's papers, while the women guiltily looked away, pretended to be asleep or turned to their mobile phones as if just receiving an urgent message. If they can't see the pregnant lady, they can't feel bad for not getting up.

Now, I'm not hugely pregnant yet, but I am very obviously pregnant, it's kinda hard to miss. I could understand in the early days when I was just a little round in the middle and I could have been mistaken for being a tad overweight. Anyone offering me a seat in those days was taking a risk, as the chances of offending me were high and losing face over a fatal error in judgement such as that would be far worse than the guilt over not offering a pregnant lady a seat. But on a crowded bus, on a cold winter's morning, when a woman's belly is so close to your cheek you can practically hear her unborn baby's heartbeat, you've really got no excuse. I'm not saying at this point in my pregnancy I really need to sit down, I feel pretty good, and at that time of the morning I wasn't yet completely knackered - it's the principle of the thing, and the lack of common decency.

It reminded me of a time I caught a bus with a colleague after work one day. I was still sporting a mini-did-she-just-have-a-big-lunch kind of bump but K was heavily pregnant at 36 weeks. The bus was full of schoolkids, parents and helpers, all sitting down, while the 2 of us stood and blocked the aisle with our bumps. I definitely did not need a seat (although it would have been nice) but I could not believe no one got up for K. The number of mothers who sat there and let their kids clamber over the seats while a pregnant lady stood, wobbling in the aisle, bump dangerously close to sharp little elbows and errant schoolbags, was appalling. So, it's not a recent phenomenon and this particular gripe has been a long time in the making. When I was pregnant with J I was pushed, literally shoved out of the way by a man trying to board the MTR as I was getting off. No excuses for that kind of behaviour, none whatsoever.

I took the same trip this morning for my weekly physio appointment and the same thing happened. There was another passenger on the bus who caught my eye. She was also standing and looking at me with that "I can't believe no one is giving you a seat" look. She turned out to be a new nurse at the clinic I go to and as she was giving me my flu shot we talked about the bus ride. She was equally appalled, and being new to Hong Kong was quite surprised. It made me realise that being forced to stand on the bus has become so common now that it no longer surprises me. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not...

I'm a firm believer in karma and I keep hoping that if I always open doors for people with strollers or the elderly and infirm, or give up my seat on the bus, someday it'll pay off and I'll get the same treatment. But for the time being I'm going to stick with the Airport Express or the comfort of my own car, where I'm always guaranteed a seat (unless I have to go to DB again, in which case I'll just have to suck it up!).

Stay tuned next week for my rant on public toilets, titled "Seats are for bums not feet."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A House or A Home?

Time is flying by at the moment. I cannot believe it's December already, and I haven't blogged for 2 weeks. I'm in the middle of writing another article for Playtimes magazine and it has been all consuming. So of course just days from my deadline we decided to take a little break and spent the weekend in Manila, and now I'm blogging, writing something that does nothing to get me closer to finishing the piece I'll actually be paid for. Anyhoo...

We're in a bit of turmoil at present. We bought a house just before J was born and moved in when he was 8 weeks old. It was smaller than the one we were in, didn't have a proper kitchen and, unlike our rental, was only partially furnished and had no outdoor space. I managed to convince my husband that we had to at least paint inside before we moved in and we've managed to re-do the bathroom, but we're still living with mostly second-hand furniture, a truly awful kitchen and a living area that gets smaller every day. I know, cry me a river, at least we own our home, something which isn't always easy or affordable in a place like Hong Kong. It just doesn't feel like home sometimes, and making it more homely will cost money we simply don't have. This is a big issue for me right now (and the cause of the aforementioned turmoil) as I've been bitten by the nesting bug pretty darn hard.

Friends and family who've been to visit recently have all politely enquired, when glancing around at all 800 square feet of our house, where we will put the baby when he/she arrives. We've laughed it off and said "we'll figure it out," secretly knowing that unless we empty a drawer in the wardrobe in our room for little BITO to sleep in, he/she won't fit anywhere. So, we recently made the tough (crazy) decision to try and sell our house before the baby is born. Moving house with a newborn sent me into a state of depression, and caused such unnecessary angst that I swore I would never do it again, so if it doesn't sell before the end of January we'll stay put. Even if we do sell we won't be able to afford to buy again so we'll be renters. But what we could afford to rent is palatial in comparison to what we currently own - a very appealing prospect indeed. We'd also have enough cash to finally be able to buy our own furniture and ditch the Ikea hand-me-downs, hooray!

The week we made this decision, despite all its pros, my blood pressure skyrocketed and I was lying awake at night feeling like I was about to lose something very special. There was such a sense of achievement when we bought this house, our first home, and despite its MANY imperfections, it is ours, and a huge asset. It has a lot of potential, and we had big dreams for the things we were going to do to it, to turn it from a house into a home, and we'd both be really sad if we had to give that up and start living in someone else's house. I keep veering wildly from one side to the other, wanting desperately to sell and move, then secretly hoping we have to stay. One day last week I stood in J's room (my favourite room in the house) and looked around, thinking maybe we could stay, feeling guilty that I was even considering taking my little man away from the only home he'd ever known right before we drop a sibling on him. Then I realised that it's what you do to a place that makes it a home, as long as we took our little bits and pieces with us, all the stuff that is familiar to J, the 4 of us could make a home anywhere. So I was back on the side of selling.

We had a couple come through, prospective buyers, within days of deciding to sell, and it all felt a bit too sudden. I didn't stay and left the inspection to my husband. The dog and child were also banished from the house to give the illusion of space - we didn't want them cluttering up the place! After a wicked woman came through a house we were renting several years ago and told me it was "cosy" with a nasty sneer, or the real estate agents who laughed and said our colour scheme was "so 90's," I've always been a bit defensive during inspections, even more so now that this is my own home and not a rental. So you can imagine my distress when I came home and found that my husband had put away and rearranged some of my objet d'art and trinkets (aka clutter) for the sake of making the place look bigger. I was on the verge of tears as I put it all back, and wanted to pull the pin on the whole business once again.

After spending the weekend in Manila, in a bazillion square foot apartment, with 3 massive bedrooms and a living area that is larger than our house and the one next door combined, I definitely feel like we need to live somewhere bigger. J is a light sleeper and hears me get up to pee in the middle of the night, so you can imagine how much a crying baby is going to affect his sleep. And what about poor BITO trying to catch a nap during the day while his/her big brother is creating a ruckus downstairs? Our marriage only survived the first few months of J's life because we had a spare room: a sanctuary for the sleep-deprived parent to hide away in while the other parent (although equally sleep-deprived) tended to the baby in the other room. What will we do when there's nowhere to escape to? We've had a few more couples come through this week, and while the comments have been mercifully positive ("we love it," "what a view," great bathroom!"), the big but has been the same each time..."it's too small." Which really is stating the bleeding obvious - it's why we're selling!!

Now, after two weeks on this real estate rollercoaster, my husband confessed that he doesn't think we'll be able to sell before my deadline/due date, and we're back to square one. I desperately want to feel settled, to feel like there will be a space for our new little one in a few months time. I want to paint some walls, rearrange some furniture and, when the time comes, buy some gorgeous gender appropriate linen, maybe even some bunting. I want an armchair in a quiet corner of the house that I can breastfeed in without having to watch Playschool or be leapt upon by a couch surfing toddler. I want my baby to be able to sleep peacefully upstairs while I watch Playschool and couch surf with his/her big brother. If we don't sell BITO will be sleeping in a gender-neutral moses basket, wedged into a corner of our bedroom until he/she graduates from high-school. Or maybe we could ditch the beds altogether and lay some tatami mats down on the floor, when in Rome, hey? I wish I was the kind of person who could rise above all that, not be too caught up in material things like houses and nice furniture. I should be happy that my family is happy and healthy, and I am, but these damn hormones (and too much time at home) have me itching to create a more comfortable space for my growing family, whether under this roof or someone else's, and it's deeply unsettling. There's nothing like not knowing where you're going to be living, and not being entirely happy where you are, at a time when the concept of home has never been more important.