On the Job


Look at us go!

So, today is Little Spark’s 19th week “not-yet-been-birthed” day. it’s the beginning of the 20th week, or the final leg before I reach the half-way mark in the average human gestation period of 40 weeks.

I’ve been back in Beijing for less than a week and jetlag has its claws firmly on my body and doesn’t seem willing to let go. I have spent the week having to nap in the afternoon for 2-3 hours and then unable to go to bed until after midnight. Then, like today, I find myself wide awake at dawn.

This morning I woke up ravenous. I lay in bed for a good half and hour before I got up at 6 and made myself two eggs, four veggie sausage links, two pieces of toast & butter and then poured myself a big glass of chilled homemade herbal iced tea. I was satiated with lots of protein by the time it was even 6:30am. Now, I’m just waiting for that drowsy feeling to come over me during digestion and maybe I’ll sleep some more before the day begins.

I guess Little Spark was hungry! 

Now, getting down to business…

Something I’ve been wanting to discuss here about being pregnant that I find so fascinating is how much it has become MY JOB. By this, I mean a “project,” or an obsessive use of my time that calls to me daily and requires my attention and learning and engagement. Of course, it’s an unpaid job, but as a musician I am familiar with this territory! So, for me, “job” is a choice that I make every day rather than something I have to do.

Each day, something else pops into my head about the baby or the upcoming birth and I push everything else that I’m doing aside to research the issue online, for example.

I have also spent the past month reading voraciously and I have a list of recommended books that I have either been sent in the mail, loaned by friends, or picked up in my journeys. (Thank you to Angela, Allyson and Sharon!) They have been so amazingly helpful in contextualizing my experiences as a pregnant woman against the experiences of others, not to mention in helping me to formulate a rough plan in my head for my hopes and expectations of the birth experience.

The Reading List:

  • Birthing From Within (by Pam England & Rob Horowitz)
  • Spiritual Midwifery (by Ina May Gaskin)
  • Hypnobirthing: The Mongon Method (by Marie F. Mongon)
  • Active Birthing: The New Approach To Giving Birth Naturally (by Janet Balaskas)
  • Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (by Ina May Gaskin)

I’m not reading them in order or one at a time. I’m picking them up randomly and surely mixing the theories, but somewhere in the middle of it all I am formulating my own.

When I arrived back from Canada, I told Guo Jian that I wanted to talk to him about all that I’d been learning with all this reading and research. He encouraged me to share it with him, but it was before I had created my glossary list for reference and so I had to fire up the computer and perch it on my thighs while we lay in bed, the online Chinese-English dictionary loaded up and at my fingertips so that I could even have the conversation. I mean, how often to do you learn words like “episiotomy” in another language? 

My point exactly.

I talked to him about how I really didn’t want to take any drugs during the procedure, particularly how I wasn’t interested in getting an epidural (硬脑膜外麻醉 yìng nǎomó wài mázuì) because I really want to know what it feels like to give birth. I don’t want to be numb from the waist down.

He nodded, dubiously.

I then explained that I want the freedom to move around in the hospital room and I don’t want to be hooked up to an EFM machine (Electonic Fetal Monitoring). This was tough to translate, but I managed to make it clear when I said it was a machine for listening to the baby’s heartbeat that would be attached to me, making it impossible for me to move around because of the cables. 

“But they have to make sure Little Spark is okay!” he protested. I ignored this and continued talking.

I then explained that I feared them forcing me to always lie on my back in the hospital, especially since this often slows delivery and then necessitates the use of forceps ( 胎儿钳子 tāi’ér qiánzi) and/or increases the likelihood of them performing an episiotomy (外阴切开术 wàiyīn qiēkāishù). Not to mention the fact that it hurts more and often inspires women to actually get those epidurals. It’s a vicious circle.

He shuddered at the first two ideas and then said that he thought I was going to have trouble convincing them that I should walk around rather than lying in bed, not to mention the fact that he thought I should trust the doctors because they know what they’re doing.

“They should listen and trust me!” I fired back in a desperate tone. “It’s my body!”

Obviously, I was starting to get irritable and defensive at this point in the conversation. He was supposed to just agree with everything I said and not fight me on this! I wished we could be reading these books together but they’re all in English and I have no idea where to find translations. I was sure if he could read them, he’d agree with everything! He’d understand more fully and completely what I was trying to say, surely. 

I took a deep breath and forged ahead. He let me speak.

“I believe that the best place for me to have this baby would be at home, but it’s not legal here in China and so I want to wait until the very last second to go to the hospital,” I said. “I think I will be able to know when to go and how long I can stay at home. Comfort and familiarity are the most important conditions required for a healthy delivery.”

“But what if there’s an emergency?!?” he said with alarm, sitting up in bed.

“It won’t just be the two of us,” I explained. “My friend Nan (our doula) will be here too,” I reminded him. Besides, I know that the process of labour can actually be stalled or reversed if there are a lot of unknown people around. That reminded me to mention that I want to know in advance if the doctor I’ve been seeing will be the one to deliver our baby and whether or not we can restrict the number of attendants. He agreed that we should ask these questions but I could see he was putting up walls to what I had to say and was starting to doubt my sanity.

That’s about the point where my voice cracked and I burst into tears. (Thank you hormones) My volume and pitch accelerated as I told him he had to listen to me, he had to support everything I wanted, and he had to accept my choices! It was lacking in logic, but so was I at at that moment. Like usual, with lots of emotions, my Chinese goes out the window.

He looked at me quizzically and then he broke the tension by laughing. My initial shock at this reaction melted quickly, though, and then I began to laugh too. It was ridiculous, really, with me jetlagged and bawling and him bewildered at all these ideas that he hadn’t even started thinking about yet. I was firing them at him in quick succession and expecting his complete compliance. I’m the one who’s been away and buried in books and he’s never even imagined birth in his whole life. It must be a guy thing. Why would he ever have to! What’s more, he’s got to know that he simply has no leg to stand on here. It is my body that is going to be giving birth, not his.

In the end, in sloppy English, he said, “Okay, okay, I will stand by you” (Thank you lyrics for teaching him that line!) and he then lovingly called me a “crazy pregnant lady” to which I laughed even harder.

It’s true.

We then agreed that a list of wants and requirements in both languages would be a good idea so that he could be my voice in the delivery room. This would also allow him and Nan to communicate about the important points by conferring over the list.


Even though he’s not going to invest in this learning, I still have the support I need. Would I prefer it if he were right beside me in the education part of this process? Yes. He probably would be if he were my female partner, but then again his passive presence in the area of decision-making allows for me to fully control the experience (or at least attempt to with as much grace as possible). He has stepped back and is at least willing to be there for me.  Let’s just hope his trust in doctors doesn’t trump his willingness to “stand by me” on the day of the event. Our cultural gaps come out in times like these and my “wacky Western ideas” (in his mind) are sometimes overwhelming to him.

But he’ll be there. He’d better be. I told him he’d better not leave my side the whole time. When the baby is born, I want him to be able to cut the umbilical cord (脐带 qídài) and then make sure I can hold my baby straight away. I’m scared they’re going to whisk Little Spark away!! If for some reason I can’t (like if I had to have an emergency operation or something), I told him he’d better be prepared to whip off his shirt and put the baby next to his bare chest immediately. “The baby needs skin on skin contact,” I said sternly “and you’re the next best thing!”

At this, he laughed again and agreed.

I shut down the dictionary and the conversation came to an end. It’s the first of many of its kind, but good to start them now. I officially have 21 or so more weeks to memorize this vocabulary and teach Guo Jian (convince him of!) everything I’m learning, in translation.

It’s okay, I’m on the job!

Look at us go…

Human Incubator?

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