~ The magic of ultrasound
We had the Level 2 ultrasound on Thursday, and I have to say, I was completely floored. I'm about as big a gadget geek as they come, and yet, I've never been more impressed with technology as I was looking at that little black and white screen. Our first two ultrasounds at 7 and 9 weeks, were, to be frank, not that exciting. Neither had much detail, the first showing a little light-colored bean, and then, a couple weeks later, a slightly larger light-colored bean. A grainy magnification helped us distinguish head from body, but really, that was about it. At 20 weeks, though, it's a completely different story; not only are skeletal structures visible, you can see the major organs, the ventricles and septum of the heart, and best of all, we had a peek at the baby's little face while he/she made little sucking motions (!). Baby was moving around a lot ("Active baby, active baby," our ultrasound technician/little Chinese grandma kept muttering throughout the procedure), but they managed to take a couple dozen photos from all kinds of angles. The kid cracks me up; the photo they sent home with us (which, 5 days later, I'm still looking at about once every 45 seconds or so) shows a contented little customer, just hangin' out and chillin'.
As soon as I got home, of course I scanned and sent the ultrasound immediately to my mom, who, as can be expected from someone who last had a baby 23 years ago, was completely astounded, and was immediately gushing about what a good-looking baby it was ("Looks just like me," she wrote back). I told her how active the baby was, and there she was again, with what is becoming a familiar refrain: "Oh, then it's definitely a girl."
Why is everyone convinced that I'm having a girl? Most of the predictions are based on no scientific (or even pseudo-scientific) information whatsoever. Mama is actually the closest to having any kind of supporting (though tenuous) evidence for her prediction. When we first saw the little mini-heart pumping away at 7 weeks, and I remarked to her how strong and fast the heartbeat was: "Oh, fast heartbeat, that's a girl." Never mind that the heartbeat is fast because it's a tiny human being, and it's not like she had a little boy fetus for calibration purposes, but that's okay. The prize for remote sensing capabilities goes to my friend from work, Carolina, who sits in our Virginia office, hasn't seen me since I was 5 weeks along, but knows for sure that I am having a girl, and that another colleague, who is also due around Christmas, is definitely having a boy. Mik thinks we are having a girl, too, though it may be his latent obsessive-compulsive side that demands more gender symmetry in our family; we each have a younger brother, and his brother has a one-year old son. Anyway I don't mind all the speculation, and the wacky theories are pretty entertaining. I wish my maternal grandmother were still around so I could interrogate her about her methods; I remember that she once determined that a young family friend was pregnant just by looking at the whites of her eyes. Clear Blue Easy? EPT? Save your money and just come on over to Nanay's house!
After the ultrasound, I went to look at a few apartments with a realtor. Our lease ends in November, and while the thought of moving when I'm 7 months pregnant doesn't really excite me, we now know that there are better deals out there than our current digs. Though centrally located, perfectly nice and decently staffed, our building is next door to a sometimes-smelly soy sauce factory and requires a few frogger-like road crossings to get to grocery store or subway. Of course, the great thing about living in Beijing is that I probably won't have to lift a finger on moving day; labor is so cheap that packing and moving is handled completely free of charge by the realtor (if only I could swing that kind of a deal in the U.S.). Anyway, this was my first trip with this particular realtor lady, and when she asked why we wanted to move, as an experiment, I told her that we were expecting our first baby in January, and that we wanted a property with a little more green area and more on-site facilities, and maybe a pool. I had barely finished my sentence when she shot her arm out at the driver (who was driving like a maniac, as one does in Beijing) and cautioned him to be careful, drive a little slower and not so jerkily. For the rest of the afternoon, I watched, amused, as she physically made sure I wasn't crowded or jostled on elevators, and carefully held my arm as I put the protective paper coverings on my shoes before entering some of the apartments. I had studiously avoided telling anyone in China that I was pregnant, knowing that I would treasure these few weeks before it becomes obvious, and I'd be bombarded with advice, cautionary tales, and lists of strange "don'ts", but I have to say, it was nice to be treated so solicitously for a few hours. The realtor said that no, no, no, here in China when women are pregnant, they definitely stay indoors and off their feet. "Not like you," the unspoken part of that being: "running around town like a peasant." I decided not to mention that I'm still cruising around town on my bike, and doing my own grocery shopping. She also told me that doctors in Chinese hospitals are prohibited by law from telling their patients the baby's gender during the 20-week ultrasound, a sobering reminder of the Chinese cultural preference for boys over girls. Apparently the official ratio for live births is 6 boys for every 5 girls, which is big enough, but it is generally accepted that the disparity is actually much greater than that.
A hectic few last days for me here as I try to do some shopping and get some work projects out of my hair before we leave for Scandinavia. I'll be writing from Finland and Sweden the next couple of weeks, where we'll spend some time out at Mik's parents' summer place in the Åland islands. It should be a nice change, since the modern Scandinavian outlook on pregnancy and childbirth is refreshingly less regimented than in Asia or even in the U.S.; I may even be looked at askance when I opt to skip the aquavit, sauna and wood-chopping this year.