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Empi's Pregnancy Journal

Week 29
~ On the road (plane) again

This baby should be getting free upgrades by now. Or at the very least, a free flight within the contiguous 48. It turns out that I'm not totally done with flying just yet: I have to make one more trip to the U.S., and I had actually forgotten about a business trip that I had agreed to make to Shanghai in mid-November, to be a speaker at an advertising and media conference, no less (read: lots of schmoozing). Just the thought of it exhausts me, so frankly I'm hoping I've banked enough corporate goodwill that I can weasel out of that one fairly easily.

At my appointment this week, my OB was decidedly less enthusiastic about signing this month's medical "OK-to-fly" certificate, saying, "But this is the last one, RIGHT?" I'm sure I'll feel differently once I'm back at the house in Connecticut and taking walks by the beach and enjoying the foliage, but so far this week, I haven't been very enthusiastic about leaving Beijing again, either. After bouncing around every 3-4 weeks since April, I'm starting to feel a little unmoored, not being able to invest the time into establishing roots here. All of a sudden, I'm keenly aware of the fact that I have so few friends in Beijing, though I do keep in touch with a group of girls whom I met during three months of Chinese classes when I first arrived in January; thank goodness for them. But since April, I haven't returned to regular language lessons, much less gotten involved in any music or art groups or projects. Because we'll be moving apartments soon, I've put off buying or renting a piano and setting up my studio, so I haven't written a lick of music in months. Work, of course, is based in NYC and is focused entirely on U.S.-based clientele, so I have no local business contacts, either. We haven't been able to sign up for childbirth classes because I haven't been in town long enough to cover a single 6-week course period, and I haven't been able to attend more than two consecutive sessions of any other class I've started (prenatal yoga, Chinese brush painting, tai chi, calligraphy). Now that I'm consciously cataloguing the reasons, it's no wonder I feel so disconnected. Don't get me wrong: I love traveling, I love having a flexible schedule, and I thrive on flying by the seat of my pants, especially with work - but it's been 7 months of this, and I need a break.

We were supposed to move into our new apartment in a couple of weeks, but, as often happens in China, new complications have turned everything on its head at the 11th hour. The details are boring, but the upshot is, I'm once again hanging out with Julia the nice realtor lady, and Mik and I once again get to go through the process of choosing a development, looking at apartments, negotiating price, furniture, appliances, mattresses, gym memberships etc. Julia and I always end up chatting about her sister's and colleagues' pregnancies, and she seems to get a kick out of seeing my reaction to hearing about the traditional Chinese way of dealing with pregnancy, to the point where I sometimes wonder if she makes things up for my amusement.

Make no mistake, though, as an outsider, the long list of Chinese pregnancy do's and don'ts is the most puzzling confluence of old wives' tales you have ever heard. For example, too much watermelon is bad, because it is a "cooling" food and baby will get chilled if you have too much. Bananas are bad, because they will give the baby epilepsy (not sure about the exact chemical pathway to that one). Lifting anything at all, of course, is out, as is raising your arms, even just to draw the curtains. A British friend, who at the time was only three or four months pregnant, was advised by our little old grandma Chinese laoshi (teacher) that she should take lots of walks (great) and that she should stop being with her husband (wink wink) immediately. The concept of "confinement" is taken to a whole new level: 30 days postpartum is the norm, during which the new mother is not allowed to bathe or brush her teeth. I guess it removes the need to explicitly prohibit new parents' being with each other, if Momma's all stinky with hairy teeth and bushy armpits anyway.

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I can empathize: Filipino pregnant culture is actually pretty similar, and in fact is probably heavily influenced by the Chinese. But it's easy for me to take any strange-sounding advice from well-meaning friends and relatives as nothing more than amusing little cultural idiosyncrasies, because I have both the temperament and the distance to ignore without offense. I had been assuming that here in Beijing, these are taken as "old wives' tales" and largely chuckled over by modern urban mothers too, but I've heard that even while knowing that many of the prohibitions have little scientific or medical basis, many new mothers still feel that they have no choice but to do what they're told. With many extended families still living together or in close proximity, older generations are more intimately connected with day-to-day life, and micromanaging mothers and mothers-in-law (and fathers and fathers-in-law) are much more common. The one-child policy also means that most pregnant women, by definition, have no previous experience to draw from, either, so perhaps feel like they have to rely on their elders for information. For the most part, I would assume that there's little harm done, and one can get enough potassium from other sources than bananas, for example. But I would think the biggest downside to having so many 'rules' is in instances when complications do occur, or the unthinkable happens, and blame is directed squarely at the mother for what she did or didn't do, even if the causes may have been completely unrelated or unexplained. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Now that I've made that very superficial summary and analysis of local pregnancy taboos, I should probably get in gear and start packing for tomorrow's flight. It's been a pretty entertaining couple of days, as the baby's been positioned in such a way that little knees and elbows are actually periodically poking out of my belly and rolling across the surface. I'm singing to him/her more, and it may be my imagination, but it seems to have a calming effect - will have to put that to use during the flight when I'm trapped in my seat and having my ribs and bladder beaten on.

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