One Big Baby

BabyDumpling is now 6 weeks old. At her one-month pediatrician visit, they weighed her and she was 10 lbs. The nurse couldn’t believe his eyes. He looked at her chart, she was only 8.3 lbs the last time she was weighed (at 2 weeks old). “She grew nearly 2 lbs in two weeks? That can’t be right. Let’s weigh her again.” So we stripped her down again and put her on the scale. It read 10 lbs. Still refusing to believe it, he said, “Maybe this scale is broken.” So he took us to a different room and weighed her on a different scale. It still read 10 lbs. “She hasn’t pooped yet,” PapaDumpling offered, as way of explanation for her apparent heaviness. “How much do you think her poop weighs?” I interjected, “Two pounds??”

The nurse finally accepted that BabyDumpling did, in fact, weigh 10 lbs. He said he’d never seen a baby gain 2 lbs in two weeks. She was at the 74th percentile for weight and 86th percentile for head circumference.

So it was confirmed. BabyDumpling is a big baby, with a big head. The pediatrician seemed very pleased. “She’s growing very well,” he said, “You’re out of the danger zone. Feed her when she wants to feed, let her sleep if she wants to sleep. Now you don’t need to worry.” He didn’t seem worried at all – in fact, he didn’t see the need for us to see him any time soon. “See you in a month!” he said as he waved us goodbye.

BabyDumpling has been growing very fast. She’s already outgrown most of her 0-3 month clothes and we’ve started to dress her in 3-6 month baby clothes. Everyone who sees her can’t believe she’s only 6 weeks old. She has gained another 1.5 lbs in the past 2 weeks since her one-month checkup. In addition to being rather large, she can hold her head up on her own, and she’s very responsive. She will follow people and objects with her eyes and clearly seems to be reacting to her environment. She’s now awake for longer stretches and we try to play with her during the day so that she sleeps longer at night. She can sleep for four hours between feedings at night no problem. She doesn’t even wake herself up with the startle reflex (or Moro reflex), which is an involuntary jerking motion in babies that often cause them to wake themselves up while sleeping. Most newborns are swaddled to prevent the startle reflex from waking themselves up, but BabyDumpling never liked to be swaddled. She has the skills of a ninja in terms of wriggling out of any swaddle. Many parents who swaddle start to transition out of the swaddle at three months old, and their babies have to learn not to startle themselves awake. We haven’t been swaddling BabyDumpling since Week 2, she just sleeps with her arms out, and she can still sleep through four, sometimes even five, hours. It makes me think that our six-week old is really like a three-month old.

BabyDumpling laughing and playing with us

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The Alternate Universe of Being a Parent

I hadn’t meant to go so long without a blog entry, but with the little one’s feeding schedule, and trying to pump and nap in between, there just never seems to be enough hours in the day to do anything else. In the blink of an eye, nearly two weeks have passed since BabyDumpling’s one-month birthday.

I feel like I walked through a portal on May 17, 2017. My life since then is so different from my life before that point. And the difference is not like the kind of difference I’ve experienced with other major life events, like graduating from school or moving to a new country. In those instances, even though “everything” changes, all of that is external. In this case, it’s more like “everything” has changed internally, like I have changed into a different person. It’s hard to describe, but I’m sure other moms will know what I’m talking about. Everything that used to seem important no longer seems important. The way I see myself, even the way I see my husband, is different. And although I’m still not used to being called a “mom,” my brain has already rewired itself into a “mom brain.” Maybe not every part of my brain, but a large part.

Here are just a couple of examples of how my perspective has changed that I didn’t expect:

Nakedness. I have no shame for nakedness anymore. It’s like I ate the opposite apple that Adam and Eve ate. More than a dozen people have stared at my vagina in the past two months, and now it no longer seems that “private” of a private part. Not only that but since then, I’ve pretty much walked around with my tits hanging out 80% of my waking hours because of breastfeeding and pumping. I don’t see breasts as sexual objects anymore, I just see them as the thing that produces my baby’s food.

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On Compromise, Womb-Lag, and Explosive Poop

The first few weeks with BabyDumpling have been easier than I expected, other than breastfeeding. She isn’t fussy about drinking formula (I’ve heard some babies can be very picky), and she usually sleeps 3-4 hours (even 5) in between feedings. That’s a long time for a newborn! It’s most likely because we are feeding her formula, and formula takes longer to digest than breastmilk so babies tend to sleep longer between feedings when they are fed formula. Technically, we are not suppose to let her sleep more than 4 hours between feedings because we need to feed her X number of times per day, but when it’s overnight and we’re asleep, she’s the one that lets us know if she’s hungry, so if she doesn’t wake up, we don’t wake up.

Being a new parent is a lesson in compromise. There’s the stuff you learn in the books and from the classes, and then there’s reality. The reality is that you can’t go by the book on everything, even if you know there’s a good reason why such-and-such is the recommended practice.

For example, the number of feedings thing. Everyone tells us newborns need to be fed 8-12+ times a day. That means every 2-3 hours on average. At the same time though, we are also told to feed “on demand” – meaning, instead of going by the clock for when each feeding should happen, we watch BabyDumpling’s cues and she lets us know when she’s hungry. However, if she sleeps longer than 4 hours, there’s almost no way we can get in 8-12 feedings a day. We were feeding her, on average, every 4 hours, which meant she was only getting 6 feedings a day. Of course, there is a possibility of “cluster feeding” – meaning, she wakes up every hour to feed for, let’s say, 3 consecutive hours, and then sleeps for a longer period of time. That’s fine in theory, except our baby didn’t really do that. So we threw out the rulebook on 8-12 feedings and let her tell us when she was hungry. If that meant 6 feedings a day, so be it. She was gaining weight and healthy, so as far as her pediatrician could tell, there was no cause for alarm.

Another example where we “threw out the rulebook,” so to speak, was on bedsharing, the practice of having a baby sleep in the same bed as the adults. Bedsharing is generally frowned upon, as there are many risks for a baby in an adult bed: adults could roll over onto the baby while asleep; the baby could accidentally suffocate under the blanket or pillow; and it is even said they could strangle themselves if their mother has long hair (source). However, there is some indication that bedsharing deaths usually result when there is at least one other independent factor:

[…] Recent studies have shown that most bed-sharing deaths happen when an adult sleeping with a baby has been smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs (illegal or over-the-counter medicines) that make them sleep deeply.

Sometimes people fall asleep with their babies accidentally or without meaning to. This can be very dangerous, especially if it happens on a couch/sofa where a baby can get wedged or trapped between the adult and the cushions.

I recognize that there are good reasons why bedsharing is not as safe as having the baby sleep on her own separate surface, free of distractions like blankets and pillows. We hadn’t originally intended to bedshare, but it has now become an almost nightly occurrence. BabyDumpling refuses to sleep in her own crib, even though we put her crib right next to our bed, and I can reach in and pat her if she starts fussing. But no amount of patting will help if she doesn’t go to sleep in the first place, and she just won’t fall asleep in her own crib. Even if I place her in her crib after she’s fallen asleep on my body, she’ll wake up much sooner than if I put her down on our bed. How she knows the difference I have no idea. There are ways to reduce the risk of bedsharing, such as little bassinets/baby nests that you can place on the bed itself. Is it ideal? Probably not, but it works for us, at least for now.

And that’s the thing. As much as you go in with the intention of doing everything by the book, once you’re raising your own baby, you realize there are some things you do just to keep yourself sane, because you could drive yourself nuts if you tried to do everything by the book.

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Mom Challenge #1: Breastfeeding

Being new parents to a newborn is hard. This may seem like an obvious statement, but the way in which it was hard was surprising for me. It wasn’t the late night feedings and lack of sleep – I had expected that and was prepared to give up sleeping through the night for several months. It wasn’t learning how to calm a crying baby and sometimes being frustrated by not knowing why she’s crying – I know eventually I’ll learn to distinguish her cries and know what’s bothering her, or accept that sometimes she just wants to cry and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. For me, it was breastfeeding.

We had gone to breastfeeding classes before she was born, and it was never questioned that we would plan to exclusively breastfeed for as long as we could. Every doctor, nurse, lactation consultant, and source of medical expertise we encountered reiterated the same message, that “breast is best.” And I didn’t doubt that for a minute, I still don’t. But when things didn’t quite go according to plan, it created an immense amount of pressure on me.

The first 24 hours after we were discharged from the hospital, things already started to go wrong. I had been exclusively breastfeeding (EBF) in the hospital and continued to do so at home. For those that are doing EBF, we are told to feed the baby whenever she wants it and for however long she wants to – there is no way to “over-feed” from the breast. So, that’s what I did. I breastfed her 14 times in the first 24 hours we were home. She seemed to be constantly hungry. I had blisters on both nipples, one of my nipples was cracked open and the other one was bleeding. They were in bad shape. Each time she latched onto my nipple brought searing pain. It was so painful I could barely stand it. But I endured it and continued to breastfeed her.

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After the Delivery

A few hours after the delivery, I was moved to a room on the postpartum floor. My legs and feet were still numb from the epidural, so I got to go down in a wheelchair (yay wheelchairs!). It was also for the better that I wasn’t walking around yet, because I felt a little dizzy – perhaps from the blood loss. My vitals were all normal though, and everything that felt wrong during labor/delivery immediately disappeared after the baby came out – my fever was gone, the soreness in my butt muscle was gone, etc.

After I settled into a room on the postpartum floor, PapaDumpling and our parents went to get some food. They must have been worn out from the delivery as well, since everybody was mentally (and sometimes physically) helping me push for the past several hours. The nurse on the postpartum floor was not nearly as good as the one upstairs – after she introduced herself, she didn’t come back for several hours. So, this was the first time I was left alone since I had entered the hospital.

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The Arrival of BabyDumpling

BabyDumpling was due on May 13, 2017. The day passed uneventfully in our dumpling family. And the next day, and the next day, and the next.

On May 16, 2017, I had an appointment with my OB. They gave me an ultrasound to check if everything was all right with the baby. It was. Everything looked healthy, I was just overdue, which is pretty common for the first child. I still hadn’t had a single contraction, and didn’t feel like the baby was coming out any time soon. I could easily imagine BabyDumpling coming out a full week late.

At the ultrasound, they estimated that her weight was 8.5 lbs. This terrified me. Babies gain weight very quickly towards the end of the pregnancy, which meant if BabyDumpling was another few days late, she could easily be 9 lbs at birth. That is a lot of baby to push out! My OB didn’t quite believe the estimate from the ultrasound, insisting that based on the measurement of my belly, my baby was likely around 7.5 lbs, “unless she’s very tightly packed in there,” my OB joked (turned out she kind of was).

My OB gave me a cervical exam and determined that I was now 3cm dilated. Full dilation, which is when you are ready to start pushing, is 10cm. 3cm is a lot to be dilated without feeling a thing. Both my mother and mother-in-law had gone into labor with 0cm dilated, and every 1cm dilation took over an hour of painful contractions. So, they were understandably confused and jealous that I was somehow already 3cm without feeling any pain.

During the cervical exam, my OB asked me if I wanted a membrane sweep. It is basically the doctor making a “sweeping” motion with her fingers during a cervical exam across the membrane or sac holding the baby, which is believed to help release natural hormones that may trigger labor. She told me it might result in spotting (light bleeding) and some pain. It’s not guaranteed to work, but I decided to give it a try.

A few hours later, I immediately regretted my decision. As soon as I got home, I started to feel a lot of pain. And it wasn’t contraction pain, it was just constant pain in my lower abdomen, like a period pain. And it seemed like a lot of blood was coming out considering that she had described it as “spotting.” Worried that this may not be normal, I turned to Google, and found other women describing the pain I was feeling after a membrane sweep. Some had it for 24-36 hours and they didn’t even go into labor. 24-36 hours?! I did not want to feel this way for that long, especially if it wasn’t even going to get me into labor.

I decided to take a shower, as warm water is said to help with some of the pain, while I cursed my OB. Then, halfway through the shower, I noticed the pain changed. It was no longer constant. It seemed to come and go. Could they be… contractions? I couldn’t be sure, I could barely feel them, and they were still in the same spot as the “period pains,” whereas I had been told that contractions would hurt across your whole belly, including your lower back, and were unmistakable. These seemed… mistakable.

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A Nine Month Journey

I am now entering the last few days of my pregnancy (almost 40 weeks!). BabyDumpling can come any day now, although I think she may come right around her due date (May 13th, right before Mother’s Day). I can’t believe I am nearing the end of this nine month journey. Obviously I know that pregnancy has to come to an end at some point, but I have almost gotten used to it, as if I’ll be carrying BabyDumpling around in my belly indefinitely like this. Looking back on the past nine months, I realize how different each trimester was, in terms of pregnancy’s impact on me.

First Trimester

I found out I was pregnant around 5 weeks. I was only a few days late, but since I wasn’t very regular to begin with, I couldn’t be certain. The first pregnancy test I took came back negative. I was traveling to New York every week at that time, and during the week, there was one morning when I opened up the shampoo bottle in the shower and suddenly wanted to throw up. The smell of the shampoo was suddenly overpowering and disgusting to me. I had been staying at the same hotel, using the same shampoo, for months, so this was definitely out of the ordinary. As soon as I gagged at the shampoo smell, I knew I was pregnant. But I wanted to wait until I got home on the weekend to take another pregnancy test, that way PapaDumpling could see the result with me. The day after I got back to Boston, I took another pregnancy test, and this came back positive. PapaDumpling tried to trick me, since he looked at the result first and told me it was negative. “Really?” I asked, since I was almost certain that I was pregnant, and then he told me it was positive. “Yep, I knew it.”

That weekend, we had rented out a house for a weekend getaway with our friends. It was too early to tell anyone of course, and I wondered if I needed to make any excuses for why I wasn’t drinking alcohol, or if anyone would notice. I don’t think anyone noticed that I wasn’t drinking, although one of my friends noticed I was hyper emotional. I didn’t realize it myself, but I think she was right in hindsight. I got super angry, to the point of tears, over something completely trivial during that weekend. It made no sense, other than that maybe my hormones were acting up.

The most difficult part of the first trimester was the nausea. Relatively speaking, I had it light. I would gag but not really throw up, except for one time when I vomited during a client meeting that I was leading, practically throwing up in the client’s face mid-sentence. They were really nice about it. I don’t know if anyone thought I was pregnant, but again, I didn’t offer an explanation. I had read that it’s best to wait until Week 12 to announce the news, since the chances of a miscarriage are pretty high early on. I was also “lucky” in the sense that I spent most of my first trimester at home. Due to my employment visa issues, I had to be “unemployed” for two months during that time, so although I threw up once in a client meeting, I didn’t have to worry about it happening a second time. Nonetheless, it was difficult to eat out, or go anywhere that smelled of food. Sometimes just the thought of food made me nauseous. I ate very little during the first trimester, often skipping meals. This annoyed me because, as a food-lover, every meal is an opportunity to do what I love (eat) so I normally never skip meals. But I just had no appetite in the first trimester, which apparently is pretty common among pregnant ladies.

I don’t think the idea that we were having a baby really sunk in for PapaDumpling until our first ultrasound, which was around Week 12. It was kind of crazy how clearly you could see the features of the baby even at such an early stage. We could see her (we didn’t know it was a “her” at the time)  nose and hands and feet and toes! It was crazy.

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MamaDumpling’s Childhood

Recently, I have had occasion to reflect on my early childhood, and although I know my personal narrative well, I see many things in a new light now that I am about to embark on the journey of parenthood myself. It gives me a better appreciation of the difficult decisions my parents had to make, and the sacrifices and hardships they had to endure in order to give me a better life.

I hope BabyDumpling will read this one day, or that I will tell her the story myself, so that she can have some appreciation for how lucky she is to be born into her situation.

Life before Toronto

My story is pretty typical for a first-generation immigrant in the early 90s. I was born in China, and both my parents were academics. My father got accepted into a PhD program in Toronto, and when I was four years old, he came to Canada alone. My mother joined him when I was five years old, and left me to the care of my maternal grandparents. A year later, when my parents deemed that Canada was suitable for their family, they brought me over as well.

I used to tell this part of the story matter-of-factly whenever asked. I would ring off the dates and facts like I was reading them from a book about someone else, because I barely remember that period of my life. But now that I think about it, I can’t imagine leaving my four or five year old daughter for a year or two. I can’t even imagine leaving my child for two months at that age, much less two years. At the time, my parents didn’t know exactly how long they would be leaving me, but they knew it was going to be a while. That must have been incredibly difficult for them. But it wasn’t easy to leave China back in the day, so getting sponsored by a PhD program to leave the country was a huge opportunity.

I remember having long-distance phone calls with my parents from my grandparents’ bedroom. They would call, they would talk to my grandparents for a while, and then my grandparents would give me the phone and tell me to say something to my parents. I didn’t know what to say. Even in the snippets of my memory, I can still remember the awkward silences on the phone after I said hello. If I were my mom on the other end of the line, feeling the strangeness and distance between her and her child, I would probably be bawling. Maybe she did cry, but if she did, she kept it hidden from me.

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You seem frustrated. How can I help?

As my due date gets ever closer, I start getting more and more questions about whether I feel “scared” or “ready” for the baby. Honestly, other than being a little nervous about the delivery itself (I mean, 10-14 hours of pain does not sound like fun), I am not really scared or anxious about the baby’s arrival itself. In fact, I can’t wait for the baby to come. It’s the same kind of feeling when we were waiting for DoggyDumpling to be 8 weeks old so we could go pick him up – I can’t wait to meet her!

What scares me far more than taking care of a newborn, or even a toddler, is taking care of an older child. It’s one thing to lose sleep over breastfeeding and diaper changes, it’s a whole other thing once they’re walking and talking and expressing their own opinions and arguing back and slamming doors. In truth, the idea of raising a teenager is the scariest of all.

I think I am much more terrified about actual “parenting” than just raising another being (e.g. providing food and shelter). I haven’t read a lot of parenting books or articles, but what I have read sometimes makes me go, “WTF?”

This article is a great example. Have a child crying for seemingly no reason? “I hear that you are very upset. I am here for you.” Have a child throwing a tantrum and it’s affecting their sibling? “I see that you are frustrated. Sister is frustrated, too. How can I help you?” Have a child that’s bouncing off the walls trying to get your attention? “You have a lot to say today. I am excited for all that you are learning.”

All of her “instead try” suggestions remind me of when I was working at the IT support desk of my university, and instead of yelling at the idiot on the other end of the line, I’d have to grit my teeth and say very sweetly, “I know you may have checked if the monitor was powered on before, but please check again. Oh, the cord that runs from the monitor to the wall is unplugged? That’s the power cord.”

Her suggested responses are how I imagine an emotionless robot would parent. “I am excited for all that you are learning.” Who talks like that?

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To having it all

One question I have been asked a lot since I became pregnant, especially from women, is whether I still plan to work after I give birth. To those who know me well, it should not come as a surprise that my response is automatically, “Of course I still plan to work.” It seems absurd to even ask me that question, because I can’t imagine (nor have I ever seen) anybody ask a man whose wife is about to give birth whether he plans to continue working after the baby is born. The truth is that most men who have young children, at least in my industry, have wives who stay at home, or work from home, and/or have an army of hired help (nannies, au pairs, maids, even cooks sometimes) to take the load off at home. A working mom could have all of that help as well, including a stay-at-home dad, but it’s not as common.

Although I fully plan to continue working after I have a baby, that doesn’t mean I haven’t given a lot of thought to the kind of work that I’ll be doing. Right now, my work involves a lot of travel, and I don’t know how I will feel about leaving the baby 3-4 days a week, every week. My firm has been really great about discussing other options with me, such as being staffed on local projects so I don’t have to travel, or working on internal (non-client-facing) projects if there aren’t client projects in Boston. I am confident that, at least in the first few months back to work, I can figure something out where I don’t have to travel, but in the long term, travel is a necessary part of my firm’s model. And even if travel wasn’t part of the equation, being a management consultant can be pretty demanding in terms of hours – it’s no coincidence that there aren’t a lot of women with children who stay in this field. So, I have considered the possibility that I may need to move “in-house” (get an industry job that has more regular hours). However, I have not come across any industry job that I find more interesting than my current job. Moreover, it can’t just be a job, it should be compatible with my overall career ambitions.

So the broader question is, what do I think of the family-career “trade-off”? Can women who have ambitious career goals still reach those goals if they have children? Can we “have it all”?

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