Sunday, November 1, 2009

"Mom, We Have Babies!"

The twins by the nursery window

Feeding time in our "double" room

Twin "A"--Eternal Truth

Twin "B"--Eternal Love

Babies in the feeding cart like loaves of bread at a bakery

The result of melted ice cream: lots and lots of milk!

Towards the end of my pregnancy, my stomach was growing visibly from morning to evening. The twins were doing very well. The only problem was that they were so big the twin across the bottom in a breech position had no room to turn around. The doctor did a number of ultrasounds and decided that as soon as they were big enough to survive outside an incubator, he would do a C-section. He thought we could have them three weeks early, but one twin was just a little bit too small, so we waited another week. Since I was not supposed to go into natural labor for fear of a medical emergency, I stopped teaching classes and began to lie around the house. My friend Lynne from my first year in Taiwan was back in the country attending a church training. She agreed to take my university classes for me every Monday during my maternity leave. Her task was to help the students with their semester projects. She did quite a good job of that!

Finally, the day came. It turned out to be an auspicious day as well, and many Chinese, who now use modern technology to give their babies the best horoscopes possible, had scheduled C-sections at the hospital for that day, too. Since we were not in it for the horoscopes, we did not have to wait for the midday lucky time zone. We were the first surgery of the day. Yuni, Ma and I went to the hospital the night before to have all the surgical prep done. We asked for a double room, and the hospital found us an interior room without windows. It was private and a little larger than usual, but because there were no windows, they charged us the cheaper double-bed rate. In addition to my hospital bed, it had two couch-like daybeds for Yuni and Ma to sleep on. We had our own little hospital slumber party.

Bright and early the next morning, the nurse came to take me down to surgery. The anesthesiologist had visited the night before, and all things were ready downstairs. I was given the option of bikini cut or bisecting my gut. I went for the smaller incision. I was conscious during the entire procedure, as I opted just to have the epidural and NOT get total anesthesia for the end after the babies were out. When the doctor got through all the layers of tissue, mystery baby on the bottom kicked a foot out. The doctor pulled, and out popped a girl. She began crying immediately. The nurse sponged her off and walked up past the big sheet to show me (by spreading the legs) that I had just had a girl. Then she put the naked baby into a portable double incubator. The doctor and his assistant now began pushing on my upper abdomen to get the other baby out. We knew that she was a girl, too. The birth certificates place the births at just a minute apart; I say that it was the longest minute in the history of the human race. Both doctors kept pushing and pushing to inch this larger baby down to where they could pull her out. I didn’t feel pain because of the epidural, but it was definitely NOT a comfortable sensation. Finally, one doctor switched from pushing to pulling, and they managed to work the baby out. She was asleep. They swatted her to get her crying. She mewled twice and went back to sleep. When the nurse brought her to see me, she half opened an eye and then went to sleep again. The nurse put her into the double incubator with her sister and wheeled them both out to meet Grandma and Daddy. Ma told me that when they saw the babies, the girls had linked arms in the incubator.

After the doctor stitched me up, I spent some time in the recovery room, and then I went back up to my hospital room. Due to the problems with clean water, all C-section mothers were kept in the hospital for a week until the incisions had grown together enough that no infection was likely. A few hours after the operation, I startled everyone by walking the halls and going downstairs to see the babies in the nursery. The twins were quite the celebrities in the hospital. For one thing, they were bald, but all the full-blood Chinese babies had been born with shocks of black hair. For another thing, they were definitely white compared to the rest of the nursery’s inhabitants. All the visitors to the hospital wanted to see the American twins, so their beds were placed quite close to the windows. Twin A cried a lot, and the nurses took turns walking her and holding her and talking to her. She responded to the attention like a born movie star. Twin B was much more business-like about the process of living. She ate lots and then slept and then ate some more.

The next order of business was for Yuni to call my parents and tell them that mother and babies were safe. We spent quite a bit of time rehearsing the English before he went off to find an international pay phone. We settled on a simple script: “Mom (or Dad), we have babies.” And we practiced that plural “s” until the enunciation was clear. Then we went on with the important statistics: “Two girls, six pounds each, Teresa and babies are good.” It only took him thirty minutes of constant practice before he felt confident about making his first transpacific phone call by himself. It was a momentous occasion all around. And of course, my parents were thrilled to have become grandparents twice over.

I was allowed to eat real food by noon, and by the evening feeding, I tried to breast feed the twins. They wound up getting about half mother’s milk and half formula. Several times a day, the nurses would wheel the carts of tightly swaddled babies up to the maternity ward so that the mothers could feed their own babies. They had special coaches for mothers who wanted to breastfeed, and the nurses even made sure we knew how to safely bathe the babies and change their diapers before they would clear us for discharge. Both kids were slightly jaundiced, which is apparently very common in Asia. While my incision was healing, the babies basked under sun lamps in the nursery for several hours a day until their bilirubin counts went down.

By the second day, my visitors started pouring in. Friends from church and Liu family relatives all came bearing gifts of food for me and diapers or formula for the kids. A few of my American friends from church came with ice cream, and my mother-in-law and I began the first of many negotiations about cross-cultural motherhood and child-rearing. Chinese mothers spend the month after childbirth resting in bed with the baby. They only eat chicken and wine soup. They are not allowed to drink water or eat vegetables for fear the baby will develop colic or diarrhea. The mothers are not allowed to wash their hair for a month, they can only bathe in water boiled with mugwort, and they must wear long-johns and a turban to be sure they do not catch a chill. They are not allowed to eat or touch anything cold because it is believed that cold water or cold foods during the month after child-birth will give the mother arthritis in middle-age. But my friends had brought me mint chocolate chip ice cream, my favorite, and I really wanted it. Finally, we asked the nurse. Due to the surgery, the doctor had already nixed the chicken and wine soup routine. I was to drink plenty of water and NO alcohol for three weeks. The nurse said I could have ice cream, but she suggested I let it melt and warm up to room temperature to appease my mother-in-law’s sensibilities. So I had a room temperature mint chocolate chip milk shake, and within fifteen minutes I had so much milk that the nurse had to bring both babies for an extra feeding. And that is how the American magic of melted, room-temperature ice cream was added to the Liu family’s menu of best foods for nursing mothers.


Joannalynne said...

Yayy!!! the best part of the story!!!

Barbara Martin said...

A great tale of nostalgia. I loved the mint chocolate ice cream and its affect on the nursing.

murat11 said...

Teresa: Great stories all round here, with the dramatic climax, of course, of the ice cream negotiations. How funny that assistance came from the hospital staff, though the traditional expectations were very interesting. What more do you know about the rationale (or even credibility) of the expectations of new mothers? The chicken and wine soup was intriguing; after Walden was born, we found out about a carp soup (the entire carp, bones and all, boiled down to melted mush, with vegetables) that was supposed to be quite reinvigorating. It was quite rich and good.

Loved the story of the longest minute. Those few seconds in which Walden "paraded" out like some sleeping Egyptian god seemed like a golden eternity.

Wonderful stories, amiga.

Cloudia said...

I loved this part of the story too!

Nihau & Aloha, Friend!

Comfort Spiral

Teresa said...

Hi Joanna, I thought you said the best part was the ultra-sound.

Barbara, Thanks for stopping by. The mint chocolate chip ice cream was amazing! My mother-in-law was thoroughly impressed by it.

Murat, If I tell you about the confinement now, I won't have anything to post next weekend. The confinements last 40 days, so we had many more negotiations. I will discuss them at length next post. I will say though that the carp soup sounds very similar in its composition to traditional Chinese confinement foods.

Cloudia, Glad you could drop by. Go Phillies!

Pam said...

I enjoy visiting your blog, but this is the first time I have left a comment. Could you tell me how long ago you had the twins? Such an interesting story.

Teresa said...

Hi Pam, Welcome to the blog. I'm glad you're enjoying the story. The girls are all seniors in college now. They were born in the late 80s. I no longer have any teenagers.