Sunday, February 21, 2010

Three Taels of Gold

The family when Peace is a week old.

Peace in the hospital.

Truth feeding Peace.

Peace at six months.

And so the days passed in caring for the twins, teaching English, helping my mother-in-law, and waiting for the baby to grow. We had an ultrasound and knew it was going to be another girl. I was not bothered by this. It seemed to make life easier since the babies were so close together (one minute and then fourteen months apart). Of course, this did not bode well for the Liu family’s dynastic aspirations. They needed a grandson. My mother-in-law earnestly told me that they needed me to bear a son. They now knew that the gender of the baby was determined by the father, so no one was blaming me, but I would need to try again in a few years after taking some herbal concoctions to help make my body more alkaline. According to the Hakka old wives’ tales, if the wife is alkaline and the husband is acidic, they will produce many males. Because I had grown up in meat-eating America, my body was far too acidic for having sons in Taiwan. Because it was so important that I have a son, they wanted me to do my best to have this child by natural child birth instead of c-section. I discussed this with my obstetrician. He said that if it were anyone else, he would not allow it. My stomach muscles had not grown back fully after the twins, and he did not think I would be able to have the baby naturally. But he trusted me to follow his instructions and to know when I needed to get to the hospital if it was turning into a medical emergency. The biggest thing I had to watch out for was a reddening of the scar from having the twins and sharp sticking pains along the length of the scar. He monitored my progress carefully, and we headed for the due date.

Eldest Sister was also pregnant with her fifth child. Our due dates were almost the same. Mine was slightly before hers, but I had never had a child naturally, and she had already had four. Her baby was finally a boy. The entire family was rejoicing over her good fortune because her husband had been threatening to replace her if she failed to bear him a son.

I kept teaching right up until my due date because I wanted as much exercise as possible to help with the birth. And right on my due date both Eldest Sister and I began to have contractions. She had her baby in a matter of hours, but my baby just would not come. For five days, I had on-again, off-again contractions, but they never got stronger or harder. Finally, in the middle of the night on the day before my own birthday, the incision began to get red and hurt tremendously. I told Yuni, but he felt my stomach and said it wasn’t time. He rolled over and went back to sleep. I was in so much pain I was moaning, and this woke up my in-laws. They insisted that Yuni take me to the hospital, so we dashed off in the wee hours of the morning. At the hospital, they put me on a monitor and said that the baby was distressed. They also began prepping me for surgery while we waited for the doctor to get out of another emergency c-section. He came and was very curt with Yuni. He told him that if he wanted more babies, he needed to protect his wife and this one. He said that as long as I rested for 5 years before getting pregnant again, I could have another pregnancy even after two c-sections. So I was trundled into the operating room.

My file had not yet arrived when the anesthesiologist came in. I told him that I had drug sensitivities which the head of the anesthesiology department had checked out. I begged him to wait for my file. He said that I was his fifth surgery of the night, and he knew what he was doing. He gave me the shot and began chatting with the nurses. I kept watching my heart rate on the monitor because I have an irregular heart beat that is worsened by certain medications. My heart rate went way up and the irregular beats were coming two and three in a row. I knew that this was a dangerous pattern, but I had an oxygen mask on my face, and I was tied to the table. The nurse and anesthesiologist were chatting and not paying any attention to the monitors. I began thrashing my head back and forth to get their attention. A nurse finally came over and asked if I needed to vomit. I said: “Look at my heart rate!” The nurse looked up, yelped, and grabbed the anesthesiologist from his conversation with the other nurse. At that moment, my file arrived, and he was able to see the error of his ways. Unfortunately, the only thing he could do was to give me the antidote to the wrong medication that he had given me, but he couldn’t give me the right stuff.

The surgeon came in and began work removing the baby. Her head was so big that it didn’t fit any of the clamps. They had to stretch my stomach wide to pull her out. Then it took forever for them to get her breathing. Finally, they brought her over and showed her to me. The doctor kept me open while helping revive the baby. Then he came up by my head and begged me to have my tubes tied. He said that the baby and I had almost died. He told me that he could do a reversible tubal ligation that would keep me from getting pregnant for five years. Then if the Lius still wanted me to have a son, we could cut through the ties, and I could get pregnant again. The proceedings that night had scared me sufficiently that I was more than happy to sign for the tubal ligation. Since we did not have a son, Yuni had to agree to the procedure. The nurse took the form out, and we waited. Then the nurse came back in and called the doctor to the door. The doctor left my vision for five minutes or more. I think he may have stepped out of the operating room because I did not hear what they were saying.

When the doctor came back, he said a little too brightly, “Well, we have that settled.” He tied off the tubes, and then he said to me in English, “Now we have to pack your uterus because you won’t be using it for many years.” He began working down low in the center of my abdomen. After the baby was out, the anesthesiologist had asked me if I wanted a general anesthetic for the rest of the operation. I had refused, and he had left to go off duty. By this time, then, after the antidote shot, the anesthesia from the epidural was wearing off. I began to have quite a bit of feeling. The doctor worked for quite some time. I kept breathing deeply and silently praying that I would not move and wreck things. Finally, I began chatting with him, asking him how much longer it would take, how many layers he had to sew up, etc. He told the nurses that this was the difference between American patients and Chinese patients. The Americans were proactive about their health. After what felt like hours of battling against the pain, the surgeon left. The nurses were short and small; they didn’t know how they were going to get me onto the gurney to wheel me into the recovery room. I said, “That’s okay. The anesthesia wore off a long time ago.” I hitched my rear up and stretched a leg out onto the gurney. Both nurses gasped. I told them that American patients were not really that interested in being proactive, but talking to the doctor had distracted me from the pain. They helped me the rest of the way onto the gurney and got me into the recovery room.

And then the pain set in. For the next 36 hours, I was in ever-intensifying pain. My baby was cute. She could smile before she was 24 hours old. Even though she had been a blue baby, she scored a 10 on the APGAR test. Feeding her was a joy, but the rest of the time was sheer torture. Taiwanese hospitals did not allow morphine or other narcotics, and I get violently sick from Demoral, the only pain drug they could offer me. Finally, the doctor prescribed Valium to help me sleep. It didn’t really work. I just breathed and embraced the pain. Eventually, it began to subside.

Something went horribly wrong during that surgery. Ever since then I have had all kinds of problems with my female health. But I have to say that the baby I bore was and is magnificent. The grandparents had the twins, so in some ways she was my firstborn. She was the first one that I got to raise more or less my way. She never really slept, not even as a newborn. She wound up with some slight learning disabilities due to her birth trauma, probably, but she has worked very hard and has pretty much overcome them all. I am so glad I did not take the advice to have an abortion, and I truly believe she is worth every bit of pain that I had bearing her. I guess the pain from that one birth made up for the painless and easy birth of the twins. I certainly had enough pain for three children in that botched surgery. I named her Yung-an, which means Eternal Peace, but the character that I used for peace can also mean rest and safety. I was so grateful that we both came through all right, and we were at peace and safe. The name is like a boy’s name, but it was too meaningful for me to care about trivial things like that.

We went home, and I began my confinement. I got much more rest this time around because the family took the twins downstairs and played with them all day, so Peace and I stayed upstairs resting and relaxing. My mom came from America and would come up and talk to me, and I did get a few visitors, but many times the visitors didn’t make it upstairs because the twins’ antics downstairs were so entertaining. I now had “San Qian Jin” or three thousand pieces of gold, which is a polite way to say three daughters. The third daughter is not so remarked upon or celebrated in Chinese households. But to me, all my daughters are worth more than their weight in gold.


murat11 said...

Teresa: What a harrowing, yet beautiful, story. Beautiful in the sense of what you and your babies have come through and vanquished. What a terrifying birth experience that was for the two of you.

Thank you for the blessing of this story.

Teresa said...

Thanks for your encouraging words, Murat.

Dee Martin said...

I'm a little in awe of you, to have gone through that and told the story so matter of fact. Chatting with the doc while he sewed you up? Whew girl - you are tough stuff LOL

Teresa said...

Hi Dee,

Welcome to the blog. I think that the human spirit and psyche are much tougher than we give ourselves credit for. In a pinch, and with lots of prayer, all kinds of strengths come out.

Travis Erwin said...

Great story and very well told. I admire you.

Teresa said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Travis. Hope your writing is going well.