Author: Lily

On Becoming a Mom: Juniper’s Birth Story

Juniper Evangeline Dunn was born on October 24, 2019, at 5:49 AM at United Christian Hospital in Hong Kong. Big thank you to everyone who has supported and encouraged us on this journey so far. We can’t believe she’s ours.

This is really long and a bit TMI, and I know not everyone will want to read this, but I also know some of you are really interested in birth stories. I decided to write it all out for my own memories and share it here for anyone who is interested. I will write a separate post that is specifically about my experience with the Hong Kong public hospital system.

10:45 PM – My Water Breaks at Home

On Wednesday, October 23rd, I had a normal day at work. I met some friends for dinner afterwards and got back home around 10 PM. Around 10:45 I was sitting at the table, texting with my little sister. She asked if I was about to pop, and I said yes. Little did we know how literally true that was. A few minutes later, I felt a warm gush of fluid as my water broke. I turned to Jonathan with wide eyes and said, “Either I just peed my pants or my water just broke.”

We were both a little in shock. Even though we knew from 37 weeks on that she could technically come at any time, everyone always says that first babies are usually late. I had mentally prepared myself to go over my due date. I was scheduled to keep working until 3 days before her due date. I was only at 38 Weeks, 1 Day.

We had been told in our birthing class that if my water broke at home I might need to go to the hospital sooner than normal, but that I should monitor to make sure the fluid was clear, and unless there was evidence that it was mixed with meconium, we didn’t need to rush to the hospital and could still labor at home for a few hours. 

Jonathan and I both showered and started charging all of the electronics. I was wandering around the apartment trying to text and talk to people and pack up any last things. The amniotic fluid continued to come out in gushes for the next few hours along with my mucous plug. I went through so many pairs of underwear trying to stay dry enough to move around the apartment. 

About 15 minutes after my water broke, I started having contractions. The first two were about 20 minutes apart. Then 12 minutes. Then very quickly down to about 5 minutes. We were trying to time them in the middle of everything else going on. At that point they felt like strong period cramps and I could talk through them. They were lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to over a minute, but not consistently. Around 1 AM, my contractions were consistently 2-5 minutes apart, but the length and the intensity were both inconsistent. Jonathan and I decided that since it had already been more than 2 hours since my water broke and the contractions were close together, we should go ahead and go to the hospital.

1:30 AM – We Arrive at the Hospital

We took an Uber to the hospital (about 15 minutes away) and arrived around 1:30 AM. They had me fill out some paperwork and then hooked me up to some machines to monitor my contractions and the baby’s heart rate. The nurse said the doctor would come to examine me in about 30 minutes. The nurse asked if I had a birth plan. I said no, but that I wanted to do whatever bloodwork was necessary so that I could have an epidural later if I wanted one. She told me there was no guarantee I could get an epidural. I told her I understood, but I wanted to do the bloodwork so I would have an option. She said to tell the nurses in the labor ward once I was admitted.

I laid in the bed with the monitors hooked up for 40 minutes and then the doctor came in to check me. During that time I continued to have contractions every 3-5 minutes. At this point they were stronger than period cramps, but I could breathe through them. The doctor came in to check me (so uncomfortable) and after digging around for what felt like ages, she said I was 2 cm dilated, but that the membrane was still thick and it would probably be awhile. They would move me to the antenatal ward to wait.

At this point I was a little disappointed thinking we had come a bit too early, but I was glad that I was at least dilated a few centimeters. Part of the reason we wanted to avoid coming too early was because in Hong Kong, if you are not in active labor, you go into an antenatal ward with a bunch of other women and your husband cannot come with you. They wheeled me out and we met up with Jonathan in the waiting room. He was able to walk up to the antenatal ward with us, but then they advised him to go back home and wait there since it was the middle of the night. “Get some sleep, it will probably be awhile,” they told him. I would have my phone and would call him when things progressed.

I could tell that Jonathan really didn’t want to leave, but since it was the middle of the night it wasn’t like there were any coffeeshops nearby or other places for him to wait, so I told him I was fine, and he reluctantly left. 

2:45 AM – The Antenatal Ward

They wheeled me into the antenatal ward where I was put into a room with 5 other women. All of the lights were off and everyone was in bed. By this time, I already felt like my contractions had ratcheted up a level. As they settled me in the bed, the midwife asked me, “How would you rate your pain level? 0 is no pain and 10 is you’re dying. So… like a 2?” she suggested. At this point I was thinking at least a 4, but I had no way to compare how bad it was going to get. She had she suggested 2 and I was only 2 centimeters dilated so I reluctantly said, “I guess a 2 or a 3.” Inwardly I was freaking out thinking, “Dear God, is it going to get 4-5 x worse than this?!” They settled me in the bed and said they would come check on me every 4 hours, but to come get them if I needed something before then. 

My contractions were about 2-3 minutes apart at this point and I could not understand how the other women in the ward were just laying there. I tried to lay down for a little while and “rest,” but during each contraction I had to fully focus on my breathing, and since they were so close together, there was very little “rest” time. I also felt like each one was stronger than the last. After about 45 minutes of this, I walked down the hall to the bathroom where I realized I had started bleeding quite a bit. I stayed there for awhile, just to be sitting in a different position, then went back to the bed.

I noticed several of the other women in the ward were sound asleep and actually SNORING. I was baffled. Were they feeling the amount of pain I was feeling? How were they sleeping through it? Was I just a wuss? Were we all feeling level 2 pain? I tried to lay back down, but the pain was steadily increasing with only 1-2 minutes break between each contraction. I writhed around for a bit, then stood up and leaned over the bed for awhile. Finally I decided to go back to the bathroom. Once there, I started to feel a strong urge to push. Like most people say, it felt like I needed to use the bathroom, only so much stronger it was almost impossible not to push. I remember sitting in the bathroom stall with my head leaning against the wall and starting to cry thinking, “I can’t do this for much longer.” 

Knowing they wouldn’t give me anything for pain until I was in active labor, I was a little afraid to ask and be told I hadn’t progressed at all, but I went to the desk told the midwife the contractions were much stronger, that I was bleeding. She asked if I felt an urge to push and I said YES! She said she would come to check me, but I could tell that she didn’t think it had been long enough, so we were both surprised when she finished the check and said I was 6 cm dilated. “Call your husband. We are taking you to a delivery room.”

I was in a lot of pain, but was also so relieved to hear I was all the way to 6 cm and felt somewhat justified that the level of pain I was feeling was definitely not a 2. 😉 

Poor Jonathan had been waiting at home for about 2 hours without hearing anything from me. He had expected me to be in touch once I was settled in the antenatal ward, but the combination of being in the room with all the lights off and dealing with near-constant contractions had made me forget entirely to get my phone out. I called him now and said, “Come now. It’s time.” He was a bit confused since it hadn’t been that long and I was not being a particularly good communicator, but I kept repeating. “It’s time. You need to come.” 

4:33 AM – The Delivery Room

My best guess is that I went into the antenatal ward at about 2:45 AM. According to Jonathan’s phone records, I called him at 4:33 AM. He got in an Uber at 4:38 AM and was at the hospital 10-15 minutes later. By that time, I had been moved into a delivery room. When I got there, the midwives asked about my pain level, “0 is no pain, 5 is ‘I want to cry,’ “ she said. “Six!” I shouted. 

They got me into the bed and asked if I wanted gas and air (standard offering for pain relief in HK). 

“Yes! I want something!” I yelled. They gave me a mask that I could self-administer by putting it over my nose and mouth and breathing in during each contraction, then taking it off when the contraction finished. The gas does little or nothing to dull the pain, but it does alter your perception of the pain in a way. 

 The gas was mostly effective because it gave me something to concentrate on during each contraction other than the pain itself. The best way I can describe it is that without the gas, during each contraction my mind was thinking, “I’m dying. I’m dying. Ow. Ow. I’m dying.” With the gas, my mind was thinking,” I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out. I’m trying not to push. I’m pushing anyway. I’m shouting. I’m doing these things because I’m dying.” Lol. The effects of the gas wear off within 20 seconds after you stop breathing it, so I was constantly taking the mask on and off.

By this point, I couldn’t seem to stop myself from groan/shouting at the peak of each contraction. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be pushing yet, but it seemed impossible to stop myself.

Jonathan arrived and stood by my side. The next part is all a bit hazy for me, possibly just because of the pain and intensity and possibly a bit from the laughing gas, but I remember him coaching me to breath and not to push. I remember him asking me if I wanted to change positions, but at that point I was so in the zone and the contractions were right on top of each other and I couldn’t imagine being able to move myself into a different position. I also remember that I had reached a point of not caring at all who was in the room, what noises I was making, or whether or not I pooped on the table. 

Probably 20 minutes after I got into the delivery room, the doctor came to check me. She told me to go ahead and try to push with my next contraction, then said I wasn’t ready yet and to hold off pushing and everyone left. After this, my contractions started to feel slightly different. I couldn’t really explain it, but there was almost a burning feeling to them. I wondered if this was transition. About 20 minutes later, Jonathan buzzed the midwife to ask if I could get some water. When the midwife came in, she asked if I wanted to push and I said, “ YES!” (I’d been wanting to push the whole time). The team of midwives and the doctor came back in to check again and said, “Ok, you’re ready to push. Go.”

I pushed for about 15 minutes, which was honestly a relief because I’d been wanting to push so badly the whole time. The midwives were coaching me the whole time and Jonathan was telling me he could see her head. That final big push when her body was delivered along with a huge rush of fluid was the most relieving feeling in the world. 

5:49 AM – Junie is Born

Juniper Evangeline Dunn was born at 5:49 AM on October 24, 2019 weighing 3.22 kg (7 lbs 1.5 oz). Remember that I called Jonathan from the antenatal ward at 4:33 AM and was 6 cm dilated. Which means I dilated the remaining 4 centimeters AND pushed her out in about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

The midwives took Juniper to a station on my side for a minute to make sure she was breathing and to wipe her off a little. She didn’t cry at all. Then they brought her back and showed me her little bottom, “See! It’s a girl!” before they put her on my chest, Suddenly I was looking down at this perfect little creature who had impossibly just come from my body.

She laid on my chest for a while, but eventually they had to take her away because they were having difficulty delivering the placenta. After 3 doses of pitocin, it still wasn’t coming out and the doctor eventually had to reach up in there and dig it out. Reminder…I had had no pain meds. It was…unpleasant. 

Juniper and Jonathan left and I spent about an hour massaging my uterus, trying to get it to contract and to slow the bleeding. Finally, the bleeding had slowed enough for them to stitch me up where I had torn during the delivery. 

The worst part of the actual delivery was that I tore relatively badly while pushing her head out, and since I did not have an epidural or other pain meds, I felt each rip very distinctly. The doctor did not give me an episiotomy, though it may not have helped anyway as the tearing was more extensive than just the perineum. Thankfully, they did give me a local anaesthetic before stitching me up. I vaguely remember the doctor telling me she used one continuous stitch to sew up all three layers, which might be more sore, but would heal better in the long run.

After what seemed like ages, I was moved to the postnatal ward and they brought Juniper to me. I am the last person who ever thought I would someday go through natural childbirth, much less in a foreign country. It was almost exactly 7 hours from when my water broke to when she was born. I am so incredibly thankful that labor went so quickly and so smoothly and most of all that my sweet girl is here and is healthy. 

And now, the real adventure begins!

About Juniper’s Name 

We chose the name Juniper partly just because we like it. 🙂 But the more we researched it, the more reasons we found to love it. Juniper is a botanical name, like mine, and it has a similar sound and rhythm to Jonathan’s. It means “evergreen.” One of our favorite connections to Juniper is from the Bible when the prophet Elijah fled to Horeb and was saved by hiding himself under a Juniper tree. We love the image of an evergreen – full of life and hope – also being a place of safety.

Her middle name, Evangeline, means “good news.” We’ve been pretty open about how much of a surprise her existence was for us. In the beginning, we (I) didn’t honestly feel like it was such good news. We love thinking of Juniper as someone who will bring the Good News to others, but the name is also meaningful to us as a way to speak over her that SHE is good news. To us. And to the world.

Evangeline also has special meaning to me because of its ties to Louisiana and to Cajun culture. I am originally from Lafayette, Louisiana, the place the Acadians settled when they were forced out of Nova Scotia for their religious beliefs. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote an epic poem called Evangeline telling the story of one of the Acadians, beautiful Evangeline and her lost love Gabriel. Evangeline became a cultural staple in my hometown and a symbol of Cajun heritage. The name is often used in the names of streets, businesses, schools, etc. So having Evangeline as part of her name is also a touchstone to where I came from.

 

No Effs to Give: On Body Image at Eight Months Pregnant

I recently posted a few pictures on Instagram from our babymoon in Thailand. A few people kindly commented on how confident I looked. At first I thought they were just being nice, but looking back at the photos, I can see what they mean.

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It’s true that I’m not self-conscious about my body or about how I look pregnant. It’s not that I look at my swollen belly and my stretch marks and think, “I’ve earned these tiger stripes,” or whatever it is the mommy bloggers like to say. I know I look huge. I am huge. But it’s also abundantly clear why I’m huge. And there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

My confidence is that of a person who has zero effs left to give. And I realized that that is a far cry from who I was nine months ago.

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Back in January, I wrote this post about how very much I was struggling with my body. I had reached an all-time low, exhausted by self-loathing and feeling powerless to make any lasting change.

I spilled my guts about my desperation, and six weeks later I found out I was pregnant. Hilarious, God. Truly.

As you probably know, my initial reaction to the news was not positive. I admit, one of my first panicked thoughts was, “I can’t be pregnant now. I am the heaviest I have ever been in my life. I am going to be HUUUUGGGE.” I understand that extra weight and a changing body are a small price to pay for creating a whole new life, but at the time it felt like one more way my life was being taken from me.

Now here I am 8 months pregnant and it turns out that losing control has been one of the best things that’s ever happened for my relationship with my body. I have felt freedom from self-criticism and self-hatred for the first time since I was ten years old and became aware of my body as female and of all the expectations that go along with that.

Some pregnant women are filled with love and appreciation for what their bodies are capable of as they move through the stages of pregnancy. And yes, it is miraculous. But for the most part, I have not felt this way. Most of the time I feel this odd combination of being intensely aware of everything going on in my body while also feeling like a stranger in it. I feel every ache and pain and jab and stab acutely, and at the same time I have the sense that I am floating around inside of this vessel I do not recognize, just waiting to get my life back. While this distance from my body has been isolating in some ways, it’s been healing in others.

Let me be clear. I have not particularly enjoyed pregnancy. I do not feel beautiful, sexy, or powerful the way some women seem to feel during pregnancy. I don’t particularly likethe way I look pregnant and I definitely don’t like the way I feel. But I’m also not disgusted by my body the way I was pre-pregnancy. I just honestly don’t care.

For the first time in my life, what is happening to my body is really and truly beyond my control. I could eat organic kale for every meal and workout twice a day and I would still going to have this giant belly. Since there is nothing I can do to change what my body looks like right now, I have no brain space or energy to waste worrying about it.

My expectations of my pregnant body are so vastly different from what my expectations of my body have always been. As an adolescent growing up with the mixture of societal pressures and the targeted messages of purity culture, I was constantly aware of the wrongnessof my body. There was the shame of not being attractive enough, along with the shame of being inappropriately attractive. I felt the expectation to simultaneously figure out how to be thin, toned, feminine perfection, and to dress in way that protected helpless men from that thin, toned, feminine perfection.

As I got older, I stripped off some of the burdens of purity culture, but struggled as my weight fluctuated and my self-worth rose and fell with the expansion or shrinking of my thighs.

Now for the first time, my attractiveness is utterly irrelevant. I take up more space than ever before. People are hyper-aware of me and my body. And at the same time, I have never felt more invisible. I feel no expectation, from myself or from anyone else, to be attractive. My body is no longer an aesthetic object, it is pure function. I am an incubator. That’s all.

Of course, I don’t want to feel this way forever. I don’t want “mother” to become my identity. I don’t want to disappear. I want to walk down the street and have someone think (but maybe not say) “Daaaaayummmmn, girl!” But there are also things I hope I take with me from this time.

I hope my base level expectations of my body have permanently changed. Instead of valuing myself based on arbitrary measures of attractiveness, I hope my foremost expectation of my body is for it to be healthy and strong so that I can do everything I need to do. No more. No less.

I want to feel attractive again someday, but I hope that feeling is based on confidence and acceptance, not meeting an external expectation. I think it can be incredibly attractive for someone to say, “My body is just my body. I look how I look.” If I can accept without difficulty the fact that I have blue eyes and small hands, could I also accept whatever shape my body ends up being when this ride is over?

I don’t know what to expect or how things will change post-partum, but I’ll be sure to keep you updated.  Whatever the next part of the journey looks like, I kind of hope that I’ll continue to be fresh out of effs to give.

Living in a Land of Protest: An Expat’s Take on the Hong Kong Protests

At 10 PM every night the shouting starts. The voices of men, women, and children mingle together in a passionate call and response. People lean from the windows of their flats or shout from where they are walking along the street. The courtyard below my apartment rings with cries that bounce from highrise to highrise and echo off the soft waves of the bay. 

For 10 minutes each night, the people of Hong Kong stop what they are doing and raise their voices together in a moving show of unity, chanting protest slogans like, “Reclaim Hong Kong: Revolution of our times!” I open my windows to hear it, and feel I am bearing witness to something intimate and holy.

This summer has been a season of upheaval for Hong Kong. In June, millions of Hong Kongers began a series of demonstrations to protest a proposed bill regarding the extradition of criminals from Hong Kong to mainland China. (If you’d like more understanding of the background to this conflict, this video from Vox sums it up very clearly).

On the day of the first protest, my parents were visiting Hong Kong. We were all returning from a weekend trip to Cambodia and were not aware of the build-up to the protest. We arrived at the airport and learned that there were major traffic jams on Hong Kong Island. We took a taxi home and didn’t encounter any protest activity along the way. Later, we watched the footage online of what turned out to be a peaceful march of over a million people, including many families with children.

“Good for them,” I thought. I was inspired to see so many people joining a peaceful demonstration against what seemed to be a problematic policy. Like most Hong Kongers, I had no idea then that this was only the beginning. 

Over the last 13 weeks, protesters have continued to assemble for organized marches, rallies, and demonstrations every single weekend. Over these weeks, the situation has escalated, becoming quite violent at times as police have indiscriminately used tear gas, rubber bullets, and excessive physical force to try to control the situation. In response, protestors have grown angrier and more destructive, lighting fires and smashing windows. Many people’s faith in their government in general and in the trustworthiness of the police force specifically has been shaken. More than 1800 rounds of teargas have been deployed this summer, often in residential areas and several times (very dangerously) inside of MTR stations. 

Aside from the marches, there have been dozens of different protest activities designed to disrupt daily life in Hong Kong. Several targeted campaigns have caused disruption to the MTR and bus systems that Hong Kongers rely heavily on for transportation. Protest action at the airport successfully brought the eye of the international community to the situation in Hong Kong.  

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An example of a Hong Kong protest schedule

The protests are about the extradition bill, but they have also expanded into something much bigger. Ultimately they are a fight against perceived corruption in the government and the police force and against the steadily growing influence of mainland China on Hong Kong’s government, economy, and social structures. The protesters have declared their five demands:

  • The complete withdrawal of the proposed extradition bill
  • The government to withdraw the use of the word “riot” in relation to protests
  • The unconditional release of arrested protesters and charges against them dropped
  • An independent inquiry into police behaviour
  • Implementation of genuine universal suffrage

The people are angry, and they are also determined, and they show no sign of backing down. Last weekend the police arrested several key protest leaders and denied the permit for a planned assembly. In response, thousands took to the streets all across the city in what turned out to be one of the most violent weekends so far. The city is splitting at the seams in constant conflict, not only between the protesters and the police, but between citizens who support the protesters and defend them and citizens who support Beijing and defend the police.

There are endless news stories you can read about these events and all of the various angles and opinions. I’m not a reporter and I am not equipped to talk about the political and social nuances of a government and a culture that are not my own. I can only talk about my experience. 

It’s strange, sometimes wonderfully so and sometimes frighteningly so, to be living in this city at this time in history. In some ways, these events affect my everyday life. I am alert to disturbances and spend most of my Sundays at home, not wanting to be caught in the crossfires of any conflicts between police and protesters which more and more often make their way into MTR stations and other public areas. 

There have been times when my commute to work was lengthened because the MTR service had been suspended. One morning I thought I would not make it to a doctor’s appointment because of wide-scale disruptions to the transportation system. An incredibly kind and generous couple offered me a ride even though it was out of their way. Last Saturday, my afternoon classes were cancelled and I went home early to avoid protest activity taking place near my work.

At the same time, I have not had to walk through tear gas to get home and I have not witnessed any violence. Most days I carry on with my life as normal. At 31 weeks pregnant, I am especially mindful of my safety for the sake of my little one. And yet, I am not afraid for myself. I continue to feel much safer in Hong Kong than I ever feel in the US. 

I honestly have no idea how this will resolve. Sometimes, I cannot imagine a way forward. What I know is this. I am moved, sometimes to tears by the hundreds of thousands of people who are risking their safety and their future to stand for what they believe in. Over 1,000 people have been arrested, some under rioting charges which can carry a ten year prison sentence. This is not a temper tantrum. These are people who are love their home and who love their people and are willing to risk great loss for the hope of a better future for themselves and for their children. 

I can’t help but wonder, have I ever held a belief so strongly that I would honestly risk my safety or my future to defend it? The largest march this summer had over 2 million participants. In a city of 7 million people, that is over ¼ of the population. Can you imagine of ¼ the population of the US cared deeply enough about something to take to the streets and raise their voices relentlessly until something changed?

There is so much injustice in the world, but what do I believe in passionately enough to act on and to keep acting on until something changes?

****

Just as I have finished writing this, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, has announced her intention to move for the final withdrawal of the extradition bill. This still has to be voted on by the legislative council, but it is the first glimmer of any kind of concession from the government.

If social media is any indication, the response of protesters has mostly been, “Too little too late.” The streets continue to ring with the slogan, “Five demands, not one less!”

Do you hear the people sing?

Top 20 Reads of 2019 (So Far)

2019 has been a good reading year for me so far. I’ve finished 85 books so far this year and am hoping to finish 2 more by the end of August. I assume this will slow down significantly once I have a newborn, but for now I am making the time count.

I thought I’d share my top 20 picks out of what I’ve read so far. These are in no particular order. I’m experimenting with minimalist reviews/descriptions that hopefully give you a little taste of what each book is about.  Feel free to ask for more details if you want to know more about a particular pick! You can always follow me on Goodreads for more updates on what I’m reading.

Fiction

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Swamp girl makes her own way in a world where she will never fully belong. Set in South Carolina marshland. Very atmospheric.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield. A young girl is pulled from the frozen river, dead, then alive. Multiple people try to claim her. Dreamy, lush, fairy-tale-esque. Set in a fictional world strongly resembling 18thcentury England.

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray. The women of the Butler family band together to deal with a crisis when oldest sister and leader of the family, Althea, is sent to prison. Althea’s two sisters confront their own demons as they come together to care for Althea’s twin daughters.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo. Xiomara discovers slam poetry is a way to be seen and heard in a world not made for her. She grapples with her mother’s faith vs. what she believes. (Novel-in-verse. Great on audio).

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin. Pride and Prejudiceset in contemporary Canada with Muslim characters. More loosely adheres to the original storyline than other retellings, but with all of the elements that make the original great.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. Orphaned twin brothers, products of an illicit union between an Indian nun and an English surgeon, grow up inseparable in Ethiopia until one day they are driven apart by war and by betrayal. Themes of identity, revolution, family, healing, relationship between doctors and patients, and the role of medicine.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane. One event links two neighboring families together forever. Tragedy, hope, and forgiveness are all entwined with the complexities of ordinary families and the sweetness of ordinary life.

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Reid Jenkins. Oral history of a seventies rock band. Feels so real, you will find yourself trying to look up their songs on Spotify. Also, I can’t be the only one who was picturing Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper while reading this.

The Dragon Republic by R. F. Kuang. Second book in the Poppy Warsseries. Chinese history plus gods, monsters, and warriors.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Short, beautiful novel about 13-year-old Connor learning to deal with grief. Also there’s a storytelling monster.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras. 1990’s Columbia. Contrast between a young girl in a wealthy, privileged family, and the girl who comes from the slums to work for them as a live-in maid. Pablo Escobar. Guerilla warfare. Violence. Connection. Coming of Age.

Into the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner. Criminal profiler helps catch serial killer. Inspired by the Ted Bundy case.  I heart serial killers. In a non-creepy way.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny. Chief Inspector Gamache is the definition of noble. Three strangers, an elderly woman’s baffling will, and a dead body.

Nonfiction

Land of Lost Borders by Kate Harris. Girl bikes the great silk road, pitching her tent in ditches or staying with random Uzbeki family yurts along the way. Seeking “to find an outer landscape as wild as she felt within.”

Becoming by Michelle Obama. Basially Michelle Obama is good people.

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl. Food writing is glamorous. And also not. Ruth Reichl shares her experience as the editor-in-chief of Gourmet magazine.

Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene. Man grapples with the senseless loss of his two-year-old daughter in a freak accident. Gut-wrenching expressions of raw grief, but ultimately hopeful.

Inspired by Rachel Held Owens. Deep love for Scripture plus a talent for storytelling equals a beautiful marriage of reverence for the text and earnest of exploration of what it means for us today. I had this on audio when I heard the news of her passing away and listening to her read it really made an impact.

The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah. Man buys crumbling mansion in Casablanca. Is faced with opinionated locals and angry Jinns (evil spirits of the Muslim world).

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. A therapist shares stories about therapy, from her experiences both as a professional and as a patient. Funny and fascinating. Made me briefly consider a new career in clinical psychology. Briefly.

A Letter to My Daughter: You’re Not the Best and Other Things I Hope to Teach You

People like to write sappy letters to their unborn children. It’s a thing. I get it. There’s something all mushy gushy about imagining your little person and all your hopes and dreams for them. I too have some hopes for my daughter. Mostly I hope she’s going to be a badass baller with a mane of red hair. But there are also some things I really hope to teach her. I decided to share them with you I guess so you can start judging my parenting skills before I even start parenting properly? Or something?

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Dear Daughter (who has a freaking awesome name that I can’t wait to use), 

These are some things I hope you learn from my words and actions in the next 18 or so years. 

You are important. And so is everyone else.

You are fantastically gifted. You are treasured. You are infinitely adored. AND you are an oh-so-tiny speck in a great big universe. 

What I’m trying to say is that the world does not revolve around you, Darling. We live in constant balance between our own wants and the needs and desires of the people in our families, our communities, and the world. 

We are so blessed to get to be a part of this big messy world. But we have a responsibility to God, to nature, and to the other humans we share this planet with to recognize that we are not the most important beings in the universe. 

I want you to grow to understand that each person you come into contact with is important and is loved, whether they know it or not. And because of that, they deserve your respect and compassion, just as you deserve to be treated with respect and compassion. 

You’re not the best at everything. And that’s OK. 

I promise that I will always be proud of your efforts in whatever you do. I will be proud when they end in triumph, and I will be proud when you put your heart into something and fail. You do not have to be the best to have done well. You only have to have given the best of yourself in the trying.

I will try to teach you how to be genuinely happy to see other people come alive doing what they are good at. Even if you suck at it. Especially if you suck at it. Because then you will understand how to love people well when they are not good at the things that come easily to you.

Mom and Dad love you enormously and unconditionally. But we love each other first.

We have a history. 12 years together before you even existed. You were created out of our love for each other (and also a little too much fun in Vietnam, but that’s another story). You don’t have to be jealous of the love we have for each other or the time we spend together. It is our love for each other that will help us to love you well.  

It’s OK to be sad.

Sometimes, Mom gets sad, but it’s not because of you. Sometimes it’s not because of anything. Sometimes you might feel sad and not even know why, and that’s ok.

Our brains and our emotions are weird. They don’t always communicate clearly. Sometimes the feelings come before the understanding. Sometimes the understanding comes and the feelings show up behind schedule. Sometimes you just need to cry a little for no real reason. So cry.  And then take a deep breath, take a sip of water, blow your nose, and keep on going.

Lies are not cool.

From day one, one of my biggest goals as a mother is to never, ever lie to you.

Even if you ask about something difficult. Even if the answer isn’t what you want to hear. Even if the truth makes me look bad. Even if it means admitting that I just don’t know. 

I will not lie to you about how Santa gets around the world in one night or where babies come from or what it means to die. I hope that practicing radical honesty with you will help you to trust me and to extend that same level of honesty back and to know that nothing is off-limits. 

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And now, here are a few requests I have for you. Because it’s cool to put expectations on the unborn, right?

Try not to have stupid hobbies or interests. Please?

I hope you never feel constrained by the ridiculous notion that certain activities are gendered. There are no “girl things” or “boy things.” If you like playing with dolls, awesome. If you like catching frogs, also awesome. I hope as you grow that you will find yourself fascinated by things I’ve never even thought about. I want you to develop passions that challenge and inspire you. 

But for the love of goodness could you please not choose something stupid to put your heart into? Mostly I’m thinking of activities your parents will have to sacrifice all of their evenings and weekends to help you participate in while wanting to tear our own fingernails out. 

I mean, if cup stacking is what really, truly lights your fire, I will support you. But…I will also probably tell you that that’s an objectively stupid hobby. But like, nicely.

If it’s a dumb sport, you get a pass cause Dad and I made an arrangement a long time ago that if we ever had kids that were into dumb sports that would be his responsibility.

Please, please, please love books.

I’m just gonna say it, OK? If you don’t love books, we can’t be friends. 

Of course, I will still love you. I just won’t like you as much. 

Kidding. (Not kidding).

Just promise me you’ll try.

Love,

Mom

 

Adulting So Hard: In Which I Carry My Own Pee All Around Hong Kong

Today I went for my glucose tolerance test and a check up at the public hospital where I’ll be giving birth (in just 3 ½ months. Apparently.) I don’t have the results yet, but I’ve been assured that IF I have gestational diabetes, they’ll be sure to tell me. 

One of the amazing advantages of the public healthcare system in Hong Kong is that if you are eligible to use it (which I am) the services are either free or extremely affordable. These hospitals are very efficient and safe, but since the government is paying for everything, they are pretty stingy about providing any creature comforts…like, you know, urine sample collection cups. 

Each time I go for an antenatal check up, I have to provide a urine sample. By provide, I mean, I have to come in with a jar of pee in hand. I’ve been instructed that this must be first morning urine, so no collecting upon arrival. This has come to feel almost normal to me now, but I distinctly remember my first time.

I wake up and luckily remember to get that sample. I screw the lid on the newly christened pee jar and stick it in a Ziploc bag. Then I put that bag inside of an opaque paper bag so that no one can see what it is. Then I take PJ (pee jar) on a joyride through Hong Kong starting with two subway rides to get to my office. 

Since I’m not turning the sample in within an hour, I have to refrigerate it. I do not think any of my coworkers know what was in the paper bag in the back of the mini fridge that day, and I’d like to keep it that way. For all of our sakes.

After lunch, I take PJ on a long bus ride to the hospital where I check in, then queue up to turn in my sample and check my weight and blood pressure. At each stop of this assembly line, I have to present my appointment slip, ID card, and a card where the nurse will write down my weight, BP, etc., so I am holding all these things in my hands along with PJ inside of a Ziploc bag inside of a paper bag. I get up to the desk and have to juggle all of these papers and take out PJ and open the lid and set it all onto a numbered grid on the table without spilling any pee. (Hah.) 

I leave my pee and get in another line to use the scale. The scale is digital and announces your weight in a loud voice so the nurse can write it down without getting up from the desk where she is collecting urine samples and taking blood pressure. 

I take off my shoes and step on the scale. I am pleased to see that, being overweight before I got pregnant, I have not gained yet and am still at my pre-pregnancy weight which is announced by the loud computerized voice to the entire room of 15-odd pregnant women and nurses.

I get into line to have my blood pressure taken. Meanwhile, the woman behind me steps on the scale. Y’all, I am not exaggerating. She is visibly about 8 months pregnant. She is obviously quite slim normally, but is of average height, not just an exceptionally small person. She steps on the scale and the electronic voice belts out a number that is 50 lbs less than mine

tenor

My self-satisfaction immediately disintegrates.

I go back to collect my pee jar. “Take it to the bathroom to empty it,” the nurse says. The nearest bathroom is outside of the waiting room down the busy hospital corridor. I try to juggle my papers, my full backpack, and my bags (plastic and paper) while screwing the lid back on the jar and getting out of the way as quickly as possible. Then, arms completely full, I start towards the hallway only to feel a slosh of slightly chilled pee trickle over my fingers. Feeling my gag reflex rising, I shoved my important papers into my armpit and tried to hoof it to the bathroom while fiddling with the lid, resulting in more pee-slosh. I slow to a waddle, trailing small drips of urine behind me the way my poor childhood dog Chloe used to do when she got scared. It is the ultimate walk of shame.

I am pleased to say that after many such visits, my technique has improved. Today’s interaction went off without a hitch. You know you’ve really nailed adulting when you can successfully navigate the healthcare system in a city of 7.5 million people who speak a different language from you without getting pee on anyone. 

Hashtag Winning. Hashtag Crushing It.

 

6 Lies Y’all Told Me About Pregnancy

I usually roll my eyes at “Things nobody tells you about x, y, z” posts. First off, they very rarely contain information I haven’t heard before. (Just because nobody told you something doesn’t mean nobody is talking about it. Maybe lots of people were talking about it and you’ve just never paid attention). I also usually roll my eyes at listicles. But…I still write a lot of them for my side hustle. So this post is a listicle, but it is not about things supposedly nobody told me. Instead this is a post about what I would like to call “Lies.” Mostly told to me by people like you. Possibly you yourself. (If you think it might have been you, you’re probably right). Fair warning…there’s some TMI here.*

Lie #1: “Morning sickness gets better as soon as you reach the 2nd trimester”

Liars go to hell! I thought benevolently, pouring sweat and streaming tears as I wretched into an outdoor public toilet at 16 weeks. My nausea and aversion to all food did dissipate between 18 and 19 weeks, but let it be known that that was 6 weeks past the date I had been promised my salvation. And I am one of the lucky ones. I have a friend who threw up every single day of her pregnancy and others who had to be hospitalized for dehydration. 

Lie # 2: “Your boobs will look amazing.”

First off, I’m not into big boobs on me. I find them annoying to keep covered and also think they make me look like a Pillsbury biscuit canister that has exploded and is oozing biscuit dough out of all of the crevices in the previously vacuum-sealed container. 

Second…this is clearly being spoken by someone who has only ever seen pregnant boobs in clothing. 

Early in pregnancy, your areolas get larger and darker, ostensibly to provide a “landing pad” for the baby to aim for when breastfeeding. In other words, my boobs now look like two pieces of salami ringed by a tiny rim of regular boob flesh which is mottled with bright blue veins and the beginnings of stretch marks. Additionally, my previously perky boobs now point straight down. So when I’m sitting down, I can rest my nipples on my belly-shelf. Sexy.

Lie #3: “Now that you’re in your second trimester, you are probably experiencing a sudden energy boost!” (Quoth “TheBump.com”)

False. If I could sleep 22 hours/day, I would. I am much more tired than I was in my first trimester. I may or may not have fallen asleep while teaching a class recently. (Don’t worry. I think the kids believed me when I said I was just thinking really hard).

Lie #4: “The sex is great!”

Also false. I mean, it’s not not great, but mostly, the sex is…complicated. Not only do you physically have to negotiate what works and what does not anymore with your constantly changing body, but also, it’s hard to feel sexy when your unborn child is kicking you in the vagina, reminding both you and your spouse of their presence there with you in your special moment. 

Another factor in this…grooming the lady bits becomes significantly more difficult when you cannot see them. Lately I’ve just been going at it blind, trying to use my intuition. My “Lily Tingle” if you will. (10 points if you catch the reference). Results have been…suboptimal.

Lie #5: “When your baby kicks it is the most magical feeling in the whole world”

I admit, I really like being able to feel the baby move and know it is OK. What I’m not wild about is feeling like there’s a basket of snakes moving around inside of me. 

When the movement is near the surface, it feels like involuntary muscle spasms. Like when you drink too much caffeine and your eyelid won’t stop twitching. Except much bigger. And in your abdomen. Not something to make me weep in wonder, but not a big deal. 

But when that kid goes for your organs? Uh-uh. My child believes in expressing themselves by alternately grinding a heel into my bladder and ultimate punching me down the vagina. I swear sometimes the shock waves radiate down to my kneecaps. If you have not experienced this, it’s like when you go in for a pelvic exam and the doctor hits a sensitive spot, but instead of pulling away, he punches you there. Sometimes I swear a little hand or foot is just gonna pop right out.

You say magical, I say akin to having a vengeful alien take over your body as its host and show no mercy. Tomato/Tomahto. 

Lie #6: “You might experience more vivid dreams”

Not a lie. Just not nearly warning enough.

After a friend showed me her engagement ring which had been custom-made from some family pieces, I dreamed that she had entrusted me with these precious family heirlooms and I had had them set into a diamond and sapphire encrusted molar. Yes, a molar. As in a tooth. I kept my fancy molar safe in the back of my mouth and then one day it fell out! And some of the stones came loose. I was distraught. My friend had entrusted the family jewels to me. What to do?! Luckily, I was able to track down the little old man who had made the molar in the first place and he successfully put the stones back. (Incidentally, he looked just like the guy who fixes Woody in Toy Story 2 complete with the big magnifying glasses). How I got the molar back into my mouth, I’ll never know. 

I also recently dreamed that my baby fell out. Like whoosh, just fell right out there. Fully clothed in a onesie. And I was just chilling there for a while and then remembered Hey, it’s not supposed to come out this early, I should put it back. And then I kept trying to put it back in there, but an arm or a leg kept falling out like it was a baby doll I couldn’t quite fit into the toy chest. And then I had an epiphany Wait a minute! You’re not supposed to put them back once they come out!  Then I started panicking about how early it was (I think I was 20 weeks at the time) and decided to take a closer look to see if it was OK. I took it back out and laid it on the bed. It was a completely normal-sized baby, except its legs were only 2 inches long. 

This is like every night, y’all.

***

If you’re pregnant or have ever been pregnant, maybe you can sympathize. Or at least laugh at me. If you’re thinking of someday being pregnant, take this as an alternative truth, And if none of these things apply to you, I sincerely apologize for any damage this has caused your psyche. Just wait til I tell you about some of the unique experiences of being pregnant in Hong Kong.

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*Obligatory Disclaimer: I know that every body and every pregnancy is different. The liars are probably speaking “their truth” or whatever. And also, please note that I’m really not complaining. Much. I’m very thankful for a (so far) uncomplicated pregnancy. Please take this in the spirit it is intended.