Each child has his or her own unique birth story for their mother to cherish (or try to forget…). Since the story of Max’s birth here on an island in Asia Pacific includes a window – small as it may be – into life and culture here for my American readers, I wanted to share.
I went into labor bright and early on a Monday morning. A friend of mine, Marie, living in the same city as we, is an American who married into this country, and who so wonderfully serves many pregnant expatriate ladies as a doula. Her being fluent in both languages is an extra super-bonus when you’re in labor and trying to communicate to hospital staff (which is hard enough to do in your native language). Marie came over, and a couple of other friends also came along for the experience. So, with Jim at the wheel, and a car full of ladies (one being his laboring wife – he’s a good man) we started for the hospital.
The drive takes 1 hour, about half of which is on a smooth toll-way (just last year, before the toll-way was completed, it would have been a bumpy three-hour drive).
During the throws of labor, I remember seeing a demonstration in the middle of our road (I read in the paper the next day that it was about wages). Thankfully, traffic laws aren’t quite as strict here as in the US, so really, you don’t even have to think twice before detouring into the oncoming traffic’s lane (people expect it, so it’s not as dangerous as it sounds).
Once we got up to the labor and delivery department of the hospital, I was so relieved (but only for an instant – until the next contraction hit) to find that our room was air conditioned! The day after Max was born, the city we were in hit the all-time record high temperature for the country at 103° F – and, while this may not compete with records in Texas, this is a humid place where AC is not commonplace, so we feel every bit of the heat, alllll the time. And after 9 months of being pregnant in the tropics (not to mention that labor makes it feel a good 20 degrees hotter), you can imagine how welcomed it was.
Max was born about 1 hour after we arrived. Thankfully, Jim and Marie were right there to snag little Max when he came out, because it was another hour before the Obstetrician and Pediatrician arrived. There was a nurse there, but she had stepped away for the moment, not realizing his birth was quite so imminent.
I really cannot tell this story without acknowledging how much God’s hand was on little Max and myself from beginning to end. He knew all the little concerns that were close to my heart (none of which had to do with our location), and He tenderly took care of all the details, just like He does.
We stayed in the hospital until the next day, and let me just say that it was much more relaxing than staying in a hospital in the US after giving birth. They don’t feel the need here to come in and check your vitals every couple of hours – they actually let you sleep! Jim had his own full-sized pull-out bed. They bring you food at meal time, come in to change the baby’s diaper from time to time, then the doctor comes in to shake your hand when it’s time to leave.
Below is one of the meals that was served. This is a traditional meal that is often served at times of thanksgiving – one of those times being after a birth. Clockwise, it’s carrots, fried tofu, tempe (which is a fried soybean dish), grilled chicken, coconut sambal (a condiment), eggs and vegetables, and in the little bag is a dried fish to sprinkle on for flavor. The spiced, milky drink is flavored with a root that’s similar to ginger, and having jellied floaties in your drink is a special treat.
When you leave the hospital, they send you home with the placenta in a clay pot. You actually cannot leave the hospital without it…but of course, what kind of person would even want to? The typical practice on our island is that it is taken straight home by the father, washed, and buried outside the house. A small lamp is placed above the burial spot to protect it from darkness. Many people include in the pot things like a pencil, some fuel, a needle and thread, rice, and other small things to help ensure that the child will be healthy and successful.
Around four days after the birth, a gift with a birth announcement is given to the neighbors. This gift often consists of a variety of traditional cooked dishes, cakes, or fruit. My dear friends helped us pull all this together. It was all hands on deck.
In the days following a birth, neighbors and friends come to visit and see the baby (Similarly, when people know your household is celebrating other joyous occasions, such as Eid-al-Fitr or Christmas day – they know which ones you’ll be celebrating based on your religion – they come to give their greetings).
Some common questions people ask when they see Max are, “Why do you not wrap his legs together (to correct the newborn bow-leggedness)?” “Why do you not wrap his tummy (to pull in his pot-belly)?” And the hotter it is, the thicker the blankets you tend to see people using to wrap their babies and protect them from the sun (and the heavier the coats that children and adults wear). People also wonder at the fact that we keep a fan blowing in the room where he sleeps. Almost everyone here will tell you that wind hitting and entering the body is a – if not the – major source of illness, not to mention he could get cold.
For now, Max sleeps in bed with us, and most people here would highly disapprove if he didn’t. People are shocked at the fact that our older boys sleep in their own beds, as most families sleep all together. They simply can’t believe that our kids are willing and able to sleep in beds by themselves.
It’s fun getting to chat and chuckle with some of my local friends about the differences in thinking from one culture to the next. Just as a saying here so aptly explains, “different field, different grasshopper.”