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The Good Dad (#234)

When Andy and I were skirmishing negotiating over having a child, I extracted certain concessions. First, my husband would have to take Family Leave for 12 weeks and help take care of Baby D. Since California only covers 6 weeks of paid leave (a partial rate), we’d use my saving to pay the bills.

The idea of not saving money was almost physically painful for the son of Chinese immigrants. Dipping into savings might as well have been a mortal wound. (He never did fess up to his parents.) But I was adamant. Andy reluctantly agreed. We had no helpful grandparents to rock babies, make dinners, or do laundry within thousands of miles.

Besides, if Andy wanted the baby, he was not going to saunter off to work and leave me covered in poop and spit-up. He was gonna help.

Unlike me, with my half-dozen baby siblings and years of babysitting experience, Andy had no clue what he was really in for.

I had a hellish labor, a delivery by emergency Cesarean section, and a fever of 102. Baby D came out healthy and 9 pounds–it might have been more if he hadn’t pooped all over the scale and nurse when she first attempted to weigh him. Andy laughed at the poor, poop-covered nurse until he realized that since his wife couldn’t get out of bed, he’d he’d be doing all the diapering.

Diaper changes when your baby is born pooping are not easy. The amniotic fluid produces the fecal equivalent of tar (known as meconium) for days. Since we kept Baby D in the room with us as much as possible, Andy got a crash course in butt tar removal.

As I was too exhausted and battered to stand up, I couldn’t even offer advice (or as Andy likes to say, micro-manage the shit out of him). Baby D repeatedly peed on his father during diaper changes. I had to hold in my laughter (not out of kindness, but because it hurt my staples) until Andy’s use of the penis-covering washcloth became automatic.

Andy continued most of the diaper duties during his leave and beyond. When Baby D woke up hungry, Andy would change him while I arranged my nursing nest. Then he’d swaddled the boy up tight before presenting him to me for feeding. Even at 2 AM, Andy still helped. I usually didn’t even have to punch him in the arm to wake him up.

Sometimes Baby D needed a bottle after nursing. Andy readied bottles, fed the boy, and kept the bottles sterile. My husband became an expert baby-burper. When the burping was a little too successful, Andy developed solid bath time skills.

Andy continued the shopping and cooking. I recovered enough to micromanage, shaking my head at dinner one night and saying, “There’s a lot of broccoli. The last time I ate it, Baby D was gassy and fussy.”

“It’s broccolini,” Andy countered. “And it will be fine.”

“Just because YOU and your Chinese stomach can eat everything from fish eyeballs to undercooked chicken without any issues doesn’t mean the rest of us can,” I reminded him.

Andy sighed at me.

I picked up my fork and said, “Fine. But if Baby D complains at midnight, you’re the one walking and rocking him.”

The broccolini was good.

The three hours Andy spent walking and rocking Baby D in the middle of the night? Not so good. Well, for him. I put in ear plugs and slept.

It was six months before Andy tried serving anything from the broccoli family again.

*****

Andy remained a hands-on father even when his leave ended. Only about once a year did I have to remind him that since he wanted the baby, he’d better get his ass in gear, put down his newspaper/ cellphone, and play with his son or take him to get new shoes. Mostly I did not throw things when I did this reminding.

Mostly.

Andy is by far the best, most involved father I know. But we all know the Best Dad bar is about a high as the bar for a dachshund doing an agility course. I’ve got countless Mom-friends who do all the housework. They all the shopping and cooking. They do all the research, emotional labor, and all the physical labor of childrearing – often while also working. Meanwhile, their husbands think nothing of spending their evenings/ weekends biking, hiking, or at sporting events. They never pick up a towel. Their idea of watching the kids is giving the kid an iPad so Dad can do what he wants.

These same slacker husbands are gung-ho about having a second or third child because of course it has no impact on their lives.

A recent study of paid family leave in Spain showed that men who took family leave were less likely to have more children.

No fucking kidding.

Andy always said he wanted two children. Then came the New Hampshire trip when Baby D was about 18 months. I lost my birth control pills. Andy ignored the speed limit and got us to the only pharmacy within miles just before it closed.

The pharmacist explained that he could replace my prescription, but we’d have to pay out-of-pocket for it.

My frugal husband had his wallet out before the pharmacist quit speaking. “How much do you need?” he asked, desperately laying out twenties. “I’ll pay cash!”

He who fathers best, procreates least.

 

Lost in Translations (#233)

I find names and the naming process fascinating. Giving someone a nickname is often a way of expressing affection—or dislike. My parents divorced and remarried so much that we sometimes had as many as three different surnames in our households, but God help the poor classmate who referred to my stepfather as “Mr. Ashbough,” (the name of my mother’s ex-husband).

God also help whichever sibling my father hollered at using their full name—middle name included.

When my husband and I married, we put a lot of thought into hyphenating both our names. Andy’s Chinese-American parents objected. Their arguments were illogical, hypocritical, and downright ludicrous, but I was forced to concede.

Years later, I was still pissed. When I got pregnant, I was ready for the second round. Our kid would have the surname I we chose: Ashbough-Wong. No, Wong was NOT coming first, because the name Wong-Ashbough doesn’t sound right.

This time, I held all the cards because the mother gets all the say on the birth certificate.

So of course Andy’s parents didn’t make a single objection.

They stayed meekly and uncharacteristically quiet on the subject of the Number One Son’s future son.

This was despite the fact that in Andy’s family,  it was traditional to give their children an English first name and a Cantonese middle name. Andy’s aunts, uncles, and grandparents always referred to Andy and his siblings by their Cantonese names. As Andy neglected to explain this to me, it took me about a year to figure out who his family was gossiping about, even when they spoke in English.

Since my in-laws were behaving reasonably and I’m a sucker for tradition, I magnanimously told Andy that his folks could pick a middle name for Baby D.

Then Andy’s cousins came to our baby shower. Engineer Cousin asked about Baby D’s Chinese name.

“Don’t have it yet,” I told her cheerfully. “Jay and Sunny are working on it.”

“You’re letting them? Are you crazy? If I could do it again, I would never let anyone else have a say,” she ranted. She told me she’d insisted on giving her daughter her first name, but let her husband pick the middle name. Like me, her husband was Quite White, but wanted to give his child a Cantonese middle name. So he dutifully studied and opted for “Mei,” which means “pretty.”

“But…what’s wrong with that?” I asked.

Engineer Cousin snorted contemptuously. “He didn’t even pick the right kind of ‘pretty.’ It’s a plain, insipid word for pretty! And then he insisted he liked it and refused to change it!”

“Oh. But, um, surely Sunny wouldn’t make a mistake like that. She’s a native speaker.”

“You never know,” Engineer Cousin muttered darkly, and took a hearty slug of the wine she’d brought.

That night, I insisted that my husband call his sister. She was pregnant with her second child, and due ahead of me. “Ask her what middle name your parents are giving her son.”

“But I’m so tired,” Andy whined. “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

I shoved a phone in his hand. “This is an important test case.”

Andy reluctantly called his sister.

He discovered that his father had indeed picked a name for our nephew, one that meant something along the lines of “country.” Jay was very proud of his choice.

In English, the name sounds like “Gawk.”

I immediately flashed back to my History of the Vietnam War class. “Oh, no! What if he names our son ‘Gook?!’”

“I’m sure it won’t be that bad, honey,” Andy said—without meeting my eyes.

I shoved the phone in his face yet again. “You call your parents right now and tell them that, that, I need a list! Yes! A list. They give me three names and I will pick one of the three.”

“Are you sure about this?”

“Yes. No! Make it five names!”

Thankfully, Jay had not yet settled on his favorite name. I got a list of 4 choices. Some sounded better than others, but all were better than my future nephew’s name. (Not telling you what the sketchy ones were, lest I offend someone. Or possibly I forgot.)

We chose “Kuang,” which means “shining,” or “shiny.” It also went the best with the rest of Baby D’s name.

As soon as I picked it, though, I chuckled.

“Now what?” asked my long-suffering husband.

“In my house, when you were in trouble—like seriously doomed—you knew it because my father used your whole name,” I explained. “He’d yell, ‘Autumn Allison Ashbough! Downstairs! This instant!’ And that’s when you wondered whether it’d be less painful to jump out the window.”

“Okay…”

“But that’s not gonna work on our kid. I’m gonna be furious because he put an orange down the toilet or something, but the minute I yell, ‘Dalton Kuang Ashbough-Wong’ I’m gonna start giggling because it rhymes. So I won’t be able to use his middle name to intimidate him or convey the seriousness of the situation. I’ve lost the most important function of the middle name!”

“I thought the most important function of the middle name was to distinguish you for other people with the same first and last names,” argued my husband (who works at a company with TWO other Andy Wongs).

“Oh, honey,” I said. “I promise you, our son is going to be the only Dalton Ashbough-Wong on the entire planet. Ever.”

He’s gonna hate me when he has to start writing his name on school papers, though.

Want more info on Chinese names? Check out Marta Lives in China’s brand new post!

17 Surprising Difficulties During Labor & Delivery (#232)

Around here, we do things The Hard Way.

  1. Let’s start with your baby not wanting to make an appearance. Like mine. He was late and big. Once the doctor made it clear that there was no benefit to Baby D remaining in utero any longer, we opted to induced labor.
  2. Turns out, if you’re having contractions already, the doctor isn’t allowed to speed things up with a little Pitocin. “How could you not notice you were having contractions?” one nurse asked me. “I dunno,” I answered with a shrug. “Maybe because I’m itching so badly that I want to rip off my own arms?”
  3. Unpleasant Exams. You’ve probably heard terms like “effacement” and “dilation” being thrown around in delivery rooms. These basically mean that your cervix, which holds the baby up and in the uterus, is getting thinner and wider. When your OB examines you and discovers that your cervix is 10 centimeters dilated and 100% effaced, you’re ready to give birth. But you know what all those helpful little links above don’t tell you? Exactly HOW the OB examines you. She shoves a couple fingers up your vaginal canal and checks your cervix by feel. THIS IS NOT PLEASANT. This exam is actually on par with your annual pap smear—no curling iron-like speculum, but way more digging around. (Hey, you men bemoaning the horrors of your first prostate exam at age 50? Woman the fuck up.)  
  4. You might hurt someone. It might not be your husband, either. If you think those checks on dilation and effacement are bad, try coping with the doctor breaking your water. (Breaking the amniotic sac is another way to help move labor along after you’ve been in the hospital for a day.) Your OB will now be up your vaginal canal with two hands, one holding a sterile wooden swabby thing to poke a hole. If you’re a control freak with “no touchy!” issues and freakishly strong leg muscles, your semi-involuntary thrashing may send your OB to the hospital floor. (On the upside, it may also motivate your nurse to get the anesthesiologist in ASAP for an epidural, though, since she doesn’t want to risk catheterizing you until your lower half is numb.)
  5. Your amniotic water isn’t clear and pretty. In fact, it could be filled with greenish black baby poop. All babies swallow and pee in the womb, but big, late babies are more likely to start pooping before delivery. Problem is, too much prenatal poop (known as meconium) in the amniotic fluid can block airways. It’s another worry when your baby is a late arrival. 
  6. You’re not the only one having a baby. In fact, your hospital might be having a “baby blizzard” the day your son finally shows up. This means that your OB and your nurse are running from room to room. With 58 babies born on the same day as your son, they may not notice when you’re a) fully effaced and dilated, or b) start running a fever.
  7. You’re feverish and puking when the nurse and OB insist it’s time to push. 
  8. Your baby might decide to present himself on his back (face up, also known as posterior) with a lifted chin. This means that each time you push, the baby tilts his head back, instead of forward, blocking his own exit. And if your baby has a big head? He can get stuck.
  9. If your fever hits 102 and your baby’s heartrate goes up, you’re gonna need an emergency Cesarean section. Doesn’t matter if you’ve been pushing for hours and your friend KL can see a hint of baby’s head. Baby needs out, fast.
  10. No matter how quick your emergency C-section needs to be, someone will find time to shave your pubic hair. 
  11. You’ll have a second OB in for your C-section. One will say, “In a minute, you may feel a little pressure.” Translation: one doctor will throw their entire weight across the top of your midsection while the other hauls the baby out of your uterus. 
  12. Your husband may hallucinate. Sure, you’re the one with the fever and the puking and the abdomen open to the elements, but he’s had a long day stroking your hair and lying about how great you are doing. Ignore him when he tells you he keeps counting eleven fingers and toes on your newly delivered baby.
  13. You might not get the much vaunted “skin on skin” contact after a tricky delivery. Baby D was all cleaned up and swaddled up when the nurse handed him to me. I was okay with that, since he wasn’t in distress. (Instead, he looked up at us with big grey eyes and a puzzled expression that clearly said, “You guys are it? Seriously?”)
  14. As much as you want to hold your newborn, you might not be able to do it for very long. You might be feverish, exhausted, and shaking so much you can barely hang on to him. 
  15. It’s really, really hard to watch your husband leave the room, carrying your baby off to the nursery. But you know your baby has to be weighed, measured, and examined thoroughly, especially after a traumatic delivery. (Also, someone in better shape than your husband needs to check on those fingers and toes.)
  16. Being stitched and stapled back together takes a lot longer than being scalpled apart. At least an hour. You will have plenty of time to wonder if your husband passed out or dropped the baby. But then you’ll remind yourself that you carried Baby D for ten months. It’s someone else’s turn. Ultimately, you’ll realize that it this is just the first of many times you’ll have to hand your baby over to someone else. And yet…

17. Even after a miserable pregnancy and a grueling delivery, the most difficult part of motherhood will always be letting go.

Lows & Highs (#252)

Some creatures are suited to lying in bed all day. I am not one of them.

We Ashboughs have two dominant traits. 

The first is impatience. We’re high-functioning, super efficient people and we expect the same of everyone else (who isn’t a guest in our home). If we think someone’s moving slowly—or stupidly—we are either loudly critical or chewing our tongues bloody. We’re excellent employees and potentially nightmarish employers. If you’re foolish enough to road trip with us, make sure we drive.

Continue reading Lows & Highs (#252)

Heels (#251)

I loved dressing up when I was young. There was no high-heeled shoe, no tutu too blinged out for me. I convinced my second grade teacher to let me put on plays solely for the costumes. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Sleeping Beauty performed in tutus–but minus the music or ballet. 

I got tall early. My mother tried to steer me toward tailored, conservative clothes. Her results were mixed. Whenever possible, I insisted on shiny boots or four inch clogs, no matter how many times I tripped or how many inches I towered over my fifth grade square dancing partner.  

More than once, my father flinched visibly over my outfits. Continue reading Heels (#251)

Showers (#250)

Ah, the baby shower.

Traditionally, these all-women events involved opening boxes of baby clothes and cooing over them. Many showers had guessing games. I’ve played everything from “What chocolate bar has been melted in this diaper?” to “Is this white powder baking soda, cornstarch, or flour?” 

Since I’m a chocoholic, an amateur baker, and competitive as fuck, I won all the traditional baby showers (even when the hostess tried to trick me by throwing in cream of tartar). Continue reading Showers (#250)

Belly Up (#249)

I used to play volleyball with a big group of women. About half these women were Japanese Nationals, living in the Los Angeles area while they or their husbands were working for Toyota, Honda, or other Japanese corporations.

These Japanese women never played volleyball professionally. Many hadn’t played since their school days. And yet they were amazing. They could run down and set a ball like pros. They never gave up on a play, wearing down and demoralizing the strongest, biggest, hardest hitting white women (like me). 

Continue reading Belly Up (#249)

The Itch (#248)

I didn’t have an easy pregnancy.  There were six months of puking. There was weight loss, weight gain, anemia, and cankles

Pregnancy was miserable, but I didn’t think you could actually become allergic to being pregnant.

Turns out, you can.

My arms started to itch. I looked for bug bites. Nothing.  Just light redness.

Continue reading The Itch (#248)

Don’t (#247)

Elizabeth Warren, Presidential Candidate, has claimed to be Cherokee for years.

After Trump questioned her claim in about the most racist way possible, Warren took a DNA test which shows a possibility of Indigenous ancestry 8-10 generations ago.

The Cherokee Nation was very unhappy with Warren’s claim and her DNA test.

White people everywhere said, “I don’t get it?”

So here’s a super abbreviated primer for my fellow white people, culled from recent real-life conversations, Facebook battles, and Twitter discussions.

Continue reading Don’t (#247)

To Coddle, or Not to Coddle? (#246)

I’ve never been fragile. Born into a large family of semi-feral children, I learned to guard my food and my stuffed animals early. I mowed lawns, lifted weights, and fought dirty with siblings when necessary (also when unnecessary).

Sympathy and coddling were in short supply. Like most young women, I powered through feeling like crap when I had cramps, headaches, and nausea.

The “I can endure misery” mindset was helpful when I was pregnant. I continued working out and playing volleyball, since the endorphins helped me not puke all the time. I still walked my rescue dogs for miles. My only concession to pregnancy was lighter weights and no squats.

This astounded people.

Continue reading To Coddle, or Not to Coddle? (#246)