Sunny Daze (#109)


My new, China-born mother-in-law had cornered me in the guest bedroom. She’d told her son that she wanted to have a talk with me about “woman” stuff. He couldn’t get out of the room fast enough. Possibly because Andy’s father had already subjected him to the “Ultimate Over-sharing Sex Talk, Given Fifteen Years Too Late.”

The original cover of Our Bodies, Ourselves. Courtesy of their awesome and useful website.

Well, if Sunny thought she was going to intimidate educate me with some superstitious old world sex misinformation, she thought wrong. My mother had been raised a sexually repressed debutante. While she was a little late to the sexual revolution, she embraced it with enthusiasm. Mom became a feminist. She called herself a liberated woman, bought multiple copies of Our Bodies, Ourselves, and went to law school when I was seven. Frank sex talks were the norm in our house. I cannot recall NOT knowing how sex worked.

My parents divorced, and my mom got custody of Our Bodies, Ourselves, but my dad was pretty liberated, too. Once his daughters turned eighteen, he insisted we get our first gynecological exam. Furthermore, he insisted that all of us get outfitted with some form of birth control. I, of course, argued with him:

Me: “But DAAAAADD! I’m not planning on having sex! Probably for a looooonnggg time!”

Dad: “I don’t care. You’ll have a medical history, and birth control will be there if you need it.”

Me: “But-”

Dad: “No. I’ll pay for this. If you need it, you’ll use it, because I am NOT paying for an abortion. Do you know how expensive THOSE are?!”

My father had five daughters. He was smart. He understood human psychology and he could do math. So I got a diaphragm. There were no unplanned pregnancies among his daughters. (For those of you with good memories, please be advised that Pretty Space Cadet Sister’s pregnancy at age 19 by the convict was, in fact, carefully PLANNED by my young and foolish sister. But that’s another post.) In any case, we could use more dads with my father’s realistic attitude, rather than the idiotic nut jobs making their daughters wear white and sign “Purity Pledges.”

So I faced my new mother-in-law, lifted my chin, and thought, “Bring it. I am ready for your old wives tales on everything from ‘lie back and think of England,’ to ‘the woman should never be on top because it emasculates men or whatever.’”

Sunny sat on a chair by the door, looked me up and down, and said, “Andy’s sister, nine months after she get married, I have a granddaughter. You and Andy married almost 2 months. Seven more months and I should have grandson, yeah?”

I blinked. I thought, I should have fucking known my talk would be about offspring rather than fucking.

Then I said, “No.”

Sunny blinked.

There was silence. A long silence. I realized I finally had my chance to talk. Andy always said there was no point in talking to his parents, because they never listened. I secretly thought this was a) a copout, and b) bullshit – Andy just wasn’t a strong enough advocate for his position. But I was the child of lawyers and letters, and goddamnit, I was going to make my case. I would make it so well that Sunny would understand and Andy would never be able to weasel out of telling his parents anything they didn’t want to hear ever again.

I continued, “No, Sunny, I’m not pregnant. And we have no plans to get pregnant, not for several years.”

Sunny said, “But…why?”

She heard me! She had acknowledged that WE WERE NOT TRYING TO HAVE KIDS right away. HA! I was right and Andy was wrong! His mother WAS listening.

I said, “Andy and I want to have a some time together, just the two of us, before we think about adding the mental, physical, financial, and psychological burden that a child brings.”

Sunny frowned. “But you are not so young. You might not have time.”

I snorted. “I’m only thirty-one, Sunny. And I come from a long line of broodmares.”

Sunny looked puzzled. I elaborated. “Take my grandmother. She was smart and only had two kids when she got married. Boys. But one son was killed when he was fifteen. So she had my mother, a replacement child, when she was almost forty. No problem.”

Sunny still frowned. I sighed. “And my mother. The woman got pregnant EVERY YEAR. The only reason there are 22 months between my older brother and my older sister is because the woman had an ectopic pregnancy after Big Brother. With triplets. She lost a fallopian tube and an ovary and still went on to have 5 more kids. The last one when she was nearly 40. So I have at least 9 years fertile years left. The reality is probably closer to 15 or 20,” I finished glumly.

Sunny did not look convinced. Fine. I had not even begun to deplete my arsenal of arguments.

I continued. “Look, Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister got pregnant the minute she stopped using birth control. It’s a genetic…gift, I guess.” (I managed to say “gift,” but as I am not an ignorant “Quiverfull” fundamentalist, I normally characterize excessive fecundity as a curse. On my less cheerful days, I think of it as a plague upon the earth.)

Sunny grunted. “But how you know you can get pregnant like your mom?”

“Because out of all of us, I’m the one built like her. Big, tall, childbearing hips. And you know that my mom had all her kids despite the fact that she drank, she smoked, and her only exercise was chasing us if we ran away. I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I never touched drugs. I run, dance, swim, and I can press two-hundred and fifty pounds.” (At the time, 3 of these 4 things were actually true.)

Sunny nodded several times as I repeatedly explained the genetic components of fertility and how I was far more worried about NOT getting pregnant than I would ever be about infertility. She did not argue with me AT ALL.

Clearly I had swayed the jury. I quit talking and happily visualized recounting my triumph to Andy. “Logic and reason,” I would tell him. “Facts. Your parents aren’t stupid. You just have to take the time to lay it out for them.”

I smiled at my mother-in-law. Why wouldn’t I? We understood each other.

Sunny leaned forward, her face more earnest than I’d ever seen it.

She said, “I know a woman your age. Twenty-thousand dollar, she freeze her eggs!”

On the plus side, Sunny was at least throwing the latest technology at me, rather than the oldest superstitions.

On the minus side?

I hate it SO MUCH when I have to admit my husband is right.

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Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

37 thoughts on “Sunny Daze (#109)”

    1. I know! Andy just read this post and laughed at me, and I was all, “But she nodded and everything! I was so sure she totally got what I was saying!”

      He patted my shoulder and said, “That’s how they trap you, honey.”

      1. Hi,
        Sorry to break the news to you but if you’re going to talk about logic and reason she is totally right and you are not. Past the age of 30 its an undeniable medical and statistic fact that gettîng pregnant is not only less easy but more risky because miscarriage rates as well as children born with grave conditions increase at an alarming rate. Which is why you will have to do a lot of tests a 25 y/o doesnt havr to do.

        If you feel tou are not ready to havr children atm it is based on your feelings and perception as well as the fact that the feminist views of your mother gave your the impression that your have control over your body. But you dont. Your body has its own life that doesnt take your feelings into account.

        So while its annoying to have your mother in law trying to coerce you into giving herba grandson she is the one who used reason t try to convince you.

        What you did there is just confuse her in order to get out ognthe awkward talk which was hillarious. Chinese moms have no concept of privacy nd feel entitled to your “eggs” and pretty much everythinh else in your life and they wont take no for an answer.

        Looking forward to read more of your adventures.

        1. Hello, Jean! Thanks for stopping by.

          You may be right about rates of miscarriage going up across the board while fertility goes down. According to Genius Judgmental Doctor Sister, however, the biggest jump in birth defects comes once the mother is 35. Then it’s a big leap. Something like 1 chance in 35,000 pregnancies to 1 in 3,500 or maybe 1 in 350,000 to 35,000 (don’t quote me).

          But based on my own family history (all the healthy children my mother produced up to age 40, my older sister easily getting pregnant in her 30s), I have always been more worried about NOT getting pregnant than being infertile.

          So there’d be a lot of irony if I couldn’t get pregnant if I actually wanted to. Think of all the money I wasted on birth control, damn it.

          And OMG, you are so right. There is no taking “no” for an answer on grandchildren if you are a Chinese parent. It’s like they own my ovaries. I had no idea that the cultural norms were so different.

  1. Well, at least she *did* listen to the fact that you don’t want to have children *now*. That’s huge. A traditional uncompromising Chinese mother would have insisted on your filial duty to produce offspring asap… In context, yours was a big victory. Well done.
    Great story 🙂

    1. You know what? That’s a great point. I was so focused on the half-hour of my lecture that Sunny did not hear that I never thought about the one minute she did hear. She did, indeed, get that there would not be a grandchild soon.

      HA! As soon as Andy wakes up, I will do a victory dance and tell him that I did get his mother to listen.

      For, you know, a few months. 🙂

      Thanks, Flying Carpet!

  2. The mum in law is so worried because she wants to see her grandchildren become teenagers before she dies.

    1. That’s also a valid point, Anon. But Sunny already had one lovely granddaughter and she hadn’t even retired when we had this conversation. I think it’s still a case of Chinese parents simply expecting that their children will automatically fall in line with the parents’ desires.

      Anything else is inconceivable! They rarely hear or accept it.

      1. That’s why she mentioned a grandson – she wants to see both, and preferably from both her kids, before dying. That way she can rest in peace knowing her kids have kids of their own. Continuing the family line and all that jazz.

        As I get older, I would feel exactly the same, it’s less of a “filal duty” issue and more a circle of life thing that we all go through.

        1. I see your point, but more and more couples are not having kids. And I respect that choice, because if you don’t really, REALLY want kids, I don’t think you should have them.

          I guess I reject the notion that the circle of life should be automatic. Not everyone should have kids. And I think if more grandparent wannabes would attempt to wrap their heads around this notion and accept the idea that becoming a grandparent is not automatic, it would save all families a lot of heartache.

  3. I had a hard time getting past space cadet sister. You sprinkle these bombs in your stories that are distracting. A convict? You are indeed all overachievers! I don’t think this is the end of the grandchildren story by any means! Sunny probably had to reload.

    1. hmmm, maybe I should take Pretty Little Space Cadet’s son out. I was sure someone sharp like 808 Guy would be like, “Hey back in post # whatever and on your “About Autumn” page, you said you had a sister who got pregnant at 19….”

      But probably it is a little too distracting.

      And no, by no means has the battle over the grandchild ended. It has only just begun.

  4. I think she heard you, but she doesn’t accept your reasoning. It interferes with what she wants. I don’t really get this obsession with grandchildren. Mostly I’m happy that my kids are happy with their children. That I enjoy my grandchildren is a bonus.

    At least you didn’t get the sex education talk. On the other hand, that would have been a one-time thing. The hurry-up-and-have-a-baby talk will go on and on.

  5. Looking forward to the blog post on egg freezing 🙂

    In the meantime, enlightening info about the “sex” talk among families. Always interesting how folks deal with it and always funny.

    1. There will be no egg freezing for me! Though I do have a friend who interviews women who donate their eggs. It’s fascinating, and I think I missed a big opportunity to make some money and pass on genes when I was in my 20s.

      Yeah, I think we are all predisposed to giggle over sex so that adds to the humor. 🙂

  6. This was a hilarious read. I like to think you won this argument, and you dominated. No shouting at all. It seemed Sunny didn’t know what to say, or have much to say. Or perhaps it was the language barrier, but doesn’t sound like it. It baffles me that some Chinese parents these days still take only “yes” for an answer when it comes to their offspring and reproduction. It is hard work feeding our own selves already in this world.

    1. Thanks, Mabel! I think if it were a boxing match, I’d have won, because I kept talking, right? (If making well-reasoned arguments equates to landing punches.)

      However, I suspect my relationship with Sunny is more like a soccer match, where one team absolutely dominates possession…but can’t make a goal.

      It went down to penalty kicks in the end, and I feel like I failed to score!

      And yeah, let us not worry about offspring until we can feed and support ourselves.

      1. You really steamrolled Sunny there with your words. Totally floored her in my opinion. If she didn’t get a word in, she must have not known what to say. At a loss for words.

  7. You know, nothing comes between a Chinese woman and her chance to get grandchildren! I agree with the other commentators in this post… at least she was ok with you *delaying* the grandchildren thing! I really hope my boyfriend’s parents don’t give me “the talk.” You handled it well, Autumn!

    Reading this post made me think about the character for ‘good’ in Chinese 好… which is literally just the characters for woman 女 and child 子 put together. It suddenly made sense to me why Chinese people are so crazy about marriage and kids….!! To them, the epitome of good is a woman with a kid!

    1. Thanks, Mary! I am always sure I botch stuff — especially with my in-laws.

      Good heavens. You could write a whole post or book on the psychology of a nation where a woman and child symbolize “good.” It reminds me of the Mormon husbands I meet who squire their wives around and call them “mother.” Like that’s the ultimate compliment.

      I thought it was a true mother-son relationship and was amazed at how young all these mothers looked. I was all, “Wow, that clean living really pays off!”

  8. I get thw feeling that she didn’t listen to you at all 🙁
    Otherwise she would have accepted your opinion. But that is also an impossible thing, so just ignore them. When my grandfather wouldn’t stop nagging about me getting a girlfriend I told him I was lesbian and he never asked me again. And when everyone pestered my mom she told everyone she couldn’t get anymore children.
    Sometimes one just need to lie so they can live in peace. Just sayin’.

    1. Yes, ignoring is the best idea. Andy’s good at it.

      I’m not.

      Lying is another option. I’m not good at that, either. I’m good at making up stories, but not lying. How is that possible. Sigh.

  9. I just go back home from a week with my parents… and I literally laughed out loud seeing Sunny’s reaction.

    To be fair to Sunny, everybody’s expecting her to nod and accept the way Westerners do things, but she’s still a product of her culture. It’s all fine and dandy if you’re just a friend, but things are different once you’re family.

    1. Oh, totally. This is why I wish I had done research before meeting Andy’s parents. It’s just as crazy that I expected them to respond like my parents as it is for them to expect me to respond like their children.

      A Chinese history class with books such as PATTERNS OF THE CHINESE PAST in no way prepared me for Patterns of the Chinese Parents.

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