Preparing for a Natural, Unmedicated Birth – Part 2

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San Diego natural birth center
Best Start Birth Center

We just finished our five-week Hypnobirthing class at the local birth center. When I first registered for the class, I thought that most of the class would be devoted to learning hypnosis via self-hypnosis and partner learning how to hypnotize mom.  I didn’t quite get it until very late in our course that the HypnoBirthing approach is actually more of a holistic educational program promoting natural birthing, not a hardcore hypnosis class.  One of the teachers mentioned that she is not a fan of the name “Hypnobirthing” and now I see why.  It is a deceiving title considering that some of the couples who use the approach do not end up practicing the hypnosis techniques taught in the class–and nevertheless they still find the course to be highly beneficial.

As I’ve learned from other mommy bloggers, not every hypnobirthing class is exactly the same. The content can vary a bit depending on who teaches it and where you take it.  Nonetheless, I thought it would be interesting to share with you about the things that I learned in my class at the Best Start Birth Center in San Diego taught by doula Christal Quick.

The impact of fear on childbirth

HypnoBirthing - Marie MonganThe more fear in our minds, the more tension and pain we will experience during childbirth.  The hypnobirthing book describes one birth story in which the mother in labor was so tense that her constricted uterus turned white– her blood drained from the parts of her body needed to labor her baby to her extremities, which is what naturally happens when your body is in “stress mode”.   Modern medicine and the media has successfully convinced many of us to believe that childbirth is scary, painful and nearly impossible without medical intervention…even when women have been laboring for thousands of years naturally without the need for hospitals and medical devices.  

The first step of hypnobirthing is to understand the social narrative around birth that is engrained in many of us and to consciously transform that into positive thoughts about birthing. The numerous natural birthing videos that we watched in class made a big difference for many of us.  These births were typically calm, quiet, and joyful, unlike the documentaries on TLC of screaming mothers in emergency rooms. Watching different narratives of birth can help instill the confidence that we can in fact facilitate a comfortable and gentle birth for our baby.

The use of medical interventions during labor

The stories of unnecessary and sometimes harmful interventions used by hospitals and doctors are outrageous–however, it’s not surprising considering that medical care in America is essentially a profit-driven, efficiency-based machine.  If you want to learn more about the evolution of childbirth in this country, just watch the documentary “The Business of Being Born“.  Our teachers were very helpful in teaching us to ask questions about recommended procedures.  A memorable acronym is BRAlN: what are the Benefits, what are the Risks, what Alternatives are there, what does my Intuition tell me, and what if I do Nothing? We also learned ways how to prevent circumstances in which doctors are more likely to recommend a medical procedure. For instance, we learned natural ways to stimulate labor and exercises to help baby get into the preferred birth position.

Keep Calm and Hypnobirth

Relaxation techniques

We are asked to listen to the hypnosis audio CD included in the book on a regular basis. Some people relax incredibly well to the CD and others cannot stand to listen to the British lady on the CD every single night. I personally love the CD and can fall asleep to it within ten minutes of turning it on.

In the hypnobirthing approach, the birthing partners play a huge role in helping to keep mom relaxed and comfortable. They are taught to read hypnosis scripts to help mom relax during labor.  This, we didn’t practice very much and will likely not use during labor. Other relaxations tools that are taught are: visualization exercises, breathing for specific stages in labor, fear release exercises, light touch massage, and affirmations. All of these tools I found to be incredibly helpful in easing me into a relaxing and positive state of mind. 

Lastly, a huge part of feeling relaxed is being prepared: hospital bag, music playlist, essential oils, hot packs, cold presses, eye masks, deciding who will be in the delivery room, making plans for someone to care for your animal child, you name it. In our last class, we even spent a few hours practicing different labor positions with the help of our partners. 

In case you haven’t heard of this technique before, don’t think that it’s only used in the hippy corners of the world.  It’s a technique that is definitely gaining traction. Public figures such as Kate Middleton have chosen this approach for their births, and there are growing studies that show positive outcomes for hypnobirthing mommies and babies.  With that said, I have also read and heard first hand of stories in which the mothers practiced this approach but still opted for epidurals, were induced, or had to have emergency c-sections.

There is absolutely no guarantee that this approach will offer a pain-free, natural birthing experience to all who are attracted to it. But the way I see it, even if a natural birth is not the final outcome, this approach can help parents learn that they can still lovingly and calmly welcome a baby into this world no matter what path the child chose to get here.

As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed this class and am a huge proponent of this approach. I’m so glad that I took this class early in pregnancy, so that I have several months to prepare and practice the tools.  I would recommend this class at Best Start to anyone interested in having a natural birth!  Please feel free to comment below with any questions or suggestions you may have.

 

 

 

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Every Pregnancy Experience Is Unique. Here’s mine so far

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It’s finally here. I never thought this time would come.

Artistic rendition of my third trimester belly
Artistic rendition of my third trimester belly

I’m finally in my third trimester of baby-carrying! The first six months have come and gone. Only one last stretch to go and the wiggly feeling in my belly will finally land in my arms as a smiling, pooping, blinking child.

Since I’ve gone public about my pregnancy, I have been asked the same repetition of questions: “Do you have any strange cravings?”, “Do you have morning sickness?”, and “Boy or girl?” In case you’re wondering what it’s like to wobble in the shoes of a pregnant lady, it can be pretty annoying when strangers or acquaintances ask questions just for the sake of chatter or perceived etiquette. You can only recite the same answer so many times before you want to just respond with “What are you talking about…what baby?”

But when it’s with other mothers, I’ve usually enjoyed sharing stories and listening to their unique experiences of pregnancy & childbirth. I am lucky that I have had a pretty typical and comfortable pregnancy so far—no morning sickness, no varicose veins, no significant weight gain, fatigue and cravings that only lasted through the first trimester.

Partially for the sake of sharing with mothers & mothers-to-be, but moreso to document for my dementia-like memory bank, here are the highlights from my first trimester, second trimester, and the transition to the third.

First Trimester

Theme: “What the Heck is Happening to My Body?!!”

Physical State: debilitating fatigue; frequent “I am going to die if I don’t get some food in my mouth in the next five minutes” hunger pangs followed by coma-inducing fullness after only a few bites; massive bloating & indigestion in the evenings. Thankfully, no nausea…except if I took prenatal vitamins on an empty stomach.

Emotional State: disbelief that I was really pregnant (I would ask my husband every few days if I should take another pregnancy test just to make sure the baby is still there); pent up frustration from not being able to publicly talk about my pregnancy; anxiety that the medical tests would show something to be wrong with the baby

What I craved: ice, cold drinks, Ruffles chips, orange chicken and Vietnamese grilled meat. The last two are unusual for me considering that I don’t eat meat!

What tasted disgusting: salads and raw vegetables

What I loved to do: couch-napping after work; watching my husband dutifully take up the household responsibilities while I vegetate on the couch

What I hated most: moving, going to work

Second Trimester

Theme: “This isn’t so bad…”

Physical State: bounty of energy, meaning that I was cooking, cleaning and exercising again!  Thank goodness…I was starting to feel really bad for my husband.

Emotional State: reassurance that I was indeed still pregnant thanks to growing belly

What I craved: ice cream

What tasted disgusting: amazingly…nothing

What I loved to do: swim (how amazing that I am still able to swim in an outdoor pool in the winter months!)

What I hated most: doing research for my baby registry. For those who have never ventured into this realm, the world of baby products is terribly confusing due to new industry standards and an endless array of options. The book “Baby Bargains” is both a blessing and a curse for those who want thorough reviews of every baby product available to man.

So Far…Transition to Third Trimester (28 weeks)

Theme: “So this is what pregnancy is REALLY supposed to feel like…”

Physical State: Body is needing more rest again (9 hours of sleep a night is ideal for me). With a burgeoning belly and an achy back, exercising on land is not very comfortable anymore. I’m still swimming and having short at-home yoga sessions but less eager to do other forms of exercise. Baby is doing half flips in my belly.

Emotional State: readiness for the birthing process and for baby to arrive; starting to put on our “new parents” hat and accept that our lives are going to be forever changed!

What I’m enjoying now: practicing the techniques I’m learning in my hypnobirthing class with my husband (relaxation, massage, stretching, visualization, positive thinking). Getting the nursery ready for baby.

 

 

 

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Preparing for a Natural, Unmedicated Birth – Part 1

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Last week, my husband and I attended our first class in the five-series hypnobirthing course at San Diego Hypnobirthing.  This is my first post about why I chose to take this class and what I am learning from it.  Stay tuned for recaps of the remaining four classes! 

Why Try For A Natural Birth?newborn-220142_1280

Tolerance of bodily discomfort and pain has never been a strength of mine.  I was that girl who whined every time I had a boo-boo on my knees or elbows. My body goes out of whack when I don’t get my mandatory eight hours of sleep or when I don’t mix enough protein with my carbs.  I can’t go to bed with a full belly because the sensation of digestion keeps me from falling asleep.  Yes, I just happen to have one of those really sensitive bodies.

Despite my love for herbal remedies and all things natural, my bodily sensitivities were persuasive in convincing me that I would not be able to give birth naturally and unmedicated.  However, when I became pregnant, I knew I had to do my due diligence and thoroughly research what my childbirth options are.  As I was completing my “pregnancy 101” readings, I was happily surprised to learn that there were few negative effects of a medicated birth (using an epidural).  I also heard stories from many mothers who underwent c-sections and still had very healthy and happy babies.

I am confident in the fact that as long as baby and mommy are happy and healthy, any childbirth method will do, and I am definitely not one who would be  devastated if I was not able to have my birth naturally as planned.

But honestly…after I learned about hypnobirthing, I saw no reason not to give it a shot.  I read many testimonials of women who had used hypnobirthing and reported to have relatively “pain-free” births…the possibility of a birth free from screaming and poking needles is incredible to me.  My husband and I watched videos of very quiet, calm, and beautiful births.  There were many positive Yelp reviews of the local hypnobirthing class, and this was supported by one of my husband’s coworkers who took it during her pregnancy.

Not all mothers who use this approach are able to have natural and unmedicated births. Some mothers have special circumstances that require medications or surgery.  Other mothers do find that the pain is still very intense–even with all of the self-hypnosis practice–and opt for pain relief during their labors. Even though I’m aware of the likelihood that I still may not have an natural birth for one reason or another, I nonetheless wanted to strive for that goal and have all of the tools I need to have a peaceful birth.  The five-class series is relatively affordable, so we had nothing to lose and only everything to gain!

So by this point, you are probably wondering what the heck is hypnobirthing?  

Here is what I have learned so far about hypnobirthing through my own reading and our first class:

  • Women’s bodies are built to birth babies.  Women have been successfully giving birth for many centuries without the need for advanced medical intervention or technology.
  • Fear and stress during labor makes birth more painful and can increase risk of complications.  A relaxed and calm psychological state helps to maintain blood in the muscles that are working to birth the baby and ensure a smooth process.
  • Only when baby or mommy are at medical risk should more advanced interventions be used (pitocin, C-sections, etc.).
  • Fathers/partners/birthing companions are essential in the birthing process in calming the mother and helping to bring comfort via massage, acupressure, etc.
  • The mind can have a powerful effect on the body during the body process.  This is why affirmations, visualizations, and relaxation exercises are heavily taught in this class.
  • It is possible to have a calm, relaxing, and even pain-free birth! (I pray that I can attest to this after my little girl is here!)

Our first class was meant to help ensure that everyone was on board and committed to having a natural birth, therefore we did not spend much time learning specific techniques yet. There are six other couples in the class, so we spent much of the time sharing about our hopes for our baby’s births.  We also watched videos of hypnobirth babies coming into this world, very peacefully and calmly.

That’s all I have to share for this week.  Before I end, here are a few other tips that I learned from our doula that some of you might be interested in looking into:

  • Drinking raspberry tea in the weeks before the birth can help strengthen mommy’s uterine muscles and aid in a faster delivery.
  • Eating dates also helps to ensure a shorter and easier delivery.
  • Despite what I have read from other sources, kegels (pelvic floor exercises) are actually NOT recommended during pregnancy.
  • During the last trimester, it’s not recommended that women recline or slouch when sitting on a couch as this could pull the baby into a less than preferable and usually painful position for mommy as she is nearing labor.

 

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Thai Red Curry With Tofu & Vegetables

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Vegetarian curryI’ve made red curry a few times using online recipes, and the result has either been a curry that is either too bland (not enough spices) or too spicy (too much curry paste).  I found this one on AllRecipes.com —originally a red chicken curry recipe—and modified it to make it vegetarian with the exception of a few dashes of fish sauce (blame that on my Vietnamese taste buds).  I also changed the recipe based on recommendations of other site users and replaced some of the ingredients with vegetables that I enjoy.

This is my best attempt at red curry to date! Here it is for your enjoyment and experimentation.

Thai Red Curry With Tofu & Vegetables
Servings: 8

What you need:

Grapeseed or olive oil (for sauteing)

1 package of organic firm tofu (cubed)

3 carrots (sliced)

2 potatoes (cubed)

3 cups of green beans (cutin half)

1 cup of broccoli florets

1/2 yellow onion (sliced)

3 garlic cloves (minced)

1/2 teaspoon of ginger (minced)

1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro

{for curry sauce}

4 tablespoons of red curry paste

2 tablespoons of fish sauce

1 tablespoon of peanut butter

1 lime

2 cans of coconut milk (14 ounces/can)

1 tablespoon of cornstarch

Salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Toss in the cubes of tofu. Fry all sides of the tofu.  Set aside. (If you need a more detailed and expert description of frying tofu, check out this page.)
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in skillet.  Sauté minced ginger for one minute and then add in minced garlic for another minute.  Add potatoes and carrots.  Stir as needed and cook until soft (~10-15 minutes).
  3. In another skillet (yes, I had to use another one because mine isn’t big enough to cook all of the vegetables at once), heat two tablespoons of oil.  Saute onion for 1 minute.  Add green beans and broccoli.  Saute for about 5 minutes.  When done, mix this together with the potatoes & tofu into one large skillet.
  4. In a large bowl, add a small amount of coconut milk and stir in corn starch until dissolved.  Add in all of the curry sauce ingredients and mix thoroughly with a whisk.
  5. Pour curry sauce mixture into skillet with vegetables.  Bring to a boil, then simmer over medium heat for 1 minutes. Add salt and pepper as needed. Turn off heat and add in cilantro & fried tofu before serving.
  6. Serve with white or brown rice.

Note: This was not quite spicy enough for my husband, so I scooped about 1/3 of the dish aside and mixed another 2 tablespoons of curry paste to add an extra kick.  I like the tinge of red on his version better but can’t handle the extra spice! 

Vegetarian cury 2

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What’s it like to shop for baby stuff…Part 1

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baby registry

Baby girl is scheduled to arrive in about three months (February 2015), Christmas is just around the corner, and the baby shower is supposed to take place in January.  This means that now is the time to plunge into the abyss that I call “the baby registry”.

I thought that the wedding registry was stressful—I hate buying things that are first of all new and secondly what feels ridiculously overpriced—but this process of hunting for baby stuff is an entirely new level of overwhelming.  There is a reason why the baby industry is a multibillion dollar industry; there are literally thousands of options for every kind of baby product you can imagine.  Some parents are probably delighted by the vast ocean of choice, but for indecisive and money-conscious people like me, it is very mind-boggling…a girl can only read so many reviews!

One of my husband’s co-workers gave us an older version of the book “Baby Bargains“.  According to the almighty internet, it is a must-have piece of literature on baby products hence I purchased a used copy of the most recent edition on Amazon.  I spent the earlier part of my week reading about cribs and mattresses in the book, Amazon reviews, Babies R Us, mommy blogs, etc.  I swear my brain exploded and that explains why my living room is so gross right now.  Thankfully both my hubby and I had the day off yesterday and spent an afternoon checking products out at the baby superstores, second hand stores, and the heaven sent IKEA.  We have now beyond the crib/mattress chapter and are moving into the world of strollers and baby seats, praise the Lord.

We are relatively infantile in building our baby registry (hence the Part 1 in my blog title), but here’s what I have learned so far:

1.  Until I went to the actual store to see and touch with my bare hands these amazing gadgets they call cribs and strollers, I didn’t have a very good understanding of their functioning and what features I would like.  No matter how many reviews I read about each brand, nothing beats being able to touch the dang thing! (Yes, husband, you were right…)

2. If you are working within a budget, it makes the baby registry process 50% less painful.  Of course, you should still aim to get the biggest bang for your buck…but the bang is finite. No frilly lace, no fancy woodwork, no baby wipe warmer, just the basics.  Don’t get me wrong—the expensive products are costly for a reason.  If you choose right, the high end items typically last the longest and have very innovative and convenient features.  But if you’re a new and young working couple paying off school loans, wouldn’t you rather save that money for more important things like school and meaningful activities like dance classes and camping trips?  So what did this mean for our baby shopping excursion?  It means that when we walked into IKEA and found their very simple but sturdy cribs priced at $69-$119 (versus the $200-$300 ones we were considering buying online), we were totally sold!

3.  With some baby products, I cannot go with my usual “Let’s just get it at the thrift store or on Craigslist” approach.  My motto for being a green and frugal consumer has always been to “buy it used” particularly for furniture and high priced items.  However, with all of the concerns over product safety, there are some items that I’ve learned that you shouldn’t buy used: cribs, mattresses, and baby seats.  Don’t let me forget breast bumps, too. There are more choices now for “green” baby products, some of which are rather affordable (such as mattresses with organic cotton and less hazardous materials) and others of which are out of my price range (typically wood furniture). Unfortunately due to budget constraints, I have not been able to prioritize the environmental factor into my purchasing decisions.  The hippie in me ten years ago would have refused to give into this consumerist mindset—and likely would have refused to buy 50% of this stuff altogether—but at this time in my life, I have to primarily think about functionality and price right now. If there happens to be an affordable, eco-friendly option, then I’m totally ecstatic and even more ecstatic about the items that we are able to buy used or inherit from other parents.

Watch out for Part 2 of our baby registry adventures!

 

 

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If we can build spaceships, why can’t we figure out how to stop using plastic bags?

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California Plastic Bag Ban

California’s plastic bag ban has stirred up quite the buzz since it passed as legislation two months ago (September 2014).  As someone who has been using cloth bags since I was a teenager, it still doesn’t fail to shock me that laws like this can so effectively activate the masses of people who are not supportive of government mandates and believe that “California is just plain crazy…I’m so glad I don’t live there!”.  I will accept that there are political and economic implications to this piece of legislation that are outside of my scope of understanding, so I will not even attempt to debate anyone in those arenas.  There is a good chance I will lose.  However, if anyone tries to convince me that plastic bags are not detrimental to the environmental, please don’t even try.  Plastic bags (and plastic waste in general) negatively affect our wildlife, our oceans, our landfills, and our natural resources.  If you want to learn more on this widely studied topic, I’ve happily googled it for you – just click here.

This post was inspired by my morning trip to Vons at 7am this morning.

Not only did the woman in front of me in the Express Lane (15 items or less, lady!) have 25 products in her cart—yes, I actually counted—but, of course, she also left the store with about dozen plastic plastic bags in her cart. I’ve worked as a grocery bagger before, so I understand why you need to separate certain items to avoid rippage or contamination, but it doesn’t fail to break my little hippie heart to see so much plastic go to waste.

I only expect about 1% of the Vons shoppers to come in with their own bags, so I normally am not so easily peeved by others’ plastic bag habits.  However today, I find myself feeling unusually annoyed by this woman’s grocery cart (the fact that she didn’t belong in the Express Lane likely contributed to the feeling), and I catch myself feeling overly self-righteous when I pull out the little balls that are my ChicoBags out of my purse to bag my items. I walk out of the store with my head up high as if others are looking to me as a eco role model.  The sad reality is that the majority of the people here do not care that this prego chick brought her little purple bag to the store.  It’s 7am and half of us are still in pajamas shopping at the grocery store. And in response to your  question, the answer is no, I wasn’t wearing my pajamas but, to be fair, a stranger could easily interpret my sweatpants and hoodie as sleepwear.

Whether or not you agree with the plastic bag ban, the reality is that this law is going into effect in less than a year, and if you want to make this change least painful as possible, you should start making adjustments to your store excursions now.

My husband and I are both very disciplined about using only reusable bags. To benefit all mankind, I wanted to share with you how using cloth bags has been economical and really easy for us.

Hreusable bags, environmentally friendly bag, green bagippie Asian Mom: I always carry three of the fold-up-into-a-ball ChicoBags in my purse everywhere I go.  I am normally a forgetful person (and during my pregnancy, my husband is quite adamant that I have early dementia), so carrying the bags in my purse is the only way it works for me.  I know some people are concerned that buying reusable bags is a hardship for those with low income; funny thing is that I’ve never paid a dollar for any of my bags. One was a wedding favor, one was a promotional item I got at a festival, and the other was given to me by a company that I worked for.  The other ones I have at home are free bags that were given away as promotional items at events, grocery stores, and street fairs.

TJbagsHippie Non-Asian Dad (FYI this is only a temporary label for my husband; he has not fully consented to this alias): Four years ago when we first started dating and I first saw the pile of canvas bags in the back of his car, I immediately knew that this is the man I would marry…okay, slight exaggeration, but nonetheless I love that my husband is a staunch reusable bag user.  He has a collection of beige Trader Joe’s cloth bags that he bought years ago for $1.99 each.  Since he does not carry a man purse nor is he as forgetful as me, his bags sit in the back of his car and, 95% of the time, he remembers to bring it with him to the store.  If either of us forget our bags, we have no qualms carrying out items out of the store using our own bare hands.  Yes, we are human and we have hands, arms, and only occasionally, do I have to carry something using my mouth.

This is what works for us to use these bags every time we shop.  Some people might need a written reminder (on the grocery list or reminder signs in front of the store) and a nagging from a spouse or kids. Others may end up tattooing a reminder on their hands after paying for a paper bag one too many times.  Find out what works for you.

My best advice for those of you who do not own any cloth bags yet: hit up street fairs in your city and I can almost guarantee that at least one vendor will be passing free bags.  Also, Earth Day is coming up in April; I have seen stores such as WalMart pass them out by the thousands at Earth Day festivals.

Laws like this inevitably force people to make changes in their lives whether they like it or not. For instance, my Chinese parents who do not bring cloth bags due to not wanting to be perceived as “different” (no Asian at an Asian grocery stores will refuse a plastic bag)  will undoubtedly bring their own bags because it goes against their frugal ways to pay 10 cents for a paper bag.  Other well-meaning people who clearly know that plastic bags are bad but have not made it a practice to start using cloth bags may find this law to be very helpful in starting a new habit.

Homo sapiens is a highly creative and adaptable species.

We’ve lived through famines and wars and even invented machines that let us travel to other planets.  I have complete faith that most people will learn how to adjust to this small change in their lives. I believe that consumers will figure out how to make this practice affordable and habitual.  I believe that non-profits and public agencies will help ensure that families of low income are not more disproportionately affected by this law.  I believe that businesses will figure out innovative ways to combat the fear that consumers will spend less due to not having enough bags.

In my sweetest Chinese girl voice: we please stop the first-world whining and just deal with it?  The environment, the wildlife, and my children who have to deal with our crap—both literal and metaphorical—will thank you!
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How to be a good Chinese daughter in a Westernized world

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Hippie Asian Mom - Chinese daughter
As a child of a traditional immigrant, Cantonese-speaking household, I was well-aware of the rules that I had to follow in order to maintain my reputation as an obedient Chinese daughter: get straight A’s, no dating until after college, no makeup and other shows of excessive vanity, no drugs, and no hanging out with “bad people”. Additionally, all good Chinese children in America should set as one of their goals to graduate as the high school valedictorian.  Statistically speaking, becoming the top student out of the  a graduating class of several hundred  students is difficult—but not entirely impossible.  My parents expected this of my siblings and me. After all, my four oldest cousins succeeded in becoming the valedictorians or salutatorians at their schools, why couldn’t we?

All things considering, I would say I earned a “B” grade in my parents’ evaluation of my performance as a Chinese daughter.  I did not become valedictorian—or came even close to it—but I compensated by getting accepted into a top university.  I did date in high school and managed to get away with it until the very tail end of high school, which is quite impressive considering the number of Chinese relatives and friends who have the potential to act as spies for my parents. I was involved in what seemed like odd extracurricular activities to my parents, such as the Earth Club that I started at my school and volunteer activities around the city every weekend, but at the end when I received a few scholarships for my work, they reasoned that I didn’t completely waste my time in high school.  All in all, even though I was growing into a somewhat eccentric hippie activist by my senior year of high school, I came off accomplished enough and gave something for my parents to be proud of.

The expectations for me after adolescence were more unclear.

The only one that was in-your-face explicit revolved around my studies and future profession.  Like many other cultures, Chinese parents only want their children to work in one of two professions: medicine or law.  As Google and Facebook boomed, there was more talk in my family about how “doing something with computers” was a good thing but I got the sense they only expected boys in the family to be able to do that, so I was off the hook on that one.  When my parents learned how difficult it was to earn a medical degree and how much money it actually costs to attend medical school, they acquiesced to the prospect of their children becoming pharmacists.  I followed none of their recommendations, and eventually they accepted that I was going to do what I wanted despite their strong wishes.

Even though I did my best to be a good Asian kid, I grew up thinking that Asian expectations for their children were too narrow and often unrealistic.  Since I lived away from my family during the first stage of adulthood, I mostly disregarded my cultural values and tried to follow my own wishes and the ideals of my surrounding environment. Since I lived in Berkeley for the most prominent years of my life, I undoubtedly was strongly influenced by “granola”, New Age-y, spiritualist values.

I moved back to San Diego for graduate school and met the man who would be my husband.  Once I met him, It occurred to me that I was not going to live a free-spirited, childless life on some distant organic farm that I had long imagined.  For the first time in my adult life, I was excited about the idea of having a family and living what you might call a “mainstream” life. I knew that If I wanted to have a harmonious relationship with my family, I could no longer reject my cultural values—I had to adhere, at least somewhat, to Chinese customs from here on out.

It was at this point that I wish I had in my back pocket a handbook on the Chinese expectations for the upcoming stages of my life: engagement, marriage, and parenthood.  I have several siblings and cousins around my age, but I was one of the first in my family to go through these stages chronologically so I had to learn mostly by experience. Thankfully my sister got married the year before me, and I was able to learn a few special protocol about wedding ceremonies before I got married (for instance, don’t use white envelopes to send out your invitations!).

Since my husband is Caucasian, my parents was lenient on our compliance with traditional customs and accepted that our communion would be a blend of Asian and Western practices; for this reason, I am certain there still are many customs of which we are completely ignorant.

One of the hardest traditions we had to deal with was the “bride price”, a practice in which the groom must offer money and/or material goods to the bride’s family in exchange for the woman’s hand.  (This is the opposite of the dowry, where the bride’s parents must pay the groom.) According to to this website, the  original purpose of the bride price is to help pay for the parent’s needs after the bride has left the house.  In China, grooms in certain provinces  pay up to $24,000 to marry their lady.  Since my husband was already the primary funder of our wedding (grooms are expected to pay for Chinese weddings), I was not happy that my father suddenly told us about this custom and expected payment from my husband. My father saw that this was going to be a financial hardship for us and we negotiated an amount that was acceptable. However, this still remains somewhat of a grievance.

Now that I am going through this next stage of carrying a child, I am consequently barraged by all of the do’s and don’ts of pregnancy (which I will cover in a later post) when I see my family. My current stance is to know these rules well enough that I do not break them in their presence in order to minimize my mother’s annoying “reminders” that I should not do things like squat, rub my belly, drink cold water, etc.  I think I would feel differently about complying with Chinese guidelines if I was living in rural China and surrounded by others who also followed these rules.  But the truth is that I live in America, am in a biracial relationship, and have greater exposure to other cultural practices than to Chinese practices.  In addition, my parents are Chinese who grew up in neighboring country, Vietnam, so I am certain that the original rules have already been distorted through integration with a second culture.  The purity of these customs is questionable to me for those reasons.

I appreciate growing up in a culture where tradition is strong and standards are high, but given my multicultural surroundings, I am okay with taking in what I think fits me, modifying some practices, and putting the rest aside.  And as much as my parents would like me and my siblings to strive to be the perfect, loyal, traditional Chinese children, they can see with their own eyes that my generation is going to live by a mishmash set of rules and practices.  Negotiation is central to this multicultural give-and-take, and if neither the parents nor the children can be flexible with the others’ wishes, hell and disharmony easily break loose.

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