On Becoming Panda Mom (Part One)

T was not planned. Despite that, I entered into pregnancy with hope and excitement. The first few months of pregnancy went by blissfully and quickly. During day time, I indulged myself in the sentimentality of what it would mean to be a mother, to form a bond with another human being, and to witness my child grow. I downloaded tacky baby picture maker apps on my iPhone and secretly hoped that it would be a girl, that she would take after her father’s eyes and my chin—I thought they were our best features. During night time, when the discomfort of pregnancy encroached on my body—the nausea, the lightheadedness—I quietly but easily tolerated it by convincing myself that every mother has experienced these strange physical irritations.

I never aspire to be a perfect mother. But I was confident. I had this strong belief that I’ve got this. During my second trimester, I hired a doula, wrote down my birth plan, read books about pregnancy, birth, and parenting. I studied these new subjects as if I was studying for my PhD preliminary exam. I knew what I was doing. I am a good student. I learn fast. I’ve got this. Jimmy and I even squeezed in a 4-day trip to Orlando to visit my aunt. We took T to Disney World even before she was born.

Soon after the trip, (actually, even during the trip), I started to experience this strange sensation in my abdomen. It felt like I ate too much at an all-you-can-eat casino buffet in Atlantic City. My belly felt bloated and didn’t belong to myself. At that time, I joked about how my baby was taking over my body, that my body was a power plant invaded by aliens. Soon, this sensation of bodily alienation began to spread—first to my thighs, then to my hip, my legs, my arms, my hands, fingers, and toes. I could barely move. I looked like Baymax, the fictional character from the animation Big Hero 6, a plus-sized cute-looking white inflatable robot. We drove to the nearest Lazy Boy store, and I paid more than $800 for a red rocking recliner. For the rest of my pregnancy, I spent most of my time on the Lazy Boy. Climbing a flight of stairs to go to the bathroom was a journey for me. I asked Jimmy to rub my feet more often than I thought was reasonable. I (really) thought I was going to explode physically in any given moment. But since my OBGYN doctor didn’t diagnose me with any problem, Jimmy doubted my symptoms. I also wondered if these sensations were “all in my head.”

It turns out that pandas are not very capable mothers. They can get overwhelmed because nature can be cruel and unforgiving. In the wild, pandas that give birth to more than one infant often have to abandon the weaker cubs to focus on the survival of the fittest. Regardless, mother pandas do almost nothing other than holding and caring for their babies in the first few months. Since baby pandas are born extremely small at only about 3 ounces, they can’t move or hold themselves up. For the first few weeks of their cubs’ lives, mother pandas will go days and even weeks without eating or drinking. While cubs fatten up, their mothers basically starve.

Of course, I have never abandoned my child or starve myself for weeks. But T was born extremely small at only 3 pounds and I felt helpless and overwhelmed.

On the Wednesday before T was born, Jimmy drove me to my first academic job interview in a liberal arts college in a small town two hours away from Philadelphia. The interview was 1.5 days long—It began with a dinner with the department’s faculty at a local restaurant filled with well-dressed baby boomers. I was self-conscious partly because I was the only Asian woman around the table and in the restaurant, and partly because I looked like an inflatable balloon in a blue and white dress. I had salmon, broccolis, mashed potatoes and drank water. Fortunately, I had the best excuse not to drink. That night, I stayed at the historic hotel in downtown. I wasn’t quite sure why, but I felt scared. I wasn’t scared for the interview; I was more nervous about it. Nevertheless, I tried not to let my gut feeling bother me too much. The next day, I gave a teaching demonstration that lasted an hour and 15 minutes, met other faculty members from other departments, had lunch with some of them, and sat down for a one-hour formal job interview. The interview was concluded by a campus tour. When everything was over, it was about 4:30pm. I sat on a black metal bench on the sidewalk across from the hotel I stayed the night before. My feet was literally growing too big for me to fit into my shoes. I took them off. I felt the sun shined on my face. I felt hot despite the winter winds. I called Jimmy and told him that the interview went well. He said he was on his way.

That winter dragged longer than usual; the weather had been cold and miserable. T was born the Sunday of what felt like the first day of spring. On Friday, the day after the interview, I was accompanied by Jimmy to my prenatal appointment as usual. I postponed the appointment due to the interview. My doctor told me that it should be fine as long as my swelling didn’t get worse. At the doctor’s office, Jimmy played Candy Crush while the nurse took my vitals. Later, my doctor came in. He asked me about my swelling and said that my blood pressure was higher than expected. He wanted us to wait in the office and have the nurse check my pressure again. It went up to 160. My doctor told us to walk to the hospital down the block so they could monitor my blood pressure.

We checked in at the antepartum unit and waited. Soon, a nurse took us into a small empty room. I settled down on one of the few hospital beds. When the nurse checked my pressure again, it went up to 180. I was told if I could relax on the bed, everything would be fine. I asked if I could eat something. “It’s probably a good idea,” the nurse replied. While Jimmy left the room to get a chicken sandwich from the hospital’s cafeteria, I watched Jeopardy! on a small CTR television hanging on the old wood panel wall. It felt like I had traversed into an alternative reality in which I was watching TV in an all-American suburban home during the 90s.

I don’t normally watch game shows. I think they are for old folks. You know? People like baby boomers. Yet, watching Jeopardy! with Jimmy while lying in the hospital bed was surprisingly fun. I thought everything was going to be all right after all—that my blood pressure would eventually go down and they would let me go home by the end of the day. But then, a doctor came in. She informed me that I might need to stay in the hospital until I give birth—my due date was 6 weeks away. I was confused and shocked but I tried to compose myself. (I’m usually pretty good at that). Although the idea of staying in the hospital until the end of the following month was unexpected and unpleasant, I tried my best to digest the news and accept the reality. As soon as the doctor left the room, Jimmy and I began to discuss our plan and the logistics—how he could come and visit me daily and who would care for the dogs in the house, etc.

Just when Jimmy was about to go home and grab me some of my belongings for the night, a team of doctors rushed into the room. There must have been at least 5 of them—young and old, men and women. Two of them looked quite nervous; they busily jotted down notes as a different doctor was now speaking to me. He introduced himself and told me that he was the head physician of the team. He said that after much deliberation, they decided to change the course of action. I can’t exactly remember what he said. I only remember hearing words like “induce”, “labor”, “injection”, “steroid”. And at the end, he said, “You’re going to give birth tonight.” I broke into tears.

To be continued…

#pandamom #pandamother #birthstory #birth #women #womenissues #pregnancy #feministwriting #feminism #storytelling #writingashealing #mother #motherhood #health

Published by pandamotherly

I am Dr. Esther HioTong Castillo. I am Panda Mom. I'm a biracial sociologist mama with a 4 year-old daughter. Four years ago, my complicated birth and the sea-change in my career and family had thrown me into the downward spiral of depression and anxiety. Now, I'm sharing my story and writing my way to health and wellness at the intersection of trauma, intergenerational trauma, family, and parenting.

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