That Time We Had A Baby In South Korea

Early Thursday morning, I awoke suspecting something was … off. It was exactly a week before Hu-Stiles #2: Electric Boogaloo’s due date, and my inability to go back to sleep indicated maybe I was in labor. When actual contractions came on around 4am (just like with Eva), I called my mom, who wasn’t supposed to arrive from Taipei until Saturday, and told her I wanted her to get on a plane ASAP. Spouse Stiles started his husband-coaching and labor was ON, man. Contractions were getting moderate, but nothing I couldn’t handle while also getting Eva ready for school.

By about 8am, things were getting uncomfortable, and my Korean birthing center’s midwife wanted us to go ahead and go in because second babies tend to come faster (Teaser: This was NOT the case for me). We dropped Eva off at school along with my Dad, who is town for babysitting help, so he could take charge of picking her up later.

Now that we are home as a family of four, I can blog about the experience!

A Birth in Korea: Stray Observations

We chose Mediflower, a natural birthing center in Seoul’s Gangnam district, because I like things as un-medicalized as possible and Eva was born without any pain interventions to great results for mom/baby, so we wanted a repeat experience, if possible. Medical interventions during labor & delivery actually tend to be high in South Korea, which has a higher C-section rate than the U.S., even. So we really had to find a place that wasn’t going to take the control of the birth out of my hands.

That said, the experience wasn’t completely Western.

Take off your shoes. The center makes you take off your shoes, like any Korean home, upon entrance. They offer a wide array of slippers at the center entrance but each labor and delivery room had a slipper rack, too.

The slipper rack in our labor and delivery room.

The slipper rack in our labor and delivery room.

There’s an obsessive focus on meal time and meals. (This is not a complaint.) My midwife Suyeon, or “Su,” checked us in and immediately presented us a menu for lunch, even though I was already six centimeters dilated. If you’ve given birth in an American hospital, that is not a point they let you chow down, if they let you eat at all. You can choose Western style meals or the Korean meals, which feature lots of banchan and some sort of main soup, stew or noodle dish. My spouse Stiles chose Korean. I went with a cheeseburger, which I had to eat between contractions and just after laboring in the tub for awhile.

Lunchtime during labor! Cheeseburger between contractions.

Lunchtime during labor! Cheeseburger between contractions.

Koreans believe Miyeokguk is the elixir of life. At the hospital/birthing center, Miyeokguk is available at every meal. It is seaweed soup, and Korean moms who abide by the traditional “confinement month” or “sitting month” after having a baby basically have to eat this every day, nonstop, to help in recovery and to get milk flowing for baby. Seaweed is an alkaline food which helps with pH balance and it’s full of iodine, which the Koreans say you need for getting your lady parts healed. I like it well enough, but I can see how you could easily get sick of it.

As in any part of the world, labor and delivery is not a walk in the park. I just had to accept that this was going to be a long day, and that contractions get more painful and intense and the breaks in between them get shorter until you face the daunting part of pushing out a small human. At one point between contractions I tried bouncing on the ol’ ab ball and this started an impromptu singing of R. Kelly’s “Ignition Remix” (key part includes ‘Bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce bounce’). This was fun until it got a contraction going again. I knew Matty was being especially forgiving while I was in labor because he usually doesn’t ever let me sing in front of him, ESPECIALLY not Ignition Remix.

The shorter rope can be lowered to your preference.

The shorter rope can be lowered to your preference.

The tub and rope setup was pretty handy. Every two rooms share a water birthing tub with these 50 Shades of Gray-looking ropes to hang onto. You can dim the lights and work your way through the contractions, or even deliver in the tub. I just used the tub to get through contractions and got in and out of it a few times during labor day. It felt nice but I wanted to move around too much to stay in there for baby.

My mom made it before the typhoon. Mom wasn’t scheduled to arrive until Saturday, but I didn’t think I could go through with the pain of delivering a baby naturally without my mom being with me for the birth. She got on one of the only flights from Taipei to Seoul left (and among the last before they started canceling them in anticipation of Typhoon Chanhom), and made it to the birthing center with TWENTY MINUTES to spare. I was pushing, despairing and at the ultimate nadir of the labor process by the time she got there. It’s pretty amazing that the baby took her sweet time and didn’t make her appearance until her Oma (grandma) was by my side.

After the hospital staff encouraged me to eat dinner (BECAUSE OF COURSE THEY DID), Isabel arrived at 7:12pm Thursday night at a healthy 8lbs, 4oz and 21 inches long. I shared a quick pic on social media, returned some emails and then went to bed for the night. Mom roomed-in with us so she did the overnight rocking and diaper changing when Isa fussed and I nursed the baby a few times while half-asleep.

Isabel made it! This is before she was even wiped off, so uh, sorry she looks kinda gross.

Isabel made it! This is before she was even wiped off, so uh, sorry she looks kinda gross.

The next morning I awoke to a living nightmare that was also hilarious. Remember how the water birthing tub is shared between two rooms? A laboring mom checked in next door while we were sleeping. I awoke Friday to the sound of what I thought was a slaughterhouse, but really, it was just the final moments of a water birth. Seriously, it was like the cows in Fast Food Nation. Mom and I started cracking up just hearing this ordeal because we really thought this woman was not going to survive, much less deliver a baby. I was flooded with memories of delivering Isa the night before and I shuddered at the thought. After a few really awkward and terrifying moments only HEARING what was behind door #2, we heard a baby crying. She did it!*

The lactation consultant was so pro that she seemed like a North Korean Olympics Coach. Before checking out, Isa got her first bath and I got a lactation consultation from an elite North Korean soldier. I mean, a South Korean lactation specialist. She was a bigger-framed lady, tough and stern and scary with her style. She could only coach me through a translator so we went through this elaborate dance of her jerking me around on the bed and squeezing my boobs and contorting the baby’s mouth and jaw to show me the ultimate positions for breast feeding. I was so bewildered that I’m not sure I got much out of it. But baby seems to be eating enough, so far. Her older sister loves her.

Eva and Isa's first photo together.

Eva and Isa’s first photo together.

Isa got two birth certificates, one in each language. Next week she must go to the U.S. Embassy to declare herself as a U.S. citizen born abroad and to get her passport. The photo will be good for five years, which is going to be pretty funny.

*My mom later tried to tell me, in the nicest way possible, that if I thought the woman-next-door sounded bleak, that I sounded way scarier while delivering Isabel. I hope that’s not true…

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Early Losses

My first miscarriage happened in January. I began to fear it just a day after learning I was pregnant. I went to the doctor and at six weeks, they saw a gestational sac on the ultrasound with nothing inside it. (There should have been an embryo there.) The next week, when they checked again, the sac had shrunk. I was diagnosed with a “missed miscarriage.” The remnants of fetus-that-never-was eventually left my womb on Chinese New Year.

My next miscarriage happened in late June, while I was on stage, speaking to a few hundred young people gathered for a Millennial convention in Chicago. (No, really, it is called Millennial Convention). I knew it was going to happen. Two weeks earlier, a scan showed a heart that beat too slow for a six week-old fetus. The clinical name for that is a “threatened abortion.” I read every study on heart rates at 90 bpm for tiny embryos, and science indicated that that pregnancy would be lost, too.

Clinically, they don’t diagnose you with recurrent pregnancy loss until you’ve suffered three consecutive miscarriages. That’s because the changes of miscarriage are so big (anywhere between 20 to 30 percent) that it’s entirely likely you lose two just due to random chance. As any betting person knows, it IS possible to roll two sevens in a row, even though it’s unlikely.

But I look for answers for a living. So I went and got tested — blood and hormone tests, chromosome tests, thyroid tests, and even a dye injected in my uterus to see whether my system had structural deficiencies. They all turned up exactly what my doctor suspected — nothing. System was sound, all my hormone levels in perfect ranges. My uterus is “beautiful,” the doc said. (Weirdest compliment, I know.)

I write about this because it’s part of my nature to share, but also because I don’t want anyone else who goes through pregnancy loss to feel ashamed about it. So many women suffer this sorrow silently, and don’t have to. The programmer Marco Arment reminded me powerfully in November, in writing about his wife’s 21-week pregnancy loss, that giving a voice to layered and varied and painful experiences frees us all.

I’m around if you, God forbid, go through something like this and want to talk. As Emily Bazelon wrote after miscarrying twins in 2003, “Shouldn’t we be talking openly about this much more often, so that we’re better prepared for the grief when it hits us?” I took some advice I read in that discussion: I came to think about my unborn babies as benevolent beings out there somewhere, tied to Matty and me, if only in memory.

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Liveblogging My Day With Two Toddlers

Hello from Baltimore, Md., where about 1,000 data journalists and the-people-who-love-them have converged on an EveryMarriott for NICAR 2014. It’s the annual gathering of the best nerd journalist/technologists in the land, convened by the National Institute of Computer Assisted Reporting (which needs a name change, yes, we know everything is computer-assisted).

We (my fam) and the Bowerses (another fam with a similarly-aged tot) are staying at a lovely row home appointed with lots of doilies somewhere between Federal Hill and Locust Point neighborhoods of Baltimore. All four adults are journalists — the husbands are both on the NPR News Apps-turned-Visuals team — so in order to free up the guys and Becky B. to attend the conference, I am in charge of the toddlers today.

“You’re not very maternal,” my spouse says, citing my general dude-like sensibilities. But a girl can try! Since the girls are napping, I’ll offer my “live-ish” blog of the day and attempt to continue throughout. This will be really different than that day I live-blogged jury duty, that’s for sure:

8:47am: Becky, Stiles and Bowers leave me alone with a pair of one-and-a-half-year-old girls. After they leave, Eva runs to the window and puts her nose to the glass, looking out. After about two minutes of standing there, she goes, “Bye bye!” (I’ve been working on a bit where I deliberately laugh at jokes WAY after the punch line. Perhaps it is rubbing off on my daughter.)

9:15am: I dispatch with Eva by putting her down for a morning nap. She talks to herself for the first 15 minutes. I hear her trying new consonants while Amelia (a.k.a. The Squeezle) and I read Goodnight, Moon downstairs. We tried to play with one of those books in which you push on various buttons for different songs, but I discover Eva has destroyed it somehow, and it’s now cutting off songs after a few notes and/or buzzing. downdog

9:53am: Squeezle is also down for the count, after she and I played some serious Simon Says. I did a downward facing dog yoga pose to see if she would do it, she one-upped me by reaching her head to the floor. I subsequently tried several times to down-dog my head all the way down to the floor but could not match her flexibility.

10:07am: Toddlers tend to phase out morning naps at this age, but both girls awoke earlier than usual this morning (sometime around 6:30am instead of 7:30am). So I think I might have at least an hour to myself. Should I open my work email or watch last night’s Scandal episode? Besieged as I am with SXSW-related pitches lately, I think I’m going with Scandal.

10:17am: Don’t judge me, but since I want to save Scandal to watch with a friend — that show is much better when you can trash talk it while watching — I’m going to watch Grey’s Anatomy instead. Again, don’t judge. I realize it’s bad.

11:35am: After finishing most of Grey’s Anatomy, I hear Eva stirring. Then she calls “Mama! Mama!” Rest time is over. Sounds like Squeezle is still asleep, so I feed Eva lunch, first. She has now downed a bowl of cooked tofu, a blueberry pancake and a pouch. This may not be enough to satiate her, however. She has the appetite of Michael Phelps.

11:54am: I have just ordered a cheesesteak. And seasoned fries! Should be delivered in 30 mins. I do not plan on sharing these with the girls. ALL MINE.

12:15pm: Started jamming some Mariah Carey’s greatest hits in the kitchen. Eva is only somewhat interested into it, despite my great hopes that she’d enjoy “Dream Lover.” We then had a pretty raucous pillow fight in the guest room.

12:22pm: My cheesesteak/fries arrives at the same time Eva poops her diaper. Moment of decision: change her or down cheesesteak? I did the responsible thing.

Lunching with the Squeezle.

Lunching with the Squeezle.

1:03pm: First toddler-destruction of the day is at the hands of my daughter Eva, who yanked the open cheesesteak wrapper off the table, releasing all my unfinished cheesesteak bits with it. At least I was able to finish the fries, first.

1:19pm: Amelia’s awake! She’s pretty groggy from her long slumber, but I’ve distracted Eva with a Sesame Street episode on my iPad while I feed Amelia some lunch. She’s into it.

1:49pm: Eva’s got some sweet dance moves, as you’ll see in the clip. She’s entertaining herself while Amelia and I finish lunch.

2:18pm: Eva keeps trying to hand objects to Amelia, who is skeptical of all these giveaways. The only thing she happily accepted was her pacifier, when Eva stuck it right into A’s mouth.

2:19pm: I’m now deejaying the dance party with classic The Cure songs, such as “Just Like Heaven.” Both girls dig it. Friday, I’m in love.

2:37pm: Eva started crawling up the stairs, indicating she was ready for her afternoon nap. So I’m back down to one kid. Amelia and I continue our dance party.

2:44pm: I smell poop.

2:45pm: I was right. Okay so we know both babies have excellent gastrointestinal systems. All healthy.

She didn't do it.

She didn’t do it.

3:11pm: Tiny humans are pretty hilarious play friends. It’s kinda like hanging out with your grownup friends when everyone’s punch drunk at 3am. For instance, Amelia just found some leather gloves in the house and we take turns trying them on. Every time it’s my turn, I try to do my best Johnnie Cochran “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” impression. Amelia doesn’t understand why I keep cracking up. OJ jokes really are generational.

4:15pm: After the Squeezle (Amelia) and I had a lovely quiet hour of reading together, Eva awoke ready to destroy some stuff, as usual. She ripped apart her Doctor Maisy book (which is one of her faves) and now I’m quizzing both girls on their IDing of objects in a “First Words” book. It’s a bilingual experience. Eva’s saying the things she recognizes in Mandarin Chinese, while I’m quizzing Squeeze in English.

4:54pm: One of my girlfriends, Skyler, just called.
Me: I’m with two toddlers right now.
Skyler: You’re with two tacos right now?
Me: Toddlers.
Skyler: Two tacos?
Me: No, toddlers.
Skyler: Oh, wow. It’s just a lot more natural to assume you’re with two tacos.

And with my spouse on his way home soon to relieve me and dinner to prep for the girls, I should wrap up this liveblog. All in all, not a bad day. Eva’s saying a new word — baby, and Amelia is CRUSHING IT at playing the xylophone. Thanks for reading along. Until next time…

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My Monthlong Miscarriage

January was a weird month. I came home from Taipei with the bird flu. (Or something like it.) It knocked out my entire family for a week and a half. Sometime during the feverish blur, our toddler’s nanny quit and moved out. I scrambled to find childcare and ultimately flew my aunt in from LA for two weeks, which meant a house guest we weren’t originally expecting. When I wasn’t convalescing, I reported a few radio stories, blogged a lot, tweeted even more, traveled to Nashville and back, started teaching my Medill journalism students and drank lots of iced green tea. And all the while, I was pregnant. Kind of.

The adage is that you can never be “kind of” pregnant, but when you learn you’re pregnant with an empty gestational sac — the condo that’s supposed to house an embryo is without a resident — and after an agonizing weeklong wait, doctors find a lifeless, microscopic little bean in a condo collapsing all around it, that seems pretty “in-between” to me. So that was most my January.

I started miscarrying on Chinese New Year’s Day. For the same reason I delivered daughter Eva without pain meds, I’ve always trusted my body to know what to do at the right time. As we rang in the new Lunar Year and the sun emerged for the first time in weeks, my body reliably ousted an embryo that would never become anything more. I felt both disappointed and relieved that my gestational limbo was almost over.

None of this is to say I treat this experience as unimportant — it is physically uncomfortable and emotionally disorienting. But I feel no shame about what happened. The more openly we discuss the range of female experiences, the freer we become. For better or for worse, for a huge chunk of us, the experience of womanhood includes miscarriage. I join a very, very large club. And I am better for being through it.

But dear god, I hope February is a lot more fun. 

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The Lactation Station (And Other Nursing Adventures)

This is how Eva and I spend a lot of our time together.

This is how Eva and I spend a lot of our time together.

Someday when I am old, I will look back on these days of new mommahood, when at least four times during the workday I find myself in a windowless 3’x5′ room, on the other side of the wall from our national security correspondents, attached reluctantly to an electric breast pump while overhearing conversations about the ramifications of unilateral disarmament.

To be clear, I think nursing is awesome. I truly enjoy providing both physical and emotional sustenance for Baby E in one loving act. It’s really no sweat, either, since Eva is my only baby. My Chinese great-grandmother nursed seven (7) babies in total, earning her the respect of many generations and lasting evidence of her hard work — mom tells me my great-grannie could actually fling her drooping boobs over her shoulders. Impressive on many levels, that lady.

But the difference between nursing a baby and pumping milk for a baby is like the difference between visiting Venice and going to the Olive Garden. Pumping is tedious and soulless and in my case, always really awkward when I emerge from the lactation station and make eye contact with the national security guys who surely overheard my pump as they were discussing war and Syria and what not.

I am glad I had a daughter, because maybe one day she will have a baby of her own, and she, too, can experience the wonder and the weirdness that is motherhood.

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Baby’s First Six Weeks: Stuff You’ll Need, Stuff You Won’t

It looks like I have several friends with babies on the way so I will interrupt my usual nonsense blogging to offer a quick guide on some baby industrial complex items we’ve found useful — and not so useful — during Baby Eva’s first six weeks. Bottom line: You don’t need that much stuff to raise a happy baby. That said, there are some items that really come in handy.

Eva’s Favorite Things

There’s Eva in one of her favorite swaddle blankets, behind the beagle of course.

Swaddle Designs Ultimate Receiving Blanket
There are Miracle Blankets out there (too many velcro parts, pain in the ass in the middle of the night) and something called Halo Sleep Sacks that other moms really love. But we have preferred a straight up well-made swaddle blanket. Nothing else wraps Eva as tightly and keeps her feeling as secure as her Swaddle Designs brand blankets, which somehow are the perfect size for swaddling and are made with material that wraps really tightly. Eva loves these. They are pretty inexpensive on Amazon and easy to use.

Fisher Price Cradle Swing
There are lots of swings out there but most of my friends recommended this one, and Eva loves it. It has all sorts of fun swing settings and music, etc etc. Eva hangs out in her swing during the day and sometimes gets in there to help her nap.

The Nap Nanny Chill
It’s at a 30 degree angle that babies seem to like (especially babies who like sleeping in car seats), and really lightweight so it’s easy to move from room to room or even take on trips. Eva sleeps on this for naps and at most evenings, too. I hear it’s especially good for gassy babies because lying flat on your back after a big meal never feels awesome.

Other Useful Items: Bottles with slow flow nipples, lots of baby socks, footie pajamas, contoured changing pad and cover, diaper genie, a good glider (try them out before purchasing because you want to like the movement) and a strong electric breast pump are well worth the money.

Continue reading →

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Quick Update

Eva time!

I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth but I have been tied up with caring for the tiny human and watching five seasons of Friday Night Lights in one week.

I’ve also started a daily Eva Tumblr so that her Oma and Opa (who live in Holland) can keep up with her rapid growth and her daily activities. If you’re interested, follow us at EvaEveryday.Tumblr.com

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Pretty Young Thing

Well folks, the fetus is now a tiny human. She (yes, it turns out fetus was a lady) is now home from the hospital after a quick delivery and a less-than-24-hour stay. I awoke Saturday morning with contractions — which happened to be the same day my parents were getting to town from Amsterdam to support us postpartum — and by Saturday night, Eva Blythe Hu-Stiles made her grand entrance.

Like a good journalist baby, she waited until right up against her deadline to arrive. (She was due on Sunday.) The metrics: 8 pounds, 2 ounces and 22 inches long. Full head of black hair (which the nurse and midwife made me very aware of while she was crowning) and dark blue eyes, for now.

As for the name, I just needed to pick something simple that any of my Chinese relatives could pronounce, hence Eva with the Spanish pronunciation. Blythe is after Matty’s late paternal grandmother, who worked in a newsroom and was a supporter of the civil rights movement way before it was cool.

Just as she was awesome as a fetus, Eva has been awesome as a baby, sleeping for long stretches, eating lots and passing all her random medical tests with flying colors. Thanks to all of you for your love and support during the pregnancy, as I know the real ride is just beginning.

P.S. While she’s in town, my hobbyist photographer mom is taking some fun shots of Eva, which inspired me to start Eva Everyday, a tumblr that posts a select Eva photo each day. Check it out if you’re interested.

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Waiting For The New Human

An ongoing debate. (Photo by Denise DeBelius)

I’m now at that stage of pregnanthood where I feel like the Kool-Aid man, about to bust through a wall going “OH YEEEEAH.”  But Fetus is not scheduled to arrive for another two weeks, which means I’m maintaining my regular work schedule, minus the air travel. 

For those who have been through this sort of thing or are just curious, here’s what we know: The baby’s active and his head is down, in the optimal position for delivery. He/she is still getting properly oxygenated, and midwife is estimating he/she is at about seven pounds right now. (It didn’t stop some various pals from guessing birth weights at 27 lbs, however. Stiles data-vizzed our pals guesses for birth date, weight and sex.)

Really healthy and smooth situation over here. I haven’t had any back pain or skin weirdness and usually my shoes fit fine. (The exception is after my chili cheese dog binges, which are normal in my diet.) We are generally set with our baby stuff, thanks in large part to the two showers from this summer, and my online shopping problem.

I switched to midwives instead of an OBGYN practice about four months into the pregnancy. (If you are interested in the reasons why, reach out to me anytime.) The midwives are fantastic and they catch babies at the hospital, so there are surgeons nearby should they be required. But our hope is to let everything go as spontaneously and medication-free as possible. Now we wait.

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Please Prepare The Fetus For Arrival: The DC Shower

The Fetus has yet to arrive, but he/she is pretty lucky to have so many aunties and uncles around. Not to be outdone by the Texas BBQ Shower, my old friends Sudeep, Beam, Fiscus and Andrew (some of those are not their legal names, natch) hosted a travel-themed fete in our new hometown of DC to prepare our future jetsetter for all his (or her) adventures. This was fun times, y’all. And it’s already earned many superlatives, like “the most irreverent/funny/inappropriate” shower that guests had ever been to.

Instead of the traditional all-girl affair, my closest gay pals joined the gal pals in this fete for Fetus. So we were DQ-treated to such entertainment as Friend Dave, a veteran DQ employee, explaining the art of making a Buster or Dilly bar from scratch (it’s all in the wrist), internationally-themed cupcakes and food, lots of Mommy-Loves-Vodka jokes, airline mini-bottles for party favors, and raucous debate about the ethics of circumcision. (And apparently there are different ways to cut — the “bald eagle” versus the “shaggy dog.” Yep.)

As an added bonus, Friend Denise is not only a friggin awesome baker (her German chocolate cake was a huge hit), but a talented photographer. She took some pics to show off all the detail these hosts and hostesses put into throwing a truly fun, boozy afternoon. Thanks again my friends. We’re so grateful.

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