We brought the two-day old newborn home from the birthing center and I’m splayed out in my bed while smells of deliciousness waft into the bedroom from the kitchen, where my mom is here taking care of me and cooking up a storm. The baby’s bassinet has pictures taped on it, drawn in washable marker featuring hearts and palm trees and tulips, creations of her oldest sister to welcome Luna into the world.
Our littlest family member, Luna Lee, at six hours old.
Luna’s birth story started at 11 o’clock on Thursday night, when I was ready for bed. A contraction came, and then fairly quickly, another. I called my midwife and she said to go ahead and get to the birthing center, since third babies tend to come faster. We told our helper, Yani, to take care of the older girls in the morning and brought our stuff and checked in. I don’t remember the conversation we had in the car except that I kept having to pause whatever we were talking about in order to endure contractions.
At first check after getting to the clinic, I was only four centimeters, so we thought we were in for a long haul. But the contractions were surprisingly strong, and when I spent some time in the birthing pool, they got super strong and the baby felt low … almost to the point where I felt the urge to push.
At one point I had to institute a moratorium on jokes because in between contractions that were so strong I could hardly breathe, Matty checked his phone and goes, “Hey, did you know Don Rickles died?” [GROAN.]
Out of the tub and still in my purple bikini top like I was just a giant person on spring break or something, I asked the midwife, Selina, to check me again and suddenly I was 10cm dilated (which is to say, fully dilated), meaning the baby was already ready to make her entrance. Babies descend with each contraction, so the final half hour of labor is the hardest (at least it’s been true for my unmedicated births, which is all I know about).
Then came the dreaded “I-Feel-Like-I-Might-Die” part, or as the birthing educators call it, “The Transition“. My mom wasn’t here yet (she wouldn’t arrive until lunch time on Friday, and it was only 4a.m.), and I was terrified without her. Matty was there to “coach,” and so was Selina the midwife, and an intern named Daniel who my OBGYN had suggested attend my birth to see the experience from start to finish. I’m not sure what he was thinking, being there for such a crazy occasion while on his summer break from the University of Kentucky, but Daniel ended up being awesome to have there because he got an experience out of it, but we did, too. He took photos of Luna entering the world. (It’s all pretty ‘National Geographic’ so you won’t see it on this blog.)
Selina guided me along, making sure I didn’t push too hard or too soon, which prevents any down-there tears. But I could feel Luna coming like a powerful storm, and even though my face was buried in a pillow since I was screaming and I didn’t want to scare people, somehow miraculously I heard the voice of my OBGYN Dr. Chung, telling me the baby would be out soon. I guess he had made it to the birth from his home just in the nick of time, which is impressive.
Three pushes, and Luna came out surfing a wave, since Selina broke my water for me as she emerged. Luna cried out for a remarkably short amount of time — five seconds — then was suddenly quiet for a wipe down and time on my chest, which is what we do after birth to help regulate the baby’s temperature and help her feel secure. She stayed on my chest for an hour — for the final stage of delivery (pushing out her “condo,” the placenta), until the umbilical cord stopped pulsing and Matty could cut it, and through her first nursing.
Then homegirl got weighed and measured! She’s 8lbs, 6oz and 20.5 inches long. She’s sleeping and eating like a champ. You can find her blog at LunaLee.blog.
At any Shinto shrine you can get various omamori — lucky charms or talismans to provide protection and good luck. There is the generic one for “victory,” which is reliable, but also for very specific wishes, like a new job, or “traffic safety” or “beauty of legs and skin.” Since I am on my final Tokyo reporting trip before baby, I went to Meijijingu (shrine) specifically for the “speedy and safe delivery” charm for #3, but then saw the one “for soundness of mind and body of child” and thought, well I should get that covered, too. So now baby has both. And I’m out $20.
Plan your parenthood, people. (Rando photo by Channing Johnson, back when I was preggo with Eva)
I am almost halfway done with being pregnant with my third daughter, who is due in April. We were a little shocked surprised by this news. Because let’s face it, I didn’t expect to be having a third baby so soon after the second, even though we had wanted another Hu-Stiles at some hypothetical point. That point is now, yikes, so here we are. But being pregnant with your third kid is profoundly different than the first. Some examples:
First Pregnancy: Download an app to track each week of the pregnancy and the changes that come with it, fascinated by developments of the fetus.
Third Pregnancy: Unable to tell anyone how far along you are because well, you honestly aren’t paying much attention.
First Pregnancy: Hyper-aware of any changes in body that might indicate pregnancy symptoms, fascinated by the process of incubating tiny human.
Third Pregnancy: Internal monologue upon feeling queasy is more like “OH DEAR GOD A PREGNANCY SYMPTOM.”
First Pregnancy: Announce news to many friends, get huge “Congratulations! How are you feeling?”
Third Pregnancy: Announce news to a friend, he replies, “Are there no condoms where you live?”
They say it is my birthday (Cake cake cake cake cake cake). Photo by Just September
While Isa isn’t Korean, she WAS born in Seoul last summer, so we followed Korean tradition and did a doljabi ceremony for her.
Isa selects from a destiny platter.
Under the tradition, the one-year old gets a “destiny table” of items to choose from that align with various professions — stethoscope, computer mouse, pencil, money, etc. She went for the microphone without hesitation. But then followed up with her second choice, a gavel.
With her microphone.
Following American tradition, there was an incident with fire and cake, in which she straight up took her hand and grabbed the flame. Mistakes were made.
Whoops. She recovered after touching fire.
Isa is my second daughter and as many of you know, she’s a rainbow baby, born after two miscarriages in a row. She’s been a superpower sunshine since she was born — the smiliest, snuggliest and sweetest blessing. We love her goofy tendencies: putting her full face into everything she wants to investigate (like the cats) and sniff them violently like Mary Katherine Gallagher, her ravenous appetite but shockingly slow eating, her growl and her laugh (which is a combined laugh-growl), and her obsession with putting items around her neck — necklaces, purses, headphones. Mostly headphones. We love you, Isa. You truly rock.
Security check at Tokyo’s Haneda airport. The blue jug at bottom left is to dump liquids above 150ml.
Yet again I was standing over several bottles of my breastmilk splayed out in a bin My bag got pulled for an extra look at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport security checkpoint, something that happens pretty often when you’re carrying lots of liquids, I guess. The Japanese security agent pointed out the milk in plastic bottles he had removed exceeded the 150ml limit. (At least I think that’s what he was saying. I don’t speak Japanese, and he kept pointing at the 150ml line on the bottle.) Then he pulled up a giant blue plastic jug that looked like one of those tanks you carry spare gasoline in. It was half-full with a swamp-colored mix of whatever previous passengers must have dumped out. He started unscrewing the lid of one of my bottles.
“Oh no, no,” I said, starting to panic. “This is MY milk. It’s from my body. I can’t dump it. I can’t.” I started doing the two-hands-squeezing-in-the-air motion, in front of my chest. I have made this hand gesture for “boob sucking” so many times that I can only remember a single trip in Asia when I didn’t do it.
He turned pink. My arm hairs were stood up. The passenger who could understand English standing nearby started cracking up.
“Oh ok ok ok ok,” the Japanese guard said, sheepishly. I packed up and scurried to the customs check.
I pass through two airports a week, nearly every week, as part of my job as a foreign correspondent. I’m also the breastfeeding mom of an infant. I love nursing, I do not love pumping. But to continue doing the former, I have to do the latter when I’m away from baby. Which means every time I travel without daughter Isabel, a milk-extracting contraption powered by batteries or an AC adapter must travel with me, along with attachments and the storage bottles and ice packs necessary to keep the milk from going bad before it’s transferred home.
As the baby gets close to turning one, a milestone at which she can drink cow’s milk instead of mine, I am preparing to stop globetrotting with my constant companion — the breast pump and the milk.
What a year we’ve had together.
There was today’s close call, when I almost had to pour out the four bottles full of “liquid gold” I’d extracted from my body with the suck-simulating device I strap myself to in between conducting interviews and other reportage.
There was the time two Beijing airport guards took out the plastic suction parts — the catalog calls them ‘breastshields’ — in front of a line of people behind us, examining them like a frog they were about to dissect for 9th grade biology class.
“We’ve never seen one of these pass through before,” one of the twenty-something year old guards said to me, of the machine.
There was the other time a Chinese guard demanded I show him all the parts of the pump, how the tubes connected to the base, and to turn it on before he let it pass.
There are the questions at security about where is the baby, to which I have to explain, good god if they baby were with me I wouldn’t have this overpriced contraption instead, would I?
Then there are the hassles I brought upon myself, due to carelessness. The first time I fired up the pump in my new home of Seoul, I blew out the pump’s power pack when I plugged it into Korea’s 220V. (The device was designed for America’s 120V.) Without that I couldn’t operate it, so a friend with military ties had to rush on to the U.S. base to buy me a new machine from the commissary.
Rule of thumb: Never leave any part at home. When I forgot to pack the critical suction cups, er, ‘breastshields,’ for a five-day trip to Beijing, I spent an entire morning on an odyssey to Chinese malls instead of reporting, because I HAD TO find parts close enough to what I needed so I could express my boobs before passing out from pressure and pain.
Which is why a photographer I’d just met had to see (and hear) my pumping from the backseat of a cramped rental car as we drove through Fukushima’s temporary housing projects. Or why I have to reluctantly link up with the clunky device while in the middle seat of a plane, a blanket thrown over me and hoping not to wake the dudes sleeping on both sides.
The day President Obama visited Hiroshima I had about 20 minutes before he arrived to express my breasts in a bathroom stall. The State Department and U.S. Embassy press wranglers rushed my milk to the kitchen of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum so it could be refrigerated until the event was over. When the museum restaurant with the fridge closed, the Japanese staff had expertly packed ice packs around the bottles to keep cool until I was done working. (The Japanese are serious about their packaging.)
Before I know it, this spinoff story of my Asia adventure, the one starring an awkwardly purring machine, will be over. Maybe I’ll miss it, most likely I won’t. And either way, I’ll always have a reminder of the year of pumping endlessly. It’s the wee one at home, who’s the real power source for the pumping.