Monday, September 29, 2014

Book review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011)

My dad sent me this book "for entertainment purposes only." It's an easy read, and offers insight into the motivations behind adherents of the so-called "Chinese-style" parenting, which prioritizes high academic achievement and unquestioning obedience of authority. This is in contrast to the "Western style," which aims to inculcate independence and high self-esteem.

Author Amy Chua is quick to point out that her sweeping generalizations also include parents of other ethnic groups, and, caveat outlined, proceeds to describe her personal journey of raising her kids Chinese-style virtually alone against the monolith of Western-style influences. It's a tongue-in-cheek novel, which a lot of people missed, judging from the shrieks of horror that resounded online after its publication.

Chua's style is strict and partly based upon her fear of generational decline. Since her daughters are third-generation, she thinks they're at risk for being spoiled and decadent, with no appreciation for the hard work that allowed their parents and immigrant grandparents to be so successful. Chua focuses on her use of classical music to drill home her expectations of excellence in her offspring. She hounds Sophie (piano) and Lulu (violin) to practice their instruments until they win competitions and/or world-famous teachers take notice and offer to train them. She's so hardcore that she learns music theory and writes up detailed notes for each practice session; drives her kids for hours to their teachers; and makes them practice while on family vacations. Tiger Mom admits that it's miserable for everyone, especially the headstrong Lulu, who eventually forces her unyielding mother to bend.

Chua's fanatical style of raising her two girls comes as no surprise--back in Manila, I had a classmate whose Taiwanese immigrant mom rubbed red-hot chilis in her teeth as punishment when she didn't get top marks. This same classmate also got up early to help her parents make various delicious foodstuffs that her mom and dad then sold in our canteen. So to recap: as a young teen she contributed to the family's livelihood and was also expected to be at the top of the class. Yikes.

Chua doesn't resort to physical punishments--histrionic yelling and verbal abuse are her weapons of choice. She once gave back birthday cards that her kids made for her because they weren't up to her standards. She called them "garbage," used the ol' "You bring shame upon the family!" line, et cetera. In her mind, this is all to motivate them to do better, and demonstrates her confidence in them to boot.

Well...different folks, different strokes, I guess. The main themes amidst all the stress and striving include the different manifestations of maternal love, contrasting ideas of children (their own persons versus extensions of the parents), the price of achievement, the immigrant experience, and academics sure make for interesting parents.

TL; DR: Tiger Moms be crazy, YMMV.

This post brought to you by the Boba Wrap: the fabric equivalent of valium!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Labor and Delivery: the Fragrant Elephant Experience

Pinoy food triggered my labor -- or so Fragrant Mother would have you believe. On The Day Of, we did indeed travel to Quincy to eat at JnJ Turo-Turo, where I polished off lechon kawali and pinakbet, and my contractions did start when we were walking back to the train station.

But this was after we went for my scheduled OB/GYN visit. It was two days after my due date, and I was still only 1 cm dilated. My OB ruptured my membranes, which she said had a 50% chance of getting my labor started. Then she scheduled me for an induction in a week, which calmed my deadline-focused mind.

So Fragrant Husband went into the office, and Mama and I hopped on a train because she really wanted to eat fried tilapia. Afterwards, as I felt contractions and began wondering if this was really it, she mentioned that she'd seen some women go into labor a few hours after their membranes ruptured.

Labor Pain = Hell

I took a nap as soon as we got home, only to be woken up by painful contractions. I ran a bath, which helped a bit. Husband texted to check in. "Laboring in bath tub," I replied. He hopped in the car to come home...except it was Friday evening and he got stuck in rush hour traffic. Meanwhile, my contractions were becoming unbearable. I had us go to the hospital almost as soon as he arrived.

In triage, they found me 3-4 cm dilated, meaning I could be admitted into the labor and delivery (L&D) room. The very awesome nurse asked me if I wanted to labor in the tub for a while, and I said, "NO PLEASE GIVE ME AN EPIDURAL IMMEDIATELY." I had previously watched a video of an epidural being administered and decided that it was more terrifying than labor pains. Now that I was going through actual labor, it was clear that a needle followed by a catheter in my spine was the right choice for me.

I was right. My mood improved instantly and I no longer had the urge to elbow my husband in the face for making encouraging comments. And I could drift off to sleep while in labor! Epidural heck yeah!!!

The "Smoothie Labor"

Per her contract, Mama gave me a hard time about choosing pain medication. "You won't even take Tylenol PM," she observed. "What happened? I thought you were tough."


It turns out that there's a saying in the Philippines: "By the time you get to active labor, you'll have paid back your mom" (or something like that). Since the epidural completely took the edge off the pain, I had what my mom called a "smoothie labor" -- easy and chill.


Another reason that my mom disapproved of the epidural was that it apparently prolonged labor. "Not true," said the nurse. "It prolongs labor slightly. It's really the pushing that takes more time with an epidural."

Boy, was she right -- I pushed for two hours, starting at four in the morning. My left leg was so heavy that another nurse had to prop it up. I couldn't feel anything down there, so when the nurses would say, "Push like that! There! There!" I had zero idea what they were talking about.

The attending OB came in and was so concerned about my lack of progress in the first hour that she started talking about assisted delivery or worse...a C-section. That was the one thing I wanted to avoid. The prospect of major abdominal surgery, combined with a standing mirror that they brought in so I could see what was happening, galvanized me into doing a better job of pushing my baby out.

Towards the end, I hazily remember stirrups being set up and a crowd of people suddenly around the doctor. The mirror was gone by then, because I hadn't wanted to see my episiotomy. I was audibly complaining by this time as I pushed in time with the contractions.

And then BAM! a burst of amniotic fluid arced through the air. Mama, a former L&D nurse, leapt nimbly aside, but the OB had to sit there and get drenched. I got a slimy, screaming infant on my belly. The L&D team wiped him off, slipped a cap on him, and I was officially a mom!

Nine months later, we finally meet.


That is all.


This post brought to you by pizza and lentil soup.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Pregnancy: the Fragrant Elephant Experience

Fragrant Elephant Junior is one week old today! We're sending him to Foxborough for training camp:

I held off on blogging about being pregnant because I wanted to complete the fetus download. Now the little guy is here and I figure I'd share a bit about the last nine months.

***Nerd alert: I made a trimester-by-trimester spreadsheet where I recorded weekly fetal development and the corresponding pregnancy symptoms.***

I had a fairly uneventful first and second trimester. In the first few months, as my body churned out a placenta to supply nutrients to the rapidly growing cluster of cells in my uterus, my boobs felt tender, I got tired at work more easily, and I had to pee more. This period was when we heard his heartbeat for the first time. It sounded wet.

Next, I swanned through the second trimester with nary a complaint, which is par for the course for most pregnant women. Fragrant Husband and I headed to San Francisco so my dad could show off his slim profile and snicker at my "basketball."

26 weeks

The only pregnancy issue I had during this time was costochondritis, where the cartilage on my left ribs got inflamed and forced me to lie exclusively on my right side to sleep. This bummed me out because I'm a back sleeper. Boohoo.

Eating for Two

This phrase means, "Eat an extra 300-500 calories for optimum maternal health and fetal development, not "Eat twice as much," especially if your diet is not terribly balanced. 

I used the SuperTracker app to  record my meals and check that I got the recommended food groups: whole grains, dairy, fruits, protein, and vegetables. I found that I consistently ate too much fruit and not enough veggies. Fortunately, the app records avocado as a big serving of vegetable for some reason, so that's how I got close to my 100% goal for recommended veggie intake. Mwahahaha!!!

The app also tells you how much sodium you had and how many empty calories you consumed. Very helpful!

Give It Up for the Preggo

Outside of my own body changes, other things I noticed were how absorbed people get with their gadgets. On my daily rush hour commute, 90% of my fellow train passengers didn't even look up. It was inevitably a woman who got up to give me her seat. My favorite was a very young woman who passed her enormous backpack to her friend so she could stand up and offer me her spot. Very sweet.

Pregnancy Myths

Old wives' tales about pregnancy ran rampant. Everyone from my coworkers to random strangers authoritatively told me I was carrying a boy/girl, because:

a) I was carrying high /
b) My bump was round instead of flat /
c) My skin looked great /
d) My hair looked fabulous /
e) My nose didn't look wide /
f) etc.

Y'know what? They all had a 50% chance of getting the sex right. Hah.

Tactlessness Abounds

Speaking of random people, one lady in line at the supermarket asked me if I was having twins, because I was "huge" and "sometimes one hides behind the other."


Then It Got Worse

The third trimester is when things started going downhill. At first I powered through it. I marched up and down six flights of stairs in the office. I had no itching, nausea, food aversions or cravings, weepiness, headache, cramping, constipation, swelling, varicose veins, heartburn, backache, or any of the seemingly endless list of terrible things that happen to pregnant women. My linea nigra did show up eventually, and my belly button threatened to become an outie but never followed through. And I got red stretch marks! omg

BUT. My appetite grew exponentially. I ate every hour on the hour. My rapid weight gain took a toll on my feet, which hurt more and more every day. "Fat and tired," I recorded on my spreadsheet several times.

The worst part was the home stretch. I hate waiting. "When will baby come?" I whined endlessly to the husband. I felt like a planet by this point. In my uterus, baby was beginning to descend, putting pressure on my bladder and pelvis. He also kept me up at night with his marathon hiccuping sessions and fist pumping. I was so large and uncomfortable that I couldn't sleep through the night, which made me deeply unhappy. I wanted baby out out out!

Managing Expectations

My own expectations made the waiting worse. My mom and sister had delivered their firstborn children early--both at 38 weeks. I was convinced I would do the same, so I took my leave from work two weeks early. As the days stretched out with only Braxton-Hicks contractions to tease me, I alternated between moping inconsolably around the apartment and frenziedly swimming or walking around with my mother, who had flown all the way from Manila to help out (THANKS MAMA I LOVE YOU).

39 weeks
The Obligatory False Alarm

My lowest point was at 39 weeks, when we rushed to the hospital because I had cramps from hell that went from the top of my uterus all the way to the bottom. I frantically sent the get-home-NOW text to Fragrant Husband, who responded, "Oh boy!" and dramatically announced to his office, "I got the call."

It wasn't actual labor, although we did find out that I was 90% effaced and 1 cm dilated by that time. Alas, this is not enough to push out a tiny human.

I was grumpy every morning for several days after that. "No baby yet," I would gloomily announce to my mate.

My due date came and went. Rationally, I knew that it was just an estimated time of arrival, but I had read that post-term babies had an increased chance of stillbirth, and my treacherous mind latched onto that terrifying prospect. Every day that passed by with no labor pains brought my baby closer to danger, or so my irrational, fearful side whispered.

All I could do was wait. Every pregnancy ends no matter what, I kept telling myself.


TL; DR: My pregnancy was a breeze until the third trimester.


Next post: labor and delivery!

This post brought to you by tinola.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Earth (1990)

Earth by David Brin is a brilliant sci-fi novel with powerful messages about the environment, humanity, technology, philosophies, cultures, and the evolution of consciousness. The novel's many characters are strongly developed, the main plot is tense and compelling, and the author's world building got a lot of things right about current trends in tech and attitudes toward its uses, such as wearable tech (think Google Glass) and privacy issues. Considering that Brin wrote this in 1990, when the cassette-based Walkman was the pinnacle of portable gadgets, it's pretty mind-blowing.

The story revolves around an artificially created black hole that is accidentally released into the earth's core. As its creator, a young British scientist, frantically tries to recover it with the help of his mentor's connections in New Zealand, an astronaut captain is pulled into the secret project as it becomes clear that her estranged husband was somehow involved. Meanwhile, an indefatigable Nobel winner ponders questions of survival and evolution; a wealthy ultra-environmentalist searches the Web in her ruthless quest to solve human overpopulation; an engineer struggles to explain increasingly frightening gravitational phenomena; three young boys struggle with growing up in a world brimming with eco-refugees and brain mapping in schools; and all the while, the singularity being pursued is overshadowed by an even more ominous threat.

Earth is an epic,  and well worth the read for its accessible prose, intelligent characters, and impressive insight into the future. Every chapter begins with a beautiful description of a cosmic event, before readers are pulled into individuals lives and actions on a small blue planet.

My only beef is the ending, after a reveal that left some readers grumbling about a deus ex machina. I thought it was an interesting concept, but it took away from the very focused buildup of the story. Or maybe it enhanced the thematic impact of the narrative by moving beyond its eponymous setting? Well, YMMV.

TL; DR: A nerd's delight. Highly recommended.

This post brought to you by Mama's cooking! Today it's nilagang baka with tons of veggies!