So.. surprise! I’m pregnant. Seven months pregnant, to be exact. And with this pregnancy has come a whole flurry of emotions, many of them frustrating and downright confusing thanks to my asian parents (and in-laws).
There are moments where I curse having Asian parents and in-laws, especially as I am someone who was raised in the west and had a non-Asian father. Despite this mostly negative post, it’s not been all bad. Hell, if I try really hard I can pick out some rather good positives that come with the culture clash.
Here are some of the realizations I’ve had being pregnant with Asian parents and in-laws
You (the mother) as a person no longer matter: everything is about the baby
I went to LA to attend a baby shower that my relatives and friends threw for me. My mom and I both stayed in LA at a hotel together. As I was five months pregnant at the time, I was starting to enter the ‘getting shit sleep’ phase of pregnancy. Back pain, baby movements, and erratic body temperature ruined all my attempts at sleep.
Bleary eyed and with dark circles, I met my mother in the hotel lobby for breakfast.
“I slept terribly,” I said, as I slurped down my unfulfilling cup of decaf coffee. “My back is killing me.”
“What!” my mom snapped at me. “What wrong with you!? You have to sleep for baby! If you no get good sleep then baby not healthy and everything bad! I demand you sleep!”
To me, this story says it all. When my in-laws or mother calls me, it’s never about how *I’m* doing. It’s always about how I’m doing in relation to the baby, and how the baby is doing.
Honestly, my mother and in-laws make me feel like I’m merely a vessel for holding their grandchild. I kind of get it, but it also kind of hurts my feelings.
Oh well. Time for another cup of soul-crushing decaf to not wake me up from my lack of sleep.
Pregnant women are delicate flowers who cannot do anything
“You can’t drive.”
“You can’t walk too much.”
“You can’t cook.”
“You can’t clean too much.”
“You can’t go shopping.”
These were all “suggestions” form my in-laws, but I like to call them full-blown orders from central command.
I kid you not when I say that my mother-in-law tried to wrestle a knife and cutting board out of my hands as I tried to cook them dinner. According to her, it was hard for her to endure the thought of me working so hard as a pregnant woman.
Luckily I don’t live near my parents or in-laws, so I do whatever I want regardless of what they say. Surviving in the US without driving just isn’t possible. Who would drive me to my doctor’s appointments?
Cultural customs that drive me nuts
“You can’t eat spicy food.”
“The feng shui of your room is bad for the baby’s development.”
“You eat too many ‘cold’ foods. No more ice cream or watermelon.”
“Eat more bone broth soup.”
“Don’t walk around barefoot.”
“You should ‘zuo yue zi.”
Zuo yue zi (坐月子) is the crazy Chinese art of postpartum insanity that involves wearing layers of clothes even in the dead of summer, not washing your hair, and drinking weird Chinese medicinal herbs. I knew about this practice from my days in China and would secretly laugh at all the crazy customs of ‘zuo yue zi,’ but I never thought I would be forced to reckon with this in my own pregnancy.
While zuo yue zi is not part of my mom’s cultural background (thank god), my mother pushes many old wives tales such as the ‘no spicy food’ and other superstitious beliefs on me.
The blame game
I don’t give any updates about the baby to my mother or in-laws — because if anything is wrong with the baby, I will take the blame.
As I mentioned in the example above, my mother already started blaming my unborn baby’s poor health on the fact that I could not get a good night’s sleep. Pre-pregnancy, my in-laws would often pressure us to have children by talking about how older women were more prone to have stupider and unhealthier babies (yes, in moments like that I wish I didn’t speak Mandarin).
In fact, the greatest source of comfort did not come from my family — it came from the nurse on the Kaiser pregnancy hotline. She told me that no matter what happens with the baby, it’s not my fault. I repeated that in my head daily; and even now, I tell myself that whenever pregnancy gets hard or scary.
While my pregnancy has mostly been positive with no bumps in the road, there have been a few yellow flags here and there that I didn’t dare discuss with my family. In fact, I didn’t tell them I was pregnant until I was well into my second trimester, as I did not want to take the blame for a potential miscarriage.
Free and dedicated childcare
Ok, ok, I know I’ve been quite negative. The upside? Asian parents are not only willing to be free 24/7 childcare to their grandchild, but they will even uproot their entire lives and move halfway across the country to do it. If we asked, my in-laws would buy a house in our neighborhood and take care of our kid on a daily basis if needed.
This kind of dedication is also common in Western families, but the Asian families take it to a whole new level. In China, many of my friends who had kids continued to party and go on long husband-wife vacations since their grandparents would literally take the kid for weeks at a time and act as pseudo parents.
But is it possible to keep one’s sanity with your parents living with you day-in, day-out, telling you how to raise your child? It’s a tough trade off.
Asian parents care, but in a different way
My in-laws bought me wonderful gifts for the baby, purchasing the most expensive items for us to make sure our needs were met. I know they would cook and clean for us as we begin our new lives with a newborn. My mother would also drop everything to cook me dinner, watch my baby, or make sure I was healthy enough to care for the child.
However, on an emotional level, the support from Asian parents is lacking (as it usually is). Sometimes I wish my mom would ask me how I’m doing — not just in relation to the baby, but how I’m feeling as a pregnant woman going through a massive life change.
It’s been a really difficult pregnancy for me on an emotional level, and there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t miss my dad. In fact, it makes me grateful that I had him in my life at all to provide me with the emotional balance that I never received from my Asian mom. I wish I could call him up, tell him I slept like shit or that I miss having a beer, and hearing him laugh or console me in response. It’s something I cannot do with my mom or my in-laws.
Despite my complaints and the massive culture shock, I am grateful to have a mom and in-laws who care so much about me and the baby. Their dedication and love (although shown in different ways) has made me feel more secure about the future.