Being Pregnant with Asian Parents (and in-laws)
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.
5 thoughts on “Being Pregnant with Asian Parents (and in-laws)”
GIRL! You call me up and tell me you slept like shit, okay? The DMs are always open and I’ve been there.
I slept like shit, too. I was a blob, when I wasn’t throwing up. Pregnancy SUCKS. Everyone should be kind to you and treat you exactly as you want. Unfortunately, no one will. Even my husband was all about HIS hurt feelings when whatever special dish he cooked made me throw up. Bah.
I, too, was merely a vessel for the #1 son of the #1 son. But my in-laws were just westernized enough to not wait on me and and foot. Or perhaps they were so old school they reverted to Neo-Confucian misogyny? I was the one waiting on them when 7 months pregnant (and yeah, that’s the time when I nearly stabbed my FIL with a screw driver–you can look up my post “Snapped” if you want to see how the daughter-in-law as a servant thing worked out for us). Maybe it’s because I am a hulking Western woman, but I was hauling chairs and and getting complaints about how fat I was from FIL. No one cared about my sleep or letting me get any rest.
But at least no one tried to stop me when I escaped by walking the dogs?
Oh man, you never fail to make me laugh out loud. The vessel for the #1 son of the #1 son, haha! I love it.
Yes, I remember the “snapped” post with the screwdriver. That is what of my favorite posts. That is so insane that your in-laws made you wait on THEM! Especially when you had such a horrible pregnancy!! Oh my god, I don’t know how you put up with it. At least you could walk the dogs and escape.
On the flip side, my mom was a little bit like your in-laws. When I went to Utah for my baby shower she demanded I drive her to the story and pick up take-out. It was kind of a breath of fresh air after being told to be bed bound by the Chinese in-laws, lol.
And thanks for the really kind works. Pregnancy does suck. Dear god. I saw a photo from my “old life” pre-pregnancy and got really sad. I just miss not feeling like a hulking sick blob. Please tell me it gets better after kid is born (less sleep, but body feels a little better…. hopefully?)
Congrats again, Mary! When’s your due date? End of September?
I didn’t personally experience any of the things you mention in your post, but I’m well aware of all of them, haha. Ah, Chinese pregnancy taboos are so funny… when they don’t happen to you. BTW, I’m surprised no one has said anything about the cat. No one demanded you threw it away because pregnant women cannot have animals at home?
Thank you, Marta!! I’m due Sept 6… it’s coming up. I’m so scared of giving birth… haha.
Wow you’re so lucky you didn’t experience all of those! I guess your husband’s parents were pretty easy going?
I honestly thought my husband’s parents would be more lax, especially since they’ve lived in the US for 20+ years. It was shocking for me to hear them be so traditional (I was super shocked about the feng shui stuff). It actually made me appreciate my mom more, as she wasn’t as steeped in the weird cultural customs.
I’m shocked they didn’t give me a hard time for the pet either!! My mom was excited for me. I think in-laws didn’t like it but chose not to say anything, lol. I get nervous about having a cat and a baby… but I think everything will be fine… I hope…!!!
Don’t be scared of giving birth!! Read Ina May Gaskin. She’s like a hippy midwife who makes women give birth in a cabin in the forest, haha. No need to reach that extreme, but she does convey very well the idea that your body is designed to do this! (No need to believe her crazy ideas about epidural either, get one if you want it, haha).
Based on what I’ve read, it seems that Chinese who moved abroad tend to keep traditions much more than in China. But yes, my husband’s parents are very easygoing, my husband is the boss of them hahaha.