Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Zoe's Birth Story

Last Monday I walked to my last work meeting before maternity leave at 37 weeks 6 days. There, we rode motorcycles down the road to see the new offices we will be in when I get back. The rest of the week, I was to finish up by working at home. Well... I did, but Tuesday I also started getting stronger contractions and losing pieces of the plug. Since the midwife wasn't to arrive until Thursday, I was counting down the hours and asked my family to pray for the baby to wait. 

Just because I can birth by myself doesn't make it optimal and it would  have defeated the whole point of paying the midwife and preparing for the birth if we'd had to go to a hospital. After being forced to use the hospital in Abu Dhabi, one of the good things about being in Cambodia was the freedom to birth at home. The cleaner that Benjamin got to help me haul laundry to the fourth floor to dry while I'm pregnant has told me her stories about birthing in the hospital here. There was nothing natural about it as the doctor took charge making a nurse push the baby out from the top of her stomach while he used a suction machine to pull the baby out from the other side. No wonder she was in so much pain and doesn't know if she wants to have another baby. Unfortunately, when third world countries copy the United States on many things, that usually includes many needless hospital interventions during birth that increase the chances for major abdominal surgery, maternal death and depression from inhibited bonding with the baby. They usually keep these practices long after they've been dismissed by the States.
She's been praying for a little sister for 6 years.
I am convinced that the prayers of my family and friends helped the baby stay put. Diane, my midwife, made it in on Thursday, got to get a good night's sleep that night and the next before I needed her. Friday night as everyone else was asleep my contractions got increasingly stronger. I slept as long as I could, but when I couldn't sleep through them any longer, I knew I would do better to keep myself moving. I washed the rest of the dishes, did a load of laundry, folded a load, hung a load to dry and made pancakes for the kids to have the following Saturday morning. When a contraction would surge, I would stop and let it work and monitor it on the app I had on my phone to know how close together and how long they were lasting. Through the night they were about four minutes apart.
"I think I've found my calling" -Ben
That morning I told Ben I didn't think he would be able to go to the event his school was hosting for the students as we would likely have the baby that day. He was excited. I tried to make sure to drink a lot of water and eat when hungry to keep my energy up and laid down a few minutes to rest. When the contractions wouldn't let me sleep longer than 12 minutes, I started walking again. Birth is one of those special times in life where pain isn't an indication of a problem, but in the beauty of transformation. Each surge of pain means that you are getting closer to your goal, it indicates progress. With the first two births, I had more fear getting in the way of appreciating the journey, then in Abu Dhabi I just wanted to get. that. baby. out. so they wouldn't force me into something I didn't want and since the water broke on that one, everything progressed more quickly. This time was slower, more like Elias' birth, and I could appreciate the process better. I used the time to pray and be thankful for all of the prayers God had answered in this child's conception and development, birth options and so many more things.
Ezra is so proud of his baby sister.
Around 11 a.m. things began to feel differently and I could tell that transition was on the way. Contractions were one minute apart and increasing in intensity. I asked Benjamin to take the kids to my friend's house from work. I knew the kids would like to play with their kids and pets and toys they hadn't seen before and I was just thankful God had provided a family I could trust to let my kids spend time with during the birth. From then, things kept getting more and more intense from the tell-tell nausea and then the beginnings of the pushy feelings and contractions that allowed concentration on nothing but breathing through them. While in this stage, I completely understand why women want a medicated birth. However, I know from experience how much that impacts after the birth and that if I can just get through that part, everything else goes sooooo much smoother.
"I love the baby." -Elias
Baby Zoe came out around 3:30 p.m. with her hand up by her head, so she took a little extra pushing. This time, instead of just rushing to get her out, I tried to let my body do more of the pacing and listen to when it was ready to push. (Your body can birth a baby while your brain is in a coma... just listen to it and you'll know when it's time to push.) Ben and Diane's support made such a difference to me. I knew there were people there who believed in my body's ability to birth and who weren't going to push me into something unless absolutely necessary. They prayed with me when I needed encouragement right before pushing Zoe out. Ben was my balance as I pushed.

Zoe came out healthy and with a strong nursing reflex. She was born at 38 weeks 4 days, (but as developed as a 40 week baby, so maybe my cycle was off.) She was 8 pounds 15 ounces and 22 inches long. I didn't need stitches or have any complications. I was so overwhelmed with gratitude for the completion of the whole 9 months of anticipation, that the only thing I could do for the first few moments was say "Thank you, God."

I have never known so strongly that God was real, loving and very much concerned with me as much as I have during each birth. I don't know why every single little detail of this birth was answered with "yes, I can do that for you" when so many people struggle with just getting pregnant. I don't understand why I get to have four healthy children with good, uncomplicated births and so many women have to have interventions to live or have their child live. I don't know. I know I don't deserve any of it, but I am so very thankful for it all.

The kids, not to mention Ben, are all so in love with her. We are so happy she's here!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Thinking Outside the (Oven) Box

A way I typically cope with homesickness is through baking. It's my favorite thing to give as a gift or a just-thinking-about-you sort of thing. Since, unlike running or hiking, it's something I can do while very pregnant, it's something I've missed more than normal lately as I near the 37 week mark. (Think of all of the postpartum freezer meals you've seen that require an oven... Much of it just doesn't work well without it.)

Ovens are rare in this side of the world. The expense of the gas, lack of many traditional baked things, and cheap bakeries for the things you do want baked, keep many from exploring this style of cooking. Some of the newer apartments that are aimed towards foreigners (you can tell by the prices) include an oven, but it's definitely not mainstream.

This doesn't mean, however that everything baked is impossible to make; you just have to think about cooking it in a different way: cookies flipped in a skillet pancake-style, a double boiler with brownies in a pot, microwave mug cakes or pudding, finding different ways to make similar flavors when something just won't work... It's all possible.

The gas ovens that typically ARE available here are very gas-inefficient, non-convection and have lots of places for the heat to escape. This means a recipe that normally takes 10 minutes in an electric/convection oven takes more like 30 minutes and is likely to have the bottom burned and the top not browned. Our gracious landlords gave us one they weren't using and we found out for ourselves just how quickly it could go through a 3 foot canister of gas. (About 3 weeks, instead of the normal 3 months, baking about 4 times and otherwise doing normal stovetop cooking.)

In India, a unique solution to baking on a stove top is a type of double-boiler- like pot that I haven't seen before: the bottom pot holds salt or sand to evenly disperse the heat and the top pot is greased and then filled with anything from cake to pizza crust and cooked over (usually) a medium flame.
Here is a favorite chocolate mug cake that we make with the kids for a special occasion. It makes enough for 4 small mugs, (it rises so only fill halfway.) We got the recipe here: And modified it because we didn't have self-rising flour.

2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 cup milk
1 egg
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup flour
1pinch of salt
Powdered sugar to sprinkle on top

Microwave one minute then let it sit until cool enough to enjoy.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Street Vendors in Cambodia

A popular way to make a living here in the city seems to be to strap a cart to the side of your motorcycle and drive through various neighborhoods looking for customers. Up to 10 different vendors come turn around in our particular dead-end street in a normal day.

Many vendors sell food: coconut batter waffles, steamed corn on the cob, rice cakes filled with greens and served in broth and chili sauce, fried bananas, steamed sweet or Irish potatoes, and many, many more things. Some non-food items I've seen are a guy with a loud speaker system selling pirated CD's and one who had set up his motorcycle to display parts for fans. As its hot and not many can afford AC, the fan guy probably does fairly well. Another frequent vendor drives through with a large cart full of brooms, dusters, plastic bowls, sieves and a variety of odds and ends needed around the house.

A prime example of the lack of business privacy here was when my husband purchased some fried bananas and they came in a paper to catch the grease that had previously been a companies inventory of something. It had individual's names, addresses, telephone numbers, how much they purchased... And it does make you wonder where they get the paper. Once we got a copy of someone's CV, photo and all.

Like all selling, you need a brand, a label, a schtick. In Cambodia this means each vendor has a special sound proceeding them so people know what they are selling. Sometimes it's just their voice calling out their wares in Khmer. Many times it's a recording of their voice on a speaker. Then there are all of the musical carts with different tunes and a guy who comes down the street before the lady selling soup who beats a wooden drum set. One particular vendor plays something I thought sounded just like a goat. I thought the neighbor's had added a goat to their chickens until I figured out where the sound was coming from.

Recently several monks wrapped in their orange robes and carrying their trademark umbrellas and market bags have been coming through the neighborhood, I assume for donations.  They are quite bold and walk right up to the door if it's open, which it usually is if the kids are playing outside.

Because the typical houses here generally have glass windows on the whole front bottom floor, (and no yard, so the kids are usually playing out front where the street ends,) there's never any sense of privacy at home. This is compounded by being foreign in a country of staring people. Perhaps a good part of that is that the kids will be used to people staring and not as self-conscious as someone who grew up with the luxury of privacy. 

In the mean time, I guess we get to see a lot of interesting vendors.