I have been in Shanghai for over a week. Alone. Sort of. I receive frequent reminders throughout the day — but more often during the night — that I am actually a we. Our baby is here, too, keeping me company. But it still feels lonely to be in this big mess of a city where there is so much to do and no one to do it with. Especially because I have all the time in the world right now to do whatever I please. Which isn’t much, let me tell you, now that I am “a million months pregnant,” as a friend recently pointed out.
I am thrilled the baby cooperated and didn’t show up earlier than expected. Giving birth in Shandong wouldn’t be any expat’s ideal destination for having a kid. I feel lucky to have made it to Shanghai where modern medical practices are the norm. Besides going to the doctor and meeting with our doula, I’ve spent my days waiting. Waiting for Iggy to join me. Waiting for my mom to arrive. Waiting for this kid to pop out, hopefully sooner rather than later. At this point, comfort is a word I no longer comprehend. Nor is sleep.
Waiting is hard with all this time on my hands. I am temporarily staying in a hotel thanks to credit card points. There are only so many books I can read and only so much CNN I can watch. I don’t have groceries to buy, dishes to wash, or laundry to do to pass the time. All the things I complain about back in Haiyang due to how labor intensive they are without the modern conveniences of home. Home as in America.
Instead, I’ve been indulging in mostly pricey-for-what-they-are restaurants that cater to expats. Places on cutesy tree-lined lanes reminiscent of trendy, gentrified streets back in Pittsburgh or any other east coast city. Places like Anfu Lu where I can get American food to satisfy most pregnancy bratty expat cravings. Like a real bagel from Boom Boom Bagels. This one lovingly housed a fried egg, some mozzarella cheese, lettuce, thick avocado slices, and spicy marinated tomato slices.
And I’ve walked. Through every path that winds its way around and across Hongqiao Park across the street from my hotel.
Along busy roads as traffic rushes by. I prefer quieter local back streets where I buy fruit from the corner markets and watch patient grandparents wait in mob-like scenes for schools to let out.
I do prenatal yoga in my hotel room using a bath towel instead of a proper mat. I eat a lot of cereal with real milk from Australia or Korea. This sounds sad but it isn’t. Not when the milk costs $10 a liter. Same goes for the cereal (Honey Shredded Wheat for those curious). These are indulgences I don’t make in Haiyang where we’ve gotten used to long life milk that at $5 a liter is cheap by comparison. And we don’t eat cereal. What would be the point without fresh milk?
One day I ventured over to Fudan University’s Huashan Hospital where I’ll deliver. It was a chaotic jumble of a campus with a total of 16 ugly Communist-style buildings. Honking mopeds and cars wove through the throngs of sick people aimlessly hobbling about and hospital staff confidently breezing by on their way to their next patient or maybe just lunch. Because the business card of the expat clinic didn’t indicate which building it was in (though curiously the floor number was listed), I found myself wandering the crowded hallways of the first building in sight. Desperate looking patients in pajamas sat slumped on the floor or curled up in what looked like agony on gurneys outside a CT scanning room waiting for their turn. If there was a line, I couldn’t tell. Given China’s general disdain for order, I imagine lots of pushing and shoving would have to occur to get into the room. Yes, even by all the clearly weak, sickly patients. Somehow I knew this was not where I was meant to be, a realization I was thankful for, but also a guilt-inducing one to have.
A kind security guard helped me find my way to building number six and I was thankful that the clinic, American-Sino, was like any maternity ward back home. Quiet, calm, and clean with friendly nurses that spoke almost passable English (though not enough to make me regret hiring a native English-speaking doula who also speaks Mandarin). I was pleased to learn of a real perk to having a baby at this facility (and of having gucci international health insurance): a big private room that included a pullout couch for Iggy, a sizable private bathroom, and even a little kitchenette with a kettle and microwave. I plan on putting that micro to good use to heat up the take out food I expect we’ll order, most likely from the places on nearby Anfu Lu. Somehow I doubt the hospital cafeteria will cater to my vegetarian needs.
It has been hard to be away from Iggy during these last few weeks and alone, sort of. Just when I thought I might lose my sh*t from boredom and paranoia (of going into labor before Iggy arrives), things got better. A friend from Haiyang joined me for a few days and we spent the time shopping and eating and talking. We searched Wending Lu (Painter’s Street) for knockoff art and non-Chinese style frames. We perused the South Bund Fabric Market for “cashmere” coats (a success). We bought cheap baby clothes at Old Navy…instead of venturing into the beautiful, brassy Jing’An Temple across the street. In a moment of pure coincidence, we even bumped into Iggy’s family friends who live in Shanghai at this very intersection, right before entering Old Navy. And when we were done shopping for the day, I thought about stealing this guy’s rad little ride. My stamina is just not what it used to be.
Now that I am on my own again, I’m trying to remain patient. For Iggy to get here. For my mom’s plane to land. For the baby to decide it’s ready to make his/her debut, which may be a week earlier than its due date from what my doctor says. Until then, I’m doing my best to stay busy to ward off any lingering loneliness. If I get desperate, maybe I’ll opt for some geriatric group exercise over in Hongqiao Park.
But I’ve only got three more days until both Iggy and my mom join me. I think I can hold out. I’ve just got to remember that this will be the very last time I am truly alone. Legally, at least, for the next 18 years.