After spending most of the fall in Shanghai, we swore we’d never return. We’d been there too many times, ate at too many of its restaurants, seen too many of its sights. Don’t get me wrong — Shanghai will always be a special place for us. It’s where we welcomed Baby K into our lives and for that reason alone we’ll always love it.
A view of the city from the apartment we rented on Shanxi Nan Lu
But Shanghai can be exhausting. The crowds, the pollution, and the expenses can wear expats from sleepy little corners of China like us down. Throw a newborn into the mix and it becomes harrowing. Walking down Shanghai’s crowded sidewalks suddenly requires the fanciest of footwork to avoid the triple S threat of scooters, smokers, and spitters. Normal worries like handing your life over to cranky, speedy cab drivers are compounded when you’re in the final, painful throes of labor. It’s only slightly better when your three day old newborn is strapped to your torso and you’re riding in a Tesla. Thanks, UberBLACK!
Yet here we are getting ready to head back to the big city this weekend. Baby K is due for some vaccinations that I’m sure all two month olds love to get. Iggy and I need to get some booster shots, as well. We planned on taking care of these pediatric appointments in Qingdao at the recently opened hospital that caters to expats with generous insurance plans, but the American-Chinese joint venture doesn’t have the vaccinations she needs. It’s another reminder of how much easier life would be if we lived in Shanghai. At least by now we’re used to all the inconveniences of life in Haiyang, with or without a baby.
It’s unreal that Baby K is already two months old. Time has sped up since she arrived. In my final month of pregnancy, I couldn’t wait for her to get here. Iggy and I woke up each day hopeful that I’d go into spontaneous labor. Instead, day after day, we ticked off one tourist sight after another, showing my mom more of Shanghai than she had planned to see. Then my due date came and went, and with it so did my patience.
Yu Garden on a balmy fall night
It didn’t help that my doctor had me convinced I would deliver early, most likely priming me to accept her eventual, repeated attempts to induce me. This is a classic situation in China. Doctors use a variety of tactics to schedule a baby’s delivery so it fits their schedule (and presumably fatten their wallet). Of course, Chinese patients tend to be more accepting of this so that their precious little bundle arrives on a day, if not time, that is auspicious. It also didn’t help that Baby K’s due date happened to coincide with China’s Golden Week, a seven day national holiday. Like the better known Chinese New Year, everything shuts down during this time and everyone who can afford it goes on vacation. Like my doctor, who called me hours before she boarded a plane to Hawaii to make one final plea for induction. Thanks to my mom’s “let nature run its course” attitude and some evidence-based literature provided by my doula, we held out.
We were rewarded the very next day at a late lunch when my water broke at one of the popular Element Fresh restaurants. It wasn’t as epic as I hoped it would be: a dramatic public scene to serve as payback for all the times I witnessed people – children and adults — peeing in this country. Any disappointment I may have felt was trumped by the positive aspect: labor had started! Though she arrived five days “late,” once she decided to make her way into this world, Baby K didn’t waste any time. I found myself sweating and fidgeting all over the back seat of one of those disgustingly dirty Shanghai cabs a few short hours later. In a delirious whirlwind, Baby K was born an hour after we arrived. We’ve been on her schedule ever since.
All that free time we had before she arrived is gone. Our days are now measured by the hours she needs to nurse, the diapers that need to be changed, and the cuddles that need to be given. It seems like we’re always running on borrowed time to squeeze everything else in like showers and cooking and blogging. The days are long, but the weeks are rewarding. Each one brings with it a new surprise. An innocent smile that communicates she knows us. A softly murmured “oh” during playtime that shows she’s learning. A newly developed roll in her increasingly chunky thighs that lets us know she’s getting enough to eat. Months are now marked by the tags in her tiny onesies.
Our lives are set to her rhythms, always changing, never predictable, and her needs, whatever they happen to be. This time it’s an unforeseen trip to Shanghai. If that’s where we need to go to ensure she’s healthy, then we’re more than okay with that. If we have to eat at a few of its expat restaurants, we won’t complain. After all, we haven’t gone out to eat in two months.