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Baby Shower- A Reflection on Parenthood

written by Thu Tran, MD,FACOG
on Sunday, 4th August ,2013

We started our Saturday two weeks ago as usual with an hour of boot camping with our “Lady Docs” friends. The Washington area was plagued with mid-90s temperature with the heat index in the 110s!  We sweated profusely even in the first five minutes of stretching!  We were delighted to be back into a cool house and get ready for a baby shower for Rebecca, one of our boot campers who will be delivering her daughter in just a few days now.   

Rebecca looked wonderful that morning in he long black dress, showing her growing little girl. I think it’s a beautiful part of the American culture that babies are so treasured. I don’t remember my first baby shower attendance in the U.S., but remember the odd feeling of a mother being showered with gifts before the arrival of the baby.  I myself had three baby showers, one surprise party by a big group of patients who brought all the babies I delivered for them over the years. I still have the picture of me and all those moms and their babies in my waiting room. I still keep many of their gifts.  My mother, who was at two out of the three showers, was astonished at my friends’ generosity.  She marveled at all the gifts I continued to bring home from my patients months after Sandy arrived.   

Rebecca was holding a pink outfit with the white words on its attached bib “ I Love My Mother!” I jokingly told her there were a few more words behind the bib “ ...Until I become a Teenager” 

My boot camp friends would tell you how many times I have jokingly used the term “Western Teenager Syndrome” to describe my son over the last two years.  I have been fortunate to have so many patients who have witnessed this “syndrome”  before me. One even described the time the “syndrome” lasts as “When they turn thirteen and usually ending at nineteen.” Others would use the term “hormones” to describe these temperamental teenagers. 

“Their hormones change and they can be quite nasty.”

Teenagers do not want their parents to “hang around” for too long in front of their friends. They want their independence while they are our dependents.  They tend to let us know that we don’t understand how things work in their world and no, we didn’t experience the same phenomenon.  Dinosaurs like us do not know what a “cool” life is all about.

One patient told me recently how her college age daughter called her several months ago to apologize to her about the “teen behavior” she manifested and how she tortured her parents. 

I and many of my Vietnamese friends agree how we never experienced this change in personality in the far East, making parenthood quite easy for our parents.  Nobody needed to coin the term “Tiger Mom” with a negative connotation.  Any good Asian mom at the time was supposed to act like a tiger.  There was very little democracy in the household. 

Since Sandy started Kindergarten, we have sent him to a Quaker school. I always liked his school’s philosophy of tolerance, social responsibility, equality and justice. That is the exact world I want Sandy to believe in, a world where one would take care of another, where “we” should be on our lips, not “I”, and where everyone should have a fair shot at being happy and successful.  I especially like the major belief of the Quakers: 

 “There is that of God in everyone” 

They believe, as I believe, there is goodness in each one of us; we all have “the light” if others bother to see or to look for it.  

To raise children in the American culture has not been easy for those of us who came from a more restrictive culture.  We were amazed at how nurturing the parents are in this country.  

“No wonder they have so many brats here!” one of my Asian patients told me. 

When Sandy was younger, every sport he played, he brought home a trophy, a trophy for showing up!  We still have quite a few trophies and medals from tennis, soccer and basketball!  I used to be confused:

“ Everybody won a trophy?  There is no bell curve?”

The debate between discipline and freedom is an on going conversation between parents of different cultures. I am, however, aware of a recent study showing how a more nurturing parenting style leads to a happier AND more successful individual.   

Why do we want to be parents? Some patients told me they think of their children as an extension of themselves in this world, their sense of immortality.  Others, like me, think children might help make us “better” people. I use the word “might” since many of us would think the opposite.

I think children make us less “self centered.”  They allow us to learn the lesson of  sacrificing for someone beyond ourselves.  They make us less carefree but more responsible.  When Sandy was very ill at three years old, I recognized this lesson as I sat by his bedside the many days he received his treatments.   I remember rushing from La Guardia airport to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer as David was rushing from the hospital to the airport to catch his flight for work.  A single patient who was quite close to me at the time posed an odd question one day:

“If you knew what you know now, that he would become very ill, would you have had him anyway?”

Hmm... I thought, do some people think there should be an exchange system?   Why would they think life should be easy all the time?

“No, I would not have done anything differently.” I told her and went on to explain to her how, during hardship, you learn and confirm your love for your child. 

Several months ago, Sandy, who is now 12 years into his remission, had a special checkup at the Johns Hopkins children’s clinic.  We were waiting patiently in the busy multi-specialty clinic when a very elegant woman pushed her son’s wheelchair into the waiting room.  She sat down and had a quiet conversation with this young man who had some whiskers but the “skeleton” of a ten year old.  He looked as if he could have been twenty years or older.  He was pale and looked almost emaciated.  I could tell that all the heads in the room were turning to look at the boy.  His mother was sitting upright and gazing only at him, stroking his hair with her hand.  Her tenderness toward her son almost put me in tears.  She was fully aware of the stares and curiosity around her, the same stares I used to endure as we pushed Sandy’s stroller across Central Park whenever he was finished with his treatment for the day.  Clearly, she got used to that curiosity and learned to ignore it, while probably hoping her son could also ignore the staring.

“I think he has that condition...Ma... that makes him old very quickly. I don’t remember what it is called, but they die young!”  Sandy whispered in my ears. 

I gently told Sandy not to stare and told him the condition was called “Progeria.”  This young man did not look like he had this extremely rare condition.  Could he have had Cystic Fibrosis? I quietly wondered. 

I remember reading “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”, one of the books given by our friends to help us handle Sandy’s childhood cancer.  Rabbi Harold Kushner’s son had progeria and, while living and struggling with this condition, taught Kushner a great lesson about life and death, love and compassion. Rabbi Kushner gained enormous wisdom from this tragic experience.  His son’s illness did not turn him into a bitter man, it made him a stronger and more spiritual man. 

On my birthday last month, I read the front page of the Washington Post’s Metro section and was deeply moved by the story of the life and funeral of Andrew Pochter, the 21 year old growing up in Chevy Chase, who was stabbed to death in Egypt while watching the government protesters.  Andrew was in Egypt to teach English.  He and his sister Emily were also counselors for Camp Opportunity for troubled youths. Emily read the letter Andrew wrote to his camper Justin several weeks before he died. I can’t help but quoting his very wise words which even parents often, in their daily busy lives, forget: 

“I hope that you will never stop your curiosity for the beautiful things in life. Go on hikes in forests, canyons and mountains, go fishing, research wildlife, and get out of city life if you can. Surround yourself with good friends who care about your future. Fall in love with someone. Get your heart broken. And then move on and fall in love again. Breathe life everyday like it is your first.  Find something that you love to do and never stop doing that unless you find something else you love more.” 

“Thank you, Andrew, for this beautiful reminder on my birthday. You did not live in vain!” I said to myself.

From Andrew’s wisdom, I could tell his parents had done a wonderful job. We parents nurture our young for just a limited time, doing what we think will be best for them, hoping their adult lives will be as easy or even easier than ours. Unfortunately, as Rabbi Kushner discussed in his book, the random occurrences in life often lead to tragic, premature endings.  We should mourn with his parents but be cognizant that, at least, for his limited life, Andrew “got” the important idea of what life was all about and how to live it to the fullest. 

Almost two weeks ago, the world seemed to freeze in a ridiculous way while waiting for the little Prince of England to be born.   I heard of a woman in her 70’s who slept on a bench in front of the hospital to hope for a glimpse of this newborn.  The “magic” day finally came and, it did not matter how many children were starving around the world, or how many children were killed needlessly in the inner cities around the country, all we heard from the radio and TV that day was about Prince George of Cambridge!  I had to stop watching CNN for the rest of the week because of its intense nonstop coverage of this event. What is wrong with our world?  How do we teach our children that everyone should be equal if we stop everything we are doing while waiting for this “royal” baby to be named?  Remember, we humans designate who would be “royal” and who would be “commoners”. There is nothing miraculous or magical about these royal people.

 Why do people have such “complexes” about themselves that they have to line up for hours in that hot sun to see someone else’s newborn? If you respond “he was not just any newborn!”, I will ask you “Does he need to be fed and have his diaper changed? Does he throw a temper tantrum whenever his needs are not met?”   I just hope these folks who patiently waited in the sun for hours to catch a glimpse of someone so irrelevant to their daily life have also enough time to pick up the phones often and check on their elderly parents or their siblings or even their friends in trouble.  

It must have been difficult to be a “royal” Princess.  I wonder, as an obstetrician, if Princess Kate had to hold her breath and try not to cry or scream too much while in labor?  Except for the privileged life of not having to work if you don’t want to and still receive an exorbitant amount of money, I don’t think it is that great to be a royal family member. I hope baby George will get to explore the world with some freedom instead of having a thousand cameras aimed at him wherever he goes.  His mother seems to recognize the importance of living like a “free” commoner, but I am afraid she will try in vain not to have to live in a fishbowl, or with all those gates and guards, it is more like a “Royal Zoo” where she will be watched by all the curious people constantly surrounding the gates.  

Sandy once made a comment about a celebrity:

“I wouldn’t want to be famous like her.  Just imagine she has a piece of scallion stuck between her teeth in a Chinese restaurant, she will have her picture on the front page of the newspapers!” 

Even at ten years old, he recognized the invaluable privilege to live freely as “a commoner.”  Would you want to be on the front page of the Washington Post with scallions stuck in your teeth? 

Have a wonderful delivery, Rebecca, and, just imagine, you can scream all you want in labor.  You won’t have to wear make up and have your hair done in perfect shape like Princess Kate when you leave the hospital!   Your husband might have to snap a photo for you with his iPhone since there won’t be a thousand cameras aimed at you and your newborn.  That is the beauty of being free to enjoy your special day! 

Thu

 

 

 

 

 

 

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