Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Daily Dhaka

I've always carried a tiny point and shoot camera in my purse, but lately have been taking my Minolta out when I run uptown or just on a drive to the embassy. On any given day, there are a million opportunities to catch a cool photo... maybe because there are about 20 million people walking by at any given moment.

Some photos from today, just around town.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Caged Bird

When Ceiba comes home from the bus, I wait inside the walls of our apartment property. I stand behind these bars and watch the world go by. It isn't that Dhaka is that unsafe, but it's also not necessary to advertise to the world that expats live where we do. Though it is impossible for a light haired, blue eyed, caucasian woman to "blend" into Bangladesh, why draw more attention than necessary. Often, passers by will notice me behind the bars and rubber neck to soak the scene in. They look at me like a caged zoo attraction.
So as I stood one day this week, I thought about how the view summed up most of our time since we've returned to Dhaka. Having an infant, not to mention a 4 year old, can be a bit immobilizing in a developing country. Heck, it's hard enough to be mobile and confident with a little one in the US, let alone have all the obstacles we face here on any given day.

For the first week back, Avocet pretty much wigged out every...time...we...left...the...house. We ventured to the commissary and to the embassy on separate days, each time getting stuck in about an hour of traffic to go all of 10ish blocks to get home. It wasn't pretty. She  fussed and cried and just did not enjoy the ride. I tried to soothe and hum and comfort and bounce and rock and not loose my tear-holding-in-control, all while knowing if I just nursed her, she would calm down. But, though I like our driver, we do not need to be on that personal of a relationship. So she cried most of the way home, and then I thought best to board us up at home for the next week until the jet lag and the overwhelmingness of Dhaka to her little self passed.

We are doing better and now feeling a bit more comfortable to venture further and further. We had a med unit well baby check this week, where Avocet tipped the scales at 13.4 lbs and 23.5 inches at 9 1/2 weeks. So she is doing great! And hopefully she is thriving on my nutrition as opposed to the alternative reason for her growth... some crazy pollutant from Dhaka or some kryptonite fertilizer they spread on the vegetables. Hopefully, it's the former :)

Of course the vaccinations from said medical appointment did not make her a very happy camper, so my evening plans to attend the school open house for Ceiba turned into the night at home. Chris represented both parents, while I comforted Avocet at home. Luckily, her little pitifulness was short lived.
Parents out there living abroad, we feel your pain. Most of us have no sidewalks for strollers, no koala kids for changing diapers, no high chairs at restaurants (heck not even many food safe restaurants), no snack packs or fruit snacks at the local grocery, no-way-would-I-put-my-kid-on-that-ride amusement parks. The list of what we don't have could go on forever... but then again so could the list of things that our children will experience that we never did as children.

Though there will always be days that are difficult to raise children as global nomads, we look forward with optimism at the wonderful world that our children will experience, touch, feel, smell and breath and not just read about in books.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

New Construction

After a trip to Bali last year, we came home to the building next door being demolished. When we returned from our baby medevac this month, there was new construction beginning in that red earth lot. Luckily, the apartment going up won't be completed by the time we depart next year. And also fortunately, the construction site is to the north of our house (won't lose the sunlight) and is also on the side of our home without bedrooms. Really, we don't hear a whole lot of noise yet, especially compared to the many other embassy families living with noise and inconvenience every day.
Here in Bangladesh, demolition and construction are generally done by traveling groups (maybe families?) who live on site during the process. So we have a group of people now living in shacks next door during the construction. We often smell trash burning at night, and especially did during the colder winter months of demolition. One restroom (green block above) from the previous building was retained onsite to be used during construction.They live in very modest accommodations, work most of the day and sometimes night, and generally eat and nap during the hottest part of the day.
I snapped a few shots today from our stairwell. There are no air conditioned earth moving machines, no power tools. The rebar is cut by hand and all work is manual. The women carry baskets of soil on their heads, moving piles from one spot to another. Construction does not move quickly, but it is miraculous to watch a building be raised. The people here work very hard to make a living.

While I was snapping photos, one of the young men saw me. I tried to be discrete and moved to another floor in the stairwell. We made eye contact, and he motioned me to come down. I just smiled and went back in the house, later deciding I really would love to have the opportunity to take some closer photos. Work stopped when I walked on the scene, all eyes were on me. It is normal to purposely not smile for photos, so I always enjoy when I catch a smile out of someone. They all enjoyed seeing their photos on the LCD screen. Of course, one woman asked for taka (money) before I left, but a nice gentlemen spoke to her in Bangla and smiled as I walked back home. I thanked them and plan to go back next week with photos in hand for each of them. 

Friday, August 19, 2011


I am not a medical terminology educated person, I'll be the first to admit. I do not enjoy watching surgery on television, but Chris definitely does enjoy it. I could work on animals wounds all day (courtesy of growing up on a farm, I guess), but humans... not so much. I can deal with kiddo scrapes, but stitches and open wounds, well I'll pass when I can.

I read and re-read the What to Expect book until it nearly fell open when I picked it up. Who knows how many hours I spent reading it. I was literally speaking, as educated on labor and delivery as I could be. Books, however, don't tell you all the nitty gritty about the finals hours of pregnancy. I relied on my candid sister, sisters-in-law, friends, etc to fill me in on those graphic moments. They laughed (while I winced in fear) for hours telling me about the size of their newborns heads, "pretend you're going number 2" when you push, pads the size of a mattress and more. Don't even get me started on their comic stories of relieving engorged breasts in the kitchen sink like milking a cow, crying in the shower with cracked nipples or leaking through shirts at the cry of any nearby child. My "ladies" have kept me in laughing stitches for weeks, and their honest talks have been invaluable.

A friend (hi Eve!) asked me to expand on our labor and delivery experience, and I feel I should, as she is abroad getting ready for her own final pregnancy hours, far from the candid mouths of her "ladies". I'll try to not be too graphic, but yet give her a look into our experience. Let me just repeat what I've been told and can attest honestly to... once you hold your beautiful new baby, any less than desirable moments from the past 9 months will go out the window... honest and true my dear. Honest and true.

Our original due date was June 20th, but all along the ultrasounds read June 14th, so that was really the due date in my mind. I had a gallbladder attack around week 37, but other than that, everything (aside from trimester 1 blahs) went great with the pregnancy. I did have some contractions from the end of May on, but even though they were steady, they never got strong enough or less than 3 minutes. Until...

It was Friday, and I woke up feeling different. We were out doing errands and stopped at McDonald's for lunch. Chris headed to meet with a nutrition guy from his gym, while Ceiba and I ate lunch. At 1100 contractions started. I propped my feet up on the seat in our booth and waited for Chris to get back. He knew when he walked in that I was feeling different. I knew better than to go anywhere yet, so we decided to go walk around Wal-mart for a while. The weather was turning, a storm was on its way, and our OB doctor mentioned weeks earlier that many women go into labor when the barometric pressure drops. Come on rain!

We took our time, going down every aisle, spending lots of time in the toy section keeping Ceiba busy. My walking was getting slower and more painful, contractions sometimes stopping me in stride.  I took numerous trips to the restroom, noticing things were changing. My last trip from the back of the store all the way to the restroom seemed to take forever. Upon arriving, the cleaning cart was in the doorway with a sign to come back. I wanted to cuss! Really, all this walk and all this pressure. Now what? The attendant peeked her head out, to which I said, "I am WAY pregnant. Can you tell me when you'll be finished?" She advised me there was another restroom in the back of the store. Where? Oh, of course it's by the toy section... where I just trekked from.... and why wouldn't it be.

Around 2PM, I told Chris we should probably make our way to the check out and call his parents to camp out with Ceiba. We headed home first to finish bag packing. By then it was raining. I remember getting out of the car in the rain, but stopping mid stride in the rain until a contraction passed.

Chris's dad and brother met us at the hospital, with his brother mock traffic controlling us into the pavillion. Ceiba went home with gpa, while Uncle Erk helped count contractions and entertain us with stories of their delivery. By 3PM, contractions were less than 2-3 minutes apart.

Okay, this is turning into a long story. By now, I have the attention of moms-to-be wanting the nitty gritty and been-there-done-that moms reminescing. Thanks audience.

I had hopes to go o'natural on the birthing plan. At one point, I always even planned to birth at home, but hey we don't exactly have a homey home anymore. Though I did not plan to veto the epidural option, I just wanted to try without it. My body decided for me.

When the nurse checked my cervix at about 3PM, I was only 1 cm, which I had been for weeks. The first thing she asked was if I'd ever had a Leep procedure (biopsy on the cervix due to abnormal pap). I had. She said sometimes this caused scar tissue, which made dilation difficult. Perfect, just perfect.

So crazy contractions really kicked in about 9PM. And just kill me contractions lasted, less than seconds apart, until almost 3AM. In that time, I laid, sat, stood, walked, cried, yelled, screamed, groaned and all but begged to be put out of my misery.... to which my ever patient hubby, feeling helpless painfully watching his poor miserable wife labor replied "PLEASE take the epidural".

I felt like if I could just hold out until the scar tissue ruptured, dilation would happen and I could make it through delivery without the epidural. In the meantime, I had agreed to drugs, but after 3 rounds, the nurse said they wouldn't help anymore. So by 3AM, and the nurse for about the 6th time telling me I was still at 1 cm, I sobbed tearless cries and succumbed to the epidural with a nod. Chris followed with "she nodded yes, is that good enough? Will you please give her the epidural?" And so the anistesiologist was summoned. Chris sighed in relief. And I continued to be speechless and doubled over until he arrived.

Aren't anestesiologists chipper? They watch women moaning in pure agony and yet smile away. Not sure if it's due to just seeing SO many woman in this state or knowing they are about to "make it all go away" and be the hero of the day. Anyway, he was chipper. Chris sat in front of me, taking the brunt of my digging hands (into his 2 day old tattoo, which I'd forgotten about in my poor state), while I tried to not budge a millimeter while contractions continued and the needle dove into my spine. It all went well and in moments the nirvana of relaxation began. It...felt...nice. For hours, I had been a clenched ball of muscles spasms in pain, but now it drifted away. The "GET THE EPIDURAL" advice of all the women I'd spoken with now became clear. Okay, it wasn't the plan, but neither was a cervix that never had any intention to help me out.

Within the hour, I dilated to a 5. Throughout the next day, I progressed, but not rapidly. Avocet's heart rate stayed great and steady. Later into the late morning, the epidural was wearing off or she was getting lower and the pain started to build again. At the contractions became harder, my dilation progression slowed. So they upped the epidural again, and by 5PM we were FINALLY ready to move to delivery and start pushing. Woo hoo!

By now I was a woman on a mission. Get this baby out of me! We wanted to meet her desperately and getting the pain to subside would be a welcome bonus. The nurses and we were by now on a very personal basis, mentally and very physically (wow, when people say your modesty goes out the window, they aren't kidding).  She said for a first time delivery, 3 hours + of pushing is not unusual.  I rolled my eyes at her, and she smiled and said "but your delivery will not be 3 hours".  I was shooting for less than an hour. Baby was very low at this point. With each contraction, came 3 pushes of 10 counts each with a breath in between. Chris laughed that I asked him to scratch my nose, as my arms were busy holding my legs. Sorry, not the greatest mental picture, but it is what it is ladies and gentlemen.

After 30ish hours of labor, we had 30 minutes of delivery. The plan of not needing to watch, as not to change the magnetism that created this baby, went out the window when pushing began. Chris watched and coached and cheered me on. Though when offered for me to feel her emerging, I passed on it, still with my eyes closed and mind determined to get her out into the world. And when she did arrive and the doctor offered Chris to cut the cord, he too passed. We were thrilled that she was here, but we were fine to let the doctor do the delivering.

The final push was amazing. In moments she laid on my chest and time stood still. It was a take a picture with your mind moment; one I never want to forget. She was perfect and here and ours. Love, true love.

The Belly

The day before Ceiba & I left Dhaka for our medevac to deliver Avocet, I drug everyone to the balcony for a timered family photo of our belly. I had gotten henna done on my arms for the trip back. Then I labored over the "good" camera... to take or not to take. One more bag to carry on the plane and would we really get it out during our trip to IL. So I left it...and the belly shots. So am just now getting to see them. Part of me does miss the belly, the beautiful feeling (after the 3rd month) of being pregnant and feeling her move inside me.
But having a cooing, warm, beautiful baby nestled into my neck is just amazing. Yep, I'll take a plump baby over a plump belly anytime :)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Through the window

We returned to Dhaka a week ago, but already it feels like longer. Chris is back to work (piles of it), Ceiba started back to preschool today, while Avocet & I are getting things done at home. We miss our family & friends, miss the conveniences of America, but find comfort in being "home" again. There is also much more time for us as a small family, without the pulling of time while in the States.

Yesterday, Ceiba and I quickly went uptown with our driver. School was a day away, and we realized her shoes were nearly all too small. Those that did fit were not allowable (crocs, flip flops). We did buy shoes in the States, but they're in the mail along with another 15 boxes of misc that we mailed back. 

While driving, or more so while sitting at a traffic light, I realized again how sad it can be to live in Dhaka. The poverty is immense. It has always been hard for me to see and hear people knocking on the windows for money... hard to explain to Ceiba what is going on, while being kind and compassionate. I know we cannot roll down the window and give to even one person, or there would be tens lined outside our home every day waiting for a handout. There would be people every day stalking our car for money. 

Yesterday, maybe because we now have a tiny baby at home, the sight of limp and sleeping babies in their mothers' (or women pretending to be their mothers) arms was almost more than I could bare. Tears pooled in my eyes as I waited for the light to change to green. It was difficult not to roll down the window. I didn't want to give money. I wanted to take the children from their mothers arms and pull them into the car. I wanted to take them home. 

Many children here are purchased by beggars to gain more sympathy from donators. The children are used for extra money while they are small and cute and then turned to the streets when they reach an age when they don't draw enough money anymore. There are so many homeless children, dirty and starving on the streets. You often see them in groups, barely clothed, sleeping in the busy medians. It rips your heart out. Now, it tears at me even more than before. 

I wish Bangladesh had an adoption agreement with the US, as there are thousands if not millions of children in need of homes here. There are so many waiting families in the US that could provide loving homes. Before heading here, I researched in depth the situation, but it was not possible as a US citizen to adopt. Yesterday, I knew I could offer just dollars, and one of those women would probably have handed a child to me through the car window. I would have held them and fed them and loved them, but they could never have become a citizen and moved out of Bangladesh with our family. As taunted as I always am with the idea, it isn't an option. It would actually be trafficing, illegal, against  policies the US is here to promote, wrong, unethical... but it would feel so good to hold just one starving baby close, feed them, love them and rock them to sleep... like I do now at night with our own healthy child. 

I enjoy living here, but it can be so hard sometimes just to look out the window.