The day after I gave birth to Isaac, I got a surprise visit in the hospital. Just minutes before, I had finally taken a shower and cleaned up. I had new, clean hospital clothes on. I was all fresh, and just then the door opened-- it was my landlord and landlady, from three hours away, in Pai.
"Hello!" I said. Surprised would be an understatement. I was shocked out of my socks. I had been meaning to call them to let them know why we were taking so long in getting back (remember, we were in Chiang Mai for two weeks) but kept putting it off. In my mind, we were still in a tenant/landlord relationship, so it wasn't really necessary, because we had paid the rent ahead of time and nothing was wrong with the house.
What I learned was that our relationship had moved on, into something more like family. Khun Ampa, my landlady, was so worried about me (and couldn't reach me by phone since she'd lost my phone number) that she told Khun Thanom that they needed to drive to Chiang Mai to find me. I had told them the hospital I was giving birth at, and just minutes before they had gone to the nurses station and asked for me. Which is why they were now coming into the room.
Chinua, my parents, and the kids hadn't come yet that day, so I sat with Ampa and Thanom and we chatted. We exhausted every topic we could think of in our limited Thai and English combination, and we sat. It was a true Asian visit, which is not short, and neither should it be, considering their long drive from Pai!
At one point Ampa decided that she really wanted to buy me some milk, so she left with Thanom and a while later they came back with about sixteen milk boxes (like juice boxes, but with UHT milk) and some Thai sweets. (This was not the last time Thai women bought me milk. I ended up with many, many boxes of milk. I have to believe it is a Thai thing, to feed a nursing woman milk. Unfortunately, I'm not drinking milk, since all my kids have had a sensitivity to me drinking dairy when they are breastfeeding. My older kids have had a lot of milk boxes, all except Solo, who turns his nose up at UHT milk.)
Eventually the nurses wanted to move me up to the recovery floor and Thanom and Ampa packed my stuff together and walked to the elevator with me so we could go to the fourteenth floor. They chatted with the nurses about me and I followed along as much as I could, the only non-fluent Thai speaker in the room. While I was changing Isaac's diaper, he peed and it sprayed over his head and onto Ampa and Thanom, which set off hilarity among my landlords and the nurses. When Chinua and the others showed up a little later, Thanom and Ampa and I were all still sitting and watching Isaac. All in all, they stayed and soaked in our newborn with us for about four hours.
Just a couple hours earlier, the head of the nursery had come to meet me. She told me everyone in the nursery loved my baby and he was so cute. At the moment I was trying to get him to wake up a bit-- he had fallen asleep while he was nursing-- but she wanted to clean his cord, so she took him. He turned his head to the side and rooted a bit (as they do) and she told me, "Mama, your baby is hungry! Let me see his latch." And she watched him latch on. (Remember, this is my fifth baby, something that makes me feel that I don't need help with nursing, but sure.) "His latch is okay," she said, being a bit too dismissive of his superpowers for my taste. "Could be better, you want his mouth wider." She unlatched him, because obviously I needed that. "Let me see how your milk is coming." And she reached in and gave me a squeeze and whizzz!! Milk and colustrum shot almost to the end of the bed!
She apparently had her own superpowers.
The morning after we reached Pai, just a few days after Isaac was born, a few neighbors came around to have a look at the baby. Ampa was there, and she and the neighbors chatted about me. I can catch bits and pieces, but I don't know all the words. They talk quickly-- I can tell that they are comparing Thai mothers to foreign mothers, but some things elude me.
One of the neighbors was holding the baby and at one point Ampa surprised me by reaching over and pushing hard on my stomach, like she was trying to push it in. I was mildly embarrassed.
"It's just because he's so new," I said. "It will go back in a month or so."
But then she did it a few more times over the next weeks, and I found out, with some research, that Southeast Asian women bind their bellies for the first forty days after birth. It helps support the uterus, causes the contractions needed to fully get it back to shape, and holds the stomach muscles in after they've been so stretched. I didn't get the memo. It's too bad, because Ampa is fairly distraught about the state of my belly. She and other women still eye my tummy whenever they're around. I know they wish they could get their hands on a piece of cloth and just wrap me up.