August 19, 2011

To Swaddle or Not to Swaddle

Our friends just became parents this week.  They asked me to come sit with New Mom and Baby in the hospital so that Dad could go to work.  I ended up spending the night and learning a ton more about birthing traditions in Paraguay.  I enjoyed myself a whole lot, but I had to stop and think about every word, every action.  Since so much of what I know about baby care comes from the US, I was on some sort of crazy learning curve.

Let's think about my own birth experiences with the girls.  After giving birth, I was wheeled on a stretcher and transferred to a bed in a cozy private room.  My bag with pj's awaited me there, the nurses had my IV pole set up, the bed was made, the pillow was fluffed, the remote control for the a/c and the television were within reach of the bed, the nurse's call button was rockin' on ready.  Ken came in a little later with baby in tow, all washed, dressed, and tucked in tight.  I remember when he followed Camille to the nursery and learned the art of swaddling.  He then taught me and all who entered the hospital room, how to roll her up in that little blankie till she was as tight as a pea in a pod.  The nurse came in every now and then to be sure the baby had her hat on (those stretchy ski caps) and, if it was night, to be sure the baby was in the little plastic box-on-wheels and not in the bed with me.  (I tried to sneak around that one and pretended I was feeding her every time the nurse entered.)  If the baby began to fuss, someone in the room would pick her up, jiggle her, and maybe offer her a pacifier.  If she couldn't be consoled or was "rooting," she'd get passed to me for feeding time--one side, burp, other side, burp.  You know the drill.  Not only have I lived through this twice myself, but I have played the helpful relative or friend who comes to help the new mommy, at least a trillion times.

So when I arrived at the hospital yesterday, I went in with all my assumptions.  I didn't even have to THINK about them, they just came naturally.  I whipped into the room shrieking with joy and congratulations--my typical loud self--and got a funny feeling.  It was only after sitting with the mom for another 30 minutes or so that I realized this place has silence rules like a library or an elevator.  You see, I'd entered the room where my friend and her new princess were bunking with 5 other ladies and their own newborns.  Oops, probably not a good idea to wake 6 babies with my congratulatory shrieks, huh?

It didn't take me long to flash back to my pregnancy with Caroline, when I was entering the hospital for the umpteenth time for dehydration, and I gave some sort of "Why me?" lament to my obstetrician.  His reply?  "You have the misfortune of having been born a white girl.  If you had a bit more pigment of any shade--Oriental, Black, Hispanic, ANYTHING--you'd be much more equipped to handle pregnancy.  It's you skinny little pale gals who give us all the trouble." Now, I have to admit that I thought he was joking.  But in that hospital this week, well... I thought about it again.  When I birthed my girls, I spent the next several days completely in bed.  If I tried to get up even to walk around within the room, BAM, passing out.  It gained me an extra night's stay (bonus!) each time.

These gals here, though--oh, my.  One mom was wheeled in fresh out of the birthing room, and she got up out of the wheelchair to begin to put her sheets on the bed.  Those'd be the sheets she brought from home.  A stay at the hospital here means that there are medical personnel in the vicinity, and they let you use their mattress.  So Super-Mom gets up and makes the bed she and her baby will share, digs through the bag for  the baby's blanket, fusses at hubby for forgetting to bring a pillow, nurses the baby, and crawls all over the bed getting the new little guy settled.  Then she asked me where the bathroom was.  "A few doors down," I replied, "but I can help you get there." (There is no call button here.  You bring along your help if you want it, hence my extended visit with my friend.)  When I offered to help her walk outside and down thewalkway to the bathroom, she looked at me like I'd fallen out of the sky.  "Uh, no.  I can do it myself." And she did.  She got up and walked right down there, changed into street clothes, and came back to fuss around with her stuff some more.  I was practically in shock.  Her baby still had afterbirth all over him and she was up running a marathon.  I remarked about it to my friend, who said they'd all done the same thing upon birthing.  Whoa.  Would this be a good time to mention the girdles? Almost all the moms I saw had a big elastic girdle strapped around the waist "so that my belly will go back to normal."  Maybe that's why mine never did--nobody told me about this girdle thing.

Every now and then I'd walk out to the cantina for my friend's next meal or snack, where I'd pass by the folks who were bedding down outside.  Only female visitors are allowed in the rooms most of the time (2 hrs each afternoon for the daddies), but the men and children come along and sleep in the walkways outside to be near Mom.  She and the baby can't rightly be left alone because if they need medicine, food, or some other supplies, someone has to go get that.  The nurses are good to come by every few hours and remind the ladies to take their pills, but each person is responsible for her own--obtaining it and taking it.  Yesterday, when I got there, it was a nice day.  A storm blew in that evening, though, and it got right cold through the night, with intermittent thundershowers.  I hoped that the families outside found a spot to keep dry and warm, because most arrived dressed for the warmer weather.

So here I am, ready and willing and very excited to do anything I can to help out this new mom (and the other 5 in her room if possible).  I just assumed--there goes that word again--that I'd be doing all those things I described in the second paragraph above, short of feeding the baby.  Nope.  These moms do it ALL!   If the baby begins to squirm around a little, feed him.  Then lay him down on the bed and spread a small blanket over him. (Don't tuck, just spread.)  No burping, no jiggling, no swaddling.

The doctor came in once to remind Mom not to jiggle and cuddle the baby because she'd get used to it and get spoiled, not able to be pacified unless someone was jiggling or cuddling her.  I felt kinda useless.  I tried to entertain Mom with conversation, but I took the hint when she said, "What a pity there aren't tv's in the hospital!"  I hope my attempts at helping out made it worth her while to have me there hovering over them all day and night.

You know I can't let the opportunity pass to explain to you what I saw in this spiritually.  How many times in a typical week here does this kinda thing happen to me?  I go into a situation without even thinking, only to realize later that the Paraguayan and I are starting from two different places.  My culture, traditions, background, experiences--oh, the list could go on and on--shape the decisions I make day-to-day.  In the hospital, I had to step back and think about each thing, and the fact that doing something differently doesn't make it wrong.  Some things can't be compromised.  Refusing to feed the baby or throwing him up against the wall is never going to be okay.  But putting the blanket over the baby instead of around him?  Well, that's an option, albeit one I didn't practice.

Sharing Jesus in a new culture means analyzing a whole lot of things, too.  Sure, there are the uncompromisables (like that word?)--things that are right and wrong.  Then there are things that seem like they are right to me because it's the way I've always done it.  On closer inspection, I've found out at times that things I was just SURE were non-negotiable sins, were actually just my traditions.  I've had to dig in and think of why I do the things I do.  This doesn't make tradition bad, nor does it mean that I can't share some of those traditions with my neighbors here.  It does mean, though, that I can't condemn them for doing things differently if those things aren't actually Biblically wrong.  This had lead to me reading the Bible in a whole new way.  I have to really look at it from a different lens, trying to put aside the common assumptions I grew up with and read it with fresh eyes.  I don't mean that I throw out the baby with the bathwater, but I stop and question WHY I think this is a must-do or a must-not-do.  I question what this scripture is really saying to me and my fellow man, whether he be in Paraguay or in Greenville.  It's a challenge for all missionaries, to contextualize the gospel without compromising it.  And sometimes the greatest challenge is just knowing the difference.

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