Of Darkness, and Hope, and How You Can Help Bring Light

Today I met a 14 year old girl, when I was visiting two of the mothers in my birth class. She was squatting in the house next to one of the grandmothers. I thought she was a kid who came in to watch the babies.

17 year old mamas
The two mothers I was there to see were the youngest women in the class. They were both seventeen. One of these girls discovered that the man who got her pregnant was already married to someone else, before he started sweet talking her. She was so upset over this that she took something to try and abort her babies. That's right, plural. The doctors at the clinic told her she was pregnant with twins.

But whatever she took was only half successful. One of the babies lived. He's a tiny little thing, with intelligent little eyes in his beautiful face.

His grandfather is quite taken with him, and insists he will care for and raise his grandson himself if need be. I'm happy for this baby boy and his mother that it turned out this way. She hopes that she will meet another man and this time he will be a good man. It seems unlikely here, in this place where men can abandon women, and children, without consequence.

The other girl was taken to the government hospital for a C-section, because her baby was breach. The doctors did what they always do to Burmese women, they cut her right down the middle of her belly. If you know anything about C-sections, you know that that is the worst place to cut, it makes her uterus really weak for any subsequent labors, because of the location. Who knows how the doctors actually stitched her up, and whether they made it at all strong for her. They don't care what happens to her the next time she's pregnant, or about leaving a scar. They don't give her the same courtesy they give to Thai women, giving them a low, transverse cut, and doing a good job and stitching up carefully. They are simply fulfilling a legal requirement to help them, even if they can't pay, and consider it an imposition. So this seventeen year old girl has had her uterus compromised by indifferent, racist, doctors.

As we were sitting on the wood floor, admiring the 2 babies, the 14 year old girl suddenly left and came back with her 7 month old daughter! She had been 13 when she delivered her, 2 months early.

My head scrambled with the math. If she delivered a baby at 7 months gestation, while still 13, the oldest she could have possibly been when she got pregnant is less than 13 and a half. So that would be like my oldest son, the kid who just turned 13 and is still more kid than teenager, suddenly becoming a parent. I don't even want to think about it.

Then she told me that the baby's father, her "husband", had left her to stay at his parent's house and didn't come around anymore or even give her any money to pay for food.

So I asked how old he is, thinking maybe he's a kid like her who just couldn't handle the responsibility. No, he's 25 years old!!

He's a 25 year old man who seduced a 13 year old child and got her pregnant and then abandoned her to go live at his parents house and get high on the local drug.

14 year old mama
 There's no one she can turn to. This place is lawless. In Burma she could go to the village head man, who would have witnessed her marriage, and demand support for herself and her child. But here, there is no headman, no village government. There are just squalid settlements and almost everyone is in survival mode. The Thai police don't care about migrants. They do nothing except harass and abuse them.

[The government hospital purposely doesn't stock important medicine that helps a premature baby's lungs develop, because they are required by law to give it to Burmese babies too, and it's expensive. So they don't keep it in stock so they don't have to give it. My friend's baby almost died because they didn't have this medicine on hand when her daughter was born early and her lungs and heart weren't ready. Friends had to drive 4 hours on treacherous mountain roads to bring the medicine back to the hospital for her baby.

Most Burmese don't have a friend with a car willing to drive all day to bring back medicine for them. What do you suppose happens to those babies?]

This was just one part, of one day. I saw many other women today, went to many more places to bring the nutrition packages I've committed to giving to the pregnant and nursing mothers in my class.

We left some eggs and vegetables with the 14 year old mother also. It was the only thing we could do in the moment to help her. I'll be back with more next week.

As we got back in the car, TinTin, our assistant director, and translator extraordinaire, said to me, "Sometimes, I think I hate men."

I knew exactly what she meant, and how she felt. Sometimes I feel the same way.

I know that the gaps between posts on this blog get longer, and longer, and I'm silent far too often. These stories are hard to tell. I often don't know where to begin. I usually tell them over here at The Charis Project's blog. There are good stories in there too, along with the hard. I try to focus on the good.

(I wonder if I should tell you that as I write this I'm experiencing significant gastro-intestinal distress again. I've run to the bathroom 3 times 4 times so far. Or that I spent the last 2 days going through all my children's hair and doing laundry because of lice, again. You know, so you get a complete picture. It's such a small detail compared to the other things, but it's part of why I've lost energy for blogging.)

I'm trying to tell some of these stories today because we need your help.

We're barely scratching the surface of the need with our programs so far. Since I started the birth class I've been swamped with requests to do it again, for more women, in more communities. It's a little thing, but empowering women, and mothers, it turns out, is not such a little thing after all. You can see it, in the way they sit a little taller, and speak a little more confidently after class, in the way they teach each other what I've taught them.

TinTin wants to start a women's center. She wants a place where we give classes every night, real  classes that help women to care for their children and families, and also give them an excuse to leave the house when husbands are drunk, or high, and it gets violent and dangerous. One night some of the women in our class shared with us that their husbands are alcoholics, and it's very hard to live with them. They said they don't mind when class runs late because it gives them an excuse to stay away from home until the men are passed out.

We talked about violence and how it affects children, even if they only see it and don't experience it directly, and how there's always a choice, even if it doesn't seem like there is in the moment. The day after that class, TinTin told us her idea for a place that women could come to learn, and escape, the secret rooms that no one knows about.

We also want to start a nursery school that helps care for these children during the day and gives them a good start on learning. It will help these mothers, who need to work to survive, and help these children succeed. (Kids can come on a scholarship that their mothers, or fathers, qualify for by attending our night classes that help them to parent and provide better.)

We want to do this as soon as possible. But first we need to have another $1500/month coming in in committed donations.

I wrote a post on the other blog that explains all about it. You can read it here. I tried to make it lighthearted and funny. (My heart is less light today.)

Or you can just decide right now that you want to help us do something about this, to shine a light in this dark place.

You can go directly to our donate page, and sign up for a monthly donation to any program that you like, but Community Education is the one that funds the birth class and the center.

The light of hope seems such small fragile thing against the immense darkness, but if there is anything that advent has taught us, it's to hold onto hope. This season will you join us in lighting a candle to hold against the darkest night? Will you help us give these families hope?


One Day

I participated in the One Day party on Instagram again this year, hosted by Laura of HollyWood HouseWife. Every year that I do this I think to myself I will follow up by making it into a blog post so that readers who aren't on IG can see what goes on in a typical day here. This year, it's the third year, I'm actually doing it. So without further ado, one day of my life, in photos.

A child always wakes me up in the morning, rarely ever is it the baby. Then today I have to wake this guy up because he has a super early breakfast date with our oldest son, who is 13 today. He wants to get breakfast at the Burmese tea shop in the city, and they start early. If you wait to go until 8am they might be out of everything.

I decide to to so quick lice check before my shower because my head's been feeling just a bit itchy and someone we know told us she found lice. I've been checking the girls obsessively and they're fine so I didn't expect to find anything. One adult louse, several nits later... Crap.
Lice is everywhere here. You sort of get used to it.

Next stop, laundry room. I love my laundry room. It's big, and has room to hang a full load of laundry in it if it's raining.

Present wrapping time. You can't buy salt n vinegar chips anywhere in our city. But Aaron got these at the one store in Chiangmai that we've found that sells them. Chocolate is pretty expensive here so these are really big treats. Exciting enough to wrap. The Boy shares a love language in chocolate with me.

Prepping birthday surprises. BamBam really wants those presents to be for him.
Our friend Mike just arrived last night. He and his wife are thinking about moving to Thailand next year to help out with The Charis Project. I snuck a photo of him skyping with his kids back in California.

The guys brought back tea house breakfast. Nambia (flatbread), dahl, samosas, Burmese donuts, milk tea. The Burmese eat a lot of fried, oily foods. It's their main source of calories. They are usually very thin because they work hard and don't get a lot to eat.

We don't usually have someone unwrapping presents at the breakfast table. This day is a bit atypical. He loves the pocket microscope we got him.

After breakfast I walk around the house for the first time in a while and pull some vines that have grown all over things during rainy season. I was going to show you my pepper tree completely engulfed by a wild passion fruit vine, but the baby under the jack fruit tree is a lot cuter.

This is the drive into town from our house. I'm a big fan of living in the country. It's balm for my soul.
The Boy wants pizza and nachos for his birthday dinner. I almost never buy cheese, so it's a treat. He wants sausage, bacon, and pineapple pizza to be exact. I can't just go to the store for Italian sausage. It starts with fresh ground pork at this butcher, and then the spices in my kitchen. I will not worry about casings. Aaron has perfected bacon curing, we sell it in @thecharisproject's shop here, so that part is easy.

Aaron and the girls take Mike to the #charisfarm to check it out. The kids love to swim in the fish ponds.

The boys opt to stay home from the farm and put together the 3D puzzle BamBam chose for the Boy's birthday gift.

Dek is napping, the boys are playing together, Aaron and the girls are showing Mike around town. It's time for me to work. I'm putting together the handouts and outline for the next prenatal class for @thecharisproject. We're on week 8, and moving into keeping babies and toddlers healthy, disease prevention, etc. We're working to help the poorer women in our community to be empowered as mothers and as women. Many of them have never before seen a diagram of what their reproductive organs look like or know how they work. Explaining to them how conception works and babies grow is revelatory.  It's one of my favorite things I get to do here. Ps. I love my office, with its big windows and spectacular views. Even if it is the warmest room in the house.

My office has pretty nice views, you can see all the way to Burma. But out the other window I can see this little migrant village. A neighbor is blasting some Burmese covers of classic rock n roll songs right now.
The rain comes up suddenly. We're nearing the end of rainy season. Which means it doesn't rain every day, but it still rains a few times a week. (Come dry season, and then hot season, there will be no rain at all.) As soon as it starts to rain I run outside to grab all the laundry. Even under cover it will get really wet again, the air is so damp.

"Mommy, can I go out in da rain and get wet?"

We usually go to a nearby migrant village to teach the kids English this day. Their parents speak Burmese or Lisu, and they'll learn to speak Thai at the government school. English is just one more tool we are giving them to help them in the future.

This kid really wanted to help with the birthday dinner. Even making pizza dough.

Pressed the girls into service grating cheese for nachos. I forgot to take a photo of the nachos. It's the first time we've had them since coming to Thailand. I found a place in town that sells real corn chips!
Sunsets here are beautiful. Daily.
I put the pizzas in the oven and didn't realize there was no flame. We ran out of gas. Aaron and one of our guests went out to buy another canister while the pizzas waited.

The big boys keep themselves busy playing with the toys while we wait for pizza.

After baking at least a dozen pizzas, much later than intended thanks to running out of gas, we finally get around to the cake. (We always seem to run out of gas while cooking something fancy or special.)

He's a little bit introverted my son. I asked if he wanted a party and he declined in favor of just spending a large portion of the day reading by himself at the farm. He requested one friend, and his family, join us for dinner. But as the day progressed he called me and added more guests to the list. In the end he had a small party after all. I'm grateful that he has a few good friends. A boy like him, that's all he needs.

It's rather late when we say goodbye to all our guests and get everyone ready for bed. I hope the kids all fall asleep quickly.
He's exhausted. But he keeps talking. I'm trying to let him, and really listen, because, my 13 year old still talks to me, and tells me all the the random things stuffed in his brain! I sit here every night waiting for the 4 year old to fall asleep. It's a pretty good excuse to be present while he's sorting through all of the thoughts and events of the day.
Now it's this kid's turn to sleep. It's 12am here. No wonder I'm tired.

I put away the rest if the food left out, but don't bother to tidy beyond what it already is. The morning brings with it the girl I pay to help around the house. She'll take care of it, and be happy I have something for her to do so she's not bored.

Facebook and I had a moment. Most of my friends are awake now and being interesting. But I just saw the time. I'm signing off at 1am. Not shown today are the number of times I've gone through my hair with a lice comb, (4) and the big water bottles in the back of the car to illustrate the part of the day when we were out of drinking water because Aaron hasn't returned from town yet with refilled bottles. Headed to brush my teeth and find something to cover my hair with before laying down. Goodnight all. Thanks @hollywoodhwife for hosting. It's been fun.


False Alarms and Energy Drinks

She hands me a little plastic bag through the driver window. “Ah Sayama, chesu tin ba deh.” (Teacher, thank you, in Burmese.) I let my surprise show on my face. Not over the drinks, the ladies have taken to giving me these little gratitude tokens every week, almost always an energy drink. They must think I look tired.

I’m not expecting to see her because I drove her to the clinic two days ago to have a baby, along with her sister, her husband, and her sister’s husband, to help take care of her.

There she is, still pregnant, laughing, a little embarrassed, and ready for class this week.

I save my questions for when we arrive, because Tintin can translate for me when we get there.

“When I got there they checked me, but I’m still not dilated,” she says. “When sayama, she checked me in the car and told me it would be a long time, I was just worried about getting to the clinic in time. I didn’t want to have to call her in the middle of the night. And when she offered to go and wait at her house I didn’t want her to be put out because I had people with me. So thank you Sayama.”

I hadn’t been completely certain that she wasn’t actually having any contractions, and just Braxton Hicks, after watching her for a few minutes. They are greatly stoic people after all. She could just be a really quiet laborer. But I knew that she had a long ways to go before a baby was imminent. That much was clear. Her water had definitely not broken yet, unlike what I had been told. I realized I should have asked how many pieces of clothing were soaked when her water broke. Things like the distinction between water and cervical mucus can be really lost in translation. I need to determine quantity of liquid in the future.

She, and at least 4 others, started coming to class after we talked about signs of labor. That’s something we need to fix today, rather than wait for the review class in a few weeks. Many of them are due in the next month.

I ask her to tell the class what happened as a preamble to going over the signs of labor again. I’ve never seen her smile this much. She always stares wide eyed and worried during class. She’s always seemed serious, and a little bit afraid. Tonight she is laughing, she is telling them about it and smiling.

I explain the difference between mucus, and water breaking, and she makes a note of it. I talk about looking for pink or brown in the mucus to show the cervix is opening, and how much water there usually is when your water actually breaks. I explain about timing contractions, how long they get, and how far apart, before it’s time to go to the clinic. I tell them that with my first baby I thought it was labor way too early too, everyone does. They laugh, relieved it's not just them.

She reiterates that she doesn’t want to wake us up late at night, Tintin, or me, and I tell her again that it’s no problem. Babies come at night. I expect to be woken up when their babies are finally ready to come.

But it’s good to see her smile, and laugh, like the false alarm has provided her some much needed comfort with the whole thing, and alleviated some of her fear for when it really is time for that baby to come.

Edited to add [TinTin just told me today that this girl felt really honored to be asked to tell the class about what happened, and that I had offered to take her to my house. That's one of the reasons she was smiling so much. So that's pretty cool, that treating these women like I would treat one of my western friends makes them feel honored. They receive so little honor from their culture or the country they reside in. The Burmese even have a ridiculous taboo against hanging women's clothes to dry up high, or above men's clothing. So that made my day.]

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