Dear Nina

6 July 2015

6 July, 2015

Dear Nina,

Congratulations on becoming 2 months old today!

Around 10:30 pm on the 4th of May your mommy bent down to give a good-night-pat to our dogs, Ava and Aussie. And the water broke. You were a month early. Our doctor had estimated your due-date to be the 5th of June.

We had tried to conceive you for a while and let me tell you, it’s easier said than done.

Your mommy and I debated whether this was truly the water that broke or just some pregnancy-related secretion. We decided better safe than sorry, and I’m glad we did.

As we had not prepared at all for the delivery date, being one month early, we didn’t have a pre-packed bag like all the textbooks said for us to do. We scrambled trying to pack some hospital-friendly clothes for your mommy and whatever baby clothes and blankets we imagined were hospital friendly for you.

Sometimes around 11 pm we said “bye bye” to our doggies and got into our rather dirty but reliable Volvo V40. I had never been to the hospital so I hoped it would be easy to find. We headed towards Shatin Prince of Wales Hospital which was our allotted hospital to bring you into the world.

Once there daddy had to figure out all the various registration procedures which were deemed necessary. We eventually ended up in the prenatal ward and the doctors and nurses there wanted to check out mommy to determine if you indeed were about to pop. They fairly rapidly concluded this was indeed the case.

It’s a grown-up thing to consider that a male specimen like me could not be by your mother’s side while she was being prepared in the female-only ward for delivery, so I had to wait outside together with about 3 other daddies-to-be, who looked rather tired and perhaps not completely at ease.

I saw your mommy being rolled past the door to the waiting area and I was allowed to exchange some words. One nurse in as good English as she could manage told me that your mommy’s contractions had begun and she was being moved to the delivery room. Apparently if I was a good boy and the doctor and nurses conceded, I would be able to attend later.

A nurse came to query if we really opted out on getting you vaccinated right after birth. I confirmed that we indeed wanted to opt out at this stage but when you are older with a stronger immune system we will vaccinate you then. The nurse reported to the doctor who was a skinny young Chinese woman in her early thirties. The doctor wanted to see me to have her go at telling me all the risks that were involved in not vaccinating you at this stage. I listened patiently but didn’t budge. The doctor also wanted to inject antibiotics directly into your mommy’s bloodstream because apparently you were both at risk. I asked to get more information and eventually agreed to the antibiotics but not the vaccination.

When the doctor left your mommy whispered in my ear that the doctor had asked her to simply lie to her gweilo husband to make him feel satisfied while they did it anyway. As you can imagine, I wasn’t very impressed. I must say though that the nurses and midwifes were very pleasant and helpful.

By this time it was close to 2:30 am. I was starved and roamed around the hospital to try to find anything to eat. I finally located a 7/11 in a different building which offered some scrumptious delights, not. I downed whatever substance they called food and finished off with an ice-cold, pre-packaged glassed Starbucks espresso.

Daddy was still a smoker at this time and the stress and tiredness and sudden presence of caffeine required a cigarette. Not allowed on the hospital premise. What to do?  I snuck out to the visitor parking lot outside the prenatal ward and away from security cameras I indulged in my habit.

When I got back mommy told me to go back home and take care of the doggies because it would probably be a while before you would come out. I decided to stay for a bit longer. Suddenly nurses were running by outside the waiting area and I knew something was up. They sent out the most expendable one to come and grab me. Unfortunately she didn’t speak a word of English and I had no idea what she was trying to tell me.

After many failed attempts at sign language I finally figured out that she wanted me to get dressed in a medical coat for clinical reasons, wash my hands and get them sterilized and come with her to the delivery room.

Once I entered the delivery room your head was already out. The doctor and nurses worked tirelessly trying to get you out but you were stuck. Mommy was strong but in severe pain. The best I could do was to be by your mother’s side and just hold her hand and quietly whisper soothing comments in her ear.

The doctor after checking your heart monitor decided they had an emergency so they had to cut open your mommy’s vagina a bit to allow your shoulders to pass through. The cut was made and with only a few pushes from your mommy and with strong hands grabbing your head, you popped out within 5 minutes of the cut.

At 4:26 am you were born and I witnessed every second of it from my vantage point. It was one of the most magical moments I have experienced in my lifetime. As with any newborns your tiny body was covered with blood and a yellowish secretion. The doctor confirmed all your vital signs were fine. You did a short little cry at the moment of being pushed out but otherwise you were calm and silent.

While your mommy pushed out the rest of the placenta you were being cleaned up as good as could be managed at the time and then placed skin-to-skin on your mother’s chest. You were facing me and you were so incredibly tiny, weighing in at 2.43 kilos – only .3 kilo above the limit where hospital policy calls for an incubator. Your umbilical cord was cut with a pair of scissors and you didn’t even flinch.

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After only a few minutes you opened one eye and looked right into mine. Magical moment number 2.

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6 May, 2015

The nurses and doctor decided to let us having some quality time, just the 3 of us, and left the delivery room, except one nurse who was helping to clean up your mommy. After about 20 minutes the doctor and another nurse came back in. You were grabbed to get cleaned up while the doctor started to stitch your mommy back together. I had to leave and retreated to the waiting room where the other daddies were still waiting, because you were very fast – less than 6 hours from the water breaking to being born. Your mommy was very relieved it went so fast.

What happened next I am glad I didn’t witness because your daddy’s Viking genes would have taken over. Your mommy told me later that the doctor started to stitch her up but the local anesthesia had worn off so it was extremely painful. Mommy cried out to the doctor that it really hurt but the young Chinese male doctor ignored her completely. Not only did he ignore mommy but he was also very rough handed. The only sign that the doctor even had a hearing ability was a slight mumbling grunt. Finally a nurse tried to succor mommy, understanding the extreme pain and discomfort, but didn’t of course dare saying anything to the doctor. The doctor finished and left without a word.

When I was told I was fuming. It ought to be illegal for a person to become a doctor who has zero ability to communicate and who on top of all is anything but gentle and caring. Got me really pondering what qualifications modern doctors in Hong Kong really have as apparently being a decent human being isn’t one of them, but that’s how it goes when spoiled brats take up the profession because of the prestige and the pay check… But now I’m going off track.

The midwives took care of you so mommy could get some well-deserved rest. But there was no rest for the wicked. Because you decided to arrive one month early poppa was caught up Shit Creek without a paddle as he as usual had procrastinated and kept pushing things to the last minute. However, poppa did have a moment of genius while waiting in the delivery ward anteroom. Poppa posted requests to a facebook group called Sai Kung Marketplace to obtain those items he heretofore had not acquired yet. And before the 8 am bell rang he had several leads on a second hand baby bed, Moses cot and baby clothes.

Baby bed ad

Both you and mommy were doing fine and were sleeping so poppa got in the car, paid the over-pregnant Hospital Visitors parking fee @ $50/hour and whizzed off the 35 km back home to first take care of the doggies who were both starved and needed to do morning wee wee.

After the doggie business was taken care of I showered and spent the next 6 hours on the road visiting various families from Sai Kung to the far end of Clear Water Bay and stuffed my Volvo full of all the items we were missing. Not even $600 later, most of it made up of gasoline cost, and many good-byes to wonderful Samaritans who were willing to help out a desperate daddy in distress, I unpacked my car and neatly stored everything in our house. I felt extra energetic that day and even cleaned so that the homecoming of you and mommy would be a nice one.

But even a Viking gets tired so I dropped dead on the couch for 90 minutes and then back to the hospital. By this time I was bound by visiting hours so I spent between 5 – 8 pm with you and mommy. You two were in the beginning stages of figuring out how to breast feed and the various nurses contributed about as many pieces of advice as there were nurses…

6 May 2015

6 May, 2015

That night I slept very well and so did mommy.

Day #2: Apparently the doctor had detected a suspicious murmur when listening to your heart so they put you in an incubator at the post-natal ward. So an old school mate of mommy, who was the only one except your grandmother who came by to visit, only got to see you through the glass of the incubator. As your mommy was doing relatively fine she was released and we had to take you to the pediatric section of the hospital for a detailed ultrasound of your little heart. While waiting for the results you were placed in an incubator at the pediatric ward where you stayed on and off for about one other day.

You were fairly peaceful, only wearing a diaper in a 32 degree temperature-controlled environment. When you slept you were dreaming and did a bunch of kicks with your legs. There were certainly no issues with your leg muscles.

We overstayed the visiting hours by about an hour that evening but had to leave you around 9 pm. That night your mommy and I went to bed without you and we were quite worried.

Day #3: The doctor informed us that you had a heart condition called Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) which in so many words meant a defect in the ventricular septum, the wall dividing the left and right ventricles of the heart. In your case the defect was a tiny hole in the wall that is supposed to be closed and the hole caused the murmur when listening to your heart with a stethoscope.

The doctors explained that with such a small hole there was a big chance the heart would repair itself by the time you are one year old and that we shouldn’t worry too much. All your other vital signs were normal and healthy and the doctors released you later that afternoon.

We had brought some blankets and baby clothes and we got our first chance to put clothes on you. I carefully carried you out of the hospital into our car and we drove home, the first time with all 3 of us.

Nina first time home 8 May 2015

8 May, 2015

At our home we have two doggies. Aussie (named after a rugby team the original adopter was watching when she acquired this set of puppies) was just over 2 years old and Ava was 1 ½ years old. Quite a handful of concerned friends had warned us that dogs don’t go well with babies but I wasn’t convinced. I had noticed how some families shooed away their dogs anytime they approach their baby and I think I would have become quite antsy too if someone always shooed me off every time I wanted to say “Hello”.

So I took a calculated risk and trusted my own judgment about our dogs and theorized that if I didn’t drive a wedge between the baby and the dogs but let them interact from the very beginning without any restrictions on the parts of the dogs, the dogs would be fine and just consider Nina as part of the family.

Whether or not my theory was correct I do not know, but it nevertheless worked. When we stepped through our front door, the first thing I did was to kneel down and carefully lower you in my embrace to the level of our dogs. They carefully approached and gently sniffed you and I let them until they were satisfied that they had inspected you thoroughly. From that moment until now there has only been love from the dogs towards you without the slightest sign of aggression.

Well, one exception. Our female dog, Ava, is considerably smarter and more elegant than our male dog Aussie. He is what one could consider a clumsy, not-too-bright clown. So in the first two days Ava appeared to take on the role of a mother and protected you from Aussie who was rather clumsy around you. She would growl at Aussie anytime he would come near and even guard the front door at night.

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Ava 6 July, 2015

This could evolve into a problem so I had to teach Ava that it was not okay in my household to growl at Aussie but I also acknowledged her for being a good protector and guardian. She seemed to understand and after two days there was no growling or hostility between the dogs regarding you. Every day since they greet you when they come in or you come home with a lick on the cheek and a quick sniff in your diaper area, to the absolute abhorrence of your poor grandmother who gets horror movie pictures of billions of bacteria infesting your poor little baby body. But she doesn’t argue with the 6’ 3” gweilo!

Noteworthy is the fact that 2 months later, at the time of this writing, you have been 100% healthy without a single day of fever, cold, flu or any other illness, as well as no skin allergies. So despite how unorthodox some consider that my principles are, you have remained 100% healthy (touch wood) and I am very glad that is the case.

Up to the point that you arrived at our home we had been calling you “mini-honey”. From the moment your mommy and I first discussed having a baby back in 2011 you were then referred to as “mini-honey”. We knew you were a girl since about 5 months into the pregnancy when we got the first glimpse of you with the ultrasound pictures.

Minihoney 20 Jan 2015

Ultrasound 20 Jan, 2015

We decided to give you the name Nina, because it was short and sweet and workable as a name in both English and Swedish and easy to pronounce for a Chinese. So after you arrived home “mini-honey” faded out and you became just Nina.

“Nina” as a name has origins in many languages including Russian and Spanish from Saint Nino where “Nina” in Spanish also means “little girl” but the core meaning in English is “grace”. In Native American Cuechua your name means “fire” or “strong” or “powerful” or “excellent”. In Hebrew your name means “God was gracious” or simply “gracious”, while in Swahili your name means “mother” or “friend” and in some usages “flower”, like your mommy.

5 July 2015 2

5 July, 2015

Your maternal grandpa is a bit of a celebrity in the local village he came from in the northern Guangzhou province as he apprenticed under a mighty Sifu simply referred to as “Grandpa”. I know, confusing, grandpa and “Grandpa”… Your grandpa took over as Sifu upon the passing of “Grandpa”. “Grandpa” is the one that gave your mommy her name, Ching Fa, which roughly means pure, pristine flower in Chinese.

5 July 2015

5 July, 2015 – not your favorite activity

According to the specific interpretation of the Chinese calendar your grandpa is using, and this is VERY crudely summarized, there is a 12-year cycle that repeats, each year is divided in 12 months, each month is divided into 30 days and each day is divided into 12 periods.

Every person is born with an exact year, month, day and time. Each of these is divided up into five elements: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. “Metal” in this case is actually represented by the Chinese character for “Jade” and some Chinese rather use the word “Gold” in English, but commonly the English translation refers to simply “Metal”.

A person’s personality and future is supposedly determined by the relationship and balance of these 5 elements according to the time being born.

You were born in the year of the Goat, which carries the element “Wood” and is also considered a Yin year, as opposed to a Yang year.

You can see a chart of this here:

Chinese Zodiac

The 6th of May according to the Chinese calendar is the second day of its 4th month, the month of the Snake which starts when the solar longitude reaches 45 degrees and is the 2nd day into the official summer period according to the Chinese calendar. (Summer starts May 5th.)

This period is attributed with the element Fire.

(Coincidentally, the 6th of May contains the date of my birthday according to the Western calendar and contains the month of your mommy’s birthday.)

The time you were born corresponds with the period “Tiger” of which the element Wood is attributed.

Breaking down all the factors you arrive at a sum of the various elements attributed to your birth time. In your case that amounted to 4 parts Wood, 3 parts Earth, 3 parts Fire, 1 part Water and 0 parts Metal (or Gold.)

A balance between all the elements is deemed ideal. Earth characteristics are supposedly similar to Fire characteristics, so according to this system you are supposed to be VERY fiery, something not necessarily untrue as we will cover later. You grandpa also foretold that you will work in showbiz, get your first serious date at the age of 16 and that you can be very fiery and stubborn, but able to control it.

As you have no parts Metal [jade] based on your birth time your granddad suggested to use a name which includes the radical for Jade or gemstone in your name. According to his belief this will help balance your elements. Therefore in English we gave you the middle name “Amber” which is a gemstone.

In Chinese we gave you the name Sui Ning or 瑞寧. In the character 瑞 there is a jade [Metal] radical. This is incidentally the same character as in the Chinese name for Sweden, 瑞典. The meaning of瑞 (pronounced sui in English, or söj in Swedish) is auspicious.

The meaning of 寧 (pronounced ning – which sounds somewhat similar to Nina) is tranquility or serenity. So your Chinese name means auspicious serenity.

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9 May, 2015

When I came to Hong Kong your mommy created a Chinese name for me. She gave me the Chinese last name of “Au” and my proper name is Long Sang (區朗生). The sound in Cantonese Chinese (with its 9 tones) of Au Long Sang sounds similar in melody and intonation to how a Swede pronounces my Swedish last name Olofsson. Au is just a last name and Long Sang means vivid life.

So your full Chinese name is區瑞寧 – pronounced Au Sui Ning, though your grandma calls you “Ning ning”, like she calls me “ah Long” and your mommy “ah Fa”. Though this is not the same “Long” as in “Long Sang” (朗生) but pronounced with a different tone which changes the meaning to “wolf”, which is what “Ulf” means in Old Norse. I know, quite confusing with all these Chinese and Western names… Especially as just a slightly different pronunciation of “Long” becomes “Lung” which means “dragon” and is what your grandpa calls me.

It is worthy to note that your mommy’s elements contain a large majority Water and your daddy’s elements contain a very large majority Fire, so between the two of us we are fairly balanced, but not necessarily as individuals… But according to grandpa, you Nina, are even fierier than I am, which I must admit, we have experienced some of in the last two months.

12 May 2015

12 May, 2015 on Mommy’s birthday

Your first week home was the calmest, for us, so far. Your grandma came by every day for about 10 days in the afternoon and prepared food for your mommy according to Chinese medicine and traditions. From my non-Chinese perspective it consisted of utterly overcooked pork and chicken and rice with way too much ginger – EVERY MEAL! According to your grandma pretty much ANYTHING I call food was not acceptable because it was too “cold” – a Chinese concept too complicated to elaborate on here. So after your grandma left I felt so sorry for mommy I would cook her dinners with tons of vegetables as I was concerned she would get any nutrients at all from the overcooked ginger, chicken and pork. This was of course kept secret from your grandma.

6 July 2015 1

6 July, 2015 with Grandma

I would also get her fruits for vitamins, minerals and enzymes even though this was a complete no no. We compromised. For lunch it was the Chinese way and for dinner it was the Swedish way. Your grandma also brought an entire sack of some foul smelling herbs collected in her home village in northern Guangzhou. The idea was that you cook up a kettle of water with a bunch of these herbs and then your mommy bathes in it. A regular shower was not allowed according to your grandma.

Our entire bathtub was stained brown after a week of this. On the third day your mommy couldn’t take it and broke the rule and showered because she felt so unclean. But she was being a good daughter and bathed in this concoction every afternoon which your grandma taught me how to prepare for your mommy. The idea was that without bathing in these herbs your mommy’s body would not recover back to a healthy state and she would remain unhealthy for the rest of her life.

Well after a week your mommy couldn’t take it anymore and stopped the herbal baths. We also had an increasing number of little flies in our house that we had never seen before. They were everywhere and even in your baby cot. It drove us mad as no matter how many we killed they kept showing up. Only after 3 weeks did we locate the source of all these hundreds of flies – the leftover sack of Chinese herbs which we hadn’t touched for two weeks. I opened the bag which was loosely closed and out came a scene from the “Lord of the Flies” movie. Needless to say, that sack of herbs was no more in our household…

But let’s go back to that first week. You ate about every 3 hours and slept deep in between. We though, “This is going to be fairly easy!” How wrong we were…

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14 May, 2015

After your first checkup appointment at the pediatric clinic in Ma On Shan you only weighed 2.37 kilos, i.e. your weight had decreased after your birth. We were a bit worried but the nurses said this was normal.

But after that first week your feeding schedule reduced to about once an hour. It seemed excessive and as inexperienced parents we looked up the phenomenon online to see if it was normal. We found out that there are periodical “growth spurts” for a baby. Well, since after your first week you have been in a permanent growth spurt!

5 July 2015 3

5 July, 2015

After a month of feeding every hour or hour and a half you consumed sometimes more than a liter a day – twice the “normal” amount for a baby your age. By one month old you were 4.1 kilos. And today, two months old, you were 5.2 kilos – more than twice your birth-weight in two months.

20 June 2015

20 June, 2015

This weight is not out of the ordinary for a baby your age, but is remarkable considering the weight (as a preterm baby) you started at. After about 4 weeks your mommy couldn’t keep up breast feeding you as she literally didn’t produce enough breast milk to stifle your relentless demand. We started calling you the “Black Hole”, well in addition to “shrimpy” after your peculiar knack of curling up your arms and legs like a shrimp, even when sleeping. Though I just called you “shrimp”.

2 June 2015 1

2 June, 2015

Your mommy could produce about 800 ml of breast milk on a good day but you consumed more than that after the first month. So I researched baby formula to supplement the breast milk. Based on reviews, a study of ingredients and availability to buy locally in Sai Kung, I settled for an organic baby formula produced in Switzerland called “Holle” which we could obtain in our local Fusion store.

Being the responsible mother that your mommy is, she took it quite hard that she was not able to produce enough breast milk for you, despite the buckets of fish soup your grandma forced her to eat. Just this fact alone was very stressful for her; a sense of “failing” as a mother. We planned to pump milk and freeze it for consumption after your mother’s maternity leave was over, which was only 10 weeks as per the law in Hong Kong. In the first two weeks your mom managed to build up a bit of a supply but by the third week your mom could barely keep up with the current demand and by the 4th week the reserve was gone and by the next week baby formula supplementation was a necessity.

Despite much moral support and much advice from friends the stress factor alone made it difficult for your mommy to produce more. You also became increasingly impatient. You wanted food and you wanted it all NOW. Therefore breast feeding became too slow for you. You would get agitated that not enough got in your little mouth so we had to start pumping and bottle feed you breast milk because you would get WAY too impatient to breastfeed. By two months old only on rare occasion would you breast feed but otherwise you were bottle fed breast milk which mommy pumped out diligently every 4 hours or so.

Your grandpa’s prediction that you would become much fierier than even me certainly held true. But it would be unfair of me to only point out the tougher aspects of raising you. When you smile it is the most beautiful thing. Your dark grey-green eyes look right into mine and your smile melts anything in its way.

6 July 2015

6 July, 2015

You’re so bloody cute, even in your fiercest moments you look cute, though the perception of that cuteness wanes after a few hours of continuous fierceness…

2 June 2015

2 June, 2015

When you feed you grunt like a middle-aged Chinese uncle. When you poo you literally have 100 expressions dashing through your face. When you sleep you look like an angel!

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16 May, 2015

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16 May, 2015 – Superhero pose!

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16 May, 2015

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16 May, 2015

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16 May, 2015

I will keep writing little anecdotes in the diary we bought for you, but realize that daddy hates handwriting and much prefers to type, but I will make an attempt – of course when you allow me to, which isn’t often these days as you demand 99% attention at most times.

1 July 2015

1 July, 2015

One last little note worth mentioning, though I am not bitterly writing it, is that none of daddy’s friends have found the time to come and visit during these two months and witness the miracle that you are. Some of mommy’s friends have come and of course her family. I don’t have much of a family left; only your paternal grandmother and she is located on the other side of the world and is a bit too old to travel alone to Hong Kong, so unfortunately you won’t get many visits from my side. Hong Kong does have a reputation for being a busy and hustling city with long working hours, which I understand, but you should know that your daddy would have, and have, visited friends who just got a baby.

I love your mommy and I love you and I am both proud and very happy that you are now in our lives, despite being only ¼ awake. I really look forward to raise you and see you grow. One day you will be able to read this and we can all look back at how it was in the beginning. Until then, good health and everlasting love to you my dear Nina!

3 June 2015

3 June, 2015

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