Friday, July 20, 2018 was one of the hottest summer days in Beijing. The temperature reached 104 degrees. I was exhausted after 4 business meetings across the city and having dinner with a WG’18. I laid down on my bed after a quick shower and I almost fell asleep.
On the other side of the world, my very pregnant wife, Joanna, was visiting our obstetrics doctor in Philadelphia. It was routine check-up 3 weeks before the due date of our first daughter. I left Joanna in Philadelphia with my mother-in-law who took care of her while I was in China for my summer internship. Normally, I waited until she messaged me after a doctor’s appointment before going to sleep. But I was so tired on that day that I fell asleep.
At 1:03 a.m., I got her call. “Honey, the doctor asked to admit me to the hospital to start the labor induction process. I need you to book the next flight and be here asap,” she said. It was 1:03 p.m. in Philadelphia.
I jumped out of the bed, pulled out my laptop, and booked the next flight at 9 a.m. from Beijing to Newark, NJ. I emailed my boss about my family emergency and initiated the start of my pre-approved paternity leave. I finished all my unfinished work and went to bed at 5:30 a.m. I woke up at 6:30 a.m. and I woke up my parents at 7 a.m. I told them that their granddaughter was on her way. I boarded the plane at 8:15 a.m.
Before switching my phone to airplane mode, I messaged my wife. “Honey, I can’t reach you in the next 12 hours because there is no WIFI onboard, so follow the doctor’s orders. I will pray for our daughter and for you from the sky! I will also find her a beautiful name, trust me! You are a great wife and I am sure that you will be a great mom! I will be next to you in 12 hours, so hold on and trust yourself. I love you!” At that moment, I wished that I could take a rocket just to reach her.
After my flight took off, my mind rattled with conflicting thoughts. One side of me wished that the baby came before I landed, so Joanna would only endure a short period of pain. The other side of me hoped that the baby would wait until I arrived at the hospital, so I could witness her birth and be the first family member to hold her. I tried to take a nap, but my mind raced. I tried to write down my thoughts in my notebook, but I didn’t know where to start. I even tried to watch a movie, but I turned off the screen after only 5 minutes.
I started to work on the baby’s name. Joanna and I started the name researching process right after she got pregnant, but the whole process was way more complicated than we expected. All my proposed names were rejected by either Joanna or by our Chinese parents. Names were rejected because either the meaning wasn’t blessed, or because it didn’t sound pleasant to the ear.
There was no way that I could find a perfect name that everyone loved. I told myself to just follow my heart. I decided to name the baby after what Joanna and I had been through during the entire pregnancy. The baby’s name would memorialize some of our best memories.
I used the next 6 hours of the flight to narrow down the name list to four names. Pei-En was one of them. In Chinese, “Pei” means “to wear something” and “En” means “love and gratitude”. It was pleasant to the ear in both English and Chinese, and I just loved how simple the meaning was.
Finally, my flight landed. I called Joanna while the flight was still taxiing. She didn’t pick up. I called her again but still no answer. I called my mother-in-law, but she didn’t pick up her phone either. I called my parents in Beijing. They said that they received no update after I departed.
I was nervous. I kept calling and messaging Joanna. I tried to pass through the immigration check as quickly as I could. I was fooled by the first Uber driver that I got. The driver called and asked where I was going. The driver then headed in the opposite direction on the map and never answered the phone again.
Luckily, the second Uber driver that I got was a father of two. He helped me to make up for lost time on the highway after he found out that I was going to get my baby at the hospital. I eventually heard from my wife halfway into my drive to Philadelphia. She was resting on the bed and the baby was still half the way through. “I can still make it to welcome my daughter!” I screamed in the car.
Twenty-four hours after I received the first call from my wife, I arrived at the Pennsylvania Hospital and saw her lying on her bed. She looked much smaller in- person than I recalled. Perhaps it was due to the size of her belly and the adjusted bed. I sat down next to her and I held her hands. I looked my wife in the eye and said, “Honey, you have been doing great since yesterday. Now I am here to give you all my support. Let’s wait for the baby together!”
After another 24 hours, the baby was finally born. The total labor induction time was 48 hours. A typical labor induction lasts from 2 hours to 12 hours. Joanna was exhausted afterward. Her face and lips were pale, and her body was extremely weak. But I only saw her braveness, her persistence and her maternal love as evidenced by the 48-hour laboring process. At that moment, my heart was full of respect to her. She was the greatest women I’d ever seen in my life.
We named the baby Pei-En in the end. We want her to understand and to appreciate what her mother suffered to bring her into the world. Also, Philadelphia is well-known for its LOVE statues. The word “En” in her name translates to “Love and gratitude” in Chinese.
We have shared this story with many of our close friends at Wharton. Some of them told me that I should share this story at the Storyteller events. I hesitated until I missed the last one. I still hope that by writing the story down, it helps me to better remember the 48 hours that I will never ever forget in my life.
Now I hold special respect to all the Wharton MBA student parents, especially student moms who balance school, recruiting and pregnancy at the same time. If you know students who are also parents, send them some cheer and love. I am sure they will keep your in their hearts and will return even more in the future.
On the flip side, I hope that my story serves as a cautionary tale for future parents from Wharton communities. Before taking an internship, or a job offer, or making any life decision, ask yourself if the benefits of not being together with your significant other is worth all the risks. I hope that no one ever runs into the same situation as I did.