39 weeks pregnant yesterday, the first day of 2013. As the arrival of our Mexican-American tadpole draws nearer, I find myself marveling at the differences between this pregnancy and my first.
With Anna, I was in the throes of my academic life, working in elementary schools and with university professors. I ping-ponged between six-year-old belly hugs and declarations of how I was going to grow bigger than a basketball and a backpack combined and the willful blindness of senior faculty who worked hard not to acknowledge my round belly, even if it meant I was the only person left standing in a conference room at 36+ weeks. It was a schizophrenic existence, to be sure.
But being pregnant with Anna was my whole world, and I had time to indulge in the sweet and fleeting time that is growing a person. Monthly massages, a medicine cabinet full of magic belly potions, pedicures galore. Friends and family were happy to discuss the pregnancy and the baby’s imminent arrival, but they were just as happy to go dancing with a giant pregnant woman or wile away late nights at the Memorial Terrace with me. For much of my first pregnancy, life went on as normal.
How different it is with the Tadpole!
Some of this, of course, is the second child syndrome—at this point with Anna, I was impatient and doing everything I could to begin coaxing her out; with the Tadpole, I am doing everything I can to keep him bundled up inside as long as possible.
But the biggest difference of all? I am pregnant in Mexico.
Here, there is no willful blindness or life-as-normal pregnancy. Here, my pregnancy is the center of attention—full of sweet belly rubs, well wishes from strangers, and friendly inquiries from everyone.
At first, this was a little off-putting—especially among my students. My seventh graders’ curiosity was a new experience, particularly in the beginning when it was just the boys who wanted to talk Baby Belly. I mean, they are 13-year-old boys…was it the baby or what made the baby driving their curiosity?! Those first few tentative belly pats from my rascalliest boys left me stumped and a bit uncomfortable, but as the panza grew, so did my understanding of their genuine curiosity. So many questions! “Miss, does it hurt to have a baby?” “Is your belly sore from carrying a baby?” “Miss, are you having a cesárea? But how does the baby get out if you’re not having surgery?!” “Miss, are you scared?” “Miss, will you still be our teacher after the baby comes? Can we meet the baby?” “Miss, will your baby be a Mexican?” “Will you name your baby after me?” Story after story of the births and arrivals of little sisters and brothers, of nieces and nephews, of previous teachers’ babies. My students genuinely wanted to talk baby—all the time. (And of course, baby talk was far more interesting than studying feudalism…I’ll give them that!) For my seventh graders, there was no taboo in talking pregnancy or birth–or asking if they could feel the baby kick.
It’s not just my students, though. School staff I barely know would stop me in the halls to pat my belly, to ask if I’d found a doctor I liked, to make sure that everything was healthy and normal. Those who had nursed their own children would conspiratorially check with me to see what my feeding plans were (breastfeeding is definitely not the norm here, and certainly not for the year or so for which we’ll aim). Strangers on the street even stop to ask if it’s a boy or a girl, how far apart my kids will be, and to offer me wishes of suerte (less for the birth; more so for my close-in-age children). Everyone wants to talk baby, everywhere I go! Sure, there were ladies at the Hy-Vee back in Madison who would comment on my belly when Anna was its resident, and certainly friends and colleagues were curious and chatty about our baby, but this is different. This is a clear relishing of this little life, of growing families, of an ever-expanding mama. It reminds me of our Head of School’s comment when another teacher sheepishly announced an unexpected pregnancy before ever arriving in Guadalajara: “This is Mexico. People have babies. That’s what we do!”
Truly, this is a culture that delights in family and in children. At home in the US with Anna, people tolerated our child in public (and she’s a pretty mellow kid!). But there was always someone at a restaurant, on the bus, or within any 10-mile radius who gave you a dirty look just for having a kid, let alone bringing that child in public. Not true in Mexico. Here, just like with my pregnant panza, everyone stops to talk to our daughter. Now, I like to think that’s because she’s so exceptionally cute and precocious, but really, it’s because she’s a child—and children are treasured. Restaurants have playrooms (with babysitters!) so parents can enjoy an evening out. And when there’s no playroom, wait staff might take your child for a walk around the restaurant and bring special treats (like crackers in extra crinkly wrappers!); other patrons will stop to talk and laugh with your child as she meanders around from table to table, dancing and talking. Probably sounds like a nightmare to you, my American readers, right? What horrible parents we are letting our child disturb other diners, letting our child be seen and heard! The mess, the noise, the inconvenience of a little one…shouldn’t we just have stayed home? But in Mexico, what I love so much, is the answer is no. Children are welcome, expected, a cherished part of daily life, even with the requisite chaos that follows them. Anna and other niños are the center of the world (and the frequent recipients of free candy from abuelas around town, much to my chagrin). We all love and enjoy them—and my big ol’ belly is just another facet of that delight in family.
When a room mother told me in September that I looked ready to pop, I don’t think she knew what “ready to pop” actually looked like. Behold.
And then there are the Room Mothers. (These are the moms in charge of throwing parties for your class, who make sure you are filled up with treats on your birthday and for every little holiday.) The Room Mothers of my seventh-grade class threw me a baby shower. At a country club. Okay, A) That’s just unheard of in the States. And B) Many of these Room Mothers are mamas of my rascals, the boys who are dangerously close to failing or the boys who just can’t contain their spaghetti-legs and babbling mouths. In the States, these parents would be my nemesis, fighting me at every step about every little thing. So imagine my surprise when a group of 15 or so of these mothers shows up for an evening at a local country club, diapers and expensive baby clothes in hand. For three or four hours, we sipped coffees and limonadas, chatted about babies and teenagers, lamented the number of adolescents’ parents who grow woefully uninvolved in their kids’ lives, marveled at the dramatic drop in birth rates in Mexico in one generation, debated whether 35 was young or old for child-bearing (US = Advanced Maternal Age; Mexico = you’re still a baby!), shared advice on teaching middle schoolers about hygiene and skin care, compared kids-at-home to kids-at-school, and reviewed possible baby names for pronouncability in Spanish. There was, of course, endless belly rubbing, abrazos, and well wishes—and all the gifts were pleasantly presented for opening at home. (Big sigh of relief!) And at the end, as I thanked the mamas for their tremendous generosity, they smiled and shrugged: “You spend all day with our children. This is the least we can do!” That itself struck me the most: At home, teachers and parents struggle to find ways to be allies, too often at odds over children’s performance and behavior. Here, my work is respected, valued, and trusted—even if that means my JPs and Rogelios get less than stellar grades. I am taking care of and teaching their children, their babies. And how delightful that I get to bring my own baby into this world! For these mamas, I am their children’s teacher; I am worth celebrating. I went home that evening flushed with more than just my usual pregnant glow.
So despite some of the daily annoyances of pregnancy is a new place (Pedicures that include foot massages? Third trimester massage? Getting out of the way of pregnant ladies carrying toddlers? Unheard of!), overall I feel lucky to be pregnant in a culture and community that so clearly loves this moment of the life cycle. (Well, except for the pobres at the lucha libre match—they told me I was going to give birth to a dog.) Never mind that my insistence on working as long as possible, on staying active, on going about business as usual is not the norm. Never mind that my belly is apparently exceptionally large by Mexican standards, and that this is a frequent (if annoying) topic of conversation.
I am a mama, literally bursting at the belly with new life. In Mexico, this is worth celebrating at every moment possible.
While living in Mexico, I joked that speaking Spanish forced me to be far more Zen about life: Since I could only speak in the present tense, I was forced to just live in that present tense.
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