Archive | February, 2015

Not a Cork nor Corn, So There’s No Popping Happening Here

22 Feb

I’ve changed my official story about the worst part of pregnancy. Yes, those first few weeks of nausea and exhaustion- tiredness all the way down to the bone- are not pretty. They’re certainly not my favorite part. But now I proclaim that this is the absolute worst part. The desperate waiting at the end.

If I were one of those lucky women whose babies come out at 38 weeks, then I’d go back to believing the beginning is the worst. But I’m not, obviously. I’m a traumatized pregnant lady whose first child came out two weeks “late.” I’m a recovering control freak who is trying to shut up that annoying voice in my head that tells me every day that I’m not in labor must be because I’m doing something wrong, or not doing it right, or not doing enough. It must be my fault, even though technically there’s nothing “wrong” even happening!

Granted, I know I can’t control this. And I know better than to buy into this whole early/late thing with babies. I know that a due date is a general estimation. Only 5% of babies make their appearance on their due date. Anywhere from 2 weeks before to 2 weeks after the due date is officially in the normal range. That’s right, a whole month of possibilities for a full-term baby to appear. It’s quite a range, and yet not something we talk about as normal. So knowing that it’s normal doesn’t make it feel normal when you come from a culture where being late is practically a sin. It’s been sad to realize that here in Mexico, where being late is a norm, for some reason this acceptance doesn’t apply to babes in utero.

On top of that, my belly expands into the enormous range from pretty early on in pregnancy. Even though my weight gain is in the normal range, my belly appears to be excessively large to many people (yep, me included). Thus I get comments about twins and other multiples, and people start acting like my due date is somewhere around seven months along. So by the time I actually reach 40 weeks people have been expecting my baby for ages already. Not helpful.

38 week belly, back when I was still feeling hopeful!

38 week belly, back when I was still feeling hopeful! I’ll be 40 weeks tomorrow….. 

Photo on 2-12-15 at 9.17 AM #3

Lucia and I on loaner exercise balls!

Plus there’s the completely uncomfortable, your-body-is-taken-over-by-this-supposedly-human-creature factor going that effectively prevents me from thinking about anything beyond pregnancy and birth at this stage. Let me give you an idea about this stage. One of my fingers is constantly numb from some nerve the baby’s pressing on. I pee like every half hour. I walk like a duck. It takes 3 minutes to roll over or get out of bed or the car. I’m hungry every two hours, and I mostly want things I didn’t even like before pregnancy, like chocolate and red meat. I’m in 90 degree heat with 100 kajillion percent humidity with a lead basketball strapped to my belly, so I sweat from sunup to sundown and every moment in between. And I can’t even change clothes after all my 18 showers a day because there are only about 5 outfits that still fit me. In other words, every aspect of my being is used and consumed by this little creature that, despite all this, I’m dying to meet.

So here’s a little public service announcement: Don’t say any of the following to super pregnant women unless you want to get punched in the face (or watch her in tears, or some other not pleasant reaction- you never know what a ragingly pregnant woman will do!).

1) “You’re having twins, right?” or “How many babies are in there?” or “Wow, you’re huge!”

The thing about this is that nobody likes comments about the size of their body, ever really. Pregnancy is no different, except you have raging hormones that make it even more offensive. I have seen people give pregnant women a hard time for having too small of a belly, too. Geez! Just lay off.

2) “You still haven’t had that baby?” or “When is that baby going to come out?”

Dude, if you are looking at me and I still have the lead basketball strapped to my belly, I am indeed still pregnant! You don’t need to ask. And unless someone is having a planned C-section, they don’t get to know when the baby is going to come out, so it’s just annoying to be expected to know the unknowable.

3) “That baby just doesn’t want to come out.” or “That baby might never come out, huh?”

This is already the worst nightmare for many pregnant women- that we’ll just keep being pregnant forever. Don’t contribute to it! 

There are lots and lots of other things you shouldn’t say to pregnant women, but this is my short list for the third trimester, or the “about to pop” phase. This “about to pop” thing goes with taboo # 1, especially when you don’t know how far along someone is, and when you have no idea how desperate they are to freaking “pop” already. Right as I was telling Conan that I was really glad the whole about-to-pop comment doesn’t get said here, or doesn’t translate well, or for whatever wonderous reason that I could appreciate this cultural difference, an old lady came along and ruined it for me. “Se va a reventar el volcan” she told me, “the volcano’s going to explode”. I don’t know if this is due to globalization or if it’s just part of the universal plot to drive pregnant women crazy, but either way it’s ugly. 

The Rich Version of My Life

15 Feb

”Why didn’t I marry someone with money?” I sobbed into the phone. There was a moment of silence, in which I imagine my mom was collecting herself to keep from bursting out laughing. Or maybe she was just overwhelmed with the plethora of reasons why. She didn’t choose the obvious route, which would’ve been to ask me if that was really what I valued. She didn’t even choose the snarky route (Mama, are you losing your touch?), which would’ve been something like, “Gee, Julia, perhaps because you’ve spent your entire life professing yourself to be a non-materialistic anarchist, which makes it pretty hard to get in with the rich crowd.” She also didn’t ask me if that was a rhetorical question, which, really, we both knew it was. Instead she said, “Well, did you ever even date anybody rich?”

It threw me off just enough to take a breath and think about it. “Yes!” I told her triumphantly. “Ben! I dated that guy Ben for at least a couple weeks when I was about 13. He went to that rich boy catholic high school and his parents totally had money. He lived way out in the East End. Remember? So there! I totally dated a rich kid.” I’m not really sure what I was trying to prove. Maybe that I had given someone with money a chance- albeit a short-lived chance. My mom dismissed it, though. “I don’t think it counts if their parents have money. I mean, I don’t know what Ben is up to these days, but we don’t know if he has money or not.”

Of course, it wasn’t really that I wanted to marry someone rich. I wasn’t looking to switch out Conan with anybody else, and I don’t think I would even love Conan more if he were rich. “I just want to know what it would be like to not worry about money all the time,” I whined, trying to stem my uber-hormonal-emotional, 9-months-pregnant crying fit I was having. I was feeling envious and cheated, two super ugly emotions that I normally avoid successfully. I didn’t really want to change Conan or change lives, I just wanted the rich version of my life. Switch the channel, change the soap opera, please and thank you.

For one, I had put myself into total meltdown panic over my neighbor’s gossip about our electricity. The gossip was basically that they were postponing putting in our electricity even longer than they already had, which to me sounded as far off as “in a few more years,” even though that was way more exaggerated than the rumor.

See, back in December we’d gotten the wonderful news that our neighborhood was going to get electricity. It was part of a project that was already paid for by the city, and it was going to happen ASAP. (This was much better news than the news just before that, which was that we were going to get electricity eventually, if everyone who owned a lot contributed several thousand pesos.) There was some talk that it would happen in time to put up the Christmas tree. And indeed, almost immediately they came and dug holes for the posts. It all seemed very promising. But then nearly the rest of December went by and nothing else happened. By New Year’s Eve we had posts put in, and then nothing happened the whole month of January. A couple weeks ago some guys had come by and were taking measurements because there were some posts that needed to be moved slightly. They were here on a Saturday and said they’d be back on Monday, and that they’d be working here until electricity was installed.

I was ecstatic. I figured by the end of February at the latest, just in time for this baby, we’d finally, finally have electricity. We’d already taken out a giant loan to pay for the private clinic where we’re going to give birth, getting all the things set up in the house for electricity, and taking care of some other stuff with the house and the car that we haven’t had enough extra cash to do. The loan didn’t have me too worried, because I knew that once we got electricity we’d be saving a ton of money by not having to buy ice for the cooler, not paying part of the electric bill where we charge our lamps, saving gas by running less errands because we have electricity, etc.

But if we weren’t going to have electricity for a long while still, then a) we wouldn’t be saving any money and wouldn’t be able to pay off our loan; b) we wouldn’t have a fan to keep the baby cool in the raging heat of March in Puerto; c) we wouldn’t have a washing machine, which meant more paying for laundry and having to buy disposable diapers (because I am not washing diapers by hand at this point, or even clothes, for that matter); we wouldn’t have a refrigerator with a steady temperature to store breast milk when I go back to work and have to pump; and d) I was going to lose my fucking mind from my total impotence in the matter, the frustration of not having electricity for so long, and being lied to about when it would happen, and not being able to find out any definite information. It was all just too much. 

Plus I’d had some twinges of envy over choices that people around me were able to make due to their having money. They were making choices that I’d like to make, if only I had the money. It was like they were living the financially-endowed version of my life. Their lives were looking pretty sweet and cushy from my sweaty, grumpy position, and I wasn’t handling it the way I’d like.

For instance, my new friend at work, the philosophy teacher with a three year old whose husband was staying home with the kid while she worked, had just told me that she quit the job. The schedule was too demanding; there wasn’t enough time to be with her son. I totally agree; I loathe our schedule, the only thing I hate about my job. I have been working really hard to just not think about how hard it’s going to be when I have to go back to work and barely see two kids. It was already bad enough barely spending time with Lucia. When she told me that, I couldn’t help but think, “well, it must be nice to just be able to quit.” Of course I’m pleased for her. And it’s not even that I want to be a full-time mom, at least not long-term. But oh how I would love to feel like I had options. To feel like I could quit. To be able to maybe take more than my six weeks off after the baby’s born. To get a different schedule.

And then there’s D, from Mexico City, who obviously has zero concerns about money. She came down here because she wanted to give birth by the ocean. She’s renting a super nice room (rooms, really, that’s probably about the size of my house if you include the kitchen and the outside area she’s renting) right by the beach. She’s been here since Christmas and is staying till her 6 week postpartum date. Her husband is commuting on weekends from Mexico City, so apparently they can afford the plane fare, too. She’s got her dog and a new-looking SUV with her. She’s seeing the same doctor I am, but she’s having a home birth, and the doctor’s midwife mother is going to help so that someone can stay with D the whole labor (aside from the doula, her best friend who’s staying with her now, and her husband). She bought a huge birthing tub, too. It’s an ideal set up for a birth, in my mind. It’s a lot like what I would have if money were no obstacle. She’s living the rich version of my life! (Plus she’s already given birth at 39 weeks, while I’m sitting around praying and begging this baby to not make me wait till 42 weeks like Lucia did. But my “lateness” trauma is a whole different issue.)

I could’ve had a home birth, too, with this doctor, except my home is not really the most comfortable place to be for labor and delivery. The lack of lights, fans, and other such electricity-related comfort measures/ necessities puts a real damper on it. Not that it couldn’t be done. People give birth in all kinds of circumstances. But we decided the clinic would be more comfortable, so for the second time around I’m cheating myself out of the home birth I wanted (the first go round I had a great opportunity, but once again decided against it because it was free to give birth in the hospital).

Normally I’m not the jealous type, thank goodness. Mostly I feel pretty secure about myself and my life and don’t try to compare or wish anyone else’s life upon myself. Unfortunately, all this sitting around feeling like a beached whale is not helping me feel good about myself and my life. A week’s worth of pain that’s not “the good kind of pain” (aka contractions, which will do their job to bring this baby out into the light) is making me prone to whining and scowling. Trying to keep our family on a tight budget when it’s like I’m on vacation and we want to go out and play is stressing me out. I’ve been watching things improve with Lucia and I because of all this time I get to spend with her, and then worrying what will happen with that when I disappear from view again. And then there’s the whole electricity thing, which has me feeling maniacally desperate at this point. And all of these problems could be solved if I had just married into money. (Or if I had been born into it, maybe. I forgot to lament that with my mom.)

Okay, maybe I couldn’t make my baby come out any faster, at least not the natural way. But I could quit my job. I could set up the perfect birth. I would definitely have electricity.

Probably if the hormones and the heat weren’t conspiring against me I could think rationally. I might be able to admit that I don’t actually want D’s situation. I don’t want my partner to have to commute to the birth. I don’t want to be far away from all of my family and support people for the time before and after birth. While I’d like a newer car, I don’t want an SUV. I don’t want a dog.  And I might or might not want anything else that’s part of her life. I have no idea what else her life is about. I barely know her. I don’t know what it means to her to be having this baby. I don’t know where she really comes from. I don’t know if she really even has money; maybe they took out a giant loan like we did, just for different things. I don’t know what she’s been through before this, nor what obstacles she faces every day. Some are sure to be harder than mine. I know (theoretically, not so much from experience) that money can’t buy everything.

Of course money can make you comfortable. It can help you fulfill some dreams. Of course most of us would like to have more money than what we have. But pining after what others have, wishing myself into someone else’s life situation, telling myself that other people are having a better version of my life isn’t making me comfortable nor fulfilling my dreams. I’m pretty sure it’s only making me frustrated, unhappy and empty-feeling. It’s even able to cause uncontrollable sobbing over something I previously would have scoffed at if given the opportunity to have it (like a rich husband). It’s a bit out of hand, this uncharacteristic jealousy thing I’ve had this week.

Meanwhile, it’s not like we’re destitute, by any stretch. We have so much more money and opportunity and help from family than soooo many people on this planet, even so much more than many people in our neighborhood. Does that make me feel better about barely seeing my daughter Monday through Friday because of my crappy work schedule? No, not really. Does it keep me patient about getting electricity some day, eventually? Nope, my patience on the electricity boat sailed a good while back already. It’s not making me smile to think about other people’s problems. Comparisons are not the solution to this envy maddness, apparently.

I can choose to be grateful, though, in a way that’s neither gloating about what we do have nor feeling cheated in the face of other people’s gifts. It’s not too hard with the birth situation, because even though I’ve dreamed of a home birth, I am pretty sure that my birth is going to be wonderful and miraculous and perfect in it’s own way, right there at the clinic.

I can choose to be grateful for the fact that I really like my job in all respects except the schedule. I can try to remember that a year ago I was bitching and moaning and worrying because I didn’t have a job, so we didn’t have income, and I was sick of being a stay-at-home mom. I can be grateful for this paid maternity leave that I do have, limited though it may be.

I am indeed grateful for our lovely, evolving house, the fact that we own it, all the struggles Conan went through to get it built, all the struggles we’ve gone through as a family to make it work for us. I am, truly. But my gratitude has limits. Knowing that this electricity project has been paid for for who-knows-how-long and there’s no accountability and nobody cares if we have electricity or not and I’m so freaking pregnant that I might kill for a fan… well, it puts a bit of a damper on my gratitude. But someday, eventually, when we do have electricity, well, then I’ll feel grateful again, I’m sure. When I can put on a yoga video on Saturday morning, listen to a CD while I do the dishes, and finish my blog without having to go out and recharge the battery, well, it will be just one of the many miracles made possible with electricity. Until that moment I’ll just have to focus on these other gratitudes.

I’m gonna keep this version of my life, because, well, I don’t think I get to magically switch it out anyway, even if I really did want to. So today I can celebrate our first wedding anniversary with gusto and enthusiasm, although it’s on a budget. I certainly won’t be out looking for a man with money, and I won’t be wishing myself into someone else’s shoes. I’ll just try to share more riches with the lovely man I’ve got. And maybe we’ll start buying lottery tickets. 

Living on Prayer (of all shapes and sizes and not just Bon Jovi)

8 Feb

Prayers made to the Virgin of Juquila remind me a bit of a third grader negotiating with Mom, trying to barter action figure cards for more time playing the video game. Does Mom really want your action figure cards? Does she just want you to sacrifice something? It doesn’t make much sense to me, but who am I to judge? 

I’m honestly not even trying to be snarky about the situation. The thing is, people go to the Virgin when they need a miracle. It’s a shameful sign of how bad the socio-economic situation is in Oaxaca and our neighboring states when most people’s miracles are things like buying a car, building a house, graduating from school, good health for their child- things that I fervently wish did not need miracle status to be acquired by people.

What I might think is a little weird, though, is the kind of deal that people make for their miracles. They make a promise to the Virgin in exchange for Her help in whatever it is they’re asking for. For instance, that three-day, giant, public, Christmas celebration I mentioned a few weeks ago. My friend’s family hosted that because of her mom’s promise in exchange for her health. One of Conan’s cousins promised to visit the Virgin every year in exchange for his truck that he uses to work. There are long braids at the shrine from women who obviously promised their hair away. There are folks who have promised to go walking on their knees from the entrance to town all the way to the church. Whole families make trips with a hired band, and dance in front of the church. All in exchange for something.

I guess, though, I just don’t get what it is the Virgin wants with someone’s braid. I don’t really understand why it would please Her to see someone get bloody knees. I can’t really imagine how it benefits anyone except the folks of Juquila selling stuff to the pilgrims if people come every year, or hire a band, or make a big fireworks display, or whatever. Wouldn’t it be better if they, I don’t know, promised to do some kind of good deed for someone else every year? Or even promised to improve themselves in some way- give up some vice or do regular exercise or something. I don’t know. I’m digressing from my point horrendously now.

My point is, there are all kinds of prayers, and I suspect they all work equally well as long as you put your energy into it and believe enough. I was raised Catholic, although the only remnants of that aspect of my life are my frequent prayers to my two favorite saints. One of them has been disclaimed from the Church, though- go figure- but that’s not stopping my loyalty. St. Christopher is (and always will be, for me) not only the patron saint of travelers, but also of Barga, the small town my grandmother is from. I’m convinced St. Chris is the only reason I’m still alive, after all the outrageous risks I’ve taken time and time again on all kinds of trips. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure I can attribute some of my smashing success as a traveler to his help (beyond not dying, also acquiring good stories, meeting amazing people, seeing cool stuff, everything flowing just like it should with little effort on my part). That said, do I think there’s a guy up there in heaven or outer space or I don’t know where just waiting to hear my prayer and throwing out a helping hand? Not exactly. I picture the situation a bit more like the Mayans and their corn god- something/someone specific to focus your energy on when you’re want to invoke forces from beyond yourself.

My other saint/minor god is Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost things (not to be confused with Saint Jude, who’s got it covered on lost causes). In Mexico, somehow, partly due to an old pop song, he’s become associated with helping girls find a boyfriend. Personally I’ve never asked him for this, but do regularly need help finding keys, notebooks, misfiled important documents, and much more. He pretty much always comes through for me, so who am I to doubt? 

I am a believer in the power of prayer. I think that when you focus your energy, send your energy up and out to whomever or whatever you call this energy beyond you- God, Allah, the Universe, a saint, whatever- then powerful things can happen. It’s no guarantee. But it doesn’t hurt, either.

As a teenager, I discovered paganism, with all it’s lovely rituals to help you focus your energy. I’ve long since stopped practicing any kind of religion, but I have kept on with my beliefs about the spiritual universe. So I pray, in my way. I don’t fall to my knees, I don’t cast a circle, but I do concentrate, focus my thoughts, try to be very clear about my intentions and my desires, try to get beyond the daily banality for just a moment.

Back in December, just two months shy of the estimated arrival time of this new baby, we still had no idea where we were going to give birth. I was getting some prenatal care with my insurance company, but I was adamant that I’d rather give birth in the middle of the street than leave responsibility for my body and my baby in their hands. That said, I knew no other doctor, had investigated zero other options. I was getting nervous.

I was also bummed out because we really wanted to have a doula like we did with Lucia’s birth. A doula is a non-medical birth assistant- basically someone who is there to support mama and (if present) papa. Our doula in Lucia’s birth had been fabulous times a thousand, surely one of the reasons that I did not end up with a C-section, and definitely a big help in keeping Conan and I on-track and relatively sane. Down here I’d only heard a vague rumor of one existing doula, and couldn’t find her contact information. I didn’t want any of our friends or family down here to accompany us in the birth, either, because we couldn’t think of anyone who could remain calm and collected, be emotionally helpful and get super intimate with us in that space.

Before I even tried any silent prayers to the universe, I did a little social prayer; I started talking to everyone and their mother about birth options, putting my energy out there, letting my intentions and hopes be known by all. This is the only real way to acquire information down here; Google ain’t got nothing on word of mouth. 

Sure enough, I started reeling in bits and pieces of useful information. I got the name of the doula. I made an appointment with a gynecologist at a clinic with a reputation for quality care. I got contact info for a German expat who had three home births here. The lovely German lady (who I’m still waiting to meet in person- it’s hard to coordinate busy mom schedules!)gave me even more information about possible doctors, and I made more appointments.

At the very end of December we found our ideal doctor. He’s a gynecologist, but he’s also the grandson of a midwife. He was the only doctor we met who wasn’t pretentious, who didn’t act like whatever procedures he routinely does for birth are definitely the best thing for us and if I want anything different it’s “at my own risk.” He really listened to us and didn’t think our ideas were unreasonable. He expressed his ideas about C-sections in exactly the way that I think of them- as a wonderful option that can save the lives of mothers and babies when they’re necessary, but that aren’t necessary very often and are risky when they’re not called for. (And in a country that now has the highest C-section rate in the world- yes, more than the U.S.!- having a doctor who’s not anxious to cut me open was of great importance.) The clinic where we’ll be for labor and delivery is comfortable and relaxing, much more like a birthing center than a clinic or a hospital. I’m thrilled that we’ve found what seems like an ideal set up to welcome this new creature into the world.

But then there was still the doula issue. Conan is an excellent birth partner, and I’d never have made it through Lucia’s birth without him. But it’s an awful lot of pressure on him if he’s the only one supporting me. So I enlisted my mama, an ex-Catholic who is an expert in prayer She’s had a whole lifetime of practicing prayer and trying out different communication styles with God and/or the Universe. “Don’t pray for a doula, though,” I told her. “It’s really unlikely I’ll find an official doula down here. Just ask for somebody who can accompany us in the way that we need.” 

I kept up my social prayer and I’m sure my mom did her part. I found an email for the doula, who was pregnant with her third and had almost the same due date as I do. She had just moved back to Canada after six years here. But she gave me some suggestions for places to look for accompaniment. And she said there was another lady who should be in town who’s done this sort of thing before. The doula said she’d contact the other woman and see if she could talk to me. 

She did agree to talk to us. When we met her, she was a bit hesitant in the matter. “I had no intention of working as a doula down here,” she explained. She and her husband spend the winter down here every year with their daughter and grandkids. “For one, my Spanish isn’t good enough,” she said. And yet somehow two other women had been put in her path just before me- a woman from Mexico City who speaks excellent English, and a French-Canadian woman who does linguistic services in French, Spanish, and English. They were looking for information and help, and so she agreed to teach a birth class, even though she said she’d never even attended a birth class before. She does have training and experience from the U.S. as a doula, plus some experience attending births here in Puerto. We had a nice chat and it seemed like she could potentially provide exactly the kind of support we were looking for. She did not really want to commit, though. Perhaps she was feeling a bit overwhelmed at this sudden surge of need for her help when it wasn’t something she’d been looking for. “I’ll pray about it,” she told us. “And you guys pray about it, and we’ll see.”

Forces aligned correctly in the universe, prayers were prayed, and a week later she was giving us paperwork to fill out so she could be our doula. So here we are, in February, me 38 weeks pregnant and now with an ideal birth team lined up to help bring this new life out of me.

Of course there are no guarantees on anything. Our doula could get called to the U.S. for her very elderly mother-in-law. Or the woman from Mexico City with almost the same due date could go into labor at the same time as me (which would be really bad because we have the same doctor as well!). All kinds of things could go wrong with the baby. But at the end of the day, part of the strength and wonder of prayer, in whatever form it takes, is the power of letting it go. When you believe in a power or a force beyond yourself, you can bundle your worries and doubts into a prayer, and ship it right out so you’re not hanging on to your fear, so you’re not taking responsibility for things which you don’t have much (if any) control over. So I guess even if you have to walk a long way on your knees or cut off your hair or make some other deal, if it can help you travel down your path and give you a little piece of mind as well, then it’s probably all worth it, and about as much as any of us can hope for.

Me Versus The Insurance Company Doctors, A Saga

1 Feb

I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I was nearly appalled at the idea of pre-baby maternity leave just a few months ago. “Why would I need that?” I wondered belligerently. “I’d much rather have more time off after the baby is born. And I’m perfectly healthy. I can totally work up until the birth.”

And then I suddenly I was in my third trimester, and everything was a little bit different. Even though I’d worked while pregnant with Lucia until about a month before her birth, my schedule and my body were a bit different then. This time around, about 33 weeks along, I was walking out of work on a Thursday, and I told my co-worker, “I’m so exhausted that I think if I went into labor now I’d roll over and beg for a C-section instead.” Even though avoiding surgery is pretty high on my list of things to do, and I’d like to think that I’d get some special energy from the excitement of labor and all, I was not very convinced at that moment. Exhaustion will do that to you- just crumple up your values and throw em in the trash while the real you watches with her mouth hanging open. “Now I see why they give you maternity leave beforehand.” I concluded.

Granted, if they had given me options about how to split up my 3 months of maternity leave, I probably would have opted for more time post-baby and less time pre-baby. Six weeks after having a baby is just not enough time to adapt and go back to work full time. All countries ought to follow the lead of these places giving 6 months to up to two years of paid maternity leave. Seriously. I got to not work with Lucia for almost her whole first year of life, and I needed that time to adapt and recover and bond. Not that you don’t make do if you have to go back to work, but six weeks postpartum I was still reeling from the changes. We moved to Mexico when Lucia was 7 weeks old, and I remember thinking, “well, as hard as this is, at least I’m not going back to a full time job now!”

But now I don’t have a choice. I am lucky to be in Mexico and not the U.S., though. At least I have paid maternity leave, period (Geez, ‘Merica, get with the program). There is no option, though, for how you spend your time off. Where I work, the insurance company pays your leave, based on your due date. They give you 42 days (6 weeks) before your due date and 42 days after the baby is born. Once your baby is born, your second six weeks begins, so there’s no carryover on those other days if your baby is born early. This also probably explains why my doctor informed me that my baby “couldn’t” go past 40 weeks of gestation.

See, the doctor works at/for the insurance company. It’s all just one thing. One option. Take it or leave it. There’s no “you can choose from these doctors” about it. There is a building which serves as the medical facility for the insurance company, and that’s where you go if you have this insurance. There is more than one doctor at the insurance company, but it’s all the same service. You are assigned a general practitioner, and that’s who you see, unless you request a change, for a doctor who might or might not be any better (probably not), and who is still just a medicalized bureaucrat with the insurance company’s best interests in mind.

Of course, I tried to rebel against the system. I looked for loopholes. I planned and plotted and fretted about the situation. I desperately wanted to find a way to have more time after the baby, in exchange for less time before. For one, I hoped that I could finish up the semester that way (which ends in February). I also worried about the implications of basing my leave on a due date, a date which is a very rough estimate that could be anywhere from two weeks before to two weeks after. I assumed that if I went past my due date, I’d be stuck with unpaid time off and a big fight to not get an induction.

I hoped that by potentially manipulating my due date I could advance my cause. Of course, if you’ve been pregnant or been close to pregnant women in the U.S., you probably know they often base your due date on your menstrual cycle. They do that here, too, but for reasons I won’t go into, that wasn’t a precise methodology for me this time around. So they base it instead on an ultrasound. This is a perfectly reasonable and rational thing to do. In the U.S., and in the medical literature in general, it is known that the first trimester ultrasound is likely to be the most accurate, since that’s when there’s the least individual variation in growth. Fetuses follow a pretty strict schedule in that first trimester. So when I got my first trimester ultrasound and the estimated gestation at the time, I assumed that I had an official due date. At that point I still had hope that I could just reason with them, discuss my concerns about having a “late” baby (Lucia was born at 42 weeks, and I was sure of my dates with her), and work with them from there. I was so naive.

By my second trimester, I’d had enough visits to realize that my doctor was not going to work with me on anything, or even try to understand any of my concerns. But I got much more nervous when she looked at my second trimester ultrasound and announced that I was 19 weeks and 3 days when, according to my calculations, I was barely 18 weeks along. She was basing gestational age on the most recent ultrasound instead of the original. Granted, I had read that 2nd trimester ultrasounds are still pretty accurate, but only to be used if there was no 1st trimester ultrasound. And then it came out that she would base my “real” due date on an ultrasound sometime in the third trimester. “When they’re bigger you can measure them better,” she explained as I carefully refrained from letting my mouth drop open (“the flies will fly in” my mom used to tell me) and tried to tame my other eyebrow back to its normal place. “In the early days there’s barely anything to measure so it’s not very accurate.” I swear she really said something like this.

I was in a panic. I was scared that a third trimester ultrasound would give them an even earlier due date, since I was betting my second baby would be big like my first. Then I could imagine that they’d be trying to induce me at what I calculated to be 38ish weeks, I’d be in trouble at work for having all this excessive maternity leave pre-baby, maybe even end up having to go back early after the baby. I imagined a whole unstoppable cascade of bad outcomes.

I decided I would go and talk to the director, the head honcho of the insurance company, himself a doctor. Surely he would see the insanity in my doctor’s plan and be able to correct the situation. Perhaps I could even reason with him and sell him on my plan of less time before the due date, more time afterwards. In this scenario, I would reasonable explain that my best interests also happened to be their bests interests, so he should accept my win-win situation. And anyway, this is the land of la mordida (the nickname for a bribe- literally a bite). Surely we could come to some kind of understanding. I lost sleep practicing exactly how I would propose this, trying to forcefully imagine my desired outcome.

The director was very polite and pleasant with Conan and me. He did not, however, get up in arms about my doctor’s plan to base my maternity leave and due date on a third trimester ultrasound. He listened patiently to all of my story. He nodded and observed the handy little chart that I’d made detailing all the possible dates- ultrasound date, estimated due date based on that ultrasound, and maternity leave date based on the due date. He said that yes, it was possible that my first trimester ultrasound due date could perhaps be my final due date, but that it was really up to the doctor to use whatever measurements she needed in order to calculate my due date. He tried to reassure me that we could meet with my doctor in his office to discuss the matter closer to my due date. He refused to resolve the matter for me then and there. He tried to tell me that this set up for maternity leave was the best and only way to do it. I forgot to bring any money for a bribe, so that was that.

I was already planning on finding an alternative to the insurance company for giving birth, but this total approval of the lack of science and information on ultrasounds really sealed the deal. My boss was also not particularly pleased with the situation. Their refusal to give me a set due date meant that we couldn’t predict exactly when I would be on leave. (I’d already asked the secretary if I could work a little beyond the start of my maternity leave, and she said no. Thank goodness!) And when you have to teach classes and give final exams and give out grades, it’s really rather important to know when the end of your semester will be, somewhat in advance. You can’t really give a final exam as a pop quiz. It’s not really reasonable to give them very short notice, either: “Well, guys, I guess we’ll have the final tomorrow!” And you certainly can’t get all your grades and paperwork done the same day. So at the end of the day we used the information that I did have- my three possible due dates thus far- to make an educated guess. That dated me to give a final exam just before Christmas break (it can hardly be called “winter break” when it’s still 90 degrees, and anyway, it’s a very Christian country). We’d have to see if I ended up having to do my grades while already on maternity leave or not.

By the time we got to a date close enough to finding out my insurance-approved “due date,” I finally quit stressing about it. I was still grumpy about it, mind you, but I’d weighed out worst-case-scenarios and decided I’d deal with it. There are not going to forcefully, needlessly induce me, because I just won’t go for that, so I took that off my worry list. It would (will?) indeed be difficult and frustrating to have unpaid time off because of the baby coming later than they want it to, but we would probably not starve to death. And if I had to do all my grades while officially on maternity leave, at least I could work on a more flexible schedule. So I kept breathing and waiting.

I was supposed to find out by the end of December, just before coming back from vacation. This seemed ridiculously late to be finding out, since my leave could start as early as Jan. 5, but welcome to Oaxaca. I went for my telltale ultrasound before Christmas. After waiting for a while I was finally informed that the ultrasound doctor was out sick and I’d have to reschedule. New Year’s Eve was the soonest they could get me in. So I rescheduled my doctor’s appointment as well, pleased to hear that my regular doctor would still be on vacation then. I figured I had a better chance of reasoning if it weren’t my regular stone-cold bureaucrat.     

When I finally did get my ultrasound, he gave me a gestational age that was just days later than the original ultrasound calculation. Since I’d recently had an ultrasound at a private doctor that dated my baby almost 2 weeks ahead of that (although the doctor said, of course, that it wasn’t an accurate estimate of age, more an estimate on size), I seriously wondered how in the world this doctor measures on these things. Did he just note down the due date I’d told him and tack on a few days? Is that the general policy? Whatever the case, I was relieved that it was just a few days different from what I now considered “my dates,” and was actually giving me a later due date. I figured that meant I was less likely to be pressured about an induction, less likely to have unpaid time off (I still don’t know if this is what will happen- I don’t even want to know yet!), etc. I went in to my Dr.’s appointment, with a younger, hopefully more open doctor, full of optimism.

I should have known, though, that young though she was, this doctor still worked for the insurance company. She made a little chart of her own (like mine but less organized) with all the ultrasound dates and information, and studied over them briefly. Then she passed the buck. “Well, you can come back in a week and meet with your doctor and the director and see then,” she announced.  I sat dumbstruck for a minute. I couldn’t believe it was December 31st and I still didn’t know when my maternity leave would begin, even though it might begin the next week.

“At least I’ll have a solid three days to do my grades,” I told Conan, once I’d recovered from my incredulity. “I’ll either be off after next Wednesday or I’ll work another week after that at the most. I’ve already given final exams, so the most important part is taken care of. I guess it doesn’t really matter that I don’t know when yet, even though it’s crazy.” Maybe I’m getting better at living in this country, getting better at living with many variables. Whatever the case, I got through the waiting and not knowing.

My next appointment came and my beloved stone cold bureaucrat informed me that we’d be using this latest ultrasound to give me my maternity leave date. She told me I still had another couple of weeks to work anyway. A couple more weeks was not in my calculations, however. That was definitely beyond my estimated latest last day, which would be Thursday January 15. After all my worrying about getting off work too early, there I was getting ready to fight to get off work sooner. Because if I can’t carry over my days off to the post-baby phase then I sure as hell want a good chunk of them beforehand.

“What do you mean a couple more weeks?” I asked, determined to stay calm in the face of insanity, I got out my phone calendar and my handy little chart. “Well, on December 31,” she began, “you were 31.6 weeks along, which is about 31 and a half weeks.” Thirty one and a half? “But the other doctor told me that 31.6 weeks means 31 weeks and 6 days,” I protested. It also states that this is the case on the actual ultrasound pictures, which have abbreviations in English- 31w 6d in this case. I knew I was right and was appalled by the fact that she either didn’t know that herself or knew that and was purposely trying to give me less time off. Either way I was not pleased. So I showed her all my information and managed to convince her. “Okay,” she said, “Come back in a week or so. Say Thursday or Friday.” I breathed. “So that’s when I can actually start my maternity leave, right? Next Thursday.” I wanted assurance. “Yes,” she agreed. “We’ll do the paperwork then.”

Is this feeling like a never-ending saga to you, yet, dear reader? Because it sure was feeling like that to me. And it’s not over yet! And guess what- it wasn’t over the next Thursday, either. Oh, Oaxaca. Oh how I both love and hate thee.

I went to my appointment the next Thursday afternoon, pretty sure that it was my last day at work, although at that point I only told people I hoped it was my last day. I’d renounced any real sense of security on the matter. Long story short (haha, you wish), there was some “problem with the system” and my maternity leave “wasn’t coming out” or something to that effect. At which point I might have become a bit disbelieving and belligerent. “I just called the director,” she told me, after I came back from getting my blood pressure checked by the nurse outside (and surprisingly, my blood pressure was still low), “and he won’t let me do it manually, either. You’ll have to come back in a week or so.” I couldn’t believe it. “Another week?” I asked. “Seriously?” She looked at me earnestly and nodded. “It’s the system, there’s some problem.” I refrained from telling her about all the problems with their stupid system and stormed out to go talk to the director.

The director remembered me complaining about dates from before, so that worked to my advantage. He looked at my new and improved handy chart and agreed that yes, I was due my maternity leave now, by any and all calculations. He very politely asked if I could go ahead and work one more day and then just come in straight to the insurance office Monday morning for my maternity leave paperwork. I breathed deeply. I decided I could do one more day (but not one more week!). I had him shake on it and verbally promise me that it would be Monday, rain or shine, hell or high water. I did not make him cross his heart and hope to die, although I thought about it (it’s not a promise that translates well). I left the office only slightly angry and belligerent, and a little relieved that at least I had a promise of only working one more day. “If they don’t give me my paperwork on Monday I’m throwing a tantrum there until they do,” I assured myself and all my coworkers.

I went in Monday ready for a fight, ready for a new turn of events. There was a different doctor in the office, for some reason. Who knew if that would be to my advantage or not. I held on to the memory of the director’s promise, and walked into the office.  “Are you the one with two C-sections?” the doctor asked me. “No!” I assured him. “I’m here for my maternity leave.” Once that was cleared up, he asked to see my ultrasounds. “This is the first one?” he asked, looking over my first trimester ultrasound. When I told him that it was, he said, “This is the good one. The most important one.” He checked the dates and told me I was 35 weeks along, which put me at one week overdue for my maternity leave- certainly entitled by then. (“Where have you been my whole pregnancy?” I wanted to ask him. Instead I asked how I could get transferred over to be his patient, even though I have no idea if he’s a good doctor- at least he’s read something about ultrasounds at some point!)

He put all the information in the computer for my ultrasound, frowned and declared that there was some kind of error in the system. “We’ll just do it by hand,” he said, and I relaxed again. Finally, finally, I had my papers in hand. I still had to turn them in to work that day, and go and get the money out of the bank a week or so later (which turned into its own saga), but I had the paperwork in hand. It was really happening. I was finally on paid maternity leave.

And then I lived happily ever after, ish. I’m resting a bit better. I’m finally getting things prepared for this baby- hospital bag is packed, plans for Lucia are set, baby clothes are washed, etc. I’m spending loads of time with my two year old who’s been wanting my attention. I’m spending time with Conan instead of just going on errands and cooking and falling asleep on him. I’m keeping up my exercise and yoga routines, at a more leisurely pace. I’m drinking less caffeine. I’m writing this at 3 am when I can’t sleep, instead of not sleeping and stressing about having to go to work in a couple hours. I’m still exhausted at the end of the day, but I’m not exhausted all day every day. So pre-baby maternity leave is definitely treating me right. It’s just what the doctor ordered. Not my insurance doctor, mind you, but a good doctor. Like the one that’s gonna deliver my baby- sometime in the not too distant future! So thanks, Mexico, for this paid time off. You didn’t make it easy, but I’ve got it and I’ll take it.

A decent pic of my sweethearts enjoying my time off with me!

A decent pic of my sweethearts enjoying my time off with me! Lucia is taking her work in the sand very seriously. 

One of the perks of pre-baby maternity leave- a weekday at the beach!

One of the perks of pre-baby maternity leave- a weekday at the beach! This is the sad face of Lucia because I caught her at a bad moment.