‘Let’s go to Peru,’ she said. ‘It’s my dream to travel South America: land of the Incas and Machu Picchu,’ she said. ‘We can find work and move there,’ she said. ‘Think about Colombia, Brazil, the Amazon Rainforest!’ she said. ‘Let’s see the world!’ she said.
Peru, 1 year later: ‘I’m pregnant,’ she said.
It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon, I’m sitting here, my feet up, almost 9 months’ pregnant, with my belly competing against my computer for space on my lap and a little cup of green tea next to me (rock ‘n’ roll!). My vivacious, unborn daughter is already showing me that her break-dancing skills are a force to be reckoned with and despite the characteristically grey Lima ‘winter’ outside (not cold or rainy like England but serotonin-draining nonetheless), I feel… more content than I’ve ever been.
It hasn’t always been like that.
Don’t get it wrong. This post isn’t a Mary-Poppins-style gloat about how blissfully happy I am, gushing about how amazing it is that I’m about to be a mother (how boring that would be). These are simply the honest ramblings of a girl whose life is about to change forever.
I’m not sure how much longer I can keep referring to myself as a ‘girl’; on one hand, I’m a 28-year-old, career-focussed wife and soon-to-be mum: a pretty ‘mature’ title I’d say. Plus, I’m mostly comfortable in my own skin. On the other hand, I still feel the occasional pangs of naivety, like a young girl, and the odd struggle with my insecurities like anyone else. When I look back, I think I’ve grown a lot, only to realise with each passing year, that I knew nothing before. I remember 10 years ago disgustedly telling my older sister, when she was 28, that she was ‘too ancient to have sex’. Now I’m the same age and pregnant, and it wasn’t an immaculate conception or a stork-parcel baby. That memory makes me chuckle. Perspective is everything. It seem that Peruvians here are also confused about the girl/woman thing, sometimes they address me as ‘Señora’ and other times ‘Señorita’ the rest, depending on their own perspectives (and probably how much make-up I’m wearing at the time).
Peru, February 2016. We’d just spent a relaxing week away in Huacachina: a beautiful desert oasis south of Lima. My brother in England always finds it comical when I tell him that we’re going on holiday: ‘A holiday when you’re already on holiday,’ he laughs, with that cheeky undertone of ‘it’s alright for some’. Working a fifty-hour week trying to instill some passion for the English language into an army of Year 3 kids, whilst battling to submit documents to comply with Peruvian bureaucracy, is not the same as lying on a beach every day sipping coconut juice. I’m sure the latter is the preferably romantic idea, the image that would be more interesting for my blog but it’s just not always that glamorous. You need to earn money if you want to enjoy paradise.
About a week after we came back from our holiday on holiday, I started to feel queasy in the mornings: something was different and I knew straight away. Confirmed by an early scan, I was pregnant. Knocked-up. A bun in the oven. I was in shock and so many worries immediately filled my mind. ‘How can we have a baby in Peru? How can we afford it? If I lose my job, we’ll lose our residence cards, then we’ll be stuck as illegal immigrants in Peru with a baby and no money.’ The control freak inside me was doing anxiety cartwheels, screaming: ‘This wasn’t in the plan! You’re not ready!’
Meanwhile, Mr. Zag was overjoyed at the mere sight of this black and white, indistinct image of our 2 month-old creation, at that point appearing as little more than a jelly bean. But it wasn’t his body that was going to change. It wasn’t him that would have to make the sacrifices.
I told him that I was apprehensive about giving up my entire life for another person. What a daunting prospect. We had all these plans and dreams… Life, as we knew it, was over. My Mr: love of my life and one of the best men I’ve ever met, simply couldn’t get on board with that. He listened patiently to my self-absorbed BS and tears (still a ‘girl’ then). He said: ‘My wife, life’s not over, this isn’t just “another person”, this is our baby, we’ve made this from our love.’ Sorry for the vivid imagery there. ‘As for our plans, well, maybe the plans were never ours in the first place, did you think about that?’ A relevant point but I still wasn’t embracing it. He continued: ‘We can still do all the things we want, except we’ll be three.’ That was enough to start me wailing again.
Throughout everything, he was so supportive, and constantly told me that everything would be alright, ‘because it always is’ and that we were lucky to have each other. He also said that I needed to ‘grow up’. So I did. Ultimately, I realised that I wasn’t the first female in the world to have a baby, or the first one to have fears about it. I got my head around it.
A lot of people will be shocked at my frankness. How politically incorrect of me to admit that I was afraid and not immediately jumping for joy at the thought of my whole life changing, at the idea of giving birth to a baby in a foreign country a million miles away from my friends and family. ‘To be a mother is the greatest thing in the world. You’re so lucky, there are millions of women who can’t have babies.’ Those were some of the clichés I was met with when expressing any minute level of preoccupation. I felt bullied by the doctors and nurses I saw, like my heart was made of stone because I wasn’t shouting from the rooftops about how happy I was to be pregnant in Peru. All I wanted was for someone to recognise that I was nervous and tell me that it was ok.
I got the honesty that I needed. I was still getting morning sickness in the early stages when my friend Laura sat with me eating chicken nuggets in a local hamburger restaurant. Her boy was in the play area amusing himself. ‘Nobody will tell you this but it’s hard. It’s really hard.’ You get nothing less than straightforward advice from this chica. She told me about the worries she had, the physical exertion, the pain, the sleepless nights, the expense. With 4 siblings and 5 nieces/nephews, I knew the deal, but it reassured me anyway. She concluded: ‘But it’s also AMAZING, it will be one of the best things you ever do with your life, you can’t prepare yourself for how rewarding it’s gonna be, I promise.’ At that moment, I really believed her.
Throughout this whole process of acceptance, I came to realise something, and my sister agrees with me on this because there’s an essence of it in the UK too: there are actually some people who think that, as a woman, your sole reason for existing on this earth is to make babies. But you have a uterus, of course producing offspring is your principal job, be grateful. Was I a bad person because I didn’t have a strong maternal instinct? Still now, I find baby too much baby conversation boring. I’m sure I’ll eat my words when our baby girl arrives, when I’m convinced that she’s the most beautiful baby in the world and I’m the proudest mum.
My own mother raised 5 children single-handedly and we all watched as she turned to the juice in resentment of the life she’d missed out on. I didn’t want to be that woman either. In any case, I know my situation is different. I changed the cycle and made it different.
As it stands now, my mentality has done a U-turn. I feel positive, excited and every day I wake up thankful for our blessing. I love her profoundly, and she’s not even here yet. We’ve watched and felt her grow, every day getting stronger and now we can’t wait to meet her. Sometimes she pushes out her tiny little hand, or her feet, feeling the lack of space around her, and we watch my stomach doing Mexican waves for hours. I can’t help but feel amazed. This person that we made is now a person.
So, what changed? What made me go from pregnant nervous wreck to self-assured mum-to-be?
Apart from my guy, who’s doted on our unborn daughter at every step of the way, there’s one important reason why I’ve had such a great time. There’s a reason why I’ve been so confident and brimming with happiness for the last 6 months of carrying her.
People. Especially Peruvians.I could never have imagined how much support I’d have from the people around me. Friends, colleagues, strangers, men and women, but especially the women. Every day at work at least 5 different ladies would approach me and ask about my baby, if I needed anything, if I was relaxing enough and eating well. As for our friends in Peru, I don’t have the words to thank them. Angels. The sheer amount of love and care I’ve felt from these people, has been overwhelming. Much more than just a fleeting ‘How’s your baby doing?’ in passing, they’ve really going out of their way to check up on us, asking out of genuine concern and affection. They’ve shone so much positive energy in the direction of my bump, it makes me absolutely sure that this next life’s chapter is going to be a winner. The baby girl inside me, has been take care of and adored before she’s even seen the light of day.
In Peru they use this lovely expression to talk about giving birth, ‘dar la luz’, which means literally ‘to give the light’. I get really emotional when I think about my experience here. Between the gorgeous ladies at work and the lovely friends we have, they prepared 3 baby showers for us, delighting themselves with giving us everything we needed and more, from baby clothes to the big items like the pram, the cot, baby bouncer, (technical baby jargon) the list goes on. The generosity is humbling.
Not only has this experience uplifted my faith in humanity but it’s led me to understand something about Peruvians in particular. They’re special people. The mother is an important figure in the culture here, everything revolves around appreciating and helping her. The family unit often stays together for years, with sometimes 3 generations living in the same house, all contributing to the household, sitting down for meals together, sharing good times and of course, the mother or grandmother is at the centre of it all: the glue that holds the family together.
If you’re a pregnant lady in Peru, everybody tries to help you. People move out of your way in otherwise grossly-congested streets. People afford you courtesies and grant you respect that you wouldn’t dream of seeing otherwise (many would argue, courtesies which should be standard, pregnant or not but that’s a different debate).
If you’re showing a little bit of a bump, you WILL get a seat on the bus… and if you don’t get a place immediately, the other Peruvians will speak very sternly to the moral criminal closest to you who didn’t immediately stand up for the pregnant lady. If you’re pregnant in Peru, you’re a ‘priority’ and can literally jump to the front of any queue: the bank, the internet shop, Subway, the Minsitry of Immigrations, Western Union. For anybody who’s familiar with over-populated Lima, they’ll understand just how frustrating it can be waiting in the queue for 2 hours just to pay your foreigner’s tax, for example. In a country which doesn’t boast good customer service, magical things start to happen when you’re a lady with a child.
I look back now and I laugh at how worried I was about losing my job. When I confirmed to my Human Resources department that I was going to have a mini-me, not only did they not fire me but they celebrated the news. I had absolutely no worries: ‘Natasha, we are going to manage this with you, your maternity leave is paid for by your insurance, as well as your hospital visits and even aftercare. Just focus on having a healthy pregnancy, we’ll take care of anything you need.’ They were constantly asking how my pre-natal appointments were going, always with the warmest smiles and the best advice. I can speak for myself and the little lady inside me when I say, we’ve felt nothing short of adoration.
Going back to the culture thing: in England, when you tell your employer that you want to take maternity leave, whether you’ve been in the job for 5 months or 5 years, it’s almost always considered an inconvenience and is often granted through metaphorical gritted teeth. You don’t get career points for making babies. My sister, who’s worked in the same company for almost 20 years, grafting her way up to a supervisor position and hardly ever taking days off (except the time she nearly died from an allergic reaction to Penicillin) told her boss that she was going to have a baby and needed maternity leave. ‘He wasn’t happy about it.’ Those were her exact words.
It’s completely different in Europe, where families are typically small and the continent itself is quite an ‘old’ one. Of course, people celebrate new babies and hold showers, but it’s simply not in the same league as Peru. In the UK you congratulations from your loved ones, but Peru really goes all out for a new arrival in the family. As well as ‘Mother’s Day’. ‘Father’s Day’ and ‘Teacher’s Day’, ‘Children’s Day’ is also a big celebration here. Children’s Day – imagine that! In England kids make cards for their mums out of old cereal boxes or as a teenager, you’d send a half-hearted Facebook message to your pops: ‘You’re the best Dad, Happy Father’s Day, love you’ I wonder what it’s like in the rest of Latin-America… who knows, maybe the sequel to this post will be ‘Baby in Brazil’ or ‘2 Kids in Colombia’…
Europeans live to work but Peruvians work to live. And living means family.
So, we’re still here, we’re still going to travel to the Amazon and do everything in our plans, except my Mr. Zag will be wearing a baby holster in all the photos. The fun stuff will be more fun, the good times will be even better and life is going to change forever – but I’m so grateful for that. I’m looking forward to the many things this little girl’s going to teach me, to teach us. Everything is going to be alright. Maybe I’ll understand those clichés after all. Lessons learned: #1 Good people and true friends are so precious. #2 Don’t try to change the situation, change your perspective!