How to stay in Spain legally as an American and other frequently asked questions to a US expat in Spain

IMG_6692

I have lived in Spain for eleven years – we are now in the double digits. The only things I’ve stuck to for longer have been gymnastics (12 years) and driving a car (17 years). As September comes and goes each year, the nostalgia kicks in as I remember lugging two overstuffed suitcases from Chicago to Madrid to Granada to Triana. What a long, strange, tapa-filled journey it’s been.

As I approached my ten year Spaniversary, I had planned to write a tongue-in-cheek look at some of the things that make me scratch my head about Spain, weaving in the acclamation process that took a good, darn year. But, parenthood and a busy work schedule meant that that post is still in drafts (I’ll get there by my 20th Spaniversary, promise).

Despite slagging blog and social media activity, I somehow still have page views, followers of my ho-hum #momlife and emails from readers and people who find me organically through Google. Don’t let the out of office message fool you – I love reading them and I appreciate them.

Contemplating a hike in Cazalla de la Sierra. Photo credit: Monica Wolyneic.

I always think, “I can should turn this question into a blog post.” But rather than eleven separate posts, I did a non-scientific study of what you guys emailed and Facebook messaged me about to celebrate 11 years of Spanish red tape and all that comes with it, and I’ve honed down my long-winded emails so that you’re not overwhelmed with word count or information.

Have more questions? Throw ’em in the comments!

How can I legally stay in Spain as an American?

Apart from emails about my favorite places to eat in Seville, I get several emails each week about how to work in Spain and how to legally stay in Spain. Many of you are language assistants or veterans of study abroad in Spain.

I get it. Spain got under my skin, too.

When I was considering making Spain a long-term thing, I looked into just about everything.

Guess what y’all: you have it way easier than I did in 2010.

playa de las catedrales galicia beach

I knew about the loopholes for getting an Irish passport (my dad was not listed on the Foreign Birth Registry, so that was out). There was a difficult-to-attain freelancer visa that I would have had to hustle to get – and I was still on blogger.com. I could get married, but that seemed like an awkward conversation to a Spanish boyfriend who proudly proclaimed he’d never get married (about that…).

I found out that I essentially had three options, apart from the whole ring thing: I could try to find a contract and let my card lapse to modify my status from irregular to a one-year work and residency permit, known as arraigo social; I could start working for a company under the table and rat them out under arraigo laboral, or I could continue on a student visa, obtained through a Master’s program I’d been admitted to, and start earning years towards residency as a civil partner. Modificación and cuenta propia were not buzzwords, nor were they paths to residency in Spain at that time.

So, I set out to try and find a job contract. I spend hours crafting cover letters, hand writing addresses of schools and language academies and licking stamps. Every 10 or 12, I’d reward myself with Arrested Development. I waited for the job offers to roll in but… they did not. In Spain, working legally is a bit of a catch-22: you need a work permit to get a job, and you need a job to get a work permit.

Very Spainful to spend a summer stressing out over staying legal, making money and not having to crawl back to America, tail between your legs.

bedroom almohalla 51 sleep

Dreaming of being legal in Spain

In all fairness, I was up against a lot: the arraigo social was a long-shot because teaching contracts tend to be only for nine-ten months. I’d also been out of the Schengen Zone for longer than the allotted time (120 days in three years) and had passport stamps to prove it. I couldn’t denunciar the Spanish government for legally employing me, either. Feeling overwhelmed and in desperate need of 20 minutes in an air-conditioned office, I headed to the U.S. Consulate in Seville (which, by the way, does not do residency or visa consultations for Americans in Spain), and the then-consular agent told me to renew my student visa como fuera.

Thankfully, I’d applied to do a Master’s in Spanish and had an acceptance letter and enrollment certificate. I deferred my enrollment for financial hardship but it had bought me a bit of time to not let my residency card lapse. I’d discover later that you can apply for a TIE card renewal up to 90 days after its expiration, but I was in survival mode (and I seriously doubt that Exteriores even had a website at that time).

paperwork

If my house ever catches fire, my mountains of extrajería paperwork means that it will burn fast.

An overnight bus trip later, I stood in line at the Foreigner’s Office in Madrid, only to be told I’d need an appointment. I plead my case, blaming it on the university taking its sweet time to send my documents and the lack of available appointments, and they told me to come back that following Friday. Back to Seville on the six hour overnight bus I went, returning three days later and having registered my padrón certificate with my brother-in-law.

When it was my turn at the eleventh hour, literally at 4pm the day before my residency card expired, I lied through my teeth and said I was going to begin a master’s program. I remember her making some snide remark about sevillanos. As soon as I had the stamp on my EX-00, I long-distance dialed my mom in the US and told her she could transfer all the money, used as proof of financial solvency for my renewal, back out of my bank account.

As all of this was happening, I attended an American Women’s Club tapas welcome party for new members, as I was considering joining anyway. The woman I sat next to casually mentioned something called pareja de hecho. Doing this would make me the de facto executor of the Novio’s will, and would make him my de-facto owner and keeper. I wasn’t cool with that explanation from the funcionario, but I rolled with it because it gave me residency permission, and I could work legally for 20 hours on my student visa.

walking tours in Spain

Spanish bureaucracy is no cake walk

And so began the wild goose paperwork chase around Andalucía (including a brief pit stop in Fuengirola, Málaga).

You know the rest – a change in the stable partner laws while our paperwork was processing allowed me to work legally and build years towards permanent residency. But apart from that, it changed my mindset from taking Spain and my life here on a year-by-year basis, and it was a clear sign from the Novio that we were in this for more than just the language goof ups and someone to have a cheeky midday beer with.

So what is pareja de hecho?

Cat+EnriqueEngagement065

Pareja de hecho meant no long distance relationship for the Novio and me.

The closest equivalent to pareja de hecho in the US would be a civil union; in fact, people seeking fiancé visas to the United States usually have undergone the PdH process. Simply put, you have nearly all of the benefits of being married, but without the financial implications (in Spain, anyhow) or the ring.

Pareja de hecho allows the non-EU partner to work and reside legally in Spain, have access to state healthcare and move about the EU without a passport. It’s assumed that your partner will not be your “keeper” but proving financial solvency is an element when you later apply for your residency card, and your finances will stay separate unless you choose otherwise.

Pareja de hecho is also called pareja estable or uniones de hecho.

I want to do pareja de hecho. How can I apply for pareja de hecho / pareja estable?

Want to legalize your love? Pareja de hecho is one way to stay in Spain legally as a non-EU citizen.

But ojo: paperwork and eligibility for pareja de hecho differs from one autonomous community to another. Some, like Andalucía or Navarra, will allow the non-EU partner to be on a student visa or even apply with just a passport, whereas Castilla y León will not. Galicia wins the living-in-sin game, as interested parties must have lived together on a registered padrón municipal for two years or more. Both sets of islands will only let Spanish citizens, and not other Europeans, apply.

a-veces-la-locura-spanish-words

Sometimes, crazy is the only way to survive (in Spain)

To qualify, both members of the party generally have to be 18 or older, not related and able to enter into a legal partnership on your own free will. From there, requirements vary by the community – and sometimes even the province – in which you’re applying. Your local government will have resources about documentation and application process. And don’t forget that once you have your certificate in hand, you’ll still have to apply for your shiny new residency card (tarjeta comunitaria)!

In hindsight, pareja de hecho was probably the easiest bureaucratic matter I’ve had to deal with in Spain – I’m serious. And if you don’t believe me, I co-wrote an eBook about it (use LEGALLOVE5 for a 5€ discount in COMO’s online shop!)!

All’s fair in love and bureaucracy, right?

How did you get into teaching abroad? Do I need to have a TEFL or CELTA to teach in Spain?

I proudly marched off the plane in July 2005 after a summer abroad and announced I’d be moving back to Europe after graduation. My parents even encouraged me to do a year or two abroad.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Senior year, after the obligatory flippy cup game and textbook buying, I visited the Office of Study Abroad on my campus to ask how to move abroad after graduation; one of the peer mentors told me about the Spanish government’s North American Language and Culture Assistant program, which would allow me to teach 12 hours a week in a public school in exchange for 631,06€ a month, private healthcare and a student visa. I was offered a position in Andalucía two weeks before graduation.

IMG_8308

I needed a TEFL certificate to teach at an English academy

The auxiliar program was a positive experience for me, and I found that I was actually pretty good at teaching phrasal verbs and producing gap fills. My coordinator gave me free reign in the classroom, so at the end of my three years, I felt ready to make teaching my career, even going as far as applying for a Master’s in Secondary and Bilingual Education.

Remember all of those hand-written envelopes? I got a few bites, but the work papers was always the snag. When my pareja de hecho lawyer called to tell me I could get a Spanish social security number, I marched right over to the social security office and later that week, caught that damn overnight bus to pick up my residency card. I had a standing job offer and started work as Seño Miss Cat the following week.

Great methodology, fun songs and likeable characters.

When I left the private school – I was overworked and underpaid, and I didn’t have enough time for blogging and freelancing – I jumped into the English academy world. Having heard horror stories about payment and contract issues, I was wary but needed a way to work while completing a master’s program, so I figured the part-time schedule and academic year to academic year commitment was doable. I was offered the Director of Studies position midway through the year and stayed on until our move to Madrid.

When I get asked whether or not a TEFL or CELTA is necessary, I always give the same advice: if you want to work for a reputable academy, you should have a certificate. Not only does this make you more attractive to an employer, but it gives you footing if it’s your first time in front of a classroom. I agree that experience is the best teacher but Spain is the land of titulítis.

Vintage Travel: in Wisconsin at age 6

Is a CELTA or TEFL preferred to teach in Spain? While TEFL certificates are king in Asia and South America, many language schools in Spain will require a CELTA (Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults). There’s good reason for this: the CELTA prepares you to teach the Cambridge Language Exams, which is a language level test that most academies offer.

I don’t really miss teaching as I thought I would, but mostly because I really like what I’m doing now. I do, however, miss my two-month vacation!

What do you do for a living? How did you get into university admissions?

After nine years in the classroom, a Facebook post changed my career rumbo. An American university in Spain was looking for an admissions counselor. I read the job description: people skills, basic computer skills, work permission in Spain. I could handle that. I wrote a fun cover letter, added a picture of myself on the school’s U.S. campus and sent off an email to HR and the Director of Admissions – less than a month later, I had an offer.

IMG_7618

A clue to the institution I work for – from one oddball mascot to the next!

Working for an American-style company (it’s an S.A., which is why I got paid maternity leave and am in the Spanish social security system) is a serious dream. My role includes representing the university in recruitment events in my geographic zone, reading applications, counseling students on visas, and overseeing recruitment and marketing for our graduate programs. It’s a fun challenge, and I’m still in education – and I am using my journalism chops at long last. Like many elements of my life in Spain, patience and perhaps some karma helped tremendously.

Want to get into international student admissions? You should be personable, able to work independently and keep up with trends in enrollment, higher education and whatever social media a teenager would be into. You should also be willing to answer very, very mundane questions. Working for a small, niche school has its challenges, so every enrolled student feels like a win – especially when you met that student at a college fair, set up a campus visit, helped them choose classes, and given them a hug at orientation.

As schools begin to look abroad (Fall 2019’s cohort was born the same year as 9-11, eh, meaning less kids to go around), many universities are amping up recruitment efforts abroad. Even in Spain, think beyond study abroad!

What is your favorite post on your blog?

Sometimes when I hit publish, I am excited to see how my readers react. Most times, I’m like, “cool, cross that off my todoist app” because of the amount of work that goes into a post. Editing photos, choosing the right words and kinda caring about SEO. I can mull for days over how to frame a post – often choosing to wait a year so that it’s timely.

Asking me to choose my favorite post depends on what I have a craving for reading.

doris shoes

From itchy feet to firmly planted in Spain

Perhaps one of the posts I find myself going back and reading the most is The Guiri Complex (Or, why I Can’t Have it All). Pounded out on a keyboard shortly after an American food store opened in the same storefront where I’d bought a flamenco dress, I was wrestling with more than just an overpriced box of Cheerios and whether or not I wanted it: it was a moment where I was torn between the life I had built in Sevilla, and the life I thought I could have in the U.S.

Curious: do you guys have any posts you particularly like? I’d love to hear them!

What is the Novio’s real name?

I recently met up for a beer (well, like a dozen) with Joy of @joyofmadrid. As soon as we’d sat down, she said, “I’m so glad we can skip over the basics because we already know one another.”

..and the other one. Believe it or not, Kike is Madrileño! But still Bético.

Ah, youth. This was eight years ago.

I’m not exactly a public figure, but I realize that people know who I am, what I do and where I like to have a caña. But my husband is an extremely private person and someone who is not into social media, internet cookies (or regular cookies, actually) or sharing his personal life. I can respect that, and for this reason he shall remain nameless.

And, no, I did not move here for the Novio. But he’s part of the reason I stayed.

Will you ever return to the U.S.?

Great question. While I don’t want to close the door to returning to live in the land of cooking with butter, I don’t see it happening. Where would the Novio get his hueso salao for puchero? How could I ever go back to not having health insurance? It’s not impossible, but I think it’s unlikely.

It's trite, but Chicago really is my kind of town.

Still my favorite place in the world.

Truthfully, moving to the US freaks me out – the staggering cost of living on meager savings, starting a job search from abroad, letting go of my Spanish lifestyle. The dream would be an American salary in Spain, but everyone makes sacrifices, right?

Cruzcampo is not one of those sacrifices.

If you didn’t live in Seville, where would you live? Where should I live?

te quiero sevilla

I always said that if I didn’t live in Seville, I’d live in Madrid. And now that the Spanish capital is “home,” I’d choose Seville again. It truly is la ciudad de mi arma, even with its faults (and that reminds me – I really love my break up post).

When I announced via Facebook that I’d be leaving Seville for Madrid, one commenter warned me of how soulless Madrid felt to her. My friend Lindsay, who has lived in both cities put it best (and I love her for it): Cat can find her people and her home anywhere.

Visit Lastres Asturias

But if I must choose – I really love Asturias and could see myself up north with a bouganvilla-covered house in a little fishing village near where the Novio summered. Send rebujito if this ever happens.

What are your tips for making friends abroad?

spanish american girls at the feria de sevilla

Currently in Sevilla, Denver, San Francisco, New York, Madrid, Sevilla and Jakarta, but forever in Calle Bombita

Saying that the friends I made in Spain are half of my Spanish world would be an understatement. There’s an affinity that we have, as Americans, that extends beyond our shared language and culture. My group and I have left home for Spain – sometimes for the adventure, sometimes for a novio. Most of them had studied abroad in Sevilla (everyone in the photo but me, in fact!) and most of us arrived in 2007.

Had I not met the women I call my Spain Dream Team, there’s a fairly large probability that I wouldn’t have stuck around. The Novio often traveled for work abroad for long stretches of time, so I wizened up and found a group of women about my age who planned on Spain long-term. Little by little, my small circle of sevillamericanas has grown (but not without a few hard bajas).

Remember how your parents told you to leave your dorm room door open during your first week of college? I did that, too, but figuratively. I never turned down an invitation, but in an age where social media was as creeperific, I spent a lot of time at home with a box of Magnum bars.

IMG-20180224-WA0041

I solemnly swear that we are up to no good.

When you’re looking to meet friends abroad, consider what you’re already into doing – there are meet ups for everything from hiking with kids to knitting. If there’s a local expat group, go to an outing or two, or at least tap into their resources. Of those pictured above, most of us met be being introduced by someone else – ask for introductions and don’t think it’s weird (we’re literally all in the same situation, or have been!). Don’t be afraid to invite people for a coffee – I used to drag my German roommate to a cuchitre bar on our street to practice Spanish, and a cook at one of the tapas bars near my house and I kept in touch (and he opened a new bar recently!).

Advice on when friends move? In the picture of us dressed in trajes de gitana – one of my favorites – only three of us are still in Spain, but we’ve seen one another at least once in the last two years. A part of me dies when one of my friends announces that she’s moving away from Spain and I have ZERO advice other than whatsapp.

Do you have any advice for someone moving to Spain?

After my first year in Spain, I returned to my summer job at an outlet mall in suburbia. Tasked with folding rows of chinos and steaming dress shirts at Banana Republic, I struck up a conversation with an American who had just returned from 17 years in Galicia. As I found her sizes and zipped up dresses, she reminded me, “Spain will change you. No vuelvas just yet.” Seventeen years seemed like an awful long time to be away from my family, my language and my culture, but I assured her I’d stay another year.

Dreamy.

I’ve never forgotten that milestone. By the time I’ve been here 17 years, I will have probably had another kid, maybe moved again and who knows what else. If someone had told me that I’d fall for a Spaniard when abroad, I would have believed them. Had someone told me I’d live my adult life here? I wouldn’t.

I’m often asked what I’d do differently. Truthfully, not too much. Maybe I would have tried harder on this blog, or tried harder to make more professional connections earlier. Maybe I would have saved more money. I probably would have paid a little more money for an apartment with air-con because, damn, Sevilla is hot. But in the grand scheme of things, I’m pleased with how things have gone – even those hours, sitting in the dark eating Magnum bars when I had no friends.

mercado de san miguel madrid

My advice? Remember that it’s not your home country, so nothing will be the same. Spanish customer service is pitiful, traffic is just as bad as in the US but with crappy radio. Life is life in Spain, but as they say: Spain is different. Not a good different of bad different, necessarily.

Just different – and fun, challenging, enriching and delicious. Here’s to 11 more!

Any other burning  questions for a long-term expat in Spain?

This post contains links to my residency blog, COMO Consulting Spain, including links to our online shop. Have a click on any of the links to learn more about how to move to and work in Spain. We were recently hacked, so every click makes a world of difference (and we put a humorous spin on Spanish red tape!).

Is Aníbal the Most Instagrammable Restaurant in Seville? (and a food review, duh)

A blast of hot air met me as soon as I’d unloaded my bag, a stoller and my kiddo from the bullet train. Ay, mi Sevilla. Nearly two months had passed since the Feria de Sevilla, but that’s the best part about this city – it never seems to change. Not random wooden mushroom where a bus depot once stood, not fiery new gastrobars cozying up to age-old casas de comida.

Sevilla is Sevilla. Forever and ever, amén.

A staple in my Spain life is my guiri group of girlfriends, las sevillamericanas. So when one comes back from Indosnesia for a weekend, believe me when I say I’m not spending my euro coins on the high-speed train to stay at my mother-in-law’s; Kelly’s estancia in the city where these Chicagoans-turned-trianeras merited a fast trip down for catching up and eating up. And documenting on social media – we are nothing but slaves to our screens.

Instagram Worthy Restaurants and Food in Seville, Spain

My friends love food but I’d been clued into the new kid on the restaurant block, Aníbal. “But you don’t even live here! How do you even know what’s new?” In a city that makes eating fun and one of Lonely Planet’s top picks for 2018, there isn’t a lot of elbow room for a brand new bar. But an old school vibe?

Aníbal by Origen is the first concept by the restaurant group, a departure of sorts from Rafa’s first venture at ROOF. While the food game wasn’t as strong, the terrace bar was sleek and reasonably priced. I expected Aníbal to be the same: its Instagram began with a photo like this, after all:

The palacio

My friend Rafael Toribio was one of the first to put a bar on a rooftop in Seville, housed in a botique hotel with views of Old World Seville’s Giralda and the modern Metropol Parasol.

Now that terrace bars in Seville are de moda, Rafa has moved on and, along with two other socios, bought an old palace in the heart of Santa Cruz, just an uphill stumble away from one of Spain’s famous flamenco tablaos and a cheap tapas bar where Kelly and I would spend our hard-earned private lessons money.

The man behind Aníbal Restaurant Sevilla

Airy and expansive, the restaurant is located in a casa señorial on Calle Madre de Díos, buried in the heart of Barrio Santa Cruz. Comprised of several rooms around a central patio andaluz, several of the original elements, like elegant fireplaces, frescoes and iron chandeliers.

restaurants with beautiful interiors in Europe

The front bar is roped off by heavy velvet drapes, seemingly out-of-place in a modern spin on a protected building. But once you walk into what was once a parlor, the space feels open, lit by natural light, and a fusion of old and new.

The word Origen seems fitting – the jungle theme is snaked throughout the space in playful tones and nods to continents where Spain has left a cultural legacy. Given that the menu has hints of these countries and flavors, the play on cultural elements allows each room to have its own feel while staying true to the theme.

cool new restaurants in Seville

the bar at Aníbal Sevilla

Hotel and Restaurant Aníbal

food and tapas at Anibal Sevilla

We were sat at a high wooden table. Had we been more than five it would have been too large to reach across the table and share food and gossip, but we formed a U, never out of arm’s reach of the plates or the bottle of wine.

The food

My friends and I order tapas like we order beers – with abandon, and one after another. You know you say, “Everyone pick a dish?”

We each chose two – we’d ordered half the menu and requested our vegetarian friends have some off-menu items, like grilled espárragos trigueros, coarsely chopped tomatoes drizzled in olive oil and revuelto de setas.

Manu at Anibal Sevilla

The food offering is mostly based on what’s fresh and in season, plus some market finds that sneak onto the fuera de carta menu. They’re rooted in old school Andalusian cooking with a modern, international twist – and oh-so-perfect for an Instagram feed.

tapas for vegetarians Seville

Queso payoyo

seafood dishes at anibal seville

Seared tuna belly over a bed of arroz

IMG_20180624_132051_538

Salmorejo con carne de centollo

tapa de presa iberica

Presa Ibérica 

typical Spanish pinchos

Tostas de pimiento de piquillo to cleanse our palate

revuelto de setas tapa Anibal Sevilla

reveuelto de setas

For the most part, the food was spot-on – full of flavor without departing from traditional methods or tastes. The tuna belly got fought over, and the crab meat with the creamy salmorejo provided the right touch of texture for a hot summer day.

I found the lack of options for vegetarians to be surprising and disappointing, especially given that when I called, I was even asked if anyone had any dietary restrictions! I didn’t try the revuelto de setas, but it came out cold and watery and like someone had forgotten the salt.

The service

Invita la casa, the maître’d announced, setting down a barrage of sweets.

de postre Spanish desserts

True, it was a hazy day in late June where the restaurant sat empty – locals were assaulting the beachside chiringuitos in Cádiz – but we never had to flag down a waiter or send back any food. In a city where good service isn’t the norm, I had zero complaints. We could eat and gaggle in peace but never be without a full glass in hand.

The verdict

cool restauants in sevilla spain

Aníbal won’t make my short list of haunts in Seville – I’m far more partial to places with crass bartenders and a wine list that consists of only tinto or blanco – but it’s r for a fancy night out, a cocktail or Instagram postureo. We paid about 22€ a head with food and drinks and the cubierto – a bit pricier than most other restaurants in Barrio Santa Cruz but less than I’d have paid in Madrid by at least a nice bottle of wine.

There’s no doubt that Sevilla is changing. But the more the city seems to reinvent itself, it always stays true to its (ahem, rancio) roots – even when a restaurant touts a modern look and feel.

Aníbal by Origens review

You can follow Aníbal on Instagram and Facebook and check out their pop up events – everything from cocktail master classes to designer markets to music on their rooftop.

Full disclosure: Aníbal kindly picked up our desserts and coffee, but opinions are – and will always be – mine. Aníbal is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon until midnight or 1am. You can make a reservation by calling 672 44 85 78.

Have you been to Aníbal? Know another restaurant that’s worth an instastory? Comment below! You can also view my posts about the best tapas bars in Seville and Spanish Tapas 101.

Resources for Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Rape Victims in Spain

On April 11th, 2018, the Today Show aired the story of Gabrielle Vega, a young woman who alleged she was raped while studying abroad in Spain. While on a semester in Salamanca, Gabrielle contracted the services of a student-run tourism company, Discover Excursions, to travel to Morocco. Given that Morocco isn’t the safest place to explore at night, one of the guides (and owner), Manuel Vela Blanco, invited Gabrielle and two friends to his hotel room for a drink. With his back turned, she alleges, he poured a glass of champagne.

The next morning, she woke up woozy and realized she’d been violated by the same person entrusted to keep her safe in Morocco.

I wish I could say I was shocked, but I wasn’t. Rumors have long swirled around Manu and his employees  – I’ve been privy to them boasting about sleeping with multiple women a night – but he continued to run a successful tourism company whose target market was female study abroad students. I’m disgusted that I interviewed for Discover Excursions in 2009, the year Blanco Vela bought out the company and the rumors began emerging.

Since that date, more than 30 women have come forward with a similar story (not everyone was raped) and authorities in Spain are investigating the allegations.

I was deeply affected by Gabrielle’s testimony. Even as someone who has never been their client and much less their friend, I reached out to Gabrielle on social media and asked how I could help. Her request was simple: a list of resources for women who might find themselves in a similar situation. Working in higher education, I am familiar with Title IX reporting, with local resources in Madrid and how to file a police report – but there is not an extensive list.

I seek to provide that here. When I began this blog post in late April 2018, I had no idea of how reporting worked or that there was infrastructure in place to help victims.

Sadly, domestic violence and sexual assault are an everyday occurrence in Spain. Have you heard of La Manada, a group of men from Seville who were recently convicted of sexual misconduct after allegedly gang raping a woman at the San Fermines festival in 2016? Spain is behind the times when it comes to handling sexual assault and rape charges, and even something supposedly harmless like cat calls are commonplace – but citizens are thankfully speaking out, and each autonomous community has resources for victims – from hotlines to pamphlets to volunteers.

empty bench lonely

Please share the information about where to go if you are the victim of a sexual assault, of sexual violence, or of rape while in Spain. Even if you think it will do no good to denounce someone while abroad or you feel ashamed to report, now is the time that we must speak up. Below you will find a growing list of resources for the major study abroad cities, which happen to be many of Spain’s largest. If you have further information, please comment or email me so that I can update the list.

What constitutes rape or sexual abuse in Spain?

It’s helpful to know a little bit about law in Spain regarding sexual abuse, gender violence and rape, which is under fire with the La Manada conviction. Spanish penal code defines both sexual abuse (abuso sexual) and rape (violación) as an act against a person’s sexual liberty.

Much like a robbery or petty theft, there is a heavier penalty when violence is exercised against the victim. This could be through intimidation or force but can be difficult to prove – and this is exactly why the Manada, a group of five guys who gang raped a woman during the San Fermines festival, were let off. Worse, they filmed the rape and planned it ahead of time, sharing the crime on a whatsapp group.

Hermana yo te creo

The jail time associated with each is from one to five years if there is evidence of violence; if not, the maximum prison time drops to three years. Like I said, Spain is a little behind the times when it comes to punishing these sorts of crimes.

Spain-wide resources

If you are the victim of a sex-related crime in Spain, follow these steps immediately after the crime and making sure you are ok (better to have a trusted friend and preferably one who speaks Spanish):

  1. Have a medical examination performed. The word for rape in Spanish is violación, and you should keep a copy of the medical report for the police report.
  2. File a police report (denuncia) at a National Police Station.
  3. Contact the Servicio de Atención a mujeres víctimas de Violencia de Género (Support Service for Women Victims of Gender-based Violence, herein referred to as S.A.V.G.) – 24 hour service, where you will receive specialized social, psychological, and legal support and where they will help you to come up with a safety plan for potential risk situations. This service is available 24 hours a day, 365 day; the number is (+34) 900 222 100 and is free to the caller. You may also use this service if you are not a legal resident of Spain or in an “irregular” residency situation. Email is savg24h@madrid.es.

The emergency number in Spain (similar to 911) is 112. The hotline for women who have been physically or sexually abused is 016. Both hotlines are free to call and are available in several languages (some lesser-spoken languages are only available from 8am – 6pm during the work week).

If you are the victim of any sort of crime in Spanish territory (this includes Ceuta and Melilla), you are strongly encouraged to fill out a police report. This is called a denuncia, and it can be filed at any National Police (policia nacional) station, which are open 24 hours a day. Here is where to file a police report. Be sure to be as descriptive as possible, bring an ID with you and, if you feel your Spanish is not up to par, bring someone who can translate.

You can file in person, via telephone (at a cost) to 902 102 112 from 9am until 9pm. Victims of sexual abuse or rape cannot file a police report of this nature online. If the crime was committed outside of Spain but involves a Spanish national, it may be hard to file a report and you may get pushback – but that shouldn’t stop you from trying.

In Spain, gender violence, also known as domestic violence or violencia de género, is investigated and prosecuted via the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality (Ministerio de Sanidad, Servicios Sociales e Igualdad), they have an informational sheet about your rights (mostly directed towards victims of violencia de género). The Guardia Civil is tasked with investigating violent crimes against women and minors as part of the EMUME program. They have an office in each province, which you can download here. In addition, there is a Spain-wide toggle search of resources according to the type of service you are looking for, as well as geographic location.

I cannot tell if ATENPRO still exists and whether or not it is a program funded by the Spanish government or by the Red Cross of Spain.

Your country’s Embassy or nearest consulate will have resources, too, and it’s understood that the consular agents are tasked with protecting the interests of their constituents. Most Embassies are located in Madrid (a full list is available here) and many have consulates around Spain. The US has consulates in Spanish territory in Barcelona, Seville, Valencia, Fuengirola (Málaga) Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Palma de Mallorca. Andorra is also under the jurisdiction of the US Mission to Spain.

The US Embassy website and American Citizen Services in Spain – including emergency services – can be found here. You can also request a translator through ACS.

20180505_134840

Additionally, most major cities have a branch of the Instituto de la Mujer (Spanish only). You can read about your rights in the event of a crime via an online contact form or find information about legislation in Spain regarding sexual harassment and asault. The organization is headquartered in Madrid on Condesa de Venadito, 34. The nearest metro stop is Barrio de Concepción (Line 7), or you can take bus 53 from Puerta del Sol. Below, I detail the contact information of the Instituto de la Mujer in popular study abroad and touristic destinations.

The city of Madrid has put out a short pamphlet (in English) about where to go and what to do if you have been assaulted or raped. Further, Red Ormiga provides assistance to undocumented immigrants, including in cases of rape or sexual violence.

If you suspect you have a sexually transmitted disease, called an enfermedad de transmición sexual, you can have a test performed at any public clinic, so long as you are registered through an empadronamiento.

Important: if the person harassing or violating you has access to your computer or phone, always clear your browser history. Many websites listed on this post will also have a button called “salida rápida” which will allow you to close the page quickly. I, unfortunately, do not.

Finally, you can choose to do online counseling via Better Help. If you are in Spain with health insurance, check out your options, as many programs will allow you to see a therapist as part of your coverage.

Pathways to Safety: an overseas resource for Americans abroad who have been victims of sexual abuse, rape or aggression 

American victims of sexual assault and violence have access to a toll-free crisis phone number. Dial the country code first, which for Spain is 900-99-0011. After dialing the country code, the victim will be prompted to dial the hotline’s direct number, which is 833-SAFE-833 (833-723-3833).

Important: For calls on a mobile phone, the call should be deleted from the call history log for safety reasons. On a landline, they should first hang up the receiver, then pick it up and dial another random number and then hang up again. This prevents someone from redialing, and this can help you stay safe at the hands of a person who is hurting you.

The phone number is for immediate response. You also have the option to email a crisis case manager at crisis@pathwaystosafety.org. The response time via email may be anywhere from two hours to six hours; in an emergency situation, a phone call would illicit an immediate response. If a victim chooses to report their assault to the police, an English interpreter will be provided upon request. If you are traveling alone, you can contact the U.S. Embassy to request that an officer accompany you for the medical examination in addition to a police station.

Pathways to Safety seeks to help victims of interpersonal and gender based violence, including domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, stalking, and forced marriage. At this time, they only help Americans who become victims while abroad in ways like safety planning, legal aid services, counseling, and transition and basic needs assistance either in a foreign country or back in the United States, whenever possible.

You could also contact RAINN – the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network headquartered in the USA. They have an 800-number and a live chat in the event you are a victim or would like to consult the statute of limitations.

Resources for sexual crime victims in popular study abroad destinations in Spain

This post is not meant to be directed only at students enjoying a semester in Spain. But the truth is that rape culture is prevalent in the US, particularly at the university level. Remember the Penn State sexual abuse scandal a few years ago? It’s estimated that one in six university students will be victims of sexual harassment or abuse.
Additionally, study abroad students are often more vulnerable – the drinking age is lower in many countries, they are out of their cultural and linguistic element and often lack the knowledge of how to deal with intense or potentially dangerous situations. There is even a 2013 study about how young women on a semester abroad are at a higher risk for becoming victims of sexual crimes.
I’ve taken the most popular study abroad destinations in Spain and found a few local resources. I will be adding to this list every time I find new or updated information. You can also check the site Securely Travel, which is a blog run by a former security adviser and who has covered Ms. Vega’s case.

Madrid

metro of Madrid

Madrid is regarded as one of the safest cities in the world, but lewd comments and catcalling are, sadly, commonplace in La Capital. You will find a number of resources here, including headquarters and a number of non-profits. This list will likely expand.
Important: If you are the victim of a violent crime and require a rape kit done in Madrid, you should go to Hospital de la Paz and ask for an evaluación forénsica to be performed. Be sure to fill out a police report prior to your hospital visit. Paseo de la Castellana, 261, metro Begońa (Line 10). +34 917 27 70 00.
You can find a list of shelters and resources in English, published by the local government, at this link (in Spanish here). If you are outside of the Madrid city limits, there are satellite offices and shelters in several large towns, published here.
  • APUNE – an organization of American university programs in Spain. They are located on General Martínez Campos, 24,between the Iglesia (Line 1) and Gregorio Marañón (Line 7) metro stops. +34 91 319 91 18.
  • SINEWS – a multi-lingual counseling company offering support for victims. Their offices are at Zurbano, 34. Nearest metro stops are Rubén Darío (Line 7) and Alonso Martínez (Lines 4, 5 and 10). +34 91 700 19 79; +34 60 926 93 23 is the emergency line.
  • Asociación Asistencia Mujeres Violadas – a non-profit that provides psychological and legal support to rape victims at Calle Alcalá 124, 1º A. Metros are Manuel Becerra (Lines 2 and 6) and Goya (lines 2 and 4). +91 574 01 10; asociacion@cavasmadrid.es.
  • Servicio De Atención A La Mujer (Sam) – a newly-formed division of the National Police tasked with investigating violent and sexual crimes. The Madrid-based headquarters is located in the Comisaría de Policía at Avda. Doctor Federico Rubio y Gali, 55; Metro at Francos Rodríguez (Line 7). +34 913 22 34 21.

To file a restraining order, you can do so at the located at the Comunidad de Madrid Dirección General de la Mujer at Calle Madrazo, 34, 3rd floor. The nearest Metro is Banco de España (Line 2); +34 91 720 62 38: or at C/ Manuel de Falla 7 , 2ª pta. (nearest metros are Santiago Bernabeu and Cuzco, both on Line 10) +34 91 720 62 38.

This is saddening but also necessary: In Madrid, you can now share where and by whom you were assaulted on this interactive map via Free to Be Madrid. I urge you to share your story, in English or Spanish.

Andalusia: Sevilla, Málaga and Granada

Barrio Santa Cruz Sevilla

In Sevilla (as well as Granada, Málaga and any other town in Andalusia), the Ministerio de Sanidad, Servicos Sociales e Igualdad and the division known as the Instituto de la Mujer are responsible for overseeing resources for reporting and attending to victims. The autonomous community-wide ministry is located in the capital of Seville at Avenida de Hytasa, 1, +34 95 500 63 00; the central office for the Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer for the entire comunidad is located in the center of town at Doña María Coronel, 6: +34 95 454 4910, consulta.iam@juntadeandalucia.es.

That said, you can find information about the Instituto de la Mujer in each province of Andalusia, as well as their satellite offices in other municipalities in the same link. The organization provides shelters and psychological help for victims of gender violence, as well as health and employment training.

Córdoba

Centro Provincial Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer Córdoba

Avda. Ollerías nº 48 (14071).

Teléfono: 957 003 400. Fax: 957 003 412.

cmujer.cordoba.iam@juntadeandalucia.es

Granada

Centro Provincial Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer Granada

C/ San Matías, 17 (18009).

Teléfono: 958 025 800. Fax: 958 025 818.

cmujer.granada.iam@juntadeandalucia.es

Málaga

Centro Provincial Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer Málaga

C/ San Jacinto, 7 (29007) Málaga

Teléfono: 951 040 847. Fax: 951 040 848.

cmujer.malaga.iam@juntadeandalucia.es

Sevilla

Centro Provincial Instituto Andaluz de la Mujer Sevilla

C/ Alfonso XII nº 52 (41002).

Teléfono: 955 034 944. Fax: 955 035 957.

cmujer.sevilla.iam@juntadeandalucia.es

  • The Servicio de Asistencia de Víctimas de Andalucía is a gender-inclusive psychological and judicial support service for victims of crimes – which includes foreigners, tourists and minors. There are offices in each province of Andalusia and the Campo de Gibraltar, and their services are listed in their English-language pamphlet.
  • The Costa del Sol chapter of Soroptimist International is active, championing for women’s issues and providing support in nearly four dozen languages.

There are US Consulates in both Sevilla (Plaza Nueva, 8) and Fuengirola, a town to the west of Málaga (Juan Gómez Juanito, 8).

If you need a restraining order, you can follow the steps listed on the Junta de Andalucía’s website.

Castilla y León: Salamanca

rainy in plaza mayor valladolid

While the Junta de Castilla y León is located in Valladolid, where I chose to study abroad in Spain, the capital isn’t home to a plehora of Erasmus students or co-eds on a semester overseas. The regional government provides a list of resources under the Health and Social Services Ministry and runs a program known as PAWLA to bring resources straight to victims of gender and sexual violence.

The Sección de Mujer of Salamanca – home to one of the world’s oldest universities and a destination for abroad programs, it located in the Edificio Administrativo de Usos Múltiples (ESAUM) on C/ Príncipe de Vergara, 53-71 – Planta Baja; (+34) 923 296 746 or (+34) 923 136 458. This governmental organism also provides help to family matters and those dependent on drugs; the list of satellite offices is found on the Familia, drogopendencias y mujer section of the Junta de Castilla y León’s website.

The central office for the Centro de Acción Social (CEAS), which deals with citizens in crisis, is located in Valladolid, but a simple Google search will yield the office nearest you – even if you’re not in a provincial capital. They will be able to direct you to more resources and translators, if needed.

Finally, the Asociación de Asistencia a Víctimas de Agresiones Sexuales y Violencia de Género is active in Castilla y León and partially funded by the regional government. León, Valladolid and Burgos are of note; the Salamanca office is located at C/ Corral de Villaverde, 1, 5ºB; the office phone is (+34) 923 26 05 99 or the 24-hour (+34) 609 83 53 36. 

Cataluña: Barcelona

parc guell barcelona3

Many will argue that Catalonia is not Spain, but the northeastern region of the Iberian peninsula is also known for being one of the more progressive. A simple Google search for this post brought back a number of resources for victims of sexual crimes, including free therapy sessions for victims of sexual crimes during youth, monetary compensations for victims and a number of organizations meant to protect and support victims.

While the official language of all of Spain is Castillian Spanish, it’s more common to hear catalán or inglés. That said, if you speak in Spanish in larger urban areas, you will be attended to in Spanish. Keep in mind that, at the time of publication, local law enforcement is upheld by the Mossos d’Esquadra, a division of the Civil guard whose day-to-day operations are run by the Catalan government. Within Catalonia, the emergency number 012 will connect you to the Mossos; you can also dial (+34) 932 14 21 24 outside of the region.

Like all other regions, you should follow the protocol of calling the police, having a pelvic exam and making a denuncia, as outline in this PDF about sexual assault and rape put out by the catalán government. To file a police report, the Mossos Denuncias page describes how and where to do so around the comunidad. And bravo to the Catalonian government’s website that has clear instructions and resources for the whole region, the most relevant of which are listed below.

The general hotline for victims of sexual crime in Catalonia is: (+34) 900 90 01 20 (24/7).

Two major hospitals in Barcelona will treat victims of sexual assault and have specialized units for their emotional and psychical treatment:

The public Hospital Clínic de Barcelona is one of the largest treatment centers in the region, and in addition to an ER and psychological units, treats victims in the Programa de Prevención y Tratamiento de las Secuelas Psíquicas en Mujeres Víctimas de Agresión Sexual c/ Rosselló, 140, bajos; (+34) 629 63 45 53. Note that the aforementions unit is only open Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 am until 1pm. Hospital Sant Joan de Deu has a Unidad de Agresiones Sexuales for sexually abused minors. Ctra. De Esplugas, s/n: (+34) 932 80 40 00.

  • Catalonia’s Instituto de la Mujer is part of the Minsterio de Bienestar y la Familia. Their page regarding sexual crimes is in catalán, but you can find the office at Plza. Pere Coromines: (+34) 934 95 16 00; icd@gencat.cat
  • The Oficine de Atenció de Víctimas de l’Delicte (OAVD) is a division of the Ministry of Justice that can help you with legal matters related to sxual crimes.Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, 111. Edificio I. planta 3ª; (+34) 900 12 18 84 (toll free); atenciovictima.dji@gencat.net.
  • The Servei d’Atenció, Recuperación i Acollida (SARA) goes a step beyond by offering refuge to women, children and anyone who has been the victim of sexual violence as well as anyone in their family o immediate circle.. It is a division of DONA. C/ Marie Curie, 16: (+34) 932 91 59 10; sara@bcn.cat
  • Associació Assistència a Dones Agredides Sexualment (AADAS) provides survivors with legal and psychological support. (+34) 934 87 57 60; http://www.aadas.org.

Finally, there is a US consulate with select Embassy powers in Barcelona in the Sarrià neighborhood at Paseo Reina Elisenda de Montcada, 23; (+34) 93 280 22 27; the Ask Citizens Services email is barcelonaacs@state.gov. The nearest subway station is Reina Elisenda (the end of Line 12).

Communitat Valenciana: Alicante and Valencia

Fallera Women in Las Fallas

In Valencia, the Instituto de la Mujer is overseen by the Consejería de Bienestar Social and, at a more local level, the Dirección General de Familia y Mujer. Unfortunately, many of the websites and associations listed on the Consejería’s website were broken or out of date (the Plan of Action was last updated in 2012 and only gave actions through 2014, for example). You can reach the central line, operative 24 hours a day, at (+34) 900 58 08 88 or (+34) 900 152 152 for the hearing impaired. The Generalitat also lists police commissaries that have special attention to victims of sexual assault.

You may find that some services operate first in valencià, a language closely related to catalán. Those organizations with pages in English have been added here, though the most complete information will be in valencià or castellano.

  • Institut de les Dons in the Comunitat Valenciana is located on C/ Castán Tobeñas, 77 in the Ciutat Administrativa 9 d´ Octubre, torre 3; (+34) 961 24 75 89; mujer_web@gva.es. Closest metro is Nou d’ Octubre (lines 3, 5, 9).
  • Their counterpart Alicantina, la Coordinación La Dona, is on Av/ Oscar Esplá, 33-35 in Alicante. (+34) 965 92 97 47.
  • The Centro de Asistencia a Víctimas de Agresiones Sexuales is likely to give more support. While they do not have resources in English on their webpage, they are a reference in Spain for their pioneering work in support for victims and are right in the center of town. C/ Guillem de Castro, 100; (+34) 963 94 30 69; info@cavascv.org.
  • The Asociación para la Protección e Integración de la Mujer provides services for immigrants, particularly for victims of abuse. They are headquartered in Valencia at C/ Baron de Carcer, 48 8L; asociacionprim@hotmail.com.

Further, the Generalitat offers economic help to survivors who meet certain socioeconomic conditions, such as residency and income. This page is in Spanish, as well as the online platform to apply.

There is a US Consulate near the Colom metro stop on Carrer del Dr. Romagosa, 1, 46002; (+34) 963 51 69 73.

País Vasco: Bilbao and San Sebastián

Lastres Asturias village

Like Catalonia, the Basque country has a higher degree of autonomy; their police force is known as Ertzaintza. Again, although the official language of the whole country is Castillian Spanish, you may find that resources or services are in euskera first; the Ministry of Justice does have an informative pamphlet in English about the steps victims should take, as well as contact information for the following resources and services.

  • The Specialized Information Service and Hotline Service For Female Victims of Domestic Violence (S.A.TE.VI.) is available around the clock for confidential information and support at (+34) 945 01 93 27 or (+34)  945 01 93 16; violenciacontramujeres@euskadi.eus. The hearing and speech impaired can get assistance by sending a text message to (+34) 600 12 31 12 with personal details and location, by typing the words “gender violence”.
  • The Servicio de Asistencia a la Víctima (Victim Assistance Service, or SAV),  is service which provided by the Basque Government that offers information and the social, legal and psychological assistance. They have limited hours, so you should call authorities outside of normal business hours, taking into account reduced hours and staffing in the summer months.
Bilbao

Palacio de Justicia

Ibáñez de Bilbao, 3-5

(+34) 900 40 00 28 (free phone)

(+34) 944 01 64 87

San Sebastián

Palacio de Justicia

Plaza Teresa de Calcuta, 1

(+34) 900 10 09 28 (free phone)

(+34) 943 00 07 68

  • The Instituto Vasco de la Mujer is known as Emakunde in the Basque language, and their services also extend to men who have been victims of sexual crimes. The main office is located in the Basque capital of Victoria-Gasteiz (+34 945 01 67 00); emakunde@euskadi.eus. They have a website in English and have listed their protocols in a helpful PDF (in Spanish). I could not find information about satellite offices in the comunidad.
Title IX
If you are on a program abroad through a US university, there will likely be a Title IX point person. Originally meant to prevent discrimination based on sex, race or creed, it also covers sexual harassment and sexual violence, and the Clery Act deals with reporting crime on campuses.
If your study abroad program (I believe this can only be program-related and not a private company, such as CIEE) does not have a point person or does not report, they may be in violation of the Clery Act and you should push them to train staff members.
Discover Excursions
If you have anything to share about being a survivor of a sex crime related to Manuel Vela Blanco or a staff member of Discover Excursions in Sevilla, you are encouraged to write Gabrielle Vega at: desurvivorsspeakup@gmail.com. At the time of the original posting, the company had cancelled their upcoming trips and their offices are closed. Plus, their social media has been wiped. While they may be difficult to convict, we’re making progress:
Discover Excursions
I could not have written this post without the help of Nicole Pradel, Meghan Holloway, Lindsay Vick, Helen Lyons Poloquin, Ali Meehan of Costa Women – and, of course, Gabrielle Vega. They are not only women I admire and call friends, but they took also it upon themselves to gather resources and reach out to their contacts. Niñas, thank you for fighting with me.
where to go if you've been assaulted or raped in Spain
This post is meant to be a starting off point – women in Spain are angry and we’re shouting at the patriarchy and misogyny. If you know any other websites, groups, demonstrations or the like, please comment below or email me, and I will add them to the list.

The Guiri Guide to Having a Baby in Spain: Fourth Trimester

It’s just before 4am and my body wakes me up slowly. The baby, in his Pack n’ Play next to my bed, is stirring, too. Like clockwork, he’s still doing comfort feedings once a night, snuggling into my armpit as I lift up my pajama top. The light on my Kindle is soft enough to help guide him to my nipple, his eyes still pinched shut. I feel a familiar tug and a squeaky sucking noise, and flinch as my milk comes in.

One feed down, six more to go today.

cute baby in a hat

Nine months. It’s been nine whole, life-changing, tiring, fast-paced months. He’s been on the outside just as long as he was on the inside, a baby milestone that we mothers hold dear.

My closest friend congratulated me on keeping the baby alive . “Keeping a baby alive?” I replied, “That’s the easy part!” It’s everything else that’s been trying.

The first 100 days

They say that babies need three more months of gestation to be completely ready for the outside world. And us new mothers? We need those three months to ease (um, or not) into the immense responsibility of caring for someone else. I didn’t feel like myself for those three whole months. It took a new pair of jeans, an awkward first sexual encounter and my child being an actual person for me to feel the fog lift after nearly 100 full days with Enrique in our lives.

The first six weeks – “La Cuarentena”

I was thankful and overwhelmed to have my family with me for the first week of Enrique’s life. They kept me hydrated and fed, gathered my lactation pillow when the baby needed food and helped me to learn the new parent ropes. I hadn’t changed a diaper since I was 12 – two decades in the past – and didn’t know how to bathe a baby with his umbilical cord still attached.

My dad, sidelined with a lingering ankle injury, and I challenged one another to walk one block further every morning while my mom stayed with the sleeping baby, knitting a blanket. I learned how to breastfeed in the streets without feeling weird about it. We took him for his first exams and check ups.

He was healthy; I was besides myself.

new mom in Spain

Almost immediately, the gray hairs and the bags under my eyes cropped up. My hormones were all over the place, resulting in crying until I fell asleep on several occasions. The Novio’s job wouldn’t allow him to take his 30 paid days of paternal leave because of an assignment, so I spent long hours at home with the baby, struggling to get him out of the house so that I could clear my head or run out for another bag of coffee or maternity underpants (I was sad to give those up, I have to say). Forced to learn how to do things with one hand with a newborn in the other, I reverted to the most primal instincts: eating, sleeping, brushing my teeth and whatsapping.

There was a day when my tupperware of puchero was heated up and then cooled off and then heated again so many times that I didn’t eat it until nearly 8pm. By then, it was all mush. Another day, I counted ten granola bar wrappers on the coffee table and realized that I wasn’t taking care of myself.

I wouldn’t have been able to survive the first month as a mommy without my mother-in-law, who came to stay with me every night. She’d cook a meal for me, bring me whatever I asked for (including hemorrhoids cream, eep) and even took care of the baby at night so that I could sleep some. We became quite close in those 40 days.

^^^

I returned to Madrid when Enrique was six weeks old, relieved to be in a smaller house where I could leave the baby in his crib while running to the bathroom. He was getting bigger and stronger, and I was eager to explore Madrid and make the most of my 16 weeks with the Little Man.

I had an appointment with my matrona a few days after arriving to Madrid. She had me fill out a survey that was supposed to determine my risk for postpartum depression. The questions were misleading, like, “I feel confident I know what I’m doing.” Sometimes? “I want to spend all of my time with my baby.” It’s nice to have a five minute shower without the baby hanging off of me? She didn’t classify me as at-risk, but I felt overwhelmed just by the questions. Freaking Mommy Culture.

ill love you forever book

I did my best to find other mommy friends and attend the free sessions at my health clinic on baby first aid and baby massage. But I felt judged, like my parenting skills were nowhere near the rest of the mommies who didn’t need to breastfeed their babies until they konked out.

One weekend, while my mother-in-law was in town, we walked to the Corte Inglés for baby gear (que conste: I spent more time at the Nuevos Ministeros Corte Inglés than anywhere else during my maternity leave, and they have a great sala de lactación). I saw someone with a baby about the age of mine who looked well-rested, perfectly coiffed and didn’t have a single spit up stain or booger on her neatly pressed blouse.

“You know her mother is doing everything for her, right?” my mother-in-law whispered as she motioned for me to take over the stroller again. “Te toca.”

^^^

My cousin – the mother of four girls under age five – asked me at a family party, “Aren’t you just loving it?”

My answer was as brave and truthful as I could muster: “Most of the time.”

The first three months

I made the realization that I was not a fan of the baby phase. Much like I hated teaching preschool, once I came through the fog of the first 90 days and could admit that newborns were not my thing, I immediately felt better.

Enrique turned three months on American soil, already having earned his wings on a cross-Atlantic flight. Apart from a higher-than-usual poop frequency and the awkwardness of passing through security with a carry-on, diaper bag, stroller, baby carrier and the baby himself, I was relieved to have someone else to hold the nugget while I was home. I relished in walking the dog and the baby together every morning and helping him learn to roll over and strengthen his neck muscles. I felt comfortable breastfeeding (even if no one else wanted to see it because, America) and was catching up on sleep.

little dude big roar

After buying a new pair of jeans (I dropped the baby weight way too quickly due to nursing) and finally being intimate with my husband, I felt 95% like myself again.

During these few months at home, I did my best to play with the baby, to be attentive to him and to return to a semi-normal life. I could put him in his hammock without tears so as to wash the dishes or take a shower while singing to him. Breastfeeding no longer felt like a chore – the baby hopped on and off the boob without getting distracted. As we got to know one another better, I settled into a routine.

Albeit, a routine that still involved pumping once or twice a day and a lot of bad TV.

The first eight months

As we teeter on the edge of nine months, I’m amazed at how much Enrique has grown and learned. By all accounts, he’s a happy, healthy baby with a penchant for ripping paper, putting everything in his mouth and rolling over 17 times before falling asleep. He’s got six teeth, is nearing 9 kilos and loves to babble. Every day, there’s something new to learn and see, and I’m often left wondering where these nine months have disappeared to.

When he’s asleep or leaves me with a few minutes of peace, I sometimes forget how much life has changed. Or that I had a life before him.

Playa de las Catedrales

One of the things I’m finding the hardest to come to terms with is the lack of time. I’ve always managed my free time well, setting goals and accomplishing them while staying active and still sleeping eight hours a night. Since having a baby, it takes me six weeks to draft a blog post, three hours to shower and get dressed and about one minute to feel frustrated about it. It’s impossible to micromanage with a baby.

Case in point: I began writing this blog post before the baby was three months old. I have written and rewritten it in my head countless times while busing a baby to daycare, while rocking him to sleep, while trying to rock myself to sleep after a late night feeding.

Yes, I’ve gotten distracted with freelance projects, with trips to Sevilla, with returning to work. Those babies who sleep for hours on end? Mine is not one of them. In fact, the pediatrician told me to put him in a forward-facing stroller when he was six weeks old. So much for binge-watching all of Game of Thrones so I’d have SOMETHING to talk about with friends.

So, toma, you get short vignettes (that’s all I can manage before he wakes up and wants to eat/play/burp!):

On Breastfeeding

On one of the baby’s first outings, my mom, the Novio and I went to have breakfast before taking him for the heel prick test. The baby was four days old, and the January sun was already bright. We’d succeeded in getting four people out of the house on time, but panic struck as soon as we sat at Pedro’s bar.

hungry baby

DIOS, the baby is YELLOW!” I cried, then cried tears. “I’m not feeding him, I suck at parenting!”

Granted, I’d slept about four hours and was mentally exhausted to boot, but seeing a jaundiced baby was not the way to celebrate cutting our getting-out-the-door time from three hours to two.

I’d struggled to breastfeed in the hospital, resorting to pumping to stimulate my production and having an awkward moment with my father-in-law where he massaged my breasts. My poor puritan father couldn’t be in the same room with me when I fed his first grandchild. And, now, my child was yellow as a banana.

^^^

Menos mal that women are speaking up about how difficult breastfeeding can be. Between stressing about the baby gaining weight and latching correctly, then being literally en tetas all day, I felt like a cow. It was an endless cycle of, Eat-Burp-Sleep and repeat every 90 minutes. Any time I’d finally get him down and out of my arms, it would be the question of what to do first: pee or eat.

Screenshot_2017-03-08-07-27-42 (1)

I was hellbent on breastfeeding exclusively for six months, which often lead to head-butting with the Novio when he wanted to start the baby on solids or he suggested I give the baby formula. When Enrique was around 12 weeks old I finally cracked and bought a bottle of formula as back up, even though my instincts told me he didn’t need it. Again, damn Mommy Culture for telling me that breastfeeding is the ONLY way to go, and that even considering formula was a mortal mommy sin.

I attended a few Liga La Leche meetings, which I highly recommend. If for nothing else, for moral support and for a few hours out.

^^^

I love being able to breastfeed my baby, but I HATE pumping. I hear the flat sucking sound of my expensive pump that is too small for my boob size and shudder. I struggle to not spill the pumped milk when transferring it from bottle to storage bag and have on more than one occasion cried over spilt milk.

^^^

When we took Enrique for his four month check up, I was told that he was slightly underweight and would have to start on cereal in his bottles. I was devastated. Once again, my confidence took a hit as I cursed my body for not responding to what I conceived as natural. Everyone reminded me that a fed is best, but all of the god damned Mommy Wisdom pointed to my failure to feed him myself.

Two months later, we started him on solids, leading to less diapers to change but more constipation.

^^^

Enrique breastfed until last week, mere days before his ninth cumplemes. We stuck with it, despite my being topless for a large part of the day when all of the lactation experts suggested I feed on demand. I have only had blocked ducts when I returned to work and no bleeding or cracked nipples – just a few nibbles from his new teeth. I feel fortunate that it’s gone well and that we’ve found a rhythm, especially when I know many women who were unable to breastfeed.

baby tummy time

The destete always had an end date, as I travel for work in he Fall. In many ways, I’m relieved that he’s a good eater and will take bottle, spoon, hunk or anything waved in front of his face. I’ll miss the way he caresses my face and boob when he stares up at me, and feel that all of those hours with him in my arms have helped forge a bond. He still gets pangs of mamitis whenever I arrive home from work, often stopping what he’s doing and whining until I pick him up.

But I’m ready to move on and watch him learn to eat on his own. Maybe that’s just part of motherhood, the constantly letting go.

On Returning to Work Post-Maternity Leave

Before I could really enjoy maternity leave and bonding with the baby, I had homework: I needed to find a childcare option. Unlike all those well-kept Spanish mamás who can rely on their mothers, we had no choice but to pay for someone else to watch our baby sleep and occasionally give him a bottle or change a diaper.

Truthfully, finding a guardería felt a lot like rushing a sorority to me.

We were given a permanent spot in my first choice guardería, just one block away from my job, for July. But that left May, June and a handful of days in April to cover. Desperate, I dressed us up nicely and went from daycare to daycare, trying to impress people I’d speak to for three minutes, acutely aware that there was a baby quota, and that quota was low.

Just like legacies have a pass into Alpha Beta Baby, so, too, do brothers and sisters. I finally wizened up and checked prices and availability so that I could dedicate more time to eating my way around my neighborhood bakeries rather than pushing a baby carriage for anything other than leisure.

Baby's first glimpse of the ocean

Looking for daycare in Spain was a test of my patience. My favorites? “We make only organic food!” Yes, and charge me three times as much what I could make at home myself. “We’re bilingual!” So is my household. “We have the cheque bebé!” What difference does it make when you’re charging me those 90€ more in organic food and estimulación de inglés?

Ugh.

When I finally found a place that had an opening (they may have broken a few laws to make an extra 400€), I truthfully wasn’t impressed. There was no plan escolar and the place smelled like baby (did I mention I hate the smell of diaper cream and Nenuco?). But I promised myself that my time at home would be the baby’s main source of stimulation and cariño and signed him up.

^^^

My vuelta al trabajo date got closer with every sleep, with every bag of breastmilk stashed in the freezer. While my other pregnant friends had worked out a few extra months at home, I looked forward to going back to work. I like the professional part of my life, and the truth is that I couldn’t watch any more reruns of The Big Bang Theory.

You know it’s bad when you can sing all of the commercial jingles.

On the day that I left Enrique at the daycare for the first time, there were a few tears. These tears were easily quelled with a coffee and piece of cake, and a very understanding boss. If it comes to anything, it was my years as a teacher and knowing that the employees were trained to at least not leave an infant unattended on a high surface. I only called the guarde midday for a week for a progress report (and to make sure he’d pooed).

But, I have the friendliest baby who breaks into a smile whenever he sees someone new. You have no idea how much it hurts when you go to pick up your spawn and he cries as soon as they hand him off to you.

^^^

My days now are long. Alarmingly long. A friend vacationing in California once asked why I was awake at 6:30am on a Thursday. Easy – it takes me exactly 80 minutes to wake up and get us out the door. When I return home, there’s baby food to prepare, said baby to play with, chores to keep up with once he is asleep.

But as someone who likes crossing things off my list, I make it work. And it makes nights and weekends even more fun. Though Mondays are even more monday with an adorable little family, I admit.

On First-time Parenting

I used to boast about how well my baby could hang – he’d fall asleep in the jaleo of a cervecería as if he were being rocked in someone’s arms. Then one fine day, we discovered that Enrique was colicky. Now, there are two types of colic in Spanish: one in which the baby cries uncontrollably for no apparent reason, and the other where a baby can’t easily digest breastmilk and cries and screams for several hours in the evening. This eventually tapers off at three months, but it seriously tested our patience.

Qué le pasa?” The Novio would ask me, and I’d run down the list. Is he hot or cold? No. Is there a tag scratching against his skin? Unlikely. Is he tired? Perhaps. If all else failed, out came the food source.

Baby in my arms

Then there was the time we forgot sunscreen in the car and had to coat his face in diaper cream. Or when we’d leave the house only to return because of an explosive poop episode the minute we’d order a beer. And one of my favorites was when he wouldn’t calm down to sleep, so I walked him in the rain to a bar where I could dip in for a hot drink. As soon as he heard the Semana Santa music, he closed his eyes and stay asleep for well over an hour.

We’re still so new to this and don’t ever think we’ll stop learning how to handle an infant, a toddler or a teenager. Most days, we can laugh at ourselves (though this usually involved having had a decent night’s sleep), and I think we’re holding it together all right.

Well, until I cry from accumulated sueño and because I really, really want a cookie.

On Mommy Culture

One of my longest sevillana friends came to visit a few weeks ago, and we spent a warm afternoon over dobles in Plaza Olavide with the babe. I asked her to regale me with stories of dating in the Big Apple, what it was like to have an American salary and about her last vacation; she asked me how I was holding it all together.

Nothing like hanging with your abroad besties to realize just how different your life has become.

Perhaps one of the hardest things to come to grip with has been the cross-cultural mixed signals and the extreme judgement. Maybe it’s all in my head, but it can be difficult to navigate what I know to be true about child-bearing from my own American upbringing, and what Spanish abuelitas say. Our pediatrician is Venezuelan and suggested that the baby’s first lean meat come from a horse; she was later under fire when she told us to give the baby kiwi, sparking a rash and a trip to the ER.

Processed with VSCO with t1 preset

When I check my phone while out on a walk, I feel like I’m betraying my baby. Or when I drop him off at daycare. And when I ask my husband to feed him to I can wash vomit out of my hair, I wonder if I’m being selfish. Can other mothers sense this? Do we have a sixth sense when it comes to who is doing their job and who isn’t? Hell, I even felt bad watching Gilmore Girls while feeding the baby on my maternity leave. Aren’t I supposed to give my undivided attention to him at all times, and not to Lorelai and Rory?

My mother stayed home with my sister and me, returning to her job as a teacher when I was in second grade. I am thankful that she made that choice, but I know I wouldn’t be happy wearing just one hat.

Perhaps it’s the influence of social media that’s got me all huffed and puffed. That we judge one another with all of the postureo and the need for attention and the need to share all. The day care’s director assures us that we are both doting parents who give off an air of peace and tranquility towards the baby. If he only knew how exhausting he can be…

On Motherhood and What Comes Next

As I settle into motherhood and continue to be amazed – by how much the baby learns, by the seismic way in which he has changed our lives and our relationship with one another, by the sheer exhaustion that consumes my week. Truthfully, it took me time to get a grip on how much I adore the little beast I created and nurtured while I have slowly let go of my past life.

For a long time, I wondered if I wasn’t meant to be a mother, despite my deep desire to have children since I was a child myself. All of those women who gushed about how complete they felt, how their child was the best thing that ever happened to them – I didn’t feel it. Motherhood and the abundance of feelings and love slowly permeated into every aspect of my life as Enrique gets bigger and comes into his personality.

And I’m not afraid to admit that I miss my old life, pre-baby. Or that I miss being pregnant. Or that I want at least one more.

Being a parent is one of the most emotional things I have ever experienced (and this coming from someone who wears her heart on her sleeve). I feel abundance and I feel complete scarcity. I’m both hopped up and run down. My baby can be a burden one minute and my source of joy in another. My hormones have subsided – for the moment, anyhow – but  can’t even begin to fathom how they may change as we watch this tiny human learn to walk, talk and probably become a huge asshole.

I wish I had advice for other first time mothers, especially us guiris who live in Spain. You’re subject to extreme morriña for your family and home country, as well as the exhiliration of raising a baby abroad. You’ll warp your language and find your native tongue comes out when cooing at your little creation. You’ll scoff at the unsolicited advice from abuelitas but feel relieved when they tell you how to combat diaper rash. As with anything unknown, you won’t know what you feel until that phase of your life has, regrettably, passed.

For now, I’m trying to be myself as I change and adapt to being Enrique’s mommy.

^^^

At my six month check-up with my gyno in Madrid, He of the Amazing Mutton Chops, I asked a very simple question as soon as the wand went back in: “There’s no one else in there, verdad?”

No, hija, your womb is all clear.

Well, for another year or two until we decide it’s time for Enrique to be a big brother.

The Guire Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth

I’d love to hear your feedback – and thank you all, sincerely, for the well wishes and the outpouring of love for the Babyman. To those of you who have visited, sent gifts, trekked out to my parents’s house in the suburbs – thank you. It helps knowing that, despite all of the changes, I have great people to rely on and an Army of Titos!

You can read about my experience as a pregnant foreigner in Spain and about labor and delivery in earlier posts. In Barcelona and considering a hypobirth or doula services? Liana van Zyl offers English-language services in Barcelona. I have personally not used her but would encourage you to contact her about pre- and post-natal care!

The Guiri Guide to Pregnancy in Spain

the-guiri-guide-tothe-guiri-guide-to

The Tongue-in-Cheek Guide for Surviving a Sevillano Summer

Something odd happens in Seville in late spring. As the temperatures being to rise into the 30s and 40s, there’s a shift in activity. Streets clear, parking becomes available, and midday siestas are the norm.

Welcome to Summer in Seville – a No Man’s Land of sloth, extreme heat and an abandon of local habits.

summertime

When I recently spent my holidays at “home” in Seville, people called me crazy. “A pasar frío, no?” was usually met with eye rolls. But I actually love the summer in Seville and its oddities (and daycare is burning a large, large hole in our pockets), so it was an easy vacation destination. Who can pass up a free place to stay and free childcare?

Seville isn’t a coastal city, despite being in beach-packed Andalucía. The city sits on the Guadalquivir River in a fertile valley of the same name, making it a greenhouse with its own weather phenomenon, called the bochorno. This means grey skies, unbearable heat and enough humidity to make my usual nub of mousse unnecessary (upside?).

Though I used to run for the hills of rainy Galicia or back to Chicago, I’ve spent several summers in Seville and have lived to tell the tale. My trips are tried and true to my sass:

sunset in seville

Firstly, do as the sevillanos do and hibernate. Morning markets buzz with patrons until about 11am. From that hour, as the sun reaches its peak in the sky, the streets are a virtual ghost town. You might see a lone person slinking along in the shadow of a building, but generally speaking, people stay at home during the day.

Many older homes in the center of town do not have air conditioning (this is not true of hotels or rental apartments, so take advantage of that low thermostat!), but instead have a typical Spanish invention called the persiana. These heavy plastic window blinds help block out light and heat and – by some sort of witchery – also seem to induce sleep. Embrace the siesta culture and take a midday snooze, especially because the streets become lively again after 9pm, when people descend on the cervecerías and spend the night at Seville’s best terrazas, or an outdoor disco.

cocktails at roof sevilla

And if you still can’t sleep, take the 1970s approach to A/C – visit the Corte Inglés department store or see a movie. In fact, local lore suggests the change in temperature from the street to the store and back again causes colds.

Additionally, you can change your diet up a bit. Summertime means you can pack away your pressure cooker and forget about the hearty cuchareo that characterizes winter stews. Any local will tell you that a glass of cold Cruzcampo beer will stave off hunger during the hottest hours of the day, and many choose to adapt their diets to cool foods – gazpacho, salads, granizados – a slushy fruit juice made with ice – and seafoods.

cruzcampo beer bottles

And beer. Loads of beer. My favorite cervecerías during the hot months never let me down: Cervecería La Grande if I’m near home, and La Fresquita if I find myself in the center.

Sevillanos can be a curious bunch, often spending money on things we deem important that others may find frivolous. But some of the best money spent during the veranito sevillano is taking out a pool membership, called an abono. During our trip, all of our afternoons were spent at the pool, alternating who took the baby to the kiddy pool and who got a few moments in the adult pool, where the water covered more than just our ankles.

Terraces and pools have popped up in the last decade: check out Ocean Club or the public pools in Sevilla, or make like my amigas and just waltz into one of the rooftop hotels, like EME, and pretend like you’ve rented the suite.

almohalla 51 pool terrace

And don’t think summer is limited to the calendar – whenever you think the temps are finally returning to normal, you’ll get the resurgence of Verano de San Miguel in late September. Your summer clothes won’t get packed away until mid October’s first rain.

Our summer holidays this year included a repeat trip to Asturias to show off Baby Enrique before taking the AVE to Inferno. Lots of naps, half the day in the pool and free childcare. But, somehow, it feels good to be home and taking advantage of those hot summer nights for bachelorette parties, a baby up past his bed time and even a blissful, baby-free litrona shared on our terrace.

A sticky, legs-plastered-to-cheap-plastic-lawn-chair-yet-baby-free-litrona, that is!

Summer in Seville

We’ll be back this weekend, camped out in front of the A/C and wishing anywhere but La Grande was open!

Have you ever spent the summer in Seville? How did you cope?

The Guiri Guide to Having a Baby in Spain: Third Trimester

I stood in front of the mirror, belly bowing out like a gorilla’s, totally naked. I had a cotton pad in one hand and a bottle of rubbing alcohol in the other.

Was it really necessary to prepare my nipples for breastfeeding this way? I shuddered and consulted Google. No, no it is not.

As my belly swelled, so did the unwanted advice. “Why don’t you schedule a C-Section?” “Oooh, seven kilos? You should be seeing a dietician.” “Working out is bad for you when you’re pregnant.” “Put rubbing alcohol on your nipples, lest they get bloody and gross when you nurse.”

And to boot, I kicked off my last stretch of pregnancy seeing a movie about a mother who dies of cancer when her son is 12 years old. SERIOUSLY. I was not prepared for that one.

the-guiri-guide-to

Summer abruptly left, turning Madrid into a damp, lonely, grey city. My belly was blossoming, rendering most of my winter clothes useless – including all of my winter jackets. I had a problem with maternity clothes, refusing to buy anything until week 32, save a winter wedding dress.

Just a word to the wise mamá: pregnancy tights are a gift from God. Add that to the list of tonterías that I let slide during my pregnancy – do not fear maternity clothes, ladies!

Once I’d passed 28 weeks and was officially into third trimester, my pregnancy changed. I became a little more stalwart about getting out and doing all the things “you can’t do when you have a little one,” about researching baby gear, about drafting my birth plan.

This is when the clash of cultures became apparent, more so than not wanting to know the baby’s gender until week 20. Other expectant mothers were appalled to hear that I was heavily considering an unmedicated birth, or that I didn’t want to shower my child with a million fancy outfits porque sí. I had to remind people that I did not have an illness – just a little extra mass – when they treated me too delicately or reemed me for shoving one more mini croissant into my piehole on a work outing.

little-boy-baby-clothes-on-a-clothesline

So, third trimester. In which I discovered how much amazing maternity tights are, in which I cried quite a bit, and in which I did my best to ignore everyone’s advice but my doctors’.

Vocabulary

You think you know it all, but you have no idea. Even with a stack of pregnancy books and interrogations to mommy friends, I found out that I was clueless about the baby vocabulary that mattered closer to the due date.

cesárea: Cesarean section, or C-section. Not the most beautiful word to start with, but an important word. The rate of C-section births is scary high in Spain (a reported 25% in 2015!!) and something that concerned me when deciding where to give birth. For this reason, I listened to my doctors and made it clear that I’d prefer not to have one unless it was the only medical option.

clases de preparación del parto: prenatal classes. If you’re in the public or private system, these midwife-led classes will prepare you for the birth and what happens beyond that. In Madrid, there were seven consecutive weeks of classes, which began around week 29 or 30; in Seville, I am told there are five weeks of classes.

contracciones: contractions. This one is easy, and Braxton Hicks are known by the same in Spanish (Brastohn Hiss). What I didn’t know was that I’d have them as early as 32 weeks!

andalusian-wedding

epidural / parto medicado: epidural / medicated birth. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but medicated births are quite normal in Spain, and I caused a scandal in class by announcing I wanted to go it 100% natural. Women are now beginning to ask for a walking epidural, usually referred to as “el walking.”

lactancia: nursing or breast feeding. While I haven’t tried this on for size yet, the general consensus is that Spain is lacking in lactation experts.

madre primeriza: first-time mother. After asking if it’s a girl or boy, most people will ask if it’s you’re first. The masculine form is padre primerizo (though I’ve found that no one pays much attention to the Novio these days, pobrecito).

monitores: heart rate monitors.  From your eight month, you may be asked to get hooked up to these machines that register both your baby’s heart rate and whether or not you’re having contractions. Eat just before so that your baby will be active and bring a book – I once was hooked up for an hour because the midwife got pulled into a surgery!

paritorio: labor and delivery room. Not ones to overcomplicate terms, this is the brutish word used to describe the room where you do active labor after you’ve fully dilated. Many hospitals in Madrid now have paritorios with more than just the potro (see below) and will allow you to give birth in positions that favor gravity, such as laying on your side or on all fours.

parto: birth. Though this singular moment has so many different names (such as one that literally means to give light), this word actually refers to the moment your baby is born. Pujos is the pushing phase.

plan de parto: birth plan. Midwives these days will push for you to plan your perfect birth, knowing that there’s a chance that you may have to alter it. And many hospitals are opting for a patient-priority birth.

potro: birthing bed. You know how you see women in films with their legs up in stirrups and sweating as they push the baby out? This particular, adjustable bed is known as a potro. Fun fact? It’s also the word for foal and pommel horse or vault (speaking as a former gymnast!).

romper aguas: to have your water break. Little did I know that this is a part of the birthing process when you’re dialating, and not that holy-crap-here-it-comes moment you see in movies.

suelo pélvico: pelvic floor. This is a buzz word these days as doctors now coach women on how to Kegel their way to strong pelvic floors. This is essentially the hammock that holds all of your innards, in.

annaprimavera-8769

Maternity photos by Anna Primavera

tapón mucoso: mucous plug. A former coworker told me that this was an indicator that you could go into labor at any time. This is the sticky goo that protects the placenta, located high up in the vagina.

Unidad de Cuidados Intensivos (UCI) Neonatal: Neonatal ER. When I quizzed other mommy friends on where to give birth, they told me that it was 100% important to choose a hospital with a neonatal ER just in case. I was delighted that even the small, private hospitals I was considering had them!

But new words are not even the half of it – my friend Susana asked me what of her daughters’ baby items I might want. Makuto? Capazo? Trona? I had to look up all of the baby gear-related terms so that I’d allow her to gift us a diaper bag (makuto is super Andalusian, they’re called pañaleras in most other parts), a carrier and a high chair.

The one word I prefer in Spanish over English? The portabebé, or one of those baby dangler things. Not the Michael Jackson sort, but the harness you wear so that you can carry your child to the market for bread rather than pull out the stroller (and it apparently favors their hip development. The more you know).

Third Trimester Exams and Doctor Visits

I soon found my agenda filled with exams, tests, weigh-ins and prenatal classes – sometimes as many as three per week (and I’m low-risk and healthy). It seemed like I was going to the doctor every other day, between public and private, Madrid and Sevilla.

At my third trimester scan just shy of 32 weeks, the routine was the same: small talk, cold goo on my belly, measuring the femur, and a baby acting like someone had rudely intervened in the little space he had. This exam was quite quick – maybe 10 minutes between pulling down my tights and rubbing the jelly off my growing stomach – but because Micro was within his margins and alive and kicking, there was little to be done. My due date was moved up by two days to January 1st, meaning this baby came to be during a party and may very well be coming into the world on one, too.

Apart from the scan, your doctor will have you do another blood and urine analysis to, again, rule out things like toxoplasmosis, gestational diabetes and any infections as you enter the recta final of your pregnancy. This typically happens from 32 weeks, and, depending on your situation, may continue to happen each week or every other.

I also got a flu shot (vacuna contra la gripe) around 31 weeks, as pregnant women are considered a high-risk group. This will likely be your case if you’re heavily pregnant during the winter months. I hadn’t had a flu shot since I was a child, but it was quick and with my absolute muñeco of a nurse – and he even allowed me to be seen early as a prize for arriving 10 minutes before my scheduled appointment!

Between 28 and 38 weeks, you will have to go for the tosferina, or whooping cough, shot. From 28 weeks, your baby absorbs any medicine you put into your system through the placenta, as it has thinned significantly to adapt to your growing child. For this reason, your whopping cough shot happens so late in your pregnancy. I had to again see my nurse for this shot, which was asked for by my gynecologist; your GP can also write an order to have it done. Be forewarned: I had dead arm for two days due to the dosage, though no other symptoms.

Tosferina is a bacterial infection that can be fatal in recently born babies, so it’s important to buck up and get the shot.

Though it’s falling out of favor, I got the monitores test performed at 37 weeks. My belly was hooked up to a fetal heart rate monitor for about 30 minutes, capturing the heart rate of the baby as he rested and when he was active. This exam was repeated at 39 weeks, at 40 weeks and after I’d been induced.

My doctor also tested me for the Group B Strep virus, streptococo, at 37 weeks by sticking a swab up my rear end – I was NOT counting on that, but this is to determine that you do not have an infection that could be passed on to your baby through the birth canal.

Even though I hoped to have a non-medicated birth, my doctor sent me to get an anti-stress test with the anesthesiologist to determine if I could have an epidural and which dosage I could handle. This consisted of blowing into a plastic tube a few times while hooked up to wires and answering a dozen questions about past surgeries and family health history. My doctor asked for this around 37 weeks, in case I went into labor earlier than 40 weeks (I didn’t).

Finally, I had the weekly prenatal classes plus one last check-up with each doctor and the midwife to get copies of my records to take to Sevilla. From week 30, it was a visit a week… y lo que me caerá!

Pre-labor classes and the Novio as a father-to-be

Getting to 28 weeks was a wake up call. Shit! I could go into labor in a few weeks! Shit! I don’t know where I want to have the baby or what kind of birth I want! Shit! We only have one of those fancy baby carriers and some onesies! The anxiety that had disappeared during the first two-thirds of my pregnany had come back, as did the tears. Any time I thought about giving birth, I got a weepy.

I was anxious to start my clases de preparación del parto, the free prenatal classes provided by my social security coverage. Due to the number of women in my medical center with a similar case of BABIES, I couldn’t begin the classes until I was at 32 weeks, in early November. The Comunidad de Madrid offers seven consecutive sessions that cover everything from how to prepare for labor and donate your stem cells to nursing and caring for your baby in its first days. I dragged the Novio along so that I wouldn’t have to re-explain the stage of labor or why I would randomly start lactating soon.

annaprimavera-8874

Maternity photos by Anna Primavera

I have to say – he’s been a great sport. Apart from doing the heavy lifting around the house, he has been active in discussions and asking questions about how to best help me prepare, mentally and physically. Whereas most of the dads-to-be in the class are mum (one even passed out when we talked about the perineal massage technique), my matrona says he’s been comic relief for the shell-shocked male crowd.

As the due date gets closer, I’ve noticed that he’s more reflective and even looks at me differently. We talk about the baby non-stop when it’s just the two of us, and my belly is the focal point of every mirada and snuggle. There are more questions about my comfort and how I was feeling with each day – and concern if I call him rather than sending a quick whatsapp.

But that brings me to another point: sex during pregnancy. When you’re trying to get pregnant, it all flies, and I found myself fulfilled and lusted after. Almost immediately after finding out I was pregnant, his libido dropped and I found myself achy. Everything hurt – my boobs and my belly especially – making sex painful and less enjoyable. Some women find their sex drives skyrocketing: my rocket stayed on Earth.

Just as a forewarning.

The nesting period, or el síndrome del nido

I was so excited to find out that many of my friends were pregnant at the same time, especially a sorority sister who was due on the same date. The last time I emailed Fish, I asked her how she was feeling. She and her husband are waiting to find out the gender, and she gushed about setting up a nursery.

Many of these women are in the US and not in Spain, meaning there was a huge disconnect between the milestones and emotions we were all feeling. Things that are typical in America – a baby shower, planning and decorating a nursery and counting on the help and experience of friends and family – were foreign to me, and most of the mommy advice I got was from women whose daughters were of childbearing age, as well (exhibit A: the hydrogen peroxide nipple treatment).

De hecho, I was pregnancy outed to my aunts at my sister’s wedding when my mom’s best friend asked, “After the lovely bridal shower we threw Catherine, how will we give her a baby shower from Spain?!” I was initially iffy about having a baby shower, especially considering that most of my closest friends are down in Seville and we only have so much space in our rental apartment. But the girls down south pulled through and threw Micro and me a lovely baby shower at my home in Triana.

baby-shower-for-enrique

When H came to visit in early November, she was shocked at how much baby clothing I had accumulated from other mommies looking to clean out their collections. And this was, of course, in addition to the lists I’d been emailed about necessities for Baby’s first six months. So she listened when I said that I didn’t want to make a registry full of chismes that I’d likely not use: instead, they pooled together to get us a car seat and high chair.

Because I stayed in Madrid until week 37, I didn’t have a full nesting period (unless, of course, you count the hours I spent in bed just resting and my nights in with take out and Law and Order: SVU, or the maniacal cleaning I did a week before leaving La Capi). What the Novio and I thought would be a child’s room in our house in Sevilla will be a room we rent on AirBnB, so I didn’t have to worry about decorating a nursery and placing Micro’s teeny socks and gifted onesies in a drawer. My nesting, once I arrived to Sevilla, became deep cleaning the cabinets, meal prep and moving our personal items to a locked closet – and, admittedly, ironing all of Micro’s sheets before tucking them into a crib. I LOATHE ironing.

And then there was the question of doing maternity photos versus newborn photos or just leaving it. I’ve been fascinated by how my body has changed and adapted, and I wanted to remember it. You know that motherhood glow before the baby is born and the eye bags start? I took full advantage and asked my acquaintance Katriina, a Finnish photographer who normally does professional head shots for her company, Anna Primavera, to do the honors. We got a beautiful autumn morning in Casa del Campo while I was still feeling fit and feminine.

annaprimavera-8897

Maternity Photos by Anna Primavera

I have been making lists and checking them twice as Micro’s due date looms. This is mostly stocking up on baby necessities, and there’s far more to it than I ever imagined. My mother-in-law is perhaps the most prepared; apart from having raised three children over the span of two decades, she’s knit adorable sweaters, bought us a ton of gear and helped calmed my nerves as she patiently spells out all of the items we’ll need. My problem is the lack of vocabulary. How do you say nappy cream? And up to how many kilos or centimeters are these diapers good for? Apart from Dodot and Chicco, what are other baby-friendly brands?

I am the proverbial fish out of water; in fact, you’d probably see my fish culo in a frying pan in Castilla by now.

Tying up the loose ends: Matenity leave, reading materials and choosing a hospital

Call it being a recovering journalist, but as the nerves set in, so did the need to spend time reading and researching. I began first with hospitals in Madrid in case Micro decided to show up before December 10th, the date that my 10 days of vacation began. Truthfully, my employer and my immediate boss was supportive of my decision to disclose my pregnancy before signing a contract.

For general pregnancy, I read the Healthy Pregnancy Book by Dr. William and Mrs. Sears, a midwife and OB-GYN couple who have nine children of their own. The book is written from the perspective of seasoned grandparents, and it breaks down your pregnancy by month, including post-delivery care for both mom and baby. I sometimes rolled my eyes at the little quips added by the unborn child such as, “Mama! Please rest up for the symphony of birth!” but found the book non-invasive and calming.

The book came suggested as a bundle with The Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn, by a whole slew of doctors. While it was helpful, over half the book was about things that could go wrong in delivery. I appreciated the science-y aspect of it, but didn’t like flipping through to find a whole lot of bad things.

Finally, a friend recommended a Spanish language book on breastfeeding called Un Regalo Para Toda la Vida by Carlos González. Despite the challenge of reading in Spanish about something medical (who knew the boob had so many parts?!), the book gave me a lot of insight about the natural process of breastfeeding. Everything I’d ever heard from other moms is that most hospitals lack nurses specialized in breast-feeding, and the number of women who go straight to bottle feeding is quite high in Spain. This book has been, so far, the clearest and also a big cheerleader.

I also relied on an English-language prenatal class video to complement my classes in Spanish.

Even though women have been getting pregnant, giving birth and raising children for millennia, doing my own research was paramount, and it helped me to feel more prepared and empowered. Chances are I will forget everything once I’ve arrived to the sala de dilatación, of course.

Next on the list to sort out was my maternity leave. I spoke with the HR director at my new job once I’d passed my probationary period, and she explained the process of registering the birth and taking off my 16 weeks of paid leave. I had nine vacation days to use up, plus two weeks of university holiday, so I was able to travel back to Seville to rest and nest when the baby was just reaching full term. More about fourth trimester – social security payments, new mom benefits and the libro de familia in my forthcoming fourth trimester post.

It won’t come as a surprise when I say that we’ve decided to have the baby in Seville. The benefits for me were enormous: my own space and comfort, having family nearby and a car just in case. I narrowed down my list of hospitals to one public and two private and asked my mother-in-law to join me in seeing each one.

In the end, the private hospital right down the road from my house won out. Part of it had to do with the pristine facilities and the care and attention I received from the staff, but part of it was also because of culture clash. My parents and sister will be joining us for Christmas, and I didn’t think they’d cope well with me sharing a room in the public hospital or having different doctors carouseling in and out while I dilate with every other woman in Sevilla.

cat-gaa-in-triana

And, por mis narices, Enrique will be born trianero.

The Pesky Thing About New Mom Advice

I asked the girl in the monitores with me how far along she was. “Just about 38 weeks,” she said as he partner took a picture of her. She looked uncomfortable as she was being hooked up to the machines. “You?”

Her due date was four days before mine, but she went on and on about how much having a baby during the holidays was an inconvenience for her and her family, so she’d be getting induced at the end of the week. The matron shook his head and whispered to me, “Christmas and New Year’s happen every single year.

“Becoming a mother does not.”

More than ever, I have been entertaining A LOT of advice. Some of it’s been helpful and welcome – take a new mom in Madrid showing me how to feed before confessing she needed to pay for an expert to help her out – but most of it has been unsolicited, unwanted and sometimes even hurtful.

I am someone who takes things to heart (even negative comments on my blog from strangers), so rather than nagging the Novio with my aches and pains, I’ve been venting about side remarks and the mess of advice that’s cluttering my brain. “But women have been mothers forever,” the Novio says. “You’ll figure it out, and you can always call my mother.”

I really wish I had a good way to deflect the negativity or find a holistic, mindful way to cope. But usually I smile and nod then roll my eyes, then ask my midwife. I am not keeping calm about it all, and I often end up flustered. Fine, touch my belly, Rando Abuela in the Súper, but don’t tell me I haven’t gained enough weight or that my shoes are inappropriate or that I should have waited another month to get pregnant so that I don’t give birth on Reyes.

You and your no-sex-no-excercise-no-spicy-food-sleep-only-boca-abajo-te-lo-digo-yo-que-soy-madre-eh! advice can ir a tomar por you-know-where.

Reflecting on Change, Motherhood and Swelling

I’m finishing this post and setting it to schedule on December 20th, two weeks before my due date. I’d like to unplug, to meditate and to sleep all afternoon, but that’s not me. I’ll be maniacally cleaning and preparing for Micro and savoring the last few days where I am my own boss.

annaprimavera-8720

Maternity photos by Anna Primavera

Part of me is a tad remorseful that this stage of my life is coming to a close. My pregnancy has been a beautiful string of changes, of reshifting my priorities, of milestones – and one that I’ll remember forever. Even when I feel the flicker of jealousy that I can’t have a glass of wine or that I’ll have to turn down a trip, I know I’ll have a far greater reward in the near future.

Being this pregnant and waiting on my baby’s arrival is not like ticking off days until the Feria de Abril, a trip home to Chicago or even the minutes until work’s over. There is no D-Day on a delivery. When I had a bit of bleeding following a pelvic exam at the end of week 36, I said to the Novio, “What if we become parents tomorrow?” even though I didn’t believe it myself.

Despite the, “you must be so excited to meet your little boy!”s and the, “Pff, pregnancy has to be tough,”s, I often find my hand on my belly as he kicks and squirms and feel pangs of sadness that he won’t soon be with me at all times, wedged up between my ribcage and my pelvis. He’s safe inside, and I’m content knowing my body is helping him grow and develop. I’m misty eyed as I write this, knowing that it’s nearly at an end.

And this goes beyond the sleep I’ll loose or the sore nipples or the fact that I’ll likely be signing off from Sunshine and Siestas for a while: I know this is the beginning of the end with Enrique. From his first breath, he’s one day closer to not needing me in the same way anymore. Yes, there’s time, and yes, children always find a way to need their mother, but time is so, so fleeting.

Am I prepared for all of this? Yes and no. Am I excited? Like never before. When all of those women became mothers and said they had never felt unconditional love – I get it. This amazing thing we’ve done carries a great responsibility and an even greater reward. I can’t wait to see Enrique begin walking (or, if he’s anything like me, running), find things he’s passionate about, fall in love, travel for the first time. There’s no telling what he can do, but I want to be with him every single step.

Vente, Microcín – we are so very excited to meet you.

Read my pregnancy story through first trimester and second trimester by clicking on the photos below.  

the-guiri-guide-to

The Guiri Guide to Pregnancy in Spain

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...