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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Guiri Guide to Pregnancy in Spain

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The Guiri Guide to Having a Baby in Spain: Labor and Delivery

From the looks of it, I haven’t had a baby. My belly has long since deflated and I’m walking upright again. My face isn’t swollen, the byproduct of cookies and a growing baby in my belly. I am a mother, though if I’m not totting around a diaper bag or pushing a stole like a bat out of hell, you’d hardly know I have an eight-month-old baby.

But I am changed in so many ways, from the muscle tone to the thinned out hair. Entering the +child phase of my life has been nothing short of eye-opening. Earth shattering (in the best sense). Like I’ve never been any different from the way I am now.

And it all began with his llegada a este mundo

Enrique: a (brief) birth story

“Ohú hija, qué placenta más vieja.”

I closed my legs as Eduarda snapped off her latex gloves and motioned for me to pull my leggings back up. The Novio stood, arms folder across his broad chest, stoic in the examination room. The monitors showed that Baby Man was healthy and I was having painless, mini contractions, but the grave look in Eduarda’s eyes told me that the optimism that the matrona had was not what she’d seen.

It was January 3rd, 2017 – my due date.

Her pink pen scribbled something in my patient chart, then moved furiously to a prescription pad. She avoided my glance and again looked at the Novio. “Tomorrow, this baby is coming out. Report at 8:30am: you’ll be induced at 9, sharp.”

The Novio took the prescription and gathered up my materials, painstakingly organized in a green plastic folder. I sat, dumbfounded, sweating and like someone had taken a big stick right to my placenta. Induced? After the healthiest, loveliest pregnancy?

cat-gaa-in-triana

That afternoon, I sent my family out of my house so that I could rest and come to terms with being provocada. The baby hadn’t gained any weight in the previous week and my placenta was beginning to calcify (they don’t tell you about that in prenatal classes). I tried everything that afternoon to enter into labor – half a bottle of Tabasco, long walks, a warm bath, two tetrabricks of pineapple juice.

At 10pm, I restructured my birth plan, reminding myself that my meditation for a perfect birth was always overshadowed by the advice of a medical professional. My half-packed hospital bag wouldn’t get left behind in the rush to the hospital, nor would I break waters doing some mundane task, like grocery shopping or having a Cola Cao with my girlfriends. Enrique would be born with medical intervention and on a day that a doctor planned, not him.

The following morning, the Novio made me a big breakfast and cracked open another brick of pineapple juice. I ate in silence, forcing myself to chew when my nerves seemed to be pushing the food back out. When you’re induced, you can’t eat in the event that you need an emergency C-Section. But it’s not like I had the appetite anyway.

The 350m walk to the hospital felt like a death march. Once checked into my room, María, the matrona on duty, came in to take me to the monitors. Like the day before, the fetal heartbeat was strong and I was having small contractions, but they’d need to give me medicine to ripen my cervix. An hour later, I was back in my room, bouncing on a medicine ball while reading “Homage to Catalonia” and sipping pineapple juice boxes (seriously – I haven’t drank any zumo de piña since). The contractions were closer together and getting stronger, but after two hours, Eduarda broke my waters.

Giving birth in Spain and the hospital rooms

While my contractions continued to progress, I convinced myself that I was strong enough to not have an epidural. Didn’t they say you wouldn’t be able to talk, just concentrate on riding the wave of pain? The Novio sat, glued to the chair, eyes wide in terror every time I’d squat in front of the bed, white-knuckling the plastic footboard and sucking in air. “Te ayudo?” was all he could muster as I gave him a deranged smile and assured him I could do it.

Later that afternoon, when Orson Welles was on the front lines and my heartburn tasted like pineapple, Eduarda gave me a reverse compliment: You look good. Demasiada buena, too good. I stood up and gathered my slippers, a bottle of water and my courage: I’d need an epidural because I was getting pitocín, the drug equivalent of oxytocin. So much for a non-medicated birth.

To spare you all the details, here’s the cliff notes version: monitors, epidural, nausea and extreme cold (resulting in three blankets), drop in fetal heart rate, more epidural, nine pushes, a terrified father, Krissler maneuver, vacuum, stitches. The Novio nearly missed the birth when he went to make a few phone calls to our families and likely chain smoke – I, to this day think he had it worse than me that day (but I definitely had it worse the two weeks following). Enrique was born vaginally at 9:05 pm after 12 hours in labor.

As the stupor began to dissipate, I asked the questions: What color are his eyes? They’re shut. Does he have all his fingers and toes? All here. “It is a boy, right?” Yes, twigs and berries identified.

And my favorite: “Did I say anything mean to you to deal with the pain?” No.

When Enrique V was placed on my bare chest a half hour after delivery, I honestly didn’t feel anything but relief that delivery was over and that he was out and passed his Apgar exam. I didn’t feel a rush of feel-good hormones and instant bonding as I stressed over whether or not the baby was actually mine and still stupefied that I was now a mother and a whole new stage of my life had only just begun.

bocadillo de jamon

After 30 minutes of monitoring us both, I was wheeled into my room to recover and finally have two uninterrupted hours of skin-to-skin time. Lying facing the ceiling and the dizzying, harsh lights, I was almost relieved when the pediatrician came in to take the baby for tests and immunizations because I was ravenous and exhausted. The bocadillo de jamón that the Novio brought me was a gift from the Gods.

The Eighth Month

I spent the last four weeks of my first pregnancy in Seville.

More frequent were the doctor visits: there was a general check up and blood test at 37 weeks, a stress test the following and a further check up at week 39. Eduarda examined my cervix at each. I was hopeful that I’d already begun dilating but she clucked at me and told me that long walks and gravity would help the baby coax himself out. Still feeling resilient and not terribly uncomfortable, I wanted to relish in my last few moments of a life that would always be “my past life.”

So, I got my haircut, made use of my bathtub and painstakingly folded the tiny onesies and knit sweaters.

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

Because we’re in a rental in Madrid, I couldn’t truly nest until we arrived. Every afternoon, I’d take stock of everything I was missing for thee baby and order it from Amazon before passing out cold on the couch. I put together my breast pump and cleaned the pram where the baby would sleep. I tried to imagine his face, how his skin would feel against mine, what I’d do when he slept 18 hours a day. This would, inevitably, end in tears as I thought of the beautiful pregnancy and the way the Novio and I had bonded over taking the next step in our relationship by becoming parents.

For the most part, I felt prepared for the birth. I had watched videos while strengthening my pelvic floor. I gently told my mother that, if push came to shove, I’d prefer to have my mother-in-law with me in the delivery room because of the language barrier. It was everything that came after the birth that made me the most nervous.

The night before my induction, I couldn’t sleep. I scribbled notes on the birth plan in a flurry of arrows and asterisks, took another bath and tried to fight my restlessness. It seemed insane to think that, in all likelihood, I would meet my baby face-to-face (or rather, mouth to boob), within 24 hours. I willed him to burst into the world on his own so that I could labor at home and still be able to snack, but 7am on Wednesday, January 4th came without as much as a hard kick from the baby to tell me he was ready.

^^^^

Our time in the hospital after Enrique’s birth was a literal blur – I was afraid to walk too far on my own, the baby kept us on a sleep schedule of about 15 minutes every few hours, and I struggled to breastfeed between visits and pills and rest. My body felt like it wasn’t my own anymore, as I couldn’t control my legs or sit up without help from a nurse. Everything was a series of firsts – from first shower to first visitors to first realizations that I’d never be the same again, not mentally or physically.

in the hospital in Spain with a newborn

At first, I had asked for total privacy. This meant no phone calls or visits. In Spain, everyone you know, from family to coworkers, come by to see the newborn. Unsure of how I would feel, I was not interested anyone see me all puffy and broken, and I remember the look of terror and extreme exhaustion on a friend’s face when we went to visit her and her second child. Had I been at a public hospital, I would have shared a room and likely been privy to people visiting at all hours, as hospitals in Spain rarely keep strict visiting hours.

The hospital was fantastic at checking in on me and making sure I’d peed, and the matronas and nurses kept my suegro – who tried to milk me – at arm’s length. I felt that more care and attention was given to me over the baby, truthfully, though they showed me how to swaddle, bathe and feed him.

^^^^

Two days later, on Día de los Reyes, we were given the alta to go home. I had checked out in the morning after a bowel movement and a uterine massage (that was more painful than birth without much more than an aspirin in my system); the little guy was seen a few hours later by the attending pediatrician, but not the requisite 48 hours that a hospital keeps. Because it was a holiday, I would have had to wait until the following morning around 9am to be given the OK to take our little bundle of tears home if I had chosen a public hospital.

The Novio had been at home cleaning and resting while my family kept me company, but when I called him, he couldn’t come immediately: the Cabalgata was passing through. Sevilla. We returned home to a house full of people and a large roscón de reyes. I ate as if I hadn’t consumed anything since that bocadillo de jamón, gulping down water between bites. My suegro got the small toy, a plastic Tigger, and immediately gifted it to his first grandchild.

The Novio let his family and mine take care of me and Baby Enrique post-delivery while he took care of the paperwork to register the baby’s birth, update our libro de familia and get an appointment for his DNI and Spanish passport. While I fluttered between confidence and desperation as I was convinced that the baby had caught a cold or wasn’t eating, he bused himself between government buildings. Not even a newborn can escape the wrath of Spanish red tape.

^^^

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In retrospect, the first few weeks were the calm before the storm. I had plenty of help and hands to hold the baby so I could shower, stay fed and get some sleep every once in a while. The overwhelming feels, emotional highs and the breakdowns would come later, once the baby became colcicky and the Novio had to go back to work.

At my lowest, I consisted on granola bars.

But I made it. I look at my baby sleeping in my arms and sometimes struggle that we’d ever been without him. They told us in prenatal class that we’d forget all about the pain of childbirth as soon as we saw and held out babies. It’s true that after I healed and began to get a handle on everything motherhood, I forgot that it was hard to walk for a month and that breastfeeding hurt.

In those rare moments when I don’t have a baby stroller or a diaper bag on me, I wonder if other people can tell I’m a mother, or if those other frazzled mommies think that they envy me because I’m not totting kids around. My body has morphed back into its old self and my baby bump is long gone.

I certainly feel different inwardly though not so much outwardly, but find myself pace quickening as I leave work and head home for my boys.

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I’ve spilled all of the details about my transition into motherhood in a forthcoming post – from breatsfeeding to Mommy culture to something I’m not afraid to confess, even though it’s not the popular opinion. I have plenty more posts about Spain coming up, too! That is, once I put the baby down and don’t have him crawling all over me.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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The Guiri Guide to Pregnancy in Spain

God Bless America?: Reflections on my Third Elections Abroad

The world is having a serious identity crisis.

To say that 2016 has been a weird year is to echo the sentiments of…just about everyone. And it goes far beyond the celebrity deaths, the Cubs winning the World Series and me getting pregnant.

You know that phrase, when pigs fly? As much as I’d love for patas de jamón to be raining from the heavens, there has been more bad juju this years than in the last decade. Race riots, gun violence and the refugee crisis have reached a fever pitch. Everyone is offended by everything. Spain finally voted in a government.

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And to me, the 2016 Election cycle signals the end of the democratic process as I’d been brought up to believe in. Thinking back to Mrs. Entwistle’s seventh grade social studies class – one in which we recited state capitals and the presidents from Washington to Clinton – seems like it was a century ago, not two decades.

And think about it: 100 years ago, American women still couldn’t vote.

There are decries of the electoral college, of unbiased reporting. And sitting in my living room in the northern part of Madrid, listening to Disney music as a coping mechanism since I can’t have a beer or two for my nerves, I’m still shellshocked by the last few weeks and months.

I voted from abroad. I donated to campaign issues that were important to me. I faxed in ballots for people, taking away from my workload because, hell, these kids were excited to vote for the very first time. Did we sit on our hands? Push a broken system? Stick our fingers in our ears when two people screeched at each other on television?

What in the actual hell happened? More importantly, what does it mean going forward?

A voting history of a Democrat abroad

I voted for the first time in 2004, even registering in a swing state because my home state is always – for better or worse – left-leaning. John Kerry passed by my campus for a speech, bringing along Iowa Golden Boy Ashton Kutcher and actor Ron Livingston to stump for him. I got caught up in election fever, not even bothering to read into the platforms of those up for reelection in the state in which I’d decided to attend college. I even went as far as registering as a Democrat, much to the dismay of my crimson-hearted parents.

Kerry lost by half of a percentage point and, with it, his seven electoral votes, but I proudly donned my I VOTED sticker that chilly November morning. AND I made it to class on time.

In 2008, I was the English teacher who had brought a map of the US with me, fished out of the Target $1 bins. That Tuesday afternoon, I diligently filled in the number of electoral votes each state had to throw at a candidate and put together a collection of markers, crayons and colored pencils so that my other expat friends could color in the states as election boards turned in official results. There were close to 50 of us packed into the top bar at the Merchant until nearly 5am.

2008 Elections

We celebrated over nachos and Budweiser beers until I had the pleasure of coloring my state blue with a Crayola marker that was nearly dry. The next morning, I received hugs from my coworkers as if I myself were Barack Obama. It was memorable, to say the least (and I still made it to class on time).

It was then when I heard the phrase that would resonate with me eight years later, “Cuando Estados Unidos estornuda, todo el mundo se resfria.” When America sneezes, the whole world catch a cold. I felt the optimism and a new era hurtling in from across the Atlantic.

Four years later, in 2012, a head cold and working evenings had me sidelined for election party antics, but I woke up at 6am to news of an Obama reelection. Between my Master’s and a new job, I had hastily shot off a vote without looking deeply into the issues, letting political party lines determine my vote. It didn’t feel as great as 2008, but I felt that my views had representation in all areas of government. Checks and Balances for the win.

But 2016. 2016 is different.

I’m in my 30s, no longer the 19-year-old swayed by celebrities and the rhetoric. Someone who has her values defined and tested. Someone who will be bringing a child into the world in the aftermath of an election that can only be described as long, ugly and exhausting. And, frankly, someone who would prefer being pregnant for an entire election cycle. All 600 days of it. And grossly pregnant.

Over the summer, the Pew Research Center survey found that about six in 10 of us were “exhausted” by the elections – which technically began with Marco Rubio announcing his candidacy in March 2015. Sheryl Crow petitioned for a shorter cycle. I lived through, in that time, two presidential elections in Spain – a country which only allows campaigning for two weeks leading up to the election.

I fully expected to feel relief on November 8th, relief that the mud racking and slandering and name-calling was over. Instead, I woke up anxious and looked for ways to distract myself at work, refusing to open news alerts and keeping my phone in my bag or face down on my desk, an arm’s reach away.

On being an American abroad

It’s an odd thing being overseas when big things are happening in your country. You feel one-part ambassador to the messed up things that are splattered across foreign news, defending the actions of a country that is far from homogenous. Like you have to right the wrongs, to make explanations for every policy, law and scandal. That one person can represent a greater good and not what Hollywood or Washington or the media portray. That, even though Spaniards are outspoken about their opinions, I could explain the historical and sociological roots of America’s political system and why a representative democracy is, ultimately, about people having the power.

Spanish Cowboy under Old Glory. Scottsdale, AZ.

There’s been so much backlash about colonialism and a 240-year-old piece of parchment that begins with “We The People…” but I fundamentally believe that our Founding Fathers wrote a document flexible enough to weather social change, an increasingly global world and demographics.

I work for an American university in Spain, so I don’t feel alienated in my views or living this experience alone – and this university is international, drawing 65 nations to a campus of 800 students. I was impressed watching students debate in the cafeteria and coming in exasperated that their absentee ballots never arrived and could-you-please-please-fax-this-so-my-vote-gets-counted?!

Speaking about my love of country – even with Spain as a flamboyant lover – was something I enjoyed doing for the first eight years of my expat life. And it’s a country that instilled values like hard work, acceptance and the beauty of diversity in me. It never felt like a chore nor would I have ever categorized my words as hollow. I am critical of the United States despite recognizing the privilege I was born into – not just by possessing a blue passport, but by being educated, white and from a family who supports me.

But this year, yeah. I am at a total loss for words and saddened for so many groups of minorities. The whole world has gone bonkers, and the ripples and cracks are deepening.

The Aftermath: That’s what you get for waking up in Trump’s America

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I will begin by saying that, even though I’m a registered Democrat, I have a lot of Republican values. My parents have never voted Democrat, too young to fully understand Kennedy’s Camelot and those who were taught to prescribe to my grandmother’s words, “My money is my money.” My mother confessed that she was morally struggling over voting for Trump – something I chalked up to her coming around and seeing that party lines can become blurred when you factor in more than experience and policy.

Still, when my absentee ballot arrived, I took the time to research candidates. I voted Democrat for president and Congress, but also filled in a few red bubbles for local and state elections. I felt more confident in my choices this time around and encouraged people to vote despite the age-old excuses of, “my vote doesn’t matter” or “I hate them both.”

When I went to bed just shy of 5am, Spain time, I’d been at an enormous election party since 11pm. It was almost like watching a European football match in a bar – lots of beers, cheering and jeering and floods of blue. Everyone was on my side for once, and I didn’t feel like my team was the underdog. I didn’t get nervous when the early reports put Trump ahead of Hillary and I watched as Florida flipped flopped more than Trump switched parties in the last 12 years.

But at 4am, things were looking grim, so I said goodbye to my friends, refreshed the NYT one more time just in case the world had collapsed and grabbed a taxi. I wanted to do the same as I did for Game 7 of the World Series – use a rain delay (or a few hours of sleep) to reset and let my team get its shit together.

Nearly 12 hours have passed since an Tang-stained bomb got dropped. I had planned to sleep until my body woke up, but at 9am, I bolted upright (oops, don’t tell my midwife) and called for the Novio. His face said it all, despite the fevered whispering that it actually might happen that we exchanged leading up to November 8th.

I passed through the Seven Stages of Grief pretty quickly, and once I’d denounced the actions of my countrymen (I mean, these exit polls are pretty eye-opening), I erased most of this draft and got to writing again.

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This election was more than about breaking the glass ceiling – it was about voting with head and heart for what I believe in. I put aside scandal and morality to look at the cold, hard facts.

It’s tragic that we have to fear for our friends and neighbors, or to fear our neighbors, or post suicide hotline numbers (but kudos to those of you who recognized that this could start an epidemic). It’s tragic that people can’t afford healthcare or that our education level is sliding as college tuition hikes make it impossible for people to have access to degrees. It’s tragic that democracy is crumbling because there is so much more bubbling beneath the surface.

There’s a disconnect between parties and the People, and this is blatantly honest from the eyes of someone who has been abroad for nearly a decade. When I came here, we didn’t think it could get worse than W. He now seems like the harmless village idiot in just a little over his head.

Time will tell what The Donald brings to the table, or if it’s Mike Pence doing all of the heavy lifting. I’m reminding myself between deep nasal breaths that checks and balances exist, as does a party identity. Maybe we can all just hope for a sitting duck? He’ll quack loudly, but probably just swim around in circles, nipping other ducks just to be cheeky. Ducks aren’t violent, right?

But here’s my biggest issue, now that I’ve gotten past the 279 votes my party didn’t win: I am shaking my head and wagging my finger at all of those people who say they’re fleeing to Canada or Europe or staying abroad. Now is not the time to put our tails between our legs and concede because the country is divided, and that fracture is deepening. My hope is that activism takes root, that people do their homework when it comes to issues and policies, that you write to the people you have representing you in Washington. There’s a reason we have a representative democracy – you have to show up.

We have four years, but just two until midterm elections and this vicious cycle begins again for 2020. I’m not giving up hope or prosperity because I believe in the country I call home and the values I hope to teach my child.

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My son is scheduled to come into this world on January 1st, 2017. I’m crossing my fingers that he doesn’t make his debut in 2016, a year marred by head scratching moments and an outwardly struggle to figure out who we are and what we stand for.

I know he will come to me one day and ask, “Mommy, who was president when I was born?”

I want to confidently say that he was born while Obama was in the Oval, when people could love who they wanted, be who they wanted and say what they wanted. I want to raise him to believe in himself and the good of others, but to also question morality and social wrongs.

I want him to be a good person, plain and simple. To use the right words instead of hateful speech. To not bully or belittle someone, but instead offer an ear or a hand or a hug.

Maybe I’m just naïve, but I want to believe people are good but sometimes just stubborn, misinformed and insist upon holding grudges. I want to believe that we, as a people, will hold one another accountable to pick up the pieces and trudge on forward, hand in hand. I want to believe that this is the beginning of positive change.

If you’re wondering how to help the environment, minorities or women, check out the Jezebel list of places and organizations to donate.
US Elections Abroad

I have to say, this post has been drafted, deleted and rewritten countless times since November 1st. Then I did it all over again on November 9th. It was a blessing and a curse to have the day after the US Elections off of work, and I’m still processing what happened – both in the last 600 days and the last 240 years to get here. I don’t get political on my blog, but I will say that I have yet to defriend anyone for voting differently. Second Amendment be damned – information and activism are the only weapons we need.

If you’re going to comment, be my guest. Call it being polite or just realizing that there is enough room in the world for everyone’s views. I will not allow attacks on others who join the conversation. Keep it nice and respectful, please.

A Guiri Guide to Having a Baby in Spain: Second Trimester

The start of my second trimester, at 14 weeks, coincided with another big event in my life: Leaving Seville for a job and a new life in Madrid.

After a relatively uneventful first trimester, I found out that being pregnant in Spain – especially when your second trimester coincides with the hot summer months and the ghost town that is Madrid – was not going to be a cake walk (and what the hell is up with my lack of cravings for cake?!).

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I can’t say I have complaints about how I felt during my first third of the pregnancy: no morning sickness, no noticeable weight gain, only nominal sleepiness. But the heat, looking for an apartment and drinking in a new city (and drinking cerveza sin and Nesteas in all of the old man bars we could find) meant afternoon naps and sitting down on benches any chance I got. For many weeks,  I avoided eye contact on the Metro, particularly with old people, because I wasn’t big enough to warrant getting the coveted pregnant lady seat just yet.

Miss the English Guide to Pregnancy in Spain? Just click!

People say that the honeymoon period of any pregnancy falls between weeks 14 and 28, or your second third of the cooking. This is the time to exercise, to travel (we went to Asturias via car and I took a jaunt around Northern Europe for work) or to live life as you would have before the achy joints and doctor visits, to savor the moments before midnight feedings and being covered in baby dribble. Considering I’ve had an easy, low-risk pregnancy so far, my biggest complaints lie in the bureaucratic limbo I’ve been in and not to how my body has reacted to being pregnant.

This side eye goes straight to you, Comunidad de Madrid. But we’ll get there later.

Second Trimester tests and check ups

By the time I was making the transition to Madrid, I was almost ready to take the first apartment I saw because there was something more important in play: finding a doctor and signing up for local healthcare. After we signed a contract on a flat in Chamberí, I googled the nearest public health clinic and was delighted to find it within waddling distance of my house.

Centro Médico Espronceda took care of changing my health care from Andalucía to the Cupo Madrileño, promising a card would be mailed to me within the month (and it was!). In the meantime, they gave me a print off and took care of assigning me a médico de cabecera, or a primary care doctor, and nurse.

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While I was allowed to make my own appointments with the primary care doctor and midwife, I was assigned to another medical center around the corner for by obstetrics appointments. This would be the doctor who refers me for tests required for prenatal care. My plan was to get everything out of the way before beginning my job at an estimated 16 weeks of pregnancy, but it didn’t work out that way…

Being new to the health system in Madrid – remember that every autonomous community in Spain has their own regulations regarding public healthcare – I knew that meant a few more visits than normal. Plus, I was looking for a private doctor and had a few Goldilocks moment: too stern, too aloof… until I found one at Clínica La Luz who was just right.

This second trimester has been marked by a slew of doctor’s appointments, to say the least, and mangled test results. Here are the big tests you’ll need to complete if you’ve got a healthy, low-risk pregnancy:

Analisís del segundo trimestre / second trimester blood and urine analysis: Sometime around the middle of your pregnancy, you’ll be instructed to have blood drawn and a urine sample tested for your sugar, protein and iron, plus toxoplasmosis, rubeola and AIDS. Remember to go en ayunas, or without eating or drinking anything but water.

In the public system in Madrid, test results of this nature are typically ready within three working days as opposed to a week in Seville.

Eco de las 20 semanas / The 20-week scan: Arguably the most beautiful moment of the pregnancy, 20 weeks marks the middle of gestation and the most thorough sonogram you’ll have. A doctor will check to be sure Baby has all its fingers and toes, that most of its organs are fully formed and that he or she is not over or underweight.

In fact, the baby is nearly fully formed at this point, so the last half of your pregnancy will be the time he or she gains weight, sprouts hair on the head, begins growing its lungs and continues to develop brain cells. If you’ve been waiting to find out the gender, you should be able to see the sex organs, too – but remember, be very specific if you prefer to wait! Spaniards tend to want to know as soon as possible, so I had to remind doctors that I was waiting until the 20 week scan so as to avoid mistakes.

Pro tip: I was told to consume a bit of sugar before the scan so that the baby would be active. It must have worked: we got the full frontal, so it was easy to determine the baby’s sex!

Curva de azúcar / glucose test: Also called the test O’Sullivan in Spain, you should have your glucose test between 24 and 28 weeks of your pregnancy. This tests for gestational diabetes and can take several hours to complete, depending on your pregnancy and your immediate test results. I decided to do my test in the public system, which I got done at the same time as my second trimester blood and urine exams.

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People often complain about the sugary drink, which tasted like a cracked-out version the McDonalds orange pop that we drank after soccer matches as kids. I jokingly told them woman I’d chug it like a beer, college style, but she ordered me to consume it more slowly, in 5-10 minutes, and then sit. Someone will take blood again at one and two hours of consumption to determine your risk for gestational diabetes, which can provoke an overweight baby or preeclampsia. After the second hour, you’re allowed to have breakfast (what sane person deprives a pregnant lady of food?!) and walk around a bit. Thanks to the Novio feeding me plenty of legumes and fish, my margins were extremely low.

Tósferina / whooping cough shot: If your doctor merits it, you’ll have to also have a whooping cough shot around 28 weeks. I was told to put it off until after my third trimester scan to see if it was actually necessary.

Differences Between Madrid and Andalucía’s healthcare systems 
I fully expected to not have any issues with changes from the cupo andaluz to the madrileño. After all, everything works better in Madrid! There’s an appointment system! The Metro runs on time! You can go grocery shopping on Sunday night!
But, much like moving to Spain in the first place, I ran into a lot of bureaucratic brick walls, head first.
When I first met my gynecologist, an older man who stared at me over his glasses while I pulled out all of my paperwork as if he was late for a delivery, I was not impressed. He continually told me that the Andalusian care system was crap, that he had no access to my records, and that he wouldn’t even see me until I’d done another round of blood tests and a sonogram with another doctor. He tossed my cartilla de embarazada back at me and proceeded to pull out a folder and write my vitals on it. I will remember until the day I die that March 29th, 2016 was the first day of my last menstrual cycle – I have probably recited it 100 times by now.

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Apparently you don’t keep your cartilla de embarazada with you, but at your doctor’s. This wouldn’t have been a big deal had it not been during summer vacation time – but I’ll tell you that story later.

Additionally, my doctor doesn’t make my appointments for me. After getting assigned a test or follow-up, you must make the appointment at the medical center: you can do this by phone or internet, or simply by waiting in line at your assigned center. In the stressful first weeks trying to schedule my 20-week scan, I was jockeyed between medical centers and put on a wait list, finally being called by the public system 30 minutes before an appointment – and I was in Seville for the weekend. My being proactive (as in, calling the sistema madrileño de salud out on their inability to adequately staff a public health clinic during the summer months) succeeded to a point, but even being an “urgente” case did nothing to give me any preference.

Once you do get in to the doctor, be sure to have your appointment print out, called a volante, with you. Rather than being polite and asking what time everyone else’s appointment is, you have to stalk the obstetrics nurse and shove your volante at her when she comes out to call a name. I suppose it’s better than the uncomfortable shuffle of times or cutting an abuelita in line, but I was scolded on more than one occasion for not presenting the paper and being skipped over.

If you don’t have a volante because you called for an appointment, flash a photo ID so that the nurse knows you’ve arrived.

The Autonomous Community conundrum

I was – and have been – optimistic about my pregnancy, and am taking it all in stride as my body stretches, droops and tires. Being proactive, I called my OB-GYN before he called me and made an appointment immediately. It wasn’t that I was concerned, but I wanted to be sure that I had my 20-week sonogram scheduled so that the Novio and I could find out the gender together.

Twenty weeks also coincided with our birthdays, which sweetened the deal.

The doctor ordered me to repeat the tests that he didn’t have access to, which was fine, despite a disorganized system at Hospital San Carlos and a two-hour wait, urine in hand. That afternoon, I went to my local clinic to make an appointment for the results with the hope of scheduling the 20-week scan.

hospital care in Spain

I waltzed up to the appointments counter, flashed my brand-new card and presented the papers from the work up. Without looking up, the man shook his head and said that no one – NOT ONE DOCTOR – was available for the month of August. I laughed, “What do you mean? Every single obstetrician in this medical center has been sent on vacation for all of August?”

Tal y como le digo. You have to go to the Centro de Especialidades Avenida de Portugal in two weeks’ time.” Now, I’m new to Madrid, but generally speaking, a street bearing the name of another country tends to be on the way to that place. I’d been sent to the other side of town to pick up test results, out towards our westernly neighbors!

“Babies usually aren’t born in August.” Again, I laughed, as both of Micro’s parents are August babies, and asked for an hoja de reclamación to make a complaint. I was informed that one could only do that between the hours of 9am and 2pm. Had there been a table, I’d have been tempted to flip it… or at least pound my fists.

I begrudgingly left work after a week of waiting to head to Avenida de Portugal. The young doctor was gracious and apologized for the packed waiting room before folding her hands in her lap and asking what I had come for. I responded that I’d like to get my test results from July 27th, to which she gave me a blank look and informed me that I had nothing on file.

“Well, at the very least, let us weigh you and take your blood pressure since you’re here?”

Public or private?

I’ve long been a proponent of Spain’s public health system. Doctors are well trained and the treatment is free, plus prescriptions are subsidized.

And then I moved to Madrid.

I had absolutely no right to ever gripe about the system in Sevilla, because wait times were half as long and doctors took their time with patients. I felt rushed and unattended in Madrid in the public hospitals, like no one really knew what they were doing or where to send me. Is this how things are in America? Is it really normal to lose three different tests from the same person?

After asking some women at work, I checked out Hospital Clínica La Luz, a private hospital up the road from campus associated with Quirónsalud that accepts my private insurance. Unlike in Andalucía, most people I know choose to go private for healthcare, no matter what it’s for.

I was assigned to Dr. Alvi, a young woman who is specialized in pre-natal care and scans. I briefly explained my situation, and she took a look at the few papers I still had in my possession before performing an ecografía. The service seems more personable here, even if the wait times once you’re in the clinic’s magazine-stocked waiting room are longer.

We’re still undecided whether or not to have the baby in the public or private system, but that’s a tarea for third trimester.

So, does it have a pito or not?

I could tell the Novio was visibly nervous when he arrived at my office the day of our scan. He barely said a word as we quickly ate a menú del día at the nondescript bar next to the hospital.

That morning, I’d gone through the public hospital for my 20-week scan. Despite my previous woes with Hospital San Carlos, I was called just before 9am and shown into a stark room. An intern gave me a quick pelvic scan to measure the height of my cervix before dropping the goo on my stomach.

“For a pregnant lady, you’re very calm,” he said as he spread the jelly around the reaches of my belly, which now domed slightly over my profile.

And I was – this baby has made me mellow.

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I asked him to turn the screen away so that I could get the surprise (reiterating that I did NOT want to know the sex), but he assured me that the baby was healthy and so was I. Even my worry that I wasn’t gaining enough weight was shot down!

Once I’d wiped the goo off and got dressed, I was instructed to wait in the waiting area. A nurse handed me a few pamphlets and a facts sheets about the baby like how much it weighed and its predicted height.

The private hospital experience was a bit more welcoming. Despite my doctor being away on vacation, Dr. Orozco was pleasant and thorough, explaining every measurement he was taking, showing how the blood was flowing in and out of the ventricles and assuring us that the baby didn’t have Zika (the head was actually a bit bigger than normal – thank you, blue fish).

“What do you prefer?” he asked. I shrugged my shoulders because I had bounced between the gender just about daily, even though I had a feeling our first child would be a boy. The Novio admitted he was hoping for a girl, and the doctor told him to watch the screen.

Between the two wiggling legs was something else, proving that a mother’s instinct is always right (and meaning I didn’t have to stress over choosing a name!).

The 0,0 Smackdown

My body seemed to know I shouldn’t be drinking beer from the time we conceived. In plena Feria de Abril (but seriously, this kid is andaluz through and through), I spent my final day sipping water, followed by cancelling plans for the Patios de Córdoba last minute.

If there’s one thing I miss, it’s beer. The sin alcohol or 0,0 stuff tastes plastic-y and has no gracia, so I’ve been sticking to juices, tonic water and the occasional Fanta when we go out to tomar algo.

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I’ve been sampling the 0,0 and non-alcoholic beers, much to my dismay. The worst sort? Cruzcampo. I know, Cayetana de Alba, strike me down for this blasphemy, but it is absolute garbage. Amstel has been my favorite thus far, and the Novio even scouted out a German beer bar that boasts a nicht alkoholisch on tap (it’s called Saint Germain at Calle Rios Rosas, 7) with a generous helping of snacks.

I’ve been promised a cold botellín in the puerperio, the recovery period directly after birth. I am holding my husband to that.

Everything that I know about pregnancy is wrong

Admittedly, I was nervous to be pregnant, afraid I’d balloon up like a cow and be unable to keep active. I saw my nine months of carrying a child as the beginning of the end of my freedoms – to travel, to meet friends and to sleep.

Strangely enough, I’m really enjoying it! I lay in bed for 10 minutes every morning – often before my alarm – feeling the baby wiggle around. I haven’t started speaking to him yet, despite having a named picked out and knowing that the earbuds have already developed.

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Everything I thought I knew about pregnancy has been utterly wrong. I expected to have the morning sickness, the stretch marks, the discomfort; but I’ve been pretty comfortable all throughout my pregnancy, save a little less spatial awareness. As a heavy eater, I assumed I’d blow up as I gave into cravings and be grazing all day. It’s true that I feel fuller faster, but it’s sometimes a question of blood sugar, and a few nuts or apple slices will suffice.

My biggest complaint is that I can’t eat everything I want. It’s difficult to remember to ask a waiter to skip the jamón in my salmorejo, or to cook the red meat just a little more on each side. I’m trying to eat more blue fish. The biggest surprise is that most of my cravings have been for healthy foods, so I’ve kept my weight under control with very little effort. And from what I hear, breastfeeding is when you really start to feel hungry!

I’ve also been sleeping like a baby, practically falling asleep and staying asleep from the time I shut my eyes until it’s time to stir. Clothes are just beginning to feel tight in the wrong places, as my belly seemed to double in size in the last five weeks of second trimester. My sister finally confessed to my husband, “YES! Cat is finally showing!”

The only complaint? Why isn’t my hair gorgeous and shiny?! The Madrid dryness means that it looks dull and dead; the upside is that my nails are growing.

What’s up in third trimester?

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Apart from getting rounder? Stretch marks? Swollen ankles? I’m beginning to feel pregnant, from having to stand up slowly or feeling my belly descend towards the end of the day. I just bought my first piece of maternity clothing – a dress for a fall wedding – and have dug back out the books to think about the due date and giving birth.

Things we’re still looking into are storing the umbilical cord blood, me eating my placenta (which prompted a, “YOU WON’T EAT GRILLED PIG’S EAR BUT YOU’LL EAT THAT!? from the Novio) and childcare once my 16 weeks of maternity leave end. My OB-GYN switched me to a high-iron pill with folic acid, which I’ll take for two more months so that Micro is getting the nutrients he needs.

One of my biggest question marks still is where to have the baby. All signs point to Seville and a public hospital, and that makes sense – we have a car, the space and one of the best maternity hospitals in Spain. But if Micro comes early, I’ll need a Plan B! And as a planner, I’m remembering that the baby will come when he wants, not when’s convenient to us.

Finally, we’ll begin pre-natal classes with the matrona.

As the due date hurtles towards us, I have a little bit of everything – elation, apprehension, sorrow that it will all end and nothing will be the same. I’m enjoying my pregnancy and the way the Novio and I are savoring our time alone together. I’m sleeping and eating well and still able to take advantage of a new city, traveling for work (Micro hit four countries in one month, and I felt fine but for aching limbs at the end of the day) and feeling like my old self.

I sometimes feel like I’m fumbling for the lights in a dark hallway, bumping into walls and furniture as I try and navigate pregnancy in Madrid and Spain in general. My American friends with kids have admitted a certain degree of jealousy in knowing that I’ve had so many sonograms, but I’m just relieved that Micro is healthy and I’m feeling so good.

Remember: every woman’s body and pregnancy are different – I had very few risk factors in my family and the Novio’s, am at a healthy weight and age for pregnancy, and have not experienced any problems, save a bit of bleeding at the very beginning. I am not a doctor, so this post is a result of my experiences and research. Consult with your health care professional and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Those of you mamás who have given birth in España: have I missed anything? Any words of wisdom for my readers and me for pregnancy in Spain?

If you missed the first trimester, skip to the first trimester of pregnancy in Spain post!

What Every Expat in Spain Should Know: Nine Skills to Celebrate Nine Years in Iberia

For me, moving to Spain in September 2007 was a baby step into a life abroad. I had studied abroad here, aced all but one of my college Spanish courses and was open to the experience of living abroad in Sevilla and making it work, no matter how homesick I got for my family, English language TV and Cheez-its.

Baby steps. This would be easy.

Well, “this would be easy” was my mindset before I actually got here and realized I had no idea how to adult, let alone how to adult in another language and country where long lines, 902 numbers and being subject to the mood of whoever was attending you became a daily reality.

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My first year in Spain was equal parts new discoveries and new headaches, learning the language and learning how to cope with, um, Spain in general. The second year was easier, logistics-wise, but I wrestled with whether or not I wanted to stay in Spain any longer or return to the US. The learning curve was still steep and continues to be as I propose new professional goals and look forward to becoming a mamá for the first time. Even as life in Spain gets easier, I sympathize with new expats who are mostly clueless. We are all @GuiriBS.

That was me one balmy September in 2007. While there are loads of small skills you learn after a bit of time (like that those clunky 2€ coins actually are worth something and how to walk right through a wall of unwanted piropos), but some are a bit more savvy and take time time to refine.

To celebrate my ninth Spaniversary of living in Spain, every expat should know these nine hacks:

How to convert to the Metric System

Ojú, 40 grados mañana.

Why even download a weather app when your husband is addicted to the telediario every afternoon at 3:25pm? I don’t know the exact temperature in 40 Celcius is in Farenheit… just really, really warm.

If you’re an American (or, for that matter, from Myanmar or Liberia) abroad, you’re probably clueless about how to convert the Metric System into the other measurement system. I’m still learning and perfecting my memory tricks (my math skills can’t divide and then add any faster than my phone apps), but here’s how I’ve learned:

The temprature. 10 degrees is cold, 30 degrees is uncomfortably hot, and 25 degrees is – Goldilocks style – juuuuust right. I usually remember that 25 degrees is a nice 77°.

Weight and Height. I have snowboarded since I was a kid, and the because the measurements come in centimeters, rather than feet and inches, I simply add 20 centimeters onto the snowboard’s length when asked for my height. As for weight? I oscillate between 60 and 62, and prefer that low number to my weight in pounds.

The problem? Electronics come in inches, called pulgadas. Or, maybe that’s not an issue for you.

Liquids. Still working on this one, especially when the gas prices read 1.02€ for diesel but filling up my car, Pequeño Monty, costs more than I spend on insurance, bike repairs and a metro pass, combined.

Speed and distance. I worked exactly ten miles away from Sevilla during my first years as a language assistant. While I sat on a bus and read, my coworker biked the 16 kilometers to the school. Now that I drive, 120 kilometers on the highway (the speed limit on freeways) means an hour, which has become my marker.

So I round numbers up and down a bit, ok?

How to buy European clothing sizes

Differences in length and height and width means that shopping became an adventure, too. And don’t forget that not all European sizes are different – Italy, the UK and the rest of Europe have slight differences, evident by several numbers on the size tag. My biggest complaint has been that most jeans are far too long for my shrimpy legs, which makes zero sense since Spanish women, on the whole, are shorter than me.

my flamenco dress 2014

Finding your sizes in Europe takes a great deal of trying on, discarding and ignoring the tags. What is a dress or pants size 8 in America could be a M and anywhere between a 38 and 42 in Spain (and that’s not taking length into account), whereas a shirt at Zara that’s a medium may need to be a large at Lefties – and they’re the same company.

En fin.

Shoes are an entirely different story – and an easier one! I wear a size 8 in the US, which is a clavado 39. My only problem is that I am useless in heels.

The only great equalizer in the Spanish fashion world is the traje de gitana. You are a size 40, trust me.

How to travel around Spain

I inherited my dad’s love of beer, healthy doses of adventure and his nose. He also passed along his intrinsic skill of budget travel, and even though I’ve moved out of the phase in my life where overnight buses and questionable hostel beds are acceptable, so long as they’re in the sake of traveling further, and I’ve seen a good chunk of Europe thanks to it.

Spain is full of cool things to see, do and experience, from tomato slinging festivals to jaw-dropping road trips to hidden beaches and charming small towns. Unless you have a car (and enough money to cover the liters of gas… see above), you’re got to stick to public transportation or ride shares.

Thankfully, traveling around Spain can be done on the cheap. To fully take advantage, check out Bla Bla Car for ride sharing (or share your trip – I took three others to Valencia for Fallas and had the gas paid for), sign up for budget airline newsletters for special offers and loyalty programs and buy your RENFE train tickets three months in advance or share a table of four.

You can also take advantage of long weekends – nearly one a month! – and local holidays to maximize your time to be desconectado. And don’t shrug off places that are a bit tougher to get to, as those are usually the places with encanto.

How to speak a bit of Spanish

When my parents first came to visit me over the Christmas holidays, they begged me to order food for them. I’d been pinching the euros of my measly paycheck by subsiding off of frozen pizzas and spaghetti and could barely recommend a nice place to eat, let alone dissect a menu. It was a lot of, “I think that’s fish” and, “It’s a pig part that you probably won’t like” to a family that eats with their eyes.

pulpo

That was the turning point for me – I told my new boyfriend that he’d have to start speaking to me in Spanish, and despite the frustrations and tears and utter confusion with andalú, I consider learning Spanish to be one of my proudest achievements.

There’s no need to be fluent after nine years, but I firmly believe that knowing Spanish makes life in Spain richer. It’s easier to interact with locals, particularly outside of cities, and there’s a wealth of cultural nuances that I’ve learned and come to love because of it.

a-veces-la-locura-spanish-words

People often ask me how to learn Spanish, and I wish I had an easy answer. Mine was a healthy dose of not caring about making mistakes, talking to anyone who would listen, reading books and noting down new words and expressions and calming my nerves with a few cervecitas. You could also try signing up for classes – I liked my audited classes at Sevilla Habla a lot – or apps, and the Ultimate Spanish Practice and Review was my Bible for months, but nothing beats swapping stories with an abuelito at your corner bar.

How to do a reclamación

You haven’t really lived in Spain until you’ve logged an official complaint. You know all of those signs in restaurants, shops and pharmacies that say “Queda a la disposición un libro de reclamaciones” or something to that effect?

The first time I ever suggested using it was when I felt a friend had been treated poorly at a public hospital. The nurse who had effectively called her an irresponsible harlot was disciplined, and I soon found out that making a formal complaint is often synonymous with getting ‘er done. Bad service at a restaurant means I’ll refuse the offer of a free meal in favor of letting the boss know a waiter has been snide (as if never going back weren’t punishment enough),  and the Novio even once got 12€ from Bricomart after they sold him two faulty ceiling fans.

Cruzcampo Bar Sign

The best I’ve ever done is two in a span of 12 hours – the first over the phone when the energy company Iberdrola decided we had an emergency to fix at midnight and promptly began drilling when I was fast asleep, then the following morning at my health clinic for terrible service after being told here were no doctors in the month of August because babies weren’t born in August (I showed my TIE card as proof that, yes, babies come during the Pan-European vacation month, too).

But I don’t do it to prove a point or because I’m a demanding customer: when my family’s bags were lost last Christmas and ended up in Phoenix instead of Sevilla, I asked them to be sent to my house via courier. I was informed that Iberia didn’t have a courier to take them to my house, and the customer service rep urged me to fill out a reclamación form so that the company would realize the importance of the service. I fill out reclamaciones so that everyone else can benefit from better services.

How to deal with things back home

It’s now easier than ever to stay in touch with loved ones back home, despite the time difference, but what about all of the extras? The money matters, bills, sending packages and prescriptions? Though I’ve gradually let go of many of those things (just not Cheez-its), I can’t bring myself to uproot entirely, even at risk of FACTA sanctions and double taxation.

Spanish potato omelette

The USA seemed even further across the Atlantic than it does now. Thanks to online everything, I can move money or order English language books for cheap; when I came to Spain in 2007, I was barely toeing the line of calling myself a resident of Spain – I saw nine months as a brief foray into expat life, so I got a year’s prescription of my pills, pared down my shoes and sweaters and even traveled northern Europe without a jacket because, why waste valuable suitcase space? My biggest complaints in those early days was not being able to EuroHack or sometimes cope with a lack of American products.

And there were little things – an American style measuring cup, my deodorant and gym shoes that didn’t cost a week’s worth of private class hustle.

Nine years on, I only own a few American-bought appliances and clothing items, and I’ve found ways to just toe the line of American life. But more than that, I’ve had to take many of my “adult” things online, especially credit card payments, sending money abroad cheaply, banking and maintaining our savings accounts in an American bank. Make sure that you especially know how to keep your phone number, deal with money and credit card or mortgage payments, and take care of all of your issues at home.

2008 Elections

And, no matter what a Spaniard says, sending thank you notes or greeting cards never goes out of style (and I always have a stock!).  Plus, Madrid is a mecca of American everything – original version films, American brands and even a Five Guys and a Steak n’ Shake. Our British counterparts have Boots pharmacies and Dealz, a version of Pounds. Globalization isn’t always a bad thing, but when you’re majorly homesick…?

How to deal with red tape

Seville’s Plaza de España is the first place I lusted after in Sevilla. It’s regal and striking, particularly at sunset.

But at sunrise when you’re lining up for a residency card petition? The colonnades and the moat lose their sheen – believe me. Spaniards invented reed tape, and while I’m sure it doesn’t compare to Italy or the US, it’s a necessary headache as an expat in Spain, me temo. It’s inefficient and slow, prompting the famous line, las cosas del palacio van despacio. And if you’re non-EU, the process becomes even further clotted by translations, notarizations and multiple appointments.

By the time this video was passed around expat groups, I’d already formulated my extranjería hack skills and there were significant improvements in the way that many steps, such as an appointment system and online status checking, could be handled. But it’s not just the foreigner’s office that operates on its own scheduled – the Novio is a government worker and often has his paychecks come late, and let’s not forget the first time I applied for unemployment, when a worker was literally napping on her desk. Fear not, fellow guiris – even the locals are victims.

My tips: bring five photocopies of each, arrive after coffee and be extra friendly. I once made friends with a frowny face worker in the Hacienda office by asking about his Betis ashtray. Ever since I stopped rolling my eyes and learned to change my attitude (and bring a book), it’s been easier to deal with the lines, the wait times and the mechanical responses from the civil servants. And Plaza de España is now beautiful again.

ceramics at Plaza de España Seville Spain

But I still think that the autorización de regreso is a scam to earn 13€ while the extranjería takes its sweet time in issuing your residency card renewal.

How to cope when your friends leave

Back in the days when Spain was but a brief life interlude, I never turned down an invitation out for tapas or a drink, and found myself adding Facebook friends left and right – it was the adult equivalent of leaving your dorm room door open, after all. Even when homesickness threatened to have me retreat to my piso with a box of Magnum Minis, it was easy to give someone a toque and meet them at the corner bar for a coffee.

Feliz Ano Nuevo!!

The following year, the Novio was sent abroad to work for two months, right after we’d spent the whole summer apart. I nearly forgot the sound of his voice and was nervous that I’d plunge right back into the Magnum mini binge. So, I forced myself to make new friends, and to try and invert my time into friends who will be sticking around for the long-term. There’s always a cycle – people come and go, and this is a hallmark of expat life.

This doesn’t mean it’s easy.

spanish american girls at the feria de sevilla

Friends leaving is HARD, and my merry little band of guiri girlfriends in Seville went from six to three in the span of two months. Two friends that I made early on left the country – one for the US and the other for Indonesia – right when I was packing up for Madrid. And they’re not the only ones. My Sevilla dream team spans these nine years, from the one who adopted me as her wing woman and promptly introduced me to the Novio, to the one born in the wrong country whose musings on sevillano life, four years after leaving, reach straight to my heart. And who could forget the night we all bought matching underwear from a vending machine after rapping Eminem?

I miss those faces and our antics all the time, and I’m not sure I’ve completely superado this slice of expat life.

What helps me cope is knowing that every single one of them has made the decision that was best in that moment, and that Sevilla will always be ours.

How to grin and bear it

The successful marketing campaign, “Spain is different,” is oft repeated by Spaniards and guiris alike. It’s true – many things in Spain seem to function without any rhyme or reason, and I’m still taken aback by the clash of the vanguard and the antiquated often.

cat gaa at the feria de sevilla

Spain is, indeed, different, and not all places in Spain are created the same. Perhaps that’s why I love it so much, and why my visitors love it on the surface, too. For all of the headaches and eye rolls and “I HATE SPAIN” days, I feel challenged, mostly fulfilled and like I ended up in a country that has welcomed me with dos besos and a squeeze on the shoulders. I have learned to grin and bear it and love it, despite its faults and my desperation, at times.

Nine years ago this September, I got off a plane and stepped into a world where Spanish was my language weapon and every day presented a new desafío, from figuring out how to navigate a bus system to conquering the crippling bureaucratic maze to remembering why and for whom I came in the first place.

Who knows where we’ll be in a few years. With the first of likely several babies on the way and the Novio with ganas to have his own adventure abroad, I may not have many Spaniversaries left. But pase lo que pase, every September 13th is a special day for me when I remember how good Spain has been to me. And it extends far beyond the riqueza of the lifestyle – I sappily believe that this place has shaped me in a positive way. I’m excited to raise a family here and to continue being surprised by what Spain offers.

Spain wins the 2010 World Cup

And if the first nine years is any indication, my 30s is going to be a pretty awesome decade, too!

If you’ve lived abroad before, would you add anything to this list? Please share in the comments below!

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