Paris’s Jardin du Luxembourg and my musings on expat life

In a little old house that was covered with vines,
lived 12 little girls in two straight lines.

For as long as I can remember, I have been borderline obsessed with Paris. I blame my mom, who bought me Madeline books. Remember how the book started?

My house was neither old nor plant-covered. But I had a lamp shaped like the Eiffel Tower and black and white postcards of Paris in the 30s that I garnered at a rummage sale tacked to my bulletin board.
Eiffel Tower Paris

Growing up in the suburbs of a major city, my jaunts into Chicago seemed to go along with the soundtrack of a coming-of-age movie from the 80s: I wanted to live and breath the big city lights, maybe work for a glossy and have a string of good-looking boyfriends. Which is the plot to essentially every movie that came out when I was a teen.

When I asked my mom to let me study French in middle school, she told me Spanish would be far more useful in a future career. At 13, I didn’t know that learning another language would allow me to pivot from magazine editor to ESL teacher. Not as glamorous as I’d hoped, of course, but everyone starts somewhere.

“We breathe in our first language, and swim in our second.”

Ever since I read Adam Gopnick’s account of expatriated life in the French capital, “Paris to the Moon,” I was resolute that I’d live abroad at some point in my life. I didn’t particularly love the book – required reading for one of my college courses about Parisian architecture – but I did love what it represented: freedom, adventure and a healthy dose of red tape.

Autumn in Paris

My class was meant to be a study in Eiffel and Hausmann. Instead, it was two Midwesterners waxing poetic about the bistros and brasseries just steps away from the Sorbonne. Iowa City is 4,291 miles away from Paris, but that Spring 2005 class somehow seemed to push me towards Europe and towards a city that held so many of my teenaged dreams.

I’d had one of those soul-restoring deep sleeps and woke up early on the first truly autumnal Sundays in Paris. My work trips always fall on a Sunday – a godsend for catching Parisians at play but nearly impossible for eating anything decent. I put on a Mango dress that passed as a raggedy version of Chanel and some lipstick and took the RER down to Luxembourg.

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Gopnick often wrote about taking his young son to the Luxembourg gardens – in fact, it’s on the cover of the original 2000 book, a collection of essays he wrote for the New Yorker. I’ve criss-crossed Paris on half a dozen occasions, but usually as the tote-along on a first timer’s foray into Paris, or as a 24-hour stopover punctuating a long work trip. I purposely booked the last Eurostars train out of London so that I could take advantage of a late September morning and visit the park.

Armed with a baguette (fine, it was left over from my London trip and a little soggy) and a jacket draped over my arm, I found the eastern gate of the gardens, constructed in the 17th Century by Marie de Midici. It was just before noon and the Eiffel tower peeked over golden-tipped leaves, reflected in the small, circular pool. My college professors has spoken about the Palace du Luxembourg – its history, its current use in the French senate – but I was contented to have it as a backdrop to the children sailing model boats, their flags and colors somewhat tattered, on the pool.

Cat Gaa in Paris

Olive green metal chairs ring the basin, some reclining towards the sky. I dragged a free sear on the southwest side of the park towards the sun and unwrapped my sandwich. A man crumbled the end of his baguette and fed it to a pigeon while a mother scolded her child in French for nearly climbing into the pool after the stick he was using to guide the boat drifted away from his fingertips. Chatter came from all around me in about half a dozen languages. I’ve always said said markets and plazas were the best place to catch Spaniards wrapped up in everyday life; in Paris, it’s Luxembourg.

Somehow, everything and everyone is picturesque and chic and unsoiled here.

Hell, even my soggy baguette tasted magical because I was eating it in Paris.

“This can shake you up, this business of things almost but not quite being the same. 
A pharmacy is not quite a drugstore; a brasserie is not quite a coffee shop; 
a lunch is not quite a lunch.” 

As a perennial American abroad, I now see my own adulthood reflected in Gopnick’s telling of the mundane – as well as the truly fantastic – parts of expat life. I didn’t know it at the time, but the cadence of my life in Spain would be similar: everything and nothing is the same as back home.

Later that afternoon, post-recruitment event and a few cheeky beers with colleagues, I returned on foot to the garden. Nestled between the 5eme and 6eme arrondisments, I had two choices: using Luxembourg as my anchor, I could follow a foot map along the highlights of the district, or wander around. My professors had laid out all of the 5ème for me, so I veered into the 6ème.

Parisian bistros

Snaking down the Rue du Condé that flanks the Odéon theatre towards the Sorbonne, some of the major highlights the professors talked about in class were suddenly right in front of me. Every alleyway offered me a glimpse into the allure of Paris. Long-legged university students pulled their jackets tighter as they glided down the steps of the Sorbonne’s medical school. It all seemed so Truman Show – until the cost of a beer and the snobbery when I asked to pay with a card brought this Midwesterner right back.

In Paris we have a beautiful existence but not a full life, 
and in New York we have a full life but an unbeautiful existence.

Gopnick’s wife says, upon deciding to return home, that “In Paris we have a beautiful existence but not a full life, and in New York we have a full life but an unbeautiful existence.” I find my experience to be the contrary: my life feels fuller and far more rosy in Spain.

Since that class, ARTH 3020: Paris and the Art of Urban Life, the Parisian joie de vivre and, alas, European life and the string of attractive (foreign) boyfriends has alluded me. My life in Spain is often chaotic and has a noticeable lack of afternoons whiled away at the brasserie down the block. But the small victories and the sobremesa and the afternoons in a complete trance over how I ended up here are fuel. They’re what has kept me in Spain.

Jardin du Luxembourg at dusk

I’m sure that, had I chosen Paris over Seville, I’d be fighting the urge to look at my phone while my child played with a model boat at Luxembourg. And that I’d have stepped in something or spilled on myself or still gotten a zit at an inopportune moment.

Every time I return to my childhood bedroom, I switch on the gaudy Eiffel Tower lamp and drag a finger along the dozen or so books that I haven’t given away. Paris to the Moon is one of them, standing between the Michelin Le Guide Vert that was its class companion and a well-worn copy of a Let’s Go Europe book, published in the same year as the summer I spent in Spain. In an age where mobile phones dictate where we travel and what we share – and even prevent us from losing ourselves in a city – the book is a tangible reminder of the life I chose in Spain.

“There are two kinds of travelers. 
There is the kind who goes to see what there is to see, and the kind who has 
an image in his head and goes out to accomplish it. 
The first visitor has an easier time, but I think the second visitor sees more.”

If you’re my kind of traveler, you enjoy meandering around and taking it all in rather than ticking sites off of a list. I’ve been to Paris half a dozen times and have done all of the big draws, so this time I wanted to wander through a new arrondisment on a free evening I had in the French capital.

Eiffel tower at night

I used the GPS MyCity app for points of interest around the 5ème and 6ème during my afternoon off in Paris – you can easily download sightseeing or local haunts maps and use them offline in more than 1000 cities worldwide.

Comment below for your chance to win a year’s subscription to GPSMyCity and tell me a city you love to get lost in or hope to soon!

Disclosure: I was not paid for this post but GPSMyCity kindly offered me a one-year Premium Pass, which I’ll also us in Vienna next week. All opinions are my own.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have more questions? Throw ’em in the comments!

How can I legally stay in Spain as an American?

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

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

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

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

playa de las catedrales galicia beach

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

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

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

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

bedroom almohalla 51 sleep

Dreaming of being legal in Spain

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

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

paperwork

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

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

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

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

walking tours in Spain

Spanish bureaucracy is no cake walk

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

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

So what is pareja de hecho?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a-veces-la-locura-spanish-words

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

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

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

All’s fair in love and bureaucracy, right?

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

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

Ha. Ha. Ha.

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

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I needed a TEFL certificate to teach at an English academy

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

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

Great methodology, fun songs and likeable characters.

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

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

Vintage Travel: in Wisconsin at age 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your favorite post on your blog?

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

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

doris shoes

From itchy feet to firmly planted in Spain

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

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

What is the Novio’s real name?

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

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

Ah, youth. This was eight years ago.

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

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

Will you ever return to the U.S.?

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

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

Still my favorite place in the world.

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

Cruzcampo is not one of those sacrifices.

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

te quiero sevilla

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

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

Visit Lastres Asturias

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

What are your tips for making friends abroad?

spanish american girls at the feria de sevilla

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

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

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

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

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I solemnly swear that we are up to no good.

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

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

Do you have any advice for someone moving to Spain?

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

Dreamy.

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

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

mercado de san miguel madrid

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

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

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

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

Guiri 101: A Guide to the -erías

Lisa’s skype call was full of nervous questions about what to pack and how to arrive alive to Sevilla. I’d be about to take the DELE when her train arrived, leaving her with a few hours to wander around town and grab something to eat, per a detailed list of suggestions. She quizzed me on names of places she might need to stop before our rendezvous: estación de autobuses, aseo, farmacia

Her last question: “If I want to have a beer, do I just look for a beerería?” She wasn’t too far off, doing some linguistic gymnastics as I reminded her of the word for beer and finally forming the word for bar: ser-vay-suh-ree-ya. Cervecería.

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One of the biggest learning curves for people moving to Spain is knowing where to shop and what you can find there. That there’s a more convenient place to buy stamps than the post office, or that you’re better off picking up pens and pencils at a copy shop. There’s a specific store for undergarments (pick up a spare zipper or some ribbon while you’re there, too), another sells only fish and sea creatures, and a cafetería is a good place to stop if you want more than just coffee.

Typically denoted by a clue in the word (hence ‘cerveza’) followed by the -ería, here’s a Guiri Guide to the -erías you can find in Spain:

Food & Drink

The –erías are rife when it comes to wining and dining in Spain, and nearly every class of food is followed by the suffix.

Bocatería: Sandwich shop.

This is a general term for anything made with two slabs of a viena, though Spanish sandwiches and subs tend to be severely lacking in ingredients. You can usually get food to go with a drink or some chips.

Cafetería: Cafeteria.

La pallaresa Bakery

This place has just about everything – you can have a coffee or a cold one, a sandwich or a sweet. Cafeterías are a happy mix between bar and coffee shop, and they’re a good go to if your tripa rumbles between lunch and dinner. Have your cake and eat it, too, which is perfectly acceptable here.

Carnicería: Butcher shop.

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Take a number and wait until you’re called to get any sort of beef or pork cut. Your butcher might also have less common meats, like horse or rabbit, and expect to find tripe, cow tongue and pig feet. For good measure, of course. In Madrid, these places are usually called casquerías.

Many carnicerías will also package meat for freezing, or can clean the cut for you.

Cervecería: Beer bar.

Vermouth Bar Madrid

Perhaps my most frequent stop outside of the grocery store, the cervecería (or beerería, as Lisa says) serves beer, wine and soft drinks, and usually a limited menu. Think stark white walls, stainless steel countertop and plenty of abuelitos. What sets these establishments apart from another bar is that the bares in Spain tend to have larger menu options.

Churrería: Churros stand.

Just smell that hot oil frying, and you’ll know you’re in the right place. Many bars also sell churros, particularly for snack time and weekend breakfasts, or even fried potato chips.

best churros in Seville

Freiduría: Fried fish joint.

Noticing a trend with fried food? Freidurías will throw anything breaded – namely fish and croquettes – into hot oil and serve it up in a paper cone for you. As one of Seville’s food staples, pecaito frito is fast food that doesn’t make you feel as guilty. Plus, it’s practically requisite to eat fried fish on the first night of Feria and Fridays during Lent.

Note that freidurias are closed on Monday, as no fresh fish comes into the markets.

Frutería: Green grocer’s / fruit stand.

You’ll find all of your fruits and vegetables here, along with nuts, soup mixes and a pumpkin for carving at Halloween. Here you can look but don’t touch – the greengrocer will usually handle the goods for you.

Fruit stands at the Mercado de Triana food market

Fruits and vegetables are seasonal in Spain, so don’t look for strawberries in August or watermelons in February. More exotic fruits like mangos and avocadoes can usually be found at market stalls.

Heladería: Ice cream parlor.

Heladeria Verdu

If you’ve ever been to Spain in the summer, you’ve probably frequented an heladería. Many will serve more than cones and sundaes, with offerings ranging from pastries to mixed drinks. Because a G&T tastes better with dulce de leche ice cream.

Panadería: Bakery.

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A meal in Spain wouldn’t be a meal without copious amounts of bread, and panaderías seem as ubiquitous as ATMs. My go-to local bakeries also serve as mini-marts and offer pastries, snacks, sandwiches and even cold beer.

Pescadería: Fishmonger’s.

For the catch of the day, look no further. You can buy fish and shellfish and have them cleaned or chopped in any way you like. Like the freiduría, the pescadería is always closed on Mondays, meaning the market is a ghost town at the beginning of the week, and offerings – as well as prices – will change daily.

Pollería: Poultry shop.

If your butcher doesn’t sell fowl, a pollería will, along with eggs, turkey and duck – I get my Thanksgiving turkey from José in the mercado and he’ll even pull out those last few stubborn feathers and its innards. Alternately, the chicken shop may be a roasted chicken distributor, too, AKA your Sunday night cooking solved.

Repostería: Pastry shop.

Manu Jara Dulceria Sevilla

If you see a line out the door around January 5th, chances are you’re staring down a repostería, or a fancy pastry shop. While I’m not keen on Spanish sweets, all of the abuelitas congregate here to buy cakes and sweets, though it’s different from a cafetería in that it usually doesn’t have room to snarf the pastel with a coffee or anisette.

De Compras

Copistería / Papelería: Copy shop / paper goods store.

I remember a crisis of not having enough pens to write down my observations of Seville, post-study abroad, in a travel journal. It was my first time in Seville and I’d run out of ink, so I went to the sure-fire place to find them: the Corte Inglés. A simple pack of three Bics put me back 3,50€, or the price of a beer and tapa around the corner.

Copy shop in Spain copisteria papeleria

Copisterías are commonplace, and they do more than print, scan and fax: you can find any school supply you can think of, buy political and geographical maps of Spain and the EU and go insane over the sheer amount of colors and sizes of plastic wallets the peddle. Nope? Just me? Imagine it like an all-ages Kinkos.

Papelerías are much the same, just with no fancy copy machines. What they lack in inkjet they make up for in beautiful journals, fancy wrapping paper and a rainbow of highlighter colors.

Ferretería: Hardware store.
Hardware store Spain

My best friend back home is part of a hardware store dynasty, and I’d often frequent with my handyman father. Spanish ferreterías are a bit backwards because there are lots of small items, many will ask you to place an order and they will find it for you. This is the place to get keys cut, buy tools and even find that old-lady carrito you’ve been eyeing. Some ferreterías are specialized in cookware, others in making plaques and signs, and even others sell kitchen goods.

Leroy Merlin is my new drug.

Florestería: Florist.

It may be easier to pick up a few spare carnations from the peddlers on the street or the venta ambulante, but florists still exist. Just don’t expect to buy satchels of seeds here – floristerías are strictly for flower arrangements and decorative bits and bobs.

Librería: Bookshop.

old world bookstore spain

Don’t fall victim to this false friend – a librería is a place to buy novels and books…and the random book bag, bookmark or greeting card. You’ll find them clustered near schools and they generally have all of the required reading textbooks for private schools on hand.

Lencería: Lingerie shop.

Before you get your panties in a bundle (ha!), remember that lencerías sell a bit more than undergarments. General hoisery is a hot commodity come Autumn, and I’ve also picked up sewing items like thread and buttons here, along with yarn for crochet. Just be sure to push past the old ladies who wouldn’t be caught dead buying their stockings in Calzedonia (they also sell push-up leggings there, DIOS SANTO!)

Peluquería: Salon.

Much like their American counterparts, salons in Spain are a haven for gossip and hairspray. I can’t say enough about Top Image in Seville, where I entrust my locks and secrets to Loli – yes, I plan my visits to Seville around her openings. If you’re looking for a beauty parlor that has a larger array of services, try a spa o gabinete de belleza. A beauty cabinet. Men head to a barbería (as in the Barber of Seville, of course!) or peluquería de hombres.

Perfumería: Drugstore.

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The first time my Spanish roommate sent me out to the grocery store alone, she told me to pick up all of the cleaning products, detergent and toilet paper at the perfumería around the corner from our apartment. Once I fought my way past the fragrances and makeup, all of the cleaning products on the market were stuffed into shelves, from toilet bowl cleaner to air fresheners.

But I accidentally bought myself conditioner instead of shampoo. Those were rough, greasy times. I find that supermarket prices are more appealing, and there are only so many little abuelas I can fend off on any given morning.

Semillería: Nursery.

Maybe it’s just because there’s one on my block, but this is the sort of nursery where you can buy seed satchels and…snacks? Most of the rest of society go to a vivero. And, for the record, I’m still a little wary of wandering into the semillería.

Tintorería: Dry Clearners.

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Not to be confused with lavandería, or laundromat, tintorerías are far more common in Spain than a coin-operated bank of washers and dryers. Check those tags from Zara – there’s a lot more delicate material and non-washables on sale, and Spanish washing machines are notorious for tearing apart clothing!

Zapatería: Shoe store.

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Most of my disposable income went to shoe shopping when I first moved to Spain. I was doing a great deal of walking around town and quickly wore out the soles on all of the ballerina flats I bought. Be aware that European shoes have different number sizes than in the US, which leads to a whole lot of confusion and squished toes on your first few trials.

The non -erías

Ok, so I lied – not all shops and eateries end with -ería. Several other important shops and stops exist, though many with not-so-clear perameters as to what they sell.

Farmacia: Pharmacy.

Denoted by a green cross, farmacias sell strictly prescription and nonprescription drugs. Well, until you add reading glasses, walkers, diapers and pacifiers. Clients tend to be loyal to their local pharmacy, so products may vary according to location. Do keep in mind that should a pharmacy not have what you need, you can have it ordered for next day service, and there are 24-hour pharmacies in every large urban center.

Tobacos / Estanco: Tobacco shop.

My roommate once asked me if I wouldn’t mind picking up an application form for a university scholarship while she was sick. I marched over to the university, stood in line at the purser’s window and ask for the solicitud, only to be told it could be procured at the tobacco stand across the street.

….ok.

Emblazoned in crimson and gold with a large T announcing them, tobacco shops – usually called estancos – sell packs and cartons of cigarettes, pipes, loose-leaf tobacco, lighters and sometimes even shishas (hashtag Spain is different). But it’s also a shop I frequent to buy stamps and envelopes without the long line at the Oficina de Correos, and they also have copies of rental contracts, declaraciones jurídicas and other forms needed for everyday Spanish bureaucracy.

Oficina de Correos: Post Office.

Every address in Spain is assigned to a post office, and Correos is the national mail service, owned and operate by the Estado. For whatever reason, your assigned office is never the closest one, and no matter when you go, there’s always a line worse than waiting to see the belén on Christmas Eve.

Mail service is only the tip of the iceberg here: you can also register to vote, pay traffic fines and utility bills or send money by wire. Just take a number and wedge yourself between the other 100 people there any given morning.

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Supermercado: Supermarket.

Though the older generation still prefers buying at their market and small shops (this abuelita included), supermarkets are one-stop shopping. Imagine the shock and awe when you walk into an American superamarket for the first time in 10 months after having somehow subsided on whatever was packed into a two-aisle ‘supermercado’ in your neighborhood.

I was so spoiled living next to an Alcampo for four years, but have come to relish buying from the market a few blocks away.

Alimentación / Bazar: Mini-mart.

There’s really no way to describe these sorts of shops. Sometimes they have food, sometimes they don’t. Many sell cheap home furnishings, clothes or household items. Cold beer is usually a feature in them all, and even the lady at my alimentación has taken to calling me gorda for my addiction to the green Doritos. These shops are usually open on Sundays, too, so if you realize the fridge is empty and the súpers closed, there’s always the alimentación.

Ultramarinos: Canned goods shop.

Somods Bulcher Candy Shop

How I wish supermarkets hadn’t given these age-old shops a run for their money (as in, livelihood for skyrocketing rent costs). Ultramarinos sold the gamut of dry goods, from legumes to tins of conservas like fish or vegetables. They were usually narrow and stocked from floor to ceiling with merchandise. There’s still one on Calle Arfe in the Arenal district and another near the Setas on Puente y Pellón, but I feel that their days are contados

Kiosko: Newspaper kiosk

One of very few words in Spanish that begin with K, these pop-up booths sell newspapers and magazines. Check near touristic sites in major cities if you’re looking for international press or in a Corte Inglés.

Olé tú if you find one of the kiosks that sells candy and cans of pop instead of reading materials. Have small change handy.

Tienda de ropa / regalos / mascotas / deportes: Shop.

Any shop specialized in a certain kind of merchandise can be characterized as a tienda de something. If you’re confused about any of the -erías above, tienda can subsitute whatever you’re looking for.

Agencia de viajes / inmobiliaria / seguros: Agency.

Storefronts that offer a service are typically categorized as an agencia, or agency. Just as banks and bars are easy to trip over, so too are vacation, real estate and insurance agencies.

Locutorio: Internet Café.

grand luxe hostel seville common room 1

When I studied abroad in 2005, Blackberries weren’t on the market nor did Skype exist. We’d check our newly created Facebook accounts on shared computers and call our parents with – shock! gasp! – real phones in little plywood booths. Though they’re not as commonplace as they were a decade ago, locutorios have fax and printer capabilities if you’re in a bind.

OJO!

Opening Hours

If you’re outside of  a major city, don’t count on anything being open on a Sunday and midday closures are also typical. Most small shops and businesses will be open from about 9am until 2pm and reopen from 5pm to 8pm. Fridays and Saturday hours are shortened.

An exception is anything food-related: an alimentación is open at seemingly all hours, and panaderías will open Sunday mornings. And if all else fails, bars are usually open daily at normal eating times. Do note that many bars and restaurants close midday, so you’re better off having a pastry to tide you over.

grocery shopping in Spain

False friends

Not all -erías are created the same: just as you would blush from saying you were pregnant rather than embarrassed, a few false friends exist. If you need money, don’t ask for monería, as this is an adjective for something cute. Go to a banco or cajero automático instead. And a factoría is not always a brick-and-mortar factory but can be used in a metaphorical sense.

Looking for some of my favorites around Seville? Check out my Seville Superlatives list or let me know about your tried and true! And now that you’re a better shopper than the abuelitas in Triana, why not assemble a Cesta de Navidad for your family?

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

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

One feed down, six more to go today.

cute baby in a hat

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

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

The first 100 days

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

The first six weeks – “La Cuarentena”

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

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

He was healthy; I was besides myself.

new mom in Spain

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

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

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

^^^

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

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

ill love you forever book

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

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

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

^^^

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

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

The first three months

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

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

little dude big roar

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

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

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

The first eight months

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

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

Playa de las Catedrales

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

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

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

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

On Breastfeeding

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

hungry baby

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

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

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

^^^

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

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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.

baby tummy time

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

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

On Returning to Work Post-Maternity Leave

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

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

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

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

Baby's first glimpse of the ocean

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

Ugh.

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

^^^

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

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

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

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

^^^

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

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

On First-time Parenting

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

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

Baby in my arms

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

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

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

On Mommy Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Motherhood and What Comes Next

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

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

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

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

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

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

^^^

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

No, hija, your womb is all clear.

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

The Guire Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth

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

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

The Guiri Guide to Pregnancy in Spain

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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 the 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. I looked up articles about hypnobirting and doula services. 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 to remember 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

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