Today is the 5th birthday of our daughter Lucy, our little Mexicana. Lucy was born on Labor Day, May 1st in Mexico City. When I tried to explain the pun that I was in labor on Labor Day, it just didn’t translate well. My friends just smiled politely at me.
Having a baby in a foreign country was the biggest set-up for culture shock that anyone can experience, in my humble opinion. It was like having a baby in the 1950s with all the modern technology of the 2000s. I was totally unprepared for my own intense reactions to “the way things are done” in my new country. Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones, maybe I was just at the brink of “losing it”. It’s not an experience I recommend to anyone. I was just glad that I had done this before in America. I knew what was medically necessary and what was just local traditions imported into a modern medical facility.
The hospital we chose was one of the best private hospitals in Mexico City, and really, they had all the most modern equipment anyone could want… it’s just that not everyone knew how to use it! For example, my doctor who had studied in America for a while and finished his degree in Spain, had a new 3D ultrasound machine right in his office. For each visit, I received a DVD with a copy of his ultrasound exam for that week. It was really cool… but I quickly got the feeling that he didn’t really know how to read the thing and was just playing with his new toy- testing out new features of the machine each week. It was amusing, but it didn’t raise any red flags yet.
My first hint that this was not going to be the smooth sailing that I planned was when we had our final visit before our due date arrived. Sitting in his office he said to me, “So, do you want me to do anything else while I’m in there, like tie your tubes or give you a tummy tuck?” I sat there with a blank look on my face as I contemplated, “how the heck to you do THAT from THAT angle?” Not that I was opposed to a tummy tuck, but that’s when it occurred to me that we were talking apples and oranges here. Apparently in our socio-economic class ALL women schedule a cesarean birth, for the convenience of everyone involved and for the esthetics of being bikini ready just days after birth. I said, “What do you think you’re going to be doing IN THERE? You just show up and catch the baby- I’ll do all the work.” Because he was eager to please his only American patient, he nervously consented.
The night that I went into labor, my doctor was on a plane returning from a conference in San Francisco, California. He begged me to hold on until he arrived at the hospital. I obliged. We met him at the hospital and though he was cheerful (and a bit more excited than I expected a doctor to be) he scolded me a bit. “See this is why we schedule it, so the doctor doesn’t miss it.” I thought, “I’m sure I could have managed this without you.”
I DID like my doctor though. When he was in the room, I was sure to get my own way on every detail. I wasn’t a diva about the whole thing, but I knew that certain things were not necessary so I refused to consent to them- you do not need to be totally naked nor shaved anywhere in order to give birth naturally. Then I would hear the nurses in the hall way complaining loudly. When the doctor left the room, the fear of the nurses gripped my heart. It really is the nurses that kill you or keep you alive. I knew that.
Sparing the details, at the hour of delivery I had to point blank tell everyone that I wanted my husband in the room with me- so MAKE IT HAPPEN NOW! They balked, I threw out my trump card: That’s how we do it in America. So Josh was suited up and ushered into the room just moments before the anesthesiologist leaned down to me and asked, “do you remember how to push?” I smiled and said, “watch me.” I asked the doctor if he was ready on his end and in one push, Lucy popped out. When my doctor said “WOW!” very loudly, I wondered if this was the first time he had ever seen that done before.
I didn’t get to hold Lucy, they showed her to me and then whisked her off to the nursery and threw me into a recovery room all by myself. After about an hour I decided I wanted my baby and started asking for her. About 6 hours later, someone brought her to me. I kept saying, “I want to nurse her” and they insisted that I didn’t make any milk yet. I counter-insisted, “bring me a baby and I’ll show you!” What they meant was, women in your social class don’t nurse their babies.
At some point the nurses wrapped my stomach and my legs in very tight ace bandages. I wondered if they could see that I didn’t have any stitches on my stomach… and the legs, well, if I didn’t die of a blood clot then I would surely succumb to heat stroke! When my feet swelled up and turned purple I took off the bandages. My nurse about had an INFARTO (heart attack). I just persisted in telling them that I don’t want them or need them so quit worrying about those dumb bandages! What they were telling me was that women in my class care very much about looking skinny.
The nurses also told me that Lucy was looking a little pale and I should lay her in the sun. I told them, “I’m a white woman- this is the color of white babies.” I couldn’t wrap my brain around that one. I just shrugged.
In addition to all of this, a lawyer came to our room and filled out the paperwork for Lucy’s birth certificate. That was very convenient for us, but she was terribly confused when we didn’t want to give Lucy the traditional Mexican last name of father’s family name + mother’s family name. We debated and then stuck to our guns, we are Americans, she will have an American first, middle, and last name. It about threw that poor lawyer into a fit.
Later in the day, I found myself all alone in the room. There was a knock at the door and in walked a tiny woman in a Catholic nun’s habit. She asked me if I would like to take The Lord’s Supper (Communion). Being a Christian, I knew what that this was part of the Catholic heritage of Mexico, but it was also part of MY religious heritage too. I gladly accepted. She gave me the elements (a tiny cracker an a plastic cup of juice), said a prayer and then I took over. I grabbed her by the arms and burst out in worship to the Lord- the Spirit just took over me! I started praying in the Spirit. This poor woman was clearly shocked and overwhelmed by what I was doing. But I couldn’t help it, I worshipped. When I released her arms, she left the room shaking from head to toe.
I needed that moment with God to sustain me for the rest of my time in the hospital.
The next day and a half was filled with more new Spanish vocabulary than my sleep deprived brain could absorb. Hospitals come with their own language and if you don’t know what a Tamiz is (a lab exam for the baby) or a Dia de Alto (discharge day) then you won’t learn those words any faster when someone yells them at you like you are deaf. Speaking louder and faster does not explain the definitions.
Eventually I broke down and cried, “I just want to go home! Someone bring me my baby and let’s get out of here” After hours and hours of asking the nurses to bring Lucy to me, we finally called the head nurse to our room and asked what the hold up was. Apparently, no one had told us that we must PAY FOR OUR BABY before we would be allowed to have her back. Josh had to find the person who had our hospital bill, go down to the administrative office and pay the bill, return to the nursery and show the head nurse the receipt, THEN they would start the check list to discharge me and the baby. No one had explained this to us. It did not occur to one person that we did not know the hospital procedures. Not one person bothered to explain step by step what was required of us. Live and learn.