Now that I look unambiguously pregnant, I find there are some perks to living in a somewhat-less-modern country. People wave me into the fast checkout line at the supermercado, even if I obviously have more than five items in my basket, and defer to me in crowded aisles. I never have to stand up on the bus any more– gentlemen of a certain age will practically leap out of their seats so I can sit down, even if there are still a couple of empty seats further back. I feel sort of like royalty, just at the point where I am also starting to feel quite awkward with my sore hips and penguin gait. My feet are not as easy to see as they used to be, and I recently made a false step getting off a bus– I was sure I would land face-first on the pavement. But a gray-haired gent waiting to get on the bus caught my arm and kept me upright.
I’m tempted to claim that chivalry isn’t dead, and I’ve found one of the remaining pockets of it, but… I don’t think that’s quite it. I’ve seen a lot of complaints from female expats– it seems the local men still feel quite free to catcall women. Just not billowing pregnant ladies. I guess we’re a special category, along with nursing mothers.
Nursing… that was one thing that really surprised me. I see ladies nursing everywhere– in church, on sidewalk benches, on the buses… The formula industry seems to have made significant inroads, which is kind of a shame, but I’m so used to “nursing in public” being a political issue back home. In the US it’s rare to see ladies nursing in public at all, and when I did see them, they were always using these big, tentlike cover-ups to keep people from staring at their boobs. It’s not like that here. Not only do ladies nurse everywhere, they don’t cover up or go hide in another room. They just hike up their shirts, use the baby blanket to shield any exposed midriff, and go about their business. And nobody stares or harasses them or acts as if this is anything but boring and ordinary. Which is great! They also seem to be nursing a much broader age-range of kids– tiny infants all the way up to rather large toddlers. I think it also explains the curious scarcity of specialty nursing bras and tops; perhaps they’re not needed.
I have a theory on this. In the US, back in the fifties, we had pretty much a whole generation raised on infant formula– a generation who did not see their mothers nurse their younger siblings, and who pretty much never saw anyone else nursing, either. So it became this warped public obscenity/nudity issue just because people got un-used to it. Meanwhile, here, the tapwater still isn’t safe to drink– and certainly isn’t safe to feed to babies!– so I doubt they’ve ever had the experience of an entire non-breastfed generation. It may still happen– folks here seem determined to take on all the bad habits we care to export (Frosted Flakes, TV crime dramas, elective C-sections, Starbucks…). But it hasn’t happened yet.
I’m just hoping I haven’t soaked up too much of the creepy attitude from back home, and I’ll have the grit to go ahead and nurse my kid like all those other ladies I’ve seen here– without thinking about it, or being self-conscious. I may have to practice the hike-shirt-cover-midriff move at home before I feel confident.