Breastfeeding in public… in Lima

The boy is almost six weeks old. I took him to church today for the second time. I’m still not used to the additional planning and hassle of taking a baby with me, but I’m learning. At least I don’t have to worry about bottles and formula. But then… I am an American, and I’m not absolutely sure what the “rules” are about breastfeeding here. Back in the US it can be a charged political issue, depending on where you are. Which means that however you feel about breastfeeding, if you do it in public, someone is going to feel that you are A) making a political statement, or B) committing a terrible breach of etiquette.

I’d seen women nursing just about everywhere here, and the children being nursed are a surprising range of ages, so I figured wherever I need to feed him, it’s probably OK.  But I’m still a bit timid about it, so I try to find an out-of the-way spot and not expose acres of skin.

At church, he wanted to nurse for most of the liturgy, so I nursed him in the pew for a while, and when he got fussy and needed a diaper, I went out to nurse him outside and in the church hall. No big deal. The pew was tucked into a corner and nobody even noticed. After church we caught the bus to the mercado, and went to lunch at a pollo a la brasa place. The boy had passed out in his sling as soon as we left church, and stayed asleep through most of lunch. As we were finishing up, though, he got cranky and hungry again, and we had to scurry to pay and leave so we wouldn’t be those people with the screaming baby in the restaurant. We walked out, and looked for a good place to sit and feed him. He cried all the two blocks up to the merchants’ street, where there are nice shady benches.

Those benches are in the middle of a large and busy pedestrian thoroughfare, but I spotted one that was sheltered on one side by the back of a vendor’s booth–something resembling privacy– so we sat down there, next to a nice-looking middle-aged couple, and I rearranged clothes and sling to nurse him. He happily settled in for lunch. The woman next to me asked how old he was, and whether he was a “mujer” or an “hombre”, and what was his name. Then, a lady with a three- or four-year-old boy in tow stepped out of the foot traffic toward me, speaking rapidly and enthusiastically to the boy. I picked out the words “bebe”, “leche” (milk), and “teta” (breast)…  something to the effect of “look! the baby is drinking milk from this lady’s boob!”  Everyone around us seemed to think this situation was totally normal, so I mustered my best smile-and-nod, and we did the usual round of questions again– age of baby, yes he’s a boy– and she did the usual cooing and “bonito!” (or “que lindo”, or “chiquito nino” etc.), and I said “gracias” and she went on her way.

The lady next to me pointed out that he had mushed half his nose into my boob and I should rearrange him to breathe more easily. So I did. Hardly had she finished helping me with my latch when another woman with a slightly older boy in tow stopped by to admire the baby (all the while he is still eating) and to chat with the woman next to me, while they both peered at the baby and discussed the color of his eyes. The maintenance ladies in our building had almost the same conversation about him when we first brought him home– apparently it is a generally known fact here that all gringo babies have blue eyes, but few people ever have a chance to verify this firsthand, so when an actual gringo baby comes along, it must be checked out.

It all reminded me of those anxiety dreams I had back in school, where I’d show up for class, but had forgotten to wear a shirt… I’d feel terribly self-conscious about it, but nobody seemed to notice, so eventually… it was ok and didn’t really matter. Breastfeeding is not political here, as far as I can tell. It’s perfectly normal, and having a cute baby in your arms gives everyone permission to come talk to you, whether the baby is eating or not. I’m still not sure how to react to this, but so far smiling, nodding, and saying “thank you” to compliments seems to be acceptable.

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Manta tying lessons, astonishing weight gain

36 weeks. Wow.

At my checkup yesterday, we found that I had put on three kilos in three weeks, which would freak me out in any other circumstances, but…  for the first time in the whole pregnancy it puts me into the “green zone” for weight gain: above the 25th percentile line, and still safely below the “way too much” line. Hooray!  Whatever position-changing magic act the baby has performed in the last week, his or her head is still downward so all is well.

At class, we all trekked upstairs and tried out different delivery positions for water birth, in the big tub (dry), which was fairly hilarious but also enlightening. There was also an extended discussion of poop (i.e., yes, during childbirth the baby’s head can squeeze poo out of you involuntarily– don’t worry about it!) which I (shockingly) understood almost all of. The lesson here is: if you want me to understand something in Spanish, figure out how to bring poo into the discussion.

Today, we had the internet tech in to fix the internet, which had been out for a day. This meant the whole gaggle of building ladies were in and out of the lobby and our apartment, along with the internet tech, with much heated and unintelligible debate. But whenever I’m in the room, the discussion turns to due dates and baby stuff. I’m getting good at this conversation, because I’ve had it so many times– you’d think this would get boring, but it’s really a fantastic way to pick up bits and pieces of the language. We established that yes, we’re due sometime around the new year, more or less, that we are currently at 36 weeks. The third maintenance lady, whose name I am deeply ashamed not to know, made an inquiry about a “colcha”. We had to consult the dictionary. It’s some kind of blanket or quilt. I dug out a couple of blanket-like things from my baby stash to see if we could clarify– the bombasí was not what she meant, and the hooded knit cotton thing was for baths, she said. I pulled out the manta we’d bought a while back and she brightened up. It was not a colcha or a colchita (the baby-sized version) but she showed me how it was supposed to be worn, and how to arrange it for carrying a baby Cusqueña-style , which was extremely helpful!

We knew that’s what it was for when we bought it, but it was such a small square I could not figure out how to tie the thing. She tied it diagonally, and instructed me to then use a diaper pin to secure the loose ends of the knot. The knot goes up on my shoulder and the body of the manta goes under the other arm. For the two dangling corners of the square, you tuck in the one closest to your body, and the other one can be used to cover up the baby.

I am not sure why everyone insists on covering up babies here. Most of the Lima ladies seem to carry them around smothered in blankets, so that you can only tell by the outline that there’s a kid in there at all. Is this to protect them from… chills? Smog? The germ-infested strangers who would otherwise think it’s ok to touch the baby without permission? It does not seem to be a modesty thing for nursing, which is done quite openly.

3 Boticas, no Methergin

We hit up two more farmacias today, and checked off four more items on our list (nail brush, isodine foam and solution, and pH neutral antiseptic soap)… but still no Methergin.  I think we need to email the doctora and ask where we can find it.

I’m in the middle of typing up our information packet in English, so that the next expat couple won’t have to translate it, and so that we can be extra-sure that our birth plan is something both we and the doctora understand in the same way. It’s easy enough to get the gist of any given sentence, but typing it up formally, so that it actually sounds good… that is a little more difficult. It’s a good exercise for my Spanish.

The hunt for Methergin

Yesterday’s prenatal checkup and class went well. I’m finally–finally!– up to 60 kilos. Which means I’ve gained a whopping twelve pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight. First time I’ve measured above September’s 59 kilos. Current weight gain is still below the 25th percentile line, but at least it’s moving upward at a reasonable and healthy rate. Fundal height is still tracking just below the 90th percentile, so we are not worried as long as I don’t stall out or start losing again. I’m gaining roughly one pound a week right now, so if that trend continues…  maybe 19-20 pounds by 40 weeks? That’s still below the recommended 24-32 pounds, but not a disaster. The book, and the charts, though, seem to indicate that it’s normal for weight gain to level off after 36 weeks. If that’s the case, I’m looking at more like 15-16 pounds, which is pretty low.  We’ll see.

The appointment also gave us a chance to clarify a few things from our information packet. Sometime in the next three weeks, we’ll have to go tour the backup hospital. We probably won’t need it, but the doctora prefers that the place at least be familiar, if we have to transfer in an emergency. I also have to go get blood drawn again 😦    More importantly, we find that we do not actually have to hire an ambulance to wait outside the casa while I’m in labor. That’s just an option for people who want it. The hospital is only about three blocks away, so that seems like overkill to me.

However– and I really wasn’t expecting this– we do have to buy and bring along our own medical supplies for the birth. We went to the supermercado and the botica yesterday and got most of the items checked off the list, including sterile gloves, gauze, cotton, redoxon, vaseline, peroxide, alcohol, two litres of vinegar (for the tub), pH-neutral soap, and a sterile syringe. That last one was a surprise because A) in the US it is nearly impossible to just walk into a pharmacy and buy a syringe, and B) that needle looks huge! I really hope I won’t need it.

There are a few items on the list they did not have at the farmacia we visited. We still have to acquire: isodine foam, isodine solution, 1 ampule of Methergin (I think this goes with the syringe, in case of hemorrhage)(and seriously, any Joe off the street can buy this??), a sponge, a fingernail brush, thick knee socks, and protective bed towels (I have no idea what this means– chucks? regular towels?).

So far we’ve filled up most of one backpack with supplies. I guess we’ll take a second backpack with all the more household type stuff: changes of clothes for us, clothes , blankets and diapers for the baby, snacks, icons, etc. Still seven weeks until ETA, but only three weeks until “holy crap I could go into labor any time now”, so we really don’t have long to get our whole kit put together. It needs to be all ready to grab and go when we need it.

Sleep deprivation and altered tempo: rotten combination

The baby has been messing with my thermostat– I keep waking up at night sweating a lot and drooling a little, while my husband sighs comfortably under the blanket I’ve kicked off. The bedcovers are a disaster in the morning. I had already been getting up 1-3 times a night to pee, and I really didn’t think my sleep could get any more disrupted, prior to the kid’s arrival (after that all bets are off). I guess late pregnancy is to make sure you are ready and willing to go through childbirth just to get it over with.

The lack of sleep makes me grumpy and intolerant.

The thing I am most often grumpy about is the way my husband eats. This has never bothered me before, but now I can barely stand to be in the same room with him if he is eating. Every little slurp or grunt or chewing noise is stomach-churningly disgusting. I actually avoid eating breakfast and lunch at the same time he is eating, so that I can put on my headphones and listen to podcasts that drown out the noise.  I steel myself to sit through dinner like a civilized wife. But it’s not just that he eats noisily: he eats too fast. Like he’s late for something, and in a rush to finish.  Maybe it’s the natural result of growing up with older brothers: if you finish last you have no chance at second helpings?

Maybe not, though. pregnancy seems to have slowed my whole tempo. I walk more slowly. I think more slowly. I’ve been forced by my creaky joints to move more slowly. I probably even breathe more slowly.  I’ve gotten used to it. And this makes my husband seem like a caffeinated hummingbird, flicking from website to website, from the computer to the kitchen, from making tea to pacing the floors. It is supremely irritating.  When he wolfs down his dinner, I feel threatened. Not by him, personally, I just pick up on his frantic pace, and I have to fight to avoid speeding up to match it– it makes some part of me think there must be an emergency, some kind of danger, like we might have to jump up and dash out of the house at any moment. Where? What is it? Where shall we flee to?

I’m worried about this. It’s making me crazy. I feel like I need to go with nature here– slow down, relax. But I can only do it when I’m not around my husband. Even when he’s trying really hard, he seems totally incapable of slowing down. He gives frantic back rubs and staccato foot massages that leave me with clenched teeth. And as desperately as I need him to be present when our child is born…   I feel like I might have to kick him out and let him pace the halls while I give birth, because I can’t afford to have him flitting around making me tense.  That makes me want to cry.

There are a lot of advantages to giving birth in a foreign country: I’m not being coerced into procedures I don’t want, I can give birth outside the hospital with a midwife (in my home state this is largely illegal), we can actually afford the medical care involved, our kid is eligible for dual citizenship…  there is so much to like.  But it’s lonely.  If it turns out I can’t have my husband around during labor, there aren’t any other familiar people to turn to. We know a lot of extraordinarily kind people here, but we haven’t been here that long. Not people I know well enough to have with me for who-knows-how-long, who would be comforting to have around while I am tired, naked, and in pain. Only my husband, the hummingbird.

Taller Prenatal (Prenatal Workshop)

Taller= workshop

Last night, we attended our first prenatal class. It was all in Spanish. There were a couple of sections where I was pretty lost, but– surprisingly, given my extremely limited Spanish– I got most of it. The funny part was that my husband got very little, and his Spanish is way better than mine. There’s an advantage to being extremely familiar with the subject matter– I can kind of fill in the blanks where my Spanish vocabulary fails.

I’m not sure how useful it will be in terms of information, but I had fun and I think it’ll be great for improving my Spanish!

Baby Stuff: What do we actually NEED?

Yesterday, at the mercado, we acquired our first baby supplies: three plain newborn-sized onesies.  I realized while we were out and about, that I really didn’t know what basic things we should have on hand already, when the baby arrives. I mean, obviously we’ll need some sort of diapering provision, a place for the baby to sleep, and some basic clothes, but…  beyond that I feel out of my depth. I’ve taken care of a newborn before, but he wasn’t MY newborn. Certainly, his parents had a lot of stuff for him, but most of it was unnecessary: toys, mobiles, nursery decor, cartloads of “soothing body wash” and baby lotions that we never even opened…

For me, for us, here in the tropics, in an efficiency apartment, without a car… what DO we need?  We plan to stay here for at least a month after the baby is born, to give us time to sort out all the tedious paperwork that goes with having a baby in a foreign country– passports, registering with the embassy, etc.– but beyond that…   I have no idea.  Maybe we’ll go back home to the states. Maybe we won’t. With such uncertainty, and also with the tiny apartment, I certainly don’t want to invest in anything huge and expensive. I mean, we could be moving halfway across the world when the baby is only a month old. Or not. Until we know…

The baby needs somewhere safe to sleep. I’d love to just have the baby sleep in our bed (seems soooo much easier than getting up three times a night to nurse– I often wake up in the night, and it’s a heck of a lot easier to go back to sleep if I haven’t actually gotten out of bed), but I’ve checked the guidelines and our bed is not safe. Too much space between the mattress and the headboard.  And since it’s a furnished apartment, we don’t really get a say in the large furniture. There is just not space to fit a crib, even if I did want one. So… maybe a bassinet or one of those Moses baskets I saw for sale in Cusco?

The baby will need clothes, but…  what kind, and how many? Temperatures in summer here range from about 65F to 80F, so in the immediate term, we don’t need any big fluffy pajamas or coats or anything, but… 65 is still kind of chill for a baby, so probably onesies aren’t quite enough either. What about hats? Do babies really need socks? If I’m doing laundry by hand and drying it on the line…  how much clothing do I need in order to have something clean and dry at all times?

Diapers… ack. I want to do the cloth diaper thing, but I don’t know how many I’ll need to buy/make, given our laundry situation.

Carriers: One thing I don’t need right away is a stroller. I see lots of moms with babies in our neighborhood, but hardly ever any strollers. I know it’s possible to do without. I really want a couple of those shawls like the Cusquenas carry their babies around in. I’m pretty sure I can get those in the city, even though they are not used much here. They’re sold more as “native handicrafts” than as baby accessories. We also don’t need a car seat, since we have no car. It’s not like you can use one of those on the bus, and horrifying as it would seem to most folks back home… nobody uses them in taxis either (it’d be a total waste of money and hauling effort, as most taxis lack seatbelts).

I know there are other things we wouldn’t want to be without, but what are they? How many do we need? And where in Lima can I find them?  We’ve got less than four months to figure it out.