Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone – Pregnant in GuatemalaSeptember 30, 2010 No Comments
Before my husband and I had our two girls, we traveled out of the country extensively. We were college students, complete with backpacks, Tevas sandals, and almost no money. We saw it all as part of an essential life experience. We met for the first time in London, so it seemed natural that we would spend our lives traveling together.
My last year of graduate school, I became pregnant with our first daughter, Scarlett. The pregnancy was somewhat unexpected but well received. But the spontaneity of the situation led to one interesting scenario: a long planned, long awaited backpacking trip through Central America fell right smack dab in the middle of my first trimester.
My husband was raring to go. “You’re just pregnant,” he explained, “it’s not like we have a baby yet.”
But the idea of backpacking through the third-world, carting a baby along (albeit in my uterus) still made me uneasy. What about easy access to modern medical facilities? What about food poisoning? Was the water in Guatemala and Honduras safe to drink? What if I got morning sickness?
Nevertheless, we went. On the plane, a nice Guatemalan woman taught me how to say, “Estoy emabrazada.” (I am pregnant). She patted me on the arm. “That way, you get safe food,” she said and winked. The first time mother in me panicked and the woman laughed. Was she joking? I shot my husband a look but he was conveniently reading his guidebook. “Look, llama rides,” he said.
When we got off the plane, my husband and I quickly had to agree that our former way of traveling, hitching up our backpacks and sleeping on trains or buses, would no longer work. Concessions had to be made. Although I had no physical handicap, there is an emotional reaction while pregnant that requires a certain amount of coddling. Perhaps because it was my first pregnancy, I felt that I needed to treat myself a little cautiously. But for the next three weeks, I became a veritable expert on being a neurotic American pregnant woman in a third world country.
The number one rule about traveling abroad while pregnant is to assert yourself. We planned to visit three different cities in Guatemala. At the first two, the lodging we had booked before we left the states had to be augmented a bit. In the small city of Flores, I insisted we switch rooms to escape from the choking car exhaust that wafted in from the street. I am not one to usually insist on anything, but I had a strong sense of responsibility toward myself and my baby. The last city we stayed in Guatemala was the lovely colonial city of Antigua, which actually doesn’t feel third world in the slightest. Nevertheless, the boarding room we had thought we would use had a griminess to it that made me uneasy. For just a few more dollars a night, we found a beautiful hotel just up the road. It didn’t hurt to look, and I was more comfortable. Whether or not it was an issue of the baby’s safety, (and, to be honest, it probably wasn’t), just my feeling better made the experience better. Another change my husband and I made on our trip was our mode of transportation. Sitting on a brightly colored retired school bus next to a woman with a basketful of live chickens wasn’t appealing when I was running to throw up every hour as it was. Luckily, Guatemala is extremely wallet friendly: hiring a private van to take us from location to location only cost us about fifty dollars, and again, made me comfortable.
I realize I might sound like a prima donna, but when you’re pregnant and outside your comfort zone, there is an emotional as well as physical aspect that goes along with it. Particularly in your first pregnancy, it is important to take care of yourself. While hiking through the Mayan ruin of Tikal, I suddenly got short of breath. Escaping to the main plaza and relaxing on a bench while my husband continued the tour made both of us happy.
The truth is, I love the memories of our trip to Central America. Guatemala presented many challenges, but we had a lovely and relaxing time in the Honduran Islands. I’m glad I went, despite the night I ran back to our hotel room, gripping my stomach after eating a sketchy Caesar salad. Or the time I had to beg the van driver to pull over so I could throw up on the side of the road. The beauties that I encountered on the trip are many: the Mayan women in their multi-colored robes selling magnificent jewelry, the glimmering green jungle we walked through while monkeys hooted at us, the gorgeous and endless Lake Atitlan. I would not sacrifice one second of that trip, even when I was nervous or uneasy.
While in Central America, I had no moment where I had to visit a medical facility, and for that I am grateful. The truth is, even now, when I’m well past the neuroses of first time pregnancy, the idea of a medical emergency abroad makes me uneasy. Would I take my two daughters abroad to a third world country? Certainly not at ages one and three. In the future, sure. But I do think part of being a responsible parent is traveling appropriately, and if it’s something you’re not comfortable with, then there’s no need to do it. But the lesson I learned is this: if my fear had won out, and I wouldn’t have gone, I would not have such wonderful memories. And that would be the real shame.