Being Pregnant in Cancun, Mexico

**Disclaimer: This is in no way meant to be a comparison between a pregnancy in the US vs a pregnancy in Mexico, unless specifically stated otherwise. I have never been pregnant in the US except for 1 week at Disney World, so I can only refer to my experiences here in Cancun and occasionally what I have heard from moms in the US.**

So now I am 7 months along! We’ve been lovingly referring to our little guy as “El Bebé”, and he’s a strong one so far. I’ve been blessed to have very few complications and hardly any symptoms. Some back pain has started to kick in a little, the heat in Cancun keeps me from being too active in the middle of the day, and El Bebé is kicking pretty hard sometimes, but beyond that I feel pretty awesome.

Overall pregnancy in Mexico has been a wonderful experience. People here really love babies, and Jorge and I both come from happy and loving families. We are so lucky.

I often get asked about what pregnancy and related healthcare is like here in Mexico, so here is my experience so far in Cancun:

1. People worry about my well-being

Ever since I started showing, everyone around me is constantly making sure I don’t over-extend myself. Friends will tell me to stop running if I rush to cross a street, and strangers are quick to pick stuff up when I drop something (which happens a lot). At first this was difficult because I’m a pretty independent person and I have been feeling really great this whole pregnancy, but now that the 3rd trimester has begun I am so grateful!

2. Everyone loves pregnant ladies

Strangers smile at me A LOT. It’s so lovely. I wish we could all be like this to everybody, all the time. I need to work on that, myself.

3. So much belly touching!

Confession: I am a belly toucher. Pregnant bellies have always been the coolest thing for me, and I love to touch the bellies of my pregnant friends and family. My family isn’t very touchy-feely, so I make sure to ask permission first. My social circle in Cancun is a little different. The amount of belly rubbing has been insane, and I hear it’s considered good luck. Many also believe that if someone wants to touch your belly, they absolutely should… resisting the urge or not being allowed to do so sends some kind of bad vibes to the baby, or so I’m told. In theory the belly touching is fine for me because I totally share that impulse, but for the first month or two after we announced I admit that things were tough. It doesn’t SEEM like it would be a private area, but I realized that nobody but Jorge ever touches me there normally. It was so strange to have so many people touching me in a place I had never been touched before, especially men. If I went to a social gathering, I could have up to 10 people touching my belly within a short period of time. Some people would keep their hand there for a good 30 seconds, some people would talk to it… Once I got used to it, it was wonderful. Now I love that friends and family show how excited they are about this little guy! But it took a few weeks to get used to it, for sure.

4. Strangers are pretty hands-off

Pregnant women back in the US often complain about strangers (usually older women, it seems) who approach them in the grocery store or the mall to touch their belly, ask questions, or sometimes to even say something mean. That has not happened to me in Cancun. I had one stranger touch my belly briefly last week, and that’s it. Last week we were at a Cancun resort on a day pass, and the other guests were mostly from the US. I was surprised by how many American strangers stopped me to ask questions (Boy or girl? How many months? etc) because Cancun locals don’t really do that with strangers at all.

5. More attention from men

When out in public, there are more men checking me out than usual. I also get more honks, headlight flashes and whistles. (Nobody has directly hit on me, though.) It’s nice to know I’ve still got it, I guess, but it definitely weirds me out. It’s always uncomfortable and sometimes scary for women to be looked at in public, but even more difficult when you’re “knocked up”.

6. Guessing the gender

This was the hardest part for me, and from what I hear, I think it happens pretty much everywhere. When you’re not pregnant, people usually don’t comment too much on your body. As soon as you get pregnant, people seem to think it’s open season to say whatever they like. When I was around 4 – 5 months and we didn’t know the gender yet, lots of people would try to guess the gender based on old wives’ tales about the shape of the belly. It sounds innocent enough, but when you have people looking you up and down every day for weeks and making comments on the size and width of different parts of your body, it feels like a violation of some kind. Of course these people have nice enough intentions, but it’s hard to have your body stared at and analyzed to your face. I urge everyone to please be careful about your comments. Many women don’t mind at all, but I have talked to many pregnant women and most of them don’t like being told things like, “It must be twins! Are you sure it’s just one in there? Maybe your ultrasounds missed the other one.” “You’re huge!” “Your butt is flat, it must be a girl!” “You don’t look pregnant yet, just fat!” “You’re too skinny! Are you sure the baby is healthy?” “Your belly is so wide! Your ultrasound is wrong… it can’t be a boy, it has to be a girl.” Etc etc. (Yes, these are actual things people say to pregnant women on a regular basis.) The body goes through a lot of scary and unknown changes during pregnancy and that makes many women feel insecure. My advice: If you want to comment on a pregnant woman’s body, just tell her she looks great.

7. Private health care

I am fortunate enough to have a private health care plan through my employer. Health care in Mexico is pretty great, at least in urban areas like Cancun, and I have several wonderful hospitals to choose from. There are plenty of excellent ob/gyns as well. Private health care in Mexico is only a fraction of what it costs in the States, and the quality is stellar if you know where to go. My ob/gyn charges $600 pesos (roughly $40 USD) for my appointments, and that includes a pretty high-tech ultrasound. Also, they looooove to give you ultrasounds here! My pregnant friends in the US say they get maybe 3 – 4 ultrasounds throughout their pregnancy. I have already had about 10! The downside to private health care in Mexico is that they have a reputation of pushing mothers into unnecessary c-sections. This is so they can have a more predictable schedule and charge you more money, from what I hear. I have read a few articles that show 70 – 80% of births in Mexico are via c-section!

8. Public health care and maternity leave

The free public health care system in Mexico is called IMSS. If you have a steady job here, you probably have access to IMSS, even if you are a foreigner. IMSS pays for maternity leave, which is 42 days before the due date and 42 days after the baby is born. Not bad! The only catch is you have to go to 5 pre-natal appointments at IMSS, I guess so they can make sure you’re really pregnant. These appointments were superfluous for me because I’m already going through private health care, but I have to admit I was impressed with IMSS. Government services in Mexico have a reputation for being disorganized and crowded, but my experience was great. I never had to wait more than 15 minutes for an appointment, and everyone was very friendly and knowledgeable. I even got some free vaccinations! To be fair, the IMSS location where I’ve been assigned is less crowded than most, and I’m able to schedule appointments in the morning when there are less people. I will not be having the baby at IMSS, but many friends have. The downside is that they don’t usually admit you until you are about to start pushing (they encourage you to do most labor at home until it’s almost time, otherwise you will just have to endure it in the waiting room), and they also don’t let anybody be in the room with you… not even the father! And visiting hours are very strict. On the plus side, the medical care is good, they don’t push you to have an unnecessary c-section, and it’s FREE!

9. Going out

Jorge and I are very social people, so on weekends we’re always out on the town. This hasn’t changed much with my pregnancy. I take El Bebé out to the beach, bars (no drinking, though), the mall, the pool, casual get-togethers… pretty much anywhere I would normally go. The only limitation is that I try to avoid crowds. After going to Disney World on the busiest day of the year (New Year’s Eve), I realized just how scary crowds can be when you have a pregnant belly sticking out. Cancun isn’t too crowded of a place, and so far I’ve only had to turn down invitations to nightclubs like Coco Bongo. I know many pregnant women go to nightclubs, which is great, but Cancun nightclubs are wall-to-wall packed, so it doesn’t seem like the best idea here. There don’t seem to be many other pregnant women out and about in Cancun, except maybe at the mall. I’m not sure if there just aren’t many, or if they prefer not to leave the house much, or if they’re just avoiding the ridiculous heat! But so far nobody has gotten on my case for going out, and I don’t get weird looks at bars.

10. Advice

From stories I’ve heard from other pregnant women (in Mexico and the US), I was expecting lots of people to be pushing me to do or not do certain things. I’ve heard people can be pushy when it comes to babies! But no. So far I have gotten stories from other people’s experiences and the occasional tidbit of advice, but nobody has been pushy in the least. Everyone has been open-minded about letting Jorge and me do things the way we think is best.

11. My Mexican husband

Of course I can’t speak for all Mexican husbands, but mine has been amazing. Jorge helps me get up from the couch, he goes to all my doctor appointments, he talks to El Bebé every day, he puts up with the extremely cold air conditioning I want every night, and he has even gone out late at night on several occasions to buy me ice cream. He pretty much does whatever I need/want, and it has been a huge help. I try not to take too much advantage of his kindness!

I’m not sure how my experience in Cancun, Mexico compares to the USA or even other parts of Mexico, but that has been my pregnancy so far. I have been overwhelmed by the love shown to our little family by all of our friends and family. Everyone has been so wonderful and helpful, and El Bebé is seriously lucky to have such a great life filled with love in store for him! We can’t wait to meet him and share him with everybody.

To all the moms reading this: I’d love to hear how different or similar your pregnancy experiences have been where you live!

The Pinche Mayita Mentality

In a few months, I’ll be the mother of a child who is part Mayan.

How cool is that?

This civilization that I learned about throughout my childhood history classes will soon be the ancestry of my very own son or daughter. Maybe my kid’s ancestors helped build the pyramid at Chichen Itza. Maybe they traded with the city of Tulum. Maybe they carved the statues at Ek Balam. Maybe they lived their lives in small villages in the jungles of Yucatan.

Everyone I know in Cancun is fascinated by ancient Mayan culture, locals and expats alike. We go on day trips to visit the massive ruins and post selfies from the tops of Mayan pyramids. We watch colorful Mayan shows at Xcaret or at our resort. We take pictures with the guys in the huge Mayan headdresses on 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen.

So if we love Mayans so much… why do we hate Mayans so much?

During my years in Cancun, I’ve heard the phrase pinche mayita thrown around quite a bit. I guess it would translate to something along the lines of “little f***ing Mayan”. Sometimes people will just say mayita (“little Mayan”), which sounds like it might be nicer, but it never is. The term is typically used as an insult, or to refer to somebody who might be in a lower social class, or just based on their appearance. (The Mayan people tend to be shorter and have darker skin.) The phrase always rubbed me the wrong way, but even more so when I started dating a guy of Mayan heritage then married into his lovely Mayan heritage family.

Over the past few generations, the Mayan people of the Yucatan region have even stopped speaking the Mayan language. My husband’s grandparents speak fluent Mayan, although I’ve only ever heard them speak Spanish. My husband’s parents speak some conversational Mayan and occasionally teach me little phrases, but I never hear them use these phrases in actual conversation. My husband speaks no Mayan, except for a few curse words that his uncles and friends taught him. When I asked why their native language was never passed down, I was told it’s because people are now embarrassed to speak it.

I hope this next generation of Mayans can overcome the pinche mayita mentality and realize just how important and amazing they are… including my kid.

Why I Can’t Compete with Mexican Women

My first clue was 9 years ago at university here in Cancun.

In 1st semester, my Mexican classmates would frequently ask me, “Laura, where are your earrings?” “Laura, why didn’t you do your hair today?” “Laura, why do you have huge bags under your eyes?” So for the past 9 years, I have made sure to never leave the house without earrings and concealer. The comments have almost entirely disappeared. (I still don’t “do” my hair, though, because I’m not sure what that means. Now that it’s super-long, nobody says anything, so I think I’m ok.)

On Saturday, Jorge and I went to a wedding. I put on a pretty dress, strapped on some nice sandals and covered my face in exorbitant quantities of makeup. This time, I was determined to get it right.

And yet, once we were at the reception, I looked around me and saw scores of Mexican women with beautifully crafted makeup designs. We were surrounded on all sides by immaculately blended smoky eyes, perfectly glossed lips and expertly placed lashes, all complemented by skin-tight cocktail dresses, push-up bras and sky-high heels. These women are good. My makeup looked bland and colorless by comparison. So what is a girl to do? I rushed to the ladies room, where I had to wait for two tween girls to take some selfies before I achieved mirror access, then I put on as much eyeliner as my eyes could handle. Better. But still not enough. Eyeliner was all I had in my arsenal, so it would have to do for now. I swore that for the next big social event, I would attempt a smoky eye.

Today, it’s happening all over again. The internet at my house is down, so I had to rush to Starbucks this morning to start work at 9am. I barely had time to wash my hair before I left the house, but I did manage to shower and miraculously iron my shirt. So here I am right now, sitting at Starbucks, with a naked face and damp, tangled hair. This Starbucks, however, is a fancy Starbucks. The people who come here are Cancun’s elite… or at least, they pretend to be. The women here have perfectly straightened hair and brightly colored wardrobes that look anything but effortless, or sometimes expensive workout gear paired with a full face of makeup so they can look spectacular during a session at the nearby gym. When the men walk past my table in their tightly-fitting button-up shirts and overly gelled hair, overpowering scents of Lacoste and D&G reach my nostrils for a brief instant. My ears are filled with the sounds of the baristas preparing Pumpkin Spice Lattes, the giggles of 30-something Mexican trophy wives, and the over-enunciations of Mexican businessmen trying to impress their colleagues. It’s a fashion show, and I showed up unprepared.

And surprise, surprise… once again, I’m the only female in the room with no earrings.

 

A Gringo’s Guide to Being on Time in Mexico

Arriving at social gatherings in Mexico is a true art form. For Mexicans, it comes naturally. They know exactly when to show up for parties, coffee dates, dinners, etc without offending anyone or being offended by others.

For expats, we need a few years of careful cultural study before we finally stop checking our watches in annoyance every time we plan a meetup at Sanborns. When an American says a party starts at 7pm, you can be sure that all guests will be there at 7pm (and leaving at 9pm haha). In Mexico, parties start whenever and end some time before everyone has to go to work the next morning.

Hopefully I can help you jump ahead in your quest to being on time in Mexico by laying out what I’ve learned as an American in Mexico over the past 9 years.

1. One-on-one

So you’re in Mexico, and you’ve agreed to meet someone for coffee, or maybe a late dinner. If you made these plans more than one day in advance, I’m sorry to tell you that your plans do not exist. It’s useful to check ahead to make sure the other person doesn’t already have plans for that time, but your plans aren’t official until you call or text them the day of the meeting to confirm. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Tell the person you would like to meet up with them the following day. Mention the general time (morning, lunch, dinner, night, etc), but don’t bother with an actual time just yet.

Step 2: The morning of said meeting, text or call the person with something along the lines of, “Good morning! Can you still meet me today? Does 8pm at Sanborns sound good?”

Step 3: Now we’re getting into expert level. This is my secret to saving yourself a lot of headache… Text the person 30 minutes before the scheduled time with something like, “Getting ready now! See you in half an hour. Can’t wait!” This will help ensure they don’t forget or back out. It also gives them an opening to let you know if they will be late.

Step 4: Arrive 10 minutes later than whatever time they plan to arrive. It’s ok because they will be 15 minutes late.

Step 5: If for some reason you arrive after the other person, even if it’s 30 seconds after, you have to give a lame excuse. You can just quickly say, “Sorry, traffic was bad” or whatever you want, but you have to give some reason. Otherwise it would be awkward. I don’t know why. It’s just what you do.

2. Small groups of friends

The lead-up to plans with groups of 3 – 10 friends is the same as with a one-on-one. (Confirm the day of, etc.) However, things get a little tricky because the time is likely to be pushed back further and further the closer you get. With modern technology, I recommend a text chat group with this group of friends so you can get a play-by-play. Be ready to leave your house at the set time. If you planned to meet somewhere at 8pm, that’s the time you should be putting your shoes on to leave. BUT… don’t actually leave your house until you get a text from someone saying, “Ok I’m here. Where are you guys?” This way, you won’t be the first to arrive, but you won’t be the last, either.

3. House parties

If you show up within 30 minutes of a Mexican party’s scheduled start time, congratulations: you have just earned a spot on the planning committee. If you’re a family member of the host, you’ll be asked to run to Walmart to pick up soda, paper plates and tortilla chips. If you’re not a family member, you will have to help set up chairs and tables, then sit around in awkward silence waiting for everyone else to arrive. I try to arrive 1 hour after the scheduled time. That way you’re not the first person to arrive, but you’ve still made it in time to score the best taco ingredients and see the piñata. If you have close friends or family attending the same party, you can always call or text them to see when they plan on being there.

Bonus tips!!

  • While Mexicans are rarely on time for social events, they always try to be on time for business meetings, interviews, class, doctor’s appointments, exams and movies.
  • Never, ever make plans with a Mexican on a Sunday. Sunday in Mexico is strictly family day, and unless they’re inviting you to their cousin’s birthday party or their nephew’s baptism party, there’s no way they’re going to make time for you.
  • The Mamá Factor: Even if you follow all the proper steps, keep in mind that a Mexican may still cancel on you at any time if their mom calls and asks them for something. (I’ve had friends cancel on me at the last minute to go to the grocery store with their mom… more than once.)

 

 

Color and Culture on Isla Mujeres

It’s no secret to my friends that I love bright colors. My wardrobe is mostly teals, greens, oranges and hot pinks. So when we saw pictures from the Sea Walls project on Isla Mujeres, my friends and I just had to go!

Sunday morning, I went with Jorge and my fellow gringa  friends Tori and Laura N. to the nearby island of Isla Mujeres to view the Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans event going on in town. Throughout the downtown area, artists had spent the week painting large and colorful murals inspired by local sea life, and we got there just in time to see them put the finishing touches on their works of art.

Small crowds were gathered near each piece with people snapping cell phone pics of these bright and beautiful murals. And of course I was there with my trusty camera.

This was my personal favorite!

I loved this, too. The orange clouds spoke to me.

 

And for some reason I was obsessed with this jade mask. Quite the fashion statement.

 

RAWR!!!!

 

And here are some of my favorite shots from our little downtown Isla Mujeres mural tour:

If you want to see the murals in person, here’s a handy map of the different locations. They’re very easy to find!

And to view the completed murals, check out the Sea Walls Facebook page!

How to Talk to God

Jorge and I went to his cousin’s first communion at a small, open-air Catholic church close to our house over the weekend.

While we were there, I picked up this piece of wisdom:

 

“God is speaking to you today, but not on your cell phone.”

 

How to Speak Like a Mexican: Media Naranja

Many of you may recall from your high school Spanish classes that the word naranja means orange!

But let’s take things a little further, shall we?

Media naranja literally means “half an orange” or “orange half”, but it’s also a common phrase used in reference to your significant other or your soulmate.

Example: Jorge es mi media naranja. = Jorge is my soulmate.

I’m not sure where this phrase came from, but I guess it’s to communicate the idea that two halves make a whole person… kind of a “you complete me” kind of thing. Plus everyone loves oranges, right?

 

Rapsodia Bazar: Showcasing Cancun’s Designers and Artists

I cannot stress enough just how happy I am that Cancun is starting to create its very own art culture.

This weekend was yet another example thanks to Rapsodia Bazar. This little market has popped up 3 times now, showcasing local Cancun artists, designers and small business owners in a 1-day event.

Saturday was my second time at Rapsodia Bazar (more on my 1st visit here), and this time they hosted the event at the large park in the Supermanzana 20 neighborhood of downtown Cancun. I didn’t make it there until 7pm and it was already dark. I also hear they had a lot more stuff earlier in the day, which surprised me because there was still quite a lot left!

Here’s a taste of what I found:

Overall I loved the location in the park, and I found tons of stuff I considered buying. My only complaint would be that some of the items didn’t seem very unique. I saw very similar items at different tables, especially some of the jewelry.

I only bought 1 thing this time: yet another piece of art by Michelle Bordon! (See Michelle’s Facebook page here.)I bought a toucan drawing from her at the last Rapsodia Bazar, and this time I bought a very large hermit crab. Normally I’m not much of an art freak, but I can’t get enough of these. They’re done with pen! This guy is gonna go in my office:

Thank you Rapsodia Bazar for contributing to Cancun’s cultural scene! You can follow Rapsodia Bazar on Facebook here.

A Night at Parque Las Palapas

Parque Las Palapas is one of my favorite places in Cancun. It’s not particularly fancy and there’s no ocean view, but the atmosphere is great.

This park (and I use the term loosely because it’s mostly paved) has a food area where you can buy tacos, tortas, etc, along with tons of junk food carts (yum!) and vendors selling tables of used books, traditional clothing, handmade jewelry and more.

Last time I went, it just happened to be the night of the pageant to crown the Junior King and Queen for the upcoming Cancun Carnaval. There was a pretty big crowd gathered around the main stage at Parque Las Palapas. I guessed that the girl in the blue dress was going to win because her dress was the most sparkly. And she won!

After the pageant, my friends and I strolled around the park and just took it all in. Lots of families, kids running around, and a group of guys playing drums for tips. It’s a fun place to just hang out with the people of Cancun.

If you’re ever in downtown Cancun one evening and want to see where all the local families go, stop by Parque Las Palapas and just walk around for a bit. Maybe buy some jewelry. Parque Las Palapas is located near the ADO  bus station, just between Avenida Tulum and Avenida Yaxchilan.

Discovered! Downtown Cancun Street Markets

Jorge and I have been buying our fruits and veggies at the supermarket for years, but I was intrigued when he filled me in on a small street market that comes to his parents’ neighborhood once a week. I went for the first time this week.

It was just a small family with a few tables set up on a side street, but the selection was just as good as the produce section at our favorite supermarket! And let’s face it, a little more charming.

The vegetables were the best part! HUGE stalks of lettuce and spinach, big cucumbers, lots of chiles to choose from (dried and regular), and tomatoes that were twice the size of the ones we get at the supermarket.


The fruit was great as well, and I even spotted a few fruits that I hadn’t seen at the supermarket in a few months, like red mangoes and pears. The yellow mangoes weren’t looking so hot, but everything else was beautiful.

Jorge told me that they’ve been around since he was a kid and they set up in different neighborhoods on different days of the week. I asked the owner more about the place while she was weighing our purchases, and she told me that they get most of their vegetables from her brother’s farm in the state of Puebla. (For those of you unfamiliar with the Cancun area, the Yucatan Peninsula is mostly limestone, meaning the ground is not good for agriculture. Almost all fruit, veggies, and dairy products have to be shipped in from central Mexico.)

This little market runs from 7am – 2pm (more or less… hey, it’s Mexico), and here’s their weekly schedule:

  • Sunday: At the big tianguis near Avenida Lopez Portillo (no idea where, but you’ll find plenty of produce vendors there)
  • Monday: In Unidad Morelos, just off of Avenida Kinik
  • Tuesday: On Avenida Kabah, across from the Ombligo Verde
  • Wednesday: In Puerto Morelos
  • Friday: On Avenida Kohunlich

Here’s what Jorge and I made off with this week (minus the grapefruits the owner was weighing while I took the picture):

I’ve never bought farm fresh produce before, and I can already see that it looks bigger and healthier than the store-bought stuff we usually get. I’m curious to see how long it stays fresh; I’ve heard from some that it lasts a few days longer than supermarket produce, while others tell me it lasts less time because it has less preservatives. So far, everything still looks great 2 days later, except for the bananas that have started to turn, but that happens to our supermarket bananas as well. We’ll see!

What are your experiences buying organic and/or farm fresh produce? How does it hold up to supermarket produce?