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!

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.)

 

 

How to Speak Like a Mexican: La Última y Nos Vamos

Here in Mexico, you can often hear the expression “la última y nos vamos” (last one, then we leave) in reference to one last beer before heading home.

LIES.

Last night Jorge and I went out with some friends and decided to stop by one last bar, where our buddy Carlos said, “la última y nos vamos”.

Then, this showed up at our table:

There were only 3 people drinking beer.

By

How to Speak Like a Mexican: 8 Days a Week

There are 7 days in a week. I can prove it:

  1. Sunday
  2. Monday
  3. Tuesday
  4. Wednesday
  5. Thursday
  6. Friday
  7. Saturday

I can even prove it in Spanish:

  1. Domingo
  2. Lunes
  3. Martes
  4. Miércoles
  5. Jueves
  6. Viernes
  7. Sábado

And yet, in Mexico they typically refer to a week as “8 days”. Guess how long 2 weeks is in Mexico? 15 days.

Wrong, isn’t it? Well, maybe not.

Let’s say you’re talking to your friend Pepe on a Sunday, and you decide to get together again on the following Sunday. In English, we would say, “next Sunday” or “a week from today”. In Mexico, however, they might say “domingo en 8 días” (Sunday 8 days from now).

Turns out that in Mexico, they count the current day as well.

So if you’re planning coffee with Pepe 1 week from today (a Sunday), you would count the following days:

  1. Sunday (today)
  2. Monday
  3. Tuesday
  4. Wednesday
  5. Thursday
  6. Friday
  7. Saturday
  8. Sunday (the day you want to hang out with Pepe)

So next time a Mexican tells you they’ll see you in 8 days, they mean they’ll see you this day next week!

Mexican Safety

Mexico is not known for its safety procedures. I’ve seen numerous construction workers with no helmets, carseats are almost unheard of, and 99% of taxis have no seatbelts in the back seat. I can’t say this is a bad thing because there don’t seem to be more accident-related deaths in Mexico than in the States.

Still, one Mexican safety practice that always makes me laugh a little is the Coke bottle cover-up. Anytime you see rebar sticking out of a not-completed house (or sometimes a completed house!), it will probably have Coke bottles stuck on it to prevent injury.

I saw this beauty on the street the other day:

Coca-Cola… saving lives, one piece of broken metal at a time.

How to Speak Like a Mexican: Bocado

As I watched my suegro eat some relleno negro for lunch one day, I pointed out that he was using his tortilla as a utensil. He would tear off a piece of tortilla, fold it into a U-shape, then push the relleno negro onto the tortilla with a spoon to create the perfect bite.

Using tortilla bits as utensils is popular throughout Mexico, but my suegro taught me that the Yucatan has a special word for this tradition: un bocado, literally meaning “a bite”, is the process of using your tortilla in place of a fork or spoon.

I’m not sure if the phrase is used the same way in other parts of Mexico, but I think it’s a great way to cut down on dishes.

Relleno negro before "el bocado"

Relleno negro with "el bocado"

Hot Chocolate and a Plastic Baby Jesus!

Our weekend trip to visit Jorge’s family in the village of Chabihau was just what I needed! Tomorrow I’ll tell ya’ll about my bad Saturday morning of culture shock as we tried to get there via public transportation, but today I want to focus on the Rosca de Reyes tradition.

January 6 is Dia de Reyes (3 Kings Day) in Latin America, where the 3 Wise Men visit children and bring them gifts. However, Mexican adults can also join in on the traditions by cutting the Rosca de Reyes cake. Each of these oval-shaped cakes has 3 tiny plastic baby Jesus figurines baked inside. The people who cut a piece with a baby Jesus have to pay for tamales for everybody on February 2, Dia de la Candelaria, another holiday. It’s like 2 parties in 1!

Here we are with Jorge’s father’s family, cutting our Rosca de Reyes accompanied by some traditional hot chocolate.

Jorge peering in to see a baby Jesus figurine

Jorge's dad got the baby Jesus, too!

It was bad luck for our family because Jorge, his dad and I all got baby Jesuses (sp???) in our pieces of rosca, so we’ll have to chip in for the tamales in February!

The kids had some leftover sparklers from New Years Eve celebrations, so the little girls all headed out to the street after the rosca cutting to play. (I love how in Mexico, 5-year-olds can play with sparklers and fun snaps with little to zero adult supervision.)

Did any of you get a plastic baby Jesus this weekend? Or maybe play with fireworks unsupervised?

 

 

Grapes, Cider and Family on NYE

We didn’t do anything crazy for New Years Eve 2012/2013. Most of my friends went down to party in Playa del Carmen, but we opted for dinner with my in-laws since we hadn’t seen them much over the holidays.

Jorge’s family is Catholic, so of course we went to the NYE mass at 10 pm. They had set up a very pretty nativity scene, and it was fun to see everyone so dressed up at church.

Many Spanish-speaking countries (Mexico included) have a tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight on New Years Eve to represent 1 resolution for each month of the year. As you can imagine, grape prices can skyrocket on December 31! My suegra was fully prepared with a bowl full of grapes for us, along with cider (sidra) to wash it down.

My suegro and brother-in-law

My suegra and me

My friend Penny joined us just in time for grapes at the stroke of midnight, and we spent the rest of the night talking, having dinner and drinking Baileys. I turned in at 5:30 am, but the rest of the family stayed up well past dawn. I can’t compete with the Mexicans when it comes to staying up late.

What did you do for NYE? Were there grapes involved?

USA vs Mexico: Education

Readers are always asking me to write more about the day-to-day aspects of living in Mexico, and my first 4 years in Cancun were spent at college. My college experience in Cancun included so many ups and downs, mainly because the educational system in Mexico is so vastly different from schools in the USA.

My Cancun university had a hands-on approach with zero textbooks. I was interning at large beach resorts and giving presentations on luxury travel destinations while my friends back in the States were writing papers and doing homework. But did I graduate with more knowledge than my USA counterparts? I don’t know.

Me and some classmates at an event we organized for a college course

To sort out my ideas, I’m going to go through different areas of study to give my thoughts on which of the two countries has the upper hand in each specific area. Please keep in mind that this is from my experience (kindergarten through one semester of college in Virginia, then 4 years of Tourism Administration and 3 years working in Cancun), and it won’t apply to all areas of the USA or to all areas of Mexico. I’m drawing these conclusions based on the people in my circles of friends and my family, and it’s all highly subjective. You’ll see lots of generalizations here.

Geography and Current Events

The United States is so bad at this that they don’t even realize it. I always prided myself on excellent geography skills… until I moved to Mexico. My college classmates in Cancun knew so much about politics, conflicts and geography that I was dumbfounded. I realized that in the USA, we know a lot about our own politics and geography, but surprisingly little about other countries.

To give you an example, one day at work we found out that me and the other American girl at my office had no idea what the capital of Canada was. However, every single Mexican in the office knew the answer without hesitation. (I later tested my Facebook friends from back in the States, and only 1 of them knew the answer.) Humiliating.

Math

I will give this one to the United States, but with caution. In my experience, my USA classmates were great at math while my Mexican classmates hated it with a passion. However, I was in advanced level math courses throughout high school, while the tourism majors of Cancun aren’t exactly known for their math skills.

My husband Jorge’s great at math and majored in engineering. We should have a math contest sometime. 🙂

The Arts

USA wins this one by a landslide. American schools are very focused on creating “well-rounded” students, and in Virginia we were always required to take some form of art or music class. Here in Cancun, when they incorporated an art history class into my school, my classmates petitioned to have it taken away because it “wasn’t useful”. I’ve also never heard of a choir class, art class or band class here in Cancun, although I do know lots of musicians and singers!

That being said, Mexicans will always be better dancers. Sorry America. We’re not sexy.

On a class trip with my classmates to Xcaret

Business

Mexico wins. By a lot.

Remember how USA schools love well-rounded students? Well, that has a downside. We spent so much time in Virginia high school building all kinds of knowledge in different subjects that we never learned how to actually do anything. My first semester of university in Cancun, many class conversations went way over my head because my Mexican classmates had been taking business-related courses since they were 15.

I also see tons of people my age in Cancun starting up their own businesses. The USA also has many talented entrepreneurs, but not nearly as many as I’ve seen in Mexico.

Language

Mexico wins here, but let’s remember that I live in Cancun, where almost everybody has to speak some level of English. English language classes in Mexico (at least up until high school) are atrociously bad… many Mexican friends have taken 5+ years of English and can barely hold a conversation. However, once they’re thrown into the working world, they pick up the language impressively fast. Back in Virginia, most students didn’t seem to want to learn more than a conversational level of any language, even though the classes were great, but that might be from lack of necessity.

Spelling and Grammar

I’ll be honest, I used to think Mexican schools in general must have horrible spelling and grammar programs. My Cancun college classmates often asked me (the gringa) how to spell words in Spanish, and it’s common practice here to replace periods with commas. I also have many Mexican friends who misspell everyday words on a regular basis. My mind changed when I began working as a copywriter in an office with many Mexican copywriters, all with flawless spelling and grammar, not to mention great writing skills.

The invention of Facebook also made me realize that Americans don’t spell very well, either!

All that being said, I still have to give the win to the USA in this category.

On a class trip with my college buddies to the state of Chiapas

It looks like the two countries are pretty even in the score (3 – 3), and I received a great education in the USA and Mexico. I feel the USA focuses more on “book learnin” while Mexico has a more “real world” approach. I feel truly blessed to have experienced the strengths of both educational systems.

The main point of this post isn’t so much to enforce my own views (which are constantly changing), but to create a dialogue and hear the school experiences of Americans and Mexicans alike. How do you think your education holds up to other countries? What did you like? What would you change?