EXPAT WORLD: NEW MUM IN SEVILLE
Like most new mothers, I am writing this in a few precious snatched moments of liberty. In my case, they are afforded by Baby Einstein DVDs, themed confections of classical music, glove puppets and plastic toys. My baby is entranced by them, gurgling and chuckling with delight at the little red cars and yellow birds. I also have the dog, previously spoilt rotten but now emotionally neglected, making the most of this child-free time by perching on my lap as I sit my desk.
Thankfully the three of us enjoy almost reliably sunny walks every morning, so the TV time is very limited - I'm not that keen on a 4-month-old baby watching hours a day, even if it is available in three languages. After three years here, I've now realised that by far the best thing about living in southern Spain is the climate - like California and Florida, it's sun, sun and more sun. Christmas in the UK made me even more grateful for blue skies.
The day I gave birth to my son, Zacarias, here in Seville last September (2006), I had just taken the dog for a walk, when I felt some contractions and headed off to the hospital for a check-up. To my surprise, I was already well into labour, and I gave birth five hours later - very fast for a first baby, and without pain relief, not entirely through my own choice (there's no gas & air here).
Once admitted, it was as I feared, as explained in my previous article -- I had a fight on my hands with hospital staff and their damned 'protocolo'. I refused point blank to lie on a bed with a monitor strapped to my tummy - the worst possible position while having contractions, which no northern European hospital would even consider suggesting to a woman in labour. I made my husband take off the monitor as soon as the nurses left the room, and wheel my drip around the room after me. They tutted and shook their heads while I walked and knelt and crawled. They laughed at my whinging when the gynaecologist broke my waters during a contraction. They looked shocked when I said I didn't want to get into the 'potro' - delivery room chair with stirrups.
The delivery was extremely painful, mainly because the midwife insisted on some strange pushing down manoeuvres which had more to do with pressure of scheduling than allowing the baby to be born in a natural way. Until I screamed at her to stop. I'm assured that this procedure is never done in the UK. The nursing staff here in Seville cannot be commended for their sympathetic, friendly bedside manner, either. In fact, my roommates (we were two to a room), and their mothers and mothers-in-law - patients are always accompanied by a family member, who sleeps in the room with them - offered more emotional support and practical help. On the plus side, I was back on my feet straight away, went home in less than two days and my 30 stitches from the dreaded but unavoidable episiotomy didn't hurt at all.
Home visits from a midwife don't happen here, so thankfully I found an English midwife who came to my house twice a week for the first month and calmed my fears about practicalities like bathing - will the umbilical cord get infected if you get it wet? Exactly how do you put a nappy on correctly, and if a week-old baby sneezes does he already have a cold? It's amazing what a panicky new mother will find to worry about. And so much nicer to have it all explained to you by someone with a Newcastle accent when you're away from home.
Having a baby gives you an invaluable new insight into society and culture where you live. The Spanish love children, and they nearly go mad when they see a little newborn baby. All the neighbours got into heated discussions about whom he looked like more - me or Paco, my husband. Everything is discussed with the same animation here - the price of tomatoes, last night's football match, whom a baby most resembles. Zac was introduced to everyone in the neighbourhood, from the newspaper kiosk man to the breakfast bar man, by his proud dad, including details such as exact weight and length at birth.
His Spanish grandmother adores him and never stops saying how gorgeous he is, in that charmingly effusive way typical of here. She will always offer him unquestioning affection, hugs and kisses and shrieks of delight. The English family are more reserved, although no less loving - just less demonstrative. Seeing my 70-something Dad tenderly singing nursery rhymes to his grandson, who gazed up at him, enrapt, has been one of my happiest experiences so far.
Having a baby also has shown me the less attractive side of Andalucian society and culture. My husband and I were out walking Zac in his pram one evening when some youths drove past shouting 'mariquita!' (which means 'poof'). The reason? Paco was pushing the pram - a bit too 'new man' for our macho locals. The women, however, on seeing Paco carrying Zac in his baby carrier, strapped to his chest, nearly melted with delight. And he got some funny reactions for sleeping in my hospital room, because he wasn't female.
People unfailingly get up for me on the bus when I'm wearing the baby carrier - middle-aged women are the softest targets. Everyone wants to offer tips and advice on everything from how to get rid of hiccups (spit on cotton wool, dab between the eyebrows), how to produce more breast milk (sardines, brewer's yeast and alfalfa) to when to cut those razor-sharp little fingernails for the first time - after 40 days and throw them down a well for good luck. I have great conversations with dewy-eyed granddads in the bank queue. Olive oil cures everything from a sore bottom to cradle cap (scaly scalp) - of course, it's a main life ingredient here. That, along with other Andalucian elements like endless chatter and joy for life, will soon be integral to his world. Lucky thing.