Pregnant in Bangladesh
Pregnant in Bangladesh
I didn’t even know where Bangladesh was on the map when I was offered the job. My husband, Randy, had been trying to carve out a career in the international sector after the recession and we were just about broke. It seemed reasonable to me that we explore options overseas because my husband needed some field experience, and we weren’t moving forward at home.
So what did we have to lose? We had talked about the possibility of moving overseas but we weren’t sure I would get offered the job, and we weren’t sure we were ready for such a big move. But then, without warning, the offer of working in Bangladesh came.
Being pregnant in Bangladesh magnified almost every aspect of the discomfort. I walked 20 minutes to school every morning and was a sweaty, dirty mess by the time I arrived.
As we chatted with the Middle School principal over Skype, my husband nudged me under the table. I knew we were moving to Bangladesh. Yes, we would be thrilled to join the team at the American International School of Dhaka. We hung up and hugged each other and grinned. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into, but it held all of the promise of new possibilities, new adventures, new careers, and the life we had been striving to create.
Then, on a Saturday a few weeks after that Skype call, that little pink line appeared. Not only were we moving to the other side of the world, we were going to be parents. Randy was at work when I took the pregnancy test. I had taken many over the course of that year and they always left me with the same disappointment and emptiness. I was completely unprepared for how terrified and nervous I would feel when I finally got a positive result. What kind of joke was the universe playing on me? I was finally pregnant and about to move to Bangladesh.
Can I have a baby in Bangladesh? I mean, I know there are lots of babies born in Bangladesh…millions, actually. It’s one of the most densely populated places on the planet. But can I have a baby in Bangladesh? Of course I can. We’ll make it work, like we always do, I thought. One day we’re going about our normal routines, stressing over the rent, taking the dog for a walk, curling up with a movie and generally feeling dissatisfied with the stress of keeping up with our life in DC. The next, we’re moving to the other side of the world and having a baby.
Can I have a baby in Bangladesh? I mean, I know there are lots of babies born in Bangladesh…millions, actually. It’s one of the most densely populated places on the planet. But can I have a baby in Bangladesh? Of course I can.
When I shared the news with my mom, she cried. Not tears of joy but tears of real sadness. “But you’ll be so far away,” she said. Not exactly the reaction I had always imagined when I thought about telling my mom she would be a grandmother for the first time. It was a punch to the gut, but I also understood her sadness. It was the first of many moments when our choice to live abroad would mean family compromises that can be hard to reconcile. Other people were concerned that my unborn child wouldn’t be able to be president of the United States. I can’t tell you how far that concern was from my mind.
Being pregnant is uncomfortable, no matter how thrilled you are. Being pregnant in Bangladesh magnified almost every aspect of the discomfort. I walked 20 minutes to school every morning and was a sweaty, dirty mess by the time I arrived.
I had a breakdown about two weeks in when the woman we had hired to help cook and clean served us white rice for the tenth time, and I sobbed to my husband that I was pregnant and wasn’t supposed to eat “white” foods. We had shipped all of the baby items we thought we would need, which meant that while my coworkers were unpacking crates of wine and comfy mattresses from home, we were putting away diapers and finding a place to store the stroller.
Pregnant in Bangladesh
The healthcare system in Dhaka leaves a lot to be desired, so I tried to avoid it. But I did have one experience in the maternity ward at the local hospital. I was trying to get a routine injection that my ob/gyn said I needed at 26 weeks, right after I arrived. Not long after checking in, I was ushered into the exam room in front of many Bangladeshi women who had likely been waiting for hours. I felt guilty and also relieved…and then guilty again for feeling relieved. What ensued was an experience in cross-cultural healthcare that I don’t care to repeat.
I never got the injection, even though I offered to pay any amount for it, and I did get a sonogram that I did not want. I felt overwhelmed by my inability to advocate for myself, even though we were mostly all speaking the same language. I also learned that hospitals in Bangladesh don’t have blood banks and are generally not set-up for any kind of complications during or after childbirth.
Other people were concerned that my unborn child wouldn’t be able to be president of the United States. I can’t tell you how far that concern was from my mind.
So, we started making plans to go to Bangkok to have our baby. Medical tourism is hot there, so the private hospital that most expats preferred was said to be like a posh hotel. That didn’t sound so bad. At the time, I wasn’t at all concerned about having my baby abroad, but to be honest, I didn’t have any idea of what was about to happen to me. In the end, I came home to have my baby, and I will never regret that decision.
To add just one more element to what was already a crazy year, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer a few weeks before I was scheduled to go on maternity leave. It didn’t take more than a second to decide that we were going home to have our baby, so my mom could be a part of it.
Airlines won’t let you fly after 36 weeks, so I had a month at home to spend with my mom before I gave birth. As I waddled onto the plane, I did my best to look extra uncomfortable, hoping the flight attendants would take pity on me and upgrade us to first class for the 14 hour flight home. They were all friendly, but the most I got was an extra bottle of water and a kind smile.
When we finally got off the plane at Dulles, it was surreal. How could these two worlds exist at the same time? How could this be my life, but Dhaka be my life too? My mom met us at the airport and gave me a big hug and I was hit with the reality that she really did have cancer. I helped her pick out a wig and cooked her food and watched TV with her. Then I had a baby.
As I stood in the sweltering heat of Dhaka airport, swatting mosquitoes and clutching my baby amidst a sea of people, I thought: what have I done? How could I bring my sweet, innocent, fragile baby into this unpredictable and tenuous world?
We returned to Bangladesh when my son was two months old. As I stood in the sweltering heat of Dhaka airport, swatting mosquitoes and clutching my baby amidst a sea of people, I thought: what have I done? How could I bring my sweet, innocent, fragile baby into this unpredictable and tenuous world?
But even though you can’t drink the water in Dhaka and the food supply is often contaminated, and every minute in traffic you might be risking your life, the people we met in Bangladesh loved our baby. We couldn’t walk two feet without someone stopping to pinch my son’s cheeks or coo at him. When we went out to eat, the waitstaff took turns entertaining him, and no one ever gave us dirty looks for daring to go out in public with our child.
That doesn’t mean that I was impervious to the risks to my child that lurked around every corner in Dhaka. As a new mom, I couldn’t do most normal daily activities without imagining the million ways something could go wrong. But those thoughts would have flooded my mind at home, too.
Despite the initial doubts and the ever-present chaos of Dhaka, my son began his life in a strong community of people who loved him. That’s possible anywhere.
Pregnant in Bangladesh
Top photo credit: Vladimir Pustovit