When I got pregnant with my daughter, I was ecstatic. I had waited a long time to grow a baby, and so I jumped into pregnancy full bore. I studied everything I could get my hands on. I memorized statistics, recommendations, schedules, guidelines, and tests.
I was determined to have the perfect American pregnancy. Except there was one problem: I lived in Japan.
When I met with my doctor for my first prenatal appointment, we did not go through the traditional laundry list of dos and don’ts. Instead, she gave me a quick ultrasound, took some measurements and told me, “Everything is fine! See you in two weeks!”
Over the course of my prenatal care, we did, however, discuss my weight. At length. I was only permitted to gain 13-20 pounds. And I got some stern talking-tos about my failure to remain adequately skinny.
Then there were some rules that I was not aware of: I shocked my friends when I exposed a sliver of midriff to the cool autumn air. According to them, I should be wrapping my belly tightly to keep it warm.
Now I'm pregnant again, but this time in Indonesia, and learning a whole new set of pregnancy rules.
Jackfruit is forbidden, as its sticky sap will "clog up" the birth canal; you can't kill a bug because that will harm your fetus; you've got to be careful of wind, for fear of all manner of illnesses. I get strange looks when I drag my pregnant self to the gym, and I'm constantly being asked if it's okay that I carry around my three-year-old girl.
Most of the time, these rules are easy to shrug off. But occasionally, they can be frustrating. My Indonesian friends are quick to tell me when I'm doing something wrong. And let's face it, even if you don't buy into the folk wisdom, it's pretty annoying to hear about all the ways you're failing your unborn child.
But here, like I learned in Japan, I’m choosing to focus on the positives. I love getting an ultrasound at each prenatal checkup, and traditional Indonesian pregnancy massages aren’t too shabby either!
I’m reminding myself how women in North America also face restrictions during pregnancy and how there’s enormous pressure to comply with “the rules.” Maybe, just maybe, there’s no perfect, gold-star pregnancy standard ... anywhere.
Erica Knecht is a mother, writer, and professional nomad, currently based in Jakarta, Indonesia. When not gallivanting across Asia with her toddler in tow, she writes about the lighter side of tri-cultural parenting on her blog expatriababy.com