[27 February, 2015]

feels like the other side of the moon

Because I have been going through pregnancy outside of the US, but still experience US pregnancy/parenting-related culture online, mostly through various blog posts people share on social media, I have been meaning to write down about the differences that I encounter. Full disclosure: overall, I find the US parenting culture personally oppressive. I don't know, maybe because I don't belong to any particular niche, maybe because I feel the pressure to conform from all different sides, maybe because it's more vocal and aggressive in pushing its opinions on others. But I have found it demanding and classist, anxiety-producing and not supportive, rigid and vaguely sexist, overall. This is the culture I tried to escape while starting out on my own parenting journey because I really could not even imagine learning how to do this whole parenting thing while getting to know and bonding with my child while also navigating the demands of the outside world coming from every direction. But those are just some of my own personal hangups.

That said, of course I realize that there are always pros and cons to anything anywhere. What we have here in Russia is far from perfect and certainly less comfortable--because life overall includes less comforts here--than what we'd have in the US. In any case, here are some of the differences that have come to mind so far:

  • No one touches my belly here. It's just not done and although in general personal space between people is smaller (just imagine crowded metros during rush hour or people in line breathing down each other's necks and stepping on each other's heals), physical boundaries seem more enforced. People don't hug as readily as in the US and it would be pretty bonkers for someone to just reach out to randomly touch my body. 
    • Also people don't ask me details about my pregnancy and don't offer any needless advice. The most I've gotten is "how are you feeling?" and I have been very grateful for both their concern and to be left alone without needing to explain anything. If I have a specific question or actually need advice, I will ask.
    • At the beginning I thought everyone was looking at and noticing my big protruding belly, but then I realized that no, no one is looking and no one really cares. I mean both people on the street or in stores and people who know me. But since people don't even give up their seats on crowded public transportation, I don't think anyone cares about my condition. This, for me personally, has been annoying at times but also somewhat freeing. I guess I don't like people being all up in my business unless I specifically invite them.
  • The foods I am supposed to eat and not eat are different here. For example, I eat cold cuts and sushi and lots of cheese and dairy (what else are you not supposed to eat in the US?). I also sometimes end up eating eggs that are a little undercooked because I like them soft boiled. I forget what other items are forbidden in the US. The sushi here doesn't really use super raw fish anyway; it's generally at least somewhat salted and/or cured in some way. I also try--it's the effort that counts, right?--not to eat fried things, but rather boiled, steamed or stewed. Fried oil and carcinogens are considered truly evil here, which they probably are. I don't really drink carbonated beverages, even non-caffeinated ones, whereas I think I remember ginger ale being a pregnancy thing in the US. 
  • However, food consumption is fairly strict here, and they really watch your weight closely at every doctor's appointment. There is a lot of talk against the notion of "you're eating for two" and the concept of pregnancy cravings is not culturally supported. Yes, they say, of course you have to increase your intake of certain things used to build another body: calcium, iron, vitamins, etc. But none of this whole pickles-and-ice cream rhetoric. 
  • Overall there are less choices here (which, no doubt, can be both good and bad) so at least I feel less pressure to defend my choices. For example, you give birth in a governmental birth center in the presence of doctors, midwives, and nurses. You don't have to debate the home vs. hospital birth scenario. The doctors consider themselves experts and professionals, and although you are welcome to converse with them beforehand, they will still do what they feel is best (again, potential for good and bad) and the expectation is that you will trust them. You are welcome to choose a doctor whose what-they-think-is-best matches what you think is best, but there is none of the whole let-me-be-a-lay-person-who-has-never-witnessed-or-experienced-the-birthing-process-dictate-my-own-birth-plan thing. From my experience though, part of the doctors' expertise is to trust women's bodies and not do anything unnecessary. Inductions, epidurals, and c-sections seem to be done only when absolutely medically indicated. But let's see how it actually works out when I do give birth. 
I hope this goes without saying that I am not condemning any US-resident's choices or experiences (with birthing plans or eating how they want, etc.) I really am just speaking to my own experience of the things that have stuck out cross-culturally.

There have been other things that, being pregnant here, I simply cannot relate to when I come across discussions in US media or whatever people post on social sites. For example:

  • Babymoons. What the what?
  • Gender revealing parties. Because a) it would be a sex revealing party, you fools. Gender is a social construct that your child will identify with throughout life; sex pertains to the anatomical reproductive parts you saw on the ultrasound. And b) can we take the boy-girl dichotomy to any greater and more consumeristic heights?
  • Speaking of consumerism, whoo-boy, US culture sure is the queen of that, especially when it's playing off of the anxiety of new parents. I just can't with the maternity clothes marketing, baby stuff marketing, postpartum clothes marketing, people getting competitive over nursery decorating. Yes, I even said "I can't." Here I personally find it a pro that there is such a scarcity of products, space, money, and opportunity, that I'll be happy if we can fit an old cradle in our room next to our bed and put a clean child in it. Expectations are lowered to, what I find, a more reasonable degree. Your child is clothed? Great! They have a place to live, parents that pay attention to them, and some toys to play with? Congratulations, you are parenting right! Forget the color-coordinated wallpaper-to-curtains separate nursery room, based on baby's sex, of course. 
  • Finally, I may be old-school, but I'll admit that I don't quite understand the recent trend of naming your unborn child and using that name widely to refer to them before they are born. I get thinking about and narrowing down possible names and whatnot, but for pete's sake, wait until the child is a born human being in the world before referring to them by name. Again, it's just something I personally don't understand, rather than wholly condemn. Maybe because here in Russia you don't name the child in the hospital but rather when submitting various paperwork to have them registered as a citizen (generally a few weeks to a month after birth). So there is really no rush on the name, and people tend to take a much more "let's wait until everything turns out ok and there is a living, breathing baby on our hands" approach before getting too deep into it.

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