Being Pregnant in Bangkok
When my husband and I moved to Bangkok in July of 2014, having a baby was the last thing on my mind. I had just completed grad school, and had big-albeit vague- ambitions for my new life in Asia. My husband was the one with the full time job, while I was about to learn the meaning of that charming term,’trailing spouse.’In spite of my newly graduated optimism, it soon hit me that finding a job (let alone a work permit) in this crazy city was going to be more difficult than I had previously imagined.
After months of submitting application after application to a variety of jobs and internships both within and outside of my field of education, I was forced to acknowledge that landing a full time position in Bangkok didn’t seem to be happening. While this process was incredibly frustrating, it also gave me the impetus to explore the world of freelance writing and editing. It soon became clear to me that, educational background aside, this was the career path that I wanted to pursue. I knew that developing a career out of freelance work would likely take years of dedication, and I was ready to embrace this. My plan had only one small problem I was developing a serious case of baby fever.
I had never been a child who fantasised about someday being a mother, but as I got older and met and married my husband, I anticipated that I would probably have children ‘at some point.’What I didn’t anticipate was the sudden ticking of my biological clock as I entered my late twenties.
I’m not sure if this phenomenon has been scientifically proven but in my purely anecdotal experience, it is very real.
Conversations with my husband about ‘hypothetical’ children quickly morphed into frank discussions about whether we were ready to become parents. My biggest hang up was that I had just started down a career path that I was excited about. I realised, however, that whether I had kids now or later, my career would likely be derailed for a little while: a few years either way wasn’t going to make or break anything.
Ironically, the idea of being pregnant and giving birth in a foreign country wasn’t high on our list of concerns. To other expats, this might sound reasonable, but I think it seemed a little insane to some of my friends at home. I’d had enough experience with the medical system in Bangkok that I was confident I would receive comparable if not better care than I would if I was still in Canada. And besides, I figured, humanity has somehow managed to continue reproducing itself since time immemorial-women have always found a way, with or without great healthcare options. And so we decided to take the plunge…
Being pregnant in Bangkok
I have never been pregnant anywhere else in the world, so comparison is difficult, but here are, a few ways that my experience with pregnancy in Bangkok has been unique:
The hospital system
The healthcare that I have received in Bangkok has been amazing. In Canada, healthcare is socialised and while I am proud of that fact I can’t deny that privatised healthcare has its perks. When you are used to waiting months (and sometimes years) for a referral to a specialist, being able to book an appointment on line with the doctor of your choice is mind boggling. Another element of healthcare in Thailand that really stands out to me is how kind the nurses and other hospital staff are: receiving a wai and a smile when you hand a nurse your urine sample borders on the surreal.
The Bangkok heat
I knew the in advance that pregnant women felt the heat more than the average person. Advance knowledge, however, didn’t quite prepare me for reality. My first trimester was nicely timed to coincide with the hottest part of the year in Thailand, and for me, nothing intensifies nausea like a good hot flash. Suddenly, the stairs leading to the BTS station seemed insurmountable, because climbing them would reduce me to a sweating, quivering wreck. I’m embarrassed to admit that I developed the habit of walking until I found an escalator, even if it was several blocks away.
Adapting to a new body shape is challenging enough without rivers of sweat making everything chafe.
I enjoy Thai food, but the combination of spice, heat, oil, and fish sauce can be a bit much when you’re pregnant, especially when it is paired with the intense sewage/garbage/cooking aromas that seem to lurk on every street corner. During my first trimester, it was more than my sensitive stomach could handle, and now that I’m nearing the end of my third trimester, the spice is guaranteed to trigger a delightful round of heartburn. On the other hand, Thailand unfortunately also offers every possible Western convenience food that you could want i’m convinced that I can mark down my entire first trimester weight gain to an overconsumption of Magnum bars. Not to mention the lethal combination of pregnancy cravings and the doughnut stands in every mall…
I have never been pregnant anywhere else in the world but it is difficult for me to imagine a country where people are kinder to pregnant women. I have had many offers to carry my bags or hail a taxi and almost every time that I have taken the BTS I have been offered a seat. Many people, both Thais and expats have smiled at me and asked when the baby is due. Sometimes, the kindness borders on the humorous-the receptionist at my orthodontist’s office always clutches my elbow to guide me up the single stair leading
to the examination room and the guards at my BTS station are horrified when I don’t use the special security gate (even though I am so tall that my belly clears the clamps in the regular gates by several inches).
The crazy emotions
I knew that pregnancy would probably make me a little more emotional than I usually am. However, I wasn’t quite prepared for the floods of tears that I would shed-even commercials on the BTS are enough to trigger the waterworks on abad day (advertisers really should capitalise on this). On one memorable occasion, I was shopping for groceries at a Tops market. My husband had gone into Robinson’s to find a Western Union, and was taking much longer than expected, For some reason, it seemed like a really good ‘idea for him to take my purse with him, so I was stranded without a wallet or phone. As slowly hauled my massive frame around lap after lap of the store, my irritation increased: ‘what on earth is he doing?! I’m so tired.’ However, this irritation soon turned to anxiety, as I started to imagine all the horrible fates that could have befallen him: ‘what if he got hit by a motorcycle taxi?!’ The sappy pop songs that always seem to be playing in Tops did not help the situation, and before I knew it, I was bawling uncontrollably in the toiletries section. Try as I might, I could not stop, so I pretended to be riveted by cotton balls and Q-tips. when my husband finally arrived ready to vent about the ridiculous line- up at Western Union he was aghast to discover his Pregnant wife on the verge of hysteria.
I wish I had a better explanation for him, but ‘pregnancy’ pretty much sums it up.
As I write this, I am approaching the 37 week mark, and I can look back on my experience with pregnancy in this city with a certain measure of fondness. Although it is too early to draw any conclusions, I am grateful that I made the decision to have a child in this city rather than waiting until I moved back to Canada. It still boggles my mind that in approximately three weeks I am going to be bringing a new human into the world. And all the humorous horrible, and quirky details of pregnancy in a foreign country fade into obscurity in light of one central fact : it’s gonna hurt.