Being Pregnant Abroad: Ankara at 5 Month

I’m in Ankara for the next six months because 1) We have health insurance here, 2) Hospitals are *way* better than in Bishkek, and 3) It’s both in the middle and easy for all concerned to get visas. In general, it’s a far better experience than being pregnant in Bishkek.
First, having health insurance. Because my husband is employed and received SGK (the national health insurance) and I now have a foreigner ID number, I am fully covered. As soon as I was registered in the system I realized that – for the first time in my life – I could go into any public hospital anywhere in the country and not pay a thing (or pay very, very little). Even the dentists and optometrist is covered. Of course I had health insurance growing up, but premiums are still very high in the US, and there’s always a lot of paperwork. No more. I think the only thing we’ll pay for is a private room post-birth at the hospital, which should run about $150. Seriously, major relief. Other said, medical service is much more in-out, get-it-done than in the US. Don’t expect to find nice spacious waiting rooms with aquariums and children’s play corners in public hospitals. The steel-benched waiting room at the Gazi University hospital is washed in these eerie fluorescent lights that make it look like the perfect set for a B-grade zombie flic. But the doctors do know what they are doing and have all the specialists and all the equipment and resources they might possibly need right there, which we decided was more important than the plush white chairs and free tea bar at the private clinic where I did my first check-up.

Second, things that are taboo (or viewed with suspicion):
– Cat hair. The mother-in-law (and other people I’ve met of her generation) is convinced that cat hair causes cancer and suggested that we should get rid of our [adorable, loving] cat before the baby comes. Apparently the daughter of her relative’s neighbor’s cousin (or some other equally tentative connection) died from accumulating pounds of cat hair in her intestines. Considering that people rarely die of pica, and even our vacuum doesn’t inhale that much cat hair within a year, I’d say that, if the story is true, the woman in question definitely had larger health issues at play. Like, even if she did manage to get that much cat hair through her nasal passage, weren’t her stomach enzymes working? In oh-so-not-related news, just two days ago Johnson & Johnson admitted that some of its products (like baby powder with talc) do contain cancer-causing components. But here cat hair causes cancer, not [apparently] cigarettes, cleaners or toxic toiletries (see below). Side note: I grew up in one household with cats, Guinea pigs, llamas and a rabbit, and another household that always had two cats and two dogs, and I 1) am not dead, and 2) have yet to develop any respiratory problems. Just saying.
– Exercise. My mother-in-law (just MIL from here on) initially viewed my propensity to exercise with suspicion. She was quite surprised when I began telling her that doctors now recommend *at least* thirty minutes of exercise a day for pregnant women. While she may now be scientifically convinced, I think she’s still personally unaccustomed to the idea and I’m still warned on occasion about not wearing myself out.
– Bending over. While stopping to fix my shoe I was told that bending over could cause miscarriages. So, apparently, can carrying children.
– Opening windows or walking (instead of taking the metro) when it’s cool, cold or rainy, as I apparently could get a cold. I think I’m more likely to get sick from not-fresh air or inhaling all the bacteria breeding in public transportation. Related to exercise (above) I’ve also had to remind people that, even if the weather is inclement, in their last few months pregnant women are at risk for edema (sling and blood pooling in the legs, ankles and feet), so it really is better if I bookend my hours of sitting at a desk with walking to and from the office.
– Coffee. Right on spot. Here I actually had to convince my MIL that I could still have some coffee, as long as I keep it below 150-200 mg a day. One of my husband’s friends, however, didn’t know that black tea had any caffeine.

And things that are not:
– Cleaning. Most cleaning supplies have a lot of [toxic] chemicals in them and pregnant women are thus warned to either switch to all-natural products, or get their spouses/partners to do all the invasive cleaning. However, cleaning in Turkey is usually a woman’s responsibility. As my MIL put it, men feel embarrassed/out of place if they have to clean (her youngest son, by the way *does* clean on weeks when our cleaner doesn’t show up and does have dishes-duty three days a week, both of which he does with manly fortitude, so I’m pretty sure this “embarrassment” can be unlearned). Here, however, my brother-in-law’s wife is a bit of a cleaning fanatic, especially when guests are involved. She’s just scrubbed the entire flat (including washing the curtains) in preparation for her son’s first birthday party (and accompanying hive of relatives), and while the kids came over here to stay away from the fumes, she also cleaned all the way through both her pregnancies, which is definitely a no-no.
– Eating a lot. Pre-pregnancy I wore a US size 2-4 (around a size 26 in jeans). As I have started to expand in the last month and most of my pants are now too snug, I looked at a few stores for pregnancy pants with expandable waistbands (For the record, in Turkey LC Waikiki, Defacto and C&A all generally have expectant mother sections). In Turkey I wear a small size 36, which is about equivalent to a US size 4. In LC Waikiki it was the smallest pre-natal pant size they had, and even then some of the pants were so loose they felt they were falling off my hips. As one sister in law put it (half joking about her own post-pregnancy pudge), “Women in Turkey get huge when they’re pregnant”. Uh, gestational diabetes, big babies and pre-term/difficult births anyone?
– Smoking around pregnant women/babies. This is actually something I’ve seen more among the Turkish population in Bishkek, where men can commonly be seeing smoking at a restaurant table right next to a baby. Because, you know, second hand smoke can’t affect children. But watch out for that insidious cat hair.

Though some people really get it. Today I was getting my hair cut (quick plug-in for Loca Kuafor at 170/B on Hosdere – the interior may not look like much, but service is right on target) when the stylist suggested I get highlights too. I told him I was pregnant so couldn’t have anything chemical put in my hair, and he immediately recommended me an all-natural chemical-free shampoo.
Actually, most people are pretty health-conscious. For example, when I’m offered a giant serving of food and I turn it down reminding the offering party that I don’t actually need to eat that much and excess weight gain can be problematic for pregnant women, they *always* acknowledge that as true. It’s just a matter of cultural habit versus the slow integration of scientific knowledge into everyday life. Regardless of whether or not people practice healthy eating, they do generally have a good idea of the guidelines. Some ideas are already integrated; if we have tea at home, for example, I’m always poured a less-concentrated cup and not given a sugar spoon.
Other things are quite nice: people are generally positively receptive to pregnancy (like at work), but don’t make a big fuss about it. It doesn’t define me as a woman. [Unlike in Kyrgyzstan] I’m still first and foremost appraised for my characters, actions and input. It’s not like I’m somehow suddenly validated for fulfilling my female role.
I don’t yet look very pregnant (unless you saw me four or five months ago you probably wouldn’t notice anything), and so I have yet to see what people’s public reactions are. But we’ll get there, and I’ll write another post once we do.

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