Maternal instincts

Now used to being pregnant, Zara Lopez (not her real name) finds it’s time
to make some important decisions about the future

February 20th 2001

Flights taken this month: too many Stress levels: extremely high Dilemmas
tackled (personal and work-related): lost count

The Christmas break did us all good. It gave me time to recover from the car
accident, and James and the HR department time to get used to the idea of me
having a baby. Although my bosses were pretty good to me after the accident, my
managers back at US headquarters were not quite so understanding about the
pregnancy. I guess that’s because the female expat population is still quite
small, and as most of these women tend to be single, cases of pregnancy on
assignment are quite rare.

In short, not only was the HR department completely unprepared for it, it
was also not sure how to deal with my "situation", as it’s such a
grey area. My project manager’s reaction was also one of disbelief. "How
could you pull a stunt like this after all the other surprises you sprang on us
at the last minute when you took on the project?" he asked in
exasperation. "You know É going from a single person to married with a
ready-made family, and now this – all within a space of what É a few
months?"

He pointed out that I was already quite expensive and this was going to mean
more costs, and probably even more setbacks with the project. His other concern
was that I might not return to work after the baby was born. As if I would be
so irresponsible! But we did have to think about my replacement during my
maternity absence – all 12 weeks or so of it.

Should a local person or an expat replace me? Since another expat would
prove too costly, I suggested a local manager who I am training up anyway, and
it will be a good test of how well she can cope. I offered to coach and mentor
her whenever she needed help, via phone and e-mail. He seemed happy about that
and is even prepared to pay me.

Overall, things haven’t been easy for me these past few weeks. And just to
make matters worse, it’s been quite a difficult pregnancy. I have to hide the
fact that I’m still suffering from morning sickness and have high blood
pressure. I pretend that everything’s okay, even when I feel like retching my
guts up – especially when I’m in the US, where colleagues have been less than
impressed with my "baby" news. I don’t want them to accuse me of not
being able to hold down my job. Fortunately, my Venezuelan colleagues are much
more understanding. They’re okay about me keeping odd, flexible hours, and in
fact, I’m often encouraged to leave early on quiet days.

The other dilemma we have had to deal with is whether the baby should be
born in the US or here in Caracas? Apparently, having a baby in a country other
than your home country can be plagued with problems. What worried me was that
if I had a boy in Latin America, he would be called up for military service at
18. So, we decided it would be best if the baby is born in the US.

I’ve informed HR that I’d like to leave for New York at the end of March, as
I won’t be allowed to fly if I’m more than seven months pregnant. I’ll then
work in the New York offices until a week before the baby is due (around the
end of May), take my three months’ unpaid maternity leave and return to Caracas
for work some time in August.

Pity I’m not in Europe. If I were in Norway, I would have been entitled to a
year’s paid leave. Or better still, Sweden, where they get two years’ paid
leave. Bliss! Even the Brits get a fairer deal, as James keeps reminding me.
True, 29 weeks of paid leave is better than the 12 weeks’ unpaid leave you get
in the US.

But I suppose I should be thankful for small mercies as at least I’ll still
have a job to go back to – something that’s not always possible for local
Venezuelans.

Another question is, should we keep the house in Caracas on, even though
we’ll be in the US for four or five months? As James has found himself an
interim post with his old ad agency in the US, we can probably afford to run
two homes. So, because decent accommodation is hard to find here, that’s what
we’ll do. But it’s going to mean more disturbance for Jasmin and Jad, as they
will have to go to American schools for a few months. Fortunately, Jasmin seems
to be delighted at the prospect of a baby brother or sister, but Jad has been
more difficult than ever since he found out about his new sibling. Problems,
problems.

As for me, I just can’t wait for this baby to drop. The scorching weather is
making it unbearable to carry, as he or she is piling on the pounds. Which
reminds me, more decisions to make, like the birth method. Ugh!

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