February 26, 2011

Visiting the Home of the Aztecs

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am undertaking several major governmental paperwork items this spring, seriously, a large enough pile to constitute a part-time job for a few months.  This past week I finally came to grips with the fact that I'd have to go down to Mexico City (DF) to complete two of the requirements for two separate goals- a Constancia de No Antecedentes Penales Federales (Federal Criminal Record or lack thereof) at the Secretaria de Seguridad Publica Federal, and apply for the baby's U.S. Social Security number at the U.S. Embassy.  While I'm not going to repeat the entire, lengthy, process of finding the contact information, the requirements to fulfill my requirements, and the number of hours it took me to prepare a short folder of precious documents to ensure a successful outing, you'll have to trust me that there are many good reasons individuals hire lawyers to take care of these projects for them.

But of course since I am so D-I-Y, I've always done my Mexican visa applications myself every year and now I figured I was ready for the big leagues- naturalization and all of the baby & Margo's international papers as well.  And so although I knew this DF trip was coming up, I was putting it off since it's kind of a hassle, costly, and time-consuming.  I wasn't even sure I myself had to go, was hoping the SS# could be done in the mail and that Margo could stand in line for me for the record.  But on Monday came the moment when I found out none of this was possible and that it couldn't be put off any longer, or I'd have to wait until next year (why this one had to be done in person when her Consular Report of Birth Abroad and Passport were issued by mail, I'll never know).  So I was a little nervous about going- as much as I feel that I am safe where I live, the stories you hear & the prospect of having a young baby on her first big trip in tow probably added to my sleepless state the morning before we left.  However, after a philosophical epiphany at 5 am that let me snooze for another couple hours, and a successful bus boarding the bus and taxi ride later, we were snug in our posada at the Casa Gonzalez in Colonia Centro, only two blocks from the Embassy where we'd go and be herded like cattle the next morning @ 7:30 am.

But before then, we were received by the welcome wagon in the form of our friend & her dog, who took us for tacos and assured us that I was probably so overly nervous about how things would go the next day that everything would probably turn out fine.  I hate to jinx myself so I nodded but kept worrying that we'd be missing some document, but deep down hoped she was right.  Luckily, the cool thing that was immediately apparent was that our traveling baby was digging the new sights.  Although I was delighted at the Cupcakery in the Zona Rosa, I was surprised to shell out for the most expensive frozen treats ever (even more than Coldstone!) at some average fro yo spot & Baskin Robbins.  Alas, commercialism in its full glory.  A full night's of sleep for her was another great sign although two 4 am starts in a row left me a bit tired the next day.

Again, I won't tell the entire tale here, but suffice it to say after a long noisy night, 2 bus rides, 1 mellow and 1 harrowing taxi ride later,  and several kilometers of walking around, several deep breaths, sighs, and rolled eyes at the Embassy, a few streaks of good luck and brotherly kindness on behalf of our fellow line standers, and a couple of saintly Capitalinos named Damian and his mom Laura who fed us, watched the baby, and brought Margo food & a folding chair while in the 6-hr wait at the SSPF, the DF mission was accomplished.   Afterwards, we saw a few new neighborhoods & several new sights in the Roma and Condesa (particularly cute was the dog park & organic cafe near Parque Mexico). The nervousness wasn't for naught because there was a close call with the paperwork, but it all worked out.   In fact, things we going so well even with the baby that even Margo, a self-proclaimed DF hater, agreed to go see Chapultepec Park the next morning before we left.  At 36, he'd never seen it before.

And so the next morning after breakfast we shunned the radio taxis and boarded the Metrobus down Reforma to Chapultepec, where we leisurely walked up the hill to the castle after convincing them to let us go through the guards' station with the backpack, that it was an indispensable diaper bag (it was!), but dissed the Castle on principle because of $5 tickets in a public place. A quick loop around the lake and the baby began to signal that she was about ready for the trip to end.  Yet we were ambitious.  After checking out of the hotel and lunching, again in the dang overpriced Zona Rosa, we headed for the Insurgentes Metro Station.  Arriving and with 20 cent tickets in hand (rad!) Margo announced that the baby had pooped.  So we plopped ourselves in pleno estacion where I proceeded to change & nurse her for the long ride ahead.  We got psyched and dove in.  8 stops later, we were all sweaty and happy to board the Primera Plus to Queretaro.  Two crappy movies & lots of baby entertainment & a taxi later, we were back home sweet home.

That night, I confessed to Margo that even after our trip I wasn't sure I deserved Mexican citizenship since I didn't technically stand in that line- we'd hastily scratched out a carta de poder letter to let him do it so I could go back & watch the baby at our friends' house.  "I won't make a good citizen," I said.  "Who is?"  he replied,  I laughed.  Overall, the best things to come out of this trip were a greater willingness on Margo's part to explore the big city although he affirmed he'd never live there, and an amazing reaction from the baby- total adaptability and grace under pressure.  Many firsts for her- big trip, bus ride, shower, sleeping in a strange bed, metro ride, and she couldn't have been better- lots of smiles and only cried once!  I am once again in awe of the true mettle of the true natives. 

February 19, 2011

Treacherous Territory: When a Mother Questions a Vaccination

It's never a good idea to stand between two warring parties, you're likely to get a grenade dropped on you.  That's precisely what's happening to me in my decision to delay the application of one currently recommended vaccine for infants.  On one side are the alarmists who believe all vaccines are unfounded for a variety of reasons, and on the other are the conformists who claim that anything with documented history and a scientific/medical association stamp on it must not be questioned.  Approach either side with a questioning mind and you're likely to get figuratively flogged.

I should start out by saying I am not opposed to vaccines in general.  I myself have received the full palette as a child and more than the typical ones as an adult, for having traveled to Venezuela and for wanting to practice preventative health care measures. I should also say that I have a good relationship with my daughter's pediatrician, one in which we discuss all options and I submit to most of her recommendations while she supports mine.  Perhaps most importantly, I take good care of myself during lactation and my daughter is a happy, healthy child- from conception to present- normal size, height, weight, not been sick, etc.  So I think I'm doing something right.

With that said, I am not afraid to go against certain mainstream recommendations.  I always do plenty of research, talk to my husband, family/friends, and pediatrician first.  I've mostly ended up accepting vaccines, but I have questioned one single vaccine's timing- .  After some thought, research, and discussion, I decided to delay its application until my baby is older.  I underestimated what a hubbub this would provoke.

The vaccine in question for me is Hepatitis B.  Honestly, while I was still pregnant and saw it on my daughter's "at birth" vaxn recommendations and recoiled, I hadn't even looked into the dangers of the vaccine.  It just didn't make sense to me why it was now being recommended for infants on the day of their birth, if it was a sexually transmitted disease, and when she was already getting so many other injections.  When my pediatrician explained that the concern was for mothers' ability to infect their infants or for babies in populated day-care situations, and I responded that I'd previously had the vaccination series and would not be putting my baby in day-care, she supported my decision to delay its application.

When she was first born, I was concerned that by attending a state/federal vaxn program, I might run into problems trying to get an extended/selective vaxn schedule applied to my daughter.   I talked to my pediatrician about getting them with her and she replied that whereas she supported my concerns, the advantages of going with the govt. vaxn program is that it's free and fresher vaccines.  I also read that some pediatricians advocate an extended vaccination schedule meant to lighten the load on immature immune systems and pacify worried mothers, such as that found at http://www.askdrsears.com/thevaccinebook/

It gave me hope that with luck we'd be able to get our wishes respected in our own process. So we decided to go for it,  The first time we went, at one month of age in October, we were able to selectively receive only the BCG (tuberculosis) vaccine (which, by the way, is not even considered a high incidence country, with only 11/100,000 case incidence- although its virulence is increasing because of individuals who begin treatment regimes but do not follow through with them due to a migratory lifestyle) and weren't forced to accept the Hep. B vaccine.

The second time we went, in November, we also were let off the hook with Hep B, and received only the first round of the pentavalent combo of Tetanus, Diptheria, Whooping Cough, Influenza B, and Polio at the recommended two months of age.  Unfortunately, they didn't have enough stock of the Pneumococcus vaccine which was also recommended at that time. So we had to wait a month and take her in December- causing the cycles to be staggered for the following months.

The January 4 month round of pentavalent went fine, except for the fact that our original clinic where we were assigned for free general medical services under the new Seguro Popular had become quite crowded and chaotic because they eliminated the turns procedure they had once had.  But since the govt. vaxn program advertises that you can receive vaxns at any clinic for free, we tried to go to another closer to our mother-in-law's house.  This was when more confusion began.  First, they wanted to know why we had gone there.  Next, they were concerned that the Hep B series had not been started, but ultimately relented when I reminded them that vaccines were voluntary, not obligatory.  Finally, they told us to go to yet another clinic in February, when she'd get her Pneumococcus booster.  So we did so.

That was yesterday.  Unfortunately we arrived at 9:15 am and were told all the turns for vaxns were finished- to come back Saturday am at 8:00 am.  So we got up at 6:00 am to be able to be in line early.  When we got there at 5 to eight, they were still readying the premises, dusting off desks and placing out vials of deparasitization antibiotics, which they also offered us after giving us a short talk about their benefits, which we politely declined.  There was only one woman in front of us, but it wasn't until 8:35 that they finally sat us down to register us.  There was a complaint that we were at the wrong clinic, and a complaint that we hadn't received the Hep B schedule. I repeated what I always do at the other clinics, but the head nurse was not having it this time.  Pardon me, but vaccines are obligatory, she said. OK, if that's really true, I thought, then why are folks not being fined for not bringing their kids in for vaccines?  In the end, they only applied the single Pneumococcus vaccine after she spoke to the head doctor and I promised I'd bring a letter to absolve them of any responsibility for us having skipped the vaccine.  She withheld our new vaccine card that they'd issued the baby for that new clinic, and told me we couldn't have it until we brought the letter.  Then told us we needed to go to the original clinic for all services.  Why, why, why?

Margo was angry that she withheld the card and sent us back to the original clinic.  I suspected it had to do with them not wanting to deal with my special requests.  Every clinic feels so uncomfortable (except, ironically, the original one downtown that first saw us but now has the unreasonably long lines) with my attitude.  I get treated condescendingly although I am very polite and firm.  I resist my sarcastic and arrogant urges, and remember this is just about my basic rights.  I am simply practicing my right as a mother (also educated as a biologist) to inform myself and choose intuitive, practical preventative care, like other mothers who question blanket vaccination like in http://mothering.com/jennifermargulis/tag/monkey-study.

However, on the way home, my usual rock of support, my husband, showed signs of wearing down under the constant pressures to conform to the government system.  After a brief shared bout of complaining where we agreed that the clinics aren't really as concerned with protecting babies as they are with covering their backs, his tactic suddenly turned.  Well, the real problem is that you don't want them to give her that vaccine, he said, essentially blaming me for this issue.  I got upset but then remembered a discussion about hospital procedures we had with our midwife after the birth itself.  Basically, because of a perceived hierarchy among the practitioners in the room (that diverged from how I'd hired them to act), and the fact that my husband and doula had not stood up for my requests about a position I wanted to be in, I had ended up being my strongest advocate while I was busy pushing out my baby, and that had upset me.  That's when they both confessed that here folks don't really feel comfortable standing up to authority. 

At first I reacted badly to his comment about my issues with this vaccine, but instead I decided to back myself up.  So I went online and found out that there is more to the issue than just my instincts that it's just a little too early to get the Hep B series applied.  Others share my concern that the implied necessity of the vaccine at birth is overblown, such as those shared at http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2002/01/23/hepatitis-vaccine-part-three.aspx.   Even so, there are still those who feel, quite vitriolically, that any attempt to question mainstream recommendations is unscientific (isn't that paradoxical?). Even though the issue will probably continue to resurface in various guises throughout my daughter's childhood, this has given me a little more resolve to try and not fall into either category- neither exceedingly alarmist nor conformist.   At least my headache has subsided somewhat for the time being.

February 16, 2011

From a tizzy to tranquila in 30 minutes flat

This is going to be a tricky title to explain, but here goes:

When I first started writing this post, I was coming off a highly charged state, having, after several phone calls and 2 visits to the bank, unsuccessfully attempted to pre-pay for my husband's Mexican passport application for which we have our appointment tomorrow morning.  I was in a rage, but trying not to expose my husband or daughter to my anger, because they certainly were not responsible for the situation.  So I penned about 2 pages in my journal replete with expletives, came upstairs and tried to sort some things out, worked off my heated emotions to Rage Against the Machine, readied my Caroline Myss' Spiritual Power Spiritual Practice to help me bliss out afterwards, and then began this post:

Well, I should have expected I'd be writing about this by now.  Every year I have to renew my Mexican FM2 visa in September, the month we first arrived, and every time is always a new challenge, but 2011 is the YEAR that will top them ALL.  This year, I have decided I'll go straight for the citizenship papers- yep, skip the next 3 years of nearly $300 and 3 days of waiting in lines for each visa, and go for the nearly $200, one-time, federal citizenship application.  It requires some new hoops to jump through, like a trip down to Mexico City to get my proof of a crime-free life at the Procuraduria Federal.  An interview in Spanish, and a history exam.  But if THAT wasn't enough, I am attempting several other separate applications for me and my family, all in one year. Yes, I am a glutton for punishment:
  1. Mexican birth certificate for the baby (Check, last October)
  2. Consular Report of Birth Abroad for the baby (Check, last December)
  3. U.S. Passport for the baby (Also check)
  4. Social Security Number application for the baby (not sure how yet, but gotta happen before April 15, Tax Day!)
  5. Mexican passport for the baby (comes up sometime in March)
  6. Mexican passport for the husband (tomorrow)
  7. Canadian visa for the husband (sometime end of March)
I have somehow blithely decided to do all this while undertaking a new writing project and mothering a 5 month old baby.  Luckily I only think things through partially before I decide to do them.  For the last several weeks I have been diligently gathering documents in triplicate in preparation for the applications.  Wow, everything seems to be going so smoothly, I am really am old hat at this.  I deserve a Masters in bureacratic application submission!  Until today.  It happens as it often does, what has been a mostly routine process collides with that inevitable.
                            *                      *                          *
I was about to light into the frustrating events of the day.  But then I was interrupted by my husband coming in with the baby, who just couldn't wait any longer- she wanted food and NOW.  So I wrapped up, went in the bedroom, soothed her cries, and sat ourselves down in the rocker to nurse her to sleep.  First she worked off her hunger.  And I calmed down.  Then as she melted into a heap of sleep in my lap, I realized my tizzy was almost gone.  My mind was still on auto-pilot, trying to count up how many visits to the bank, notary, civil registry, phone calls, account queries, payments, and copies that'd have to be made, but they seemed more remote, vague, fuzzy.  If was grasping, it was quickly let go.  Then I realized she had fallen asleep at my breast.  Looking at her, I felt calm and satisfied. Like her.  So I slowly got up- but since I hadn't closed the curtains as I usually do when we go in to settle down, the light of the moon shined in on her face. Her eyes flashed open wide, but then fluttered back down. Laying her down in her crib, she started- her thumb went to her mouth, and I wrapped her to see if we could start practicing her self-soothing.

I came back to the computer.  What lines had formed in my head that just needed to get written down?  I don't recall, because the whimpers and wails were issuing from her room for more than 5 minutes.  We don't (and may never) practice cry-it-out, since there's never been a time when she hasn't needed one of us for a reason, and so I went in to pick up where I'd left off. This time, I did it right- closed the curtains, turned on the night-light, wrapped in warmly in her blankie, and sure enough, within 5 minutes she had drifted off again, this time grinning in her sleep.  I knew we were through this time.

This is how motherhood is softening me.   Not like a bonfire turns marshmallows to goo, but how repeated tumbling polishes a stone.  A once rough surface is still solid inside, but now smooth to the touch.  Kind of like how the topic of this post started as a self-indulgent venting session about how much foreign life can sometimes frustrate me, and ended up with me marveling at the feminine force to be reckoned with that is mothering.  Forget meditation, alcohol, drugs (I haven't tried tranquilizers), exercise, I have never found anything faster or more satisfying to take "the edge" off than quality time with my baby, especially nursing.  Oxytocin, that bonding hormone, is liquid love, connection, and security. 

I can't tell if it's just the nurturing chemicals coursing through my body that mellow me out and turn me down, or if it has something to do with the baby herself, from this land, already starting to act on me and bring my sometimes-American all-too-often impatient sensibilities a notch down, and with greater perspective.  But I can't say that I mind finding out.

February 1, 2011

No Need for Insults

Becoming a mother has given me new perspective on what it means to give life.  On this first day of February, month of my birth, I reflect on the things in my life I owe gratitude to for my existence, namely my mother (thanks Mom!) and my father (thanks Dad!) but also all my ancestors that have come before me and the natural world that supports US ALL.

Mexico, of course, makes this list by being my home for the last four years...and by tempting me with her beauty, mystery, warm welcome, and paradoxes ever since I began traveling here many years ago.  As much as I complain about things that I dislike here, it would be a false statement to say these problems do not exist in any other country, and I don't want anyone to think I consider Mexico to be singular in its possession of environmental, social, or safety issues.  Nor do I want anyone to think that because I wish certain things in Mexico to improve, that I would EVER put her down wrongly.

I recently viewed 3 British fellows from Top Gear, apparently a BBC show, making fun of Mexicans for many things that are not even true, and I was deeply insulted by their aggression & ignorance.  In light of this blatant racism, I felt like responding.  But I can't really defend Mexico technically until I am a citizen, which, incidentally, is in the works!  But I'd wager I have a little more insight than the average American- as do most expats residing here.

The speakers (if you can call them that) refer to outdated stereotypes about Mexican work ethic, cars, clothing, food.  I will respond one by one, not so much because I want to talk to a-holes like these, and especially not because I have friends like them who need to hear it, but in case you, the reader, happen to have family members, friends, or acquaintances in need of cultural education and want some things to say.  Also to remind you to be careful & not let these stereotypes get perpetuated.   I don't have time to back up all my comments with statistics, maybe later. 

Work ethic. They insinuate that Mexicans are lazy: I've never seen anyone so hard working as the Mexicans in my husband's family, himself-who never wants to ask for help, my father-in-law, who at 74 can outrun any of his nieces and nephews and who's never taken a day off in his life except when he got prostate surgery, and my mother-in-law, who carried and bore 14 children continues to, after a debilitating stroke, caretake anyone who crosses her path in any given day.  The list goes on.  People who hold down three jobs before considering crossing the northern border.  10% of Mexicans emigrate to the U.S. to put food on their families' table.  That means giving up the warmth of your home and moving thousands of miles away to work.  If that isn't hardworking, I don't know what is.  Just ask any of the employers hiring Mexicans up in the U.S. that make up the backbone of the backbreaking economy.

Cars.  Similar to work ethic, maybe if they weren't busy BUILDING so many foreign-brand cars in Mexican factories, they'd have more time to develop their own brands. But who cares?

Clothing.  They make reference to a sarape and sombrero. Come on guys- this isn't the 20's, get a clue.  Most Mexicans I know are obsessed about fashion unless they are farmers, and I can't keep up with them.

Food. Tomatoes, guavas, avocados, papayas, vanilla, CHOCOLATE, CORN, peanuts, amaranth, and many more native food plants. Chiles en Nogada. Chipotles. Nopales.  Chilaquiles. Huitlacoche. Pollo en Mole. Enchiladas. Sopes. Tortillas. Gorditas. Carnitas.  Y mucho mas platillos ricos.  All from Mexico! Need I say more?

So, thank you Mexico, for all your good points.  And when I'm complaining about things that I wish were different here, I'll be extra careful to make sure I don't hurt your feelings in the meantime.  because there's no need for put-downs.