My Akha Pregnancy Guru
Last weekend we took our first trip back to the village after having been gone for a little over three months due to the complications and morning sickness of the first trimester. One of my biggest fears in returning was that none of our Akha friends would understand why we had been gone so long. Akha women are extraordinarily strong; I've seen women work all day in the fields while battling a full blown case of the flu! Traditional Akha medicine has no concept of rest as a treatment for sickness and it seemed to me that this cultural precept might very well apply to pregnancy as well. As further support to my theory, the other day I was reading What to Expect When You're Expecting and I ran across this statement: "...morning sickness is unknown in some societies where lifestyles are simpler, more relaxed, and less demanding". I was certain that I would return to the village, announcing that I was pregnant and had been very sick for the past few months only to be met with baffled silence from our Akha friends.
Luckily, this was not the case. On our first night back one of the older women came to visit me and asked where we had been for so long. As I explained, she nodded knowingly and replied, "Yes, for the first three or four months of pregnancy it's common to lose your appetite and want to sleep all day. After about 5 months you'll get your appetite back, feel stronger and may even start to feel the baby moving!" I pulled out the ultrasound to show her and a teenage girl who had wandered in asked if it was a boy or a girl. This wise Akha grandma piped in saying, "Oh no, it's much to early to tell if it's a boy or a girl yet. You have to a wait a few more months!"
I don't know why I was so shocked to hear her say these things. After all, this woman has delivered most of the babies in our village; she, of all people, should have expertise on the subject. I guess, it's just that during the past few months I've been educating myself about pregnancy in the American way (with weekly emails from Babycenter.com and of course, with the ever-popular book What to Expect When You're Expecting) and it had not really crossed my mind that there was any other way! However, when I heard this grandma, who can't read and has probably never even seen a computer, giving me an accurate time line of pregnancy symptoms and fetal development, I was reminded so clearly that the American way is not the only way!
Even though, much of this pregnancy will reflect an "American way" of doing things, there's something so special about getting to experience even just a little bit of it in an Akha village. Although, I certainly like my regular OB/GYN and consider him a great doctor, when I think about all the women he sees each day and all the babies he delivers, I can't help but feel like I'm just another face in the crowd, barely a blip on his radar. However, when I was sitting with this Akha elder talking about the pregnancy, it was so intimate and personal. She was invested not simply because she is the village mid-wife, but because a village is a family; and just like any family, our Akha family eagerly awaits the arrival of this new member!