Waiting for Bebé: An Interview with Lourdes Alcañiz by Jennifer Williams

Nopalitos for dinner? It's okay for mamis to indulge in the prickly green treats, according to Lourdes Alcañiz. During her first pregnancy, Alcañiz kept an ear out for that friendly and trusting voice that was impossible to hear thousands of miles away from friends and family. An award-winning journalist, Alcañiz soon decided to write a book for other expecting mamas to fill that void. That book became Waiting for Bebe: a Pregnancy Guide for Latinas. It includes a helpful appendix chock full of information, and is a handy resource to keep by any new or expecting mother's bedside. Alcañiz took some time out of her busy schedule to chat with me on the phone from Spain.
Jennifer: You mentioned in the book that you live far away from your family. Did you have support throughout this pregnancy?
Lourdes: Oh yes, as well as in my other two pregnancies. My mom and relatives called often and always, some weeks before having my babies, my mom came to help. This time I was able to visit them in Spain for a few weeks. My husband is in the Merchant Marines, so he's away for two to three months at a time. I have two daughters Adriana, 4 and Patricia, 2 and my son Alex was born in September. At the end of this last pregnancy, things got pretty heavy so help was welcome!
Jennifer: Making babies seems to push our creativity to the surface. Did you find that writing this book came easy while you were pregnant?
Lourdes: When I'm pregnant, I get creative; that creative urge gets awakened inside. I actually wrote the book during baby number two, and then found out I was pregnant again while I was getting ready to promote it! It took me two years to finish it. The idea for the book got started when, during my pregnancy, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and I found out while working at Univision three or four of my co-workers had been, too. I started to wonder, well, what's that about? Why is that?
Jennifer: There's been a lot of talk about attachment parenting in recent years. My mama friends and I have talked about how women of color the world over have been doing it for eons.
Lourdes: The problem I see with a lot of the Latino population is because of the lack of insurance, they tend to have to go right back to work sooner, and it breaks their hearts. Latina mothers have naturally used attachment parenting with their babies. Attachment parenting has traditionally meant touching and being close to your baby rather than talking and playing with him.
Jennifer: Oh, I know! The ‘experts' tell you if you show them flash cards from day one, you'll have a genius who can name all the continents by her first birthday! Who has the time?
Lourdes: Yeah! If you get up at six in the morning and don't get home until six that night… I mean, that's nice for you if you have the time, but it's not a necessity. The important thing is just to keep them close.
Jennifer: Do you see natural birthing mamas and midwives taking back the responsibility of birth from doctors and hospitals as a positive?
Lourdes: I think it's great. The environment in hospitals is very cold. It's important for women to be comfortable, and it makes a difference having other women there to help during labor. One thing I found was that Latino men tend to support women differently during labor than men in the mainstream American culture. The men don't actually participate as much with breathing and all that. The mother and mother-in-law usually sit with the woman and help her. My second baby was born in a birthing center, and I had a midwife for this delivery. Sometimes there can be problems though, and you have to be aware of that, too. It can be great, but it's not for everyone. With my second daughter there was a problem with her breathing when she was born. If you're 10-15 minutes away from the hospital --"
Jennifer: Anything can happen.
Lourdes: Yeah.
Jennifer: You managed to pack a lot of information into this book. I wish I'd known there were so many options for mamis without health insurance back when I was pregnant.
Lourdes: That was the hardest part in writing the book actually, tracking down all the information. Going through the red tape and bureaucrats to get the stuff I needed to put in there. There are a lot of resources out there that aren't centralized. I was able to find out a lot of information by digging, things like prenatal hotlines.
Jennifer: Was it difficult finding resources for recent immigrants and Spanish-speaking mamas?
Lourdes: Actually, no. There are a lot of resources out there for Spanish-speaking mothers-to-be. I found the community clinics to be a particularly great resource. And then of course, the big hospitals, the ones that take federal monies. The great thing with them is that they have to provide translation services.
Jennifer: Tell me about the thrift gene. Is it related to gestational diabetes?
Lourdes: It's related to obesity which in turn is related to diabetes. Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that only appears during pregnancy. During my first pregnancy, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. It's caused by the placenta interfering with the insulin production. The thrift gene worked very well for indigenous people thousands of years ago. Lots of Indigenous societies were really well-adapted to their environments. They had times of plenty and times of need but this gene that helps to accumulate fat protected them during lean months. The stored up fat would shield them from starving to death. Then in modern times, when sugars and fats and flour are readily available at all times, it took its toll. Many Latinos carry this thrift gene to this day, so we have to be especially careful when pregnant. The gene helps create obesity, and obesity can cause diabetes.
Jennifer: Do you think our foremothers had all these problems during pregnancy?
Lourdes: Although the mortality rate for moms and babies was, and still is, much bigger in Latin American countries, lifestyles were healthier. However Latinas have a physiological profile we have to watch for. For example, we have three times the rate of gestational diabetes as the mainstream American population, we have the same rate of hypertension as other women, but half of Latinas who have hypertension don't know it and don't find out they have it until late in their pregnancy. Also, Mexican women tend to have an increased risk of gallbladder disease.
Jennifer: So what's the best diet during pregnancy?
Lourdes: The Latina diet is healthy in general. The complex carbohydrates in tortillas and beans and rice are great, but we lack a lot of green leafy vegetables. Many of the fats in meats used in fajitas and tacos aren't healthy. So watch out for fats. Cut out the sugary sodas. You don't need that.
Jennifer: What are some other complications Latinas especially should watch out for?
Lourdes: Rubella could be a concern. The vaccine campaigns only began in earnest in Latin America in the 1990s, so when people emigrate they may not have their vaccinations. Hepatitis A affects many of us, too.
Jennifer: How about those pregnancy myths and dreams? A common one in African-American culture says if you dream of fish, somebody in your family is going to have a baby!
Lourdes: There are plenty of similar stories in Latin America. One holds that if you cut the baby's hair it will take longer for him or her to talk. Another talks about how if you are breastfeeding and you take the baby off the nipple too quickly, the top of his head will sink in because the baby has sucked his brain out.
Jennifer: Oh my!
Lourdes: Yes, there are a lot of stories like that. They're fun as long as you take them as that, just some fun for a baby shower. One that was common in Mexican culture came from the Aztecs and said if a pregnant woman sees a lunar eclipse the baby will be born with a cleft palate. For protection the pregnant woman should wear a safety pin in her underwear. Some things are traditional wisdom and some things you have to be aware of are just stories.
Jennifer: So what's next for you?
Lourdes: My next book is about general health and nutrition for Latinos. It's still in the preliminary process right now. It'll probably be out in two years or so. I still write for different Spanish language magazines Avanzando, Su Familia, and others on health-related issues. I got tired working in Los Angeles. I got tired of the stories I was reporting on the news every day. You're reporting the crime and reporting the crime and reporting the crime – without a solution. I don't think you can offer solutions. After my kids were born, I felt like I needed to be making more of a positive contribution. I feel a little bit more useful now.
Jennifer: I can't imagine how busy you must have been. You had to take care of yourself, and your two kids, and the one on the way.
Lourdes: It gave me a lot of credibility! I'd go on television and they'd point the camera at me as if to say, "Look, she's pregnant! You can believe her!"