Global Mama: Portugal

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

“Whoa, Mama!” Worldwide: I’m setting out to profile one mother from every country on the planet. Yes … that’s a lot, but I’m game. And I hope you’ll join me on the journey. (Current tally: 2 down, 190 countries to go!)

In fact, your help is key to this project working at all. If you want to nominate a first-time mother living outside of the United States to be featured here, please send me an e-mail at: get[dot]msmack [at] gmail [dot] com.

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Cristina Braga da Cruz has a new mission in life: To tell it like it is. “Or at least like it was for me.” She’s 38. She lives in Portugal. And she’s a mom. That last part didn’t come so easy, though. For Cristina, there were no birds singing or hearts bursting or any of the things she had been told in the “fairytale” on motherhood. Like many other women, Cristina had to come around to motherhood (and it to her).  But she’s here to say it can most certainly be done. And that it’s wonderful.

Life before baby …
It was pretty hectic and exciting. I lived in Portugal all my life, except for the one year when I lived in the U.S. as a high school exchange student.  I was in a rock band called Amarguinhas when I was in college, and we played all over the country. Actually, I  started dating my husband in college and then joined his band—he was the drummer!

Life was go, go, go. It was full and busy: college, exams, dating, and family. I lived at home and my mother was battling cancer. She passed away during that time, and I had to help my father raise my little sister.

Then after college, I worked in marketing and advertising for a children’s clothing line, which meant lots of travel.

My ideas about motherhood …
Well, my ideas were quite romantic. And also quite wrong! I thought a lot of things. I thought:
That it would come when the time was right.
That I would know when the time was right.
That the biological clock would tick and one day—BAM! I would wake up and want kids.
That it was overwhelming beautiful.
That I would naturally know what to do.
That I would love everything about it, and it would be sheer bliss. Nothing hard about it.
That it would not affect my job or social life that much
That I would be ready, prepared and strong.
And that breastfeeding would be lovely.

Then came Mateus …
Actually, I was three months pregnant and didn’t know.  There was no sleepiness, nausea or anything to really tip me off. I just lost my waistline and got breathless faster when jogging.

Then we found out. I have to say, pregnancy, I did not love it. I wasn’t glowing or over the moon, as my friends had said they did. No bliss. I didn’t like being pregnant, and I am not embarrassed to admit it.

When Mateus was born, I was in a bit of a shock. I had a Cesarian. It was hard and unglamorous. The recovery was tough. And breastfeeding was turmoil; it felt like torture. The lack of sleep made me feel like I was losing y mind. Nothing came “easy” or “natural.”

I felt lost, helpless and clueless. I didn’t even feel the tsunami-like wave of love over my child like how my friends described it. I kept thinking: Am I nuts? Am I a bad person? Am I a bad mother? I tried hard and did my very best, but still felt unhappy and uneasy. I felt like I had been mislead by everyone who gave me all of that motherhood advice. Like I was told some  fairytale.

The biggest change after Mateus? Everything. My life stopped and there was no longer a Me. Just Baby. So many simple things became difficult, like getting a shower in the morning, reading that article in a magazine, having my legs waxed when I started to look like King Kong. Things that I had taken for granted before.

And not getting a full night of sleep behind all of this … I was tired and frustrated and felt like  a mess of a mom.

The most challenging part of motherhood …
Having it sink in that this is it now. This is my life. It’s not all about you anymore. But, actually, once you wrap your head around it, this new life is pretty great.

It does get easier and better with time. It took a little longer for me than others, but I finally came around. You are still totally tired and wiped out. But you are in love. Finally savoring it. And you forgive yourself for all strange feelings. (However, I do resent society for the fake bliss scenario they’ve set up around motherhood.)

The best part about raising a child in Portugal …
Family generally lives closer and can give you a strong hand. Grandparents also play a very active part in the raising of children, too. And cousins are the most frequent playdates.

Although family incomes and salaries are lower than in the U.S., the cost of living is not impossibly expensive. I live by the beach in the city. I have quality of life. At the end of the day I can take Mateus out for ice cream at the beach. I can put my sneakers on and have a run along the ocean shore or have my kid ride his bike next to me.

Another great perk here is the wonderful climate. It never gets so cold that it snows, nor is it ever really humid. Also, food is delicious, fresh and easy to get.  The country is safe and people are friendly and welcoming.

Best piece of advice I ever heard …
Let day be day and night be night. Meaning let your house life exist loud (no hush, hush, hush) and clear (light) during day and all the opposite at night so the baby knows the difference and cooperates—as in sleeps!—accordingly. Another thing is, rest every chance you get.

If we could jump into a DeLorean and race back in time …
I would say, “Cris, chill. This is all normal. Not everyone knows what to do. Hang in there. It will get easier.” I’d also tell myself to take a short break for a little pampering, and not feel guilty about it. The baby deserves a balanced mom, a happy woman.

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