My ชุดคลุมท้อง, or lack thereof.
Being pregnant in Thailand has been interesting, that’s for sure. I mean, it’s already a completely new experience for me, as this is our first child… but, think of all the new things you (or someone you know) went through with your first, then place that learning curve in the middle of a completely different culture and a perpetually height-of-summer climate. Now, you have me!
I’ve grown up hearing stories, watching tv shows & movies, witnessing family members and friends go through the growing, birthing, and raising process of children, picking up bits & pieces here and there to store for my own experience someday. So, I thought I had something of an idea (as much as one really can without actually experiencing it for themselves) of what to expect. For the most part, this has held true, and all of these tidbits of information have been quite helpful. However, it’s all had to be twisted around just a little bit to fit where I am now – in Thailand… tropical Southeast Asia… the complete other side of the world.
I suppose this is one of those times that I’m glad I’m beginning this whole parenthood journey here, so I have nothing to compare it to, or feel like I’m really missing out on from an experience I’d already had back in the States, ya know? Though, it is a bit strange (and a little bit funny) to me to think that someday in the future, if/when we move back to the States, I will be comparing things to how I started out here in Thailand, instead of the other way around.
Anyhow, aside from the fact that there are a lot more things over here that gross me out (when they didn’t seem as bad before) – meat laying out in the open air at markets and grocery stores, trash fermenting on the side of the road, all of the stray dogs that use the sidewalk at one side of our house as their toilet, the fact that the sun bakes every foul smell into the surrounding atmosphere at an intensity unequaled by anything I’ve ever encountered – and a myriad of other topics I’ll cover in the coming weeks….. there is one particular manner of life here in Thailand that I knew existed, but never really stopped to think about that much –
How do pregnant Thai women dress?
That’s where my ชุดคลุมท้อง (say it like: “choot khloom tong”), or lack thereof, comes into play. Some of you may have heard me talk before about how there’s really not a market for maternity clothing over here. Because of this, I picked up just a few basic pieces at a maternity store while in the States at Christmas (and had a lot of fun strapping on the fake bellies in an attempt to predict my future sizes!). I also, thankfully, have a couple of friends here on the field who have graciously given me a few things to borrow (brought over from their own respective countries) for the next several months as I continue to grow, then attempt to shrink back to my normal size again. But, the thing is, the clothes that I have still look pretty normal. After all, that’s what we Western women like – looking as normal as possible, perhaps even stylish, while trying to embrace our ever increasing size. I know I am definitely one who has taken to a more fitted style, as I feel it makes my baby bump more obvious – in turn, hopefully letting Thai friends and random onlookers know that I’m not just a “fat foreigner.”
Well, turns out I was wrong. I knew already what any Thai woman I’ve ever seen wears when she is pregnant – muu-muus, tent style dresses with large pleats and big buttons / bows on them, 90’s style jumpers plastered with cutesy embroidered cartoon characters, and the occasional big, baggy shirt with a pair of leggings. Every factory and service-oriented job with a uniform (even 7-Eleven!) also has their own specific line of tent dresses for their employees to wear. I think I’ve only ever seen one woman wearing some tailored knee-length shorts, and she was a Thai friend, married to a Westerner, who has spent considerable time living outside Thailand herself. So, I’m not counting her. 🙂 The previously mentioned large-wear attire is really the only thing available, outside of a handful of super-expensive, high-society stores in downtown Bangkok – that are there mostly for the foreigners, I assume.
You see, wearing giant clothing with no shape has no appeal to me. Neither does wearing cartoon embroidery. In the 90’s perhaps, but not now. As mentioned before, I like the more fitted look, as I feel it not only showcases the wonderful miracle going on in my life right now, but also keeps me from looking like a blimp in a land where I am already a head taller than everyone else (and much larger all around) – and, as many of you know, boosting the self-esteem right now helps a lot with the process! But, apparently, that’s not how the people I am surrounded by see it.
According to my friends, and several people at church, the ชุดคลุมท้อง (or “maternity uniform”) is key in distinguishing those who are soon-to-be mothers from those who simply don’t control their eating habits. The fact that I have been wearing cleverly designed fitted capris, shorts and long pants (yay for stretchy panels!), along with tailored skirts and regular looking tops has been telling people the exact opposite of what I wanted. My normal-ness says that I’m not pregnant – rather, I’m simply an already large foreigner who has decided to take a break on maintaining my health. This very fact led to a few interesting conversations at church yesterday, and several people being completely surprised to find out that I’m actually growing a baby in there. Apparently, word had not yet made its way through the whole congregation, and people thought I was just getting lazy. Thankfully, I am secure enough to find that humorous, not offensive. 🙂
I know in another month or so, my belly will get to the point that it is more obvious and rounded. I know that right now, depending on what I wear, the time of day, and how the baby is laying all affect whether or not I just appear a bit pudgy. And I’m okay with that. I also know that, despite this new knowledge, this is one cultural thing I will probably not be conforming to any time in the near future – though, I think it may be funny to go out and buy a Winnie the Pooh emblazoned jumper and wear it to church next week just to give my friends a laugh…
So many things I learn every day. So many things I never would have thought about before. And, thank God I have friends over here who can fill me in when I am so utterly clueless about what’s actually going on around me!