Mi Casa es Tu Casa
One afternoon Berenice told me that we were going to visit a woman who had just had a baby. It seemed a little strange to take the gringa who speaks awkward Spanish on this errand but I know that’s what Mormons do; We show up. So I agreed to go, thinking, well, I’m also the mom of a baby, maybe we’ll have something to talk about. I reviewed a few key vocabulary terms–pañal, dar pecho, dormido.
After a 30 minute group taxi ride and a fifteen minute walk, we stepped through the rusty gate into the small, dusty compound. A few children stared at us from the open doorways of the small buildings. It looked like one house was for the “kitchen.” It had an open fire pit and a refrigerator and a bucket with some water. An older woman told us to come in and we passed some chickens which scattered indignantly. She invited us into one of the “rooms” which, as it turned out, was a bedroom. I mean, it was a room with a bed stuffed into it. The ceiling was surprisingly high and around the bed and above the door were shelves stacked high with blankets and towels and clothes. The tiny window high above the bed was obscured by dust or cobwebs or maybe just time. There was an old upright dresser covered with girlish knickknacks.
We sat in chairs, facing each other while a girl, who I sooned realized was the new mom, sat on her bed. We were so close, our knees were almost touching. She had her baby bundled up in several thick blankets and held him with a confidence earned through many, many hours of watching younger siblings. Yet, she was small for fifteen so even though she held her chin firm and “shushed” confidently, she didn’t look like a mom. She looked like a child.
I didn’t speak much but I could follow the conversation which went something like this:
How’s nursing going?
Oh, I’m not doing that. The doctor says that formula is better for him because of his colic.
How was the birth?
I was programmed (the Spanish way of referring to c-sections) because the doctor said that was better for the baby and everything is healing fine.
Is he sleeping ok?
Of course. He is so precious. He has a little cold but the doctor is so far away. I’m giving him some tea to help with that.
I felt my “first world self” bristle a little. No choice in birthing options, getting the wrong information from doctors, not even trying to nurse? But I tried to remember I really wasn’t in the first world. I was in Mexico, and rural Mexico which is somewhere between the developed and the developing world. This baby had bigger problems than the fact she was drinking chamomile tea at three weeks old.
I looked over at the dresser and saw a little plaque that read “Mi casa es su casa.” That’s the Mexican way of saying “make yourself at home” or literally translated as My house is your house. It’s sweet and welcoming and one of my favorite sayings.
In that moment I read it more literally–like this is your house. And the irony and dishonesty of it really struck me. Of course this wasn’t really my house. I’d be leaving soon and I’d go back to my house which has multiple beds and medicine and running water and corners that meet and a heater to cut the night chill.
I was hoping to connect as equals–both new moms trading war stories. But we weren’t equals. Our houses, our lives weren’t the same at all. And as I looked around I knew, deeply, profoundly that our babies were not given an equal start in life. And smiling and pretending that really, it’s all the same, was giving me a pit in my stomach.
I heard Berenice start to signal our exit.
Can we do anything for you before we go?
No, no we’re fine.
I thought, where would I start? What can I do? I mentioned, in halting Spanish, that we were moving soon and that I had some extra cloth diapers that my son had grown out of. Maybe she would be able to use them?
She graciously said, yes, yes, of course she would like them. I felt a little foolish, like maybe I was pushing them on her. I thought of how cloth diapers back home were the domain of natural, hippie moms–moms who read too much about the chemicals in bleached pampers. Heck, I was doing it because I liked it. But then, I realized, to this fifteen year old, cloth diapers were a necessity. Look around, where is she getting diapers?
And I remembered that I inherited many of my cloth diapers from my cousin who had inherited them from a friend. And who knows where she got them. And I imagined us there, a long line of new moms with babies who pooped, linking arms with this new mom. Connected. Connected by the fact that all babies poop and all moms do the best we can with the babies and the lives we have. While it’s true that life can be crueler to some than to others, we can always find some way to help each other.
We began to leave and the 15 year old stood up to give us a peek at the sleeping baby. He was tiny, with a shock of dark hair and the features of newborn–a baby who hasn’t quite filled into his little face.
He’s beautiful, I told her. And I felt a welling of emotion as I bent over to give her hug. She was 15 and I was 32 but we were both moms.
Before we left, the old woman thanked us for coming and told us to come again. Mi casa es tu casa, she said and I felt something like guilt and confusion and relief but also hope that we comes from finding common ground.