I was a proud first time mommy with my 9 month old baby girl on my hip in the church that my husband and I were overseeing in a rural village called Purulha. It was a little bit breezy, but what we would consider a nice, fresh spring day. Baby, like myself, wore just one layer of clothing.
“You should cover up that poor baby,” commented one lady from church.
“She should always have a linen undershirt on, so that the wind won’t hit her back,” confirmed another.
There was always a seemingly overabundance of advice when I had my first child, and it seemed the majority of it had to do with bundling baby to keep her away from the wind. I didn’t pay much attention, and I categorized their advice away along with other silly superstitions that I had heard during my pregnancy and throughout the newborn stages.
As time went on, I realized that there was another side to the story.
“How old is Oscar?” I asked Olga.
“He’s eleven. But I had a child before Oscar was born. My firstborn. He died when he was only a few months old,” she replied.
“I’m so sorry. What happened?” My heart went out to her.
“He had a cough. We were so young, and as new parents we didn’t have experience. I didn’t know that he needed medical attention.” Olga explained.
“So Aury is fifteen, Gerson is eleven, Evelyn nine and Kimberly is seven. You waited quite a bit of time before having your second baby.” I commented to Angelica as we worked in the kitchen preparing tea.
“Actually, I had another son between Aury and Gerson. He died when he was 9 months old,” she told me.
“Really? I never knew. I’m so sorry to hear that. What happened to him?” I was shocked to hear once again a story of an infant dying so young.
“Pneumonia,” she answered. I could hear the emotion in her voice as she continued telling me the story.
Many people here in Guatemala really bundle their babies. They go overboard. Sometimes while I am sweating in a t-shirt, I see a mother with her infant wrapped up in numerous blankets, and covered with a thick fleece to top it off. I feel bad for those poor overheating sweating babies.
But the caution and (over)protection isn’t without reason.
I am no health expert, but pneumonia is a very common thing here. Maybe it’s because of the humidity during the cold season, as during the coldest months we get heavy rain and often the temperature is between 5-15 degrees Celsius. I know that doesn’t seem very cold to you, but when you have that temperature inside your house, when you are in bed, when you shower…it feels pretty cold. And I am pretty sure that when people live in drafty homes made with wooden slabs or tin walls, it would feel even colder.
Again, I repeat, I am no health expert. But when your baby dies of pneumonia, or maybe a neighbours baby, or a distant family members baby, it is something you become afraid of. Often times a whole section of the pediatrics’s ward in the nearest public hospital is filled with babies and children who have pneumonia.
And this makes me realize. Instead of peeking into a foreign culture and either judging them for their seemingly silly superstitions or laughing off their advice, I can use this to come to a deeper understanding of who these people really are.
No – I’m not going to be bundling my babies up Guatemalan style anytime soon. But neither will I judge someone when they do. And instead of laughing off the abstract advice that I receive, I want to dig deeper and find the root cause, and learn more about this culture where I live and serve.