Monday, September 02, 2013

Teaching while pregnant in the UAE

I apologize again for the amount of pregnancy-related content here on the blog lately, but we have a lot of material to get through and (hopefully!) not a lot of time.

I often get asked how it was to be working/teaching while pregnant in Sharjah. This is actually the second pregnancy I've spent as a teacher in the Middle East, the first being when I taught at Amideast in Damascus while pregnant with Miriam.

For some reason, I was more self-conscious about my pregnancy this time around, here in Sharjah. Gulf Arabs can be plenty conservative, and it is a good bet that on the whole, my students here come from more traditional backgrounds (religiously and socially) than my students in Damascus. Also, the setting I work in now is more professional than the one in Damascus - a university rather than an after-school, private English program. This university is supportive of pregnant women (maternity leave is a full semester, paid), but this is still a very conservative part of the world, especially when it comes to gender roles.

In any case, my students' reactions to my pregnancy were very mixed. The only thing they seemed to agree on was that they were happy for me. Really. When I announced it to my classes, they were on the whole very excited, and even more thrilled to know that I was having a boy.

Over time, other attitudes emerged, including:

Why aren't you going back to the US to have the baby? I think this question stems from two preconceptions: a different understanding of citizenship, and a different understanding of the role of my mother in helping me raise my infants. I had several students express amazement that my child could still be a US citizen, even if he's born here (this, despite the fact that none of my non-Emirati students have Emirati citizenship, even if they were born here. Hmm). It's easy for Jeremy and me because we are both citizens who were both born in the US and were residents there for more than five years after the age of 15. Passing on US citizenship while abroad isn't so easy if you and your spouse don't meet requirements such as the above. But also, some of my students seemed flabbergasted that I would be willing to give birth away from my mother! I mean, she's going to come and help out at some point, but the American model of grandma-provided newborn care apparently falls short of Gulf standards. Interesting.

Why are you still working? Sigh. I didn't know what to say to this one. This was a favorite of my Saudi girl students, and I don't understand it well enough to dissect it. One of my Saudi girls even said to me, on several occasions, "oh, I just don't even like looking at you, I just hurt for you, I want you to be at home resting!" So I definitely made some students uncomfortable by being pregnant and still working in public.

Now that we have established you are pregnant, let us never mention it again. This was my favorite, actually. It was so great that for some of my students, after the initial announcement, it was just business as usual. I loved being treated as my normal self, instead of as a pregnant woman. The exception to this was my one student (in all my time teaching here) who is a wife and mother herself. We always had good chats after class.

I also had the singular experience of humiliating myself in front of a former student. I ran into him at the mall after I was already showing. We talked for a few minutes, but he didn't say anything about my condition. I felt like maybe he was hesitant to be the first to bring it up, so I said something dumb like, "do you notice that I've gained some weight here?" as I indicated my midsection. He blushed so red and avoided looking in the entire cardinal direction in which I was standing, he was so embarrassed. We said goodbye, and it was only later that I realized that this young Emirati kid was all of probably 18 years old and his former teacher basically said to him (if not in as many words), "look at my body, a specific portion of which I am highlighting for your perusal." Ugh. I know so much better than that.

Just like I used to find comfort in finding other females at restaurants or the movie theater in Damascus (because then I knew it was an OK place for me to be), I was glad to have one of my (Arab) co-workers be pregnant and teaching at the same time as me. It was just a nice validation any time I needed one. That said, I'm glad to be off for the fall semester so I don't have to be a living example for young college students of just how big a pregnant woman can get.


Crys said...

I'm sorry, because I totally understood your embarrassment, but that mall story made me laugh so hard. The Saudi girl story sort of bugged. Maybe it is because our situation means I get to be super lady while prego but I hate the perpetuation that pregnant people need to just rest, and it isn't foreign countries I'm hearing this, but friends who want to get out of cleaning their toilets...I mean I guess if you want to pull that over on your spouse but I get caught up in the bigger social implications....sigh :-/

Liz Johnson said...

I will NEVER be sick of pregnancy updates! Keep 'em coming.

Gah. On the one hand, I hate it when people treat me like some fragile flower when I'm pregnant. On the other hand, I want the right to take a lot of naps because growing a human is EXHAUSTING. So I don't know exactly where the happy medium is, but I'm hopeful that someday society will find it.

Susanne said...

I've enjoyed your pregnancy posts, Bridget. You always bring up interesting topics!

"Why are you still working? Sigh. I didn't know what to say to this one. This was a favorite of my Saudi girl students, and I don't understand it well enough to dissect it. "

Maybe this is an old-fashioned way of thinking, but I have heard many Arab women don't work outside the home once they are married. So maybe seeing you pregnant was baffling because this Saudi student didn't understand why you were not only married, but pregnant and still working. (Also I've heard how sickly they act even during their periods so maybe the thought of a woman actually having the strength to teach during pregnancy was baffling!) My Syrian friend's mom was a nurse before she married, but once she married I don't think she ever worked outside the home again. I got the impression that this was the norm. But maybe things have seems so if you had an Arab coworker who was pregnant.

I enjoyed this post, and the fact, too, that you share things like how you embarrassed your former student by pointing out your growing mid-section. I've always appreciated your honesty about such things. :)

Jen said...

Amen to the others---pregnancy posts shall flood the earth and I will love it!

I never had to work while pregnant, and to this day it BOGGLES MY MIND to think of having to juggle a job with morning sickness and fatigue and pain and the peeing...all of the peeing. I can't imagine. Kudos to you for remaining upright.

iremi nisces said...


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