Okay, just kidding. This picture was actually taken really early in my pregnancy when I did some shopping with my mom. The swollen stomach is courtesy of a prop in the Gap Maternity dressing room.
I definitely don’t look this pregnant yet. In fact, I feel like I still look more plump than pregnant, although today at a beagle meet-up someone we haven’t seen for a while asked if we were expecting. I’d hope he would have the good sense not to pose the question unless it was painfully obvious that the answer was yes, so perhaps I look more pregnant than I realize.
Showing or not, I’m getting far enough along now that we’re starting to feel the need to make plans. Like what to buy. What books to read. What classes to sign up for. How much maternity leave to take. Where exactly to spend it. These are daunting questions for all first-time parents, I’m sure, but it seems like everything is doubly hard for us because of our impending move to Benin. The problem is two-fold:
(1) Having never been to Benin before, we don’t know what to expect of life there.
If it were just the two of us we’d be totally willing to just do our best and live with our mistakes. Really should have brought rain boots and an extra fancy umbrella? Oh well, we’ll survive. But with a kid involved, we don’t want to find ourselves across the world lacking something that we really should have.
At the same time, I’m a minimalist by nature. I can’t justify buying every last baby thing out there just in case. I’m convinced there’s so much that exists simply because people are willing to buy it. Walking down the aisles of Babies “R” Us with my mom was quite amusing. She couldn’t even identify half of the products. They didn’t exist when my sister and I were growing up, and we turned out just fine.
And I also keep trying to remind myself this: there are babies in Benin. Maybe their moms don’t use the same products we do in the US, but they still smile and laugh and crawl and walk. So if I forget something, so what. I can do whatever I need to the local way.
Then why do I find myself staying up until 2 a.m. reading about every stroller known to man and trying to envision how we’d even use a stroller in Benin, which I doubt even has sidewalks? But maybe it does. See, I just don’t know.
(2) There’s so much to arrange logistically, and this leads to so many questions that are difficult to answer.
If I use sick leave rather than annual leave for part of my maternity leave, can I stay on per diem during that time? Can I advance myself next year’s sick leave to do this? Is the ease of remaining on per diem and in our current housing worth whatever tax burden we’ll have for accepting per diem for longer than a year? Do we need to be in DC for the baby’s medical clearance and diplomatic passport, or can we do this from the Midwest? How many different locations can we ship things from? Is there any way to ensure our necessary baby stuff gets to Benin not long after we do? These are just a few of many.
As anyone who’s been with State for a while knows, getting answers is tricky. Knowing who to ask is hard enough, and you can’t just ask one person because you oftentimes receive wrong information. And that’s if you get any information at all. The majority of phone calls and emails are never returned.
Again, if it were just the two of us this wouldn’t be stressful. I tend to have faith that things will work out, and I’m pretty adaptable in terms of snafus and changes of plans. But if we didn’t get the baby’s diplomatic passport in time and Andy had to stay back in the US with him while I shipped off to Benin myself? Not okay.
* * *
The good news is that we’re making progress. We have a meeting on Tuesday with an accountant who’s familiar with FSO issues. That will be a big step in finally figuring out where we’ll live from April until July. And last week I moved from worrying about my many questions to finally firing off emails to various people and departments, posing them. I haven’t received any answers yet, but at least I’m trying.
Perhaps most importantly, FSOs themselves have been so helpful. In fact, a fellow Benin blogger who just so happens to be pregnant too is back in DC and, unbeknownst to her, I’m planning to pick her brain about what she thinks, having lived in Benin for a while, we do and don’t need. That should be really helpful. Of course, everyone’s situation is different in some way so I can’t rely on any one person for all necessary information, but it’s been really helpful to hear how things have worked out for other FSO moms.
And things do always work out… eventually.