What Is It Like To Be A Caribbean Mom Pregnant In America?
words: mater mea
For one, race plays a bigger role, an expecting mom tells us.
Women can show our strength in all sorts of ways, but the one that’s the most miraculous is our ability to create life. We’ve partnered with Ammaglow to capture the beauty and strength of the pregnant form, and to reveal the stories behind each woman and her pregnancy.
Zayne Johnson, a 29-year-old medical missionary, is expecting her second child. (She had her daughter when she was 24.) Johnson, who moved to the States last year after living in her native St. Lucia and her husband’s hometown of St. Maarten, tells us how she’s experienced race and community as a pregnant woman in the Caribbean and now in America and how she's maintaining her veganism during her pregnancy.
How is this pregnancy different than your first pregnancy?
Since it's the second one, I'm a lot less worried about certain things. With the first one, I was most worried about simply raising a child. I'm the youngest of two, so I never had any experience with babies or younger children; I had no idea what to expect at all. Now I'm a lot more comfortable with it.
How do you feel about your body when you're pregnant?
In the earlier stages, I love it. You have these cool curves that you've never had before. It's a very interesting experience to see your stomach getting bigger and bigger, knowing that there's life growing inside of you. I was a very slim person, and I didn't have curves per se. It wasn't something that I really thought about; it was my body, it was something that I was used to. But with the pregnancy, I got thicker and bigger and curvier. I think I enjoyed it because it was so different. I never had boobs before, and then all of a sudden I had these things. It was an interesting experience.
But then, by the third trimester, I just felt like I was humongous. I couldn't find anything to wear most of the time; I had to wear the same thing over and over again. In the beginning stages, I loved it—it's a very amazing experience. But by third trimester, I just kind of want it to be over.
How would you describe pregnancy to someone who has never been pregnant before?
Let me see... It's like having something take over your body. That's what it feels like. It's like your body isn't yours anymore. Because you forget what it feels like to be ok. To wake up and be able to eat breakfast and just move. You kind of forget what it feels like to be yourself. You can't sleep the way you want to sleep anymore—you have to be accommodating to your stomach. You have to accommodate this little person inside of you.
Is there a difference between how you think your body will recover having your second child?
I'm hoping it bounces back the same way. This time I'm eating a lot better than I was with my first pregnancy because right now I'm a vegan. In my first pregnancy I was a vegetarian, but I was eating a lot of dairy, a lot of cheese—I was eating pizza like every other night. This time I'm a lot more health conscious; I try to eat better, I try to take walk a mile every day because that's supposed to help.
Was there anything in particular that made you more health conscious this time?
When I was a vegetarian, I used to eat a lot of cheese. Cheese was my thing. And then I started getting very sick; I used to get very nauseous. I started doing some research on it, and I realized that there are things that go into cheese that are just absolutely disgusting.
So I stopped eating it, took my daughter off it, and then my husband became fully vegan as well. Now that we're working as medical missionaries, we also have to be conscious of what we put into our bodies because basically our bodies are walking advertisement for people—you can't tell people to be healthy, and then you're not. It doesn't make sense. They're going to look at you and want to see a healthy person. So I think my career choice affected my having a healthier pregnancy.
In the Caribbean, we are the majority. But in the U.S. I've had to deal with [racism].
What got you interested in becoming medical missionaries?
What made us interested is our Christian background. Through reading and studying together, we realized that Jesus' main ministry was not preaching to people and telling them do this or do that—he was healing people.
We realized in order to reach people, we need to meet their needs first. People can't be happy if they're not healthy, so that's why we decided to get into that field. We want to make people healthy before we start talking to them about religion.
With cravings and "eating for two," is it hard to stay vegan while you're pregnant?
The only thing I have a problem with is craving for ice cream, but there are so many vegan options out there that it really isn't that difficult. There are even vegan cheeses—I've been eating a lot of those too—but everything in moderation.
If I'm craving a spinach [Jamaican] patty, I'll make it myself so I know exactly what's going into my body. That's what I've been doing—cooking the things that I've been craving. It's a lot healthier than going out, buying it, and putting extra preservatives into my body.
Do you think there's a difference in the way Black women experience pregnancy?
I'm not sure. I'm from the Caribbean, so moving to the U.S. has been a very different experience in terms of race because in the Caribbean, we are the majority. But in the U.S. I've had to deal with the fact that some people will look at you and they will simply see your race and they’ll deal with you simply based on that fact. Sometimes I feel with Black women being pregnant, somebody might look at me and instantly think I'm a single mother [and] they might look down on me because of that. Plus I don't wear a wedding ring, so that's another thing. It's a learning experience here because I had my first child in the Caribbean and my second child in the States.
What's the difference between having a child in the Caribbean versus the States?
Race is definitely a big issue here. That and medical care. Medical care is extremely expensive here.
In the Caribbean, I had a lot more family support. I was living in St. Maarten, and that's where my husband's mom is from. The in-laws supported me throughout the pregnancy, and I was just a stone's throw away from St. Lucia, which is where I'm from.
Now it's a little bit more difficult. I feel a lot more alone. There's not much support here, very little actually; it's just my husband and I. I think I'm a little bit sadder, because I wish that I had my family to experience [this] with me. I wish my sister could be around, my mom, my dad, but we [don't]. It can be tough.
What were some of the thoughts you're having with this pregnancy about how your life will change?
I'm looking forward to it. Sometimes I joke with people that this baby is more for my daughter than it is for me and my husband, because she's an only child and she gets lonely. I think it's important for her to have a sibling so she'll have somebody to share things with, so she can have somebody on her side. Sometimes it feels like it's the parents against the child. But when you have a sibling, you have somebody who is on your side for the rest of your life. I want to give her that experience.