BUENOS AIRES — It’s Christmas Eve and I’m clutching the bathroom sink inside an Italian restaurant along scenic Puerto Madero. I’m sweaty and I’m sobbing.
Outside the door, I can hear a cover of Nat King Cole’s “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” playing softly from the speakers.
The lyric “Jack Frost nipping at your nose” reaches my ear and I don’t know whether to keep crying or start laughing. I’m 32 weeks pregnant, on a two-week vacation through Argentina and Uruguay that my doctor approved, and trying to cool down after a sweltering ride in an un-air-conditioned taxi in 90-degree heat.
I had been looking forward to this trip for months, scoffing at my husband and my parents, who asked if it was such a good idea to go on a 13-hour plane ride to the Southern Hemisphere, where it is summer during our winter. Now I wondered if I had made a huge mistake.
A pregnant woman learns to withstand judgment and questions about her decisions. Two months before I left, a pregnant woman I know looked at me wide-eyed when I told her my Christmas plans.
“You’re really brave,” she said in a way that sounded more like “You’re really irresponsible.”
She then proceeded to tell me the story of a woman, also 32 weeks pregnant, whose placenta burst while she was in Colombia. She had to give birth within the hour or risk losing the baby. What if that happens when you’re in midflight, my pregnant interlocutor said.
The story terrified me, but I knew I was getting an ultrasound six days before we left that would, I hoped, determine whether I was at risk of delivering early.
My doctor gave me a clean bill of health, told me to take half a baby aspirin on the flight to act as a blood thinner so I could avoid clots, and advised me to wear support hose.
I felt so good about the precautions I had taken I was almost smug.
But nothing could prepare me for the heat. The trip was a family reunion of sorts. I was raised in Argentina, where my mother was born and where our family is fairly sizable. My familiarity with the country was one of the reasons my doctor gave me the OK to travel.
My parents, husband, and I would be meeting my sister in Buenos Aires for a few days there, then eight days in Punta del Este in Uruguay, a resort beach city that we went to as children.
But I usually travel to Argentina in the winter, when the temperature is typically in the 50s and 40s. Now I was in a hot, humid city. Suddenly the pregnancy symptoms I had so blissfully avoided came at me in full force: swollen feet, fat ankles, constant tiredness, ornery disposition. Not to mention that I was in a body-conscious region where it seems everyone is exceedingly thin, even pregnant women. I could no longer hide my enlarged thighs and chubby arms in leggings and bulky sweaters.
Still, the heat made me anxious to get to Punta del Este, where I knew I could at least float in the ocean for relief.
After three days in Buenos Aires, we boarded a three-hour ferry to Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay. This is where being pregnant came in very handy. In Argentina and Uruguay, pregnant women get priority in any line, so whether you’re at the grocery store, the pharmacy, or the airport, you’re allowed to go ahead of everyone else. On the ferry, the treatment was the same.
I felt a little sheepish at first, avoiding the gaze of passengers who had been waiting for at least an hour before me to get their tickets. But my husband prodded me to keep milking it.
He was on to something. Instead of bemoaning my uncomfortable state, my self-consciousness, I began to embrace the freedom of pregnancy. Every day, I indulged either in helados, the creamy gelato-like ice cream they serve in Argentina and Uruguay, or churros, the deep-fried dough sticks filled with piping hot dulce de leche.
On the beach, I waddled into the ocean, past svelte bikini-clad women. Punta del Este, once a quiet beach town that was the mainstay of Argentine travelers, is now a bustling casino city, swarming with celebrities and newly rich, surgically-enhanced Brazilians. In my navy blue maternity one-piece, I looked puritanical next to most bathers who favored string bikinis that did nothing to cover their toned backsides.
Strangely enough, being pregnant took away any shame I might have felt around them. In the ocean, I delighted in the dead man’s float, giggling as I watched my belly rise out of the water like a sea monster.
On our way back to Buenos Aires, I breezed to the front of the line on the ferry. When a woman clearly only in her second trimester moved to get past me, I quickly got in front of her, muttering to myself, “Nice try, second tri.”
On our way home, we learned it was overcast with 35-degree temperatures in Boston. My emotions were mixed. I had learned to love, or at least live with, the South American heat, but as I stepped out of Logan Airport, I realized something. I had missed my leggings and bulky sweaters far more than I would miss the churros.