It was my new favorite Chinese phrase: “Wo bu pang. Wo huai yun le.”
I cherished these words, anxious for every chance I had to spill them from my mouth. When shopping for clothing or ordering a second croissant at Starbucks, I confidently announced: “I am not fat! I am pregnant!”
Already more than a year into my private Mandarin lessons, I discovered this obvious gap in my vocabulary when I was pregnant with Brigid. I was at the mall trying on a sweater that was tight enough to cling to my protruding midsection. I had just transitioned from ambiguous lumpiness to a nice roundness, something I was happy to celebrate. As I turned and admired the way the sweater hugged my new but welcome curves, I realized that the shop assistant was looking on with horror. Stumbling a bit to find the words, all I could do was point at my belly and say something about having a baby in there. The look of relief that swept across her face was enough to let me know I had expressed myself adequately.
At my very next Chinese lesson, my tutor Flora began my lesson with the proper phrase for the situation at the mall. She was naturally amused that somehow we had overlooked my need to be able to say, “I’m pregnant.” She had known early on because Myles could not keep the secret well. One morning he had interrupted my lesson asking Flora how to say “throw up every morning,” since that was what his mommy was doing because of the baby in her tummy.
I was also amused that none of the textbooks or supplementary materials, all commonly used in commercial Mandarin training centers, contained any vocabulary that I was going to need when I was expecting. Because of the social and business focus of the textbooks, I had long since learned the words for “reserve a table,” “meet the guests at the hotel” and “sign the contract.”
I did come across a specifically male orientation with one grammar lesson which instructed me to use the proper wording: “Tell your Chinese girlfriend she should learn to make Western food.” While I would not want to witness that discussion, Flora instructed me that yinggai or yao would be better than genhao in this situation. I told her that I would just have to take her word for it.
For everyday vocabulary, Flora and I wrote our own flashcards. Certainly these would include names of what I would buy at the grocery store, but also unusual words that I really did use often, like names of dinosaurs, art supplies and baseball terminology.
Now that I was having a baby, there was a whole new world of language that we needed to cover. In addition to “I’m not fat. I’m pregnant,” I needed to know how to say “maternity clothes” and “heartburn.”
I gloried in “Wo bu pang. Wo huai yun le” for too short of a time, though. Only a few weeks later, I had to learn how to say, “Not twins. Only one.”
Jennifer Ambrose hails from Western Pennsylvania and misses it terribly. She still maintains an intense devotion to the Pittsburgh Steelers. She has lived in China since 2006 and is currently an at-home mother. With her husband Randy and children Myles and Brigid, she resides outside the Sixth Ring Road in Changping, northwest of Beijing. Her blog can be found at http://jenambrose.blogspot.com.