The Reality of Having A Baby Abroad
Before having a baby, distance didn’t seem to affect me that much. But now, it feels especially acute.
Like a lot of millennials, I spent the better part of my twenties traveling abroad. I met my husband abroad, married abroad and I live abroad. But it never actually occurred to me that I would have a baby abroad.
Growing up on the east coast of America I became accustomed to four seasons, commercialised holidays, and the fast paced culture. On the other hand, my husband’s coastal Australian upbringing conditioned his persistent need for surf, sand, and perfect weather year round. It should come as no surprise from our opposing lifestyles, that I ended up in Brisbane. My exposure to living around more variables made it easier to leave.
So here I am 9,469 miles or 15239 kilometres away from my family. All of a sudden pregnancy, labour, and raising a child seemed unfairly challenging.
To imply I am completely alone though is an understatement. My in-laws live within walking distance, and thanks to the aforementioned nomadic twenties, I have friends scattered between countries. Although we have plenty of family and friends near and far, charting unfamiliar territory without my own mother by my side, I experienced motherhood in a way without precedent in my circle.
Once the reality of having a baby abroad settled in, I endured really high highs and deeper lows. As a mother who struggled to adjust to the harsh realities of our basic existence, I spent a majority of my motherhood journey feeling alone because I felt there was no one I could relate to.
By dwelling on the distance I overlooked the beneficial aspects of having a baby abroad. Although Australia and America outwardly seem very similar culturally, they differ in how their societies priorities families. There are an abundant of options related to maternal wellbeing, to help mothers transition into motherhood, something I particular needed. I qualified for healthcare, government funded maternity leave, and had easily accessible prenatal and postnatal care.
Having a baby abroad, just like being a parent has its challenges and it’s important to ensure there is a dialogue about the more difficult sides and how to cope.
You Become Homesick
Visiting cousins in America
Aside from free childcare, there is sentimental aspects of having family close by. My aunts, uncles, cousins, and particularly my two siblings played an integral role in my childhood. I worry I am depriving my daughter of these experiences, of knowing her aunts, uncles or cousins that could double as her playmates.
While FaceTime has made the distance feel more bearable, I watched as my family played a one dimensional role in my daughters life from birth and it just didn’t feel right. I noticed a creeping resentment within me at the thought of there being no substantial relationships. My family attempts to hide their sadness at our absence, but with every milestone we miss I feel more and more detached.
Although my husband’s family isn’t far, the dynamic within is vastly different from mine. My daughter is very much for them the first change in generation. There are no little cousins to play with, an involving uncle or family, such as my sister to go through motherhood with. But regardless, there is a support system, just not the one I imagined and with time I have learned that is okay.
Family Friendly Culture
My forever coffee date
California with 3 month old Kirra
I come from the only developed nation without a paid parental leave policy. The term maternity leave is a foreign concept to my friends on planet America. My inbox is packed full of messages curious as to how I’m managing to grab a coffee on a Tuesday at 10am with an eight month old or hop on a plane multiple time in a year.
By having a baby abroad I sacrificed significant relationships with my daughter, but on the other hand I am entitled to a substantial amount of maternity leave. Without feeling direct conflict between motherhood and my career, I was able to recover from the psychological aspects associated with pregnancy, labor, and birth.
Without a doubt, maternity leave allows mothers like myself to maintain their health and welfare of their newborn. But we also choose to use maternity leave to expose our daughter to world. We were able to take her on 19 flights in her first year of life. Apart from meeting my family she saw the parthenon in Greece, the Singapores supertrees and the beaches of Hawaii.
Birth Experiences Slightly Vary
“Have you got insurance” is one of the first questions a patent gets asked in America.
Health care in Australia is a blended system, funded by federal and state government as well as private health insurance. I experienced first hand both the private and public health care system — something so controversial in America.
Due to my private health insurance not covering pregnancy because of a waiting period, I had to decide between public or private. The concept of going through a universal system where a majority of the costs involved are covered sounded appealing. However, there are limitation to such a free system that just didn’t sit well with me. There are limited to no choice in doctor, partners are not allowed to stay over night, and depending on availability you may be discharged within 4 hours.
Why I choose to go Private
As a result of complications I was hospitalised around 29 weeks. Since I was a private patent paying for my own out of pocket expenses, I was transferred to the public hospital to cut down on costs. It quickly became evident I made the right decision to go private. Firsthand, I witnessed and became a number in a system of long waiting periods, multiple doctors, and delayed care.
Unlike my experience in the public hospital, my recovery in the private sector felt like a five star hotel. A physiotherapist taught techniques on how to avoid using abdominals after a major surgery, such as a cesarean. I also attended a free breastfeeding class, and a lactation consultant visited daily.
Care and comfort factors played a huge role in my decision making process to go private. As a first time mom, knowing one obstetrician though-out my journey felt comforting and a longer private recovery is what drew me to the private system.
Postnatal Care is Different When You’re Abroad
The support provided during and after childbirth basically felt like I was giving birth in a pile of money.
There are an abundance of options available for new mothers during every stage of motherhood to ease the transition. To help my partner and I prepare for labour and birth we attend free antenatal classes, a hospital tour, and a private session with a midwife. After we left the hospital, a homecare program provided services at home. For the first few weeks a midwife visited for post birth checkups and support.
After we passed our home visits from the midwife, we still had plenty of questions about this little person who never seemed to stop crying, and never seemed to start sleeping. A local parenting support centre offered free consultations on our daughters growth and development and a free breastfeeding clinic. Moreover a state organisation known as Child Health Services provided free postnatal classes and pointed us into the direction of several mothers groups. And if that isn’t enough, the city council offered free pilates classes for moms and their bubs.
With all of this free support, I could basically blow all my money on fancy stretch mark cream and endless amounts of coffee.
Making Friends Becomes Easier
When I first moved to Brisbane I found it quite difficult to make friends. I wasn’t surrounded by same-aged peers who happened to be in a similar life stage, such as high school and university. The friendly acquaintances I had already were in that tight group of friends. I eventually made friends though work and at the local gym, but it took time.
When I had a baby though, forming friendships was surprising easy. I joined several mothers groups, attended library nursery rhymes, and signed my daughter up for a sensory play class. I soon began to see familiar faces meeting other new mothers in similar positions. We bonded not from pure convenience, but from shared experiences, tips, and views. As an instant support network was formed, I made new friends, gained exposure to different ways of parenting and avoided isolation.
It Takes a Village, Even When You’re Not in Your Own
Since my daughter was the size of a pomegranate seed our friends and family near and far offered nothing but unconditional support.
But after the arrival of my daughter I sensed a shift in the family dynamic.
We bought my daughter home from the hospital, and hosted in turn my mother-in-law and mother. At first my mother-in-law made herself useful by doing practical work, washing dishes, cleaning, and changing diapers, which I did appreciate. Every morning she fuelled my coffee addiction just to have a glimpse of my daughter. But she also wanted to calm our fitful daughter, hold her for what felt like hours, and constantly point out familiar features. She was clearly besotted with her, desperate for some type of connection harmlessly reminding me that in fact my daughter is in her blood. She became a constant reminder of how much I longed for my own mother.
When my own mother finally arrived she sat quietly, trying desperately to remain emotional detached. Whenever I would open up about my struggles with breastfeeding, theories on sleep, or my daughter’s constant crying, she would grow dismissive, unwilling to knowledge that her own methods or the methods of my sister’s were clearly rooted in the theories of her time.
Motherhood and grandparenthood are works in progress. Looking back at our families misguided visits, I can now see my contribution to the dynamic. I didn’t understand our roles and broke down our line of communication. Instead of giving a clue as to how they could help, I expected them to read my mind. Above all, I have learned not to be too hard on myself or the new grandmas’ in our life. Besides, don’t we have the next 35 years to figure it out?