Cities around the world are awash with people who are living away from their home countries. Expat living has become a normal lifestyle, exemplifying our transglobal culture. Picking up and moving from Toronto to Japan isn’t always the harrowing experience it once was; people relocate for a variety of positive reasons, ranging from work or love to school or change of pace. Of course there are other less positive reasons why people move country, including environmental displacement, family violence, or poverty, to name just three.
No matter the reason, there are always aspects of an expat lifestyle that can be difficult to navigate, and for many, one area where some may feel like a “fish out of water” is around issues of naturally birthing and parenting their children. Despite initial feelings of nervousness or trepidation, parents should feel empowered to seek out the support in their new “home” that will make their parenting experience positive and possible.
Birth and Pregnancy
1. Research the traditional birth practices in your new home, and if there is a high rate of intervention or C-section and you are hoping for a natural or home birth find out what the alternative/natural options are for parents.
2. Consider contacting a doula/birth coach to assist you in finding the best birth options for you and supporting you through both pregnancy and birth. Doulas are invaluable and potentially more so for parents who are without extended family support. (Research the expression/term used for“doula” in the language of your new home.)
3. Ask other expats in your community, workplace, or friendship circles who have birthed in that country about their experiences. Even if they have had births that were vastly different from your dream-birth scenario, you can learn a great deal from these stories, and even the smallest and unexpected tip can be useful in planning your own gentle birth.
4. Advocacy is an important component of birthing. If language is a barrier for you, be sure to find someone who can translate all of your essential birth documentation. Find out if they can attend your birth, or attend a meeting with your care providers. My own experience taught me a great deal about how quickly a birthing mama can become marginalized when she does not have access to the language of her care providers. I highly recommend having a birth advocate that speaks the language of your host country.
1. The majority of expat parents are without family. If your family is planning a visit, suggest they come only once the baby has arrived, maximizing the visit time when you will need the most assistance, support, and love.
2. If you have colleagues, express that the occasional visit would be more than welcomed. Many people are hesitant to disturb the postpartum bonding time, and may shy away from dropping by. But to help ward off postpartum depression and new-parent isolation, it might help to make it clear that you will be accepting visits.
3. If you are not working in your new country, or have only been there a short time, even visits from colleagues or friends might be unlikely. Try to surround yourself with friends and family from home by taking advantage of technology such as Skype and Facebook. Although there is a screen separating you, sometimes these electronic connections can make all the difference.
4. Before the baby arrives, seek out prenatal yoga, meditation, or parenting classes to make connections with people who will be going through a similar life experience; be open to relationships and connections that you may not have otherwise found yourself pursuing. Parenting in another country sometimes asks us to stretch out of our comfortable shell and have new experiences – usually resulting in positive affirmations and connections. Use these connections as spring boards for playdates as your child grows up.
5. Look for communities of parents from your home country. It is always nice to be able to connect and discuss shared experiences in a language and cultural understanding that is unique to you. It can be wonderful to find another new parent that speaks your home language!
6. Hang around health food shops, midwifery practices, and yoga studios! These places are usually great sources of information for parents looking for resources and supplies associated with natural birthing and parenting. Look for notice boards, and you will be delighted with the wealth of information!
Know Your Rights
1. Although they most definitely should be, breastfeeding rights and laws are not universally in support of the breastfeeding mama. If you are breastfeeding your babe, make sure you get to know what your rights are and consider creating some breastfeeding cards in the language of the country you are living in to help make it clear that you know your rights.
2. Another area that you might want to research, is the legalities surrounding vaccinations. In many countries certain vaccinations are performed within a certain timeframe based on national health laws, while others only insist on this if your child plans to attend school in the country.
My own experience saw me birthing and parenting in a country where I was more than unusual for wanting a homebirth. With a high rate of scheduled C-sections, very little breastfeeding, and almost zero maternity leave, I felt awkward and isolated in my journey as a natural parent.
It was only through finding CodeNameMama and HoboMama that I was able to discover a community of like-minded parents. Of course at first, while nursing at the keyboard, I wasn’t even commenting on their experience-rich posts, instead I was absorbing the knowledge and shared know-how of parenting that I so desperately needed while living in a country that was not my own, without the family that would have supported me. Check out the many natural parent blogs linked up the NPN blogroll, and search for natural parenting forums where you can pose questions and hear from multiple perspectives.
Pregnancy, birth, and parenting are all wonderful things, but it can feel slightly overwhelming to embark on any of these when you are in surroundings and systems different from your home base. By arming yourself with a good supply of information, and ensuring that you have a support system in place, you will be ready to parent no matter where in the world you find yourself!
Photo Credit: Eric Ward