Big Challenge, Bigger Reward: Having a Baby While Living Abroad
Before I became pregnant, the idea of having a baby anywhere but in my home country seemed like a really bad idea. First, I wouldn‘t have my mother, sister-in-law, and close girlfriends around to guide me through this new, slightly scary phase of life. Second, I wouldn‘t get to speak in my native language while potentially experiencing a great deal of pain and confusion during labor. And third, the eventuality of bringing my baby home to my little German apartment without family and old friends visiting didn’t match the idea I had in my head of what those first precious and sleepless days with my little one would be like. I remember asking myself, “Can I really manage having a baby while living abroad?”
And Then Life Takes Over
The day that I found out I was pregnant, I almost immediately started to spend hours online, learning about having a baby in Germany, in order to get a feel for what this exhilarating process would be like. The articles and blogs I read helped me calm my nerves. Thankfully, many women have gone through the process of having children as foreigners in Germany before me and meticulously described what steps I should take to prepare for the arrival of my little one. I suddenly felt much less alone and ready to forge ahead into this unknown but very exciting territory!
After a few days, I started to remember all of the previous hurdles I had been through in adjusting to living abroad and how at the beginning, each bit of paperwork or appointment at the foreigner’s office seemed like a grand mountain to climb. But once I licked that envelope stuffed with bureaucratic papers or walked out of that office, I would breathe a huge sigh of relief and feel a sense of accomplishment. “Why would this situation be any different?” I asked myself. Plus, not to be understated or forgotten, I had my rock of a husband at my side. We had made it through so many difficult transitions before... this would surely be our greatest achievement yet!
Through all of that optimism, though, there was still the issue of missing my mother and close friends to share this experience with. The thought of going through pregnancy and giving birth without them made me feel pretty lonely. Yes, my husband was greatly supportive and attentive, but I needed to express my feelings and what I was going through with other women, face-to-face.
Just One Word Can Change Your Life
During the hours spent clicking through countless articles on having a baby in Germany, I picked up a German word to add to my vocabulary. Sound it out with me: Heb-am-me. Hebamme! What is that? A caring, experienced, and practical woman who will hold your hand and answer every single question you will have about having a baby: a midwife!
The services of a midwife are covered by health insurance in Germany, unlike in my home country. During a preset amount of home visits, she will answer questions about preparing your home for a baby, give you a quick prenatal checkup in the comfort of your own home, and visit you and your newborn for a preset number of postpartum visits.
I can’t say enough what a difference this wonderful woman made. During our getting-to-know-you visit at my kitchen table, I was open about my need for someone I could talk with about not only the practical aspects of preparation for giving birth and taking care of my baby, but also someone I could just talk to about my feelings. Because let’s face it, a pregnant woman is on one of the scariest and most thrilling roller coaster rides of her life and she needs someone she can cry and vent with. This wonderful, warm woman, Inken, was exactly what I needed. A midwife, friend, and therapist, all-in-one! We had a couple of in-home sessions where we didn’t get to many practical topics but instead just discussed how I was feeling about being a new mom. This woman was a godsend and helped me, and my distant mother, not feel so helpless.
Shared Motherhood Is Sisterhood
Another helpful relationship that I could not have foreseen was that of a friend and coworker who became pregnant just five weeks before I did. Let me tell you, being able to confide in someone who was going through exactly what I was going through was a tremendous help. We often met for lunch to discuss what our OBGYNs were telling us and what strange new things our burgeoning bodies were experiencing. Moreover, my friend is also an expat who was navigating pregnancy and giving birth while living abroad.
If you are like me and aren’t sure if having a baby while living abroad is right for you, here is my advice:
Step one: Ask yourself what you think you would miss from having a baby in your home country (e.g. your emotional support system, being familiar with the healthcare system, etc.).
Step two: See if you already have those things you think you are missing. If not, figure out how you can get what you need (e.g. find an online support system, ask a local to explain the local healthcare system, etc.).
Step three: Realize that you have made it through many hurdles just to live in the place you are now. Having a baby abroad is just another hurdle, but with the greatest reward you’ve ever experienced.
You can do it, Mama!