I excitedly clicked on the article, “5 Tips for the Expectant Expat” expecting to find an article about being pregnant abroad. Instead, the article contained five tips for preparing for expatriation. When something is on your brain, you start to see it everywhere. Clearly, I have pregnancy on my brain 24/7. The idea of expecting expats gave me the idea to jot down some of my own tips beyond my favorite, “Use your belly as a table for convenient spill-free eating.”
Please feel free to share your own experiences in the comments to share the wealth of knowledge that we have learned from our own journeys.
1. Import baby culture that is meaningful to you
If you live in a country with completely different baby culture than the one you hail from, you may feel like your pregnancy journey is lacking in some way. For example, in Sweden, it is not customary to have a baby shower whereas, in the US, every pregnancy milestone is an excuse for a party—the pregnancy reveal, the gender reveal, the name reveal, and finally, the birth itself. A quick search on Pinterest results in an avalanche of creative ways to celebrate all of these milestones. If anything like this is important to you, then find a way to do it anyway and to honor those traditions. Living far away from family and friends may force you to be a bit more creative and flexible, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t still celebrate in your own way.
2. Incorporate/adopt some local baby traditions
You can have the best of both worlds—import the traditions from “home” and adopt the local traditions. For instance, in some Hindu cultures, a naming ceremony takes place three months after birth. The child is laid on a blanket and women hold the four corners and gently sway the child back and forth while singing. It all sounds like a lovely gathering of family and friends to surround your baby with love.
3. Find or hire someone who can advocate on your behalf
There may be language barriers in addition to those cultural barriers that might prevent you from having the birth experience you’d expect. You are going to want to be able to focus on birthing your baby, and not worrying about translation errors or not being able to make your wishes known. It might be worthwhile to look for a doula or a friend who understands the language and medical system and can help you navigate it smoothly. Even the most fluent mothers may find it stressful to birth in a non-native language. Having an advocate there who you can trust will reduce stress and can increase your chances for a smooth delivery.
4. Arrange visits (real or virtual) with family ahead of time
Time zone differences can be a blessing or a curse when it comes to connecting with family and friends at crucial moments. Before the baby arrives, check with everyone ahead of time to see if they don’t mind a middle of the night phone call announcement when the baby is born. It is fun to hear the excitement in people’s voices over the phone, but it’s even more fun to see it on their faces. WIth some advanced planning, you can arrange for Skype or Facetime dates with your family so they feel like they are a part of your big day. If you plan on having anyone visit you in person, plan for them to arrive sometime within the two weeks after your due date. You’ll still benefit from their help and they won’t miss out on any newborn baby cuddles.
5. Research, research, research
Crowdsource any fellow mothers who have birthed in your country, ask questions during your prenatal appointments, read (with a grain of salt) blogs on the internet of other women’s experiences. Childbirth is remarkably different and similar all at the same time. While each of our experiences are incredibly unique, someone may have experienced something that will help you during your own childbirth experience. Preparing yourself mentally ahead of time can help get you physically ready for the task ahead.
Bonus tip: Relax and try to enjoy yourself
So much of pregnancy is completely out of your control so just let go and enjoy the ride. Savor the happy moments—the little kicks, movements in the middle of the night, the hiccups—enjoy all of it because there may be stressful or challenging times ahead. Try not to worry unnecessarily so that you can enjoy your experience from start to finish.