Five years ago, my husband and I packed up our Manhattan apartment and moved across the ocean to France. Our plan was to stay for two to three years and then hightail it back to the U.S. to start a family. There was no way I was going to have a baby in a foreign country!
Except that I did. And we stayed.
Despite my initial reticence—and bolstered by the experiences described in Bringing Up Bébé—I loved being pregnant in France. I have zero regrets, even though I only understood 60% of any doctor’s appointment throughout my pregnancy. During delivery, my husband stood by my shoulder translating, “Breathe…push…push again…okay, I’m not sure what the OB is saying but maybe push again?…Oh wait, no, don’t push! DON’T PUSH!!”
Even though we had lived in France for a few years, we had difficulty making close friends. When my son was born, I realized that we couldn’t continue to operate in isolation. I needed a village. Talking to my mom on FaceTime was great, but the iPad wouldn’t hold my baby while I cooked dinner. I needed more.
Either it was time to venture out or move back home.
Going against my introversion, I forced myself to join an English-speaking mom’s group where there was a slew of new moms desperate for company. Even if we had nothing in common, we could always fall back on talking about nap schedules or whether Petit Bateau onesies were really worth the price.
Over time I met women from all walks of life and from all over the world. One thing united us: we were all raising our children in a culture that wasn’t our own and we all were very much in need of extra support doing so.
So we built our own village.
Far from home, we stepped in to provide the missing safety net of living in our own countries. We help each other get through illnesses, periods of solo parenting, and pregnancies. We come together to celebrate our triumphs and mourn our #momfails. I know without a doubt that if there were an emergency, every one of them would move heaven and Earth to help me.
These women are my tribe, my squad, my people. They’re the Christina Yangs to my Meredith Grey. I can’t imagine life without them.
My husband and I now face the decision about whether or not to move back to the U.S. On one hand, I understand logically that it would be easier to raise a child closer to family, in my own culture and language. But I love being a parent here.
My son has blossomed into a French-speaking petit garçon. Nothing makes me happier than watching him grab a baguette away and yell, “Non, c’est à MOI!” He loves his nursery school and the adventures he has with Gaspard, Maude, and Thibaut. He has a love affair with both Daniel Tiger and T’Choupi.
But we’re expats; at some point, we’ll have to leave, despite our reluctance to do so.
I worry that I won’t be able to find a new tribe. The past five years have been a mind-blowing period of my life. The daily struggles to be understood. The feeling of never really fitting in. The insane experience of raising your child 3,600 miles from home.
Will my new friends in New York or Chicago or Seattle be able to understand? Or will my life here become something that I think of often but don’t talk about?
Perhaps most importantly, my concern is that once we’re back in the U.S., I’ll become someone else. My experience of moving abroad was that your life gets thrown up into the air and you have to piece it back together. You’re the same, but different. I imagine moving back will be a similar experience, except even more intense. Will I be the same mom? The same wife? The same woman?
As I think about how I define home, I’m torn. The French verb for “to return home” is rentrer. My French teacher explained that it’s a psychological verb: home can be defined however the speaker wishes.
You can rentrer to your physical house. You can rentrer to your country of origin. You can rentrer to the town in which you grew up. (You cannot, however, rentrer to the grocery store because you forgot to buy milk).
As we sort out the next step of our life, I need to wrap my head around the fact that it may be time to rentrer. But as I think about our life in France—and the women who have supported me for the past three years—I know I’ll always be able to rentrer here too.
Hadley Seward is a certified sleep consultant and mom of a three-year-old. Based in France, she helps exhausted parents across Europe and North America to improve their children’s sleep. Meet her at bonnenuitbaby.com or follow her adventures at @hadleyinfrance.