Having a Baby Abroad – Global Differences Series: UK
Next up in the series of The Global Differences of Baby-Making we go to the UK to hear about how Michelle Garrett dealt with being away from her family, working full time and the strain it put on her relationship.
Tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you from? How old are your children and where did you have them? I’m from the American Midwest. I moved to England over 20 years ago as a student, fell in love, and after finishing my degree I moved to London to live with my boyfriend. We got married and a few years later had our daughter in Whitechapel, in London’s East End–a long way (in many ways) from the pretty little town I grew up in, in northern Minnesota!
As an expectant mother abroad how did you feel?
Aa an expectant mother I felt like everything was perfect. I had a very happy pregnancy experience. I loved it and I was excited everyday about meeting my child. My English husband was a junior doctor at a time when junior doctors were working 80 hour weeks but it wasn’t until my daughter was born that this had a major effect on us. It’s amazing what young, childless couples can put up with.
Did you encounter any opinions that would have been different in your home country with regards to your pregnancy or parenting choices?
When our daughter was born and I was working 168 hour weeks our relationship went rapidly downhill. My parents couldn’t visit very often and I couldn’t afford to go home. I hadn’t learned to drive in the UK so I walked everywhere, pushing my little baby in the pushchair all over the East End. Actually, I learned very quickly that my new accessory, the pushchair, made my grocery shopping much easier. I did sometimes become overly ambitious and overload the pushchair and one time it collapsed backward. I felt like a terrible mother with my daughter crashing to the floor of Sainsbury’s, bags of shopping all around her. But she didn’t even seem to notice. I think she was so used to the bumps and rough ride of Whitechapel’s uneven pavements that she just took this incident in her stride.
My husband and I eventually separated and divorced and I bercame a single mum in the UK. My family expected me to go home but because I had lived in the UK all my adult life (about 10 years at that point) it would have been too difficult to cope with repatriation on top of coping with divorce. I suppose my parents thought it would be easier to support me if I were closer, but there was a part of me that felt that going home would be admitting defeat. So I stayed, survived, and eventually met the love of my life and remarried. My daughter now has four fantastic English step-siblings and a wonderful, very involved English step-father.
What advice would you give other mothers in your situation?
The hardest part of having a child overseas was the lack of emotional and physical support. Neither my in-laws or my parents could visit and help with any frequency and my ex-husband was simply too busy or too exhausted by his job. I had some friends thorugh my work but they were mostly single and lived all over London. How I wish there were blogs and online social networks then as there are now! I highly recommend any new mum/mom to develop an online community of support–these comminities are global so there’ll always be someone at any hour of the day or night. But I also recommend real, in person support. Make the effort–start a baby and toddler group if there aren’t any in your area. There is no substitute for sitting down with a friend over a cup of tea, even if you only just met that friend at the local playgroup an hour previously.