Next up in the series of The Global Differences of Baby-Making I talk to Rachel who is American and had her first daughter in Albania. Here is her story:
Tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you from? How old are your children and where did you have them?
My name is Rachel and I am 28 years old. My husband, David, and I are from the United States. David’s work brought us to Tirana, Albania a year ago when I was 4 months pregnant. We have one precious little girl, Elena, who is 7 months old now. She was born in Tirana in a government-run hospital. Why did you have your children abroad? We chose to have our daughter abroad because we knew that my husband would not be able to leave work for an extended length of time. Besides that, we did not have insurance at the time and Albania has socialized medicine.
What do you feel were the benefits to having children abroad?
It has definitely proven to be a great relationship builder with the Albanians. When they find out we chose to have our daughter here they immediately call her an Albanian and suddenly we are “in” with people.
Being born and growing up overseas will give Elena (and our future children) opportunities to explore many new places and cultures that she wouldn’t have been able to see if we lived in the US. Elena will grow up speaking at least two languages (David speaks to her in Albanian because he is almost fluent in it) and she’s been to three countries already. She will know how to adapt and relate to different people from so many different places.
As an expectant mother abroad how did you feel?
Like any first-time expectant mother, I was excited, nervous, and scared. I think that was compounded by the fact that I was in a foreign country. I didn’t know what to expect both because I hadn’t delivered before and because I didn’t know what the Albanian hospitals and doctors would be like. It was difficult having my family and friends so far away during this time. Thankfully, my mom was able to come over for a month and was here when I gave birth.
I was also worried about the fact that I didn’t speak Albanian and wouldn’t know what the doctors or nurses were telling me during delivery. Since my husband speaks the language he was my translator the whole time. My doctor, who spoke English, chose most of the time to speak Albanian to us, so I was dependent upon David to explain what the doctor was saying both in our pre-delivery visits and in the delivery room. And I was especially nervous because I was told that Albanian nurses didn’t have the nicest bedside manners, but the nurse at my delivery was very sweet; even though she didn’t speak English, after each contraction she would pat my back and say, “Bravo”.
Did you encounter any opinions that would have been different in your home country with regards to your pregnancy or parenting choices?
Definitely! My delivery experience was full of cultural differences. For one thing, we had to get special permission for my husband and mom to be in the delivery room with me. Here in Albania, women are usually alone with the nurses and doctors. Also, since they have socialized medicine here everything is free, but in order to get good service from doctors or nurses you pay bribes. We chose our doctor because we knew that he refused to take bribes and because we heard he is the best obstetrician in the country. Albanians are very concerned about babies getting sick from air-conditioners so there was no a/c in my delivery room in mid-July.
In the States we might go overboard with our equipment, but there was no ultrasound machine to monitor my contractions, my heartbeat, or Elena’s heartbeat. Instead they monitored her heartbeat with a pinard horn (a kind of stethoscope that looks like a horn; one end goes on the mother’s belly and the other end to your ear in order to hear the baby’s heartbeat.) Though there were many differences, I knew these ladies had delivered a lot of babies and knew what they were doing, with or without equipment.
Thankfully I had a good, uncomplicated delivery.
One thing I love about parenting in Albania is that Albanians love children and pay a lot of attention to them. Everywhere I go with Elena her cheeks are pinched and she is adored and played with. I’ve already been warned that when we go back to the US for a visit I need to remember that not everyone is going to stop what they are doing to give their full attention to my child! In the US there are many different parenting styles, but here in Albania they all seem to parent the same way. It happens to be a bit different than how we have chosen to raise Elena. Well-meaning Albanian ladies often stop me in the street to correct something they see that they don’t approve of. For instance, I have been told that I need to put more clothes on Elena, that her nose is cold, that she needs to eat every hour, that I need to rush home if she is crying, and that she needs to be wearing shoes, even though she isn’t walking!
What advice would you give other mothers in your situation?
While you are pregnant it is important to research and get as much information as you can beforehand. Ask other ex-pats who’ve delivered in that country what advice they would give you based on their experiences. Have in mind what you want and find a doctor and hospital that best fits that need – but be flexible with it. Things will probably go differently than you planned, so remember that your doctor has delivered hundreds if not thousands of babies. He has a lot of experience under his belt to help him out! I am learning to be gracious while raising my child overseas. When strangers give you unsolicited advice just say thank you and keep walking. Don’t let them frustrate you or get under your skin. Adapt a bit to their culture as well. Don’t be so rigid in your parenting style that you can’t learn from the locals.
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