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Having a Baby Abroad – Global Differences Series: HONG KONG

Having a baby abroad Hong kongNext up in the series of The Global Differences of Baby-Making we go to Hong Kong to hear Rebekah’s story about how she had her daughter abroad. She talks about having a baby in Hong Kong, the differences in care and the dilemma of where to have another baby!

Tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you from? How old is your daughter and where did you have her?

I grew up in the outskirts of Chicago, and moved to “the city” as it’s called by us ruralites, for college. I met Hubs my junior year, and we had quite an instant connection. He soon after moved to Tokyo, the first sign of our life to come. We married in 2007 and moved to Hong Kong 4 months later. I found I was pregnant with Harriet the day we were to move, and she was born at Matilda International Hospital here in Hong Kong.


Why did you have your daughter abroad?

There were two big factors. first, we had great insurance when Harriet was born, and it paid for a much nicer hospital here than I’d ever have in the states, but second and more important, I didn’t want to be separated from Hubs when giving birth. He’s my cliché rock and I didn’t want to go through it without him.


What do you feel were the benefits to having children abroad?

This could be controversial, but one of the major advantages was that after Harriet was born, we had time to become a family before introducing her to the rest of ours. We enjoyed having time to figure things out. It took a lot of the stress off, and helped us to get to know our daughter. It meant that by the time we did take her “home” at 7 weeks to introduce her to family, there was no way anyone could suggest they knew better than we did how to care for her. The other major benefit was simply that it made us feel at home here. we had a family here, it gave us some roots, and if you know anything about us, roots aren’t something we have a lot of.



As an expectant mother abroad how did you feel?

Initially I was very nervous about the system here, as private hospitals book almost as soon as pregnancy is confirmed, and the public system, while medically excellent, is very different than what I was familiar with. Once we were confirmed a spot at our chosen hospital, I felt quite good about things. I did worry about caring for my baby if I required a C section, as I knew my husband had limited parental leave, but we decided that if it came to that, we would fly someone over to help.


Did you encounter any opinions that would have been different in your home country with regards to your pregnancy or parenting choices?

Absolutely. So many things. It had a baby in May. it gets HOT in Hong Kong starting in roughly March, yet I had to practically beg for ice water in restaurants, as drinking cold things are considered dangerous for the baby or will cause distress in delivery, depending on which little old lady tells you her version…I understand that these are their beliefs, but being in an international city, not a small village, I didn’t anticipate this. Another thing we had to deal with was breastfeeding in public. Breastfeeding was the norm at the hospital we chose, and that is part of why we chose it, but definitely not in public. If you know Chinese culture you realize that in most cases they will not be too confrontational, but they certainly can stare and give you the stink eye. We continually deal with other cultural issues like touching baby’s hands (better now that Harriet is nearly 3 and will tell people no) but I was certainly grateful for my Ergo carrier and I learned to be a bit more aggressive with my stroller (when I used it) than I would be in the States.


What advice would you give other mothers in your situation?

Know your options, and if in Hong Kong, resister early. Some hospitals offer pre-registration. Geobaby.com (not affiliated in any way, just a very helpful site for me) is always the most up to date on hospital practices for western families, knows which OBs support natural birth, who will sign you up for a C section right away, etc.


Now we are considering a second baby and debating what to do. The public hospital system here is good, but I am spoiled by my previous experience. The idea of not having my baby room in is not ideal, and home births are not really an option in Hong Kong, as it’s not exactly legal, as I’ve been told, so there is no safety net if something goes wrong, and well educated providers are hard pressed to assist due to their legal risk.


You can find Rebekah on Twitter and you can visit her blog: www.nuclearnomads.com


Want to share your story? Get in touch: ameena@mummyinprovence.com


Having a Baby Abroad – Global Differences Series: SWITZERLAND

having baby in switzerlandNext up in the series of The Global Differences of Baby-Making we go to Switzerland to hear Marcy’s story about having her first son abroad.

Tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you from? How old are your children and where did you have them?


My name is Marcy.  I was born in Chile, but moved to the US (Texas) when I was 11 years old. My husband and I met in high school, and after dating on and off for about 6 years we got engaged at the end of college.  We now live in California and have been married for 7 years.  We have two boys– Donovan who is 3 years old and born at a birth center in Switzerland, and Quinn who was born in our home in California just over four months ago!  I’m trained as a Montessori teacher, though I now stay at home with my boys.  I write a blog (not as regularly now with the new baby, though I hope to get better about it again soon) and can be frequently found hanging out on twitter.


Why did you have your children abroad?

My husband had made it clear at his job that he was very interested in opportunities abroad.  So when his company bought a small business in Geneva, Switzerland, his boss came to him first to offer him the ex-pat opportunity.  We happily took it! We spent 18 months living in Geneva.  We had already been planning to try for a baby shortly after we would have moved, and we briefly considered putting the baby plans on hold while abroad but in the end decided to keep our “timeline” and see how things went.  As iut turned out, I got pregnant within a few months of moving to Switzerland.

Marcy and her husband Zach in Annecy, France

What do you feel were the benefits to having children abroad?

I liked to joke that since we lived somewhere where we didn’t completely know the language, I got to skip all the unwelcome advice (and even criticism) often bestowed upon pregnant women!  Also, the Swiss tend to be much more reserved and respectful of personal space, so I avoided much of the strangers-groping-your-belly issue.  There were certainly a few aspects that were difficult, like being so far away from our families back home, and the language barrier was definitely there.  But I also discovered many positives.  For example, in much of Europe it is standard to do monthly ultrasounds at your prenatal appointments.  I now know that perhaps that many ultrasounds isn’t the best idea, but at the time it was incredible to get to see my baby every month.  Also, the attitudes towards pregnancy and what is or isn’t “allowed” were much more relaxed. In the US the list of “don’t”s (don’t eat this, don’t do that, etc) is a mile long.  In Switzerland, I was told to wash my lettuce very thoroughly, and don’t eat undercooked red meat.  That was it.  Pregnant women drank wine, ate soft cheeses, etc.  Also, I was always offered a seat on public transportation, no matter how full.  I loved that.


One big advantage of giving birth in Switzerland was a very positive experience with breastfeeding.  At least during the first few months, breastfeeding is highly encouraged and culturally supported.  I often breastfed my baby out in public, at sidewalk cafes, etc, both in Geneva and in France, without using a cover, and rather than odd looks or rude comments I instead received warm smiles of encouragement.  This was so great, as it gave me the confidence to not worry about offending anyone by nursing in public once we moved back to the US.  Also, when Donovan was born he developed pretty bad jaundice and had to stay in the hospital, under the blue lights for 2 days to treat it.  In many places in the US the doctors would have been pushing me to use formula to “help” with the jaundice, but in Geneva that was never even brought up.  Instead the nurses in the hospital were very supportive and encouraging of breastfeeding.


As an expectant mother abroad how did you feel?

Many things.  Though as it was my first pregnancy, I didn’t have much else to compare it to.  I was pleased by things like not feeling like I had to be so paranoid about everything I ate or did as a pregnant woman.  I do remember feeling frustrated, though, at the highly medicalized view of childbirth in Geneva. I knew I wanted to give birth naturally, if at all possible, with few or no interventions.  I knew the US maternity system made natural birth difficult, but had expected that living in Europe would make my goal easier to accomplish.  Isn’t Europe so progressive??  What I quickly found was that some countries in Europe, and even the German side of Switzerland, are very supportive of and conducive to natural childbirth and even things like home and water birth.  The French side of Switzerland, however, and specifically Geneva where we were, were not. I searched and searched and could not find a birthing center in Geneva.  The hospitals, which were like 5-star hotels with incredible accommodations, were also rumored to have c-section rates as high as 50%!  I was happy enough with my OB until I finally, at 7 months pregnant, talked to her about labor and childbirth and options like moving about freely and pushing in different positions. She essentially told me there was no reason to use any position other than lying flat on my back on the bed.

That’s when I knew I wanted her nowhere near me or my baby during birth.

One of my other concerns about birthing in a hospital in Geneva was the language barrier. My French was good, but trying to talk about medical issues, let alone while in labor, was not something I wanted to deal with.  While most doctors in the hospitals spoke English, it was a complete luck of the draw on whether the nurses or hospital midwives would (when we did end up having to stay in the hospital with my son for his jaundice, we found that almost none of the nurses spoke English).  Miraculously, it was about that same time that I finally discovered a small birthing center just outside Geneva.  I met with that midwife (who spoke perfect English), toured the center, and transferred my care to her for that last month or two of my pregnancy.  Best decision I ever made!  It was such a relief.



2 week old Donovan in Geneva

Did you encounter any opinions that would have been different in your home country with regards to your pregnancy or parenting choices?

That’s the funny thing, I had expected it to be different but other than things like monthly ultrasounds and blood draws during pregnancy, many things were similar– too similar.  I have no problem with hospitals or modern medicine, I have been very glad to use them when needed (like when my son had jaundice, or later when he developed a UTI at 2 months old!).  However, I quickly learned that just as in the US, hospitals in Geneva were not set up to be conducive to natural labor.  I’m quite certain I would have needed an epidural had I given birth in the hospital, since they were not set up to help you cope with labor in alternate ways (like labor tubs).  Instead, at the birth center I had plenty of space to move and walk about freely, and also had a large bath tub where I spent most of my labor because it made such a difference in easing the pain of contractions.


One thing that was different, which I mentioned above, was the attitudes towards breastfeeding (in the US we *say* we support breastfeeding, but the practices of most hospitals and doctors don’t really, usually out of ignorance more than anything– nurses and doctors get almost no training on breastfeeding and often unintentionally end up spreading myths).  I was very glad for that support.  Also, circumcision is still routine in many places in the US but not so in most of Europe, so opting to leave our son intact was simple.


One amusing difference in thoughts about parenting is that the Swiss seem to have an obsession with drafts and cold air.  Babies are NOT to be exposed to any drafts!!  It apparently makes them very, very sick.  Donovan came down with his UTI, my neighbor (a lovely, wonderful older woman) told me it may have been because we don’t always put shoes on him when walking outside and his feet probably got cold.  My husband and I still giggle about that one. ; )


What advice would you give other mothers in your situation?

Do your homework!  When I interviewed my OB I asked her about birth practices and she waved my questions away saying we’d talk about it “later.” Well, later turned into realizing at 7 months along that my OB and I shared VERY different views on giving birth.  It would have been nice to discover that sooner.  If you are abroad and decide to give birth in a hospital, but worry about the language barrier, that’s one more reason to consider hiring a doula (I would have done that if I’d had to use the hospital after all).  Mostly, and this goes for any pregnant woman really, is to research and decide early on what kind of birth you want to strive towards, and find a labor support team (OB/midwife/doula/etc) who will help you achieve it.  Things may not go according to plan, but if you don’t plan and prepare to begin with then there’s very little chance things will go as you want.


Also, for anyone living abroad but especially those who are pregnant abroad– find an ex-pat group to be friends with.  I found a group of English-speaking women (from the US, Canada, England, etc) while still pregnant.  They were a great help with knowledge and support, from everything from breastfeeding to which shops sell what specialty parenting item.  Also, if I hadn’t met the group while still pregnant, I may have never actually made it out to the weekly meet-ups with a newborn.  It was so, so helpful to have that group of women, a few of who I still keep in touch with.


Want to share your story? Get in touch: ameena@mummyinprovence.com

Having a Baby Abroad – Global Differences Series: BRAZIL

having baby abroad brazilNext up in the series of The Global Differences of Baby-Making we go to Brazil to hear Alexandra’s story of having both her children in Brazil, dealing with being abroad, language and cultural differences.

Tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you from? How old are your children and where did you have them?

My name is Alexandra; I’m 32 years old, mother to two sons aged 3 1/2 years old and 2 years old, both born in Brazil. I am French American, born in Cincinnati (OH). In the USA, I have live in CT and NH. I have also lived in Brazil (3year), Japan (5 years) and France (15+).

Why did you have your children abroad?

We had just moved to Brazil for my husband’s work. We had gotten married that summer in Paris and I had quit my job as a High School teacher to follow my husband abroad. We always knew we wanted kids. So it seemed like a perfect time (I always wanted to be an at-home-mommy too). Plus in Brazil we could have help (cleaning lady and nanny for very affordable, and it never hurts to have help especially with no family close by!).

What do you feel were the benefits to having children abroad?

Instead of having just two passports, my sons now have three! I got to learn the culture of a new country – all lot can be said about a country based on their baby-making/ health culture and procedures. Brazil may not be the most developed country, but when it comes to day-to-day civility and helping your neighbor and being kind to strangers, they win first place. In Brazil, a pregnant woman is Queen – I could cut lines at the bank, post office, public WC, anywhere. People I didn’t know made sure I always had water to drink and a place to sit. The Brazilians are always smiling, always happy and gay, always willing to help you out. They are perpetually friendly, they pay attention to you and your needs, they make things personal (you’re not just another patient, another number). Their ‘accueil’ (welcome) is wonderful and thus made both my pregnancies and c-sections so pleasant.

As an expectant mother abroad how did you feel?

We had only been in Brazil for three months when I found out I was pregnant. At first, like any woman anywhere in the world it was a little scary and some-what overwhelming. There are so many questions and language and culture become a big boundary issue in an instant. Because I had never been pregnant anywhere before I didn’t know what made a good doctor, what made a good maternity ward, what exams I should have, if there were vitamins…etc.  At first I just wanted my mother!  But then I learned that I was getting all the vitamins and exams you get in France and the USA and I felt better. I had help from some new friends (a French sage-femme (midwife), and my Portuguese teacher who’s brother worked in a Canadian funded Brazilian hospital) who suggested I not give birth in the small town we were residing in. I found a great hospital a half hour away (the Canadian sponsored one). I found a wonderful gynecologist. I knew I was in good hands.

I also wanted things to be easy – and everything seemed so complicated; even something supposedly fun like preparing the nursery became a task. We lived in a small town and we had to drive two hours to Rio or three and a half hours to Sao Paulo to buy quality baby items. We had to research online for stores, contact shop owners, learn vocabulary, it was a real pain, I just wanted to go to Babies ‘R’ Us and easily find, without a doubt good quality, name brand baby items at affordable prices. (Everything imported into Brazil receives a 50% tax increase – I didn’t trust Brazilian brands and all the ‘parent approved, doctor tested’ American and European products where super expensive.)

Did you encounter any opinions that would have been different in your home country with regards to your pregnancy or parenting choices?


Abortion is not permitted in Brazil. So I was concerned with the exams, that the doctors be honest with me if there was a significant problem because if need be, I had other options. Doctors don’t always tell you ‘how bad things are’ because in any event, you still have to carry the baby to full-term in Brazil…

I also didn’t want to breast feed, and Brazil proudly supports breast-feeding which is the complete opposite of France. (I am not sure how it is in the USA). The doctors and midwives and even friends made me feel like I would be such a bad mother, neglecting my baby if I didn’t breast feed. I felt so guilty. It’s thanks to my friend, the French sage-femme who told me that any decisions I make, I make for me. She told me not to do anything I didn’t want to do only because the others wanted me to do it.  That was very powerful advice. She gave me the confidence to say no strongly enough to breast-feeding and after that I was left alone.

Also, in Brazil, the “accueil” was phenomenal. My gyno would hug me every time I came in for an appointment. She would take the time to ask me about personal things (house, home, family) besides my belly, and she would share her personal stories with me too… She also gave me her cell phone number so I could call her if ever I needed anything. Every nurse that I met would smile and chit chat and make me feel special.  When I went back to give birth to my second son a year and a half after my first son was born ALL the nurses and doctors remembered me (even if I didn’t) and even if they weren’t treating or testing me they came over to say hello. Nothing beats that kind of welcome and friendly outreach.

What advice would you give other mothers in your situation?

When you’re abroad, don’t think everything will be worse than in your home country, sometimes it’s even better, as was my case in Brazil. The grass always appears greener on the other side, but know that even in your home country you will feel anxious and worry. Make sure you are getting the care you need and that you are exercising your right to make your own choices where ever you are.

Surround yourself with people who can help you – check the expat community, find other mothers (foreign and native) that can help you ask questions, visit the maternity ward before hand, etc to make you feel at ease giving birth in your host country; Find a buddy. I met another French girl who was also pregnant – we could vent and discuss and bitch and it made everything easier and fun. Our sons were born 15 days apart and we’ve become best friends. She’s also the Godmother of my second son.

Giving birth can be scary for any new mother; If you are still uncomfortable, not reassured in your host country, don’t stay just because it is ‘the right thing to do’. Don’t worry what people think or say, it is about you, and your baby. If you rather go home and can, then do so.


You can find Alexandra on Twitter and Facebook. Also check out her great  website/blog www.alexandraconrad.com

Want to share your story? Get in touch: ameena@mummyinprovence.com

Five Confessions of a Breastfeeding Mother

breastfeeding confessionsI was talking to a friend today about how breastfeeding changes your attitude to your breasts. I laughed at all the things that I have done, many repeatedly, that would have, pre-baby, mortified me and now I just shrug and smile.

Here are my top 5 confessions:

1. Your breasts are now your baby’s, they are food – no one, I mean NO ONE else is allowed to touch them!

2. Despite the no touch rule, you don’t care who see’s your breasts whilst nursing (and yes, you will flash dozens of people during your breastfeeding journey)

3. You will wander around with your breasts free, your nursing bra unclipped and not even care that you can’t remember how long you’ve been like that

4. Your new wardrobe can only be described as “easy access” – anything that can be pulled up/down/to the side easily will be coveted!

5. You will feel your breasts in public (checking which side to feed on next) whilst talking to someone and think nothing of it

It’s all for a good reason and a good sense of humour will take you a long way! What else have you done?