Next 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.
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