This week I talk the Gauri AKA the “Loving Earth Mama” who is half English, half Portugese and is a real TCK who had her daughter in the US – I won’t go into too much detail as she’s got it all covered as part of the series The Global Differences of Baby-Making. Here is her story:
Tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you from? How old is your daughter and where did you have her?
I was born in Boston where my parents travelled to study complementary medicines and join the health food movement 🙂 My dad is Portuguese, my mother is English. I grew up in Portugal which we moved to when I was 5. At 18 I went to the UK to do a degree and ended up living there for 15 years. I now live in the San Francisco Bay Area with my hubby (who himself is bi-cultural: British-born Chinese) and 20 month old baby girl (nicknamed Nica). She was born in San Fran after we had been living here for a year and a half.
Why did you have your daughter abroad? What do you feel were the benefits to having children abroad?
We didn’t plan to spawn abroad, as such… we just moved here because it is so sunny and wonderful and then found our life naturally moved that way. But, though there are many challenges – not least of which being away from my family and friends – there are some benefits to living far from your tribe, too.
When I first gave birth I concentrated on the negative. I cried ‘cos my mother wasn’t here to help me (though she does help me a lot from afar and comes for long visits, too) and ‘cos I had no friends coming over with food and comfort. ‘It takes a village’, I sobbed, ‘and mine is the other side of an ocean’. Then slowly I remembered the reasons why I left Portugal. I LOVE that country but I left because, even living in the capital, I felt smothered and hemmed in, like I was living in… err… a small village – you know, where everybody is up in your business, talking about you, judging you, interfering? And I remembered that actually I don’t like ‘village’ life, at all!
Over here, a continent away, I was able to completely re-invent myself as a mother. I was able to start from scratch which, though painful, is also incredibly invigorating and empowering. It was also freeing: breaking with the old ways, ‘the way things have always been done’ was much easier, over here. I mean, for example, I often heard other pregnant women complain about how people would give them so much unsolicited advice. That didn’t happen to me. I assume it was because the people I knew here didn’t feel close enough to me to do that and the people who are close to me are, well, far – so nobody’s opinions were getting in the way of me forming my own.
And let’s be honest, being into alternative health and natural birth, I was always going to do things a little differently… but if I were in Portugal I’d be feeling judged and different and crazy and that would undoubtedly lead to me second guess myself all the time and, on some things, probably bowing to the pressure, if for no other reason than I would have known no better.
On the other hand, here in California, I have been able to surround myself by a network of incredibly insightful, smart, alternative, gentle mamas. I knew so few people here that once I had a baby I really had to go out there and build community, attending every mother-baby group I could find. The hidden advantage there is that it really enabled me to ‘pick and chose’ and connect with friends who resonate with who I am and with my life choices, NOW.
My old friends are all wonderful but don’t necessarily share my present parenting ideas or ideals.
And these new mama-friends teach me so much (whereas in Portugal I may have been myself a bit of a natural parenting pioneer…?). Here, I can learn from others leading the way in conscious, green, natural parenting. I am so awed and inspired by these women.
If I were in Portugal or even in England, while I would have been held, loved and supported, I would have undoubtedly relied on hanging out with my old friends who see me as the old me and expect me (without thinking about it) to do things the way everyone there does it… I would find myself having to explain/justify/re-think why I do things differently (like co-sleep, breastfeed a toddler, do sign language, don’t eat sugar or watch TV, etc, etc) ALL THE TIME. Phew. I feel tired just thinking about it. The clean break here has been amazing in allowing me to find out who I am as a mother with only my soul and some books as guidance – along with my amazing, supportive husband.
As an expectant mother abroad how did you feel?
I felt blessed and embraced, as people here are very open and positive. At the same time, I also felt very alone and isolated staring down such a big life event, knowing nearly nobody else locally who was expecting or a parent. But honestly, most of the pregnancy I was blissed out and looking forward to my heaven that was coming after giving birth (or so I thought). It was really only after I gave birth that the magnitude of this life change really hit me – I was no longer a career woman but a stay-at-home-mom with no community. Enter the ‘going to EVERY mothering support group and local play groups I could find’ stage.
Mostly, as an expectant mother, I just smiled and enjoyed the state-of-the-art health facilities and options you get here (all paid for, though, whereas in Europe I would have had access to free healthcare). I did wish there were more independent birthing centers, as there are in Europe so that my choices weren’t as stark as: big hospital or homebirth – which I ultimately went for. I would have loved midwifery to be more standard here, too. And I yearned for the kind of work-related benefits you get in Europe. I couldn’t believe most women here, in the US, only take 3 months off work! How can you possibly bond and practice natural breastfeeding (no pumping) in those conditions? ‘You can’t’, is the answer and so many women give up breastfeeding here, because pumping doesn’t always cut it for them. Sad.
Did you encounter any opinions that would have been different in your home country with regards to your pregnancy or parenting choices?
Hmm, not just opinions but practices. I am pretty sure if I had stayed in Portugal (and perhaps even in England) I would not have known people who ate their placentas, practice Elimination Communication and perhaps I wouldn’t even have a name for co-sleeping… or would I? I do tend to ferret out the alternative communities wherever I go, so maybe motherhood would have been the catalyst for me to seek them in Portugal, too.
In California, though, safe in my little circle of AP and alternative moms, I live in a kind of a bubble where extended breastfeeding, gentle discipline and self-directed play are all if not the norm, at least absolutely accepted. I definitely think I would hear people’s opinions about these things if I were living somewhere else. So glad they are ‘nomal’, at least in pockets, here.
What advice would you give other mothers in your situation?
Stay connected to your community at home, your good, old friends who really know you, will call you out when you are being stupid and sing to your soul when you need sympathy. They are important and you will need that (alongside the support you get from your new community in the place you move to). Skype is invaluable in this way.
Ask for what you need, even from family and friends who are abroad. If you need/want them to come over for a few weeks/months after the birth – ask. I know this depends a lot on economic conditions and perhaps they can’t do that, but you can ask them to call you every day for 5 mins, just to check in on you or to send you a care package or to write long emails about mundane things back home so you feel part of things, even as your life changes so much and everything else is off center, at least this will be familiar. I didn’t ask my mom to stay after the birth and I regret it, now. Okay, regret is too strong a word, but I learned from that. I learned that I need to ask and I need to be open to whatever answer comes, even if it is a ‘no’ but at least then I asked.
Then, after nourishing your roots, go out and spread your branches into your new community of choice (I do hope you moved by choice! and not only necessity). You will need them, too. You will need lots of mothers in your circle. That is the best healing, post-partum, talking to other mothers!
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