While writing my book the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide, one of the things that struck me over and over again were the similarities between becoming an expat and having a baby. Okay, I admit, there are lots of differences too (after all, how many nappies do non-parent expats have to change?
Hopefully not too many!) But bear with me on this one.
I suspect that one of the reasons I kept drawing comparisons was because I was training and working as an antenatal teacher at the same time as writing my Guide. Time and again the same issues would come up – from the parents I was teaching and from the contributors to my book, giving me their experiences of moving and living abroad.So what are these similarities? Well, here are some of the ones that I came up with – let me know if you can think of any more!
1. The build-up. You generally find out you are pregnant nine months or so before the baby arrives (although for some of course this period is shorter). You may have been trying for a baby for some time before that, so have already started making at least mental preparations for when it eventually happens. Nine months is probably around the average amount of time an expat also knows about their move – some will be longer, some a lot shorter. But on the whole you do usually have at least a half year to get ready. And to start preparing in your head for what lies ahead.
2. Telling people: in both cases, this is also a highlight/lowlight (dependent on circumstances – did you want to get pregnant? Are you moving to New York….or Outer Mongolia?) of the preparation period. If you have children, this can be one of the trickier conversations you will have during this time.
Sorry son, we’re leaving all your friends and moving to the other side of the world/Sorry son, you’re not going to be a pampered only child any more…..probably the biggest difference is telling your own parents. Hopefully if you are pregnant (unless you are under a certain age) they will be delighted. If you are moving a long way away, and taking their precious grandchildren with you, this could be a little more difficult….
3. The birth. Ok, all that build-up and then finally the day arrives. You have prepared for it (or so you think) down to the last nth. You’ve read everything there is to read, researched online, talked to people who have already been there, done that. You think you know everything there is to know, what could possibly go wrong? Well, as many of us know, births don’t always go to plan and it’s always worth having a plan b, c and even d up your sleeves.
And, guess what? It’s the same with a major move. Who hasn’t had at least one thing go wrong – from having too much stuff, to flight delays. It usually all works out in the end – just maybe not the way you had originally anticipated.
4. Early days: these are generally always a bit of a blur, both for new parents and for new expats. Hopefully the expats are getting more sleep than the parents, but there is still that confused, befuddled feeling when you don’t really know what’s going on, you feel a bit helpless and you have to continually rely on other people for help. You might also be getting over jetlag, contributing to this feeling of befuddlement. Your life has taken a complete 180 and for the first time in years you feel like a child again. More than anything else, you wish your own mother was here to help….
5. In both circumstances, you take a LOT of pictures. And you post them on social media….all….the…time. And everyone else gets fed up of them but are too polite to say so (apart from granny and grandpa). Gradually, as your baby gets older/your time in your new country gets longer, you stop posting quite so many updates. And those that you do tend to be slightly more realistic.
Eventually, you only post when something really spectacular happens – first tooth, first step, first tantrum (!)/first safari/first dive/first very large cockroach…
6. Sadly, depression is a very real possibility in both cases. Post natal depression is often caused by some of the circumstances brought on by the life changes of having a baby: isolation, less money, giving up a career or putting it on hold, tiredness, lack of quality time alone or with your partner.
Although not all of these apply to expats, the change of life circumstances and isolation can be quite acute – especially for non-working spouses. In both cases, be aware about depression before the event and keep an eye on both yourself and your partner. If you think you are sliding towards depression, talk to someone and if necessary get help.
7. But on the more positive front, although things can be very hard at the start of your time as a new parent/in your new country, things will almost always get easier. The three – six month period is often the hardest in both cases: the initial excitement/honeymoon period has passed and the reality of what life will be like has hit. You haven’t necessarily found your proper rhythm or routine and you still feel like your life is a bit out of control.
Remember though that this is just a phase and life will start to improve as time goes on.
8. In both cases, you will make lots of new friends. And you may also find yourself trying to shake off some of those new friends once you are a little more established and realise you have little in common apart from a new baby/being new to the country. Don’t worry: they’re probably trying to shake you off too!
9. And finally, the second baby/second move isn’t always any easier than the first. Yes, you know a bit about what you are doing this time round. Yes, you have practiced. But every baby, every move and every country is different so be aware that it might be even harder the second (third, fourth etc) time.
Although at least, once you have done it once, you know that it will get easier. And if there is any one piece of advice I like to give to both new parents and new expats – that is what it is.
Can you think of any more similarities between having a baby and becoming an expat? Let me know in the comments section below!
Born an expat, in Cuba to British diplomat parents, Clara Wiggins has travelled all her life, and has lived in 11 countries on 5 different continents.
Clara has used her extensive experience of living overseas, as a child, as a diplomat and as an accompanying spouse, to write a book 'The Expat Partner's Survival Guide. From how to organise an overseas move to what to do in the event of an earthquake, the Expat Partner's Survival Guide is a light-hearted yet in-depth guide for anyone considering moving abroad.
Order your copy now.