I’m 36 + weeks pregnant, so last week I packed my hospital bags, checked them in at the airport, and hopped on an international flight. Destination: Cape Town, South Africa, where sunshine, ocean waves, beaches, mouthwatering fresh seafood, mountains, and stretches of vineyards await. My new life rule is that I only have babies near sunshine and oceans.
When you’re an expat about to give birth, and you reside in Lusaka, Zambia, you hightail it out of Zambia to welcome baby into the world. Some of us head to the U.S., and others to places like the U.K., and a few of us to South Africa. South Africa has some of the most top-notch medical care on the African continent. Did I mention the oceans and beaches? Plus penguins. Babies love penguins.
A few of us expats decide to go ahead and give birth in Zambia. Of course, I have friends, both local and expat, who have given birth to healthy babies in Zambia without incident. Lots of babies are born there, with a fertility rate of nearly six children per woman.
Since this is my fourth birth, I seriously contemplated staying in Zambia to give birth. With three natural and uncomplicated births under my belt (except that pesky postpartum hemorrhage thing that plagues me each time), it’s been pretty straightforward so far.
A birth in Zambia would be less complicated logistically. My husband can’t be gone from work for the whole one month before and one month after the birth. My four-year old can probably afford to miss pre-school without risking failing to get into college, but my six-year old is learning how to read and write – in a second language (French) – this year, so it’s not really fair to her to pull her out for two whole months, either. I suppose, with the support of Google Translate, I could make some attempts at homeschooling….no. Just no. Plus, there’s the familiarity, the friends, the easiness in Lusaka. Planning a birth in a different country requires more paperwork, emails, phone calls, and really savvy packing skills.
I put out some feelers and asked people’s opinions about giving birth in Lusaka. I got many stories of uneventful births that resulted in a happy baby and mother, and some recommendations for good OBs. I see a lovely OB who has the most caring bedside manner, and is available to instantly answer questions by text message (that does NOT happen in the U.S.), but unfortunately she doesn’t deliver babies anymore.
Others graced my ears with stories about the mother who needed an emergency C-section, but the medical team couldn’t get a hold of the anesthesiologist, so she had a C-section without medication. Then there was the woman who had her arms and legs strapped down during a normal vaginal childbirth, and the one who lost her baby during child birth due to poor management and care—at a private hospital in Lusaka. My doctor friends in Zambia asked me if I was crazy—one directly, and one indirectly. My lovely OB providing prenatal care for me in Lusaka laughed.
The reason for these responses is because babies die in Zambia, and mothers do too. According to UNICEF, the maternal mortality rate in Zambia is 591 deaths per 100,000 live births, the neonatal mortality rate is 34 per 1,000 live births, and the infant mortality rate is 70 per 1,000 live births. Even for those who can afford private care in the capital, Lusaka, being pregnant and giving birth is risky business. Simple complications—including postpartum hemorrhage—can go from bad to worse because of poor infrastructure, care, and a slew of other issues. (For more information about maternal health care in Zambia, check out the trailer for this fascinating documentary.)
The message was loud and clear—most likely, if I gave birth in Lusaka, everything would be fine. But, if I have the choice and the means, why would I take the risk of that small chance of something going wrong and me or my baby suffering serious health complications or worse?
So, around 20 weeks pregnant I began to plan an international babycation. I did this once before, less than two years ago. My last baby was born in Cape Town, so that helped quite a bit, especially because I used the same midwives, know the area, etc. Another bonus is that water birth is an option here in Cape Town, similar to an alternative birthing center option within a hospital that I used to deliver my first two in Chicago. There were less unknowns this time around with planning babycation round #2.
Everything is relative. Buying plane tickets for a family of five, plus a nanny, renting a house for two months, as well as a car, and paying for private health care in South Africa adds up. This is clearly cost prohibitive to most people, and I understand this inherent privilege of choice for my ocean-side babycation.
But, if I compare this Cape Town babycation cost to the cost of giving birth in the U.S., it’s at worst equal, and at best a cost-savings. For what I will pay for all my private health care, including an at-home post-natal visit and a couple nights in the hospital, combined with the cost of my two month “babycation” in South Africa…I’ll end up paying about the same or less than what I’d pay for the cost of childbirth alone in the U.S. I can pay $12,000 minimum, out-of-pocket in the US to push a baby out of me (without any medical intervention), or I can pay about $2,000 for the exact same quality of care and facility standards in Cape Town…along with all the perks of glorious sunshine and ocean views. I’ll take the penguins, thank you very much.
Our family of five, plus our nanny from Zambia, packed up with three suitcases and a boatload of car seats, and my husband helped me settle into the lovely house we rented on AirBnB in Kalk Bay, overlooking the ocean. But, my husband returned this past weekend to Lusaka with my six- and four-year old children to resume school and work.
So, here I sit with an 18-month old, nanny, and loads of sunshine and water at nearly 37 weeks pregnant. The baby is measuring at a beautiful 3kg already, and I’m having some super maddening Braxton Hicks contractions. My husband is two flights away (Lusaka- Johannesburg- Cape Town), and can get on a flight from Lusaka at 9am and rock-up into Cape Town by 3:30pm.
If baby decides to make a quick, slippery exit, Papa might miss the birth of his baby – which would be sad. He was pretty helpful the last three times – except when he told me during difficult push during crowning, “It’s just like doing back squats.” No, it’s really not like that at all. But, I’d kind of like him to be with me for the birth. So, I have the calming effect of going to sleep to the sound of ocean waves obliterated by the anxiety of my husband missing the birth. This is not a, “Will my husband make it from the office on time?” worry. It’s a, “Will my husband, with two tiny humans in tow, be able to get on the first flight out of Lusaka and make it through immigration, out of the airport, and to the hospital?”
My husband and two oldest kids plan on returning to Cape Town on April 1, 10 days before this bad boy’s due date. In the meantime, I have some amazing mama friends coming in (one from Kenya, one from Zambia) to keep me company before the crew returns, mostly to have fun and to stand-in for my husband— just in case. The next two weeks will be filled with botanical gardens, delicious food, and sea breezes. Not too shabby a way to waddle through these last few pregnancy weeks.
The next question is—will I be able to make this my last babycation? Those penguins!
This is an original guest post for World Moms Network from Jessica Menon of Gypsy Momma. Jess is a mom with three children under the age of six, with her fourth baby on the way. Jess and her family are currently based in Lusaka, Zambia.
Photos courtesy of Alda Smith. Photo of penguins and Jess and her youngest daughter at the beach courtesy of the author.
We are living in strange times. Here’s how strange they are: the other day I found myself nodding in agreement with something that Dick Cheney said. He is one of the few Republicans who spoke out immediately against Trump’s executive order banning Muslims entering the United States. (Of course in the same interview, he talked about how there was “nobody in America” when his Puritan ancestors arrived. I guess some things never change.) I’ve also started following Pope Francis on Instagram. The Pope gives good Insta, I have to say, but the thing is, I’m not Catholic. I’m not even a lapsed Catholic. I’m not even religious. The closest I came to a religious moment is when I was about seven and was a horse in the St. Augustine “Noah’s Ark” pageant. I pranced down the aisle with the other “animals” and then we all huddled around the altar while Father Pemble—the hippy minister with a fabulous baritone and a red beard—sang songs about the flood. A religious high-point, for sure.
I don’t agree with the Pope on some key issues—he’s not going to be espousing any pro-choice rhetoric anytime soon—but his messages speak to the importance of caring for all of humanity, not just those who look like you.
Here’s an even stranger thing: for the first time in my adult life, I wished this weekend that I had become a lawyer. Because if I’d been a lawyer, and if I were in the United States, I could have gone to an airport and offered my services to detainee families as they (as we all) struggle with the implications of Trump’s destructive (and illegal) actions. I even suggested to my sixteen-year old son that he might think about becoming a lawyer — an idea that wouldn’t ever have occurred to me a month ago. Watching from afar as US airports flooded with people offering support of all kinds to detainees and their families—legal advice, places to stay, food, whatever they could find—I felt a tiny glimmer of hope. The Women’s Marches were amazing, a tour-de-force of activism, energy, and global feminism, but somehow the airport protests seem like an even bigger deal, because they were spontaneous, contagious, and effective (can we get a shoutout for the ACLU)? As the wonderful Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Slate, “Donald Trump has no idea how terrifying a blue book and a Lexis password can be. He’s about to find out.”
The protests have also helped me to show my kids that all is not lost (for a little while longer at least): the country still has the rule of law, which the President has to obey. I’ve been pointing to the photos of lawyers sitting on airport floors, laptops open, as signs that individuals can make a difference and that Trump’s message of fear has not taken hold everywhere.
That’s the thing, isn’t it? How do we explain Trump’s actions to our children when what he’s doing violates such fundamental principles of civility? And how do we keep our children, particularly older children, optimistic about the future when around the world things seem so bleak? My sixteen-year old son is full of the existential despair that only a teen-ager can feel. He says things like, “yeah, I’m doing my homework, not that it matters because…Trump” – which might become the 2017 version of “the dog ate my homework.” Like most teenagers, my son is a pretty rigid thinker: things are one way or another, the best or the worst; he has lots of opinions and they are, of course, always correct. The night after Trump’s victory (a landslide, as Trump keeps telling us), The Teen said, “but mom, I thought the good guys were supposed to win.” He looked so sad and confused, and I could almost hear the screeching gears in his mind trying to recalibrate his world view.
The Teen has only known Presidential elections where Obama won, and although he knows theoretically that “good guys” don’t always win, this election is his first real-life whammy of watching the good guys lose. It happens to all of us eventually, and sadly, we may even come to expect it. But right now, the Teen is sure that we’re all doomed. I’ve had my fair share of similar thoughts since the inauguration (did you see those “huge” crowds on the Mall for the swearing-in? Yeah, me neither), but I don’t want my kids to feel as pessimistic as I do. They’re young, right? If they lose hope, then that’s the end of the game.
Surprisingly—or perhaps not surprisingly, given how odd things are these days—I found some advice on the Pope’s Instagram. The day the Muslim ban went into effect, the PopeFeed featured a picture with the caption: “Dear young people, make a ruckus! A ruckus that brings a free heart, solidarity, hope…” You know what? I’m thinking ruckus sounds just about right. Perhaps that’s the final thing: I’m actually telling my kids to make a ruckus. Ask questions, read the news, read history, pay attention. And vote. The sixteen-year old will vote for a President in 2020. I wonder who she’ll be?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Deborah Quinn, Mannahattamamma of the UAE.
Lead photo credit: Kenneth Lu / Flickr. Pope Francis video via the Pope’s Instagram.
My husband is a New Yorker whose theatergoing parents always planned their theater outings well in advance. He’s adopted this same long-range planning attitude, and that’s how we ended up with tickets to “the Harry Potter play” this past September. In a fit of jet-lag , he’d bought tickets the previous November during an airport layover en route to Abu Dhabi.
Using our airline miles, we flew to London in September, during the Eid holidays, to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. We took our children, of course, which meant that it wasn’t a vacation but a family trip. Although you might want to think that these are synonyms, they’re really not. If you’re on vacation, you’re never forced to whisper-yell at someone to put down his phone and pay attention when he’s going through security, or explain (for the umpteenth time) that we didn’t fly all the way to London just to hang out in the Jack Wills store.
Those of you with small children or infants might think that traveling with older children looks easy. Their gear tends to be smaller and there’s that whole “go to the bathroom on their own” thing, which is pretty great. But with a small child, there is always the chance that she will fall asleep in her stroller, a cracker crushed in her pudgy fist, and then you can proceed to stroll in the park, or walk through a gallery without much whinging. Older children whinge; they have opinions and needs.
Other people’s children whinge, that is. My family travels in an entirely whinge-free zone. No whinging here, nope, nothing to see here, move along.
Wrapped in our whinge-free bubble, we went off to the play, about which I can say nothing. I’m pretty much sworn to secrecy about the play’s magic, other than to say that all the effects were accomplished through stagecraft. There weren’t any digital effects or computer-aided sorcery, which in this day and age is rather a marvel, all by itself. The plot was… well, you may have already read the book (which is the script of the play), so you know the plot. It’s the standard Rowling combination of magic and family, with the emphasis on family.
There is one key plot point that sets the play apart: Harry Potter is forty. He works for the Ministry of Magic and has discovered, as so many of us do, that life as an adult isn’t as much fun as we thought it would be. Harry longs to continue dashing around in an invisibility cloak, but there are reports to write and files to go through—all the joys of adult work. He’s chafing a bit, is our Harry. Ron even jokes that Harry’s scar aches not because of any Voldemort-related reason but because of middle age. Everything aches a bit these days, he points out.
When the play starts, Harry and his family are standing on platform 9 ¾, and Harry’s elder sons, James and Albus, are bickering so violently that Harry whisper-yells at them to “behave!” Can I tell you how heartening it is to see that even Harry Potter’s children misbehave in public?
At its heart, the Harry Potter series is about a child wondering about his parents. The play flips the tables: now it’s a parent wondering about his children. Harry’s son Albus feels the weight of being the son of “the boy who lived” and, as is the case with most teenagers, Albus doesn’t always handle his feelings gracefully. Of course, as is the case with most parents, Harry doesn’t always handle his feelings gracefully, either.
In an effort to keep Albus safe, Harry imposes more and more rules, which have precisely the opposite effect. As I watched Harry struggle with Albus, I winced in recognition. Lately it seems that in my efforts to connect with my almost sixteen-year old son, I inevitably say the wrong thing at the wrong time and before you know it, one of us is yelling. (And of course, the fault is always mine. My son makes that abundantly clear.)
Harry’s questions remind me of my own: how do I keep my teenager safe and, at the same time, let him grow and develop in his own way, even if that means letting him take risks and (occasionally) be really quite an idiot? When my children were toddlers, I wished someone would invent a kind of bubble wrap suit that I could wrap around them to prevent bruising, and now that my children are older, I wish there were emotional bubble wrap that would prevent the inevitable heartache that comes with growing up. If only Jack Wills made such a thing.
As Harry and Albus slowly find their way back to one another after the emotional battles that wound them both, they learn to accept one another’s imperfections. The lesson of the Harry Potter play highlights the fact that we don’t need to be perfect to be loved—and therein lies the real magic.
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Deborah Quinn, Mannahattamamma of the UAE. Photo credit to the author.
There are an estimated 2.6 million eligible American voters living abroad, and every one of them has the right to register and vote via absentee ballot. I am proud to count myself among the millions of U.S. citizens voting from abroad. I cast my ballot last week, sending it with a Canadian friend who was traveling to the United States. He sent me an email after dropping my ballot in the mail, saying that he was proud to participate in the American electoral process, and asking to be welcome at our Thanksgiving table in return.
As citizens living abroad, we have not only the right, but also a civic duty to vote in our home elections. Some countries do not offer absentee voting to their citizens, while other countries do not allow expats who have lived abroad for an extended period to vote at all. I’m fortunate that absentee voting is allowed in my country, and I encourage all expats abroad to vote in their home elections.
As a mother, I have taught my children that voting is a way for a group of people to make a decision together. Parents can take the opportunity at election time to introduce our children to the political process in our home countries. My children won’t be able to vote for many years, but they already understand that there is a presidential election in our country this year. They know the two main candidates, which one I am supporting, and why. As future voters, I have tried to teach them the importance of making their voices heard.
A mere 12 percent of American expat voters cast their absentee ballots in the 2012 election, according to the Rothermere American Institute. This year, efforts are being made to get out the expat vote, recognizing the voting power of Americans abroad.
If you’re an American expat, you can use the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) website to register to vote and request your absentee ballot for the November 8th election. If you have questions, just check out the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s FAQs. Voting abroad is easier than you think!
Voting in our home elections is our right, and our duty. Absentee voting is easy – it takes just a few minutes. Make your voice heard on November 8th. Be a proud overseas voter!
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Tara Wambugu.
Image credits: “I voted” via Kelley Minars / Flickr, American in Singapore via Erika Behl, American in Pakistan via Kelsey Hoppe, U.S. Ambassador Baur via Instagram, American in Germany via Instagram, American in Switzerland via Instagram, American in Spain via Instagram, Virginia ballot image is the author’s own, American in Zambia via Jessica Menon.
A year ago, when our daughter was nearly 8 years old, we found out that she has profound hearing loss in her left ear. We had been concerned about her hearing since she was in preschool. Her class teacher assuaged our worries and subsequent teachers never raised any issues. But still, we wondered.
We couldn’t get concrete answers
A few years later we arranged for an audiology test at our health clinic in Jakarta and were told that her hearing was fine, in fact, her left ear was “better” than her right ear. Although I should have been happy when the doctor delivered the test result, I felt skeptical and couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right.
We had to wait another year until our next US visit to schedule a more thorough assessment. This time it was immediately clear that there was a problem. The audiologist grew increasingly alarmed as he ran through the evaluation process, but my daughter remained relaxed. I explained that the tests showed us that her left ear wasn’t working. “Yeah, I know that already”, she said calmly, “I’ve been telling you that I can’t hear.”
“I know, sweetie. I know.” My heart broke a little.
There were many emotions that day.
Relief….at having our concerns confirmed and finally knowing what was wrong
Guilt…because it took so long to diagnose her hearing loss
Frustration…that it hadn’t been picked up at school or in the previous test
Amazement…when considering how well she had coped until now
Worry…about the challenges she will face and the unknown path ahead
Pride…in knowing that if anyone can manage this, she can.
The next day we met with an ENT specialist who suggested that we consider a cochlear implant (not typically recommended for single-sided hearing loss). It was a lot to take in and we wanted more time to consider the full range of options. We returned to Jakarta shortly after and followed up some months later in Singapore, where the doctor there told us that if it were his daughter, he wouldn’t do anything.
Between the two doctors, we had more questions than answers and it felt daunting and confusing to be navigating this brand new path with such divergent advice, without any kind of network or supportive community, thousands of miles from our home health care system.
Getting some Clarity
One year on, we are much clearer about things. We sought a third ENT opinion on our last US visit, which confirmed our desire to pursue a hearing aid option that we hope to get soon.
Unfortunately, such devices are more expensive in this part of the world and even with insurance the out of pocket cost is significant. When I found out about this, I immediately started calling around to compare prices – ringing hearing clinics in Thailand, Singapore and even Australia. It seemed absurd in a way – I would never fly to another US state to buy anything – but with limited options here, this type of “medical tourism” is common.
We have also worked with our daughter’s school and teachers to develop and implement classroom accommodations and communication strategies to support her learning and self-advocacy. Catering for this type of individual need is somewhat new for the school, so it has been a learning process for all involved.
Getting by with no support system
Fortunately I now know a few other school families who have children with hearing issues, which is a big help, but I still feel like I’m ambling along in the dark a lot of the time. It is this feeling of isolation which has been the hardest for me.
Sometimes I think that things would be so much more straightforward if we were based in the US and could easily connect with other families, access resources and services, and follow a more predictable path. The logistics of being an expatriate family meant that our daughter’s hearing loss went undiagnosed for longer than it might have otherwise. I still feel bad about this, but I also feel good knowing that our gut instincts were correct and we’re now on the right track.
We don’t know why our daughter lost her hearing. She was a premature twin with low birth weight, which could be a contributing factor – but really, we’ll never know.
The main thing for us now is to protect and maximize the hearing she does have and provide as much support as we can in the journey ahead. She has already selected the color of her new hearing aids (“champagne”) and can’t wait to show us how responsible she is.
If anyone can do it, she can.
As an expat mom do you feel that there are health issues with your kids that might have been avoided or that you could have dealt with better back home?
This is an original post by World Mom Shaula Bellour in Jakarta, Indonesia
The image used in this post is credited to Jaya Ramchandani. It holds a Flickr: Creative Commons attribution license.
Recently, we went back home for a visit due to family circumstances. We hadn’t been home in almost a year, and I was unsure how my 3 year-old daughter would react to our family and friends. After all, she is a completely different toddler from the one who visited Singapore in December.
She has changed immensely in the past six months; on some days she’s more clingy, on others she’s everyone’s best friend and sends flying kisses to all. There are also (many) days when she’s grumpy beyond belief especially when she’s tired. Sometimes she just charms the socks off everyone including her extremely gullible parents. She definitely has a feisty personality and never hesitates to opine that a person is silly, funny or wonderful.
As I packed for the trip, I felt a mounting apprehension about how she would be with the family. At 15 months old, she moved away from Singapore, where she was born. Since then, she has spent more of her life overseas than she has in her home country. Much of her extended family is scattered all over the world, in countries like Australia, New Zealand, America, UK, France and Canada. In fact, as I type this, we are visiting my in-laws who are currently residing in Oman. Our life is truly an expat life.
All these factors left me with many questions about our return. Would she remember her cousins, aunties and uncles? Or would she think of them as strangers? Would they think she was too different from what they knew her as before? What if there was a gulf that time and space had created? Has her expat life separated her from her roots?
To be honest, these are questions that frequently run through my mind. I often wonder whether my daughter will be able to have strong ties to her family. Will she have sufficient permanence in her life? I fret over her emotional stability because we often move every few years for my husband’s job. He grew up as an expat kid too, moving every few years between Singapore and postings to other countries. As he got older, he kept to himself increasingly as the reality of leaving close relationships behind became more evident and painful. While this survival approach to an expat life may be pragmatic, I’m not quite sure if I’d want my daughter to do the same, either with friends or family.
So the questions remain – how do we maintain close relationships despite the differences in time and space; how can I help her to keep that bridge open? And I know that a huge part of this responsibility belongs to me, particularly because she’s so young right now and I need to help her establish a lasting basis for these relationships.
And what I learned during our trip?
That this is a pertinent issue that requires greater deliberation, and which we need to keep talking about because it is one of the biggest challenges of being an expat family.
However, it also became clear to me that it’s not going to be as tough as I thought. Firstly, I’ve noticed that my daughter seems to have an innate connection to her family, and she possesses a desire to know more about everyone. She constantly asks questions about them, and remembers their encounters, especially when we look at photographs together or when we come across a gift that someone has given her.
And very importantly, our families make such an effort to connect with her. They constantly engage with her, and treat her not as a child, but as a little person with her own personality. In the short time we were home, I feel that she has built a strong relationship with many of our family. Naturally, they have left very deep impressions on my young child, and she must feel that they are important because she keeps talking about them. So half the battle is already won. Now we just have to keep on building on those strong foundations.
Do you lead an expat life? If so, how do you ensure that your family relationships remain strong?
This is an original post to World Moms Network by Karen in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Photo credit to the author.