Never did I imagine that I would get pregnant and have a baby during a worldwide pandemic, while my husband was living and working in another country, with my parents unable to come to help, all while managing everything in a different language. But as they say in France: c’est la vie! After nearly 41 weeks of pregnancy and seven months of being a new mom abroad, I have experienced a lot and am extremely grateful for these five lessons I’ve learned so far.
1) Other Foreign Parents Are the Best Resource as a New Mom Abroad
Things are done differently from back home. Other foreign parents are your best resource if you have questions or concerns. I felt very lucky that one of my best friends in Madrid was on her third pregnancy while I was on my first. She explained to me everything I could expect with the public health care system, what all of my appointments were for, what I should be asking, what I needed to prepare for the hospital, all the paperwork that comes along with having a baby and so much more.
Aside from my friend, I also joined English-speaking parents/moms Facebook groups in the cities I live in. Everyone in those groups is amazing and helpful. Someone is always willing to help and answer even the smallest question. It’s nice to know that you’re not going through the experience alone, especially as a new mom abroad. Being pregnant and having a baby is a learning experience in itself. Doing it in another country and often in a foreign language adds additional stress. Make it easier on yourself by speaking with other foreign parents to get the best idea of what to expect where you are. Also, foreign moms love coffee dates. This has been great for getting to know others in a similar circumstance and building a local friend group.
2) Support Systems Come in All Shapes and Sizes
As I previously mentioned, I was more or less living on my own throughout my pregnancy. My husband came to visit as often as he could and we talked daily. Nonetheless, it wasn’t the same as having him there. My support system during pregnancy included my wonderful mother-in-law and fantastic friends. I ate lunch with my mother-in-law every Sunday. She always sent me home with leftovers to ensure I ate well. My friends took it upon themselves to make sure I got out of the house, so we had a lunch date at a new restaurant every weekend.
With my family on the other side of the Atlantic, my friends planned an amazing baby shower with traditional games. It became a fun experience for the Spaniards in attendance too. One friend and I even had an emergency plan in case I went into labour before my husband made it home (thank goodness we never needed that plan). During the first few months of my daughter’s life, our friends and family in Madrid took care of us, so that we could take care of her. Now that I’m in Strasbourg, I don’t have a large friend and family network close by. I cherish the weekends that our friends and family visit us. It’s so important for me as a new mom abroad to feel that support again. I’m really lucky to have these people in my life.
3) Find What Works for You To Create Balance
I am a typical Type A personality: I like structure, knowing what I’m doing, planning things, and am highly organized. Due to this, the first few months of being a new mom abroad were difficult for me. It’s impossible to predict what your newborn will be like! Therefore, I made a huge effort to go with the flow each day. I made sure not to over-exert myself with plans. It became difficult as I wanted to see everyone before our international move. For the first few months while my husband was on paternity leave and we were in Madrid, this worked for us. However, now that we’re in Strasbourg and he’s back at work, having a routine each day is what I need.
During the day while my husband’s at work, I plan our day as I want, taking into account my baby’s needs as she is always with me. For me, having structure helps the day go by smoother and faster. It also means that I know that when my husband gets home I will get some all-important “me time” and that we will do whatever in the evening as a family. Since I’ve created a daily routine, I feel more mentally and physically balanced, which hopefully makes me a better parent.
4) Socializing Is Important (And Good for Your Mental Health)
Let me start by saying I love my husband and baby, but spending ALL my time with them is not what I would call ideal! When we moved to Strasbourg, I made it my mission to create some sort of social life. This is where the mom/parent networks come in handy as many others are in exactly the same situation. Often, they are just waiting for someone to reach out. I look forward to my weekly coffee dates with the other moms in my area. It’s a great way to socialize knowing that it won’t bother anyone that I have to bring my baby along.
I also found other activities that interested me and just asked if I could bring my baby. Not all activities said yes, but some did. This helps me to get out of the house, meet other people, and talk about non-baby-related things too! I am very social, so it’s important to me to interact with other adults on a daily basis. Even if you think you’re not a “social person”, having social contacts is so important so you don’t get totally lost in “being a mom”.
5) You Can Still Do All the Things You Want With a Baby in Tow
My friends and the salon owner just looked at me and laughed when I walked into the nail salon for my first postpartum pedicure with my one-month-old in tow. It didn’t surprise anyone. I’m not the type of person to let having a baby hold me back from doing the things I want, within reason of course. Because I bring my baby everywhere it means that she’s already had many great experiences. I haven’t had to miss out on things I wanted to do.
During the summer we spent many evenings on local terraces, attended work and birthday parties, went shopping with friends, went to the beach, and took advantage of our last few months in Madrid before our big move. Since arriving in Strasbourg, we’ve gone hiking, visited various cities and towns in the region, and made multiple trips back to Madrid, one even on my own with the baby! In order to take the baby everywhere, I make sure I’m always prepared. Her diaper bag is always packed for any situation. I leave the house with extra time just in case we need to stop for a feed or diaper change. If you make a habit out of bringing your baby with you, it becomes easier with time and makes for lots of great photo ops.
It’s not always easy but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I knew that being a new mom wouldn’t be a walk in the park, and there have definitely been unexpected obstacles to overcome. Yet every day I learn something new that hopefully makes me a better person and a better mom.