Photo: Lolostock/Shutterstock

9 Expat Moms Share Their Stories of Giving Birth Abroad

by Jennifer Malia Dec 27, 2016

Mariam Navaid Ottimofiore, Singapore, And Then We Moved To

“I was a Pakistani expat who gave birth to my first child in Singapore. Being rather unfamiliar with Chinese customs and traditions surrounding birth, I soon realized that superstition and timing play a big part. A child born on an auspicious day will be forever blessed. I still didn’t realize the extent of this belief until I was rushed into labor on the 5th of May in 2012. A stop and start labor meant that until the morning of the 7th, there was still no baby. Both of my Chinese midwives told me to ‘just hold on one more day lah! See if you can make it till the 8th!’ You can imagine the dirty look I gave them. The number 8 is considered extremely lucky and auspicious. According to Chinese horoscope, it was the Year of the Dragon, a really coveted sign, and to have a child born on the 8th day of the month and be a ‘dragon baby’ as they are called in Singapore, would be the local cultural equivalent of winning the lottery. My baby of course had other plans. She was born in the afternoon of the 7th much to my relief. For the next two years in Singapore, though, each time a local would ask for my daughter’s birth date, they would grimace and say, ‘oh, so close, so close!’”

Cristin Kelly, Australia, Between Roots and Wings

“The beauty of living thousands of miles from home is that you can just do things in whatever oddball way you please, never mind your home culture. As an American expat in Australia, I didn’t have any family or friends to suggest that seeing a midwife, rather than a doctor, might not be the done thing. It would have been a relatively alternative choice in America, and it’s not exactly the norm in Australia, either; but a midwife birth was what I wanted. Without anyone to tell me different, I — as the Aussies say — ‘just got on with it.’ My midwife, Leonie, who was both spunky and professional, was one of the most special people to ever walk into my life. Over the course of our months together, she was like a dear aunt, an honest adviser, and sometimes my stern counselor. As I didn’t have family on the same continent, it was a gift to have someone I trusted to walk hand in hand with me. She made me feel like this moment in my life, this pregnancy and birth, was something sacred. And, so it was. My expat attitude gave me the freedom to choose the birth I wanted. Australia gave me a sun-kissed, easy going, free spirited ‘happy little Vegemite.’”

Genevieve Morgan, Belgium, Photographia

“I’m a British expat who gave birth to three kids in Belgium. The prenatal care was great with monthly OBGYN appointments. My third pregnancy was an ‘at risk’ pregnancy, so I had weekly sonograms and felt very well cared-for. I had my own midwife for the births, stayed in the hospital for ten days after having each kid, and had two-person rooms with no one else in them. I had a lot of hands-on help with breastfeeding for the first baby. I gave birth at Hôpital St. Pierre and Hôpital de Braine l’Alleud, where it is standard to get beer in the maternity ward to encourage lactation. After leaving the hospitals, I had frequent home visits from health visitors who made sure I took naps and ate properly.”

Nili Bueckert, Germany, Toddler Tales

“I’m an Israeli-born, American-raised, former expat of seven years in Germany. I gave birth to my two sons in Germany at a Geburtshaus (birthing center) with a team of two midwives. They had delivered over a thousand babies combined with experience in both developing nations and German birthing centers. The birthing room was about the size of a master suite, complete with a pool for a water birth. After both births, I was home within three hours. The midwives checked on me daily and then weekly at home until I was eight weeks post partum. In Germany, my natural births were considered normal, not anomalies. I recently gave birth in the US. I left my first OBGYN practice because the American doctor looked at my belly and exclaimed half-jokingly, half-demeaningly, ‘No C-section scar? Power Mama!’ and followed up with, ‘Are you sure you don’t just want to schedule the C-section so I can be there?” I turned to a birthing center in the US that ended up being similar to my experience abroad. I’m lucky enough to have found the natural birth experience that I wanted in both countries.”

Blair Galbreath, Malaysia

“I’m an American (born) and British (naturalised) expat living in Malaysia. When I told my Malaysian OBGYN that my daughter, who was born in Canada, had been 7lb 14oz, he said, ‘Wow, if your son starts getting that big, we’ll need to induce early. We don’t want him too far over 8lb.’ He is the same doctor all of my expat friends used, so I thought he’d be used to Western-sized babies, but apparently that wasn’t the case. My son was born at 8lb 4oz, making him the largest baby the doctor and nurses had ever seen, or at least that is what you’d think based on their reaction. I was congratulated by all the nurses, who acted shocked that such a monstrous baby came out of me.”

Ania Krasniewska, Denmark/Austria, The New Diplomat’s Wife

“’Denmark is such a great place for kids,’ everyone would say. They were mostly right. My daughter adjusted to her Danish life quickly, picking up the language and free play and fresh air. But when it came to having kids, my experience was a little different. I found out I was pregnant with my second, and I immediately looked forward to another birth experience in Europe. My daughter was born in Vienna, Austria four years prior, and it couldn’t have been lovelier. In Denmark, however, I struggled. I found each prenatal visit to be stressful, usually due to my own inability to deal with lack of consistency in the system. In Denmark, this was all standard, but for me, it was hard. For the first time in all of my assignments around Europe, I had a truly difficult time communicating. ‘This isn’t like it is in America,’ they would tell me, and I would usually chuckle. While it’s true I was an American expat, neither the doctors nor midwives understood that I actually had no bearing of what childbirth was like in America. I finally went back to what I did know: to Vienna. I welcomed a healthy baby boy and enjoyed a familiar birthing process along the way. After a bit of time for the baby and I to adjust, we returned to Denmark, which went right back to being a great place for kids.”

Lisa Susan, Italy, My View from Abroad

“I was an American expat who gave birth to my son at a United States Naval hospital in Naples, Italy. He was born in August, the hottest month in southern Italy, and in true Italian tradition, he was late. I was in no mood to deal with the epic traffic conditions that Naples has. We did not live on the military base. In the best traffic conditions, we had a thirty-minute drive to base where the military hospital was located. There is a reason you see a lot of cars either missing side view mirrors or with mirrors duct taped to their vehicles. My greatest worry was being in labor in that traffic. Mamma mia! While August weather is not a pregnant woman’s friend, it is the holiday month when Italians vacate cities and head to the beach to leave the roads uncharacteristically empty. Think tumbleweeds drifting across the highway. The evening before I was to be induced, I went into labor. The hospital would not admit me until I was further along. We headed home. For several hours, I tried unsuccessfully to get comfortable. I made my husband drive me back to base. Luckily, I had progressed and was admitted. My son was born by C-section the next morning. Even in an American hospital, his footprints were put on a certificate with the heading Buon Compleanno (Happy Birthday). His middle name is Leonardo in honor of his Italian birth.”

Marianne Perez de Fransius, Sweden, Bébé Voyage

“I’m French, American, and Brazilian, and I gave birth in Sweden. When someone is pregnant there, the default is to go to the neighborhood prenatal clinic and be followed by a midwife. In fact, it’s quite difficult to see an OBGYN. Even when I had paralyzing cramps for four consecutive days and called to book an appointment with a doctor, I was told to first leave a urine sample, which could take up to a week to process, and then see a midwife who might refer me to an OBGYN. Midwives are standard care in Sweden, and they’re generally trained with a “medical” approach, not an alternative care approach, which is more common in the US. I also found it strange that the prenatal midwife team is not the one that delivers you. You register your preference for a maternity ward, and then hope that they have availability when you go into labor. But you’re almost certainly going to be delivered by a bunch of strangers. When I asked Swedes which maternity ward I should select, they said, ‘It doesn’t matter which one you pick. You have the same high level of care everywhere, so you’re best off picking the closest one.’ While pragmatic, it doesn’t take into account personal preferences. Fortunately, I found the only Swedish maternity ward where the prenatal team is the one that delivers you and does postnatal follow-up as well.”

Jennifer Malia, United Arab Emirates, Munchkin Treks

“I was an American expat living in the United Arab Emirates. At 39 weeks pregnant, I was walking around Mirdif City Centre, a mall in Dubai, when I felt something trickle down my leg. I had heard about incontinence during pregnancy. I figured I was lucky that this was the first time it had happened. I used the restroom and continued walking around the mall, taking in the smells of food I craved that were emanating from Al Forno, Zafran, and Le Pain Quotidien. I felt the trickle again about ten minutes later and again another five minutes later. I ended up at the American Hospital in Dubai, where it was confirmed that I had an amniotic fluid leak. I had an international line up of medical professionals taking care of me and my baby in the hospital, including a Nigerian obstetrician trained in the UK who had seen me for all of my prenatal visits, an American anesthesiologist, and British and Indian nurses. Despite my lack of progress with dilation after many hours, my OBGYN was determined to avoid a C-section if at all possible. Thirty-six hours after my water broke, I had a vaginal birth. My daughter, who is now four years old and lives in the US, loves to tell everyone that she was born in Dubai where the camels are. She still loves her first stuffed animal that we bought in the Dubai Mall, a camel wearing a pink t-shirt that says, ‘my first camel.’”

Some of the expat women featured here also share their memories of parenting abroad in “8 expat moms share their funniest stories of raising kids in a foreign country.”

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