This week we have the pleasure of interviewing a truly international mom. Buckle up and hold on to your hats for this interview because this mama is on the move!
Shilah, during your pregnancy you were living overseas. Can you tell us what that journey was like being pregnant without familiar health care and having your family around?
We had moved to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, about a week before we learned we were pregnant. The saving grace was that we had just moved into our new apartment, one day earlier and we were staying in a crummy hotel that really would not have fit the celebratory mood. We hadn’t planned for our daughter, Naxxar, and were more than a little overwhelmed, but also very excited. Since we owned our own company that published books on different countries, and Trinidad and Tobago was our 15th project, I had travel insurance—but no health insurance for the US, as we hadn’t been living there in nearly seven years. It had never occurred to me to double check, but sadly my travel insurance did not cover pregnancy. I also quickly learned that I could not get coverage in the US, as the pregnancy was a pre-existing “condition.” Luckily, my husband really took the reins and lined up a doctor for me.
Our doctor was lovely, he spoke like Bob Marley, and answered all of our crazy questions. We very heavily considered having Naxxar in Trinidad and Tobago, but there was a sort of loop hole that made us nervous—I would have had her in a private hospital under private care there (they have both private and public healthcare), but if there had been any problems with Naxxar after birth, they would have moved her out of the private hospital and into the public hospital…possibly, away from me. In truth, this wouldn’t have happened, as Naxxar was born completely healthy, but as new parents, we weren’t completely comfortable with that. Then the Christmas before Naxxar was born, we visited two hospitals in the Chicago suburbs—neither of whom could give us a straight answer on the cost (starting at $2,000…but no idea of where the additional costs would end). In truth, after speaking with the hospitals, I felt less than comfortable about giving birth in the U.S. So, we did the first five months of our prenatal care in Trinidad and Tobago. Luckily, my husband is English, so we were able to move to Northern Wales three months before I gave birth. We easily transitioned into the British healthcare system, which takes a very natural approach to the birthing process, has a lower infant mortality rate, and was completely free. Truly, it was a wonderful experience. I was very lucky to have landed in such safe hands, and found it a relaxing and rewarding experience—as much as labor pains can be! I was permitted to stay in the hospital for as long as I wanted, until I felt comfortable leaving, and felt well looked after and cared for. Also, the pediatrician came out to the house for the first six weeks after her birth for all checkups, making life much easier for me.
I hated being apart from my mother, but luckily, I was able to call her when I started contractions, and my parents then jumped on the first plane over, and not only made the birth, but stayed another three weeks to help my husband and I transition into being new parents. Without their help, I would never have been able to handle it! Thankfully with international calling plans and the internet, it is a lot easier to be away from home.
When my daughter was three months old, we had to leave England as my visa was expiring (and we were simultaneously waiting for my husband’s green card to the US), so we moved to Paris, France, for three months. Then, my visa to the European Union was coming to an end, and we were still waiting for Daniel’s green card, so we moved back to Istanbul, Turkey, for a month and a half, so that we could stay together until the US green card arrived.
Have your learned other parenting traditions/skills from living abroad?
- One parenting trick that I learned from a dear friend in Istanbul was using your legs as a rocker to lull the baby to sleep. You stretch your legs out straight while you are sitting up, lay the baby in between your legs, while they are still touching, and gently rock side to side.
- Our pediatrician in Paris told me I had to take Naxxar out on a walk every single day in the winter, nicely bundled up, but not into the stores, public transportation, or where crowds gathered—so that she wouldn’t get sick. This is probably just good common sense.
- And, the importance of having your immunizations records intact and organized. Each country required different shots at different times with different names.
Do you have a favorite “mom moment” that you can share with us?
My favorite moment as a mom is a fairly recent development, Naxxar now seems to be able to demonstrate love, and will stop everything she is doing just to cuddle me. It is the purest love I’ve ever experienced and gives me chill bumps just thinking of it.
Any advice for first-time parents especially those who may be raising a child away from a family support?
Stay in touch with your family, include them by using Skype, or sending photos as often as possible. If you can’t get a hold of your family, turn to your friends and trust your instincts. Lean on your partner as much as you can, and never be afraid to ask for help.
Now for a quick glance into Shilah’s life.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go & what would you do there? I have so many places that I wish I could visit. Next stop on my list is up to Northern Canada so that my husband and I can go dog sledding and see the Northern Lights!
What’s your guilty pleasure? The Daily Show with Jon Stewart…I even interrupt Elmo for it sometimes.
What is an instant de-stressor for you? Although it is super bad for me, and makes me think of Snookie, I love a few minutes in the tanning bed. I try to run down a couple of nights per week after Naxxar is sleeping and my husband is home from work. It’s the only place I can be where I absolutely have to relax, enjoy my alone time, and clear my thoughts.
If someone was going to write a book of your life, what would the title be? Je Ne Regrette Rien (I have no regrets)