Embracing Motherhood – Abroad

Posted: May 24, 2013
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How does it feel to go through a pregnancy away from home? Some Indian women share their experiences of having a child abroad.

By Anne John

Many Indian women move abroad following their marriage, but the challenges that they face in the beginning are numerous, including career transitions and building a new life from scratch.

Apart from these, several Indian women also go through the experience of motherhood when abroad. How do these women cope with pregnancy and childbirth – especially if they are first time moms – in an alien land?

Having a child abroad: Missing something?

What do Indian women long for when pregnant abroad? Gayathri Krishnan, 28, an IT Auditor based out of Texas, USA had her first child Arjun last year. Her mother and mother-in-law took turns in helping her out, but she says, “I missed the support system one gets in India in terms of domestic help. I found that it is easier for the parents/parents-in-law to take care of us in an environment they are used to rather than having to deal with it in another country.

Meena Vadivelu, a Software Engineer in Canada and mother to 7 month old Haasini, yearned to be amidst relatives and close family members during her pregnancy. Michelle Satur Shyam, 29, an Architect had her son Marc in Doha. She didn’t miss family or India much but is quick to add, “I missed home food, thanks to pregnancy cravings!

On the other hand, Swathi Ravi, a 29 year old Bharatanatyam artiste based out of Oregon, USA and mom to 2 year old Tarun states that she, “…missed visiting temples during my pregnancy.

Pregnancy and motherhood: Evolving with time

Earlier, women sought pregnancy advice and tips from their mothers and grandmothers. Motherhood was considered more of a communal affair with everyone pitching in to add their bit of wisdom. But today, Indian women seem to perceive pregnancy as more of a personal journey. Shwetha Anand*, 29, who had her first child in India was thankful for some solitude the second time around when Aditya* was born in the UK. She states candidly, “People in India offered meaningless suggestions and advice which did not work most of the time”.

…today, Indian women seem to perceive pregnancy as more of a personal journey.

Indian women are also looking at other avenues of support rather than relying on any old wives’ tales, as Michelle says, “I like to do the research by myself. I preferred looking up reliable books and medical sources for any questions I had.”

Gayathri feels that every woman’s motherhood journey is unique and no amount of advice or suggestions from others can really prepare one for it – but technology can be of some help. She concludes, “Thanks to the Internet, there are some very reliable sites that answer most of your questions and forums are very helpful. Birthing classes are an additional help that can lessen the intimidation. “

Being pregnant abroad

Most doctors and nurses in India are quite often overworked due to long hours and a steady stream of patients. Few really have the time or temperament to patiently explain things to nervous new moms. This is one reason why Revathy Ayyapan, a 29 year old Software Professional based out of Melbourne and mom to 1 year old Aarav feels that the healthcare professionals who handled her case were rather helpful and supportive. She says, “If we go for another child I would prefer to have the child birth in Melbourne as the nurses and doctors here have the right mind-sets when handling the delivery.

Swapna Ravish, an entrepreneur based out of Sydney is also of the same opinion. She says, “They encourage natural birth as much as possible here but in India I feel the slightest possible complication or delay from the due date they proceed to Caesarean! I was past my due date for my first baby by about a week, but my doc said let’s give it some more time and it paid off. I delivered naturally and safely within a week!”

Most doctors and nurses in India are quite often overworked… Few really have the time or temperament to patiently explain things to nervous new moms.

But Gayathri points out that, “The pre-delivery phase when you have monthly and weekly doctor check-ups are a real pain especially in the US. There are multiple tests (one has to be careful in deciding and skipping the optional ones), and each visit during the last trimester I had an internal examination done.There can be nothing as uncomfortable as a pap smear.

While Michelle feels that the medical facilities were clean – not to mention free (as she was employed and had health insurance) in Doha, she regrets that her husband could not join her during the delivery: “I delivered in an Islamic country and the hospital didn’t allow my husband to be present in the labour ward.

Becoming a new mom abroad

Mothers the world over know that once the baby arrives, their lives are never going to be the same again. Irregular sleep schedules, breastfeeding, having to learn the rules of parenting on the go and post-partum depression can all lead to a lot of stress for the new mom – especially if she has to handle all of it by herself.

Gayathri and Swathi, both feel that they missed out on the pampering and celebrations that typically accompany pregnancy and motherhood in India.

Unlike in India, where things like pregnancy & motherhood are considered to be a “women’s-affair”, starting a family abroad prompts active participation from the husband.

On the other hand, Michelle says that she savoured the peace and quiet. She reminisces, “I enjoyed all the bonding time with my little one. That was one of the reasons to deliver abroad; I’m a very private person, so I was happy to have my privacy.” It was only later on that she keenly felt the lack of a reliable person to whom she could entrust Marc to for a while. She adds, “It was depressing not being able to get a break ever so often.

Unlike in India, where things like pregnancy, motherhood and visits to the gynaecologist are considered to be a “women’s-affair”, starting a family abroad prompts active participation from the husband. As Shwetha says, “Your spouse realises that you are by yourself and tends to help out more and you are more comfortable as a small family unit.

Other challenges of having a child abroad

Gayathri opines that while the emotional angle of motherhood is taken care of to an extent if one has family support, the practicalities of having a baby abroad is a whole different story. She explains, “There are too many rigid rules to adhere to: for instance, one cannot get discharged from the hospital without a car seat and without the car seat fixed correctly –you can be arrested if you are charged guilty of either. Secondly, there are quite a few things to do in terms of paperwork and it is not just the birth certificate. One needs to get a Social Security Number for the baby, passport, PIO or OCI card etc. immediately.”

From the stories of these Indian women, it is understandable that having a child abroad is a mixed bag of emotions and experiences. Clearly, embracing motherhood when abroad has both positives and negatives – and it varies from person to person. What about you? Did you have a child abroad? What was your experience? Do share in the comments!

*Names changed on request.
Photo credit: The BA Photography (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)

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3 Comments


  1. CP

    I have gone through this experience and looking back, I have a bittersweet memory of the period. Bitter mostly on the emotional grounds of not being able to share the most important moments of my life with our parents, for not finding family member to hold my baby when I returned to work and sweet because this experience has made us (specially me) so much more stronger than I was before.The process of becoming parents in a foreign land helped me any my husband to bond stronger as a family. I was guided very well by the health care and social care system of a developed country and I learned for the first time that giving birth to a child can be so important for one country who care for their human resources. This is one of the most cherished experiences of my life.

  2. I was pregnant with and gave birth to both my kids in Hong Kong. There were a couple of times when I was home alone because my husband was travelling and found myself doubled over in the toilet throwing up and wishing I was back home where I would never have been alone. In fact, at one point, my mum did fly down to be with me when my husband had to travel. And she was there after the birth of both my children. My mum is the main one I would really have wanted around anyway. I fully appreciated not having the advice from all quarters that is common in India. When I had questions or concerns, there is quite a supportive online community in Hong Kong and one of the women I swapped stories with is now a friend.

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