Monday, November 22, 2010

My First Year as an Expat Mom

One year as a new mom in Egypt was vastly different from all my other years in Egypt. Once upon a time I was free to go where I wanted, do what I wanted, and be who I wanted to be pretty much anytime I felt like it.

Well, I guess that's still pretty much true today. It just looks and feels a little different.

Because I'm a mom now.

My son just turned 1 year old yesterday. And people here say that the first year is the most difficult. Do they say that where you're at too? I don't know that I have much to compare this to, but I think I'd believe that statement.

I've realized that there's so much to learn when you become a new mom overseas. It's a very exciting time. There's so much to experience and discover about the world around you and about yourself as well.

In Egypt, I've had to relearn how to do a few things, like how to take a taxi and how to eat out. There are many places I love that aren't very kid-friendly and others I never tried that are great with kids.

Becoming a mother changes your priorities. It has to. Not everything changes and not everything should. The simple truth is that you look at the world differently now.

Unfortunately I wasn't blogging when I gave birth to my son last year. And I kind of wish that I had been so that I could have recorded what was going through my mind at the time.

All I know is that I was overwhelmed. I felt like we had been given this precious gift, and I didn't even begin to know how to take care of him. It was easy to feel a little lost with my family around, especially my mom (although my parents arrived 2 weeks later). And though we were surrounded by all the love of my husband's entire family and church, that was a bit overwhelming in itself... albeit in a good way.

And even after reading so much about what to do and how to be a mother, now it was time for the real thing.

None of this fake it till you make it stuff would do.

These lessons learned helped me survive my first year as an expat mom:

You can never read too much. Reading isn't just about books (although they're important too if you can get them). I have discovered the Internet to be a world of resources for a mom living abroad. It's your own virtual community of helpers to walk you through this time.

Know your limitations but don't be bound by them. Limitations can be physical, mental, and emotional. Some women, for example, have the "baby blues" after having a baby. Others may be incapacitated for a while after having a c-section. You might be overcome with homesickness after giving birth. This is okay and it's completely normal. Just don't let it cripple you from living a normal life now.

Find a pediatrician that you can trust your baby's life with. I know that seems a bit extreme. But living overseas makes us parents very sensitive when it comes to our children's needs. We don't want them to suffer because we've made the choice to live overseas. So when it comes to finding a doctor for your child, it's important for you to be comfortable with that person (and your child as well). We spent a lot of time with our ped this past year so the effort spent making this all-important decision was well worth it, let me tell you.

Go home if you can. Traveling with a baby seems like such an impossible thing to do. Trust me, if I can do it, you can too. My parents came to Egypt last year for the first time when our son was born. It was special to have them here, but it was also nice to go home and introduce my son to my brothers and my grandmother. Plus I got to stock up on baby stuff while I was there.

Know where to buy baby stuff. Sure it was nice to go home and bring a bunch of stuff back to Egypt for our son. But I still know where to get this stuff here as well, because you never know when you'll need something in a pinch.

For example, last week my son lost a shoe as we were fighting the Eid crowd to get into our favorite mall in Cairo (don't ask, it's a loong story). The problem is that he doesn't keep his socks on unless he has shoes on - so I needed some shoes pronto. Luckily I had already scoped out some places for baby shoes so I went right up and bought him a pair right then and there. Problem solved!

Make friends with other expat moms. Don't be a loner. Get out there. Finding other moms to talk to was a life saver for me. And mix it up a bit. Find some moms like you (nationality, beliefs, situation - i.e. married to an Egyptian, etc.) and find some babies like your child (boy or girl, age, etc.) But don't just stick to that. Take advantage of living overseas alongside people of all different backgrounds. You'll appreciate the mix of people, and you won't be so disappointed when they're unavailable to hang out with you. And don't forget that moms of older kids have years of experience to share as well.

Take some time for you. I cannot stress how important this has been for me. Being a stay-at-home mom for the past year has meant that my whole world revolves around my little one. But it's important to keep some perspective and an identity outside of being a mom.

Set reasonable expectations for yourself. I have learned that it's okay to have high standards but not to be too disappointed when things don't work out the way you planned. The best thing to do is simply give yourself a break.

I know that I am a different mom than perhaps I would have been had I given birth and been living in the States these past 12 months. Living abroad these past 7+ years has always been an adventure. Some days are good and some bad, that's just life.

Being a mom now just makes things interesting.

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