A Note Back Home: Having a Baby Overseas
Two years ago, when we were preparing to move to Rwanda, many people had a lot of questions for us -- especially about the future. We found ourselves having a pretty similar conversation multiple times and soon realized what people were essentially asking-us-without-asking-us:Would we be having kids soon?And when we did, would we be coming back home?Surely, as a young, newly-married couple, starting a family was on the horizon. But people couldn’t seem to figure out how that factored in with our plans to move to Africa.I grew up as a TCK, and as such, know what it is to live in that struggle and straddle of cultures. But I also know what it is to love a completely different, foreign, dusty place – one where animals wander in the streets and you bring all your toiletries for two years in suitcases. I knew all of this and how it could still become home. So, when I thought about moving to Rwanda, I felt like I had a decent enough picture in my mind of what it could look like to live there. While I hadn’t been to the actual place, I knew cross-cultural living and I knew that many people even prefer raising their kids overseas!Despite knowing all these things, I often forget that the family and friends I was saying goodbye to in the States don’t hold those same pictures in their minds. It’s completely fair that ‘moving to Rwanda’ is a wholly abstract concept, and the only things available to fill the gaps are media portrayals (Hotel Rwanda, anyone?). It's no wonder the thought of moving overseas and having babies there was something that didn’t make sense to them.Now we’ve been in Rwanda for a year and a half and, to a large extent, we are settled. We have made a home and grown a community and are actually doing life. Just as all our friends and family thought it might happen: we are having a baby! I am on the precipice of the third trimester with a baby girl due in June. Now, thinking back to those conversations we had in the States --with those who were so wary and intrigued by us moving to Africa and having kids -- I would tell them a few things.
- I did not understand the whole picture. There are a lot of parts of being pregnant and having a baby overseas, as it turns out. I didn’t have a way to picture this ahead of time. Even with all my TCK experience, I’ve had to fumble through it because (surprise!) it’s different being the adult who is in charge instead of the kid tagging along. Through trial and error, we've had to figure out what doctor to go to. Then, we've had to work through the difference in medical care here -- including multi-hour waits and mandatory HIV-testing. (We also get to have ultrasounds just for fun, because at $20 for the nice one, why not?) We’ve had to strategize on getting what we need for this baby -- from WhatsApp-ing a local carpenter a picture of a rocking chair, to vigilantly watching our local expat Facebook group for baby items. We've built an Amazon registry knowing everything on it will have to fit in a suitcase. We’ve even begun stockpiling diapers via visitors and friends' work trips. Surprisingly, a tiny country in the very center of Africa does not have the best prices on imported goods like diapers. We’ve even had to weigh out the options of which actual country the baby would be born in. I am learning, just like most other things about living overseas, none of it is a bad different. It just takes some figuring out, navigating, and a little creativity.
- I still stand behind my initial ideals. After building community for a year and a half, I stand behind them even more. This baby will be a little TCK from the beginning. She will have a passport by a few weeks old, take two long-haul flights before most American babies have been on a road trip, and – just with a cursory glance into next year’s calendar – have a country count of five (at least!) by her first birthday. And I love this for her!
- Community is everything. Baby girl is going to be so loved by so many people who aren’t related to her. No, she won’t get to see her actual extended family as much, but she will be surrounded by adults who are stand-in aunties and uncles. She will grow up among little friends who will be like family and who will understand her in a way she might not even appreciate until she grows up and leaves. The depth of the expat community is something I am excited for her to grow up in.
- She'll have an expanded worldview. This baby won’t have to learn a global perspective – she will just have it. She will meet people from all different countries and walks of life. She will see and celebrate the beauty of diversity just because she’ll have play dates with friends from other countries. She won’t just know the big, wide world through a computer screen. It will be at her fingertips. She will be flexible and confident. She will have a heart for the world.
- There will be so many adventures. She will get to do so many fun things that many people in her passport country will only dream of. She will get to go to so many interesting places, see wild animals on safari, swim in all the oceans, eat delicious and strange food, explore the globe. I know she will because she is being born into this family and that’s just what we do. I’m excited to have her along for the ride and to experience it all with her.
Moving to Rwanda was an unknown and hard-to-picture concept for a lot of people we knew back home. While moving part didn’t seem so daunting to me, the having a baby part is now what’s full of those ambiguities for me. I am glad we are here and I trust that this whole thing will be just another glorious part of the whole grand adventure of expat life!