Expats and maternity: what you need to know about being pregnant overseas

30 October 2019

Pregnancy is a fascinating, daunting and hugely rewarding process whichever country you are in. Yet it is not a subject that expats prepare for, nor is it something that global mobility departments have detailed policies on. Karen Wilmot, a South African midwife and expat is perfectly qualified to explain how pregnancy differs – or doesn’t – if you are an expat working abroad. 

A surprise out of the blue

Something quite strange happens the moment you see the little blue plus sign appear.

Much like the moment you slam your foot on the brake and see your life captured in thousand pictures and emotions, flashing vividly and experienced viscerally. You are going to have a baby! You are going to be a parent. Your world just tilted. 

But whoah! Hang on - you are an expat and, planned pregnancy or not, this is not how you thought it might be. You need your mother, your sister, and your bestie. You want the security of a healthcare system you know and trust. You don’t need this placement even if it is the best job opportunity in the world. Hell, you don’t even care about all those exotic holidays you have planned. You need to go home to have this baby. 

So let me help you out a bit here. This is the start of the biggest adventure of them all and you, dear expat, are perfectly primed to enjoy the ride with a little bit of guidance and a tiny shift in perspective. 

It may not always be easy, but remember this before booking your one-way ticket home: you will be pregnant for approximately 40 weeks. During that time you will only need to see your chosen care provider an average of 9 times. If each appointment is one hour, that is only 9 hours in 40 weeks. 

Pregnancy and childbirth is a life event, not a medical emergency, so don’t let fear steal your joy. Rather choose to replace fear with curiosity as you research and educate yourself, connect with like-minded people and new parents in your local community. Take full responsibility for your health and wellbeing, with the understanding that things might not be that different after all. 

Pregnancy and childbirth when you are an expat

5 things that will be exactly the same if you have your baby abroad

  1. You will want the very best care for you and your baby and you will do whatever you need to do in order to get it.
     
  2. You will be faced with many choices and decisions about your pregnancy and birth and you will be overwhelmed by the ease of access to unlimited amounts of information online. This will scare and confuse you, but ultimately guide you to find a trusted and reliable person to guide you through unknown and previously uncharted territory.
     
  3. You will experience the same highs and lows that come with a normal pregnancy due to hormonal fluctuations, physical changes, and life circumstances. You will need to have the same tests and scans you would in your home country. 
     
  4. Your pregnancy will progress in the same way, regardless of where you are living and you will experience the same physical changes and discomforts. You will embark on a journey of deep transformation as you watch your body changing, feeling your baby moving and embracing your new role as a parent.
     
  5. You will face fear of the unknown, which will be compounded by the challenges associated with being in a foreign country. Both will need to be addressed separately and together. You will still need to plan and prepare for your birth.

And then, of course, there will be a few things that will be different and very challenging as you embark on this baby joy ride. 

5 things that will be different if you have your baby abroad

  1. You will not have your close family members and friends nearby during memorable and sometimes vulnerable times. You will need to be inventive with communication technology to stay in touch and share these magic moments. 
     
  2. You will be thrown into a foreign healthcare system, possibly with foreign doctors and midwives. The language may be different to your own and you will have to navigate appointments and doctor’s visits differently. The ease of access to care providers who “speak your language” or give you the care and attention you require at this time may be hard to find. But you will find them. 
     
  3. You will need to learn a new way of listening, talking and communicating to eliminate things getting lost in translation (or consider having a local to translate for you).
     
  4. You will be faced with cultural differences in the way that pregnancy and childbirth are viewed that may not mirror your own. You will have to be very clear about what you want and what you need in order to get it. You will examine your own beliefs and expectations about birth. 
     
  5. You may find the availability of baby equipment, gadgets and paraphernalia limited in your host country, which means shopping online or planning a shopping vacation. But hey, who doesn’t enjoy a shopping spree? 
Pregnancy and childbirth when you are an expat

The best advice I can give you is to embrace the differences and prepare yourself for cultural misunderstandings, knowing that these are the experiences that make expat life worth living. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Karen Wilmot is a South African midwife who has spent 15 years working as an expat. She offers bespoke online support packages and has an extensive network of care providers. Her book Giving Birth Abroad is essential reading for expats expecting and you can connect with her on her website www.thevirtualmidwife.com.

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