Why Mothering Abroad is Extra Challenging
October • 19th, 2021
by Hind Khettouch
Becoming a mother abroad
8 years ago, when I gave birth to my child in Germany many people told me: "How lucky! You had your child in one of the most advanced countries in the world!"
They are right. We are lucky and privileged. However, if parenthood, in general, can be a tumultuous process, being a mother abroad presents itself with a whole new dimension of challenges. For a lot of us, it is not only about the lack of a reliable and strong support system. It is also a matter of bearings. It ranges from not knowing who the best pediatricians or gynecologists in town are to not knowing what the parenting rules are or what it means to be a good parent in the host society.
The birth of a child is a time where all parents ask themselves: "How can I be the best parent to my child?" "What am I keeping from my own upbringing?" and "What will I do differently?"
Parenting is intergenerational
It means that no matter how positive or negative our childhood memories are, no matter whether we choose to parent our children the way we were raised, the complete opposite, or something in between, it is our own experiences as children that will inspire us to create our unique parenting style.
But what happens when we feel that our expectations, references, and knowledge about parenting are not relevant? What does it mean to become a mother in a culture, a society, a context that defines the rules of motherhood in a manner we are not familiar with?
It is time to have an inclusive conversation about the transition to motherhood. There is so much to talk about, so let's get started.
Transitions... in a nutshell
A transition is a period of change, uncertainty, and internal dissonance. It is a time of vulnerability where we are required to sort out the beliefs, tools and resources that we have used in the past and adopt new practices better suited for the future. It is tempting in times of transition to want to stick to the familiar and resist, but change is inevitable and the best way to deal with it is to embrace it, adapt, adjust and grow.
When a child is born, so is a mother. The transition into motherhood is called: Matrescence.
Transitioning to motherhood: Matrescence
When a child is born, so is a mother. The transition to motherhood is called: Matrescence.
Matrescence was conceptualised in 1973 by Dana Raphael, a medical anthropologist. It describes the emotional, mental, physical, social, psychological, economic and cultural transformation and transition a woman goes through when she becomes a mother.
During that time women deal with a spectacular shift in their lives and identities. We do not speak about transitioning into motherhood as much as we should let alone transitioning into motherhood while also going through another life-changing transition: Moving to a foreign country.
As a mother, are you familiar with any of these feelings?
- Feeling like you have lost your ‘old identity’
- Feeling invisible, lonely, voiceless, reduced to your new status
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling like you are losing control and that you should get back your life together as soon as possible even if you are not ready
Now, imagine going through all this while living away from your way of doing things, your family and your support network.
Matrescence on foreign ground
The biological process of bearing and delivering a child is rather universal but mothering goes beyond that. Each society has rules and ideas about what a good parent is but also about how to facilitate or allow the transition to parenthood.
Parenthood and Immigration are two major events in the life of every person that goes through one or combines the two. No matter how educated or financially comfortable we are, both events require a fundamental reorganization of our lives.
Becoming a mother in a foreign land means that in addition to the biological changes, a woman must simultaneously navigate her integration to the new country and find a balance between her own perception of motherhood and the local ideals.
It also takes a village to raise a mom
The assistance, acknowledgment and consideration a mother receives after she gives birth are key to the success of her transition to motherhood. A lack thereof can affect her mental health and the wellbeing of her family. Immigrant mothers are usually missing at least one of the three.
Recent research suggests that about 20% of migrant women experience Postpartum Depression symptoms in the first year following childbirth. This is one and a half to twice as likely when compared with non-migrant women.
This number is hard to digest but if we are not ready to acknowledge the diversity of Matrescence the situation will remain unchanged.
Rewriting motherhood stories
Matrescence is a much-needed concept. As Dan Siegel said: "If our can name it, you can tame it". So, by coining this word, we have been able to expose the complexity of our experiences as mothers and the process through which we are "re-born" at the same time as our babies. But there are a few voices missing in this discussion: the voices of minority and immigrant women.
When we have a more inclusive and equitable approach to the concept of Matrescence we understand better how immigrant mothers navigate their identities as mothers and as immigrants. Only then, will we be able to help all women in probably one of the biggest transitions in their lives.
- Parenting practices are diverse, and your way is just as valid don't shy away from speaking your truth.
- Be ready to learn, adapt and grow. Don't get stuck in a cultural bubble.
- It takes a village to raise a child, but you are the main pillar of the village.
- Our children are individuals, we learn from them as much as they learn from us.
- Our children need roots to grow and wings to fly.
To find out more about Hind Kettouch, Kanzyana and/or what it means to become a mom in a foreign country visit https://www.kanzyana.com/ Stay tuned for more articles by Hind!