“When you think things are bad,
when you feel sour and blue,
when you start to get mad…
you should do what I do!
Just tell yourself, Duckie,
you’re really quite lucky!
Some people are much more…
oh, ever so much more…
oh, muchly much-much more
unlucky than you!”
― Dr. Seuss, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?
I’ve been a first time mom/mum on two continents. I say first time mom because my experiences giving birth, going home with baby, networking with other mums, and returning to work/life afterwards were night and day. One of my babies was born in Chicago and the other in Sydney. For me both felt very much like the first time because of how different it was.
My daughter was born 5 years ago. I had several close friends but most were getting married when we got pregnant and babies were a distant thought. My husband and I were working full time good paying jobs when we got pregnant. I had family near and friends at the ready. I should have been fine. I wasn’t. What I learned having my daughter was we have a LONG way to go supporting new moms in the US.
My pregnancy was totally normal and healthy, but my daughter was running big, so my OB advised an intervention a few weeks before my due date, which lead to another and another. Suddenly my hopefully natural birth was anything but. It was a series of Pitocin drips, awful contractions, doubting and pressuring OBs (just take an epidural already!) and 20 odd hours of misery. From the moment I’d entered the hospital it was no food allowed, as a standard procedure for fear of choking if I needed an emergency c-section (standard practice for US hospitals). Not a big deal if you have a baby quick, I didn’t. Finally I had a beautiful girl but then had guests at the ready for days to come, which was lovely but exhausting.
Since I had no peers having babies I felt like the Marco Polo trying to navigate baby and life. I had no mums group to go ask questions of since nothing like that is assigned to moms. No midwife visited the house after my baby was born to see how I was REALLY doing, no playgroup to attend and I was back at work full time at 9 weeks while my daughter was in daycare. I was so tired, lonely and scared. Frankly I was pretty sure someone was gonna come pick up this little human any day and save me from this bizarrely long babysitting gig I had somehow found myself in.
I worked FT for the next 3 ½ years and felt like I lived in a constant limbo, not quite able to find a good balance or support network. I didn’t find fellow moms outside of work because frankly there was just no time. By the time I got home and made dinner, it was time for bed for my daughter and I was once again trapped for the night. I felt increasingly isolated. I didn’t have someone to say “Is this normal or ok?” I took refuge in an online moms group who became my lifeline. I still keep in contact with them, but actual face to face mom friends were harder to find. I know some women who did make good mom friends, they met them via prenatal classes or child music classes but those activities generally take place during the day when moms work and due to the paying nature mean many never have the chance to go. I got lucky when my daughter turned 3 and found a friend at daycare whose family was lovely, who I could talk to honestly about what life was like as a working mom.
The friends I had pre-baby were lovely and I love them dearly, but ‘til they had their own kids a year and half or more later we were in that place where your lives don’t quite mesh. Certainly we had kids to bond over later, but they were still in the haze of new baby while I was dealing with a fractious 2 year old so again our parenting journeys were in very different places. The suburb we were in rarely had people at the parks, making even chance meetings increasingly hard to find after we moved there. It made for a really lonely place as a parent. Then life took a major turn for us and my husband’s job offered us an opportunity in Sydney.
With that offer came uncertainty and at the same time we found out we were expecting. After much upheaval and drama we left the US for our 2 years here. I was worried. I was leaving behind friends, family and everything I’d known and arriving here at 32 weeks pregnant. I was going from being a full time working mom to being a full time SAHM overnight which made me feel that much more like a first time mom. Suddenly I was going to be home all day with the kids and trying to navigate the monotony and joy. Then we moved over and I found out something. I was incredibly lucky and so were many of the women around me without realizing it. To them what I’d find amazing was completely normal.
What do I mean? I found a community the likes of which I hadn’t experienced as a mom in the US. I also found birth here was treated as something NORMAL. Wanting an un-medicated birth wasn’t a big deal and my doctor wouldn’t pressure me to speed up things. My OB here was easy going, he admitted my son was gonna be big, but assured me (vs. creating fear), I could do this. When I did once again get an epidural he was totally supportive. He told me I could do it either way, that I was strong and would be fine without the drugs if I choose vs. practically forcing them down my throat. The midwives were lovely and so relaxed about it when I arrived in active labor that my husband and I were shocked. They told us to go out for a walk off hospital grounds to progress my labor, grab some lunch and didn’t insist I stay in the room the moment I arrived. All of this meant my son was born less than 5 hours from check in vs. the full day event before. I was encouraged to stay in the hospital four days vs. being rushed out the door at two days when I was still tired and sore. Rooms were nice but small/sparse to keep the focus on mom and baby, not to allow visitors to come and stay forever like my previous enormous room.
Once I came out of the hospital I found the other differences. Women were blessed with the legal ability to take 12 months off work, not 12 weeks. This meant they had the chance to get out of the haze of exhaustion and come up for air. It gave them time to find support before heading back to work. It meant a real community. Part time career jobs and job shares were far more common, so many still had flexibly to find balance. Out of that ability came use of playgroups, again allowing time to make friends and find support. The very concept of playgroup in the form it takes here via Playgroups NSW doesn’t exist in the US. You might find a couple of ladies who meet at a local park or rotate houses but neutral territory with toys, every week and cheap too? No.
On top of all that mums were hooked up with a mums group. They had people who could relate to where they were as a parent and could create a lasting bond. Midwives came to the house for the first visit to see if PND had set in. Whereas I had schlepped my 5 day old baby into the doctor’s office where the focus was entirely on baby, not on how mum was surviving. It’s no coincidence that PND is horribly underdiagnosed in the US. There were doctors here would come to YOUR HOUSE?? Something we haven’t seen in the US since the 50’s. And they had this amazing place you could go to get help if your baby didn’t sleep? You’re joking right?
Suddenly I had a support system. I had a way to easily make friends and find a “family” here. I was lucky enough to meet a playgroup which now comprises the bulk of my friendships. It gave me a place to go each week where my daughter could play when I was in an exhausted haze. It meant a chance to meet people in a low pressure environment.
Even day to day life here with kids was easier. Want proof of that? Take the parents rooms everyone here expects. We might have them at some malls back in the US but if we do it’s usually a handicapped toilet with a pull down changing table 9 times out of 10. Maybe a lone chair for nursing in a quiet corner if you’re really lucky. The first time I walked into Chatswood’s I think I actually gasped. Holy crap an entire AREA for nursing, warming bottles, a whole row of proper change tables, a play area!! And I went to a sports arena and it was the same! Yeah, good luck ever finding that in the US. The places here people complain about that ONLY have a change table were the things I counted myself lucky previously. My daughter was more than once changed on a bathroom floor since there was seriously no other choice in subfreezing weather. Then there was the weather. Yeah, it is way easier taking a baby outside when you aren’t actually worried about freezing. And you have FENCED playgrounds!! Really that’s fabulous. They are pretty much at unicorn status in the US in most places.
Another thing that many Sydneysiders just took for granted were the availability of child friendly cafés/restaurants. The first time we went to an RSL that had a play area I was once again floored. This was genius, a proper sit down restaurant with play equipment?? The only play areas I’d ever find in Chicago were either McDonalds, Chick-fil-a or another fast food restaurant. Everywhere else your kids were expected to sit down with the crayons and menu or you were expected to take them outside. The number of cafes here that go out of their way to provide a child friendly corner or environment has yet to cease to amaze me. And again all of this is just pare for the course it seems.
I know Sydney’s not perfect. I know maternity leave here still has massive problems and I know not everyone finds an amazing mums group or playgroup, or has a great birth experience. But if you ever wonder how lucky you are as Dr. Seuss says, know it’s worlds away from where we were as parents in the US. So fight for the rights you have ladies, don’t let your government or employer or society pressure you out of using/keeping them. Say thank you to the local café owner or restaurateur who goes out of their way to provide a great experience for kids. Take advantage of the playgroups, the mums groups, Tresillian and all the other amazing bits of your society and know it’s an incredible thing to see as an outsider looking in.
Some of Amber’s other articles:
The Great Ocean Road and Kids…Why I Hate Car Trips…
Taking Candy from Strangers – Why Buying a Used Car Seat is a Bad Idea
Professional Family Photos Really? Why?