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Eleven years ago, while on a backpacking trip, Natalie Revie, 30, fell in love. With Thailand. The gorgeous beaches and warm, friendly people won her heart. Then five years ago, she moved there for good. “What drew me was the freedom of the place,” says the freelance writer, blogger and mom of a 2.5-year-old girl. “It’s the freedom of being part of something developing.”
Life before baby …
In my early twenties, life was very free. I worked freelance seasonally, picked my own hours, traveled when I wanted, had no financial commitments, and partied all over the world. I traveled through India, across southeast Asia and all over South America. I think in many ways, as much as I loved traveling and experiencing all these amazing things, I was also looking for something to ground me, something worth standing still for.
My ideas about motherhood …
I was pretty ambivalent about having children. I saw babies as a route to financial, physical and emotional ruin. I kept telling myself that people who had kids young were fools to throw life away, to lose their identities in piles of stinky diapers and vomit.
I think this came from family members who felt having kids limited them. I never imagined myself as a mother and didn’t have the confidence to imagine that I might be good at it. I told myself that being successful and free and powerful were far more important and worthy goals than motherhood, and never allowed the little voice inside of me that yearned for a family to pipe up.
Then, unconsciously in my mid-twenties, my views changed. Going to work in pursuit of more money to gad about the world no longer held the allure. I wanted something more fulfilling. It’s around the time that I moved to Thailand, actually. Seeing the relaxed way babies are handled in this culture, how communal mothering is, helped changed my view of motherhood.
Then came baby …
I remember when she was just a few days old and it suddenly dawned on me: it was going to be non-stop like this for the foreseeable future. It’s the relentlessness of it, realizing that sometimes you can’t even go to the bathroom, take a shower or even get up from the chair when you need to. It’s an adjustment.
But my daughter was such an easy baby who barely cried, and I am so thankful for that. I take my hat off to all those mothers who face much more difficult challenges than I did, and they handle them with grace and courage.
The most challenging part of motherhood …
Finding balance. Between two cultures, two systems of parenting. I also constantly struggle to set boundaries without reining in my daughter’s joie de vivre. Also setting boundaries despite living in a culture which has a totally different set of parenting techniques and rules.
The best part about raising a child in Thailand …
Sometimes the best parts can also the most challenging parts. For example, the climate here is wonderful. Children are always outside, running on the beach. The downside is the fierce monsoon season, with sickness, mosquito borne diseases, and infections from dampness. (I wrote about having dengue fever here on my blog.)
Also, the communal raising of a child is one of the aspects of Thai culture that I love. So when my daughter was a baby, we weren’t stuck in an apartment alone. We would spend time relaxing on a mat and throughout the day people would drop in to see us, a continual stream of social interaction.
The downside of that, for me, was family members often overstepped the mark. We had incidents with women wrestling my daughter off me even though she started howling; waking her up because they felt like playing with her; and feeding her food before she was weaned.
It was one of the most difficult things for me to navigate without offending anyone.
The drawbacks …
I still struggle with pollution issues here. Getting clean air and clean water can be a daily grind. But this is partly because we live in a very rural area.
Also, Thailand has a very high rate of gun crime, which makes me uncomfortable. Although it’s generally a relaxed place, when issues boil over, they are often solved with guns.
Breastfeeding is becoming less common …
As the country moves towards being a more westernized and affluent nation, sadly, most births are by scheduled C-section and the majority of babies are fed formula.
I’ve also noticed, most children here are bottle-fed formula until they go to school at five years old!
Another thing was, I wanted a home birth with an independent midwife. To do that we had to leave Thailand [and return to my home in the UK] for eight weeks to have her because natural birth is actively discouraged, and midwives and doctors cannot attend home births.
But overall, I am happy to be raising my child in Thailand. I hope she will benefit from some of the wonderful cultural aspects here: the strong Buddhist culture, the deep respect for elders, and the strength of family.
If we could jump into a DeLorean and race back in time …
I would tell myself to relax and take it slow. Just step slowly through all the moments that make up the day and let all the external hullabaloo stay in the background.
For more on Natalie and her stories of life in a remote village in Thailand, visit My Jungle Life.