Global Mamas: England

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

We’re profiling one mother from every country on the planet. (Current tally: 16 down, 176 countries to go!)

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Meet Catherine Batac Walder, mom of 21-month-old baby girl “Little M.” Catherine’s fiction and other works have been published in her native Philippines and abroad in Fine Books and Collections, Practical Boat Owner and Ruin and Resolve. She moved across Norway, Finland and Portugal from 2005  to 2007 on a European M.Phil. scholarship, and then worked as a research group administrator at the Department of Earth Sciences, Royal Holloway University of London. Catherine, now a “full-time wife, mother and boat sweeper,” lives in South East England.

Here’s her story …

Photo by Catherine Batac Walder

Life before baby …
I left home for the first time at 17 to study at a University of the Philippines (UP) college in the mountains. After that I worked in Manila for almost seven years. The work and commute in Manila was hard but I look at that now as part of my treasured memories of my home country. I looked forward to coming home to our family house in the province during weekends. There had been a few heartaches, the biggest of which was losing my father to stroke (he wasn’t even 57). Two months after he had died, I learned that I landed that scholarship to study in Norway, Finland and Portugal. It was hard especially for my mother that I had to leave that same year. But she was supportive as she knew it was my dream.

My ideas about motherhood …
In my early 20s, I taught special needs children. Being surrounded by children, I knew I would someday like to have my own. And I knew that I wanted to be a hands-on mom. I liked working with children. That was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life … until my daughter was born.

Then came baby …
I actually made voice tapes during the first few weeks about the whole giving birth experience and coming home after that. Listening to them again recently made me realized how scared I sounded. There was a part when I started talking about how Little M was becoming a handful — she was colicky — and wondering how I would manage.

In the beginning, I was really nervous, as I had never looked after anyone younger than five before. I had to rely on books. I took a lot of notes. My husband and I read articles and shared what we read with each other. We agreed that it was amazing how much we have learned only after a few months of parenting.

I became more relaxed… but then came weaning and I started to panic again! I made charts and was really concerned I might not be giving proper nutrition to my baby. At around nine months, I stopped relying on articles and charts and just followed my instincts. Now I feel everything just comes naturally.

Like most parents, the biggest changes are seen in decisions that we make, that is, they are now all for Little M’s future. We became more practical. We moved into our new house before her first birthday. We love it, but the decision to buy in the neighborhood was primarily influenced by the good schools in the catchment area (and a bonus that friends live just down the road). Lifestyle-wise, travel and our monthly theater excursions took a backseat … which is not a problem, really, as we enjoy being at home as much as travelling. Plus, there are other things to do that a toddler could also enjoy.

The most challenging part of motherhood …
Having a child is no joke! Here is somebody who will rely on me for everything. There’s no excuse for being ill and staying in bed, otherwise, the baby will go hungry, among other things. When she cries and there comes a point when it feels annoying, I suddenly remember it’s because she doesn’t know anything, she can express herself only through crying. I remind myself to simply enjoy her being needy while it lasts.

The responsibility of taking care of someone, of making sure that she is always safe — and then later teaching her and instilling in her values —  just seem like huge tasks.

On balancing work and life
I’m a stay-at-home mom. Childminder [nanny] services are really expensive over here. To be able to stay at home to look after my family, write, sew, garden or do something creative is just perfect for me right now.

My husband is supportive, but of course you meet people who don’t know what it’s like to look after a child. Some think that stay-at-home moms must be bored to death. Someone asked me once, “So, what do you do when she sleeps?” It’s not an eight-hour job. When they’re asleep (if they do at all), that’s the time you can catch up on what you normally do. I have great admiration for moms who can juggle both career and family.

Most of my life I had been either studying or working, or both. In a way this is like slowing down for me but who knew that a little person could be just as challenging and exhausting. Also, with a baby you don’t notice how quickly time flies. I can see now that this will turn out to be the best decision, to have the opportunity to watch the early years of my child and witness every milestone. There’s nothing more enjoyable than watch a child enjoy herself doing something new. However cliché it might sound, I’m seeing the world through the eyes of a child and it’s been amazing. It’s that stage when the child wants nothing else except your presence, your touch, your smile; when your achievements or social status or titles don’t matter and you can just be mom.

The best part about raising a child in England …
I like that we live in the countryside. Every morning we see horses on the farm from across the road in the comforts of our front room. It takes only 50 minutes to an hour to drive to cities like Oxford and London; 10 minutes to an hour to get to anywhere pretty interesting. Little M and I go out for walks almost everyday. Step out the door and 30 minutes later, we would have already circled the woods nearby.

Home births are highly recommended here. As I recall you get to have two midwives present during a home birth. I actually booked for a home birth myself, since you could change your mind if you’d like to go to hospital at the last minute, but not the other way around.

During pregnancy, you are required to meet with the community midwife and the GP so they can monitor you and give support. I had a difficult childbirth so the midwife (a different one everyday) visited me at home for a week to check on me, the baby’s weight, to see how I breastfeed, etc. Most new mothers appreciate this. I know that they were just there to help but after a harrowing birth experience, all I wanted was to be with my baby, rest and not worry about visits. Once the midwife discharges you, you are then handed over to the care of the Health Visitor. There are a group of them assigned in each area and time and again, one would visit or phone you just to ask how you’re getting on.

The parts I wish were different …
I can’t help but compare what I am used to when I talk about raising a child in the UK. There are obviously residents here who are not satisfied with the systems, may it be healthcare, education, etc. Like anywhere, there are certain parts of the UK that are not ideal for raising a child. But everything is relative. In my experience so far, it is better than what we have in the Philippines. For that I am grateful and privileged to be able to raise a child here.

I’m not a fan of how “commercialized” parenting is over here, and maybe this is how it is for most developed nations. Not that we are affected by the market at all. We buy baby stuff that we truly need.

I don’t stop missing my family and the Philippines but I never feel homesick. I appreciate that my baby was born in a developed country, but sometimes I still wish she would have my childhood. It is not only an entirely different country, but an entirely different generation — a hi-tech one. I would want her to play in the sun, soil her hands, play old-fashioned games. I’m sure that she’ll have her own happy memories: snow, apple trees, red squirrels, castles, and all those things that I often dreamed of as a little girl.

Best piece of advice I ever heard …
I remember our GP (general practitioner) telling me something like, “Sometimes everything doesn’t need to be perfect,” when she saw how bad I felt that I couldn’t produce enough milk and had to top up with formula. I guess all of us have this idea of trying to make everything perfect for that little person, like he/she was our only chance to have a clean slate, as it were. But there are things we can’t control. I almost forgot that like anything, there are bound to be disappointments in parenting and that I should be prepared for them.

If we could jump into the DeLorean and race back in time …
I would simply say: Catherine, sometimes everything doesn’t need to be perfect. This advice applies to almost anything.

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Read more about Catherine Batac Walder on her blog Deck Shoes.

We’ve got over 170 countries to go (yeah, whoa.). So if you would like to nominate a mother who is living and raising a family abroad to be featured on MMM’s Global Mamas series, do let us know! Drop a line to: get[dot]msmack[at]gmail[dot]com.

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6 Comments
  • 1
    Catherine says:

    Hi Nicole, many thanks again for posting my story! Really, really honoured :)

  • 2
    JoAnne says:

    nice one Erin! Ms. Mary Mack, All dressed in black…with silver buttons…

  • 3
    Cecile Sicam says:

    Hi Erin!
    I’m so happy for you. You lived the dreams you had as a child. Now, in this phase of Motherhood, you are coming full circle. I always thought of you as having an eternal child-like wonder and it must be glorious now that you are seeing the world through your baby’s eyes.
    Thank you for the video and the song you sent. The 20th Anniversary bash was a huge success. It was so heartwarming to see former teachers, parents and students (all grown up now)and share memories of good times.
    Warm hugs,
    Cecile

    • 3.1
      Catherine says:

      Hello T. Ces! Thanks for a lovely message. I’m glad the anniversary went well. If there are any pictures or videos online, please e-mail me the link. I would love to see them. The school is really lucky to have you back, and most especially now that you’re leading them :)
      xx

  • 4
    Rosalie Pacquing Hidalgo says:

    Fascinating! I wish this can be read by everyone here in the Phils and understand your in depth message :)

    I gave up many of the “source of income” I have when my little boy turned 7yrs old and now spend more time with him, and my husband gave up work too! It’s crazy but we are enjoying each day so far :)

    Indeed, some things can never be perfect… But remember that the path to happiness doesn’t always the same direction as perfect:)

    I miss you/reading your blogs & seeing your pictures Eriin!