I make no secret of the fact that going from one baby to two babies was one of the hardest things I have done in my life. Of course, I don’t regret that second squidgy baby for a second – but those long, seemingly never-ending days of trying to feed a baby, whilst simultaneously entertaining a toddler will forever remain in my memory as exhausting, challenging, and filled with self-doubt about my own ability as a mother.
When my husband got home from work every night, I would hear the air exhale from my body in one big breath of relief.
Because back in 2014, he was the only real support I had.
They say that it takes a village to raise a child – and our village consisted of myself and my husband.
That isn’t entirely true, of course. I had my son’s nursery, where he attended a couple of mornings a week. I’d like to say that it was a big help – but getting over the roadworks outside my apartment with a gigantic double buggy and screaming, hungry baby took the shine off it a little.
I also had friends, but hadn’t quite yet built the support network that I am lucky enough to have now. Everyone was busy having their own babies and/or working long hours. So I was very thankful for one amazing friend called Katie, who was a nanny in her days before motherhood, and found me on her doorstep several afternoons a week, practically throwing my children in her direction.
But everyone else was in the UK.
My parents, my inlaws, my sister, my cousins, my aunties, my uncles, and most of my friends.
Thousands of miles away.
Two of my close friends in the UK had their second babies recently. With flashbacks of those long days in my apartment with the two children, I worried about them as their due dates approached.
I wished I could pop over to help. To take their toddlers to the play park while they fed. To cuddle the baby while they got a few hours sleep. To sit and chat to them over coffee when they were struggling with sleep the deprivation.
But with a sudden sinking feeling of, well, jealousy, I realised that their parents and siblings lived in the same town. Just around the corner. And that their experience was going to be so different to mine.
Of course I have no right to be jealous. After all, we chose to be expats. And I’m sure our village would all be very thankful if we bought back their grandchildren, cousins, nephews, and godchildren back to the UK. We chose to live this life in the sunshine and we don’t regret that for a second – but back when I was feeling exceptionally vulnerable with two children under two, I doubted our sanity for that.
I’m not the first to bring up my children away from a support network – I’m surrounded by people on a daily basis who do exactly the same. And it isn’t just expats either. I can think of countless friends in the UK who don’t (or didn’t) have their family near them bringing up their children, through loss, breakdown of relationships, or simply the fact they live too far away for regular help. There are so many of us – and I am pretty sure that most will emphasize with the flash of jealousy I felt for those lucky enough to have family on their doorstep.
Fast forward to two years later, with another bundle on the way, and things are different for me now.
Because I made my own village.
As my work commitments picked up, we hired a nanny to help with childcare on the mornings Wilfred doesn’t go to nursery and to help with household chores in the afternoon. It’s something I struggled to get my head around at first, as I didn’t have help for the first two years of motherhood. But it’s a step that I don’t regret taking for a second, as I have learnt there are no prizes for refusing to accept help.
Most importantly, however, I found my support network in a group of friends that I see regularly during the week. Surrogate family for me, surrogate cousins for my children. Friends I know I can call if I need help. Friends that I know will come with a moment’s notice.
It’s true that it takes a village to bring up a child.
And sometimes, you just have to find your own.