I went to a baby shower yesterday. Not my normal milieu – but I made an exception for a rather special young woman.
Having a baby far away from home, from parents – particularly mums if you are lucky enough still to have one – and in a country not one’s own can be daunting. I had forgotten but being surrounded by a lot of bumps about to be born, and listening to the chat of those in the early throes of motherhood reminded me of those long ago days.
Our daughter was born in the Netherlands and even in the dark ages of 1983, that country was progressive in its pre and antenatal care and I couldn’t have wished for a better experience. Our son, three years later, was born in Thailand and again the care was wonderful.
It’s not the technical side of having a baby abroad that is the problem in most cases; it’s the ‘mum’ quotient that makes it difficult. Sometimes even when we are all grown up, we just need to be a child again.
It doesn’t mean a lack of confidence in yourself, your spouse, your doctor; it just means wanting to hand off for a nanosecond and revel in being cared for. Having someone to moan to about fat feet, an aching back, or those little doubts that become huge in the middle of the night when sleep won’t come because of that kicking belly. That’s when you want your mum. And when you have a couple of oceans and continents between you, it can be hard.
Fathers-to-be are on the whole patient and put up with the inevitable emotional meltdowns whether mum-in-law is around or not, but sometimes you want total, unadulterated understanding and sympathy – not empathy. Girlfriends give empathy. Mums give sympathy, a hug and a cup of tea and then, if you’re mum is like my mum, a stern dose of now-buck-up-and-get-on-with-it; the only person in world who can do that and not be relegated eternally to the crossed-off the Christmas card list.
It’s an indefinable feeling even for those who haven’t lived on the same continent as our mums for many years. It’s visceral. And pregnancy and those first few days of motherhood are when it wells up along with the tears of tiredness that are never far away.
The young women at the baby shower were mostly Australian; maybe that is why I feel pensive, my mum was too. They were a pragmatic and happy group, comfortable being pregnant and producing in Houston, but for a couple I sensed a void, an uncertainty.
I’m not worried about having the baby, it’s what comes after that scares me, the whole parenting thing, one said, a little teary.
That’s natural, I replied. There isn’t a parent alive, or dead for that matter, who hasn’t made mistakes. Ask my children.
And driving home I thought that really is what parenting is all about – learning as we go, wherever we live and wherever our mums are.