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Q&A with author Lisa Ferland on motherhood, home and being ‘Knocked Up Abroad’

“When relying on family isn’t an option, we turn to our friends for support, and we may even need to rely on strangers.”

Q&A with author Lisa Ferland on motherhood, home and being ‘Knocked Up Abroad’

Lisa Ferland is a US citizen who has lived in Sweden since 2012, working as a public health consultant. Her greatest adventure, parenting, combined with the often challenging foreign environment, has led to some of her most exciting discoveries about herself. We had a chance to catch up with Lisa on a few of these discoveries, including her thoughts on the true meaning of “home” as a new mother and the biggest differences between childbirth in the U.S. versus other countries.


How do the experiences in your new book, Knocked

Up Abroad, speak to the true meaning of “home” for mothers and their little ones?

In many situations, the women in Knocked Up Abroad created

their own supportive network of closely knit friends and family. Anyone who has

moved away from their hometown can relate—when relying on family isn’t an

option, we turn to our friends for support, and we may even need to rely on strangers

to help us in our most vulnerable moments. For me personally, our Swedish

neighbors came to assist us after the unintentional home birth of our

daughter. 

“Home is where the heart is” rings true for anyone living far from the home in which they grew up. After we moved abroad, home was no longer the place where we grew up as kids, but the place we created for our immediate family. Home is not made of bricks and mortar, or even the same country that is shown on your passport. Home is the feeling you have when you walk through the door and see faces that you love after a long day of work. It is sharing holidays and special events with people who care about you. For women raising families far from “home,” motherhood can feel isolating and lonely at times. There are so many days when I wish I could pop around the corner and have a chat with my mom or attend a family event that doesn’t require 18 hours of travel. However, I have learned that creating that same warm and welcoming “home” for my children is my responsibility as a mother. My children’s home is in Sweden where their parents and friends are (and more importantly, where their beloved toys are). Fortunately, family togetherness provides the warmest feeling in the world for a child, and a mother can create that in many different ways, whether she is living abroad or in her childhood home.

In your experiences, what are the single biggest

advantages and disadvantages of having a baby in the U.S. versus a foreign

country?

We can learn so much about pregnancy and childbirth from

learning about how other cultures approach these two very vulnerable times in a

mother’s life. Cultural and social norms drive medical practices regarding pregnancy

and childbirth, and how people define a “normal” pregnancy varies

widely around the world.

Taking that into consideration, I think the single biggest

advantage of having a baby in the U.S. is the abundance of healthcare options.

There are many criticisms that the U.S. treats every pregnancy like a disease

and is too quick to offer interventions. However, the U.S. offers a myriad of

birthing options. There are birthing centers, home births, midwives, and

OB/GYNs who are more than willing to help a new mother in whatever style she chooses.

Whether she wants a home birth, water birth, at-home water birth, or repeat

C-section—a woman can find (and pay) someone to support her in having the type

of birth she envisions for herself and her baby. Or, if she has a high-risk

pregnancy, the medical system is extremely well-equipped to provide whatever

medical services she may require.

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In the chapter, “Land

of Birth,” Norwegian mother Jannecke Balys describes how different her birth

experiences were in the U.S. than in Norway, where the options are more

limited. In some countries, there are resource constraints, such as not enough doctors, or not

enough (or any) anesthesiologists to provide epidural pain relief. In some

cases, hospitals may not even be equipped to provide safe C-sections during

emergencies. In some countries, it is against the law to have a water

birth (Sweden) or home birth (United Arab

Emirates). The U.S. offers

women so many options for childbirth, which is a true advantage for mothers

during this stressful time.

However, one of the biggest disadvantages in the U.S. is the

social and economic pressure placed on mothers so quickly after childbirth.

In the U.S., there is a cultural feeling that new moms should be “back to normal,” “back to work,” and “back in pre-pregnancy clothes” almost instantly, as if having a baby was not a huge, life-altering, physically demanding event.

I wish mothers in the U.S. had the time they need to allow themselves to heal from pregnancy and childbirth—the physical changes, sleep deprivation, and fluctuating hormones—in order to enjoy that blurry temporary haze of postpartum life.

The U.S. would benefit greatly from paid parental leave, something that the rest of the world has already discovered, to allow parents this crucial time to adjust and care for their families and themselves.

In the chapter, “Moon Months,” Canadian mother, Ember Swift, describes China’s requisite resting period for mothers to heal during the postpartum period. In many Asian cultures, mothers are restricted to 30 days indoors in an attempt to give their bodies enough time to heal properly from the birth experience. In Sweden, the non-birth partner is provided ten days of paid leave from work to stay home to help the mother and newborn baby.

In our case, my husband was thrilled to have two weeks at home with our newborn baby in Sweden, which was in stark contrast to the five days he was begrudgingly allowed (and discouraged from taking) in the U.S. after our son was born.

These cultural differences define the expectations of new parents in other countries around the world and illustrate how different life is for parents in the U.S.

In terms of practical and emotional needs,

what advice do you have for a woman considering having a baby in a foreign

country?

Practically, I would do as much research and ask as many

questions as possible about how the birth process works in that country. Talk

to your doctor (or midwife) and as many friends as you can in order to

physically and mentally prepare yourself. In the chapter, ​“Baby in Benin,” Sarah Murdock heard

from women who were bullied by midwives (one woman was even slapped!) and her

Beninese friend warned her not to touch the floor during birth as it could be

dangerous for the baby due to poor hygiene. Preparing for as many unknown factors as possible will reduce

(not eliminate) stress around childbirth. Creating a birth plan can help to

make your wishes known at the hospital. Of course, I recommend having a few

contingency plans because pregnancy and childbirth rarely seem to go according

to plan.

Once the baby arrives, give yourself time to adjust to the

arrival of the new baby before inviting guests to stay. As much as family may want

to see the baby, having visitors can be stressful (or even disruptive). My

mother-in-law visited us when our daughter was two weeks old. I bravely told

her that my house was not going to be clean and that she was in charge of meal

preparation. I was even bold enough to assign her small tasks like helping with

laundry and grocery shopping.

Emotionally, I would recommend that parents schedule Skype or FaceTime sessions to

stay connected with friends and family after the baby is born. Long-distance

travel may not be feasible with a newborn, so connecting with loved ones virtually is the next best option for

introducing the newest addition of your family.  When you are fortunate enough to

have face-to-face connections, make them meaningful. I vividly remember a good

friend visiting me when my daughter was two weeks old and taking me to a nearby

cafe. She bounced and played with my daughter while I leisurely sipped my coffee

without worrying about anything. We laughed and conversed like adults and for a

brief moment, my mind wasn’t repeating “diapers, laundry, cleaning” on

a loop. It was so refreshing to have adult interaction after two weeks of

relative seclusion with a newborn. Maintaining those emotional connections with

friends is essential for your sanity as a new mom. Even a brief stroller walk each

day is good for our mental health—and even better when we have a friend with whom

to stroll.

Some days it is a struggle just to find clean yoga pants, but pull your hair into a messy bun, put your baby in the stroller, and get out of the house, wherever it may be.

Motherhood can be lonely and living abroad can be even lonelier. Experiencing motherhood far from our support network means that we have to rely on others for support. And when we are able, it is our turn to provide support to other new mamas who are parenting abroad.

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In This Article

    An expectant mama's to-do list can feel endless… but here's the good news: A lot of those tasks are actually really exciting. Planning your baby registry is especially thrilling: You get a say in what gifts friends and family members will buy for your new addition!

    But it can also feel a bit overwhelming to make sense of all the gear on the market. That's why we suggest mentally dividing your registry into two categories: items you need to prepare for your baby's arrival and items that sure would be nice to have.

    Here at Motherly, our editors have dozens of kids and years of parenting experience among us, so we know our way around the essentials. We also know how mama-friendly the registry-building experience is with Target, especially thanks to their recently upgraded registry and introduction of Year of Benefits. Just by creating your baby registry with Target, you'll snag a kit with $120 in discounts and samples. The savings keep coming: You'll also get two 15% off coupons to buy unpurchased items from your registry for up to a year after your baby's expected arrival. Change your mind about anything? The Year of Benefits allows for returns or exchanges for a full year. And as of August 2020, those who also sign up for Target Circle when creating a baby registry will also get the retailer's Year of Exclusive Deals, which includes ongoing discounts on baby essentials for a full year.

    Here are 10 items we agree deserve a spot in the "need" category on your registry, mama.


    A crib to grow with your baby

    Delta Children Farmhouse 6-in-1 Convertible Crib

    First-time mamas are likely creating nursery spaces for the first time, and that can get expensive. Adding a quality crib to Target registry gives friends and family members the option to join forces to make a large purchase through group gifting.

    $269.99

    A safe + convenient car seat

    Safety 1st OnBoard 35 LT Infant Car Seat

    The list of non-negotiable baby essentials is pretty short, but it definitely includes a car seat. In fact, most hospitals will not allow you to leave after delivery until a car seat check is performed. We recommend an infant seat, which can easily snap into a base in your car.

    $99.99

    A traveling nursery station

    Baby Trend Lil Snooze Deluxe II Nursery Center

    It's hard to beat a good playard when it comes to longevity. This item can be baby's sleeping place when they're sharing a room with you for the first months. Down the line, it can function as a roving diaper change station. And when you travel, it makes a great safe space for your little one to sleep and play.

    $99.99

    A swing for some backup help

    4moms mamaRoo 4 Bluetooth Enabled High-Tech Baby Swing - Classic

    A dependable swing can be a real lifesaver for new parents when they need their hands free (or just a minute to themselves). Because many babies are opinionated about these things, we appreciate that the mamaRoo has multiple modes of motion and soothing sounds.

    $219.99

    An easy-to-clean high chair

    Ingenuity SmartClean Trio Elite 3-in-1 High Chair - Slate

    Our best registry advice? Think ahead. It really won't be long before your child is ready for those first bites of solid food, at which point you'll need a high chair. We like one that transitions to a booster seat atop an existing dining room chair.

    $99.99

    A diaper bag to share

    Eddie Bauer Backpack - Gray/Tan

    When you're a mom, you're usually toting diapers, wipes, clothing changes, bottles, snacks, toys and more. You need a great bag to stash it all, and if you're anything like us, you'll choose a backpack style for comfort and functionality. Bonus: This gender neutral option can easily be passed off to your partner.

    $64.99

    A hygienic spot for all those diaper changes

    Munchkin Secure Grip Waterproof Diaper Changing Pad 16X31"

    We can confidently predict there will be a lot of diaper changes in your future. Do yourself a favor by registering for two comfortable, wipeable changing pads: one to keep in the nursery and another to stash elsewhere in your house.

    $29.99

    A way to keep an eye on your baby at night

    Infant Optics Video Baby Monitor DXR-8

    Feeling peace of mind while your baby sleeps in another room truly is priceless.That's why we advocate for a quality video monitor that will allow you to keep tabs on your snoozing sweetheart.

    $165.99

    A comfortable carrier to free up your hands

    Petunia Pickle Bottom for Moby Wrap Baby Carrier, Strolling in Salvador

    A wrap carrier may be about as low-tech as baby items come, but trust us, this product stands the test of time. Great for use around the house or while running errands, this is one item you'll appreciate so much.

    $39.99

    A full set of bottles + cleaning supplies

    Dr. Brown's Options+ Complete Baby Bottle Gift Set

    Whether you plan to work in an office or stay at home, breastfeed or formula feed, bottles are a valuable tool. To make your life as simple as possible, it's nice to have an easy-to-clean set that is designed to work through the first year.

    $39.99

    Target's baby registry is easy to create from the comfort of your own home. Start your Target baby registry now and enjoy shopping with the Year of Benefits featuring exclusive deals available via Target Circle, two 15% off coupons, a year of hassle-free returns, a free welcome kit and more!

    This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


    Our Partners

    This post is brought to you by Staples. While this was a sponsored opportunity, all content and opinions expressed here are my own.

    One of the biggest changes in my household once my daughter started homeschooling was that, suddenly, everything and everyone in our home had to start pulling double duty. While I was used to wearing a lot of hats (mom, wife and WFH employee, to name a few), suddenly our dining room was also pulling shifts as a classroom. My laptop was also a virtual teacher. Our living room hutch was also a school supply closet.

    If I didn't want my home to be overrun with an abundance of clutter, I had to find products that could multitask. Here are 10 products that are saving this WFH + homeschooling mama right now.

    Stylish storage cabinet

    Whether I need a place to keep the printer or just want to keep crayons and colored pencils organized, this pretty cabinet provides a mixture of exposed and hidden storage without clashing with my living room decor.

    White board calendar + bulletin board

    With so much on our plates these days, I need a visual reminder of our daily schedule or I'll forget everything. This dry erase version makes it easy to keep track of Zoom meetings and virtual classes—and I also love using the corkboard to display my daughter's latest work from art class.

    Natural Recycled 3-Ring Binder

    From tracking our curriculum progress to organizing my family's paperwork, I can never have enough binders. Even better, this neutral version is pretty enough that I can display them on the bookshelf.

    Bamboo storage drawers

    The instant you start homeschooling, it can feel like you're suddenly drowning in papers, craft supplies and more. Fortunately, these simple bamboo drawers can be tucked into the cabinet or even displayed on top (seriously, they're that cute!) to keep what we need organized and close at hand.

    Laminated world map

    I love this dry-erase map for our geography lessons, but the real secret? It also makes a cute piece of wall decor for my work space.

    Rolling 7-drawer cabinet

    When you're doing it all from home, you sometimes have to roll with the punches—I strongly recommend getting an organizational system that rolls with you. On days when both my husband and I are working from home and I need to move my daughter's classes to another room, this 7-drawer cabinet makes it easy to bring the classroom with us.

    Letterboard

    From our first day of school photo to displaying favorite quotes to keep myself motivated, this 12"x18" letterboard is my favorite thing to display in our home.

    Expandable tablet stand

    Word to the wise: Get a pretty tablet stand you won't mind seeing out every day. (Because between virtual playdates, my daughter's screen time and my own personal use, this thing never gets put away.)

    Neutral pocket chart

    Between organizing my daughter's chore chart, displaying our weekly sight words and providing a fits-anywhere place to keep supplies on hand, this handy little pocket chart is a must-have for homeschooling families.

    Totable fabric bins

    My ultimate hack for getting my family to clean up after themselves? These fabric bins. I can use them to organize my desk, store my oldest's books and even keep a bin of toys on hand for the baby to play with while we do school. And when playtime is over, it's easy for everyone to simply put everything back in the bin and pop it in the cabinet.

    Looking for study solutions for older children? Hop over to Grown & Flown for their top picks for Back to School.

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    But how do we know which names are going to be popular in our kids' cohort when most of their future classmates haven't been born yet? Well, the science of predicting the year's most popular baby names is actually pretty simple. You don't need a crystal ball—just previous years' data.

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