Last week my child had a hideous accident and narrowly escaped having a finger amputated. As we are currently in the UK, my family were there to help, I could liaise with doctors in my mother tongue and friends helped us get over the whole ordeal.
The experience made me remember a saying from an American Expater friend: ‘The female body is strong. A mother’s body is stronger. An expat mother’s body is the strongest of them all’.
Sipping tea in a leafy suburb of Lausanne while our kids played, I smirked at her. Expat life as a fulltime mum is fun, glamorous and exciting.
But not all the time.
Often it’s lonely. Motherhood is tough when the only company you have is a babbling baby, but it’s lonelier still for expats who are generally separated from friends and family. Even if you do get time off from nappy changing, the school run or supermarket dashes, most likely you still don’t understand the local language, let alone the culture.
Frequently it’s frustrating. Why all the bureaucracy just to get my kid a library book? Why do I need a degree in accounting just to figure out family benefit allocations?
Other times it’s scary. Like the time your child gets in an accident when your husband is away on an assignment and you resort to frantic googling to get an ambulance, liaise with medical staff and sort medicine.
And most of the time it’s just plain exhausting. You hunt for nurseries, schools and doctors without the government guidelines, peer recommendations or local knowledge that you’d have in your hometown.
On top of this, expat mums often have to go it alone while daddy is away setting up home in a new expat destination, on a foreign assignment or adhering to the facetime culture, work-life imbalance of a new job. Having brought up a sick newborn and an energetic toddler on my own for 15 months, two weeks and four days, I know how hard expat mums have it. Army mums, I salute you.
But chin up. Expat motherhood makes us stronger. We make a wider friendship circle than we ever would back ‘home’. Strangers become our friends overnight and we depend on them like they depend on us. We put our timidity aside, embracing our more confident selves to go out there and make the most for our family. We think on our feet, we learn a new language, we are stronger.
I’m not sure how well I would have coped if my son’s accident had happened abroad, but my experiences as an expat definitely gave me strength to get through it.
Next week we go back to see the plastic surgeon. Time to channel my inner expat mum…