Making Peace & Raising Babies Out of Culture

Making our way out of the house, there are a few things you should know: it is June 27 and while coolish now, temps will continue to climb. I have with me in the stroller, my little girl, almost three-weeks-old. In Japan, it is obligatory for newborn babes to stay in the house a solid month—recovering moms, too, as they are both doted on by her mother. (This supposes that the grandmother/mother of the postpartum woman is alive and available and that the woman does not live abroad).

My baby and I receive stares. We are out and it hasn’t been one month.

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I am not new to the culture here; it is my third baby in Tokyo and because of that, I now have thicker skin. In the beginning, with my first, I was fragile. My second, too. We moms and those of us living in a foreign territory are vulnerable to jabs, even from well-meaning ladies who ask, “Isn’t your baby cold?” with sometimes piercing eyes and stern tones. A perceived judgment from a doctor any neighbor seemed to wield every power to make me cry and shrink into my skin. It used to, anyway.

On our walkabout this morning, my neighbor raises her eyes in alarm when she sees me with baby. “Ehhhh? Is it okay to have her out?” with an implied “already??” I know how to reassure her now with the Japanese for “It’s okay; it’s a very short walk, just around the neighborhood.” The stress is on “short, little, brief”, as in “Don’t worry–I know the rules and feel my own concern.”

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At the nearby market, the fawning cashier asks how old the baby is and upon my reply, she shuts down, just after giving me a double-take, mouth in a grimace. Three weeks is not the correct answer.

It’s cool–I’m secure. I walk with shoulders back, smiling at anyone who gives me eye contact. I’m proud of getting out. I’m proud of her.

In the old days of living here, abroad, and raising babies? I would not have felt this cool peace. I would have shrunken back from the sun, afraid of others’ opinions or I would have felt real anger. I’ve leveled out. I’ve found my voice and my rhythm, no mattter what.

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See, mothering can feel so foreign already, so mothering abroad can at times, feel overwhelming. A new mom can feel quite weepy, anxious, or a mix of forty different feelings inside.

Add the dynamic of being outside of one’s home culture? Eesh. Whatever we thought we were good at before may not even be relevant anymore in a different setting. Without language, too, we can feel like dopes. Or maybe we look reckless.

I’ve shocked, surprised, concerned the entire area with the fact that I bicycled while pregnant. I have been told on and talked about. I’ve defensively lifted my chin a bit too much sometimes, wanting to show that despite my lack of fitting in, despite my lack of language, I have my education and my own mother’s advice. Mommying in another culture can shift more than your body. It’s a journey, truly, of the emotions and the mind. Sometimes all of that gets mangled and tangled as we try to find our place and the things we’re good at in this new role.

To have a voice and lift the unspoken words onto a page has been, for me, some of the best medicine. To use my voice in a culture where I am limited has been the best.

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So I talk and I sing and I compromise, too. I make room to incorporate the bevy of wise advice and wonderful treats found here (longer stays in hospitals and birth houses here; granting more independence to children; introducing different first foods to babies on a different schedule) thanking and appreciating others for their input; assuming first that they come with love instead of judgment, etc. I encourage new moms, too.

I have a bigger toolkit now, a broader palette—one that incorporates and understands two worlds, two languages, and so many more people. Sure there may be tough moments, but I’m grateful for the confidence that generally beams where insecurity used to slump. The questioning, negative comments, and glances I more easily shrug off.

I know I’m a good mom now more than ever, perhaps. My voice, my choices and the cultural decisions I weave into our life bring about confidence. I stand on the firm rocks of who we are as a family, who I am as a mom and woman, the confidence of two cultures who will catch me and gird me up. Maybe they’re also two worlds which laugh as I try to figure it all out.

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**Attention!!: For many mothers and women raising children abroad, finding our voice is that much more paramount. I’m using my voice, along with 25 other women in 24 other counties. We share our unique stories of change, belonging, joy, and loss in the book, Knocked Up Abroad Again. 

This self-published wonder of a book is LIVE on Kickstarter! Come see, support, and spread the word! Help us use our voice. Without full financial support, this book will not be. 

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And, heya–did you catch my post on Roasted’s Traveling With Toddlers series?

Here it is! There’s also Kenya, Colombia, Bali, China,…great for any of us who wonder about life around the globe as a curious traveler or expat.

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5 thoughts on “Making Peace & Raising Babies Out of Culture

  1. So fascinating Melissa! Oh I hear you on the tender weepy new mom moments, and on top of of the challenge of a different culture. I love how you’ve found peace and confidence the third time around.

    • Thank you, Dana! Those new mommy moments of weepiness were especially exacerbated by missing my family, too, or when people I loved most made comments that I took so personally. Boy. All those hormones shifting around are no joke. :0!!!

  2. I enjoyed reading this! it’s so true that, especially as a new mum, one comment from another person can shake your confidence in your mother instincts a lot! Even if they really were just commenting rather than critiquing! Love the confidence in yourself that you’ve taken hold of!

    • Thank you for everything you wrote, Rosie. Boy, so true. And if one comment, even an innocuous one can make a woman overthink or doubt herself and what she’s doing, how about the power of an encouraging word, right? That fills us up like a sail and gives us extra energy where we were really running on empty before! Speaking of, thanks again for your kind words!

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