My life, for the past few years, has been anything but common. So when I found out of was expecting a baby – roughly 32 weeks ago – I knew my pregnancy wouldn’t go by the book either.
Any pregnancy is a rollercoaster ride of hormones and emotions, causing amazing and unexpected changes to your body and mind. Add to that some extra ingredients, like a foreign daddy and a nomadic lifestyle, and you’re in for a wild ride. This is the story of my pregnancy and how my lifestyle influenced the way I prepared for the birth of my baby boy.
New life: chapter one
The story started roughly four years ago when I gave up my regular 9-to-5 existence and decided to travel the world. I quit my job and home, sold my belongings, and bought a one-way ticket to Asia. Little did I know my adventure would forever change my world views and turn into a lifestyle. I was planning on traveling for six months. I never quit. After years of happily roaming around, I found love in Indonesia and temporarily settled down there. Then, life took another unexpected turn and announced a new phase: I was pregnant and to become a first-time mommy.
A few months into my pregnancy, I felt the need to go home and see my family and friends. And so it happened that I spent the first half of my pregnancy in Indonesia and the second one in my home country, the Netherlands. As a result, I got to experience a whole range of cultural practices related to pregnancy. Like any cross-cultural learning experience, it has been confusing at times but enriching in the end. Ultimately, it enabled me to see and pick the best of both worlds.
Staying healthy while pregnant
During the first half of my pregnancy, I went to an Indonesian hospital for my monthly check-ups. After I arrived in the Netherlands, the regular check-ups were performed by a midwife. Not much of a difference there. Bigger differences appeared in the way Indonesian and Dutch society treat pregnant women an expect them to stay healthy during those nine months.
In Indonesia, people were generally pretty relaxed about the whole thing – as they are about everything. Their pregnancy rituals are guided by traditional beliefs and customs. Some of those made a lot of sense to me (pregnant women have to walk a lot and cover their heads from the sun), while others just didn’t (pregnant women can’t wear a wristwatch or sit on the doorstep). Lucky for me, as a foreigner I wasn’t expected to abide by all the cultural rules.
Life in the Netherlands, on the other hand, tends to be very organized and structured. As I found out, this applies to pregnancy as well. After having spent years in Asia, arriving back home meant I experienced some sort of reversed culture shock – in my own country.
Pregnant women in the Netherlands receive lists with baby items they should purchase, get overwhelmed with books and magazines, and are more or less expected to take some kind of pregnancy course to prepare for childbirth. More than anything, it made me feel nervous, as if giving birth and taking care of a baby wasn’t a natural thing that I should be able to do without having studied for it.
Fortunately, I had a pretty down-to-earth midwife, who assured me I would be fine with or without pregnancy yoga. I decided to simply take things as they came. I skipped the opinions of Internet experts and ignored my mom’s well-meant but counterproductive advice. Instead, I chose to trust in the strength of my own body and mind to guide me through it all. I did my own at-home yoga, went for nature walks, and made sure I ate healthy food and got plenty of rest. Listening to my body and staying calm were my main mantras.
Baby stuff overload
Back in the Netherlands, I was also confronted with another reality that had not been part of my world for a while: that of a society built around consumerism. While abroad, I learned to appreciate a simple life, free of most materialistic possessions. I watched my partner’s little nephew grow up with few toys, but endless opportunities for playing on the beach. I’m convinced he’s no less happy for it.
The Dutch way of life is different though. A visit to a baby store left my mind dazzling. There were just so many products to choose from. I saw baby strollers the price of small second-hand cars – and people were actually buying them. Future parents apparently feel like they have to get their baby top-of-the-line products, in order to fulfill their parental duty to the best of their ability. Or maybe they just like being fashionable.
Whatever the reason, I had opted out of that mindset long ago and wasn’t planning on going back to it now. Many baby products have an ultrashort lifespan and get tossed after having been used for a short period of time. As I’m planning to go back to Indonesia after the baby is born, I would only really be using them for a couple of months. Nope, my baby wouldn’t be showered with stuff, but with love.
Getting ready for the baby, minimalist-style
In practice, making green and sustainable pregnancy choices turned out to be easy. I’m at that age where all my friends have babies and young kids. Many of them were more than happy to get rid of the baby furniture they no longer needed. Presents from family and friends did the rest. Within a few weeks, I managed to gather all the necessities for a complete second-hand baby room, including a closet bursting with perfectly fine used baby clothes.
As I moved in with family, I don’t actually have a separate baby room, by the way. The baby’s crib is standing right next to my own bed. While born out of necessity, I feel good about having my baby close to me for the first few months. And guess what: I found out it’s what the experts recommend too.
I figured it was no use investing in a baby stroller, as I won’t be able to bring it on a plane or use it on the island in Indonesia. Instead, I invested some money in good quality, ergonomic baby carriers, which are convenient when traveling and can be used anywhere.
When I picked up one of those very Dutch checklists to check if I really had everything I needed, I took a practical approach. I resolved to buy the remaining items that seemed essential to me, but skip the items I wasn’t sure I would need. I could always buy those later, if necessary.
After all the essentials were in place, it was time to think about baby cards. I decided to not send any traditional paper cards. Instead, I designed my own virtual cards online, which can be sent through Whatsapp or e-mail. The designing process was a lot of fun and honestly, the end result is more personal than any ready-made card could be.
Finally, there was the diaper issue: reusable diapers, yay or nay? My green heart bled but lost the battle. The traveler in me decided to go with the most practical solution. In Indonesia, I won’t have a proper washing machine at my disposal and washing diapers by hand won’t get them clean. Disposable diapers it is. If I were to stay in the Netherlands, I would probably have decided differently.
Riding the waves of change
With eight weeks to go, I’m pretty much ready for my baby boy to arrive. The countdown has started. Throughout the past seven months, I have been going through all kinds of emotions, ranging from happiness to panic. Perhaps the most prominent emotion has been uncertainty. Uncertainty about the future and my own capability to be a mom, provide for my baby and give it everything it needs.
The way I see it, it is all part of the nine-month process of becoming a mom. Whenever major life changes occur and require you to transform, this is accompanied by a certain amount of uncertainty. Becoming a mom is definitely a major life change, requiring a major transformation. Becoming a mom in a non-standard situation demands even more flexibility and adaptation. But in the end, the principle is the same. It’s all about learning to ride the waves of change. No matter how big the waves. And there’s nobody who can tell you how to do it. You have to do it your own way.
The thing about pregnancy and becoming a mom is this process of change is designed by Mother Nature herself. Because you’re a woman, everything you need to know is already there inside you. So I only have one piece of advice to other moms-to-be: stay true to yourself. Don’t let other people pressure you into buying stuff you don’t need and don’t let so-called experts talk you into doing things that feel unnatural to you. You know what is best for you and your baby. Have faith in that.