The unspoken possibility
Pregnancy troubles as the expat
I want to stress an important topic that most of expat partners are confronted with at some time or the other: Is expatriation a great time to become pregnant? How does motherhood change your expat experience? What if you can’ get pregnant? What if you just opened the chapter of the infertility chapter? This blog provides different perspectives on this topic, aiming to give you comfort and support.
Starting a family abroad
If you are pregnant or considering to start a family, you will find endless information on the internet about the cultural differences in the host cultures. Many expats decide to start a family during their time abroad, and many share their personal experience. Reading through these wonderful posts will help you to get a better understanding of the cultural differences, what to expect, and how to prepare. In this regard, I want to highlight the blog posts by expat child and being a mama abroad and this great article by Ana.
The infertility chapter
However, I want to focus on a completely different angle in this blog post. A perspective that is not really covered online so far but is sadly a reality: The number of frustrated expat partners struggling to become pregnant abroad. I want to cover this topic, as I came across many different stories related to this thanks to my coaching business and my personal experience.
One in six couples (Germany) and one in eight couples (USA ) is struggling to become parents. They have tried to become pregnant for quite some time and went to countless doctor’s appointments to get help. Nevertheless, it does not seem to be possible in a natural way. These are numbers we are often not aware of. We try to avoid pregnancy for just so long and postpone the whole family planning chapter to a later, more suitable, time in life. Unfortunately, for many of us, it is not a switch we can just turn when we decide to go for it.
Sure, we all want to structure our lives, but reality mirrors us that we can never really plan motherhood. We spend what feels a lifetime to prevent motherhood, and then we expect it to happen the moment we go off contraception.
For many women, this is the first time they start to realize how few days a woman is fertile in one month and that it might actually take some time to become pregnant. It’s nature, it’s a miracle, and it is nothing that humankind will ever understand to the fullest. Hence, we can plan, schedule, and time – but in the end, there are more variables than a fertile window and persistence.
on social media!
The added pressure in expatriation: The Timing
I got asked numerous times from former colleagues and friends when we will finally become pregnant.
From the outside, expatriation just seems to be the perfect time! Often there is no financial need for a double-income household. The move abroad most likely ends a particular professional era for the partner anyway and provokes the question: Might this be the right time?
In a German newspaper article about infertility, I found a great quote that summarizes the timing pressure. “Wer einen Kinderwunsch hat, rechnet nicht in Jahren, sondern in Monaten. Fünf Jahre bedeuten dann 60 Mal Hoffnung, 60 Mal Enttäuschung und Trauer.” It can be translated to “When you feel the desire to start a family you are not calculating in years but in months. 5 years equal 60 times hope but also 60 times disappointment and grief”.
When you are dealing with difficulties to become pregnant, timing will become an essential part of your life. You start to calculate the narrow window of fertility each month. You calculate the days to the next potential pregnancy test. In the end, you might even have a “moving back” or “moving to another country date” and you start to wonder if there is still time at all. As an expat, it is not only the biological clock that might be ticking.
According to the most recent Internations study from 2018, 45% of expats are raising children abroad. That is an increase of 11% to their survey three years earlier.
Starting a family is a life-changing decision. And it is not only the question of “when” but also the question of “do we want children in the first place” that needs to be addressed. There is no statistic, but from my feeling, there are many women who felt pressured into motherhood during their time abroad. Friends and family just kept stressing the great timing. Career opportunities might not have shown up, and starting a family just seemed to be the most logical thing to do. From my experience as a coach, I can only recommend, to base this decision not on logic but on an honest discussion with yourself and your partner: Do you really want children? Is that your real desire?
I jumped on Instagram and asked you about your personal pregnancy struggles during the time spent abroad. Thank you so much for all the great feedback! It just proves how diverse this topic can be and that it is a relief to share! There are the lucky women out there that did not trap into the research hole of infertility because it just happened instantly. But there is also this other spectrum of women who struggled and had to be patient for a very long time. For others, it might never become a reality.
So, as promised, I want to share some stories with you from my readers – of course, anonymously. If you want to add your personal story, do not hesitate and jump to the comment section below this blog post!
The successful IVF cycle
After one miscarriage and one happy ending marriage, we have been thinking about child number 2. However, we have not been lucky, and I was about to refocus on my career when my husband came home with the expat proposal. What perfect timing we though! Why not use the time abroad to try it one last time. So back, we were, on the journey of endless doctor’s appointments, injections, surgeries, and the endless days of waiting and hoping. Unfortunately, we had to find out that not one single egg has been fertilized. All the procedures, waiting, hoping, and pain for nothing. Shortly before moving abroad we tried a second time, and oh my god it worked out! I have stayed at home for 15 months overseas with my two kids and then started a portable business with clients from back home. According to my experience, you should always be very careful when asking other women about their family planning as you never know the story behind.
My biggest learning
You can set your goals and try to reach them, but there are some things in life; you just cannot control! We can’t control pregnancy, so focus on plans you really can influence your choices and actions!
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The ectopic pregnancy
A month ago, I had an ectopic pregnancy, and they had to remove my fallopian tube. This was my first time being pregnant. It helped me to talk about it with my loved ones. I didn’t want to make it a taboo because it can be very dangerous for women to have a pregnancy like this. And now we try again, and we are moving as well. I find comfort in following stories from others that show me it can work out in the end!
We just finished our first cycle of IVF, but it sadly ended in a miscarriage in week 9. After endless doctor appointments, we had to find out that we cannot become pregnant naturally. Also, the window for an in vitro fertilization is closing. Hence I am happy that we are soon returning to my home country where treatment will be much less expensive.
My biggest learning
Talk about it and try to be honest and open. It can be really tricky as it is still a tabu topic for most of us. Even friends and family do restrain from talking about this in my experience. However, there is so much comfort in knowing that you are not alone!
For us it never happened
In 2012, we moved to Singapore, and I quit my job. Like most expats, I thought that it’s the perfect time to start a family (what I always really wanted)! But for us, it never happened yet. So there was a lot of grieving that was done! And it was hard to get over the grief as everyone around us got pregnant and well it did just not happen for us. The first thing you get asked when you meet other expats is “Do you have kids?”. It’s quite hard to hear over and over again like there is nothing else to ask as a first question to an expat. We looked into the option to adopt, but it’s quite hard.
My biggest learning
This is what our situation is like, but I am not complaining because we have the freedom to travel, rest at the pool on weekends and enjoy our baby friends, so it’s not all bad. It’s just different, and we have a different path than anyone else. That’s how I see the situation in a positive light!
The challenging time after giving birth
I followed my husband abroad and was able to find work as well. Over the summer, we started to discuss the possibility to start a family. We decided to allow us one year to try without putting any unnecessary time pressure on us by having scheduled sex according to plan. Right from the beginning, we considered adoption as a good Plan B. Half a year later, I was holding a positive pregnancy test in my hand. We had been thrilled, and I kept working until the 6th month. Our first daughter was born in September. After she turned one we once again started to discuss trying it another time. We went for the same agreement than with the first one. It worked out just fine as well, and we got blessed with another child. However, the pregnancy and my first child have been very challenging for my health and my mental wellbeing. Even ten months later, I have still not recovered fully. I refrain from saying that the two births have been the best days of my lives – because that it not true. Overwhelming yes, but not at all the happiest day of our lives.
It was a straightforward and easy decision for us to start a family during our expatriation, becoming pregnant as well. However, finding ourselves entirely alone without any family support network has been very rough. I would say this was the toughest experience for us so far.
My biggest learning
It takes a village to raise a child. Watch out for support and potential friends and invest in childcare support. This is crucial for your soul’s salvation.
The fear of miscarriage after IVF
The amazing Mariam found the courage to write publicly about her struggle to start a family while living abroad in her book “The messy mobile life”. The book is a great resource for everyone wondering how the heck to master an international life with children born in different places and raised somewhere else. In one chapter, she briefly shares her personal fertility experience:
“Congratulations! You are pregnant – the nurse has said to me with a huge grin. It had been a long time coming; this pregnancy was the result of major fertility battles, including three failed IUIs (intrauterine inseminations) and one failed IVF In-vitro fertilization). Martino (her husband) and I had held hands and cried tears of joy when this second IVF had worked.”
In her book, she shares the struggles of her pregnancy. Several she feared to lose this precious baby.
“The next few weeks are traumatic. I experience two more threatened miscarriages. Each time I rush to the hospital, each time I check out fine. No one can explain what is causing the bleeding. Perhaps a surge of progesterone, due to the drugs and hormones pumped into me to increase my fertility.”
That was the exact time when her husband came home with the proposal to move again – which they managed to do successfully. This story reminds me once again of the fact how strong women are – especially the ones who live a global life.
Thanks Mariam for offering to share this part of your book in this context!
The "Do you have kids?" showstopper
The amazing Sarah from browneyedgalabroad.com shared her story in a very thoughtfully written and personal blog post. She describes the feeling of being childless as the expat. She shares the story of her first-ever expat morning coffee meeting:
“I finally got up the nerve to say hello to some of the other ladies at the coffee meet up. It was one of those stand around and mingle things. I exchanged pleasantries with a couple of people and then got into a conversation with a woman of around my age. It seemed to be going well and I began to feel a little more optimistic about my new life. Until she asked me if we had kids. When I replied that we didn’t, she smiled politely and turned on her heel and walked away. Conversation over.”
My biggest learning
Her excellent advice for anyone who is struggling in to fit in the expat community without having children:
“Expat life has also taught me to be ‘age blind’ when it comes to relationships. Some of my greatest friends in my early days were much younger than me – we were decades apart but our lifestyles were similar. No kids, one income and an interest in reading and hiking. I have wonderful memories of hikes and book clubs with people who I am just old enough to have given birth to! Equally, my tribe also includes a very high proportion of empty nesters. Making the move to expat life at a later stage in life, I can understand so much of what they go through.”
Read more about Sarah’s story and how she managed through the struggle to be childless during expatriation in her blog post.
Feel free to share this post with friends who struggle or comment your personal stories in the comment section below. My personal learning is that we need to talk more open and reflective about these topics. How else can we make society more sensitive? What better way to show every woman struggling with infertility that it is not to be taken personally?