This post is the first of a series of interviews with mothers from around the world who have created projects, communities, ressources to support other parents or simply a different way of living with their families. Their stories inspired me. I hope they will inspire you too!
One of the challenges faced by the mothers living abroad is finding support before and after the birth of their children. "It takes a village to raise a child", we have all heard that somewhere but how to have that village when moving countries and sometimes when birthing in a country where we hardly know someone?
Today, I have invited Laura Kent-Davidson, a virtual breastfeeding companion, to help us find/build that village. Laura is a Canadian Naturopathic Doctor and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. She is currently living in Toronto and works with women all around the world. She has two children (ages four and ten months) and a wonderful partner who teaches in a local elementary school.
Here is Laura's story and how she could help you:
- Laura, you lived as an expat in Bangkok. What were your biggest challenges there as a mother and as an expat? How did you overcome them?
Living in Bangkok was amazing. Honestly, the biggest challenge was the weather! It was just so hot and humid. We love being outside in nature and I think its really important for kids. But in Bangkok there were only a couple months out of the year where we would voluntary spend more than an hour outside to let our daughter play. So as a mother that was tough. I didn’t like feeling like malls and indoor play places were our only comfortable options. I think to overcome this, I had to embrace the heat a bit! My daughter actually never seemed to really mind it, even when we were baby-wearing, so it was more on me to just deal with it. We actually found quite a few little green patches in our neighbourhood, so I had to just push myself to go and I always felt better after because my daughter enjoyed being out so much. There was actually this little community garden with goats, chickens, and veggie plots that popped up near our condo and it was so fun to go and let her feed the animals and water the plants each week.
As an expat I think being away from family was challenging. The time change between Bangkok and Toronto made it hard to arrange skype conversations when our daughter needed to be in bed around 7. So we would send lots of pictures on a family photo blog we maintained. We also encouraged visitors and had family come over to visit a few times which certainly helped.
- What did you learn from this experience? About yourself, about the things that are important to you...
I thought it was going to be hard to build a community before we left, especially since we went over when my daughter was 8 months old. I am not the most outgoing person, but it felt really easy to make friends and this surprised me. In our 2 years there, we were part of an amazing and diverse community (of local Thais, English speaking foreigners, and refugees with the work I was doing). I think we were able to connect with so many because we had a child.
This was also the case when we traveled to different places in South East Asia for vacation. Having our daughter with us allowed us to move past the surface with locals. My takeaway was really that kids enrich the travel experience so much and even though it was hard at times, it was so worth it for me! I realized that it’s important for me to raise children who are global citizens, who have an appreciation for and have had interactions with other cultures, languages, and religions.
- You are a Naturopathic Doctor and Lactation Consultant that offers online classes and virtual breastfeeding support. What made you start this project and how did you build it up?
Well, with my daughter abroad so young, I got to meet a lot of pregnant moms and new moms through different groups I got involved with. I also met an amazing group of doulas in Bangkok who all became very near and dear to me (and still are). Eventually, because of my professional background I started to support pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and began to understand some of the challenges parents-to-be were facing in Bangkok’s health system with birthing and breastfeeding. The access to quality breastfeeding information and support was lacking overall in the hospitals, and unfortunately there is heavy marketing of formula in Thailand which means there is biased information everywhere, undermining breastfeeding. There are many working to change this and who are doing an amazing job supporting moms (including the amazing doulas there who are so passionate in supporting families) but overall in the health care system, things could be improved. I saw this impacting the expat community, Thais, and refugees who I was also working with. My awareness of infant feeding and its impact on global health really began to grow while there.
So when I returned to Canada, I wondered about other cities around the world where english speaking foreigners were living and birthing and about their access to good breastfeeding classes and postpartum supports. I was also, in a sense, trying to find some direction with my passions and realized that breastfeeding and refugee health together was a really important issue for me. I guess my online courses started because of two reasons: 1. I wanted to help expats feel educated and empowered with breastfeeding and have more postpartum support when their access to in-person care is limited, and 2. I wanted to design a way for my business to make revenue to fund my volunteer involvement in the global issues I care about AND raise money I could donate to the cause. A business for me but also one for the greater good, like what Baby Hero in Hong Kong is doing by selling cute baby clothes while funding neonatal survival kits. So right now the goal with my breastfeeding course is that a percent of my profits go to an NGO I volunteer with called Nurture Project International, who support displaced mothers with breastfeeding in Greece and the Middle East.
- I have the feeling that helping other mothers in a professional way to overcome the challenges of motherhood is very close to your heart. It’s something you do with passion and conviction. Why is this important to you? How do you help your clients?
It is a passion, yes. I have always been drawn to babies. I think it's because they are so vulnerable and dependent on us to care for them! And then once I became a mother, I just felt in awe of mothers everywhere. I thought motherhood would come so easy to me, but it was a hard transition. I don’t think there is anything that can shake your confidence more than becoming a first time parent! Of course at the same time, I love being a mother and its a huge honor for me to get to shape and raise these tiny people.
I guess with all of that, I realize how important it is for parents to feel supported, because when they are lifted up, they can be better in their role as a parent. When they are supported, they can connect better with their babies, respond when their babies need them, and that makes healthier, happier babies. My work with vulnerable groups has made me so grateful for the supports and opportunities I have had as a parent. I really just want to do what I can to make sure every mother has access to the support she needs while abroad because expat life can feel so isolating at times.
I help my patients by offering online consults and online courses. My goal is to help parents prepare for postpartum and breastfeeding before the baby is born but also counsel them after if they need it. Beyond the practical help I give patients regarding breastfeeding advice or tips for safe infant sleep, I help my patients by addressing their expectations of parenthood. Validating their concerns and helping them hear the voice of their baby. Making sure they understand there is no perfect parent, that they are good enough.
- Why is breastfeeding important? How can mothers-to-be prepare for it before giving birth? What specific resources you can recommend to them?
There are so many reasons why breastfeeding is important. For me breastfeeding is more than an individual choice a mother decides to do or not do, its a global human rights issue, and an environmental issue. I think about it in the big picture. For mothers who want to prepare before their baby arrives, watching others breastfeed is important! That is where LLL or other breastfeeding groups come in if a mother is not seeing breastfeeding within her community. I think checking in with a lactation consultant before, or taking a class in person, or an online course like mine is also important to help a mother understand what to look for, how to know their baby is drinking and getting enough. It’s so empowering for a mother to have this information. Of course, once the baby is here, the brain turns to a bit of mush- but that’s when you hopefully have your supports around you to help you out- like awesome friends and doulas! Though for expats this can be a challenge, which is why I have designed my breastfeeding course so that I am available through the support group to answer questions and offer guidance.
One of the best resources I can give is Dr. Newman’s International Breastfeeding Centre’s website (http://ibconline.ca/) I was very fortunate to have trained with the team at the International Breastfeeding Center. They are an inspiring group and have great videos and information sheets up on their page.
- Post-partum is so overwhelming for women who give birth and yet we talk so little about it. In many countries few support is offered to mothers during post-partum. What can a mother do to create a circle of support?
Its so true! So many women take classes to prepare themselves for the birth and breastfeeding, but the whole postpartum experience doesn’t get talked about enough prenatally. Its a huge transition that requires a circle of support, especially for expats who are prone to postpartum mood concerns. It can be hard as an expat to feel part of a “village” especially if you’re giving birth in a different city than you’re living in. Its important to have that friend, doula, or family member that you can be honest with- even if its just one or two people that’s ok- its about quality over quantity. I would recommend joining the mommy facebook page for whichever city you are living in- they are often great resources to tap into. They can help you find that postpartum doula or the massage therapist that does home visits. A lot of cities also have in-person groups for moms so get out and connect. Peer support is so key to getting through as a new mom. Bangkok was amazing for that- so many new moms helping each other out, it was beautiful to be part of.