Category Archives: Babies Abroad

Goodbyes Stink

imagesThe expat life has its ups. Like sunny destinations a stones throw away, adventures around every corner, and ridiculously cheap food and beer.

We’ve loved that about Cambodia.

But the downside is the goodbyes. It seems someone is always entering and exiting our lives in a steady and constant stream. Whether its expat friends heading home, or family visits that are coming to an end, it is an inescapable reality.

This decision to live and work in another country means we miss out on the little moments with family and friends back home. It also means that the friends we do meet and connect with deeply here most likely live nowhere close to where we’re from.

We’ve had the privilege of knowing a huge range of people from all different backgrounds and from a kaleidoscope of countries. We have grown, been stretched and learned so much from each one. But in the past 9 months, we’ve also said big, dislocating, goodbyes to 13 cherished friends, and 7 family members. And we are now gearing up for my parents to leave after 6 glorious weeks with us.

It just stinks. There’s just no way around the empty-hole-in-the-heart feeling when friends and family do leave. There is a sort of pitiful ache left in their absence. And it’s also developed a sort of hardness in me.

How do you deal with the constant transience that is part and parcel to life as an expat?

Well, my centre of influence has significantly shrunk! A couple of years ago, we really began seeking out friendships with folks on a similar trajectory – those here for similar reasons and for a similar amount of time. We have engaged very deeply with those individuals, and have struck gold, so to speak. We’ve been – well, blessed really is the only word to describe it – with a beautiful community of friends who have become much more like family. (Oh, and having kids naturally shrinks your community as well – only the most resilient folks who don’t have kids will choose to continue hanging out with you!)

That hardness also has a flip side. Like to protect myself from too many goodbyes, I often (half jokingly) ask people how long they are here before even asking their name!

Yes I know. It’s rude. I guess we all have our ways with coping.

With our two kiddies in tow now, I do think more now about how to develop a sense of place, home and family. Life in another country is so rich and fulfilling that I want my kids to experience that. With both born in Asia, different cultures have a deep place in their identities. I expect plenty of our lives will be spent exploring the world and contributing where we can as a family of expats.

And so, I hope for the grace to build deep and meaningful relationships in countries other than my own. I hope that we will be able to create stability and depth for ourselves and our children in environments where transience is the norm. And I hope that we will always grow in the wisdom of how to navigate goodbyes well when they do happen.


What babes really need – In Cambodia Anyways


Now nurturing baby #2, I’ve been thinking through what baby items are really necessary. We got a lot of experience with #1 and are wizened to what baby bits are crucial and which aren’t. And it was a major reality check that first weekend we went away with Aya and tripled our baggage (and we definitely didn’t look as cute as the adorable VW bug!). 🙂

Here’s the non-exhaustive list (excluding crib and change table which are kind of a given and which we bought from friends here in Cambodia) of how we’ve survived with two kids in a developing, tropical country, and where we’ve gotten each item.

1. Baby carrier.

A caveat about Cambodia. The condition of sidewalks is not conducive for strollers. If there are open sidewalks without motos, food vendors, or people’s cars parked everywhere, then they are probably decrepit and bumpy with bricks and tiles jutting out everywhere, or big holes threatening to sprain an ankle or swallow a stroller wheel. Needless to say, we’ve used our carrier a lot. Like every day with baby #1. And it conveniently doubled as a restraint mechanism at restaurants while we were traveling with our daughter. Just plop her on a chair and strap her to it with the Ergo. So useful…

After trying a couple out, I prefer the Ergo – after 3 months – because of the waist strap, the versatility in ways to carry the baby, and the breathable fabric of the Performance Carrier. I say after three months, because the infant rather thick cotton padded insert on the Ergo scared us half to death. We were worried babe would either overheat (+30 degrees every day in Cambo), or lack breathing space.

Second time around I’ve opted for a baby sling for the first few weeks and am now borrowing a Baby Bjorn from a friend. The second she’s big enough for the Ergo though, I’ll move back to it. My back can’t handle hefting a growing kidlet around without the strong waist support of the Ergo. Plus, very keen to clock a few more kilometres with the Ergo this time around.

Procured in Canada

2. Stroller

After expounding the marvels of the baby carrier and the horrors of Cambodian sidewalks, I admit it. Yes, we have a stroller. We caved and bought a cheapo one at a shop in Phnom Penh. It has been particularly useful for international travel – roaming around airport terminals with a toddler in tow – as well as meals at restaurants. The rolling action has allowed the newborn to sleep while I catch up on emails at nearby coffee shops. That makes for one happy momma.

Procured in Cambodia

3. Bottle Sterilizer

After nearly burning our house down one day two years ago during an unfortunate bottle-sterilization-event, I dished out for a second hand sterilizer this time around. I am very happy with it, mostly because there is no risk anymore of incinerating bottles and pacifiers, and I don’t have to remember to put on any timers!

Procured in Cambodia

4. Cloth Diapers.

Not only are they good for the environment, they double up as super cute bottoms! Therefore, I don’t need to buy as many baby clothes. Plus it’s hot here all the time, so often our kids just run around in their diapers. We use them all the time when we are home and find, with our kids anyways, that they are easier on sensitive skin than disposables. The bonus with living in Cambodia is that they dry exceptionally fast in the hot weather.

Procured in Canada and Cambodia

5. Pea Pod.

We love our Pea Pod. So, we were completely shocked when we finally learned (a year after the fact) that it had been recalled.  (Yes, we are a bit out of the loop in Cambodia which has its pros and cons). We rarely used the blow up mattress, so were never really at risk for our kiddos getting hurt anyways. What we love about it is the compact size (we still try to travel light even though we are a family of four now!) and the built-in mosquito net. It is perfect for traveling in Asia where malaria is a risk when you leave the cities. No mosquitoes can get our babies tucked snug as bugs in their pea pods.

Procured in Canada

6. Kolic Water.

LIFE SAVER. I am a mom to two G-A-S-S-Y babies. It’s impossible to find this miracle substance here, so every time we have friends or family visit, we have them tuck a few extra bottles of this magic liquid in their bags for us.

Procured in Canada

7. Highchair

It might seem unnecessary, but we’ve found that the more immobile our daughter is during food times, the more we keep our sanity. We first tried a rattan version only to find it was rather insufficient. The tray was too small and too difficult to clean. Finally, we shelled out and bought a better quality “real” high chair from a fellow expat. I wish I’d just gone and bought it in the first place! The one we have can rise and lower, has a removable/washable cover, and has a beautifully large tray that manages to catch at least some of the food our daughter flings around during meals. Worth every penny.

Procured in Cambodia

Giving Birth in Cambodia

Three and a half weeks ago I was admitted to a small maternity clinic in Phnom Penh for a c-section. I need to get these memories on paper before I forget. Some of them are gooders…

A few memories from the hospital.

  • It reminded me of something from the 50s or 60s. Simple. Clean. Nothing fancy. As far away from Samitivej as one can get.
  • The food. Oh the food, I will never forget it! Dead black mini chickens in soup; pork with skin and hair; rice all day every day
  • No frills – like really. No towels. No soap. No diapers. No extras whatsoever. Just the surgery, post-operation surveillance, and medications required during our time.
  • Getting stabbed with 2 needles (vitamins and antibiotics) twice a day for 5 days.  My hips both bear big purple bruises from all the jabs.
  • The nurses and the obstetrician in bare feet doing their rounds.
Proof of the black mini dead chicken soup. Yum!

So. Was it worth it? I don’t have complaints over the care. The doctor was good. Really good. Professional and appropriate. It felt more like a guesthouse than a hospital and there’s something safe and warm about that. Because we were in our home city, we had so much loving care and support from our community. They sustained us. That wouldn’t have been possible in Thailand. Also, the doctor and I shared kinda three languages in common (English, French and some Khmer) which made communicating a bit easier.

But the package is just as much as Bangkok ($2000), and if something had gone wrong, we would have been hooped. Luckily, nothing went wrong.

I think, if I’d known I’d have a c-section, and if Steve could have swung time away from work to be in Thailand for the birth, I might have done that. But we didn’t foresee these things. And in the end, it was a healthy and safe experience as our families and friends prayed. And for that we are exceedingly grateful.