Foreigner’s journal on morning sickness
While Serena Williams was winning the Australian Open in her 9th week of pregnancy, I was going through a hell of morning sickness. Every pregnancy is, of course, different. But I felt that morning sickness had added challenges as an expat. (Not that I could have played tennis even if I was being pregnant in my home country, but still!)
The first challenge — cravings. I almost never had cravings for Japanese food since I moved to the UK. I was perfectly fine without eating rice or anything cooked with say sauce. Heck, I haven’t even bought a rice cooker! Then here came pregnancy cravings. Everything I wanted to eat was Japanese. Sushi, onigiri rice ball, miso soup, umeboshi pickles… Social media becomes a torture when all your friends from back home are showing off the best sushi ever or tasty steamy yakiniku. I started to take a break from social media, which probably was a good thing anyway.
At that point, an obligatory visit to Japan Centre was in order. I got some Japanese rice, furikake toppings, and even notorious stinky natto. I didn’t even like natto that much when I was in Japan! But alas, it was one of the few sources of protein for a while, when I couldn’t eat much else. I still craved foods that I couldn’t get from the shop. I kept checking menus of various Japanese restaurants in the city, but most of the time I felt too sick to go out.
The real challenge, however, was dealing with the unknowns without much support around you. Loneliness. Social protocol dictates that women refrain from telling many people about their pregnancy until they are well into stable weeks. I told my mum in Japan right away. My husband knew, obviously. I was also compelled to tell my manager quite early on because I was taking more sick leaves and needed his support to work from home more often. And that was it.
What can I do, when you have a flood of questions like, which hospital do people recommend, did anyone feel this terrible when she was going through morning sickness, what did you eat when you feel like throwing up everything, is it normal to have stomachache like this, and does this pain eventually go away…
I don’t want to my mum to worry, so I wouldn’t tell her all the details of miseries I was suffering. I focus on the positive news when I call her. (She was worried enough about British medical system anyway — more on that in the previous post.) I don’t have anyone friends or colleagues who gave birth in this country. So I had to rely much of the information on the internet and books. Google became my best friend. Gosh, how difficult it would have been to go through this hardship decades ago, pre-internet era! Reading forum posts in both Japanese and English was helpful, to get encouraging words from other mums out there. I guess all I wanted was a few women who could cheer me up and say everything will be ok.
If I were still in Japan, there are some girlfriends that I would have told much earlier on. I thought about texting them but didn’t until I was past 16th week or so. Truthfully, my main reason was that I couldn’t trust them enough that they wouldn’t spread the rumour among my friends and ex-colleagues in Japan without my knowledge. If anything happened with my baby, I wouldn’t want to explain it to more people than I intended to. A recent article from the Guardian had a brilliant comment about secrecy of early pregnancy;
“For the first 12 weeks, the advice is not to tell anyone you are pregnant.[…] A big reason for this, I learn, is because the chance of losing your baby in the first 12 weeks is higher than you might think, and you might not want to have to explain to everyone where your baby has gone while you are suffering the trauma of a miscarriage. I can’t help thinking this is advice designed to protect everyone from having an awkward conversation, rather than to protect the pregnant woman who might want to talk about her feelings.”
Perhaps, perhaps. In retrospect, it may have been a lot easier emotionally, had I opened up my feeling to a few more friends back home early on. Who cares if people gossip in another country?
The final blow to this loneliness came with the realisation that we lack the physical support network. My husband was due to a week long business trip to the States when I was around 11-week pregnant. I wasn’t fully out of morning sickness yet. He had been more supportive than I could ever ask for and took care of me so much until then. So I thought it was selfish of me to ask him to stay with me. I thought I was being too dependent. “I’ll manage,” I said, “enjoy the trip”. But the truth is that there were days that I was struggling to walk up the stairs with stomach pain. I wasn’t eating well. I wasn’t able to go to work very often. In the end, I broke down in tears in the morning when his flight was due. My husband also realised it wasn’t a good idea to leave me alone until this nightmare was over and postponed his trip.
When you are living abroad, your parents can’t come to help you in person with a quick phone call. You don’t yet have close enough friends or neighbour to ask for help with grocery. I’ve been living abroad for years now, but homesickness during the first months of pregnancy was one of the worst.
Thankfully, I am now at the final stage of pregnancy. I’ve shared the news with friends and colleagues here in London and Japan, our parents are arranging to visit after the birth, and my husband continues to be an amazing supporter. The dark age of pregnancy is over (hopefully)! If you are about to have a baby in a foreign country like me, all the best to you. I hope you find good support around you as well.