What to expect when you’re expecting abroad…

The arrival of a baby is a big deal in any culture. That magical combination of expanding a family, cementing a bond between parents, and good ol’ biological survival of the species. As expected, we found some cultural differences when The Girl shelled out her progeny abroad!

Two hours after the baby was extracted, The Girl, her husband, Metin, baby Ada and i were getting settled into the hospital room. The Girl was mostly naked, with the new baby laying across her chest.

fresh bebek

The first visitors arrived – two close friends who are also expecting a baby in the summer. Just a quick “hi”, hugs, and they were about to leave when the next wave of visitors arrived. Metin’s mother and father stopped by, followed by his oldest brother, his two teen children, his younger brother and his wife, and their 3 year old daughter. It became a party!

Meanwhile, another friend (American ex-pat) showed up with a bag of snacks – cheddar cheese may seem like a strange thing to bring to a hospital room, but it’s hard to find good sharp cheddar here! It was a thoughtful gift…

i was a bit boggled at the number of people now crammed into a fairly small hospital room. In addition to the three of us and half-pint, another 11 people were in the room, some spilling into the hallway. It was at this moment a nurse told us the larger room they’d requested was ready – time to pack up mom, baby and gear and move to a different room – on another floor of the hospital!

During this transition, i expected some people to leave – silly me! Two more friends showed up! As we tried to get settled into the new room, the baby was crying, and a first time mother was attempting to nurse a brand new, fairly confused newborn.

The Girl and i exchanged a few glances – “This is bullshit!” she said (knowing that most people in the room wouldn’t understand it). The baby continued to cry. People were still gathered while she attempted to put the baby to her breast – most of the menfolk staying in the hallway. i told Metin that a little privacy would be fucking awesome!

Turns out, in Turkish culture, this is expected. If friends and family do not immediately stop by the hospital for a brief “Welcome Baby” visit, it means that they don’t care. We explained that in the US, groups of people visiting people in the hospital after the birth of a baby would be quite inconsiderate.

Lesson acknowledged, and compromises proposed. After returning home the following day, The Girl asked if the family and friend visits could be done in smaller groups – maybe 5 – 6 people at a time. Metin agreed, and visits over the next few days were done in smaller doses. It worked out pretty well…

official grannies

Other observations:

Attack of the Random Grandmother: During the first hour in the hospital, trying to change a tiny diaper on a squawking baby, there was a knock at the door. It was a woman visiting her own family, who had heard the baby crying, and stopped by to make sure the baby wasn’t in danger. “What’s wrong with your baby? Why is it crying?” When The Girl and Metin took Ada to her first pediatrician appointment, there were plenty of other helpful grandmas telling them that the baby was too cold. The Girl is perfecting the smile that says “Thanks. Fuck off.”

Thermal Management: Layers upon layers upon more layers of clothing are required to keep an infant alive in a fairly temperate climate. While The Girl was in labor, a nurse came in to the room to inspect clothing brought to get the baby home. She looked at the three outfits, shook her head and said “That’s it?” If a baby sneezes, it’s not because she’s clearing her nose after a feed. She must be freezing. Their pediatrician laughed – he said it is always easy to spot babies of non-Turkish mothers! He said it’s perfectly fine to not bury the baby in too much clothing and blankets. i suggested they get this in writing to ward off overly helpful street grannies…

Three weeks into the new family venture, and Ada is thriving. Parents are gaining confidence and comfort, and we are all starting to get more sleep. The days have a battle rhythm. Metin returned to work this week, i’ve been focused on meals, cleaning, laundry and making sure The Girl gets showers, plenty of fluids, and sleep.


i’m sure there will be more culture clashes in the future. But for now, they’ve got this…






18 thoughts on “What to expect when you’re expecting abroad…

    • There have been a few crunchy moments, especially given the sleep deprivation (and the fact that Metin has now quit smoking!). But they are a team, are comfortable sorting out problems. i think we ALL need that “thanks, fuck off” smile!

  1. Maori do the Family Thing, too. And some western hospitals have very relaxed rules these days about visitors.
    All the same, i”home” probably the most important place right now.
    And, by the way, that’s a cracking photo of you, Gammaray 🙂

    • i’m not surprised! it’s a pretty big deal when a new human arrives! worthy of celebration! in the west, i think we’ve kinda screwed things up, overthinking and making it a bit more complicated than necessary. but even with that thought, i would not want a dozen people in my hospital room while trying to stick my boob into a screaming baby mouth!

  2. I’ll bet that’s not the only cultural difference. Many more to come, I’m sure. It’s great that you were able to be there. What a thrill/relief for your daughter. Congrats all around. You’re there right now, is that correct? How much longer? Thanks Bog you’re retired!

    • Yeah, there are more. Babies shouldn’t leave the house for 40 days is another one. Kids are somewhat spoiled – especially boys. This one is going to learn to help around the house and not be a princess!

      i’m still here for about another week – got here on 4 December, and heading home mid-Jan. this was deliberate, as The Girl figured if i weren’t here, she’d have more help than desired from extended family here. She is comfortable telling me to fuck off, sit down, back off or whatever. By bringing the Alpha Granny here, it shuts down all other “helpful” assistance…

  3. Very interesting. I enjoyed the differences you noticed while all the newborn activities were happening. Maybe there are more random grandmothers there but we can certainly find them here in the US. Or I should say they can find us.

    • Random Grannies are probably universal! I remember having Random Grannies approach me when my kids were small. Usually telling me “Oh, that baby is overdressed” followed by another Random Granny saying “No, that baby is underdressed”…often during the same outing. There’s a different style here – Metin assures us they are trying to be helpful, but it comes across as a harsh judgment. Another example – one of the admin assistants in a doctors office was in the room when The Girl was trying to change a diaper – she said “What’s wrong? You hesitated! Are you afraid of the baby? You haven’t bonded enough with her…” The comments are brutal and sound really awful when translated directly.

  4. I think I can be a bit guilty of being a random grandfather. I love to hold wee babies and usually have a calming effect on them. So different to being a Dad. When I first became a father all I could think about was how little I knew and how inadequate I felt. After 3 stepchildren, 2 children, and 4 grandchildren I’ve realised the best thing I can do is project a solid calmness when in the room 🙂

    • There’s a difference in offering to calm a squabbing baby, versus jumping in and informing the parents that they’re doing something wrong! i’m also finding this to be different than when i was parenting new humans – i shared that terror of responsibility for another tiny life! My daughter said “We’ve kept her alive for 3 weeks! Hooah!” As a grand, i have a much stronger sense that it’s all going to be ok – and i’m also able to project more calm than i could have ever expected! Keep calming those babies, Kim – i suspect frazzled new parents appreciate that kind of assistance!

  5. Just catching up on my my post-Christmas blog reading DaisyFae…. and this happy post is great to find! Many congratulations to you, The Girl, and everyone in that rather overcrowded family room!

    Loved the culture shock observations… but the phrase that made me laugh out loud was the Girl’s newly-learnt smile for unsolicited advisors, and its uncomplicated message. Hell, we could all do with one of those smiles in our armoury. I might start practicing.

    • Thanks, jonathan! My daughter did not inherit nor acquire my ‘in your face’, blunt and direct communication style. She’s got far too much grace, and class, for that. But she is also not one to take shit from anyone else – so that look should likely be her trademark. i don’t know if i could manage it – some combination of hormones and sleep deprivation is in play!

  6. That sounds friendly, but a bit oppressive, even if completely well-meant, but when in Rome…

    We took the girls to Sardinia when they were four years old and the amount of fuss and attention they got from the Italians was lovely and made you realise why foreigners think the English are cold fish.

    • It certainly feels that way when it happens, regardless of the intent. One of the reasons The Girl wanted me there for as long as possible was to ward off other well-intentioned “help”. As the mother of the baby’s mother, i held “rank” and that kept other hands at bay. This week, her father and his wife are there (i’m home) to help. As The Girl and her husband have gained significant confidence – they are better equipped to push back against unwanted advice and assistance.

      Fussing is one thing. Telling the parents that they are endangering their child is another! 🙂

  7. The lack of training? or preparedness for new parents is mind boggling innit? It doesn’t matter how many books you read or advice you get you’ll never know what you’re in for until you show up at home with that first kid and are shitting yourself. I was easily the most unprepared muppet ever to be handed a baby and told to take care of it. It’s amazing the boyos are alright, lol!!! Great to see and hear how well the Girl, her husband, and Lil Ada are doing!! Congrats Grand-ma-ma!!

    • As Ada turned one month old, The Girl looked at me and said “Holy shit! We’ve kept her alive for a month?” i remember that feeling… the terror when we placed a fresh baby in a car seat – driving home and saying “We’re not ready!” even though we’d read all we could. The Girl has stayed involved with an online bulletin board – all babies due in December, so they went through their pregnancies together. Some really helpful info there – a virtual village. It was fascinating to watch it play out as an engaged third party… my baby-handling chops came back, too. Looking forward to being back there in a few months!

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