THE TIME I EMIGRATED TO CANADA AND BECAME A MUM
The time I emigrated to Canada and became a Mum away from a decent cup of Tea and Hobnobs!
On reflection, the last 12 years of my life have been nothing short of a bloody bonkers rollercoaster. In life we have our choices, options, dreams and hopes. We also have life altering experiences like the time that I popped down the pub after work, for a quick pint with a mate and then met a lovely Canadian bloke. Fast forward to five years later, I had fallen in love, married him and packed up my bags declaring “Darling, let’s try living in Canada before we have a family”. In all honesty, I thought I’d get off the plane, have lunch and then a year later, jump back on a flight and settle down in the UK, safe and sound in the knowledge that I had “tried living in another country”. I would then be ready to settle, raise my future brood of kiddliwinks in the Cotswolds near the comfort of my parents - all whilst drinking tea and eating hobnobs off Cath Kidston plates! Yes? No!
Now, let’s make way for a few customary plot twists to add to the story. So it turns out that emigrating to a new country can actually be quite tough on the soul and the sanity levels. I don't know why I ever thought it would be easy? I spent the first 6 months trying unsuccessfully to get into my professional field of work - Play Therapy. When I thought ‘suck it up buttercup, you’ll go home soon’ I opted to be grateful for a short term contract in the rewarding but challenging work of teaching autistic children. This kept me busy but it didn't distract me from all those common experiences of being a new immigrant to a new culture. I discovered what it was like to constantly translate foreign terminology. I spent a year with adrenalin continually pumping through my veins as I had to respond to the many new experiences thrown in my face and adapt to new cultural approaches. I was learning a new way of life whilst simultaneously ‘unlearning’ my old life. I was essentially loosing myself but growing at the same time. I remember feeling like a 4 year old in Kindergarten as I launched myself into making new friends. I also recall laughing at my own jokes whilst my new mates looked on at me puzzled, clearly having no clue what my British comedy references were all about.
Loneliness as a word doesn't even cut it. The Shopping Mall became my equivalent of Tom Hanks’ ‘Wilson’ ball in Castaway and I drank a lot of wine as I cried at cat food commercials? WTF! You see, anyone who has moved to live in a new environment, leaving their heritage roots, will probably identify with feeling lost, scared, confused and downright pissed off as they mutter “for f*#% sake” under their breath 25x a day!
After a year, I became pregnant with my first son. I still count my lucky stars that both my Canadian hospital births with my boys were assisted by incredible British midwives. What are the bloody chances? The sheer comfort I got from their soothing accents, asking me to “take my knickers off” as opposed to “remove your underwear” was golden. Then they made me the most perfect post-birth cup of heavenly tea that I’d had in years, as I held my newborns. Those little nuggets of comfort will never go unappreciated from the bottom of my heart.
However, slowly but surely as all new parents experience from time to time, I started to have days when internally I wanted to scream “how the fuck do I do this?” except I had to add in “how the fuck do I do this, here?”. If my baby was teething, I knew what to buy from Boots the Chemist yet was completely lost at what product to grab in the baby aisle of Shoppers Drug Mart. I wanted my Mum, I wanted my best mate, I wanted the Marks and Spencer’s Food Hall and to drown myself in boxes of Mr Kipling cakes! I wanted everything from back home as I navigated this crazy rough terrain of parenthood. Why did I feel so desperately alone in this despite being married to a really nice bloke?
Interestingly enough, Linda Blair - a clinical psychologist, author and Daily Telegraph columnist, looks at evolution for the special relationships between women. She believes that back in the day “Women needed each other in order to raise children. Children were raised by groups of women. Whilst the men fought each other to get the best women and the best territories”. So, no wonder I find myself crying down the phone to a mate, necking back some Shiraz as I ask “why does my kid act tone deaf when I ask him to finish his dinner yet he can bloody hear the rustle of a packet of biscuits when I’m alone in the kitchen?” I now realise that It’s not that I feel I can’t relate to my hubby, its just that sometimes I get so much more comfort from the connections and wisdom of my female friends.
I annually make myself watch the film ‘The War Bride’. I can relate to the emotions of Anna Friel’s character, Lily, a war bride who met a Canadian soldier during the London blitz and then got pregnant, married and moved to Canada, awaiting her new husband’s return from the WWII battlefield. It’s my reminder that life has never been simple. A reminder that others before me have also moved from a geographical place they call home and adapted to living in a place they have to try and make ‘homely’. The story is also a bloody good reminder that women have balls of steel (well, not literally) and we can get through some very tough situations. Women have always been great at finding their ‘tribe’ to help assist them in raising their young.
Thank the stars for technology! Life away from family and friends is so much bloody easier with phone calls, texts, emails and FaceTiming - apart from that ghastly frustrating time zone issue. If I needed my British ‘tribe’ then I can whip out my iPhone and contact them, one way or another. But interestingly, I also have to monitor this potentially destructive obstacle as your screen can be your best friend but it can also be your enemy. If you’re feeling fragile and decide to see what is going on ‘back home’? prepare yourself for the potential of a shit load of tears as you watch life unfold without you. Cue the pangs of guilt as you miss your best mates wedding, the birthday parties, the births, the funerals and the special occasions. This is when your screen becomes a tease as opposed to an aid.
Linda Blair, also explains that the “Amygdala part of the brain, needs to know that other humans are around”. She suggests that we look back again to evolution and a time when we would sit in our caves with a fresh brew but could not scare those wild animals and enemies alone as we were missing some handy claws and fangs (that’s ok - claws and fangs are not always a good look on a woman!) Therefore, we are programmed to feel safer as part of a group. Alas, that Amygdala brain has not advanced as fast as technology has. Therefore it does not get an ounce of satisfaction from my screen time and the fact that I’ve ‘liked’ and commented on a friends photo of her daughters first day of school. It does not recognize that, in spirit, I'm not alone. The Amygdala relies on the sense of smell of another human and more importantly, the reassurance of another humans touch, to feel safe. Because when that crazy arsed Wooly Mammoth comes along, my brain needs to know that some mates and I actually stand a chance of scaring it away with our cackle of laughter as we reminisce over our single days living in those wild city caves! So I guess, wherever we are, we are programmed and should try to connect with other liked minded individuals. And alas, it took a while but you'll be happy to hear that this is eventually what I did.
After 12 years, I still mutter FFS under my breath occasionally when confronted with foreign protocols, paperwork or traditions. Lets face it, I also sometimes still drink too much wine and cry at cute cat food commercials?! But I’m also a Mama of two boys who lived to tell the tale of surviving those young parenthood days in a foreign land. Yes, I admit to getting very low at points and had some very depressed days. Yes, I’m not ashamed to say I developed some crippling bouts of heart palpating, hot sweat, nauseating & scared shitless anxiety. Following a big period of stress in my life, which later then manifested itself into some horrible panic attacks, I threw my hands up in the air and thought something needs to change and I need help. Thankfully my female boss sensed exactly what these panic attacks were all about and took me under her wing, guiding me through how to deal with them and manage this newly developed anxiety. She shared her wisdom with me because she had experienced something so familiar and thankfully helped ‘one of her group’ out . So yes, I found my support tribe albeit through my job, through other Mums, through friends of friends. I bloody did it!
Now, as many expats will agree, my experience has left me feeling like I don’t belong anywhere. I no longer feel like the UK is my home as I've outgrown it and I still won’t claim Canada as my home as its just not my comfort zone. But what I will claim is that this tough experience has made me grow and evolve in ways I never thought were possible. I have some scars but I also have some kick ass confidence, independence and grit determination that screams out to the world that I’ve changed because I’ve lived my life. I doubt that if I had stayed a boat sitting in the safety of a harbour then I would never have been forced to find my way, ride storms and discover my adventures at sea. Boats aren’t made to sit safely in the harbour.
So, to all those Mums out there who feel like they are living in a foreign land, whether that be geographically or figuratively, I urge you to hold on tight to your sails. Bob Marley nails it with his words of wisdom “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only option”. Remember that women are programmed to sniff out their tribe with such vigour, it’s as if it were a Chanel handbag on sale! Stay strong Sista because we are all bloody brilliant and we WILL survive the storms. Look for your potential shipmates and don't be afraid to lean on them. After all, they may just see your shining potential and strength better than you do yourself!
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Women talking unashamedly about their mental health and parenting innit.