About to Become a Parent Abroad? Tips from Someone Who’s Been There - Expat Nest e-counselling


About to Become a Parent Abroad? Tips from Someone Who’s Been There

Pregnancy and childbirth can be even more challenging than usual when you’re away from the support and familiarity of home. There are steps you can take, though, to feel strong and confident about this new phase of life. Freelance writer Zanine Wolf shares her experience of giving birth in two different countries, neither her homeland. She also offers her tips for a safe, supported and happy transition to new motherhood.

Pregnancy and the bleary days of new motherhood can be a tumultuous time. When you’re not on home ground it can be especially unsettling. But there are upsides to having a baby in a different country.

You get to share the experience with people from every corner of the globe and your mind is opened to new ways of thinking about pregnancy and child rearing.

My first child was born in Hong Kong and my second in London three years later. It was disorienting at times, but now that we’re back home, I treasure the memories. I can’t wait to tell my boys stories about their births – the people and places (which may seem so exotic and faraway to them) that are part of their story.

Choose the right birth process for you

Our expat package in Hong Kong covered private health care and the regular scans were reassuring, as I was a nervous, older first time mum. The hospital I’d chosen had a high epidural and C-section rate (quite common in most expat hospitals) and I’d longed for a natural drug-free birth. Through the local pregnancy group, I heard about a doula who led Calm Birth courses and who, fortuitously, shared my views on pregnancy and childbirth.

Looking back, choosing to use a doula was the best decision my husband and I made, in both places. They’re an amazing support. Also called a birth coach, they help keep you calm (and fed!) through the long hours of labour. They’re there to help fight your corner and stay focused while you’re getting on with the business of having a baby. In Hong Kong, I felt comforted knowing my doula would help me navigate the interventionist and highly medicalised hospital environment.

The National Health Service (NHS) driven birth culture in London is much more hands-off, with fewer scans and a midwife-led environment that encourages natural birth. I was slightly panicked by stories I’d heard of under-staffed hospitals and women being left to labour on their own. I needn’t have worried though as I ended up having an unplanned home birth. Again, our doula was an enormous help. Had she not been there, stayed calm and thought to call the paramedics, my slightly squeamish husband would have had to deliver our baby himself.

Connect with others for support

Most expat destinations have pre- and post-natal groups that are easy to tap into. It helps to find a band of women who’re going through the same things you are. The shared bond of pregnancy and impending motherhood is strong and transcends differences in background. I loved sharing pots of tea with other moms to be; swapping stories and advice helped share the load. And once the babies arrived, I had a ready-made playgroup for my newborns.

A huge perk of expat life in Hong Kong is the affordable domestic help – a complete blessing in the chaotic weeks following the birth. Many expats have their parents or in-laws visit to help out. However you arrange it, calling in the troops and getting a support system in place will help to keep you sane in one of the happiest but also most daunting phases of your life.

A South African who grew up in Swaziland, Zanine Wolf is a freelance writer who has lived in Melbourne, Beijing, Hong Kong and London. Happily back in Cape Town with her husband and two young sons, she writes about expat life and social issues. Contact her at zanine.wolf@gmail.com.

What are your tips for other new parents abroad? Feel free to share your experiences below.

If you like this article, subscribe to our newsletter and share this story with any parents-to-be or new parents in your life – it may be just the support they need in this new phase of life!

© Vivian Chiona



  1. Jim says:

    Not sure I could see my wife giving birth locally. Here’s an enjoyable piece in the NY Times Modern Love column “A Child of Two Worlds” about an expat living in Djibouti who decides to have her baby in a local hospital. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/26/fashion/a-gift-from-allah-modern-love.html

    It’s also available as a podcast.

    1. Vivian Chiona says:

      Hi Jim,

      Thank you so much for your comment and sharing this resource with us.

      I guess it plays a role which are the standards of health care in the host country and in the ‘home’ / passport country which may be very different from each other which makes it harder sometimes.

      Thank you for being such a valuable member of the Expat Nest community,


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