Having a baby abroad changed my perspective on living away

Melbourne ticks all the boxes for our us, except one big one: our family aren’t here

‘While Facetime and Skype make the distance a bit more bearable, my baby having one-dimensional grandparents just doesn’t feel right.’

‘While Facetime and Skype make the distance a bit more bearable, my baby having one-dimensional grandparents just doesn’t feel right.’

 

In September 2013 I followed my heart to an Irish man living in Melbourne. I would like to say I’ve never looked back, but I have a crick in my neck from not looking forward enough.

After four years of fun, frivolity and career building in Australia, I became a new mother to my little boy, who is now almost two. I was naturally forced to stop, focus on the present. After years of planning for the future, I finally felt a strong anchoring to the here and now, and there was something refreshingly simple about that.

My life goals shifted from conjuring up plans to progress professionally and embark on novel adventures, to craving routine, structure and predictability.

Being a new mother was the biggest challenge I had faced in my life. My body ached, my eyes stung with exhaustion, and the feeling of being so in love and terrified at the same time overwhelmed me. As the weeks went on the struggle was further compounded by the absence of my family, who live 17,000km away. My mum came to visit for a month when my baby was just three weeks old and the deep bond they formed was immediate. With her beside me I felt I could glide through this parenting gig with elegance and whimsy.

And then she left.

My partner and I strived to support each other as best we could. But it was hard. I noticed a creeping resentment within me when fellow mums in my mother’s group would talk about their family support, or even complain about over-bearing in-laws. We both deeply craved an aunty, uncle or grandparent to whip the baby off for a couple of hours, or even just to hang around the house while we had a shower or caught up on some much needed zzzzs.

Deirdre Ryan with her son at home in Melbourne.
Deirdre Ryan with her son at home in Melbourne.

We had to make a conscious choice not get too caught up in our yearnings for home, and instead turn our attention back to the present and all that we had, rather than what we hadn’t. After some time, we adapted to this new way of being. Friends became our lifeline, and asking for help was a skill we both had to work on and become comfortable with.

As the year progressed we started to get the hang of things and life with our (now) toddler became a lot more fun. Yet, still I noticed pangs of longing for home, swelling and swaying like waves. The ease of being able to pick up the phone and call home to say “Hi” was replaced by an operation of precise planning and co-ordination, which meant the calls became less and less frequent.

While Facetime and Skype make the distance a bit more bearable, my baby having one-dimensional grandparents just doesn’t feel right.

One day, having been brave enough to book in a set time to go for lunch with a childless friend, I successfully managed to get out the door on time, dressed half decent, clean nappy, fully fed, bag full of snacks, buggy adorned with all necessary paraphernalia for braving the searing 35 degree heat, make up was “passable” (mascara only applied to one eye). While mentally congratulating myself after closing the front door behind me, I had a feeling I had forgotten something important.

After taking a few steps I looked down to find there was no baby in the buggy. Completely oblivious, my son cooed and chatted happily inside on his play mat. After scooping him up and into the pram, I immediately went to call my mum to relate my tale of maternal woe, only to remember it was 1am back home.

Later, when it got to a decent hour back in Ireland, the story had almost been forgotten. A cranky evening baby done in by the day’s events and too much sun had left him falling more than usual, flailing helplessly and needing to be perched on my hip while I rustled up a mediocre dinner. I didn’t call home. “I’ll call tomorrow when I have more energy,” I said to myself.

So here I am today, living in Melbourne with its abundance of career opportunities, a superb outdoor and family friendly lifestyle, lucky enough to be partnered to a wonderful man and mother to a healthy and happy baby. And yet I notice that old familiar restlessness creep upon me time and time again.

The call to home and the yearning for my family, my friends and the raw and rustic beauty of Ireland is persistent and troubling. The irking sense of foreboding anxiety of “that phone call” in the middle of the night is ever present. Worse still, the distance now seems to act as a buffer from the realities and strife back home, with people reluctant to call or “bother me” with bad news or day-to-day challenges.

Although this brings a little relief sometimes, it mostly brings guilt and sadness. While Facetime and Skype make the distance a bit more bearable, my baby having one-dimensional grandparents just doesn’t feel right. Our families’ kind attempts to hide their sadness at our absence weigh heavy, and waiting several hours to share the news of the day, or the latest milestone, leaves me feeling detached.

But as I feel the warm Australian sun on my back and look down at my Australian/Irish son cooing contently as he explores his surroundings, my mantra of “Ah sure we’ll head home at some stage… but not quite yet” also plays on repeat in my mind. There’s no place like home, it’s true; but I’m lucky and cursed enough to have two, and in choosing one, I must consent to losing the other.

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