Thank you to my sister, Caley, for gracing us with a guest blog. She lives in Switzerland with her husband, Tom, and my sweet niece and nephew. As difficult as the post was for me to read (I want to hop on a plane and be with her every day!), I know it resonates with me and how I felt as a young mother in a foreign country; I imagine that it will resonate with others, as well. I hope that through this post and others on this blog, you’ll find encouragement to find your own “unconventional village”.
My grandfather’s hand’s shake a little. He says he’s almost deaf and almost blind. He forgets things like whether he was stationed in Germany or Afghanistan. His good days are just not as bad as others. Yet when I set my three-month-old son on his lap, his hands knew just how to hold him. His knee started bouncing and tiny fingers grasped a larger one. My grandfather seemed to light up with his great-grandson and namesake in his arms. It was such a true picture of the typical ‘village.’ It was a glimpse into a different life for us, because days later we were on a ten-hour flight from Florida back home to Switzerland.
It’s not a sacrifice to live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. We have great healthcare, unbelievable scenery, a stable economy, top-notch public transport, I’m fluent in German and six months after my daughter was born, I got a part-time job teaching English. We live in a lovely quiet neighborhood and most days my husband can come home from work for lunch. I’ve built a beautiful life here. Yet, I talk to my friends who have close family nearby and my heart twists.
I got unexpectedly pregnant just a few months after marrying and moving to this part of Switzerland. The first few months were so isolating. I spent my days craving adult conversation and feeling like a mediocre mother for being bored with my sweet baby. Things got better as time went by. I built a nice social circle of other moms and tried my best to maintain friendships from the ‘before.’ Unexpected child number 2 arrived last November and with two under two life became more overwhelming than I imagined. Even the deepest friendships feel superficial when you just wish your mom was there to take care of you.
We’ve experienced a depressing saga of challenges and sickness; I was in the hospital with pre-term labor caused by Salmonella, then on bed rest until my son came. Bed rest was a joke with a toddler running around and a husband at work. A week after delivery I got the flu. My daughter got a superinfection around that time and had a rash that kept me up at night. We got cold after cold. My newborn son got RSV in January and we spent six days in the hospital. Simultaneously, I got mastitis and needed IV antibiotics to fight the infection. Both kids got stomach bugs with throwing up and diarrhea. We had high fevers, coughs, runny noses, earaches… Everything the sickness season could throw at us, it did.
My daughter hasn’t handled having a sibling well. She definitely needed more than 20 months of total attention. I’m not sure if 20 years would have been enough for her though. She has been extremely jealous from the beginning. She hits, scratches, bites, pushes and kicks him. I have had to be on guard every second of every day. Watching one baby I love to hurt the other baby I love is emotionally vicious. Every strategy I’ve tried to improve things has failed. She is finally starting to accept him after nearly five months, but that doesn’t mean I can watch her any less. She now headbutts him while trying to cuddle and attempts to pick him up by herself.
There were days my husband would come home for lunch and find me in tears, Youtube children’s songs on, and the house a wreck. I would sob that I can’t do this. Everyone else can do this, but somehow it’s too much for me.
The amount of guilt I’ve felt these last months has been crushing. I’ve had both children laying on my chest screaming at the same time and I am helpless to calm them because there’s only one of me. Sleepless nights, and sickness, and jealousy have become my perfect storm.
Where is my village? My mom would take a crying infant in a heartbeat. My dad could swing my daughter over his head until she screamed with laughter. Any of my siblings, my grandparents, or my aunts would be there for me if they could be. Even just to be an extra pair of arms because mine just aren’t enough.
I’m an independent person. I’m an adaptable person. I was built to live abroad. That’s what I thought until I had kids. The me from five years ago would have never believed that I could be forced to question my life-choices by a sniffling one-year-old and whimpering infant.
This is the dark night of motherhood. Yet, I do see the light every now and then. My unconventional village is my friends who have visited me in the hospital and friends who dote on my babies like aunties. My village is my 75-year-old neighbor who keeps my orchid alive, hangs my laundry on bad days, and scolds me for not wearing socks in the stairwell. My village is the group of moms I meet with on Mondays who all have their own story like mine. My village is my husband’s cousin’s wife, who lives hours away, but sent her kids’ hand-me-downs for us to use.
I’m not always optimistic. ‘It’s just a phase’ is my cruel, teasing, mantra. But when I feel that there are people who care, although we don’t share a last name or ancestry, I think that maybe I didn’t make the wrong choices after all.