What now feels like a gazillion and a a half years ago, I gave birth to a baby girl in Vienna, Austria. (That’s her about to fall out of the sandpit.)
A few weeks ago, the lovely and brilliant writers/podcasters Edan Lepucki and Amelia Morris interviewed me about the joys and travails of having a baby abroad for their fantastic podcast, Mom Rage. We talked about everything from figuring out how to find a doctor in a foreign country, to the fantastic maternity leave policies, to the Austrians’ very entrenched ideas about motherhood. It was a total joy to chat with them. You can listen here. (Interview starts around 29:00, but do listen to it all; their banter at the beginning is always one of my favorite parts.)
If you listen along and think, I must move to Vienna and have a baby! (I do recommend it), here are a few essays I’ve written on the subject (not sure whether they will convince or dissuade you, but anyway, you decide):
It’s summer, August maybe, and our family’s boxy purple Peugeot is parked at a rest stop gas station. My father pumps gas in his leather sandals. My 13-year-old sister, Rachel, slumps in the backseat, listening to her Walkman with her hood up over her ears. My mother, in a billowy fuchsia sundress, stands next to the passenger’s side of the car with the door open, one sandaled foot propped up on the runner, one palm resting on the top of the car, waiting. Her gray hair is cut very short. Her oval glasses take over much of her face.
I’m five, and have gotten out of the car to dance around on the cement for a few minutes, my white Tretorns, striped T-shirt, and shorts glistening in the sun. I skip over little puddles of oil between the cars, making a game out of not getting my feet wet.
There are several adults clustered around the pumps, filling their cars. I hop over to one of them, look up and say, “My Mommy had babies that died.” Then over to another: “My Mommy had babies that died.”
My mother did, indeed, have babies that died; so did my father, of course. I guess my sister did, too — baby-siblings. But these babies — a boy, a stillbirth at 23 weeks, and a girl a year later, at 24 weeks, both big enough to swell my mother’s belly but small enough to fit in the palm of my father’s hand — died seven and eight years earlier, respectively. I came next; I was the one who made it.
When the two stragglers let the door clatter shut behind them, I turn the lights in the restaurant’s dining room all the way up and zip over to the stereo. For the past few months, we’ve been blasting the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” while closing. We all sing You may ask yourself, my God, what have I done? while manning brooms and mops and rags, none of us aware that we are singing of our own lives. At the chorus, we give in, drop what we’re doing and dance: Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down…
And! I wrote about getting up at the crack of dawn to have some time for myself (for crying out loud!). (It will shock no one to learn that since I published this, my kid’s been waking up much earlier. #Momfail.) This one was for Healthline.
Sometime in the not so distant past, I needed to take the morning-after pill. I was a 38-year-old mother of a three-year-old; I was in a stable marriage. We both had advanced degrees and careers, and had planned out my first pregnancy with charts and ovulation kits. Most of my friends were onto their second children. I was, in other words, not necessarily the kind of woman you might picture when you think of Plan B.
The jealousy peaked when the second round of pregnancy announcements started to roll in. By then my daughter was 2 and I was 37, but neither my husband nor I had broached the subject of a second child. Instead, my tactics were cheap, comments lobbed at inopportune moments: I mentioned my (old) age and boy names I liked, and reminded him that we had to “get it done” before we left Europe, our temporary (family-friendly) home. When I got salmonella poisoning from eating bad chicken, I secretly hoped my symptoms meant I was pregnant. My husband prayed they didn’t.
Our avoidance of the discussion, followed by our inability to agree on trying for another, was heartbreaking. It seemed to symbolize some fundamental rift in our marriage: Almost everyone we knew had — or was trying for — more than one child. Why couldn’t we handle it, too?
I wrote this whopper for The Cut. Please read on here.
I had a baby in Europe (a million and a half years ago)! I finally wrote about it all for The Cut. Woohoooooooooooooooo! (Also now you can see how many tabs I regularly keep open. Also how retro my baby was.)