We found ourselves in St Andrews for the first 6 months of our stay in Scotland. I now look back on it as being one of the most special times in our lives. Poppy was just over 8 weeks old, just a wee wee thing when we arrived from Australia. We were new to overseas life, Scottish winter (it was a roasting 44 degrees in Perth when we left and we arrived to snow and freeze!), didn’t know a soul and so faced all the challenges associated with those things.
Where to start setting up a new life? One of the first things I did was google ‘baby yoga in St Andrews’. I then googled ‘mums with buggies’. Little did I know then, but everything would start from the results that those two simple searches produced. Within a couple of days, I turned up to our first baby yoga class at Warm Hearts Yoga, a short walk from our apartment (a critical factor when venturing out in Scottish winter without a car!). A day later, I attended our first ‘mums with buggies’ class at the wonderful View Studio, overlooking the beach. Those classes marked the beginning of some fabulous times, where I met some special friends that shared the next 6 months with us.
Invariably, as St Andrews is so small, with only 2 main streets (which is why we chose it over Dundee city for our entry into Scottish life – I wanted to be somewhere small, friendly and easy to get around without a car), the mothers that I met at baby yoga told me about other classes on offer around the town, and we all ended up at them together. Every week. It got to the point that we joked that we saw each other more than our husbands! Our weekly routine very quickly became filled with a class every morning. Monday’s was baby yoga, Tuesday’s mums with buggies, Wednesday’s Signs and Rhymes and baby swim classes, Thursday’s mother’s group and Friday’s either another mum’s with buggies class or museum workshops (held monthly).
Having something to do and somewhere to go every day, just for a couple of hours, if we so chose, was the perfect way to set up our new life and avoid feeling isolated or lonely in a new country. It was also the best way to get to know the locals and receive great tips on all things motherhood resources, plus the best restaurants, cafes, places to go in town.
The mother’s group I went to was an open space for mothers with children up to any age, run by volunteers from the community. It essentially involved an informal session of free play and chat over a cup of coffee. What I loved about it was that it wasn’t targeted at any one age-group – it was a mixture of mothers with children of varying ages and varying amounts of experience (some were on to their 3/4th child and some were there with their first). Chatting to mothers with more than one child, who were super relaxed the third or fourth time around (!), was a wonderful bonus for me as a new mum. Their tips and tricks and calm demeanour was immeasurably helpful while navigating new phases, stages of developments, sleep issues etc. Notwithstanding, chatting to mothers in the same boat as me, with children of the same age, who were also up half the night with the same perplexing issues, was equally as comforting and valuable. It was simply a melting pot of mothers from all walks of life and a great refuge for me each week. I learnt a lot, shared a lot, downloaded a lot, laughed a lot and listened a lot.
We were also assigned a health nurse in St Andrews, who visited us at home every 4-6 weeks. We don’t get this service at home, let me tell you! What an amazing service it was! Our health nurse, Joanne, was a godsend. She was kind, caring, and very considered and measured in her approach. Turns out, she was also a former sleep consultant! Jackpot!
At around the 5 month mark, Poppy went through a bad patch with sleep and I was so desperate within a few weeks of no sleep that by the time Joanne arrived, I asked her if she could find me a night nurse or sleep expert. She laughed and said “You’re in St Andrews, Rachel. We don’t have ‘night nurses’ or ‘sleep experts’ here. However, I’d be happy to talk you through the dos and don’ts, so let’s chat”. Music to my ears! We went on to spend the next few hours workshopping all my questions and Joanne talked me through a new sleep program which, much to my amazement (and relief), didn’t involve any controlled crying! Within 3 days, Poppy began to sleep 12 to 13 hours straight…voila! Magic (details of the full program in another post)!
So my BIG TIPS for moving overseas with a newborn (because it can be very daunting, especially if this is your first child and you’re moving to a place where you know no-one) are:
- Passport/visa: you need to get onto this quickly after the baby is born (i.e., within the first few weeks)/as soon as you know you’re leaving, because it can take a while to process (and there are always delays when you least need them!);
- Flight details: make sure you or your travel agent books you a bassinet so that the baby can sleep during a long haul flight!
- Travel light: I cannot emphasise this point enough. Funnily enough, babies take up next to no space but the sheer amount of paraphernalia that goes along with them is phenomenal! We took our pram, a European car seat, a sling, a select few clothes (had the rest shipped), and literally just what we needed on hand to get us through the flight. The rest can all wait until you’re settled in your new home or back at your original home. If you’re on the move throughout your time overseas, you may wish to take a travel cot, but won’t need everything associated with setting up a nursery (i.e. change tables etc);
- Vaccinations: make sure all necessary vaccines are done before leaving and take your baby’s records with you for reference;
- Relax and try not to stress! This should really be on top of the list! There are a lot of naysayers who gasp at the idea of travelling with a small baby. That’s often because they haven’t done it. The ‘yikes you’re brave’ response can leave you feeling overwhelmed and worried that you’re getting yourself into something ridiculous that you can’t handle. Relax. Moving overseas, or somewhere new, away from friends and family, has its obvious stresses but it’s first and foremost an incredible experience and importantly, it teaches you that you CAN DO IT! Spending time as a small family unit is one of the most magical things you can do with your child too. You get to do it your way and it’s empowering, so you never look back. These days, your loved ones are just a phone call, FaceTime or Skype away, so you can still see them as often as you like in any case. My advice is to find people who have done it and listen to their advice over people who haven’t – I haven’t met one person who has done it that says they’d do it differently in retrospect – on the contrary, everyone I’ve met has agreed that it was the most wonderful and enriching time they’ve ever had! They were the best people to hear from before embarking on the journey!
- Get excited, you’re one of the lucky ones! I honestly feel that you’ll look back, feeling privileged that you got this opportunity and you will offer this bit of advice to anyone about to take the plunge. The benefits are simply immeasurable.
When you arrive:
- Register yourselves and your baby at your local doctors surgery and find out about vaccine requirements in your new country (noting that they may be different to your home country) and work out whether they fit your home country’s needs (because you may need to get them done also, if you plan to return home some time later);
- Join as many groups as you can to meet people and encourage you to establish a network. This is helpful on so many levels, as you become better acquainted with your new space, what’s on offer, and you find people to share your experience with who can offer support. I don’t mean book yourself out all day every day either – just once a day during the week for an hour or two, or whatever you feel up to. It’s exhausting enough as it is and little babies spend a lot of time sleeping, so you don’t want or need to overdo it;
- Try and join a variety of groups on offer, so that you also get to do some things for yourself (that baby can come along to…ie, mums with buggies or groups that have a tea break in the middle or at the end, so parents can chat). So often, mothers solely join baby focussed groups on the assumption that their babies won’t handle anything that involves them not being the centre of attention. But the problem is that you’re not getting the stimulation or physical exercise you need to lead a balanced life (and young babies are in fact very mobile and adaptable, so taking them to things for you while you can, at an early stage, is a great idea, in my view!);
- Find time to talk to other mothers about what they’re experiencing (mother’s groups are great for this), because it can often lead to you feeling so much less isolated (knowing you were in good company all up at 2am!), and even having a laugh about your shared experiences. This can really lighten the load and it’s also helpful for learning new tips/ideas/other resources on offer that you hadn’t yet got your hands on.