Knocked up abroad: getting pregnant in a foreign country

pregnant in a foreign country My first clue that something was different came when I woke up one night on vacation in Kiev at 3am, proceeded to eat 3 slices of toast with caviar spread, went back to bed and woke up a few hours later wondering if they made blueberry muffins in Ukraine (tragicially, they do not). That “time of the month” hadn’t happened but flying tends to always mess with your body, so I didn’t give it much of a thought. Since moving to Istanbul from New York in May 2010 for a work project, my husband and I take frequent trips around Eastern Europe (see my Weekending posts) and that week we spent exploring Kiev and Warsaw while Turkey celebrated Kurban Bayramı (the Muslim festival of sacrifice).

When we arrived back home in Istanbul a few days later, I dug out the Turkish pregnancy test I had purchased a few months earlier after a previous false alarm. Though the instructions were in Turkish, peeing on a stick is fairly universal, and the “POZITIF” results were hard to misinterpret. Excited and nervous to be pregnant in a foreign country, my husband and I wondered what a mountain of paperwork we’d have to provide U.S. Customs in 9 months, what the medical system in Istanbul would be like, and if we could get away with having a baby in Turkey not named in some way for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, father of modern Turkey and namesake for millions of Turks. Being pregnant in a foreign country is the ultimate way of “going native,” the most “authentic” travel experience you can have. It’s also challenging, sometimes scary, and limits where you can travel, but can be a great way to discover a culture, their hospitality, and traditions.Once I confirmed that I was in fact hamile with bebek, I noticed how child-friendly Turkey is, though not without challenges for the expecting expat. I could only find one English-language pregnancy book (co-written by Oprah’s fave, Dr. Oz, who is of Turkish descent), I’ve heard C-sections are pushed on many women as the only option for childbirth, and I’ve found maternity clothes are mostly limited to childish t-shirts and denim overalls. Turkey’s also a dream for the pregnant traveler: fresh fruit juice is cheap and easy to find at most cafes, vaccinations aren’t needed to visit, and Turks treat pregnant women with the utmost respect and care.

Having a baby, especially a first, in a foreign country isn’t for everyone. My family and support system is far away and I don’t know where to go for things I can find easily in my hometown. My doctor speaks excellent English but many of the nurses and hospital staff do not, and my Turkish is hardly fluent enough to cover every situation. Though the cost of domestic help is low, I’m not sure I want a lady with whom I can’t fully communicate telling me how to raise a baby.

Pregnancy also changes how you look at travel, both where you go and how you do it. I’ve been fortunate not to have morning sickness, but I’m just as at risk for disease as other pregnant women and have to weigh the risks of visiting countries with suggested vaccinations or food- and water-borne illnesses. Growing a baby is tiring work, and it’s hard to reconcile my usual travel self (lots of walking, few breaks) with my pregnant self (tired and hungry almost all the time). The best part about pregnancy travel is learning how each culture values pregnant women and mothers, hearing childbirth experiences from locals and foreigners, and seeing how kind strangers really can be. And all the food cravings help you discover the local cuisine, too.

Stay tuned for more on pregnancy travel, including Turkish superstitions and customs, the lowdown on prenatal medical care in Istanbul, where to travel in each trimester, what to eat when pregnant abroad, and more on having a baby in a foreign country. Check here for further updates.

Bring a travel corkscrew – Packing tip

While you’re on vacation abroad, few things compare to an impromptu picnic in the open air. It is the perfect opportunity for sampling the local foodstuffs, wine, and scenery.

Depending on where you are in the world, tracking down a corkscrew can often turn an uncomplicated experience into a bit of an ordeal. On your next trip, save yourself some time and always pack a handy travel corkscrew.

[Photo: Flickr | YannGar Photography]

Pack spare passport photos – International travel tip

When traveling abroad, it is a good idea to have an extra set of passport photos packed among your belongings.

In the event that your passport is lost or stolen, you can save valuable time by immediately taking these photos to the embassy or consulate when you apply for a replacement. Without the photos, you may find yourself frantically searching for a photo lab in a potentially unfamiliar city or town.

[Photo: Flickr | selmerv]

Pack something that reminds you of home – International travel tip

No matter where the destination, chances are you’re going to be out of your usual comfort zone when traveling abroad. When I embarked on a two-week trip across parts of Europe last year, I began to feel homesick after a couple days and wasn’t enjoying my “trip of a lifetime.”

Fortunately, I discovered that my friends had tucked a few pictures of themselves in my bag before I left. This gave me a little piece of home to carry along with me.

Therefore, when leaving home for a period of time, it’s a good idea to bring something familiar with you, to quell any sadness. Whether it’s a picture, blanket, or favorite snack pack, a comfort item can handily ward off being homesick.

Check your insurance – International travel tip

One the most important — and overlooked — things to do before traveling abroad is to check into your medical insurance coverage.

Call your insurance company to see if you and your family are covered overseas. This is especially important for destinations where disease and illness is more common, or for trips where a lot of physical activity occurs. If your medical insurance doesn’t extend internationally, consider purchasing supplemental insurance for the time you’re abroad.

Also, before leaving home, write down all your insurance information and carry it with you at all times. It’s also a good idea to make copies for any family member traveling with you. Finally, consider providing copies for family or friends staying at home … in case of emergency.