Having a Baby in Brunei

Over the time I’ve been here and blogging, I have had several people tell me how great it was to read about what life is really like here. I love to hear that people are reading. And of course I love compliments. But this one always throws me a little, because I feel like I do such a terrible job of saying what life is really like. I blog so sporadically, and it’s just about the random things going on usually.

As one of very few expat bloggers here, I do feel like I have a duty to do better.  But I also have a baby, and pretty poor organisational skills. This blog is never going to be a comprehensive view of what life is like in Brunei, but today I thought I’d blog on a topic that I would have really appreciated to read about before coming here: having a baby as an expat in Brunei.

To set the scene, a brief summary of my experiences. In May 2013 we started treatment with the Reproductive Medicine Unit at Jerudong Park Medical Centre (JPMC). I underwent four cycles of IUI, and got pregnant in October 2013. I had appointments at the RMU in early pregnancy and moved to Obstetrics and Gynaecology at JPMC in January 2014.  I continued there throughout my pregnancy and The Engineer’s Baby was born there in July 2014. After one check up at JPMC, we have used the Panaga Health Centre for all subsequent health needs (vaccinations and appointments). It may also be worth noting that we are from New Zealand, and know many people there who have babies, so my view of what is “normal” is strongly influenced by the New Zealand health system.

With The Engineer’s Baby getting so close to one (eek!), I am pretty much done with having a baby in Brunei. Before I know it, I’m going to have a toddler in Brunei! This doesn’t really make me an expert though, because I’ve only had this one experience. Other mums might have quite different opinions on the whole thing!  But here are mine.

Overall, my experience was positive: I have a beautiful and healthy baby. But looking back at the specifics, my “ideal” would involve changing almost everything except for that wonderful outcome.

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It’s very medical
In New Zealand the norm is to be seen by a midwife, rather than a doctor, for a low risk pregnancy. I love that idea, and feel it would suit me better.

I was grateful that I am self-educated
I don’t want to put anyone down, and I certainly don’t think my (mostly internet based) research beats years of medical school. But there was a general lack of advice in some areas. And honestly, from everything I can find, some of the advice I received was very questionable (I won’t go into specifics, but if you do want to know more, feel free to contact me).

I was grateful that nothing went wrong
We had a fine experience, but I didn’t feel that real sense of trust in my care providers before, during, or after birth. We are so lucky that I had a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

The rooms were lovely
We were so grateful to have a private room where we could all stay together. We paid for it, of course, but it was worth every penny.

It was time consuming
This is obviously partly my choice. But driving an hour and a half each way for so many appointments was tiring. Fortunately, we were able to get quite a few Friday afternoon/Saturday morning appointments, so that The Engineer could come and share the driving.
On top of the driving, I often had to wait a LOONG time for my appointments. Sometimes it felt like I lived at the hospital and in the car.

The nursing staff were lovely
Particularly in the RMU, we had some absolutely lovely nurses to support us.

The postnatal care was basically non-existent
There were several times that I wished for a bit more care for me and The Engineer’s Baby. Someone to bounce questions off, rather than having to visit a doctor for every little thing.

The support from the expat community was great
I soon realised that the health professionals weren’t going to provide that support network that I needed. So I was so glad when someone told me about a prenatal yoga course that included a mini antenatal course.  This gave me some information on the healthcare here and connections with other mums that have proven invaluable through the whole experience.

Activities saved my sanity
It can be very isolating to have a baby with no family around.  But through various activities I have made some great friends that have helped the last year positively speed past!

Outside time and crawling spaces are difficult
Despite the fact that we get summer all year around, we have spent most of the last year inside. It is hot, and there are bugs, so apart from the pool, it’s hard to spend much time outside. We love the pool, but having a baby has made me miss my garden more than I could imagine! There are playgrounds for bigger kids, but not much for crawlers. And our active wee button needs somewhere to wriggle!

Apparently I have quite a lot to say about this. But my little Brunei baby has just woken up from her nap way too early, so I’ll leave it there for now. Who knows though, I might be back with more later.

Yep, still a New Zealander.

I think New Zealanders tend to have a fairly global outlook and a reasonable understanding of the world. We get media from Australia, the US and the UK (and a little bit from elsewhere), so we know a bit about their respective cultures. We are a country of immigrants, so we understand the accents and vocabulary of many different Englishes (although on the whole our foreign language skills are distinctly lacking). We are a tiny country, miles away from anywhere, and are fully aware of the fact.

But despite our small size, we have a pretty reasonable reputation around the world. People know of our rugby and cricket teams, or Lord of the Rings, or they know pretty much nothing but want to visit anyway. They may not quite know if we’re part of Australia or not, but in my experience people have usually at least heard of New Zealand. And considering there are at least fifty cities in the world with a greater population than the whole of New Zealand, I think that’s pretty good going.

In many ways, this has made it fairly easy to expatriate. We are used to different international brands, we can understand most English speakers pretty well, we are used to online shopping taking practically forever to arrive.

But every so often, expat life throws up a reminder that we are New Zealanders at heart, and always will be.  The most recent example is the discovery that not everyone knows what a kiwi is (it’s a bird, not a fruit), or why New Zealanders are called Kiwis. This is our slightly ridiculous national bird.

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But there have been many other reminders too.

No one understands me when I say my name.
The short e sound in my strong accent is a constant source of confusion. When I introduce myself as Jenn, most people hear Gin (or maybe Jan, Jean, or Jane). When I ask about my check in luggage, the poor airport security staff get very confused, thinking I am transporting poultry.

People don’t know what togs, jandals, or utes are.
And I just can’t get used to swimsuits, flip flops, and pick ups.

Lots of our slang misses the mark.
But it’s sweet as, bro. There are heaps of Kiwis around to get it, so I’m chuffed. And with two NZ parents, the sprog will understand when we’re yacking away.

People don’t know of some of the greatest foods.
I can’t eat dairy at the moment (boohoo), so I’m among those who are missing out on kiwi dip. But I can still understand the joys of New Zealand fish and chips (vastly superior to the British version), kumara, salt and vinegar chips, mince pies, Vogel’s bread, feijoas, and all that great Kiwi tucker.

Some of our normal brands are considered weird.
We are stoked to see Colgate, Anchor, Mainland, Weetbix etc. But to many they’re just the foreign stuff.

Sometimes these realisations come across a little negative, but that’s really not how I see them at all. I love getting reminders of our amazing little country and its crazy culture. I’m proud to be a New Zealander. I’m proud to be showing New Zealand off to the world a little, and I will be proud to return home when we do.

The small things

Yesterday I wrote about needing space. And last night I got space, in the form of a dinner out with friends. Then today I got more space, in the form of some shopping, a fresh lime, and a bra fitting.

It was amazing. Good company, good food, good conversation last night. And good solitude today.

I enjoy the activities and the space and the break. But every time I have a break, I enjoy the tiny details almost as much as the break…

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I have worn necklaces two days in a row. And not silicone teething necklaces!

Last night I wore a dress that is not breastfeeding friendly.

Today I went into changing rooms without worrying about a small person crawling out under the curtain when I’m half naked

I wore glasses and no one tried to steal them off my face.

I carried just a tiny bag with my phone and wallet. No bib, no toys, no nappies.

After we finished eating, we sat and chatted.

No one banged their cutlery on the table, grabbed my glass, or threw food on the floor.

Add these to the list of things I didn’t really realise before I was a parent, because I never really thought of a necklace as a luxury before!

On the flip side, people didn’t smile quite as much, and only one person told me my baby was adorable (she had not long been to visit the café with her Papa when I went in, and we’re kinda regulars).

Life is different when she’s there. Outings are more difficult. But even if I love these breaks when I get them, I (obviously) wouldn’t change her for anything.

Introvert

In general, I am not a black and white thinker. I am not always keen on labels and categories.  But there are a few labels that I have found useful for understanding myself and how I can live with a little more ease and comfort.

The first label that turned my life around was “perfectionist”.  I resisted the label for a long time, because surely if I was a perfectionist, I would be… better? But once I realised that being a perfectionist was pretty much nothing to do with being perfect (it took until I was 26, but I got there in the end), I also clicked that it was pretty much me to a t. And once I accepted the label, I found it easier to figure out why I was struggling, and what I could do to make things a little better.  It’s a work in progress, absolutely, but then again, most things are.

The label “introvert” was a lot easier to get my head around.  I am an introvert, and pretty much always have been.  When I was young, it was often painted as “shy”, but that’s not really it.  I just take a little while to warm up to new situations sometimes.  And when the shit hits the fan, I prefer time and space alone (or with just The Engineer or my family) to regroup and recharge.

Before The Engineer’s Baby arrived, I knew that my perfectionism was going to be a problem. Because honestly, there is no way to be the perfect parent, and very few things go perfectly with an infant.  I was prepared.  There have been (MANY) challenges along the way, but I’ve generally understood a bit of the why and a bit about how to get through them.

But until I read this article yesterday, I truly didn’t make the connection that being an introvert was part of the challenge of parenting for me.  I am honestly surprised that it took me nearly eleven months to click, because it is so bloody obvious.  But here we are, proof that it did.

This is about as alone as I get (or at least feel) some days.

This is about as alone as I get (or at least feel) some days.

When you’re an introvert and you become a parent, your body goes through a little shock. Suddenly, you have very little alone time. Sure, your new baby is not talking to you — and at times, not making much noise at all. But let’s face it: You are never truly alone from the moment your first child is born.

This quote jumped out at me.  I knew I was feeling touched out (particularly early on).  I knew that most parents wanted a break from time to time (because, duh!). But I hadn’t completely realised just how little alone time I get.  My little dot is not a great independent sleeper in the day.  She still breastfeeds frequently.  So even when I do get a little break, you’d best believe she’s pretty close to the top of my mind.  And I need physical and mental alone time to really recharge.  (I also need sleep, but that’s a whole different story).

And then there was this:

1. Avoid beating yourself up for craving (or enjoying) time away from your littles. My favorite time of day is after the kids are tucked in bed — and most introverts I know feel the same way. I love my kids. I really do. But I love the downtime I have after they are sound asleep. If you’re an introverted parent, you will find yourself wanting for more alone time… and that is OK. Nothing to lose your “Good Parent” badge over.

If the lack of recharging wasn’t challenge enough, there was the guilt about wanting it (Hello again Perfectionism!)  As much as I know it’s normal to want and need a break, there’s a little naggy voice in there that says “but if you were a GOOD mum, you’d love spending this time with her…”

This perfect storm of perfectionism and introversion is my biggest struggle as a parent (so far!)  But I am feeling really great about it.  Because now I know.  I realise.  I know from experience that this realisation is not enough to make the challenge disappear. But I also know that it’s a first step.  And the more I am aware and accepting of my “labels”, the more I am able to find some strategies to create a life that works with them, rather than against them.

Goodbye May, Hello June!

It’s been a long time since I posted (although really, what’s new?)  In fact, I managed to go the entire month of May without posting.  So today I wanted to do a quick recap of what went down in May, and a bit about what we’re looking forward to in June (and some of what’s already happened, since the start of June was more than a week ago).

But first, a side note: how on EARTH is it June already? I can’t quite comprehend just how quickly time is going at the moment!

In May we…

  • recovered from our colds, and were so glad to get out of the house again.
  • celebrated my first Mother’s Day with our first trip to the Miri Marriott (my Brunei expat friends and readers will appreciate just how weird it is that it was over two years before we stayed there!)
  • went to our first birthday party, and thought about how soon The Engineer’s Baby will be having her own.
  • had an amazing visit from my dad and my step-mum (aka Poppa and Grandma)
  • flew to Kota Kinabalu for an amazing long weekend, including a boat ride out to a beautiful island, orangutans, lots of good food, and family hang out time.
  • watched The Engineer’s Baby take her first steps
  • visited the Oil and Gas Discovery Centre for the first time (and were pleasantly surprised)
  • said goodbye to Poppa and Grandma again
  • visited Danes Cafe, had a nice coffee, saw what the hype was about, and vowed to return for that burger
  • went to the movies (I saw Pitch Perfect 2 with two friends, and had a wonderful time)

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In June we have already…

  • started Junkfree June, which means no takeaways, no fizzy drink, no sweet treats for an entire month
  • celebrated eleven years since our very first date
  • tried two new restaurants (Sushi Tei and Pastamania, both at KB Sentral mall)
  • seen The Engineer’s Baby learn to climb, meaning even more babyproofing
  • tried the indoor playground/soft play at KB Sentral mall, and realised that The Engineer’s Baby should probably be walking well before we return
  • booked flights to Penang in July and Singapore in September

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And this month, we also plan to…

  • celebrate The Engineer’s Baby’s eleven month birthday, and The Engineer’s thirty second birthday
  • see The Engineer’s Baby start walking properly (I guess that one’s not really in our control though, so who knows!)
  • finish booking our July holiday
  • plan something to celebrate The Engineer’s Baby’s first birthday (oh my goodness!)
  • celebrate the start of Ramadan, and get disappointed that we can’t visit the markets (because of that pesky Junkfree June thing)
  • go to another birthday party, and marvel some more at how big all these babies are getting!
  • blog a bit more (I don’t promise a lot though!)

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Life has definitely slowed down a little since The Engineer’s Baby arrived (not that it was very fast paced to begin with.  Kuala Belait doesn’t really lend itself to fast paced.) But we quite like that.  We miss all the travel, but it just doesn’t work so well for her, and we wouldn’t change her for anything.  So we’ll just keep plodding along in this little Brunei life, enjoying watching her grow and change, and getting ridiculously excited when new restaurants open (Kaizen Kuala Belait, you’re next on the list!)

For the days that just suck

When you’re raising a tiny human, there are days that suck. If anyone says otherwise, they either have the perfect unicorn child of which we all occasionally dream, are ridiculously well adjusted, or they’re flat out lying; most likely the latter.

If you don’t watch out, it’s very easy to get bogged down in the relentless day to day hard stuff that is a big part of parenthood. The more you allow that to happen, the more you forget about the magical joyous stuff that is the other big part of parenthood. And before you know it, days that suck can turn into weeks that suck.

I had a patch of days/weeks that sucked at around the six to seven month mark. And I’m just now at the veeery edge, about to tip into another patch of them if I don’t watch out.

Unfortunately, I’m not very good at watching out. The coping strategy that comes most naturally to me is to withdraw, and to basically quit adulthood as much as I possibly can. I spend way too much time on Facebook, avoid all possible chores, pick fights rather than being open about what I need, and generally become pretty difficult to be around. As you can see, it’s not really a coping strategy at all; if it weren’t for the amazing Engineer, this strategy would be a complete and utter flop (I am ridiculously fortunate that he is willing and able to pick up the slack).

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So, today I’m going to attempt to break this not-so-fun cycle and to avoid the pot hole that is right in front of me by creating a new strategy. This strategy is pretty tailored to me. Your mileage may vary!

1. Put down the phone.
No really, put it down. Don’t look at it. Don’t get sucked into it. It’s too easy, too available. If there’s anything you really need to do, there’s always the computer.

2. Set boundaries for yourself.
This is a good idea every day, but particularly important when you’re struggling. It doesn’t matter exactly what these boundaries are, whether it’s finding 20 minutes to do some yoga, 5 minutes to meditate, or simply enough time to go to the toilet alone. You know what you and your small person can manage.

3. Take a minute to breathe.
It’s so easy for your breath to get shallow and uneasy. A minute of slow deep belly breaths several times a day does wonders for your mindset.

4. Do at least one thing each nap time and each awake time.
This one depends a little on your schedule, but for us (two naps/three awake times) it strikes a nice balance. Getting five things done in a day isn’t overwhelming, but can still feel productive. They don’t need to be big deal, important items off the to do list, they just need to be something. 

5. Watch and find joy.
It’s easy on the hard days to feel like every moment was difficult. Some days I feel like The Engineer’s Baby has whined literally all day, when in reality it’s probably only been an hour total over the day. There is almost always something good or funny that happens, even on these sucky days. Make an effort to watch and appreciate that thing. Aim for five good things. Write them down if necessary.

To be honest, that fifth point is the kicker. All the others are mainly there to facilitate that happening. On the good days, joy is easy to find. On the hard ones, it’s buried a little deeper, and you (I) need a bit more support to dig it out.

To be even more honest, this list is mainly for me. If it helps someone else, that is wonderful. But I’m putting it here primarily to have a reference for myself. A reference I might need for the next few days… Wish me luck!