Parenting As An Expat In Ireland Is A Different World
From pregnancy to raising kids, the experiences vary widely.
I remember when I realized how different parenting would be in Ireland than it was in America. An Irish friend had a baby and it was the first time I'd heard about how the hospital system was in my adopted country. Every movie I'd ever watched with a labor scene or those cozy cuddling moments in a dimmed hospital room after the baby was born flashed through my head in a montage of scenes I'd never experience.
As it turns out, giving birth in Ireland is quite a bit different than in the United States. And parenting, that's quite different, too.
Giving birth in Ireland is entirely more communal than it is in the United States, for better or for worse. Unless you're actively in labor and the baby is coming soon, you're in a room with a whole lot of other laboring women. Likewise, once you give birth, your recovery room isn't shared with just one person, it's typically shared with at least five other women — and their babies. There are no nurseries in Irish public hospitals, every baby rooms in. So that means at least six women and at least six newborn babies in a room for the duration of your stay. When my sister-in-law gave birth, she said she had to ask the woman next to her to watch her newborn baby while she went to the shared bathroom. Visitors are allowed in twos, and husbands have to leave when visiting hours are over.
So while it would certainly have been cheaper to give birth in Ireland, adopting our two children in the United States was at least a little more private. But speaking of cheaper, giving birth (and all of the appointments leading up to and afterward) is free here. Absolutely and totally free. There are also much lower c-section rates and much lower rates of medical intervention, with high reliance on midwives, even in the public hospitals.
We ended up bypassing the hospital differences and raised our daughter until she was nearly three in the United States before moving back to Ireland with her and our almost-one-year-old son. When we arrived, I quickly realized that I had a lot to re-learn about parenting in a new place. First, from the age of two, kids don't get checkups. They get a check and immunisations before they start school around the age of five, but after two, when they've graduated from visiting the public health nurse to be weighed and measured, you're on your own unless they're sick.
When we returned from the United States as parents, not having parented in Ireland before, I was surprised at how foreign everything seemed. Crib sheet sizes were different, I wasn't sure which diapers brands were any good, and I didn't even know what was the equivalent of Tylenol to give my kids when they were sick. My stroller is about four inches wider than some grocery store aisles. We forgot to teach our daughter that jumper meant sweater and pants meant undies before we sent her to Montessori (which means preschool).
Of course, we have perhaps the lightest expat parenting challenges compared to most; a friend in the United Arab Emirates had to learn to navigate Ramadan and the complications of eating when the rest of the country fasts (behind screens at mall restaurants). Another friend in England reports worrying about her daughter getting kicked out of her public school for missing Thanksgiving week to go back to the United States to see family. I'm sure expats parenting in parts of Asia and Africa, or even rural places around the world, have even more leaps to make to acclimate to parenting in new cultures.
They are challenges, and they did make for our transition back to Ireland a little bumpier than I anticipated, but they also give such interesting insights into the ways people live and parent in other countries around the world. We've figured out the best diapers and the local pharmacist is helpful with every sniffle or cough. But the one American parenting cliche necessity I haven't been able to replace? Target. There's just no equivalent to a therapeutic 10pm wander through the dollar section.