If you’ve noticed that our posts have trickled down to a minimum in the past few months, we apologize. We have some huge nomad news that may help to explain and make up for some of our long silence: we’re expecting a baby!
We found out in September, while we were living in Playa del Carmen. I’m now 20 weeks (five months) along, and we expect the baby to join us at the end of May. In this post, we’ll take you through the pregnancy thus far, the decisions we made about where to have the baby, and what the future looks like for our expanded nomad family.
Nomad News: Lifestyle Changes?
When we told a few close friends and family members about the pregnancy, the first question (it would be mine also) was what does this mean for your lifestyle?
If you’re familiar with the location-independent lifestyle, you’ve noticed that there are hundreds if not thousands of families traveling full time with several young children in tow. In the long term, we don’t expect a second child to change our decision to live outside the U.S. Our son Spencer was born in Luxembourg and spent the first two years of his life in South Africa. Luckily for us, navigating birth, infancy, and toddlerhood in foreign countries is not a new prospect.
In the short term, our nomad news means that we do plan to settle down for a bit longer while the baby is an infant. Though we traveled frequently with Spencer when he was an infant, it was SO stressful. Not the flights–infants sleep brilliantly on planes! It was that as we adjusted to our new schedule, to a lack of sleep, to nursing, and to getting to know the new soul in our hearts, any disruption to our home environment was disastrous. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much choice at the time–we were moving to SA for David’s new job. We switched temporary housing several times because of a glitch in the relocation package, and I vowed that I’d never put myself in that situation again. I worried that Spencer felt a lack of security when we couldn’t give him consistent surroundings and schedules. He was a colicky baby as well so I’ll never know for sure, but I couldn’t help but feel that if he could at least expect the same crib in the same room, the same quality of light from the windows and the same feeling of the texture of the couch, or the air on his skin, he might have been able to focus on taking in the world at his own slow and revelatory pace.
As Spencer grew, we noticed that his feelings of security became increasingly tied to David and I rather than his surroundings. Spencer now gets excited for a new house and city, understands which people and places are “far away” at any given time, and is generally a happy and well-adjusted kid. At two, he understood mentally and emotionally that his parents were the mediators between him and the world–as long as Mommy and Daddy are relaxed and present (and preferably a captive audience to his antics), he doesn’t care where he is. To me, it’s a different animal for an infant–you can’t explain anything to an infant–whether a change is temporary, or why the world constantly presents him/her with new stimuli.
So in 2016, we averaged one move every two months. When we found out we were pregnant, we spent a lot of time researching a place to have the baby where we would be comfortable staying for up to a year.
Nomad News: Where is it Going to Happen?
We knew we wanted to remain outside of the states–even if we would be eligible for financial aid, the general cost of living in the US would be above our budget. The factors that went into our decision were, in order:
-Quality of hospital care
-Cost of living (and of giving birth)
-Time zone (David trades during U.S. market hours)
-Proximity to the U.S. so that friends and family can visit while we stay at home with baby
–Jus soli (literally “right of the soil,” jus soli is a law that allows babies born in some countries to obtain citizenship at birth. We have found that the jus soli benefit is most common in the Americas, practically non-existent in Europe, and rare in Asia. Let us know if you’ve found otherwise!)
-Lower c-section rates would be a plus (but we found that rising c-section rates are a global trend. Though they did vary by country, the most important factor, via anecdotes from a forum of fellow expats, was finding a doctor you trusted to follow your birth plan as closely as possible)
During our initial research, we tended to gravitate toward countries we were familiar already with, namely Mexico and Thailand. Both countries have excellent medical facilities in most major areas, and we received positive recommendations from fellow expats who had given birth in both countries. In fact, three separate people recommended the same doctor in Chiang Mai, Thailand! In both countries you can live comfortably for a very low cost of living, and in both places a natural birth can be had for as little as $1,000, and a c-section from $1,500-$2.000.
Because of our positive experience with Mexico thus far, its proximity to the U.S., its time zone, Jus soli, and my intermediate Spanish, we settled on Mexico. But which city?
We were alarmed to fall pregnant in an area known to have the Zika virus. However, we did find that the level of fear in U.S. chat forums was incommensurate with the reality. This is, of course, another very personal issue that we would not presume to advise other families about, but we can share our own experience.
In Playa del Carmen, we tracked Mexican Zika cases at this website. We also now know that 15% of pregnant women who contract the Zika virus will experience a negative effect, i.e., microcephaly, Guillain-Barre syndrome, or infant death. Not that this makes it a risk worth taking, but since we were in Playa when we got pregnant and had already booked plane tickets back home for two months later, these facts put the risk into context. During the first two months of pregnancy before we could leave Playa del Carmen to return to the U.S., I used every prevention measure I could, knowing that if I did in spite of this get a bite or two, the odds were still overwhelmingly in favor of a healthy baby. (Yes, we know the sex! You’ll have to read our next Nomad Baby post to find out 🙂 )
The most important way to avoid a bite was to avoid going outside during the cool early morning hours and the cool early evening hours. Even in countries like Mexico and Thailand where mosquitoes are ubiquitous, you’ll rarely get a bite during the heat of the day unless you’re in a shady, verdant area, for instance a shady backyard or a pool grotto. In Thailand in particular, we noticed that the mosquitoes were murder during the fifteen minutes of sundown, and non-existent in sunny, open areas. I was also more careful about going outside after it rained. By staying inside during the bad hours and slathering myself in DEET whenever I did go out, I avoided all but one bite about every two weeks. Though I haven’t been officially tested for Zika, I just had my five month ultrasound, and all signs, including the normal measurements taken at five months, are normal.
Guanajuato: Our city of Choice for Giving Birth
Though we loved Playa, we wanted to explore more of Mexico and get out of the Zika zone. Reaching out to our nomad network, we got several great recommendations for San Miguel de Allende and San Cristóbal de las Casas. Both were cities that many nomads had visited and loved, and there is currently a big expat community in SMA. Both cities were also at high elevations, outside of the Zika zone. San Cristóbal is in the far south of Mexico close to Guatemala, and we ruled it out because of flight time and price to the states. SMA looks wonderful and lovely, but the cost of living is a little higher than what we’re looking for. We found out that Guanajuato, a nearby city, boasted the same beauty, layered history, and vibrant culture as SMA but at a lower cost of living.
So we booked tickets and a weeklong stay in an Airbnb. We’ve now been in Guanajuato for a week and have found a year-long lease, a doctor, and the beginning of what we suspect will be a long and rewarding relationship with this beautiful city. Now that we’re settled in, we’ll be posting frequently again! Thanks for sharing our big nomad news. Read our next posts about Guanajuato and Nomad Baby to learn more about this amazing city, and what a nomad pregnancy has been like so far.