How Do You Prepare for Birth Overseas?

Apr 18, 2024 | 0 comments

We are delighted for this four-part series on birth overseas by Chandler Gilow of The Global Birth CoachToday Chandler shares the second article in this series: 

Having a Baby Overseas: A Chat with Chandler Gilow (Read here)

How Do you Prepare for Birth Overseas? (Read below)

What does Dad Need to Know about Birth Overseas? (4/23)

What are the Unique Challenges of Infertility, Miscarriage, and Stillbirth Overseas? (4/25)


John and Brooke just found out they are pregnant during their first term abroad. They are ecstatic and, after a time of waiting, start announcing it to their team and family back home. Amid all the excitement, they quickly realize that figuring out the logistics of birth in a new country is unexpectantly exhausting. John and Brooke can be any one of us!

Preparing for birth involves multiple layers. Birth is not just a single-day event. It is a significant life event that opens the door to an entirely new stage of life: parenthood. It is the birth of a child but also the birth of a mother and father. While other births may come, this birth will only happen once. Because of this, parents need to prepare their minds, bodies, and spirits so they are anchored as their world changes, build resilience to pivot when needed and, ultimately, to thrive. 

If you’re not pregnant yet, but know that you hope to become pregnant or are in the age range where a pregnancy is not out of the question, here is the advice I’d give to you:

1. Connect with your culture.

For the last two years, I have been able to teach a pregnancy class during pre-field training. My first recommendation is to incorporate birth into your cultural acquisition. When giving birth abroad, there is a great deal of information related to the cultural and logistical aspects of birth. If you wait until you are pregnant, the next nine months will feel like a steep learning curve. However, birth is a universal human experience. If you slowly start asking questions from the beginning of your time in the country about what birth looks like for them, asking their birth stories, getting familiar with your healthcare system, and asking what is expected of mothers in the perinatal period, you will not only have a great way to connect with local women; you will also have a more solid foundation to build on when you become pregnant.

2. Prepare mentally and spiritually. 

For couples living outside their passport country, an added preparation step needs to be addressed: processing their transition abroad. Many couples who give birth for the first time abroad have made the transition in the last three years. The first term overseas can be trying and stretching in new ways for the parents individually and as a couple. The perinatal period can be wildly unpredictable. I would love to see couples who are trying to conceive or who recently found out they are pregnant focus their energy on unpacking their transition, make use of burnout assessments to evaluate where they are, and identify any areas they might benefit from additional support to help them move toward health before the baby arrives. 

3. Arm yourself with knowledge. 

It is ideal for mom and dad to start learning about birth in their heart language as early as possible. What do I mean? I’m glad you asked.

Early in pregnancy: In the U.S., couples do not usually start birth education until later in pregnancy. I encourage couples giving birth abroad to begin a birth education early in pregnancy. There are two primary reasons for these recommendations: first, most couples are already maxed out with culture and language stress, leaving them with little margin to absorb new information. Starting a class early gives you time to absorb essential information slowly yet deeply. Secondly, if medical care is provided in your second language, you need as much context as possible to understand what is being said and make decisions confidently. 

In your heart language:  Local classes can be very beneficial because they provide a window into local care and allow you to meet local parents in the same season of life. However, unless you are functioning at a high level of language, they should not be your primary source of birth education. To adequately educate yourself on such a formative life event, you will be most helped if the education is offered in your heart language so that the information is absorbed more fully and you can interact with the information on a deeper level. 

Both mom and dad: I am a firm believer that both parents need to be equally educated about birth, but I have found that it is even more necessary when navigating birth cross-culturally. Advocacy plays a considerable role in cross-cultural birth, and parents can only advocate well if they know what to advocate for. Additionally, speaking in a second language during labor can be very challenging, making it vital for the dad to know exactly what the mom’s hopes are for her birth so he can speak on her behalf and protect her space when needed. Dad being educated also helps him understand what is happening and can reduce fear in the event of something not going according to plan.  

As I said in this interview, I’m a birth nerd. I can literally talk about the world of birth all day long. While birth talk may not be your idea of a good time, my hope is that by cultivating conversations between spouses and overseas providers, the season can be less exhausting as they step forward in confidence. What questions do you have? I’ll meet you in the comments!

Photo by Centre for Ageing Better on Unsplash

Chandler Gilow

Wife, Mom of two little girls, Registered Nurse, Lactation Specialist. Founder of The Global Birth Coach. Based out of sub-Saharan Africa. 

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