Having a baby is a miraculous season of life. It’s a strong cocktail of fierce love, overwhelming change, and surmountable challenge. Adding to your family when you’re halfway around the world and in a foreign hospital adds another layer of complexity, excitement, and obstacles. Our second son was born in Iwakuni, Japan this January. The transition from one to two babies in a foreign country hasn’t always been easy. We are closer together now, more than ever, despite the hurdles of delivering a baby in Japan and discovering our new rhythm as a family of four.
Looking back now that our baby is a few months old, I can pinpoint several things we did that made this transition easier for our family. Don’t get me wrong, “effortless” and “predictable” are not words any parent would use to describe life with kids. But there are some ways to make those first few months of change a little smoother.
TAP INTO YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM
Living in Japan, we don’t have family nearby or able to travel to us. We have had to rely heavily on our military family. The amazing thing about OCONUS living is how tight-knit the community is because we’re all so far from home. We rely on and support each other without a second thought. We’re all in the same boat and everyone takes turns asking for and needing help. And those first couple of months, we needed it.
When our first son was born, we were offered a meal train and declined. My husband is an excellent cook and we didn’t want to inconvenience anyone and make them go out of their way for us. This time, we said yes to a meal train and I can’t believe we were once foolish enough to turn down home-cooked meals from our friends. Not having to think about what to eat was a mental relief, especially after my husband’s paternity leave ended and he went back to work.
We also had many offers from friends to take our two-year-old for a couple of hours. This was also incredibly helpful. He got extra social interaction and we were able to focus on the baby for a little bit. Having our friends care for him was vital when I was in the hospital. In Japan, it’s normal to stay in the hospital for five to seven days after birth, depending on how you delivered and your condition. I was induced and stayed a total of six days, with my husband staying overnight the first night. Our son wasn’t born until the second day of induction. He didn’t want to come out! Knowing our oldest son was well cared for at home by our friends allowed us to focus on our newest family member. Without their support, this birth would have been much more difficult. Additionally, children were not allowed in the maternity ward where I delivered. We had friends offer to care for our oldest for a couple of hours while my husband visited me and the baby.
If you’re new to an area and haven’t yet found your community, be sure to reach out to your unit and search for a military spouse Facebook group in your area.
ASK FOR HELP
Those first few weeks, everyone is eager to help. But it’s also important to ask for it when life starts to settle back into a routine. This is the critical time to reach out when you need something. Maybe it’s picking up a few things from the grocery store. Perhaps you’re struggling with baby’s eating or sleep and need advice. It could be inviting a friend over to snuggle the baby while you take a shower. Or texting a friend for some moral support when you’re having a rough day. The first few months are a continuous cycle of your baby eating and sleeping and whether it’s your first or fourth, it’s hard. You’re in survival mode, but you’re not alone. People are willing to help. You just have to let them know how.
HAVE OPEN COMMUNICATION WITH YOUR PARTNER
You’re both walking zombies from taking turns being up with your new babe. It can be challenging to balance the workload. Especially when your service member goes back to work after a short fourteen-day paternity leave (at least in the Marine Corps). And, if it’s not your first baby, there’s the balancing act of juggling care for multiple children. Now, more than ever, open and honest communication with your partner is paramount. Talk frequently and don’t downplay your feelings. My husband and I checked in with how we were doing and what we could be doing to help each other. This was a daily conversation during those first few weeks. Sometimes I didn’t need him to fix anything, I just needed him to listen to me vent. That’s not to say we didn’t have disagreements or squabble. We did. But when outbursts happened, we made a conscious effort to apologize and speak to the root of our frustration. I was annoyed he left the dishes on the counter again because it felt like he didn’t appreciate my effort to keep the counter clean. The root of my frustration was that I didn’t feel appreciated. It was a team effort to create your baby, and you’re still on the same team. Extra communication will ensure you’re both running the same play and prevent little issues from becoming major arguments.
PRACTICE SLOW LIVING
I try to employ the tenets of slow living in my daily life. Slow living is being intentional, mindful, and conscious about your time and energy and not rushing. This is a mindset of being deeply connected to daily living, letting life unfold at its own pace, and resisting busyness. The days can feel long when you’re exhausted and overwhelmed, but this season of life is gone in a blink. I let go of many expectations of myself and my family during those first few months and focused on the basics. We made good food, played, and rested. I didn’t work on projects, start anything new, or really go above and beyond anything besides focusing on the day at hand. That’s not to say there isn’t chaos or things to do. But there isn’t a hurried frenzy and, as a result, there’s less burnout. I plan to continue living slowly and mindfully when life starts to pick up speed again. It’s a wonderful way to home in on what’s truly important in your life.
Remember, growing your family will always be challenging, no matter where in the world you are. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and make sure to give yourself a little grace, too.
Danielle Hoffpauir is a USMC wife, boy mom, freelance writer, and content creator. When she’s not writing, she loves running, reading, yoga, gardening, and anything that gets her family outside.
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