By Clare Zeschky
I emigrated to Canada in 2008 from Scotland, a couple of years before my daughter was born. I didn’t expect to feel any sort of culture shock arriving here. After all there’s no language difference, the same TV programs, the same literature, the same music. North American culture was familiar, these were the people I had seen on TV programs and in films my whole life. How different could they be?
Before getting pregnant it was mostly a world of amusing idiosyncrasies, the small differences that make you laugh. There is an overlay of politeness and courtesy that is merely surface. The girl in the bank really doesn’t care how you are, no matter how much she sounds like she does. People, even strangers, ask questions that are more intrusive than we ever would back home, their sense of humour is different. The self-deprecating wit that serves us so well under the gloomy Scottish weather is taken as serious complaints. The answer “Not bad,” to the ubiquitous “How are you, today,” is met with frowns and concern. It’s the simple differences that set cultures apart.
Getting pregnant really compounded those. The medical system is so different. I was fortunate in having a friend who had recently gone through pregnancy and child birth. I got good advice on negotiating the ins and outs of MSP, midwives, doctors, blood tests. Again, it’s the simple small differences that made the experience bewildering. What do you mean I can’t get my blood work done in the doctor’s surgery? I need to go where? And wait how long?
There’s a lot of help out there for immigrants who arrive without English as a first language. A lot of organizations devoted to helping people integrate themselves when they arrive from other lands. Those of us who have the bonus of language are still hindered by vastly different systems that no one can easily explain. Have you tried asking someone to explain taxes to you?
After my daughter was born it seemed as though all those differences became a lot bigger. No one could see through the hearty laugh that follows statements like, “Oh I’m fine! Who needs sleep anyway?” or “Come on, it’s motherhood. We aren’t supposed to enjoy it!” And suddenly I realized how little I had as a support network. I had made friends but they were new friends. They weren’t the friends who had been with me for years, who had seen me at my worst and best, who I could call over for a glass of wine and end up in weeping, blubbery mess knowing they would have the exact right thing to say. There wasn’t family nearby, no mother to come pick up the pieces on a bad day and be that one person I could trust with my precious new baby because she managed to raise me and I am still here and alive and not too screwed up.
The world starts to close in a bit then. When you do try to meet other mums they don’t think like you. They don’t understand your humour, or your way of downplaying things. They don’t ask the right questions or say the right things. Even though they are friends they don’t see what you need. They offer a cup of tea instead of a good laugh, a walk in the park instead of a night in the pub. It’s not that they are wrong, it’s just all so different. So now you end up negotiating how to keep these odd new forms of friendship going when really all you can do is try to keep yourself going. Those things that seemed funny little differences a few months before were massive gaps in understanding.
I’ve always had a lot of social anxiety but the postpartum time became incredibly difficult. Just getting out with a new baby is a challenge but I started to hate going out because I would be so obviously different. Even something as simple as a mum and baby music class was massively stressful. I didn’t know any of the words to these songs that everyone else seemed to remember from their childhood. I found that people had a harder job understanding me because of my accent. It was frustrating. Looking back I realize it’s probably because they were as sleep deprived as I was and tuning in to my quirky words and phrases was probably terribly difficult!
It was incredibly lonely. It still can be at times. We don’t realize that we are so different when we have so much in common. As I have come out of my long postpartum period of depression and anxiety and started speaking to other mothers about their experiences I have come to realize that motherhood is a lot like emigrating. We leave our comfort zone, our place where we knew how everything worked and turned up in a strange and foreign land. So much is the same but we are surrounded by small differences that affect everything. We adapt and we grow and we change. We don’t get it right and we try again. We are lonely even when we are surrounded by people. And slowly we start to find our place, we make connections, figure things out and though we are still treading a new land, a new path for ourselves we accept the differences and learn to love them.
Clare Zeschky moved to Canada from Scotland in 2008. After her daughter was born in 2010 she suffered from PPD/A. She came to the Society as a volunteer in 2013 and loves being involved with supporting other mothers.