Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Our Miracle Boy

Something extraordinary happened last week. Something quite wonderful. My son, Elliot Nixon Ward, was born.

Weighing 9lbs and 55cm in length from top to toe, Elliot is the most precious, miraculous thing to ever happen to my wife and I. We are smitten by him and I am in awe of them both. In awe of what they went through to get to this point and bursting with pride and love for my growing family.

I sit in Elliot's nursery feeding him. One tiny, miniature hand clutches at my shirt while the other reaches for the bottle, minuscule fingers gently touching its plastic side, almost guiding the bottle to his sucking mouth. Two plump white legs kick out. Perfectly-formed feet start to twitch, the newborn skin slightly chapped on their soles. Teeny, tiny toes curl one by one revealing small nail beds on each toe that have now turned from white to a rosy pink.

Elliot Nixon Ward, born 19 November 2012

He has a soft blond fuzz covering the tops of his chubby arms and along his fleshy shoulders. A light dusting of fair hair coats the back and sides of his fragile head and his skin smells of brand new baby - I want to inhale his newborn fragrance over and over.

As he finishes feeding from the bottle, he smacks his lips together in satisfaction and leans back, arms stretching out above his head. In a state of milk drunkenness, he closes his eyes, a dead weight in my arms. His eyes briefly open and he looks straight into my own as if to say "I'm done. Thanks, Dad."

This is Elliot, our son. Elliot, who arrived in this world at 6.33am on the 19th of November. Elliot, our miracle boy. For Elliot is an IVF baby and a truly wondrous miracle of the modern world.

Unable to conceive for reasons unknown, we watched him grow from a minute embryo to a robust and thriving baby boy. We waited nervously and impatiently, hoping and praying he would make it beyond those early weeks to become the wee man we cradle in our arms today.

Our love for him is all the stronger because we wanted him so very much. For two people who advocate travelling and exploring the world, these passions suddenly caught up with us. Our frequent moves delayed our decision to start a family and age overcame us so we went down the IVF route. Looking upon Elliot's face as he sleeps, I'm filled with unbridled joy. Regardless of the means and the method, we did it. We are finally parents. Elliot's parents.

His arrival on Monday was, in itself, something of a miracle.

With an umbilical cord wrapped tightly twice around his neck and a heart rate plunging with every contraction, the call was made to get him out fast. After labouring for many hours with an epidural to boot, Sarah was exhausted and distressed, but we knew what had to follow to ensure the health and safety of mother and child. It was a no-brainer.

After a tense emergency c-section, Elliot was delivered safely into his mother's arms. There was an immense sense of relief in the operating room - everyone was okay and the right course of action had been taken. We will be forever grateful to the English midwife that queried a chart that at first looked quite ordinary and the Australian obstetrician that made the immediate decision to operate. I have no doubt in my mind that the actions of these two people saved Elliot's life.

A few days later, I came home from visiting mum and bub in the hospital and sat on the floor with Milo, my other 'furry' son. As if sensing my unease, he lay his head down on my legs and let me stroke the soft fur under his neck and gently play with his ears. The events and worry of the past two days smashed into me like a tidal wave and I broke down where I sat, overcome by what I'd seen my brave wife go through yet ecstatic at the birth of my son.

This morning, I had a cuddle with Elliot in his nursery. I scrutinised his features and saw myself, a mini-Russell, staring right back at me. Pursed lips, ears with a tiny crease at the top, fair hair and a pair of long, lanky legs. Then he smiled and it changed. I saw my wife - her pale and unblemished skin, piercing blue eyes, strawberry red cheeks and, thankfully, her nose, not mine.

On the wall of the nursery hangs a picture that reads "Let your little light shine". This is your time now, Elliot. Time for your miraculous little light to shine.

Welcome to the world, little Elliot. World, meet Elliot Nixon Ward. Our own sweet miracle.

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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Crying Game

Last week, I posted on the need for honesty when writing about life abroad.

This week, Johanna Castro is guest posting on ISOALLO about one of the hardest parts of living overseas - saying goodbye.

Johanna is a freelance writer living in Western Australia. In her words, she "champions voyages of discovery to dream places and quiet spaces. Helping you to 'Live for the moment, Love adventure and Do something awesome', her travel and lifestyle blog, Zigazag, aims to entertain and inform. You can also find her on Twitter as @johannaAcastro". In this sponsored expat post, here's what she has to say about goodbyes...

The worst thing about deciding to live overseas for good is saying goodbye to family and friends back ‘home’.

It really hurts.

And it doesn’t get any easier as you get older. In fact, I hate to say this but I think it gets worse. For each time you go back on holiday, you begin to develop an attachment problem.

The only way I can describe it is a bit like a phobia of leaving. There’s this feeling that when you leave again, the emotional gap you are about to create will never be filled and what if, Oh Crikey, What If you never get to see these people again?

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons (Kellan)

Expat life

When I first left England at the age of 19 with a backpack and a guitar, bound for a job as a show jumping groom in Belgium, I didn’t really think I’d be setting a precedent that would last for the rest of my life. In fact, the first time I waved goodbye to the White Cliffs of Dover, it was quite easy to leave what I then felt were the suffocating intimacies of home. I couldn’t wait to travel.  I was young and selfish and in search of my destiny, whatever that was.

But later, I became more worldly-wise and found attachment and love, along came children and, well past my due date for settling down, I found that a life of change had become the status quo, hitched as I am to an itinerant geologist who has had the opportunity to work on projects in interesting countries all around the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved our nomadic life of new experiences in strange or exciting places but, as you get older, the pure selfishness of youth gets chipped away.

Learning to be tough and resourceful

After having children, I found that I wanted (and needed) to share more about my life, particularly the joys and tribulations of bringing up children, particularly with people who would give a damn - like the Grandies.

Both sets of our parents lived two continents away from us during our child-rearing years, on opposite sides of the world. Not good for babysitting. And not available either as sounding boards of wisdom when the going got tough.

I guess we learnt to be tough and resourceful all on our own. That was the upside to expat life, finding mentors and like-minds amongst our new friends overseas who were in similar circumstances. But they were not ‘family’ and, when the doors closed at night, we were emotionally on our own.

Expats need to be strong minded

You have to be strong of character to be an expat, especially when it comes to saying Goodbye.

“I’m going to see my daughter next month and I’m already dreading the Goodbye,” says my friend April.
For “Goodbye” is the hardest word. The word “Farewell”  denotes a possibility of seeing each other in the near future, but Goodbye feels so final and, because expats are often not too sure when they’ll be back in their homelands again to see their loved ones, its impact can feel almost death-like.

“My heart breaks each time I have to say Goodbye and, for a little while at least, there’s a gaping void which I think can never be filled,” explains my friend, Sarah.

Goodbye is the hardest word

Our loved ones wave us tearfully goodbye, as we jet off on jumbo jets to far-flung climes and distant shores with names they may not be able to pronounce and possibly don’t want to. Our loved ones may not be able to spare the cash to spend on long haul holidays and plans for holidays abroad might extend, at least for my relatives, to short breaks in France but not to Timbuktoo.

Another downside is that a medical system with similar standards in developed countries is far preferable to an emergency ward in, say, a Kathmandu hospital for someone nearing  the age of 70. Yes, I have lived in far flung outposts which have been exciting for us, but terrifying for the Grandies.

“As an expat I’m always saying goodbye. To my friends, to my family and, more recently, to my children as they have grown up and left the family nest,” says Jen.

When will we be back?

But all is not lost. Expats are often able to take the summer migration back home, courtesy of the Company’s generous allowance for the yearly ‘home leave’ – sometimes. Or you may be earning enough in the new world to be able to visit the old country once a year. But after the summer migration and a holiday back ‘home’, the word Goodbye is filled with a big black hole of doubt. Will this be possible again next year?

When will we be back?

“The thought of it tears me up, every time,” another friend said.

For if we are financially able to return back ‘home’ next year, it will probably mean forfeiting a holiday exploring the country or continent we have come to live in.

You can’t have it all. But, still, it is a dilemma.

And you begin to wonder if that kind of dilemma is selfish or acceptable and how do you live with the guilt of it anyway?

I’ve never been able to work that one out.

Following our dreams

Looking down the other end of the telescope from a mother’s perspective, the feelings are no different.

“I cry every time my kids leave,” says my friend Dee, as she waives her now grown-up children off to careers and new homes in the Middle East. “It gets harder each time they go. You do understand the dilemma of wanting them to be happy where they are, but you also want them to be close to home too. What you don’t want though is that they should feel guilty for pursuing their own dreams.”

Ah, yes, dreams. We all have the choice to follow our own dreams but, unlike clouds, very few dreams have totally silver linings.

We have a choice and we need to understand the consequences.

Then we must toss out that gremlin of a word Goodbye and replace it firmly with Farewell – and just get on with it.

What do you think? Do you find it hard to say Goodbye?

This expat post was sponsored by Which Offshore, an online consumer resource for those seeking professional information and advice pertaining to matters related to expatriate life and offshore finance, including offshore banking, investments, QROPS, retirement options, and more.

QROPS stands for a Qualifying Recognised Overseas Pension Scheme. Introduced in April 2006, a QROP Scheme is an HMRC-recognised offshore pension scheme that allows non-UK residents to transfer their UK private/corporate pension offshore, tax free. An independent financial adviser can provide advice on pension transfers based on individual specific requirements.

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Friday, 9 November 2012

The Flip Side of the Coin

This week, I received emails from several readers of this blog. The authors shared similar views, which went something like this:
  • they admired my life overseas and felt it was a near-perfect and carefree idyll
  • they were either considering a similar move or were about to emigrate soon
  • they were excited about the prospect of change and I'd helped reinforce their decisions along the way.

I was thrilled that they'd written to me and compelled to write back positively, encouraging and urging them on with their hopes and their dreams. But I also felt drawn to absolute honesty even though I sensed it wasn't what they wanted to hear.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons (Pauli Antero)

Honesty is the best policy 

Lately, I've had conversations with a number of fellow expats, ex-Brits, new Aussie citizens, call them what you will, but the same issues have cropped up in these conversations each time.

Whilst they wouldn't change their lives, ever grateful for the opportunities to travel and establish a base someplace else, things aren't always as rosy as they might appear. The folks I spoke to were happy and hopeful for the future, but certain issues kept niggling away at their day-to-day living. I wanted to share some of their experiences with you.

It's not always easy to be entirely truthful in blogs about expat life when we have the kind of audiences that we're fortunate to have and when we generally want to share the best bits with you. But sometimes it pays to be sincere, especially if you're the one about to emigrate overseas or you're daydreaming about a possible move, and a dose of full disclosure could be the most useful thing you've received all day.

What I think you want to hear

You read about my life - and the lives of others like me - and you want to learn more about what makes these lives seem so appealing.

You want to hear about the highs of living abroad, from the near perfect weather to the beachside living. You want to hear about the comparably low cost of living, the booming property market, the plentiful job opportunities, the endless outdoors activities, superior schooling and accessible health care, and the ease with setting up an international bank account or gaining a mortgage in the country of your choice.

You want to hear that life in another country, on another continent, is immeasurably better than the life you could be leaving behind. You want to know that the possibilities are boundless, that the idea of picking up and trying something out of the ordinary will improve your life, not make it worse.

Living in another country can be everything you want it to be and more. In the past nine years, my life has improved beyond measure and I owe a large part of this to my decision to pack up and try something different. But my life is far from perfect and I wouldn't want you to think that it was.

A coin has two sides

A common theme that came up in the conversations with my fellow expats was the family issue. Quite simply, they miss them. They see each other once a week on Skype. They go for months without physical contact. They sometimes feel like they're starting to drift apart.

They return home for a visit, excitedly sharing over Facebook how happy they are and how good it is to be with family, how they've missed everyone and how they intend to keep them close. Then, as the visit draws to a close, the mood changes. Tears are fought back and it's goodbye, not knowing when they'll see each other again. Jo Castro, a British expat living in Western Australia who writes at Zigazag, will be guest posting next week on the emotional roller coaster of living away from friends and family.

Another issue that came up in conversation is the feeling of isolation when they return to their new home. Often, the people around them feel like strangers, when only weeks before they were exciting new friends. One friend from the U.S. said he finds fault with the people he comes into contact with and he regularly mourns those well-known faces that he's recently left behind.

For others, the news suddenly seems foreign and conversation at a social spot like the local coffee shop becomes stilted and uncomfortable. The ease with which they spoke with close friends in the motherland not two weeks before has gone, replaced by lingering doubt and unease.

Interestingly, everyone I've spoken to realised something else. While they might have been 'living the dream', they soon noticed that a large part of their day-to-day life was not the perfect idyll they expected. In fact, it wasn't that different to the one they'd left behind. On the surface, their lives had fundamentally changed - they now spent weekends at the beach or sailing on the water, hiking in the bush or enjoying seafood near the harbour - but their weekly routine hadn't.

They still went to work each day, sat in snarling traffic jams, and fought the daily stresses of workload and office politics. In a couple of cases, they'd settled for a career or role that was inferior to the one they'd resigned from back home in the desperate push to get out here. They'd expected everything to change but, in reality, some habits and routines would always stay the same. Some had found that they'd initially settled for less in their attempts to gain more and all of this was taking a bit of getting used to.

These are hard truths, they're not necessarily my truths, but I feel that they need to be put out there all the same. What do you think?

Are there things you wish you'd known sooner about living away from home? Have you been guilty of not sharing the whole truth about life in another country? With hindsight, what are some of the things you should have told others about?

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