We sent off the application for baby A’s British passport today. With that safely in the post, and no American passport in the pipeline (though she can get one in the future, I suppose), I feel I can admit it: I am now a much happier expat than before I gave birth.
Now, when I say ‘happier’, you should understand that I am in fact veering between delight and desperation most days, but that is probably how most new mothers with a moderately fussy baby feel. And I do often wish we were living near friends and family in Britain – less for sentimental reasons than the selfish thought that they might offer to look after baby A for an hour or two to give us some time off. But what I mean by ‘happier’ is that I’m not feeling nearly so resentful of living abroad. I’m struggling to make out why this is, but I have four main possible explanations.
1) Resenting living in America was a trivial self-indulgence, the kind you can afford when nothing particularly catastrophic is going on in your life. When you can’t manage more than six hours sleep a night, and are confronted with a distraught baby who cries at full volume several times a day and takes all your energy to calm her down again, the question of which country this whole experience is happening in feels a bit technical.
2) The process of giving birth in an American hospital, getting baby A into the healthcare system and legally registered was daunting. Now we’re over all those hurdles, there aren’t as many things involving the world at large to worry about.
3) I’ve had so many nice encounters with people around Evanston that it would be churlish to keep on hating the place. Wherever I go with baby A people stop and ask her her name and how old she is, remark on how beautiful she is, and – sometimes – tell me how well I’m doing. (There are exceptions like the bank security guard who was determined to tell me that I was letting her get too cold, but they are the rarities.) No one has batted an eyelid when I’ve nervously breastfed in public. Bus drivers have got out of their seats to help me with my
stroller buggy. There are lovely people running the local baby shop, Adeline’s Room, and the Baby and Me yoga class at Evanston Athletic Club; and the librarians at Evanston Public Library acted as if we were giving them a huge treat by bringing a screaming A into their midst a few weekends ago. And people we barely knew gave us lovely presents for A, too.
4) This last possibility is the most troubling. Could it be that by having the major life experience of giving birth here I’ve finally become a proper expatriate? By which I mean, I suppose, that I’ve become a resident alien, rather than someone tapping my foot waiting for the next plane out. Somewhere in the midst of the sleep deprivation I have let down my guard and accepted that my life is actually happening here, in America.
But maybe, as people say about the crying baby stage, this too shall pass.