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  • Writer's pictureRachel Ogilby

Wait.. am I a "Mom Who Has Done It"? Full Circle Motherhood In Paris

“So, how did you do it?” My new friend asked me. We were talking about motherhood while living in a foreign city away from family. Still, the question caught me off guard. Clearly she had me confused with another mom who had her life together.

With a hint of confusion in my voice and Imposter Syndrome perched on my shoulder, I asked my new friend. “You... you want to know how I… how I did it?”

“Yes! You are living away from family, neither you or your husband speak French. How did you do it?” She sat back in her chair, waiting patiently for me to answer.

It took a full afternoon for me to realize that her confidence in me was valid. When I discovered this, it nearly brought me to tears. I had entered France as a pregnant, American woman who knew about four phrases in French. I could string together a few unhelpful Spanish phrases from my high school studies. I didn’t know how to navigate the metro let alone the healthcare system. I was afraid to use the bus because I assumed I would get lost. I had one friend in the city, a colleague of my husband’s.

And now, I would be exiting France two children later, having successfully navigated healthcare and childcare. I had made beautiful, sustainable friendships. I had met fascinating and empathic people who inspired me to be kind and curious.

I had acquired enough French to get by. I had learned to parent in a foreign city without a family member nearby, my husband and I raising our children in a 500sq ft apartment with two stories of spiral staircases to haul the stroller up and down.

I was proud of this all, certainly, but it wasn’t the best part of our time here. At least not in this moment.

I thought back to how my relationship with this new friend had begun. Prior to our coffee date, I flipped through our text conversations. I felt embarrassed as I tried to refresh my memory – where was she from? How old was her baby? How long had she lived in Paris?

I could chalk my uncertainty up to post-partum mommy brain and sleep deprivation, but the truth was that I talked to a new person nearly every other week; I sought out recommendations for upcoming trips to new countries, asked where I could donate baby items, and tried to sell old books or toys. I also gave advice to other moms who were looking for help if I could.

As I thumbed through our messages, my memory was jolted. “Oh yeah!” I mused. “We gave her our old baby bath and car seat a year ago.” I kept looking through our conversations and realized we had also talked about pelvic floor therapy, how to initiate childcare searches, and even had the common conversation about mom guilt and sending our babies to be with the creche caregivers instead of home with us.

I thought about my friend’s question. How did I do it? The answer was simple, really.

“Other moms,” I said. “I can only attribute the success we’ve had in Paris to meeting other moms, their advice, and their support.” It was true.

I had only found our first babysitter through an app recommended to me by another mom. I had only found our son’s first child care opportunity, a halte gaurderie, by another mom posting about an opening in our WhatsApp group.

I had only found out about applying for financial help through another American expat. I now knew to buy used strollers and clothes through and via… other moms. I even knew where to find peanut butter, baking powder and American cheerios, but only after seeking out help from a wise group of moms here in Paris.

I also credited other moms for my ability to be honest about motherhood. I could relate to the moms who were riddled with guilt about sending their babies to daycare while (gasp!) not working (or working!) and could also tell them openly about the help I needed. I have a house cleaner. I have a therapist. I use Picard (frozen food that cuts meal prep in half) for most of our meals.

Months ago I would have felt ashamed to admit these things. But now, I had seen the impact it makes on other moms. They realize that they are not alone. Even if we make it through the birthing process un-scathed, something else will come kick us in the butt.

Breastfeeding. Sleep training. Colic. Older siblings. Our body’s’ slow healing. French paperwork. Just the sheer fact that we are no longer around the comforts of our home country.

As our coffee date came to a close, I realized in amazement that I had been an impactful resource for this new mom. It may sound silly (especially as I write blog articles about our life in Paris), but I hadn’t considered myself a wealth of knowledge.

I certainly hadn’t considered myself a Mom Who Has Done It (successfully entered, navigated, and survived motherhood in a foreign country).

However, the realization washed over me as I walked back to our apartment. I smiled and noted my new revelation. Has my time in Paris become full circle? Is this, maybe, what it feels like to have some closure to our time here?

The insight that I had transformed from a person in need of help to a supportive resource for other moms filled me with purpose and affirmation. I thought back to the literally hundreds of moms and parents who had given me advice and help over the last three years. Is this… is this full-circle motherhood in Paris? I mused to myself.

I felt a nudge of permission to leave Paris. I had acknowledgement (and even proof!) that I had made a positive impact on the moms and families around me. I felt my sense of peace about our upcoming departure notch an inch higher.

I had regifted this knowledge to new moms who were just a few steps behind me in motherhood. I had tips for reaching out to daycares, I had connections with other moms who knew how to navigate systems, I knew to remind families to apply for financial help through I had the up and up on the English-speaking midwives/pelvic floor therapists/pediatricians.

I had helped other moms in their motherhood journey. This, THIS had to be one of the best parts of my time here. I was suddenly as light as air and I practically skipped home, my leftover pastries tucked in the nook of my arm.

I walked past Victor Hugo Plaza, a quick walk from our home, and eyed a bakery I adored. I crossed the street just to marvel at the sugar-studded loaves of brioche. I took a picture of one and sent it to my mom along with a voice note describing my morning.

“I am smiling so big! I didn’t realize I had been that helpful to someone! It makes me feel so good. I’m so flattered she wanted to treat me to coffee before we moved away.”

I continued along my route after resisting the bakery purchase, knowing I would cave later as we bought our daily baguette before dinner. A new voice note pinged on my phone. My mom was awake in the US.

She chuckled back in her response as she congratulated me on my positive morning. “It’s like you’re discovering you’re wonderful, even though everyone else has known it all along.”

Such a mom. :)

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