Whoa. My Lady is Pregnant.
Breathe. Deeper. No, take a really deep breath. Sit down. You look like you could use a drink. Beer? No, something stronger? Alright, brown liquor it is.
Your life isn’t over. Instead, it just got better. But it did get more challenging, more rewarding, more in need of you taking responsibility, and infinitely more blessed.
Okay, the color is returning to your face. Fine Kentucky Bourbon is good medicine, eh? Now we can get serious. Because you have to.
First of all, assess your circumstances. Hopefully, you are in a stable, loving relationship with a great woman with a good job. If you are, you already have a leg up and are off to a great start. It is possible, however (even probable, given the author’s personal experiences with people in Southeast Asia) that this is an impromptu happening, maybe even a surprise. Those of you in such circumstances don’t have to despair, however, as there are ways to begin your life anew, as you bring new life into the world.
The First Few Days.
Put that bourbon down. We’ve got to get to planning.
First, take care of her. Make sure she feels safe and secure and is happy about her health. She will have a thousand questions for you and take time to think things through before you answer.
There is no need to go out and buy a bunch of baby things yet, you have got some time to wait, plot and plan. Emotions are high and you both have wildly different expectations about what will happen during the months to come.
Now is the time for research, learning, and sipping bourbon. I said “sipping,” mate, that was a gulp. Not to say that I can blame you.
First, let’s turn to everybody’s best friend, the internet. There is a lot of terrible misinformation out there and so beware of falling into silly traps because you are emotional and overwhelmed. Your nation’s embassy is a great place to start. First of all, they are on your side. Second of all, their internet technology guys are the best! They have a website that is always up to date and easily navigable. Back in the days before constant net access and wi-fi, the Foreign Service staff had to answer a lot of stupid questions, which was time-consuming, money intensive and kept them doing their real important jobs, like spying.
So your country will have step-by-step instructions online as to how to fill out the paperwork and forms necessary to declare your child and his or her dual citizenship as well as navigating the hazards and happiness of giving birth overseas.
Now, this is a tricky issue, but we are friends (Kentucky Bourbon is magic for making strangers best of buddies, isn’t it?) and we address it straight out. How is your relationship with your parents? And are you going to be able to call them and say, “mom, dad, I have some news for you.” And, if your lovely lass (and the lovely baby she is carrying) happens to be a bar girl, how are you going to deal with that?
It will certainly be easier if you are living in Thailand, teaching or working, and having a stable life. But for many expats, that is not the case. Knocking up a bar girl on your two-day layover in Bangkok on the way to Phuket is not as easy thing for anybody, much less dear beloved old mom.
Your choice on this issue, is obviously, up to you. But I would recommend calling your parents as soon as possible, hopefully with joy in your voice. That will help get things off to as good of a start as possible.
As for telling her parents…More on that in an upcoming column, because we don’t have enough bourbon left to deal with it here.
Those First Few Weeks
Hopefully, things will have settled down a bit and you are enjoying the flourishing of the new life within your lovely Thai girlfriend. Or is she soon to be your wife? We have columns on Thai weddings coming up, so stay tuned to this column for more advice on that!
Find a good echo-sound technician and visit her regularly. These “sonic snapshots” of your baby are incredibly cheap here in Southeast Asia and are one of the foundations of prenatal care. Furthermore, a good echo-sound technician will know many of the best obstetrician-gynecologists in the area and can put you in touch with somebody that you and your girlfriend or wife are both comfortable with.
You probably will even have the option of a bi-lingual ob-gyn who can speak English to you; Thai medicine is very sophisticated and your care will be world class; many Thai doctors train overseas in English speaking countries to have access to the latest in medical education.
A good ob-gyn doctor is crucial. In Southeast Asia, these skilled professionals are often women and she will become your wife’s best friend, surrogate mother, and guiding hand throughout her pregnancy.
Hopefully, your pregnancy is progressing nicely and everybody is happy and healthy. You will be getting a lot of questions as you go out. So don’t go out. Just kidding mate, how else will you drink your bourbon? As you go out, remember, you will be getting a LOT of stares. A lot. As we mentioned above, staring in Southeast Asia is not considered nearly the taboo it is at home, and whatever taboo there is left associated with it, it is completely dwarfed by the taboo of a mixed-race relationship and an interracial child!
Later in this blog post, we will deal with the expectations and stereotypes foisted upon inter-racial children, but you can begin training yourselves as a couple now. Have polite, simple, and pat answers for the questions people have and their (often accidentally) rude statements. Keep a smile on your face and love for your child in your heart. Most people are just trying to break the tension they feel in the presence of a mixed race couple through humor, however blunt and ineffective (not to mention spectacularly unfunny) their statements may be.
On the health tip, expectant mothers in Thailand are checked up on by their gynecologists (I told you how much influence the ob-gyn would have on your lives) at a monthly or even weekly appointments until they reach the final two months of pregnancy. After that, the visits become more frequent. Feel fortunate, Thailand has excellent pre-natal care, better even than some poor and rural areas of America or Europe.
By this time, you will know which hospital you will be attending. More than likely, it will be the hospital closest to your residence as Thailand’s traffic can be unmanageable, with hours-long traffic jams. The jokes about Thai moto-dop, remork, and taxi-cab drivers being trained as housewives to deliver babies may be apocryphal, but women do give birth “in-transit” so be over-prepared, have your ob-gyn on speed dial, and have done a practice routine so you don’t panic when the precious time comes.
And it is kind of scary if a little bit overblown. The Zika Virus has come to Thailand. We are not a medical blog and so you should seek your information about the problem elsewhere, but it has caused a significant public health scare. Spread by mosquitoes, it can cause some pretty frightening birth defects and you should take all appropriate precautions, including mosquito repellents and sprays safe for pregnant woman and sleeping under both a fan and a mosquito net.
As of this writing, thirty pregnant women with Zika were being monitored in Thailand. So far, six of the women had given birth without complications or any birth defects and sixteen out of Thailand’s 76 provinces have confirmed cases of Zika since January this year, according to the health ministry, but no birth defects or deaths have been reported, according to the news service Reuters.
So keep your Thai love and that cute little bean growing inside her safe.
Congratulations again! You have a happy, healthy, bouncy little boy, delivered with care and ease by the best healthcare system in Southeast Asia. Here is a Cuban cigar and a bottle of Kentucky Bourbon. I am glad things went well, I told you they would if you followed the simple, pre-natal plans.
Ah, the burn is so sweet as that goes down. Okay, now, let’s get to work. You have a bunch of paperwork to do now, and I know you don’t want to do it. You are tired (imagine how your lady feels!)
The birth of a baby must be registered within one month (or thirty days) of your baby’s birthday. This is hugely important because according to the Thai Embassy, it is only legally recognized if the birth is registered and this must be done at the district office (khet/amphur). Also, there is a fair bit of supplementary paperwork needs to be filled out before an official birth certificate can be issued; of course there is, this is Thailand. The paperwork for everything is voluminous.
Complicating things for you further, all paperwork is done in Thai. We would highly suggest hiring a marriage lawyer or an expert translator for this process! This is because district offices are small and understaffed, to the point that reports say that at most district offices there are few, if any, educated, competent English speakers. Therefore a translator should be arranged and are highly recommended. As with most things in the Kingdom of smiles, visits to the official places are not by appointment. You queue in line, like at the grocery store or the movie theater or at the pub.
As we have mentioned above in the introductory paragraphs, the birth of a child to expat parents should also be registered at their own embassy. This is for many reasons, primarily the child’s birth being recorded in the home county. Different nations have different requirements, so as mentioned above, read your embassy’s website and its instructions on the birth of children abroad very carefully so you can have all of the requisite documents.
In this specific example, you will need to be in possession of theThai birth certificate and it must be translated into English, so there is another reason to hire professional help to guide you through this process. You will need copies of both your passport and that of your wife, your marriage certificate (if there is one) and the processing fees charged by the embassy to do the file the paperwork. As we have said, different embassies have different fees, so do your research, and be prepared for extended processing times, in some cases.
As the Child Grows
Some mixed race children speak about not feeling accepted by either of their races, but hopefully a well-loved and well-adjusted kid will feel positive about both sides, so this shouldn’t be viewed as a problem, but an opportunity. The first step to helping your child feel accepted by both sides of its heritage is establishing a strong and stable environment. Preferably, you should find an environment with other mixed race kids. In Thailand, that should not be difficult as you and your partner will likely have many expat friends and know many other interracial couples.
This is because you can’t help how other people treat your children, but you can do two other things to minimize the damage their casual, accidental racism (and occasional outright hostility) causes them. Living in a town or a neighborhood with a lot of mixed race kids will, first of all, minimize the number of racially charged interactions they have with adults (you can’t judge children by the same standards as adults; kids will say anything, especially the ones, like yours will be, who are multi-lingual!). Secondly, you can teach them to hold their heads high in the face of racial intolerance by teaching them that those who are intolerant of different races are the ones who have the issue, and not the mixed race child.
But people will talk. Oh, people will talk. You can’t help what other people say to your children, but you can place them in an environment where these interactions are limited. Do not shelter your child and don’t be a helicopter parent, but pick your neighborhood with care. A community is hugely important in Thailand and you are going to need the people around you to help raise that beautiful kid you are having. And grow some thick skin; most people’s questions are inquisitive, poorly worded or accidentally thoughtless and not intended to be malicious.
People don’t think before they speak and this results in your children having to respond to poorly worded questions like “what are you?” or “is that your real mother?” I am the father of mixed race children and we are constantly asked, “Is that your real daughter?” We comically deal with this by me reaching out and touching her as to figure out whether or not she was hallucinating or an apparition or a spirit. “Feels pretty real to me,” I say, which always makes my kid laugh.
It will quickly become apparent what sort of these questions you will be dealing with on a regular basis. Therefore, once armed with a little experience, you can teach you kids short, truthful answers that are polite yet shut down further inquisition. If you don’t make a big deal about peoples’ questions, your child will learn to chalk them up to simple curiosity (and truly, most people mean well, something just gets short-circuited between their brains and their tongues) will answer them without feeling awkward or singled out.
Ready for another spot of bourbon, mate? Good, I am, too.
Mixed Race Kids and Ethnic Identity.
Identity is a huge issue in today’s hyper-modern society. David Bowie taught us that. Just kidding mate, just kidding, (it was Lady Gaga). Your child will have a number of options as to how to identify herself and with whom. This is another way in which being mixed race is a blessing and not a burden; it gives your kid some choice in how to construct her racial identity, whereas other kids are pretty well forced into that by being born to homogenous parents.
The best thing to do to help your kid identify herself is to teach children that racial identity is far, far more complex than where you were born than what someone looks like on the outside. Anthropologists, which is merely the fancy academic name that people who study culture give themselves after finishing college, are always telling us that “race is a social construct.” Simply put (why don’t academics ever put anything simply) that means a race is just something we have made up ourselves and sort of agreed on. The key words there are “sort of.”
How mixed children choose which race they feel more comfortable “identifying” with (and I am even, as an anthropologist myself, uncomfortable using that limited and challenging word, but it is convenient shorthand here) is based on a variety and for many kids, complicated and personal set of choices. These factor include but are certainly not limited to their physical features, speech patterns, cultural interests, and family bonds.
A pair of mixed race kids who look as if they belong to different races or even different families may or may not identify in the same manner. Furthermore, this accepting modern environment allows to identify and racial identification to be fluid and changeable at the child’s comfort. That is a fascinating topic for investigation, but far, far outside the purview of this column! But think about it as your child makes friends.
If You Can, Live in a Multicultural Neighborhood
If you can the ability and if you want to really embrace the diversity of your relationship and your child, you should make every attempt possible to live in a city or in a neighborhood with other mixed race families. In Thailand, this will not be as hard as it may be in, say, Nebraska.
By living in an environment where they recognize their own diversity and the diversity of others, it does not ensure that your children never face problems because of his mixed-race heritage, however, it does the odds that your child will be seen as something different, something strange and worthy of ridicule, instead of just a typical member of the human family.
Continuing on the theme of identity and identification, living in a diverse neighborhood will ease the burden of your child having to ease the burden of racial identification. In homogenous neighborhoods, mixed kids are going to stand out and they will often feel forced to “identify” with the dominant race. In a diverse neighborhood or city, they can feel freer to associate with their own, self-chosen, friends.
Some children have a very little burden with identity and happily and easily pass as both races or their chosen “look” of the day. This is especially true if they are surrounded by kids like themselves. Not every child feels his or her racial identity is a burden, far from it, some move through both races like water through the sea.
Those who do tend to identify strongly with one race or other usually do it upon parentage, even more so than physical appearance (because as we said before, race is a social construct, so physical appearance, especially when children are young, can be highly deceiving) Often, mixed children will begin to assert their racial identity based on which parent they relate to best or spend the most time with, whether through work, school, or other issues of separation.
Another way to inure (but not immunize) your mixed race kid to prejudice is by taking a real and genuine interest in the cultural background of your wife and your lovely new Thai baby. Now that you have a curious and fast growing (and fast learning, as well, trust me!) kid, make an honest effort to learn about Thai customs, language, and values. This will show the beautiful youngster that you don’t have to be born into a race or culture to love, appreciate, and practice it.
Some expats, especially long-timers, become alienated from their cultural heritage, due to years away, bitterness, loss of connection, or just never loving home that much in the first place. But it is important if you want a well-integrated, racially-balanced kid with a strong and stable identity to recognize your cultural heritage and make an effort to reconnect with the parts of your home that are meaningful for you.
If possible, have other family members visit (Thailand is a tourist wonderland, after all). Their connection with their new family member will help ease the pain and trauma and discomfort some folks feel around interracial kids and couples, especially those in their own family! It will take time, so keep calm, and have a sip of Kentucky Bourbon.
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