Motherhood in New Zealand- My experience as a first time mom in a foreign country

10 February 2020

Motherhood in New Zealand

Content is king, right? So when I wrote an interview piece for Shilpa from Pretty Simple Life Blog and wrote pretty well at that, I couldn't resist asking her if I could share it on my blog too. If you didn't figure it out by now, I blog for myself, for my future self. I love documenting my journey and this interview portrayed my motherhood journey so well. Shilpa asked such good questions. They really got me thinking. I'm sharing her blog post (unedited) below. I hope you like it. While you are at it, do visit her blog too (linked here). It's a treasure trove of all things life. She is really doing a phenomenal job collating motherhood stories from around the world. 

Interview below- 

Hello lovely folks! 

In 2020, it is going to be my endeavour to bring interesting, insightful and helpful content for you and I have many exciting ideas planned for the same. First among them is the Motherhood Around The World series wherein I would seek to interview moms living around the world on their parenting experiences in the country of their residence. It is always so intriguing to know how motherhood and parenting happen around the world and the things we can learn from women in other countries. First in this series is Nishu, the wonderful woman behind the blog LipsnBerries. Nishu is a young mom living with her husband and toddler daughter in Auckland, NZ. I first came across Nishu's page through mutual friends and her posts have had me hooked ever since! She's one of the warmest women you would find on social media and I am so excited to interview her! Honestly, speaking to her on motherhood makes me want to move to New Zealand right away and have babies there! Hope you would enjoy reading it too:

Could you please tell us a little about yourself.

I’m Nishu. I’m an Indian (Punjabi) living in NZ for more than a decade. I’m a fairly new mum. My daughter Aiza is now 16 months old, born in September 2018. I’ve been with my husband Sunny for about 15 years now, married for 6. We have a place to call our own in Auckland. I am a Forensic Biology Technician by profession. DNA is my jam! I was on maternity leave for 13 months and have joined back the rat race not so long ago. I blog about my life, lifestyle, parenting, travel and beauty finds over on lipsnberries. Blogging is my passion. I take immense pride in my honesty. I’ve been typing my thoughts and reviews since 2012. 

NZ mom blogger

Aiza is a beautiful name! What made you choose this name?

My husband picked this name and I liked it. It means noble/respected in Spanish. We wanted something different but also short and easy. We did not know the gender of the baby we were having so we picked a boy’s name and a girl’s name before the birth.

Side note: Unlike India, couples in NZ tend to know the gender of their baby as early as 18 weeks. You actually have to make a special effort and let the medical professionals know each time you go for a scan that you don’t want to know the gender. These days people plan a gender reveal and colour-themed baby showers on a grand scale so not knowing what we were having was a bit hard to digest for some who like to plan and control everything in life. We were all good with this. My husband hoped it was a boy (Naruto!). I secretly hoped it would be a girl. I won!

NZ for indian babies

What was being pregnant in New Zealand like? 

I felt that NZ is probably one of the best countries to be pregnant! The support was immense. As someone who has grown up a bit isolated and having no clue of the what and how of pregnancy and baby-rearing, I appreciated every bit of care and support from the system. I think if I can feel adequately equipped and ready to take on the job, anyone can. I’ve never felt motherly so I had no interest in baby-rearing before my own. Hence, all the information and support that came my way was a godsend. 

The public healthcare system funds the entire pregnancy bill for permanent residents and citizens. There’s a small fee to pay for scans but that’s about it.  I am free to choose my own midwife. The midwife saw me every few weeks to monitor progress. I even changed my midwife in week 36 because I started reading and researching about hypnobirthing and waterbirth in particular. My chosen midwife hadn’t done a water birth and she recommended me to a colleague, who was absolutely brilliant. She was so calm and so gentle. Never pushed a thing on me and honoured my birth plan even though she wasn’t 100% on board with HypnoBirthing. She was all about natural births and we connected instantly. I made sure I dropped off a Christmas present to her doorstep as a Thank You! 

On the work front, my employer was very supportive as well. As I work in a lab environment, they gave me instructions on tasks and chemicals I should avoid. I was at my workplace until the day of my due date. Even though some colleagues were freaking out at me being there till the last minute, the managers were supportive. The paid maternity leave is 22 weeks in NZ currently. I wanted to work for as long as I can so I could utilize this leave to be with my new baby. I ended up extending my maternity leave to 13 months from 5 months I had initially planned. I loved being home with Aiza. The employers were very supportive of my decisions. I still do reduced hours at work as Aiza is breastfeeding. 

Side Note: we don’t get full pay while on maternity leave in NZ. It’s less than half of my pay paid for 22 weeks (about 5 months). This will increase to 26 weeks in the near future. 

I had no family support while pregnant and during birthing. It was by choice. 

breastfeeding support New Zealand

How was your experience of childbirth in a New Zealand hospital? 

The maternity care is public in New Zealand and it’s free. We have local maternity centres for each geographical area (like 15 km-ish). When a woman is pregnant, she can choose her midwife from the list of midwives, preferably one that is closer to home so the visits are easier when nearing due date. As the due date approaches, our midwife encouraged us to pick a local maternity centre. We visited a couple and I was confused between two - one that was a bit far from home (about 20km) and was very open and clean (posh). Another option was my local maternity clinic which was a bit old, tired, small but cozy. We eventually went with the one closer to home (old one). It was still amazing. I managed to get a private room there. Husband could go home multiple times a day and fetch stuff. The plan was to have a waterbirth at the local clinic. However, due to certain complication at the last minute, I was rushed to the hospital from that clinic while in labour. Hospital care is free too. I delivered my baby-girl drug-free and via natural vaginal birth. I came back to the local clinic within 4 hours after the baby was out. 

The hospital was busy and really had no spare beds. That is the reason the system wants women to birth at their local maternity clinic. 

Natural births are encouraged and preferred in NZ. Unless there is a complication. C-Sec is done rarely. 

I stayed in the maternity clinic for 3 days. Only women are allowed overnight so I was alone with Aiza at night time. As a first time clueless mom it was nerve-wracking. However, the midwives and nurses were available on the buzzer at all times. Sunny (my husband) was there with me all day. We learned how to take care of the baby while at the clinic. We learned how to breastfeed, change nappy, give her a bath and all the small baby things. My in-laws arrived 10 days later. 

My midwife visited us at the clinic. She also visited us regularly for 6 weeks. My episiotomy stitches got a bit inflamed so she attended me quite regularly. She made me feel comfortable the entire time. She even lent me her Haaka breast pump when my milk came and the breasts were engorged (& painful!). I used her pump for 2 weeks and then bought my own. I’m still using that pump every day. Best investment ever!

Before delivery, I attended a one-day antenatal class/seminar with my husband at a community centre. In those few hours, they taught us all we needed to know about birth, contractions, timing them, nutrition, etc. They had a form there for to-be mums asking what kind of support they desire in future. I didn’t know what that support would look like but I filled out the form and typed in breastfeeding. I had no clue about breastfeeding but I was quite sure I wanted to feed my baby naturally. A few weeks later, a lactation consultant contacted me. She enrolled me under her care. 2 weeks before birth, she came home with a doll and some breastfeeding instruction videos. She answered all my questions and demonstrated the process on the doll. I obviously didn’t know what the real deal would look like. She then came for a visit as soon as we got home with the baby. We were struggling with breastfeeding quite bad. Aiza just wouldn’t latch. There was a lot of crying (both parties) and sore nipples. The consultant supported me like a mum. She taught the basics again. Got Aiza to latch. She visited every few days initially till our supply & demand was established and then every few months, until we hit the 6-month mark, when she came home to congratulate me for exclusively breastfeeding the baby (with a cute certificate even!). We didn’t have to consider formula once. She was quite adamant that I (and my body) are more than enough for feeding my baby. I’d forever be indebted to her. This level of community care in NZ has my faith restored in humanity. 

New Zealand mother

I think for the New Zealanders and people the world over, you have a fine example in modern motherhood and parenting in your Prime Minister, Ms Jacinda Ardern herself. I mean, the lady attended the UN General Assembly with her baby!

Yes! Indeed. NZ is also the first country in the world that let women have voting rights in 1893. Jacinda Ardern represents our country and its values really well. Her partner cares for the baby full-time while she leads the country. Women do have equal rights in everything here. As per recent stats that I shared on my Instagram stories the other day, NZ is also the second-best country in the world for women entrepreneurs! 

What is a day in your life like now?

I work from 9 am to 3 pm. I started from 2 hours a day and have gradually increased my hours to 6 hours they are currently. The goal is to work full-time 8 hours but I’m not willing to leave Aiza sleeping, without our morning hugs and feed, so looks like I will be doing these reduced hours for the next few months. 

I get up, pump milk, clean & change the baby. We have freshly cooked breakfast together (which I assemble the night before). I then leave her home with in-laws to go to work. I write all of Aiza’s daily meals on a post-it note on the fridge. All her meals are prepped the night before. My mother-in-law has to just heat and serve. 

I come back home in the evening. Aiza greets me in the garage and stays on my hip from that moment to the time I feed her to sleep. All she wants is Mumma if I’m home! It’s very special but it’s also very draining. We did a hike today and she refused to be in the baby carrier on her dad. I had to carry her on my hip the entire way and back. It was back-breaking for sure! I’m hoping this separation anxiety will pass with time. For now, I honour her wish and be present with her. 

baby friendly new zealand beach

We co-sleep and at 16 months, she gets up twice for her feed these days. 

We then have an hour to workout/play ball/go outside to the park/read books before it’s family dinner together. 

After she sleeps, I turn the baby monitor on (watching her with an eagle eye) and do household chores, like making our breakfast, our work lunches and Aiza’s meals. I also work on my blog and my side biz which is content creation for other small businesses (Lipsnberries_media). I edit photos, videos, update Instagram, make to-do lists for the next day and do everything under the sun that I couldn’t when Aiza was up. 

Some nights I read a few pages of some finance book. 

On weekends, we go to the pool, do grocery shopping, meal prep for the week, go out for walk/hike, library-run, work on my side biz creating & editing content, chill with Aiza and sometimes go to the Gurudwara with in-laws. 

What is your (and husbands) parenting philosophy?

We are not following any philosophy as such. My mantra with parenting is the same as it was during pregnancy - I don’t want to google or ask other people. I don’t want their experiences to shape mine. I want our parenting to be authentic and natural. Currently. it’s mostly Indian as we are both very proud of our culture. We talk in Punjabi at home and hence Aiza can speak a lot of Punjabi words now. 

Ultimately she is a born kiwi so she will slowly transition into one. Our role now is to strengthen her bond with her roots. 

family support in new zealand

How is bringing up a child in New Zealand different from bringing them up in India?

To be honest, I’d have no clue as I’ve not raised one in India. Ultimately, every parent has the best intentions for the children at their heart. I can only talk about how we are trying to raise our child. I am a big believer of staying in my lane and not pointing fingers at others. We all do what we know best. 

My general philosophy is to respect Aiza. I see another human in her. I don’t see her as a silly child. I treat her as I would treat a fellow adult. I respect her feelings, I read her signs. Our parenting is child-centric. We are attuned to her feelings. We trust her to be the best judge of what she wants to do, how much she wants to eat or how she talks or behaves. We set boundaries and it’s her free will within those boundaries. 

I try not to tell her ‘No’ at everything she does. No is reserved for things that are non-negotiable. No means no. I encourage curiosity in her. I answer her million questions each day. As she hasn’t watched TV yet, books are her world. Even though I’m married to a Virgo (perfectionist!), I am all about being imperfect and embracing the flaws. I wish for the same in my Virgo kid ;)

Both me and Sunny are passionate about gender-neutral parenting and equality, hence we are actively working to not expose Aiza to Indian stereotypes. We avoid pink and blue on her too (unless it’s gifted). Our parenting ideals are very fluid. I am learning each day from various resources so we keep improvising and keep getting better at it. There is no right or wrong way. We all do it differently. 

summer Christmas in new zealand

In general, do you see any differences in Kiwi and Indian children?

Like I said, I don’t like to point fingers. As an introvert, I’ve never really hung out with people with kids before I had my own. Even now, our focus is on travelling and spending time outdoors. So to answer the question, we’ve not spent enough time with Kiwi or Indian kids to form an opinion yet. 

What has been the biggest surprise about parenting in New Zealand?

Lots of things are different. Children aren’t entitled to parents wealth. They start distributing flyers when little and have part-time jobs in their teens. They earn their money. Another surprise is adults paying for their own education by taking student loans (interest-free from the government). Similarly with weddings. Children pay for their expenses and there’s little monetary help from parents. As an Indian kid whose entire education bill and wedding (and even some of house purchase deposit) were funded by parents, it’s an eye-opener. We are truly lucky. 

On the flip side, I also feel our Indian parents are forever working to provide the best for their children. They lose their identity raising them. They cease to live their own life. And of course when they are old and sick, there is an expectation to pay back in time and care (and rightly so). So there is a huge pressure and responsibility on both parents and children. Kiwis care for their kids till they are 16-18 years and they are done. They enjoy their retirement travelling and living it up, not cribbing about how other relatives are doing. 

This has also meant that kiwi kids feel less supported by their parents and thus sometimes have mental health issues as adults. 

maternal care in new zealand

Does anyone from your family live with you? 

Yes, currently my mother-in-law and father-in-law are in the country. They go back to India in a couple of months. As per their visa conditions, they can only stay in the country for a max of 6 months at a stretch. I will enrol Aiza in a daycare near my work when in-laws aren’t here anymore. Having them is a huge plus. I like that Aiza doesn’t have to leave home. She is comfortable, safe and supported in her own home. 

We did not have anyone around during pregnancy, labour and childbirth. As I was aiming for a natural, drug-free waterbirth, I did not want anyone around me. I wanted to be 100% comfortable and in my zone. When Aiza arrived we managed her alone for 2 weeks. Two clueless beings and a little crying baby. It was amazing. We got to bond with her. Know her well. We shared caring responsibilities. There was no unsolicited advice. I kept my pregnancy hidden from social media and only posted two days after the baby was here. This prevented any anxiety or social pressure. 

If you have a supportive partner and you both are willing to give it a go, taking care of a child alone is very empowering and also a great opportunity to bond. Lots of skin to skin in those weeks. 

When it comes to motherhood or parenting, what do you miss most about India?

I regret Aiza not having access to her maternal grandmother. I miss having my own family around. Other than that, I’m quite happy with the life we’ve made for ourselves in Auckland. 

post partum care in new zealand

Aiza has already travelled to 10 countries in the first year of her life! What is your motivation behind making travel such a core aspect of your parenting? Or is it just a family tradition as a couple which you continued after the baby?

Both. It is a family tradition to travel atleast once a year. It is also a core aspect of our parenting. Both me and sunny love travelling. We love to hike, explore, be outdoors. We want to instil this wanderlust in Aiza. I hope she gets to see the entire world. There’s so much joy and learning in travelling. It gives you a new, much wider perspective. It opens up your mind to new ways of thinking. It builds empathy. We want to continue travelling with Aiza for as long as she lets us. 

Recently on Instagram, we had a discussion on body-shaming of babies. Have you had any experience of the same with respect to Aiza in NZ or in India? Do the Kiwis comment at all on any aspect of the children or is it just an Indian National hobby?

Like I mentioned before, we are a bit aloof and don’t hang out with many people. However, even with minimal interactions, I’ve noticed our countrymen are quite blunt with their remarks. I get quite triggered by remarks/comments on physical features. I don’t want anyone to call my child fair or dark or tall or short. If someone calls her skinny, I call them out on the spot. In my books, it’s not ok to comment on someone’s physical features. It does seem to be quite a commonplace in our culture to say things that cut deep, casually. I’ve had a few people comment on Aiza’s weight when she went to India the first time. I made sure I reminded them that every child is different and I have no say in her body type. I’ve had an odd comment on Instagram as well but nothing major. I make sure I get my point across. These days, I get comments on my own weight and health.

Kiwis have a very laid back attitude. They don’t meddle in other peoples life. Most don’t care how you look, what you wear or what you do. They stay in their lane. 

antenatal classes in auckland new zealand

Lastly, would you like to say anything to moms all around the world?

Ahh, I’m just a first-time mom learning the ropes. I don’t know if I’m qualified enough to give any advice. 

However, I’d like to say we moms are badass! We nurtured the kid, we gave them birth, we nourished them from our body, we are attuned to their every thought and mood of theirs. We are their world. So please don’t let anyone tell you how to raise your child. You’ve come this far, you’ll figure out the rest. As a primary carer, you are your child’s best teacher. They are learning from you each day. They don’t learn from your words. They watch our action. So model your best behaviour. Don’t fake it, kids will know. Be the best version of yourself. Model what you want your child to learn. I believe having Aiza has made me a better person. She has nudged me to better myself each day. I don’t stress about how I’m going to raise her because I know I have to work on myself first. She learns from me. 

She will be what I am. Like I am what my mom is. 

Another wise nugget would be to respect your child like you’ll respect an adult. Empathize with them. Understand how hard it must be for them to communicate big feelings without words. Treat them with respect. Respect their boundaries. Don’t force them to hug someone if they don’t want to. Don’t force food down their throat. If you won’t do something to an adult, don’t do it to a child!

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