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Finding your feet as a new parent in Leiden

I have finally joined the proud parent club. I knew that it had happened to me when I suddenly became a Facebook baby spammer. Status updates about my latest evenings out were replaced with tales of woe about colic and projectile vomit. Now posting countless photos of my lovely little one seems like a great idea and not at all tedious for other people to look at! 

During the early weeks of pregnancy I thought I had a pretty good idea of what parenthood would be like. As I ordered a bright red pram on line (with matching parasol and coffee cup holder accessories), I imagined hubby and I strutting around town with baby, sitting in the cafes of Leiden and enjoying the sunshine.

Surely we could easily cope with the little bundle of joy that was about to arrive? Oh, how wrong I was! I can now say with confidence that babies are more time consuming than the uninitiated could ever imagine. The relentless routine of rest, eat, play which comes around every few hours means that parents can rule out having an attention span longer than that of a Chihuahua. And sleep…oh how I miss you!

Sleeplessness and responsibility are a given but as my husband and I are also expats, there’s the added factor of living away from our family. There is something to be said for having someone you really know well who is on hand to look after your beloved bundle and give you a much needed hour or so to unwind; someone who can also understand you in your sleep deprived state.

Living abroad as expats we often don’t have this unconditional support and for us, after a few weeks, it got really noticeable!

I found out that what really helps is talking to people - both health professionals and friends who are "in the same boat." When you don’t have relatives living nearby to help you, getting out and being with other new parents is invaluable. They also don’t mind if you have forgotten to brush your hair and are covered in baby puke.

So, for those of you who are finding my story familiar, here are a few examples of places where expat parents in my hometown of Leiden can get together. Please feel free add your own suggestions to the end of this article.

 Leiden babies and bumps group
This friendly bunch meets from 2.30-4pm every Monday and is a lovely relaxed way to connect with other expats and chat about the finer points of burping and baby carriers.

You can also talk about non-baby stuff which I very much hope to get round to doing - something I promised to my pre-pregnant self! It is held in the café on the top floor of V&D so you can also get yourself a nice cup of tea and a lekker strawberry tart. See the Leiden moms yahoo group for updates.

 Baby in Beeld course
For parenting advice on issues like sleep, comforting and playing with your new baby, there is a short course for new parents (0-4 months) run by the Centrum voor Jeugd en Gezin (CJG).

helen frew
Photo: Helen & Alexander

It is in Dutch but they don’t mind expats attending if your language level is good enough to understand the majority of what is said - plus they allow you to speak in English during the class. It is held for two hours on a weekly basis for four weeks and costs only 12,50 euros. Other classes such as baby massage are run by Activite.

 Playgroup
Alternatively for Wednesday mornings, I have heard only good things about the playgroup at the Vogelwijk Speeltuin. This has an international focus and both English and Dutch are spoken. Parents, grandparents and other carers are welcome.

 Online
In Leiden there are some good online sources of information. Home in Leiden is a most helpful first stop. It also explains pregnancy, childcare and schooling options. Check out their "What’s on this week" agenda.

The Leiden moms yahoo group is a forum for asking questions and organising meet ups with others. This group has great potential if more people join in.

Finally, if you need more pressing help, there are lots of people on hand. Your midwife will give you an emergency number and for medical advice you can always get in touch with the local health centre (Consultatie Bureau) or your doctor.

You may also get extra support from your hospital where you can make an appointment with the baby physio for practical tips and support.

The upshot is that through expat solidarity there is no reason to feel isolated. Share your experiences in the comments section below.

 

Helen

Author

Helen Frew

I am a freelance policy consultant. I was born in Scotland, worked mainly in Brussels and am now living in the Netherlands.

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