Lindsay Zielinski with her family in Thailand
My husband, toddler and I have recently repatriated to the PNW after five years of living in Thailand. It’s strange to come home to a place that no longer feels like yours, where your favorite coffee shop is now a tiki bar, where friends no longer live around the corner. It’s even stranger to realize that my daughter’s first home was Thailand, and the people who helped us make it through the first year of her life have missed the second.
Living in Thailand was very different and becoming a new mom there brought a lot of unexpected surprises. I found myself letting go of expectations of what I thought motherhood would be and how our lives would look, and instead, going along for the ride.
The best part of living in Thailand was the people. My husband and I wouldn’t have survived our pandemic pregnancy and the first year of our daughter’s life without our support system: The ones who turned into family when we were unable to go home and see our own. Working in an international school was a huge help. When my daughter was born, the first people to hold her besides us were my co-teachers. Our refrigerator was full for weeks thanks to teachers in our school who knew what the newborn fog felt like. Our couch was never empty, a revolving door of well-wishers wanting to hold the baby. I was awed by the love and community I felt from my coworkers; a deep sense of comfort brought to my anxious postpartum heart with every person who came by.
Respect and love for babies
That sense of community extended beyond my co-workers. In Thailand, babies are deeply loved and treasured. Shopkeepers reach for babies in checkout lines, restaurant servers offer to hold your baby while you eat, taxi drivers take out their phones to play lullabies during particularly long traffic jams. This felt overwhelming at first, but also wonderful. Our daughter might not have had her aunts, uncles or cousins nearby, but there was no shortage of people who loved and held her as a baby.
Something I never expected on my parenting journey was that we would be lucky enough to have a nanny. Having a nanny in Thailand was a lot more affordable than it would be in Seattle. Our nanny, Pinky, was like a mother to me in the fourth trimester, coming with me to doctors’ appointments, teaching my husband and me how to give our daughter a bath, making dinner for us, helping with laundry. As an experienced mother and nurse, she guided us through every question we had, every concern, and she made our house feel even more like a home.
Car seats are such an expected part of parenthood in the United States that you can’t even leave the hospital with your new baby unless you already have one installed in your car. I was shocked to find that car seats weren’t required or even really expected in Thailand. It was more common to see a parent holding a child on their lap in the back of a taxi than strapped and buckled in. Multiple times I would see families of four or five on one motorcycle, speeding down the road with maybe one helmet among them.
A few days after my daughter was born, we left the hospital with our car seat in hand, ready to go. The hospital staff called a taxi for us, and I took a few deep breaths as my husband secured it in the back of the cab. It was the ultimate trust exercise to let a stranger drive your newly made family into the traffic of downtown Bangkok. I found myself 7,453 miles from home, putting absolute trust and faith into a person I had never met before, praying he would get us home safely — which he did.
We used our daughter’s car seat every time we went out, but there were times we took her out of it, holding her as she screamed and our taxi driver drove a little too fast, weaving through traffic. And other times we sandwiched her between us, taking a motorcycle down the street to the neighborhood pool. With time, I no longer stared or thought twice about parents in cars holding their babies, about families commuting on motorcycles. That was the way life was there, and there I was with my family, living it.