“I enjoyed being an expat until I became a mother in Barcelona. Then it was time to go home.” Marcela Nievas has written an exclusive article for MumAbroad Life about her experience of becoming a mother away from home and the urge to return to her home country.
When I remember my years as a new mother in Spain, it evokes many contradictions. I was overjoyed at finally becoming a mother at 40 and 43. Also, I was lonely and exhausted in a foreign country. After years of infertility, IVF treatments and the beginning of an adoption journey, I conceived naturally, miraculously – twice.
I am Argentine-born and Australian bred. An International Artist Residency took me to Barcelona for four months, and love kept me there for ten years. While my husband grew a Graphic Design company from scratch, I parented and parented, around the clock, without family or close friends. I did make two lovely mum friends there. One from my birthing classes and one from my work circle of friends. We were at identical stages of pregnancies and parenting and I have warm memories of visiting each other, breast-feeding together, children’s birthday parties and long chats. But for the most part, my days and nights were me and two needy, little humans, permanently attached to me.
Weeks and months passed. I was in a fog of broken sleep, breastfeeding, nappy changing, grocery shopping, parks, school, playgroup, home, repeat. Most days my only adult conversations were with shopkeepers and my neighbour. Spain is a culture of street conversation which was a bonus because most days, that was all I could manage. Most of them were enjoyable, but sometimes a little too direct and blatantly critical for a tired, new mother. Like the grandmothers who’d lean in to feel my child’s face and tell me to dress them more warmly, that my baby doesn’t smile enough or that my child should wear shoes at the park. But, there were also grandmothers who’d sit beside me on street benches, congratulate me for breastfeeding, tell me my children are beautiful and smile warmly at them.
Motherhood made me miss home more than ever. I missed Australian humour and silliness, the way Australians make fun of themselves (think Celeste Barber), clever conversations, the earthiness and sisterhood of Australian women. I missed Australian schedules and the 10pm noisy restaurant dinners with a toddler and baby were horrible. I had nothing to say at that time, especially if I had to shout it across a loud table. My motherhood exhaustion was real. I wanted to go somewhere quiet. I grew more and more homesick and when my second daughter was one, we moved back to Australia. I convinced my husband he could run the business from there. I told him it would be a really good idea! We put our stuff into storage (it’s still in Barcelona three years later)
and bought one-way tickets.
The first year in Melbourne was a different type of hard. I had to find us a home, furnish it, find a school, friends and activities for my four-year-old, keep feeding and taking care of my family, reconnect with family and old friends and make new ones in a new neighbourhood. Three years have passed now. We’ve bought a house and made a few new friends. I see old friends very occasionally. We are seaside, an hour away from Melbourne where I used to live. We’re running the company from here although the time difference is a killer for meetings in the Barcelona office. My parents live twenty minutes away and love having us near. I am glad to be home as I now watch my mother ageing. Next year both of my girls will be at school and I can focus on returning to work in education and the arts. I have started to imagine myself back at work, after seven years at home parenting. My CV has been updated, I have been doing part-time study for the past two years and I attended two professional development seminars last month in the teaching field.
What has struck me the most so far in this process, is the lack of confidence in myself. I worked for twenty years before becoming a mother. I was once a teacher, teacher-trainer and school director, photographer, theatre director, public speaker, travelling to different countries and leading projects. Where has all that energy and gung-ho gone? I believe it is still there, buried somewhere, under years of the insular work of parenting. Apart from the confidence factor, I wonder how I will manage it all. I see my friends do it but they seem superhuman to me. I worry that I won’t be able to take or pick up my children from school and all the moments I’ll miss out on.
However, I need to work. I need to contribute to a career that I believe in and understand. I need to challenge myself. I want to tell my daughters about my day at work. I want them to dream about their own careers. Not because that is all that will define them, but because it is a possibility and a choice they will be able to make. There is a quote, “Your kids don’t need a perfect mum. They need a happy one.” This is exactly where I am at now. I feel very proud of having being so present for my children in their early years of life. But next year, we all venture out of our home to pursue new goals. This new chapter will no doubt, bring new difficulties but also new accomplishments.
The struggles, frustrations and chaos of parenting teach us, not only how to parent but how to reinvent ourselves. As frightening and strange as it can be, at some point we have to surrender to the new version of us, be it in our hometown or on the other side of the world. I carry a little of Spain in me now and always will. For me, Barcelona saw me transform from a traveller and photographer to a stay at home mother of two children. That decade in that city holds all those memories and echoes for me. It shaped me, sometimes gently and sometimes brutally, from one chapter to the next.
Sitting in my kitchen in Australia now, I have no regrets about leaving Barcelona and returning home. We will be there later this year and I sense it will feel like a second and very significant home. I plan on travelling back there many times. It is important that my daughters feel connected to their place of birth. If there is something that saddens me, it is that my children won’t grow up with all those festivals, cultural events on the streets, music and traditional meals. They will however, have a global sense of belonging to two very different cultures, of understanding their mixed identity and hopefully, remember a rich and diverse childhood.