Finding Myself As A New Mother In Namibia
Words: Kaylan Reid Shipanga
Getting your footing as a new mom is hard for anyone—but it can be even harder when you’re living in a new country.
In my 20s I had such fanciful ideas of what motherhood would eventually be like for me. I imagined morning stroller walks to the park and drop offs at my parents. I would decorate my social life with all sorts of get togethers with like-minded brown mothers.
Instead, life spun far away from my cozy and comfortable expectations. My induction into parenthood bore little semblance to anything I had ever envisioned for myself.
I am an expat mother. An African-American mother abroad living in the southern African nation of Namibia. I initially moved to Namibia as an adventuresome 26-year-old. A job teaching abroad brought me here and allowed me to fulfill my dream of living on the African continent. I ended up falling in love with a Namibian man, who soon became my husband. Namibia swept me off my feet and became my new home.
I chose to deliver our first child at home in New York for the higher quality healthcare. My postpartum recovery was pretty comfortable because I had a strong support system. Eight weeks postpartum my husband and I flew back to Namibia to begin our “real lives” as new parents.
But I dreaded leaving New York. I knew that returning to our small Namibian town would be a drastic change from the bustling avenues of Manhattan. And as I suspected, motherhood on the continent quickly became anything but ideal.
“Drowning” In My New Home
One of my biggest issues was how little social support I had locally. My in-laws were five hours away, and I was relatively new in my husband’s small town. I left my job, apartment, and social life in Namibia’s capital to spend married life by his side. So there were no family, friends or babysitter I trusted to drop my infant son off with for a break or date night. No girlfriends to chit chat with over coffee. Aside from supermarket runs and shopping at the tiny strip mall, there are very few things to do where we live.
My first year of motherhood in Namibia was isolating. I was drowning in boredom. Social media made it seem like all of my American mom friends were living much more vibrant lives. Everywhere I scrolled I saw photos of mom meet-ups, playdates, girls nights out, and baby drop offs at the grandparents. This was how my life was supposed to be.
Instead my days were very routine. I felt trapped in a cocoon of breastfeeding and never-ending diaper changes. A movie theatre or mani-pedi spot would’ve been glorious for my spirit. I’d read so much about the importance of self-care for new mothers, but it seemed completely unattainable to me. I was facing obstacles that had never plagued me throughout my earlier years abroad in Namibia.
Back home, videos of fatal police shootings captured the attention of Black America. Consequently, many African Americans envied my life abroad. After all, I had escaped the States and was living the African dream. People repeatedly told me how lucky I was to be in Africa. Voicing my frustrations was sometimes met with opinions that I wasn’t appreciating my life abroad enough. I did recognize the blessing it was, but it was also an intensely difficult period in my life. Few had any understanding of just how challenging motherhood in Namibia was for me. And as amazing as my husband was, even he couldn’t fix what I was missing.
I wracked my brain trying to figure out how to deal with my misery. I felt I was being robbed of my right to enjoy and embrace motherhood. And I was angry. This was not how motherhood was supposed to be for me.
Finding Myself In The Quiet
Not only did I want a more exciting life, I also yearned for some sort of identity outside of being a mother and wife.
Working a 9 to 5 wasn’t an option as I didn’t know anyone else I felt comfortable leaving my son with. The closest thing I had to a job was my blog, which had gone a bit dormant as I adjusted to motherhood, but I still received supportive emails and comments from followers. As my son grew out of infanthood and into a more regulated schedule, I had a little more free time on my hands. I started feeling the fog of my first year of parenthood begin to lift. Once in awhile a poem would hit me, or an email from a reader would inspire me. My passion for writing and blogging was slowly returning.
I started to publish interviews again with other African Americans living across Africa on my blog. In my quiet moments, I penned reflections on my life in Namibia, and every now and then, I would write an article and receive rave reviews. It started to click that writing was something I had a knack for. What I perceived to be a boring life actually led me to rediscover my craft. Managing my blog felt like a small, but promising, light into a new world of possibilities for my future. I felt less cornered by motherhood and had something to stimulate my spirit and channel my restless energy.
Throughout what has been a testing two years of motherhood in Namibia, I could never pick up the phone and call my own mother. She died 10 years ago at the age of 52, from a pulmonary embolism. I think it was simply caused by exhaustion. She was a phenomenal mother and coincidentally, also a writer. She devoted herself to motherhood and rarely put herself first.
So, in her honor and memory, I have learned to be patient and gentle with myself. I’ve recently enrolled my son, now 2, into daycare, recognizing the few hours to myself will make me a healthier mother and wife. With him in daycare, I’ve had have more time and energy to devote to my own professional writing endeavors. Though trying, these two years have been a lesson in how a monotonous period of life can also be clarifying for the soul.
And as I’ve accepted my redefined purpose, the Namibian sun shines a little bit brighter, the way I remember it did when I first moved here. I once again feel swaddled by the continental energy that enchanted me years ago. I’ve rediscovered the treasure I knew living in Namibia to be.
Kaylan Reid Shipanga is the founder and editor-in-chief of African American in Africa, a rapidly growing collective founded on the need to amplify the perspectives of travelers and expats of color across the African continent. A native New Yorker and Howard University journalism graduate, Kaylan has worked in broadcast, print and online media in both the U.S. and Namibia for news platforms such as the NBC News Washington Bureau. She chronicles her experiences abroad in Namibia, where she is currently based, on her website and Youtube channel Afro American in Africa. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.