{This is article is intended for those who are breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed, but it is not meant to uphold breastfeeding as the right way, or debate the advantages or disadvantages of breast vs. bottle. If you can't breastfeed or have chosen not to, no judgement here! Maybe you can help us out by writing an article on bottle-feeding overseas.}

I was a new mom with a 16-week-old baby when we moved from the US to Africa, so breastfeeding was still a full-time job. Although my little one was not the best nurser, and certainly had a rough start, we had gotten the hang of things and I was comfortable with it. I knew that the culture we were moving to accepted breastfeeding as a normal, everyday part of life, so I figured if anything it would be much easier to nurse my baby in Africa than at home.

Whew, was I in for a surprise!! First of all, my little man was shocked to go from cold temperatures to hot as we moved in December. He would get totally drenched in sweat with the effort of nursing, and the last thing he wanted was my smothering nursing cover over his head when it was 95 degrees. Suddenly, nursing discreetly became a lot more difficult! But I worked with my technique and got to the point where I felt I could nurse modestly without a cover - especially as I realized that my African neighbors considered it totally acceptable for a nursing mom to go around without any shirt on to give their baby easy access! But my ability to fit into this cultural worldview was severely stretched one day when my husband took me & baby to the market. He wanted me to meet one of his good friends, a man who sold leather wallets, sandals, and other knick-nacks in the tourist section of the market.

When we arrived, he was occupied with a customer and waved for us to sit down and wait for him. I was relieved, as my baby was quite ready for his afternoon snack. I carefully turned my chair so that my back was to the watching world, and started to feed my little one. A few minutes later, long before Baby was done nursing, my husband's friend came over to greet us. Hubby quickly jumped up to "head him off" until I could finish, but it was no use. He was thrilled that we had brought the baby to meet him, and it never occurred to him that I might want privacy while I was breastfeeding! He proceeded to squat down in front of me, trying to get my baby's attention, talking and laughing, as comfortable as could be. I was mortified and quite annoyed! Yet it was so obvious that this was such a normal thing to him . . . just like we have no problem with playing with a baby while their mother is changing their shirt or putting on a clean diaper, so they have no problem with playing or talking to them while they're eating. Three more years and another baby later, I never gave up my desire for modesty and privacy, but I did do a better job of controlling my embarrassment when I couldn't do anything about it.

So let's open a conversation about breastfeeding - sharing tips, questions, advice. I'll start with a few things that I discovered in my almost three years of nursing two babies . . .

If you're figuring out how to nurse discreetly, try sitting in front of a full-length mirror, so you can get an idea of what others are seeing. Also ask your husband to walk around and "check out the view" from every angle.

One thing I learned about breastfeeding in a tropical climate was how easy it is to get heat rash and thrush. I found I had to put on a clean bra every single day, or I would develop BAD heat rash under my breasts. I would use cornstarch or a medicated powder (if you use the medicated kind be sure not to get it anywhere near your nipples!) sometimes several times a day to keep things dry and comfortable. In the hottest season, or when I had a bad rash that I was trying to clear up, I even took my afternoon nap completely topless to let everything dry out and air out. (A side note - the best remedy for a bad rash, on you or on baby, is direct sunlight. However this is probably not practical for most of us!)  About thrush: I personally didn't have any trouble with this bothersome fungal infection that affects both mother's nipples and baby's mouth. But I know many ladies find it to be much more common in a tropical climate. Do any of our readers have tips or suggestions on how to deal with thrush?

I also found that feeding was much more comfortable and enjoyable for baby and myself if I sat directly in front of a fan as often as possible while nursing!

Question: A friend asked me recently what I did about nursing pads. I did not need them for either of my boys, so I didn't have a good answer for her. She had tried making her own washable ones, but found that they leaked much too easily. Have any of you ladies made nursing pads? How did you make them waterproof?

 

What else? What questions do you have about breastfeeding overseas? Any funny stories about nursing in a different culture? What tips or suggestions do you have for a mom just starting out?

Here I am again. My mind running away from me, wondering if I’m doing the right thing for them. These 3 precious lives God has placed in my lap. Sometimes this lap seems too small… am I mother enough for them? Should they have more experiences, more opportunities, or are they doing too much?

We make sacrifices as a family. Right now, at 8, 6, and 4 – it’s all just a big adventure to them. But I see the sacrifices they are making. The classes we can’t afford. The summers they can’t be with friends because they are on the road with us, giving their lives to young Native American people across this country. And I wonder sometimes, “am I asking too much of them?”

But then I remember another little girl – a little blonde girl in a tiny village in W. Africa. She didn’t choose to go there – but it was the only life she had ever known. And it was a great adventure. She got to ride motorcycles over dusty red dirt, take long walks under a rain forest canopy (always keeping an eye out for the dark lines of driver ants snaking their way across the path), and drink water from underground springs. She got to fly helio couriers to and from the big city every once in a while, and of course, there were the pets – the Duiker deer, the pangolin, a genet, bush baby, the owls, and of course the dog, cat and rabbits as well. Snakes in the trees (good thing brother was a good shot), the stars at night close enough to touch, it seemed – and one can’t leave out that terrible scary night sister was bitten by a viper… Oh yes, life was an adventure!

That little blonde girl had dreams. The JC Penney toy catalog had been paged through so many times the edges were dog-eared. She had dreams of gymnastics. She saw stories of girls in the US hanging out with their friends, and here her friends were taking care of families and getting ready to be married. She harbored a love for the violin, and knew there was no possibility of getting the chance to play. And it didn’t matter much – these dreams were stored up in her heart and life just kept happening.

I moved to Los Angeles to live out my high school years. The dreams kept coming – rather than gymnastics, I longed to try my hand at martial arts. Many dreams had to be put on the back burner because of finances and other limitations. But God brought in other opportunities – art, friendships, my first real taste of deep community.

As the years passed, some dreams were forgotten – or just didn’t seem important anymore. My husband remembered, and bought me a violin – but it sat in a closet for a few years. What busy mother and full time ministry partner has time to take music lessons? And then last year, at 39, it all came full circle. I found myself not just taking my 8 yr old daughter to violin lessons, but taking lessons with her! And as my kids started asking if there was a place they could learn martial arts, I found myself a part of their class with them. Dreams that seemed so irrelevant, so temporal, had mattered to my God. And as I marveled over this, He leaned in and whispered, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25)

Suddenly I realized – there is no sacrifice made that God hasn’t already rewarded.

We may not see the reality of every dream this side of heaven, but He sees it all – every tear, every regret, every sacrifice – even those of the little ones who are along on the adventure with us. And there is nothing sacrificed that will not be matched by tenfold blessings – if we will trust and walk in His timing. “How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you.” Ps 31:19

And so when this little blonde haired girl from Africa worries about if she is doing the right thing for her own 3 little blonde haired kids, I remember – and I smile.

Sara was born in West Africa and lived there until she was 14. She continued her adventures in LA, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Amsterdam, before marrying the love of her life, Brad, and settling on the Hopi reservation. Since moving off the rez, Sara and Brad, with their 3 kids, currently have the opportunity to serve alongside Native American tribes throughout the United States, helping Native young people find their true identity in Jesus. She also does her part to keep coffee growers in business worldwide.

Many thanks to this good friend for sharing her memories and reflections on God's faithfulness. I find it so encouraging to hear from adult TCKs when I am questioning my choices in raising my boys in Africa. What questions do you wish you could ask those who were raised overseas?

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You'll have to excuse me for a quiet week - we are out of state at a family reunion right now! But I still want to hear from you - if you have any questions for our readers, topic suggestions, or if you would like to write a guest post for TCKmom, please contact me using this form.

"So... you are really going to take your kids over there...?" says a casual inquirer.

And I know exactly what she's thinking: Ebola. AIDS. Malaria. Wars, and rumors of wars.

I smile, and say: “It's really not that bad...”

But that is, actually, the short answer. Because I think she's not really interested in the days, the months, the years of struggle that lie behind MY one sentence. But what I really want to say? Do you want to hear the full story?

Dear lady, you have NO idea. We have friends who were robbed at gun point, and those who lost a child to malaria. Some who came breathtakingly close to losing their baby to diarrhea. Some who were kidnapped by a radical religious group. So yeah, that's the obvious scary stuff. And then there's all the other stuff. Such as making your kids grow up the only white kids in a village. And then uprooting them every couple years to take them “home” to the other side of the world, a place that is completely foreign to them. We have talked with people who lost their children to something much more invisible and therefore even more sinister – a bitterness over having been raised as third culture kids, over having parents who are ever occupied with other people's needs. A resentment for the lack of good education. Or that feeling of not belonging anywhere, because they were raised everywhere.

Yes, we really are taking our kids over there.

And no, we're not doing it because we think it's the most common sense place to raise kids. Because it's just, you know, really neat, and stuff. And such a good Christian thing to do.

This issue has a way of leaving the “romance of missions” far, far behind. I do actually believe there is such a thing as that romance, and for my first two years overseas, I absolutely reveled in it. I was single then, and having a blast. Of course life got tough, but it was the kind of tough that's exciting, you know? I got sick, too. But a hot case of malaria in a mud hut... that's the real deal. I confess to having such a romantic mind that secretly, I even thought that dying from malaria would be sort of.... glamorous! Heroic, you know. I wouldn't have minded.

Enter, the two little girls God has given us. And a call to a long-term assignment in the bush of Africa.

Suddenly, I have to re-think all this in a new light. Truths that we sometimes speak so glibly suddenly become acutely important; God is in charge. God loves us. We can trust Him.  He shows us His will, and we are safe in His will.

I've held no end of conversations with myself. You know? People in America lose their children to sickness – just staying here wouldn't guarantee that they'll be OK. There are other dangers here – on the roads, maniacs with guns in shopping malls... If we know God wants us to go and we stay against His will, we are in more danger. In the West, there's the danger of materialism, self-sufficiency, unbelief.

Right. But in the end, what if we do end up losing something, or even someone, because we chose to live in the African bush? Will those arguments hold up?

I don't know. For now, I know that I go back to the core, the very base of my faith; the solid ground that my soul is rooted on. I find I am desperate to know God more, to walk with Him more intimately, to KNOW this God who sent His Own Son into unbelievable danger. I don't have to reason everything out; it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is that we walk with God, today, right now. The future has never been ours. God holds it in His hand. Doesn't that sound so cliché? I promise you, it is not. And the peace that comes with it is absolutely real, too, and absolutely awesome.

I know whom I have believed, and He is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him. Trusted unto Him. Trust – this is my watchword these days.

Do you want to hear a story? This is a picture that God gave me last time we were in Africa. My baby was a year old. She was the sweetest little muffin, and she absolutely adored the baby doll we had given her for her birthday. Took it everywhere, clutched under her fat little arm. One evening I felt God was gently asking me – What if you told her one day to go down the stairs with her baby? She knows she can't hold on to her baby and the railing at the same time. What if you were right there, but she refused to let you carry the baby down because she was afraid you'd drop it?

I almost laughed, it was so funny. I gave her that little dolly, didn't I? I can for sure carry it down the stairs.

Oh... Yeah.

I get what You're saying, Lord.

 

It suddenly struck me, when my firstborn was about two and a half, that he needed something to play with. He was done with the toddle-around-and-play-with-anything stage. He was bored of the few baby toys we'd brough over when he was four months old. He had a few Matchbox cars and a small collection of MegaBlocks that constituted his daily occupation. And he needed more.

I found a few Mommy-Blogs which threatened to send me into instant depression. These moms had multiple sensory bins (what's that?), water tables for tactile play, all manner of arts and crafts ideas, and even ABC worksheets to use with special "dot markers" - for their 18-mo-olds! My children were growing up deprived! I wanted to run to the store and spend hundreds of dollars on all the important items my children were missing out on.

Except that there wasn't a store to run to. Nowhere to buy supplies for arts and crafts. No playdough. No finger paint. No dot markers. I took a deep breath and suddenly realized that somehow I made it to 30 years old without sensory bins. I even got good grades in highschool in spite of my deprived toddlerhood. Maybe my boys would be okay. ;-)

But I still wanted to find something to keep them busy, so I did a little more research, and some experimenting of my own, and came up with a great recipe for playdough. It was an instant hit, and continues to be an often-asked-for favorite, over a year later. There's so many uses for playdough, from play-cooking to sculpting, to re-inforcing learning (we count balls as we make them, or shape bits of playdough into the letters that we're learning).

The Best Playdough Recipe

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tsp. cream of tarter
  • 1/3 cup salt
  • 1 TBS vegetable oil
  • food coloring
Instructions
  1.  Mix together all the ingredients, except the food coloring, in a medium saucepan.
  2. Cook over low/medium heat, stirring. Once it begins to thicken, add the food coloring.
  3. Continue stirring until the mixture is much thicker and begins to gather around the spoon.
  4. Once the dough is not wet, remove and put onto wax paper or a plate to cool.
  5. After cooling (30 minutes) knead playdough for a few seconds.
  6. PLAY!

What activities have you found to keep your children busy? Any recipes or suggestions for craft supplies that aren't available in your location? Maybe you have a favorite playdough recipe that you'd like to share. Has anyone tried making playdough without cream of tarter?