Most of us have imagined a life somewhere else. Maybe a different city, maybe a different setting, maybe an entirely different country. After all, living a life abroad just sounds glamorous. However, the realities of packing up your family and moving overseas are often more challenging than we might think. It takes an open mind, an adventurous spirit, and time to adjust.
Our freelancer Emily Westbrooks was kind enough to share her story of how she started her family and moved (back) to Ireland. While it may not have been easy, it definitely sounds like it has been a fascinating journey and worth the effort.
Mabel + Moxie: You've shared your adoption stories with us here at Mabel + Moxie in the past, but for those who aren't familiar, could you give us a quick summary of how you built your family?
Emily: We were living in Ireland for almost 8 years and had started to encounter fertility problems. We were told IVF would be the only way we could conceive, and we just didn't feel that was the right choice for us to grow our family at that time. We had always talked about adoption, so we looked into that route. Unfortunately, in Ireland, it's nearly impossible to adopt — there are almost no babies available for domestic adoption due to a very complicated history with adoption and the Catholic church, and international adoption is only possible with a handful of countries and, until recently, you could only adopt toddlers or children.
So we decided we'd move to Houston, on sort of a sabbatical adventure, and try to adopt a baby. We aren't from there, but we are both American citizens and we had family friends there and we used the same agency as they did a decade ago when they adopted their son. We moved everything we owned into storage and just started a new life over in Houston. We had been there for just 5 weeks (and barely had a couch and a bed in our apartment) when our daughter, Maya, arrived. We spent the next year rescue fostering short-term infants, and then were finally able to adopt our son at birth in 2017.
M+M: How did you know adoption was the right route for you and your husband?
Emily: Like so many couples, we had talked about adoption as a way we might grow our family down the line, not knowing what our fertility situation would actually be. But we both had always had a strong inclination toward domestic adoption when we lived in the States, and while it was a totally wacky idea to move 4,000 miles away to do it, we had more peace about that than we did about starting an IVF process. I honestly just didn't know if I was strong enough to deal with the uncertainties of IVF, but we both felt excited about adoption. We were very naive, looking back on our pre-adoption selves, but we are learning more every day and are very strong advocates for adoption, while at the same time wishing it didn't have to be a reality for our kids.
M+M: What is life like as an ex-pat raising kids in Ireland?
Emily: We moved back to Ireland after adopting our son. The original plan was to adopt and move back within a year — which was an unrealistic plan in retrospect, but we would have made that timeline if we hadn't decided that Maya needed a younger sibling and stayed two more years. Once our son's adoption was finalized, we packed six suitcases, 2 carryons, 2 diaper bags, 2 car seats, and a double stroller and moved back to Dublin. We bought a house here just as we were leaving in 2015 (because we knew the rental market was going nuts and we wouldn't be able to afford to even rent, let alone buy if we left it until we came back), so we renovated and moved into that in July 2018.
Honestly, it has been much harder than I anticipated to navigate being a mom in a different country, and Ireland is probably easier than most! Figuring out the healthcare system, how the school process works, and even just trying to make friends after three years away has been a hard transition. Maya started preschool a few months after we moved, and we luckily found an amazing nanny for our son. We do have my husband's family not far from us, which has been a help, but it's still hard to start from scratch with small kids in tow. Winter was tricky after spending several Houston winters parked at various playgrounds — I'm realizing my children are not very well suited to indoor activities! But we live near the sea, so we try to get them to the beach even if it means bundling them from head to toe, and we take them hiking often to get fresh air.
While Irish people are known for being very friendly, they're not necessarily as forward or outgoing as Americans, or at least Americans in the south. I'd often return from the playground in our Houston neighborhood with a plan for a playdate with a mom I'd met there earlier that afternoon. That doesn't seem to happen here, and even interactions with parents at our daughter's school are more reserved than I anticipated.
And finally, living in a country where adoption is so rare (54 adoptions were finalized in 2017 and 52 in 2018 in the whole country, and the majority of those were international child adoptions), is perhaps a little tricker than I anticipated. We are working to ensure both our kids have people in their lives who are adopted, and who are racial mirrors for themselves, but that is much more difficult here than it would have been in Houston.
M+M: What do you miss and not miss about the States?
Emily: I lived in Ireland before for 8 years; in fact, almost all of my post-college, married life was in Ireland. After my first year here in 2008, I just decided not to be homesick and I really just tried to enjoy Ireland as much as possible. And I did so much that I agreed to buy a house here! But I loved living in Houston, and I think I didn't realize how much I actually loved living in the country were I grew up, even if it was thousands of miles away from my home state of Maine. Houston is such an underrated city with the most incredible food options, and the winter weather is just delightful.
I miss Target and Amazon Prime, and I miss Mexican food and bagels and margaritas. I miss the amazing friends, caseworkers, doctors and caretakers we left behind after what was a hugely emotional three years in Houston. But honestly, the thing I miss the most is living in the neighborhood and city where our lives changed so much. I miss driving by the hospitals where my kids were born, or the garden center parking lot where I was sitting when our agency called to say we had a daughter, or the exit off the giant freeway we took to find Maya's birth mom.
Whenever we drove past those places, I could just feel those memories so strongly all over again. I miss walking through the door where we brought our babies home for the first time, where they crawled and walked and we cheered them on. I've never felt like I wished my kids would stop growing or grow up slower, but I do miss that phase of our life we experienced there. It's been hard to enter a new phase when I so loved the old one!
M+M: Not only are you an amazing mom, but you also are a freelancer writer and recently published your first book — tell us more. What does your typical week look like? How do you juggle all the pieces? Why is writing important to you?
Well, my weeks look a little harried, to be honest, and I'm not sure I'm juggling it all very well yet. Maybe by the time my kids are in school I will have it figured out! I write for about five different publications regularly and only have childcare from 9:30-1, four days a week, so it's usually a mad dash to get everything in while it's quiet and then finish everything up when they're finally in bed for the day. When my son's nanny was here, she cleaned our house while he napped, so that made our life a lot cleaner! Now it's a hot mess of toddler toys and a layer of crumbs that I'm constantly trying to keep at bay.
I wrote my first mystery novel, The Dead Samaritan, before Maya was born, but it took so long to get it finished and published and edited, what with all the babies and fostering and adopting we were doing over the last 3 years! I've blogged for years about the bright and delightful side of Dublin, but this book is the darker shadow of the city you wouldn't know about if you were visiting. My dad is a mystery novelist, so he helped me a lot with it and it was so fun to follow in his footsteps and create characters that no one else knows but us. It was a wonderful experience to get to share that with him.
I've always enjoyed writing and I think I like it so much because it's a way for me to process emotions and changes and transitions. I've been freelancing for six or seven years and I still really enjoy it. I like writing about varied topics, it keeps me from getting bored and it keeps me learning every day. Today alone, I've written about interiors, Easter basket stuffers, how we're raising our children to understand their heritage when so much of it is a mystery, and a branding book for a chromosomal deletion disorder. It's busy and fascinating, and I love the wild mix of topics.
Most days, we get up with the kids between 630/7 and get them breakfast and ready for the day. Either my husband or I drop the kids to preschool and then play school, respectively, and if that's my job I don't get sitting down to my computer until 930. I work until I have to pick them up at 1245, maybe I might squeeze in a workout before I get them. I wrangle them down for naps around 130 and hope for another hour or so of work time before they wake.
I started a copywriting company, called Wordsmiths, with one of my best friends here last year, so we usually check in and deal with any issues while my house is quiet. Once the kids wake, my husband, who is a guidance counselor and basketball coach at a few local high schools is usually home and we head out for some fresh air. We are so glad we have light kids who are amenable to hiking backpacks, because that's my favorite thing to do that always makes me feel glad that we live in Ireland.
We did miss the sea and the green when we were away. Dinnertime is always chaotic, and bedtime always takes longer (at least for the older one!) than we intended. I'm a sucker for books, and my daughter knows she can wrangle about 10 stories from me. Post bedtime, we do a round of cleaning up and I usually open my computer again. During the school year, my husband trains with his own basketball team a few nights, so it's quiet and feels like a treat to get to watch TV by myself while I work!
M+M: What makes you a mom with moxie?
Emily: Do I have moxie? Gosh, some days I'm not sure I'm doing much of anything right, but I do keep trying. I'm not the researching type (I never read a single parenting book until my kids came along, and then I only read What to Expect the First Year), but I do try very hard to understand and learn about how to parent them well. I wouldn't say I worry a lot, because that's not terribly helpful, but I do ruminate a lot on their particular situations. I want to make sure we do the enormous gifts that they are justice, and we want to honor their birth parents and their birth cultures in any way we can.
Perhaps my best skill as a mom is appreciating what total cuties they are (when they're not screeching for more pretzels or flinging bathwater out of the tub!). They make me smile so often and I try to soak that up as much as possible.
For more from Emily, you can follow her on Instagram here.