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Freedom of a mother

Credit: Linda

Our reader shares her view of what freedom means for her as a mother living between Turkey and Germany.

When asked about freedom, I wanted to write about freedom of choice as a mother. I am a mother of two, a 4-year-old girl and an 8-month-old boy, both amazing children. I am German, but we live in Turkey, in the city of Edirne, near the Greek and Bulgarian border. I gave birth to both of my children here.

I feel very privileged when I think about the freedom of choice that I have. I know about families that are staying apart because the mother has to live in another country for work; there is a lot of work migration from Eastern to Western Europe. Turkey is rather a destination for migrant workers from even further East nowadays, like our friends from Afghanistan, young fathers working in Edirne, leaving their wives and children behind, in order to support their families.

As a mother, I also had the freedom to choose where to give birth to my children. We moved to Turkey when I was 3 months pregnant. At the time, I was very unsure whether I could imagine giving birth here, in a foreign country with a foreign language, under the care of a health system I knew almost nothing about. In hindsight, I am more than content about our choice to stay here. The health system is very professionally managed, and I had the freedom to choose a natural birth (instead of the predominant birth style of planned cesarian in Turkey). 

My gynecologist was very much in favor of natural birth. In the Turkish medical system, the gynecologist who supports the woman during pregnancy is also with her during birth, together with several nurses and a midwife. I have heard stories from friends in Germany, that they were often left alone as a couple during labor for long periods, as clinics in big cities are too busy and understaffed. We ended up staying in a hospital after birth for another night because it was so comfortable and the staff was so supportive to us in this new situation.

Having a baby (especially your first) doesn’t leave a lot of freedom for the parents. It is not easy and has its ups and downs, but the most important thing about raising children is having support and people around you, in my opinion. 

With my parents-in-law living only 15 minutes away and my husband being self-employed and having flexible hours, we could always go see the pediatrician together. Again, I heard about the desperate hunts for an appointment for the third-day routine check-up in cities like Munich – all pediatricians would be full or not accept new patients. 

I always felt very supported as a mom and see it as a positive thing for my children to be able to stay and interact with other people, even if it is just for a few minutes when they are very small. They are learning from a variety of humans while knowing that the love and care of their mom are always there when needed.

I also had the freedom to choose to start working again very soon after birth, when my daughter was 4,5 months old, which is more than unusual in Germany. Due to the governmental regulations such as paid leave and job guarantees for parents, the vast majority of moms there stay home with the baby at least until it is one year old. Dads usually stay home for 2 months only, as governmental support in Germany provides 14 months of paid leave that can be shared among the parents, with one parent needing to take at least 2 months. Dads mostly do the minimum.

I had the freedom to work part-time, 16 hours a week on two days during the first year, then moving up to 25 hours a week. I was working from home on my computer for my company in Germany, while my daughter was with a nanny/house helper, a local woman a little older than me who had never worked before but was more than happy to earn money herself, a very positive, smiling, much-loving friend for both my children and me. 

When my daughter was 14 months old, she started going to kindergarten for several hours a week. She loved it and had a very good balance of only sleeping at home, getting enough rest, and enjoying the interactions with other children. 

We had the freedom to travel to Germany every two months with the baby. The trips helped us establish a good, trusting connection with my part of our family there as well. It also allowed my daughter to learn German as well as Turkish.

I had the freedom to choose not to buy all the luxury, woolen or wooden made, seemingly eco-friendly clothes and toys for my daughter that seem to be the necessary (but very expensive!) standard for the middle-class parents in Germany. I kind of pity the families living in Munich, for example. I see them as victims of the need to earn the money to make a living in this expensive city. Being forced to maintain a certain level of income gives them a lot less freedom of how to structure their family life and life in general.

I had the freedom of choice to do a couple of work trips to Germany and Western Europe when my daughter was around one year old. My husband would spend the day with her, going to the zoo, the aquarium, and making me a little jealous of their adventures.

During the pandemic, the newspaper columns on parentship in Germany were full of complaints about how difficult the situation is, how parents have to balance work and child care, how little politicians think about families and their needs. 

I was feeling for them and supported their desire to be heard. Nevertheless, I think that instead of complaining, we should make ourselves more aware of the possibilities and the freedoms we have. 

I can personally say that we did not suffer due to the pandemic. Of course, we were all scared at the beginning. I was mostly afraid of what would happen if someone in my family in Germany would get sick and I would not be able to go see them. But we adjusted quickly. 

I continued to work. The kindergarten closed for some time, because of safety concerns. Our nanny and then my husband were able to stay home with our daughter for a month each, then her Turkish grandma looked after her for two months, and after that the kindergarten re-opened and we chose to send her there again.

It was a free choice for us to have a second child, but it was not our first choice to become pregnant during the pandemic. Nevertheless, I have not regretted it at all. Doctor appointments were a bit more regulated, and during birth, the father couldn’t come to the labor room, but he could be at the hospital. It was the opposite of Germany, where the fathers were allowed in the labor rooms only, but not in the hospital in general. Pushing the second baby out only took me 15 minutes anyway, and then my husband, our new child, and I were reunited.

With my son, we could not travel to Germany as before due to the coronavirus, but we had the chance to move there temporarily for a few months when he was 3,5 months old. The car trip from Turkey to Germany usually is a 16 hours drive, plus one night spent in a hotel. It is not easy, but doable, and we have done it several times already. In fact, it seems to be the most common way of travel for Turkish families living in Western Europe.

Because we chose to move for 4 months, my firstborn could experience kindergarten in Germany. I found it to be a very enriching experience for her and she enjoyed her time there a lot. I think German kindergartens emphasize much more that children play freely and with less organized activities than Turkish kindergartens. Teachers in Turkey establish a somewhat closer connection with the kids, interacting with them very lovingly and warmly. In our temporary kindergarten in the German village, everything was closer to nature, with a big garden and kids watching little frogs grow.

In Turkey, our kindergarten is all-inclusive and flexible regarding food and eating times. When we get there late, at 10:30 am, for example, the teacher would say: « Has my little sheep had breakfast yet? No? Then I will prepare something for her.»

I find these differences only enriching, and I am happy my child could experience kindergarten in both countries.

Here we are now, excited about what else we will see and live through as a family. I want to repeat my point: instead of complaining, we should make ourselves more aware of the possibilities we have and the freedom of choice. And that often, choices are not made easily and freely, as we have specific stereotypes about different countries in our minds. Such as that life in Turkey must be worse and more difficult than life in Germany.

I have learned to see the good and difficult parts of living in both countries. I do not really have a favorite place to live in, but I encourage everybody to explore and not trust the stereotypes and fears. Even if moving to a different place with two kids means packing a lot of stuff and traveling, while one of them needs to be breastfed every hour. Organizing this is exhausting and can make you cry in between doing what needs to be done. Hopefully, your family and friends will be there to help and support you. But either way, if you muster the courage, you will experience a lot of amazing things and enrich your life.