A few years ago, as a newlywed twentysomething, I thought I had a solid understanding of the things my husband and I would need to take into account for family planning. A reliable job, stable finances, a comfortable home, a dependable car. We wanted to ensure we had a few years to ourselves before welcoming a baby into our lives, and we looked forward to having the opportunity to build our careers, travel, and simply enjoy each other’s company.
My newlywed self, did not, however, imagine that other family planning considerations would include an international move, changing visa statuses, and having to work around visa expiry dates.
My software engineer husband relocated to the Bay Area on a TN visa. I followed a year later, and shortly thereafter we switched from TN/TD status to H-1B/H4 visas. Now in our thirties, we’ve recently started feeling that the time may soon be right to start a family – especially as my H4 status means I’m currently unable to work in the United States. However, our visas are currently set to expire in September of next year. If our visa renewal application is successful, we’ll be able to stay in the US for another three years. If not, we’ll have to return home.
This is how I found myself sitting at my desk recently with a notebook, pencil, and calendar in front of me. “Okay,” I thought to myself. “If I get pregnant around May, he or she would be born around February. That would give me just over six months to get all the paperwork and the baby’s passport arranged before September, should our US visas fail to get renewed…”
I sat there for over an hour, playing around with dates and trying to work out a “safe” window – hypothetical due dates that would allow our first child to be born well before our visas expire, or far enough ahead that we’d have plenty of time to return home if need be and get settled before the baby’s arrival. As I calculated the dates, worst-case scenarios spun through my mind like a movie reel. I pictured myself 39 weeks pregnant, unable to travel, stuck in a country with an expired visa. Or sitting in California with a young baby, hoping his or her passport arrives before we have to leave the United States. Or having to leave California early with plenty of time to re-settle back home by myself, while my husband remains behind and works for his US employer until his visa expires.
Overwhelmed, I shifted my thinking away from worst-case scenarios to practical considerations. The US currently offers birthright citizenship, meaning all babies born here are automatically US citizens (with a few exceptions). Our home country considers the first generation born abroad to be citizens as well, so any children we have here would be dual citizens from birth. This is ideal, as he or she would eventually be able to choose which country to live, work, and attend university. Then another consideration crossed my mind: what if our first child is born here and our second is born in back home, meaning one has dual citizenship and the other doesn’t? Could that cause problems down the road when one can attend any American university he or she chooses, and the other must apply for a student visa?
It occurred to me then how truly strange it can feel to be at this point in life; ready to settle down and start a family, yet not knowing which country we’ll be calling home 18 months from now. I also began to understand how much of an effort in futility it can be, attempting to think through all the various ramifications (large and small) of expat family planning – and indeed, expat life in general. I realized that living this life requires an element of letting go, enjoying the ride, and accepting that some things – like visa renewal decisions – are simply not within my control.
After talking it over with my husband we agreed to hold off on starting our family until we receive a decision on our visa renewal status, sometime early next year. In the meantime, we intend to simply enjoy this beautiful state and really immerse ourselves in all the wonderful food, art, culture and entertainment the Bay Area has to offer.
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