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Bringing up baby: trials and tribulations

Bringing up baby: trials and tribulations

Australian Eliza Mialey has lived in Cambodia for six years. She and her Cambodian partner Teo, 34, own the Willow Boutique hotel. They flew to Brisbane to have their daughter Azzy-May, who is now 15 months old.

I had the baby in Brisbane and stayed with my family for six weeks until I came back to Cambodia.

I wanted to make sure we were in good hands in case anything went wrong. For regular medical treatment we stay in Phnom Penh. You can get all the vital vaccinations for children here.

Charlie Christi, six months pregnant. Photograph: Alexander Crook/7Days

Audrey Tugenhat, who is due in December. Photograph: Alexander Crook/7Days

Eliza Delbourg with her 15-month old daughter Azzy-May. Photograph: Alexander Crook/7Days

Azzy-May is ill at the moment. Last time we went to SOS it cost us a fortune, so we went to a different clinic this week and it was a nightmare. The doctors did not even take her temperature until I reminded them that Azzy has a fever and diarrhoea.

We haven’t found out what she suffers from. It worries me because she has already been ill five times. In a real emergency I would always go to Bangkok.

My husband Teo is Cambodian and he has a very different take on things. When Azzy is ill he says: “Give her some rice soup.”

There are also cultural differences in saying why the child is sick. Cambodians rest their babies in a hammock. First, I hesitated to do that with Azzy, but she sleeps very well in it during the day.

I heard that baby hammocks are actually becoming popular in Australia now.

Charlie Christi and Alex Richards, both 26, met two years ago in Phnom Penh. Charlie, who has lived in the country for two and a half years, is a teacher and Alex, who has been here for three, is a computer programmer. Charlie will give birth to her daughter in Sydney in January.

I had not planned on becoming pregnant, but I wanted to have children at the age I am now so it was not unexpected.

I’ll go back to Sydney in December, five weeks before I am supposed to give birth, and have our baby girl there. I will stay for around six weeks—unless something is wrong with the baby’s health. I have no problem with the climate because there is air-conditioning at the school where I work.

Still, I’m very exhausted all the time. Partly because of that I have no social life at all. Alex still meets his cycling group but sometimes I have to kick him out so he does not stay home with me all the time.

When the baby is born we have to be more careful with hygiene but I don’t think you have to keep the baby in a bubble. 

That’s why we are keeping the two cats. The baby will have its vaccines in Australia and the rest in Cambodia.  

Our cleaner is also our friend and she and her family give us lots advice. When we sat at dinner together with them and I reached out for the rice bowl they were all appalled.

First I thought I had offended them but they said I should never reach for anything because it would harm the baby.

The Cambodians have a really good idea of how important it is for mothers to relax in pregnancy. They also said I should not think too much, only a little bit.

We plan on raising our daughter bilingually. She will learn English from me and my partner and Khmer from a nanny. Even if we don’t stay in Cambodia forever it will help her to learn other languages later so she can expand her mind.

German Herbert Ludwikowski, 60, and his Cambodian wife Anni, 33,  have been living together in Phnom Penh for five years. Herbert owns several restaurants. Their two sons—Jan, 4, and Ben, 3—were born in Phnom Penh.  

The boys were both delivered via C-section and it was done quite professionally. I was initially very afraid that it would not be done professionally and I wanted Jan to be delivered abroad, in Bangkok for example.

That’s what all the other expat parents had advised us to do. A Cambodian friend of my partner then recommended a Cambodian clinic to us.

It all worked so well that it was out of the question that our second son would be delivered elsewhere. In the end, I trusted my partner and the Cambodian culture.

It was very easy to get German passports for the boys. We registered at the German embassy and it took only five days until we had them.

Children grow up undiscerning in Cambodia because there is a laissez-faire mentality. I try to take care of the children’s diet, their medical care and environment more than my partner does.

There are a few cultural differences that make it difficult to find a compromise in the boys’ education.

Anni sometimes does not want to lose face and problems are not addressed, which postpones solutions to problems. On the other hand, I am always very direct when I tell her that I don’t want the boys to watch TV, for example.

We managed to find a compromise on education—children are beaten in Cambodia, and we don’t do that. I think Jan and Ben will grow up very cosmopolitan.

Audrey, 32, from the Netherlands and Gregory Tugendhat, 34, from the United Kingdom have been living in Cambodia since October last year. Audrey is executive manager of IBC in Cambodia. Gregory works as the director of sales and marketing at the Sofitel hotel. Their 15-month-old son Max was born in London. At Christmas they will go home and Audrey will give birth to a new baby.

I had never thought of giving birth in Phnom Penh. There is the language barrier, and as soon as something unexpected happens you are in trouble.

I plan to be back at the office in mid-January. This is a personal choice and I like my work.

Fortunately, help is very affordable in Cambodia, unlike in Europe. I already have a nanny that takes care of my son now.

As soon as I return to work she will take of the newborn baby and my son will go into day-care.

Being pregnant in this climate can be quite a problem. Doctors say pregnant women are supposed to walk, stretch and get fresh air, but it is hard to exercise here. I miss just taking a walk in the park to get fresh air. I sometimes join a yoga group, and when I exercise with them I think I am about to faint.

I am much more careful with street food now. Sometimes I just have an urge for sushi and there are a few places I trust in terms of quality. For baby food there is lack of branding here, which makes it difficult to find the right milk powder. When you open the milk powder outside the humidity spoils it.

Max got his first wave of jabs back home in London. I don’t trust the quality of vaccines in Cambodia so we had the second wave done in Bangkok. That’s also where I see my gynaecologist every two months.

Elida Delbourg  and her partner Thibaud Sournia, both French and aged 36, have been living in Cambodia since 2006. Their first son was born in 2009, the second 18 days ago. Both boys were delivered in Bangkok.   

I had my first son in 2009 in Bangkok when my husband and I were already living in Phnom Penh. I had a very rare and dangerous condition. It was likely that me, the baby or both of us would die.

In Phnom Penh, the doctors advised me to get an abortion when I had already been pregnant for five months because there is no medical equipment to carry out a delivery under the circumstances in Cambodia.

I decided to have the baby and went to Bangkok where I had the best surgeon imaginable. He was a specialist and I felt safe. I did have to stay in hospital for three months. It was not cheap at all.

I was so happy with the quality of the service and I went there to have my second son. I don’t trust the quality of vaccines in Cambodia. I myself take the risk but I have my two sons jabbed in Bangkok.

But because help is very affordable Cambodia is the perfect country to raise young children. In my older son’s pre-school there is one teacher and four assistant teachers for 15 kids. At home in France it would just be one teacher and 30 kids. On the other hand, we miss forests and parks to walk in. It is too hot to go out and with the children.

Sometimes we walk on Sisowath Quay in the afternoon, but we don’t feel as safe as we used to in Cambodia. We feel the number of petty crimes has increased. As a young couple without kids you care much less about that. 


To contact the reporter on this story: Julius Thiemann at [email protected]



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