Newborn babies need love and support, but sometimes parents might want a helping hand too. Ellie Dyer looks at mechanisms of parental support in the capital, with photography by Rudi Towiro.
Becoming a parent is a momentous milestone in anyone’s life. But for expats, who often live far away from family networks and old friends, both pregnancy and parenthood can bring their own unique set of challenges.
“When they are here, they are often with no family,” says Australian breastfeeding counsellor Bindi Borg, who runs a fortnightly breastfeeding and parental support group at Sambo’s Tots in Phnom Penh. “Depending on their age or the group that they are in, maybe none of their friends have children at all.”
The group acts as a valuable forum for parents, especially for those residing far away from home. Alongside providing advice and information on breastfeeding, new or expectant mothers and fathers can meet those at a similar stage of life, or those with older children, to talk over the experiences, questions and decisions that parenthood can bring.
“I was getting sympathetic advice from women who understood my situation and shared some of my parenting philosophies,” explains Heather Korm, who is mum to two-year-old Nathaniel.
“I was able to ask questions that I would, in the UK, have asked a health visitor, and get advice about everything from breastfeeding to sleeping patterns, to teething, to introducing solids,” she adds.
But the long-running network is not alone in providing support to new parents living in Cambodia, who might be grappling with considerations of where to give birth and how to deal with cross-cultural challenges, alongside the learning process that comes with raising a child.
In the last few years, online forums aimed at mums and dads have sprung up alongside more established resources, like the Cambodia Parent Network (CPN).
“We are just mums supporting each other,” says new mother Clare Tan, who helps run the Phnom Penh Mamas Facebook group alongside organising a playgroup.
“I reach out to as many mums as I can that I hear of and invite them personally to join, because I know first hand it is not easy and it is easy to feel you are the only one going through it,” adds the Brit, who gave birth to her son, Diego, in Phnom Penh last May.
So, whatever your ethos and experience might be, parents can be assured that, even without having family members close by, there are support mechanisms available to help. “It’s an emotional time and there are very strong ties that can be built,” adds Borg. “And even if they aren’t friends for life, it’s support. It’s someone else telling you: ‘Don’t worry, it happened to me too – that’s normal, it’s okay’.”
Parental Support Group
Meeting every second Saturday at Sambo’s Tots on Street 398 from 10am to 11.30am, the breastfeeding group (pictured left) is a free forum in which to share experiences in a social fashion. Sessions sometimes start off with a question, which is then talked through. Counsellor Bindi Borg, who has been trained by the Australian Breastfeeding Association, and co-facilitator Abigail Beeson are on hand to promote and give breastfeeding support, including explaining the physical process of lactation. Both mums and dads are welcome to attend and it is also a good place to meet others with young children. “It brings the community closer, especially since we are all so far away from our own families,” says mum Marisa Tan.
Phnom Penh Mamas
This locally-run closed Facebook Group is primarily aimed at first-time mums and mothers with very young babies. “I get the impression once babies are older, in kindies or schools, there is more support for mums there, so this is really for newbies,” says Clare Tan. The group also aims to “initiate get-togethers and really help each other in real life.”
Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond
Certified midwife and Kundalini yoga teacher Krist’l D’haene offers a range of services for parents and parents-to-be in Cambodia, from conception counselling to prenatal and postnatal assistance, including running sessions on childbirth for partners and acting as a doula at births. D’haene, who has been working in the region since 1996, takes a holistic approach – considering the mind, body and spirit – in her classes. Other options include pregnancy massage, baby swimming, yoga for babies and expectant mums, prenatal counselling, postnatal home support and even a children’s gardening class for four to six-year-olds. For more information, visit the Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond Facebook page.
The Mummy and Daddy Club Cambodia
This public Facebook group, created by Krist’l D’haene, aims to be a support group for future parents and those with young kids. It is regularly updated with information about classes and facilities for children. The page also acts as a forum for buying and selling goods.
Cambodia Parent Network
CPN is a Yahoo group founded in 2006 and boasting more than 4,500 members. There is also a separate CPN Facebook forum, billed as a place to “share information relating to parenting, schooling, child health and nutrition, as well as other issues faced by parents living in Cambodia.” The page is also often used as a discussion board. Second-hand goods, such as car seats, strollers and baby clothes, are often up for sale.