Danke dir, Felicitas!
Wer mehr über Felicitas erfahren möchte, hier gehts zu ihrem Instagram Account.
Felicitas Jaima mit Emilia (7) und Hugo (2) , Juli 2017
Photography: Merrill Melideo
Interview: Marie Zeisler
Dear Felicitas! You live with your husband, Rama, and your two children in San Diego but originally you are from North Rhine-Westphalia. How did you end up there?
We have been living in San Diego for three years now. And altogether I have been in the United States for pretty much exactly eleven years. Originally, it was supposed to be one year only. I grew up in Werne, between Dortmund and Münster, and attended university in Münster. From there I went to upstate New York, to Vassar College, where I not only taught German but also fell head over heels in love with my husband. I was young and adventurous so it did not take much for me to leave Germany longterm to stay in the US. We moved to New Jersey where I got my Master’s in history. Professionally speaking I then moved to New York University. When I was almost done with my Ph.D. studies and „only“ had to finish my dissertation, we realized our dream of living in the sun. San Diego was an attractive location for us for several reasons. We had visited the city numerous times as a family, and each time we fell in love with it all over again. In addition, there is a public (read: free) German-American school in San Diego that our daughter is now attending. There is also a German Kindergarten that Hugo will join in September. As a family we have really arrived in San Diego. We have found amazing friends, a wonderful aunt lives in town, and we also have family in Los Angeles that we see multiple times per year.
Are there things that you miss? Can you imagine living in Germany again one day?
Aside from good bread and the benefits of the German social system I do not miss a lot of things. It’s family and friends that I miss most. The question whether I want to live in Germany again sometime is one that I ponder almost daily. I wish there was a clear answer. In theory, we can definitely see it happen, not now, but in the future. In reality, this is not an easy decision to make. Such a move needs to make sense both financially and professionally. But I am mostly concerned about social and cultural issues. As a mother of brown-skinned children, I highly appreciate that I can raise my children in a diverse environment. Despite the political situation here, they at least have not been seen as „different“ or „exotic.“ They are not a minority per se, which I find crucial for their developing self esteem. In Germany, and I speak from experience, this is unfortunately not the case. On the other hand, we would all benefit from having my family closer to us. And of course there are close friendships that I would much prefer to nurture face-to-face instead of virtually. I have known my best friends in Germany for over twenty years. They have kids similar in age to mine. My annual visits feel like just a drop in the ocean, albeit one that I do not want to miss. We will see what the future holds. At the momen, we are still enjoying life in California to the fullest. I trust that in the end everything will work out just fine.
You delivered both of your children at home. Did you always wish to have a home birth or was there a catalyst that sparked this decision? How were your births?
When I got pregnant with Emilia, the topic of „birth“ was not something I thought much about initially. The health center at my university referred me to an ObGyn, and the plan was to deliver at the university hospital. My main association with birth was intense pain that could luckily be numbed with an epidural. But then everything turned out very differently. The more I learned about American maternity wards, the more frightened I became. I did not want to become a victim to the business model of these hospitals that wanted women quickly in and out of their delivery rooms. I was at least hoping for a midwife to hold my hand and give some tips. This is how my husband and I started to look for a doula. A doula is a birth attendent that offers support to both the woman and man, not in a medical way but emotionally. There are studies that show that the mere presence of a doula drastically reduces medical intervention during birth. My ObGyn was less impressed with this idea, and his attitude toward having a birth plan was similar. I, consequently, felt less and less comfortable with him. The turning point, however, came about when we attended a birth class. We decided on the Bradley Method, an approach to birth in which the partner plays a central role. I have always found it unfortunate that many women prepare for such a life-changing event like the birth of their child alone, without their partners. So, for eight weeks, every Sunday we took the subway from New Jersey to the East Village. For three hours each time we learned so much about birthing and the female body that it literally blew my mind. What a contrast to my experience with this ObGyn. After each class I felt high from all the knowledge that was bestowed on me. My fears diminished, and I felt absolutely able and strong to accept the upcoming birth with everything it would entail. But the more I desired a natural birth, the less welcome I felt at my doctor’s office. It became pretty obbvious: if I wanted to birth my child without medical intervention, then I did not belong in an (American) hospital. At 32 weeks, I switched to a team of home birth midwives; one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. The midwives not only had so much time for me – a visit, which by the way took place in my home, lastet about one hour – they were also extremely caring and sensitive to my concerns. We had a birth plan, an emergency plan, and plenty of time, space, and peace to prepare for what really mattered.
Both my births were smooth. With Emilia my water broke prematurely but with the aid of homeopathy and walks through our neighborhood park, we got labor going. After about eight hours of active labor and half an hour of pushing, I delivered her in a birth pool in our living room in Jersey City.
After this experience, it was without question that our second child should be born at home too. Hugo’s arrival, however, was much more rapid. He came in under three hours. The birth pool was set up but there was no time to fill it with water. The midwife was stuck in traffic and arrived when his head was already born. As a result, Rama was very hands-on, and Emilia was my doula, which she is very proud of to this day.
My births were definitely not calm or painfree – I definitely outgrew myself – but I always describe them as beautiful. I feel fortunate that I had these positive and stressfree birth experiences. To be in my own home, both during and after the birth, was very comforting for me.
What is the attitude toward home births in American society (if you can even generalize this)?
You are absolutely right, there is no general answer. The percentage of home births is still very small, though it increased over the last years. Personally, I know many more women in America than in Germany who had home births or birth center births. This is probably due to my social Mama circles here. I was lucky in New Jersey/New York as well as here in San Diego. Both regions offer a plethora of resources for natural births and after, ranging from chiropractors specializing in the care of pregnant women and infants, to home birth midwives and birth centers, to breastfeeding support centers.
In our preliminary conversation you mentioned a miscarriage – what was the experience like for your family then? How do you handle the topic now?
That was a difficult time for me. After having Emilia I had no desire for a second child for quite some time. Not because life with her was not beautiful, but because I felt emotionally fulfilled. I could not even imagine to ever really want another child. And again everything turned out very differently. I got pregnant in late 2013 and had a strange feeling about the pregnancy from the beginning – probably because I had just read multiple personal stories about pregnancy loss. It all started when one mother shared her experience of a recent miscarriage in the online forum of my local mother’s group. In response to her post, so many women poured their hearts out, too. I was probably meant to read all of their stories. As a result, I felt less alone when I received the devastating news that I had a so-called „blighted ovum“, meaning that the embryo never developed or at least not enough to be visible on an ultrasound. Only in my case, my body held on to the pregnancy. Week after week I returned for ultrasounds and blood draws, and my HCG levels kept rising, despite the blighted ovum. My body really thought it was pregnant. How schizophrenic.
I was determined to let the miscarriage process unfold naturally. And I tried it all: accupuncture, herbs, homeopathy. Nothing worked. At 12 weeks I lost my strength and agreed to have a D&C. Looking back, I should probably have agreed to the procedure sooner. Because of the termination, the pregnancy hormones plummeted. I did not feel pregnant anymore and was finally in a position to distract myself and move on.
This is how I came to desire a second child. Who would have thought. And a couple months after our move to the West Coast, Hugo was on the way. I think the change of scenery and the new beginning helped heal me.
I have been open about this topic because in my opinion miscarriage should not be a taboo topic. Miscarriages are painful but, unfortunately, part of womanhood. I can only imagine how isolating it must be to go through such an experience alone. Shame and self-doubt go hand in hand with pregnancy loss. You ask yourself if you did anything wrong and what you could have done better. I strongly believe that women benefit from normalizing this topic. This is why I openly share my experience.
Your husband works in sales for an e-commerce company, and you are a scholar. How do you organize your life and childcare? Do you have family around to help?
Childcare is most likely my biggest challenge without Oma around the corner. Daycare and preschools are expensive compared to those in Germany. When we lived on the East Coast, Emilia went to daycare full-time. I had to travel a lot for because I conducted personal interviews and worked in archives in Germany and the US. Logistically this was a challenge. While my childless colleagues could easily travel the world via couch surfing, I had to plan everything in detail to make sure that Emilia was taken care of. Luckily, we had loving support from family and friends. There were times when I traveled with my mother and Emilia along the East Coast, other times when my sister, Emilia and I lived in Washington, D.C. for several weeks. My husband often worked from the road, for example out of Berlin, where we were generously taken in by dear friends for one month.
Since Hugo’s arrival and the completion of my dissertation, our life has slowed down. Yet, it is still not always easy without much support. A spontaneous date night out, for example, is not in the cards. We are home a lot in the evenings and enjoy spending our free time together as a family. When Oma is in town though, we go out a lot.
You completed a Ph.D. in history from NYU one year ago. What was your main area? What are your plans now?
My degree is in African Diaspora history. My dissertation examines the experiences of Afro-American military women, wives as well as female soldiers and other U.S. military employees, in Germany after WWII and into the Cold War era. This was a very exciting project to work on, especially because I interviewed a lot of these women. Since graduating from NYU, I have worked as a managing editor for a small, international women’s magazine, conducted interviews for a podcast, and I have worked as a freelance writer, creating texts for websites among other things. I have also taught German at one of San Diego’s universities. This has worked out really well with the kids.
Hugo is now two years old and ready to be in preschool for a few days per week. I will continue to teach German and also work on some other projects. I am also always open for new opportunities. As long as I can write, teach, research, or work otherwise interculturally, I feel balanced.
Your kids are still little and you as parents are busy. How do you manage to work creatively? Do you have routines that help you ( maybe to clear your mind)?
We have a pretty firm routine in our day-to-day lives. Of course, there is room for exceptions but I am not willing to compromise much when it comes to basic structures. For instance, our kids go to bed at 7pm, not matter the day of the week. Our eldest is allowed to read in bed though. This time in the evening is very important to me. Often my husband and I still work then or prepare for the next day otherwise. In addition, I try to go to bikram yoga whenever possible. There I can meditate and focus on myself, which feels great.
In Germany mothers are often seen a seither spending too little time with their children (keyword „bad mom“) or spending too much time („hovering“). Are there similar stereotypes in the US?
These stereotypes are not as widespread. I think one reason is that the norms and expectations are different here. Due to the lack of governmental support, most mothers go back to work six weeks after giving birth. Only few employers grant a longer maternity leave. I know women who saved up their few vacation days and sick days in order to be able to spend more time with their newborns. This is really sad. Against this backdrop, I was really fortunate to have my kids while being a student. With Emilia I took one year off and with Hugo I had a nanny on an hourly basis so I could complete my dissertation.
What is the most annoying thing about being a mom?
The nonstop. That you can never really check out.
And what is the most beautiful?
Traveling as a family and creating memories together. And to watch these little beings develop big personalities.
Check out Felicitas instagram account.
Felicitas Jaima with Emilia (7) and Hugo (2) , July 2017
Photography: Merrill Melideo
Interview: Marie Zeisler