Meet Helena Harnik, one of the wonderful people behind the #Giveme5 Campaign in 2016.
Bio: Helena Harnik is the Operational Director at The Synergist. Helena is half Japanese, half American, and considers herself a “child of the world” having lived in Tokyo, London, New York City, Lyon and Grenoble, France. Her interest is in finding better ways to solve the world’s issues by connecting people around what they know.
You probably think you’re pretty normal. You like what your friends like, you do similar things, you get married when your friends start getting married, you start families when your friends start having children.
One of the most surprising things about moving abroad, or even just moving to a different city, is that normal is completely relative. Normal is what you see around you, defined by the environment that you’re in. But when your situation changes, suddenly you realize that what you think is normal is actually completely abnormal from another person’s perspective.
4 years ago I moved from a high-flying life in New York City, the land of Sex and The City, to France to do my MBA. I got married, and settled down in Grenoble, France, a small city near the Alps. There is nothing like moving to the French provinces to make you feel like an alien. Forget about the language and the food – what is with all the pregnant women everywhere?!
In NYC, you maybe start thinking about possibly getting married when you turn 35, after you’ve run the New York City Marathon in under 3.5 hours, started your own company and sailed around the world. And I know women who have gone back to work after 2 weeks of maternity leave, for their first child. In France, which has one of the highest fertility rates in Europe, it seems like most women start having children by the time they are 25, and the government pays for a full year of maternity leave by the third child.
The contrast becomes especially apparent when you go to see the doctor. My médicin généraliste (general practitioner) is really cool and quite adventurous for French standards, since she worked as a doctor in Africa and has lots of postcards from places like Iran and India on her wall. As an international person, I thought this meant we would be on the same page on a lot of things. But from a family planning standpoint she had a very different, very French point of view. At 31 and married, I’m ahead of the curve compared to many of my friends in the U.K. and the U.S. Even my mother didn’t start having children until she was 32. But 31 in the mind of French doctor is positively ancient. After a few unsuccessful attempts over the year to not-so subtly suggest that I start a family (“how old are you again?” “how long have you been married?”) she finally threw out that sterilization was an option. Yes, sterilization. At 31.
When I got over the shock, I realized that our differences in opinion were simply due to a difference in circumstance and customs, which essentially comes down to a difference in available information. And it made me wonder how often our own assumptions, however “normal” they seem, are correct. I also realized that living in a foreign country, away from my family and friends, is really difficult because you don’t have the support network, or someone telling you what to expect.
This is why Safe Motherhood Week survey and the #GiveMe5 campaign is so important for me.
Pregnancy and motherhood impacts virtually everyone. At this day and age, with all the world’s information literally at our fingertips, you feel like it should be really easy to navigate these issues. But the reality is that many young women aren’t able to make the best decision, because they don’t have the right support or the right information, and don’t realize that what they think is “normal” might not be so normal after all.
By taking the survey we will be able to better understand women’s experiences before, during and after pregnancy, both from a personal and health standpoint. Our goal is to uncover gaps that might be preventing women from getting the care and support they need. Take it for yourself, for your best friend, for your sister.