My Pregnancy Abroad: Highlights and Unexpected Challenges

maternity photo of lisa in japan

Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan

About this time last year, we were living in Thailand and mutually decided to take on the biggest adventure yet: Parenthood. Our baby was planned and conceived in the Land of Smiles during our nearly year and a half Sabbatical where we traveled from New Zealand to Indonesia and throughout Asia. I attribute our ease of getting pregnant to being in a low-stress induced environment on the most relaxing journey of our lives. Before I get ahead of myself allow me to start from the beginning.

Each year as December draws to a close, the hubster and I talk about our goals for the upcoming year. Our personal, professional and marital goals and aspirations are revisited as we identify the next steps in our lives. The last year and a half has been surreal after executing our dream of full-time travel since purchasing a one-way ticket to launch our global journey. Around this time last year, we returned to our home base in Thailand for the third time shortly after spending a few weeks in Cambodia. As 2016 was drawing to a close at that time, we wondered what the upcoming year would entail. 2016 went above and beyond our wildest dreams. We explored and unintentionally lived in New Zealand where we were invited and treated like royalty at New Zealand Fashion Week by Miromoda, allowed the undercurrent of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to sweep us away while snorkeling, ate our way through Singapore’s delicacies, tested our cooking skills (or my lack thereof) in a Thai cooking class and were guests at Singapore Fashion Week. Some days the hardest part of our week was deciding which beach to motorbike to or what we were going to eat for dinner.

What else could exceed our expectations?

Lisa's Maternity Shoot in Japan

Listening to the bamboo sway against each other in a grove off the beaten path.

As crazy as it sounds to some, we decided that one of our joint goals for 2017 was to become parents while we were on our global journey. After years of marriage, the decision to welcome parenthood aligned with God’s perfect timing and His will for our lives. We are content with the level of accomplishment that God has allowed us to reach at this point in our lives before formulating a new vision for our future. Though we have yet to fulfill all of our personal and professional endeavors, the idea of starting a family felt right after ticking off a lifetime opportunity to travel full-time as a couple. It’s an accomplishment that we do not take for granted as we know it is a privilege that not everyone can experience due to a variety of reasons. To roam, eat, meet new people and venture into unfamiliar territory to our hearts’ content is rewarding beyond measure.

During our courtship, Lucas and I discovered that we shared similar views on starting a family which alleviated any concerns of welcoming a child before I was mentally prepared under the notion that personal aspirations could be delicately placed in a china cabinet with all of the other pretty forgettable items. But after reaching the point of maturation, I was more than warming up to the idea of expanding our duo to a trio. I was ready for gaze into the eyes of a little one who shared my DNA.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Psalms 139:13

Pregnancy in itself can be a rewarding and foreign experience. Additionally, being pregnant while living abroad comes with its own set of magical moments and unique challenges. Instead of immediately packing our bags to head home upon confirming the news, we forged ahead with our travel itinerary and indulged in a five-month babymoon throughout Asia. Despite the highs and few lows of my first pregnancy, it was undoubtedly one of the best experiences of my life as I traveled through seven countries as an expectant mom with my partner and favorite hype man.


Thankfully, I didn’t experience vomiting as many women do with their pregnancies. I actually felt my personal best in the mornings however as the day progressed my body gradually slumped due to queasiness in the evenings. While nausea did get the best of me, it only lasted for two weeks. Never again to return at any point in my pregnancy. Because of the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh, I didn’t feel up to explore the city as much as I would have liked to. But after the second week of lounging in our place in Vietnam, I was feeling better and ready to get out of the city for a change of scenery.

Moving north of Vietnam to Da Nang was the best decision that we could have made during the nearly two months we trekked throughout the country with our travel buddy Quinisha. My fondest memories of the first weeks into my trimester were living in a newly built beach-front hotel that we called home. The paint barely dried on the 10 day old property as we watched the staff learn the ins and outs of their new building. Lucas surprised me every morning with jackfruit, oranges and other fruit along with an egg baguette sandwich for breakfast. Interestingly enough, baguettes are quite popular in Vietnam due to France’s influence on the country- needless to say the sandwich became our breakfast staple. Although I had an aversion to the smell of garlic, it didn’t stop me from eating spaghetti every other night at a restaurant hotel called Sophia’s. It was the best spaghetti that I have ever had and it wasn’t because we had been away for so long. The tomatoes are AMAZING in Vietnam. On the days that I wasn’t eating pasta, I frequently ate deluxe burgers at an Australian bar and grill resturant not too far from our home on the beach. Those tomatoes were savory as well leading me to believe that Vietnam is doing some sort of sorcery to grow their tomatoes. It’s difficult to determine if I had any cravings. The insatiable desire to eat my favorite foods could have easily been a result of pregnancy or from being away from home for over a year. Pasta and pizza became a major part of my diet since I was apprehensive about trying new foods with funky smells. Well, except the dorian fruit that I was able to stomach because I was curious about the allure of its notorious aroma of spoiled meat and odd texture. The smells in Southeast Asia are enough to send any non-pregnant person into a downward spiral of nausea, hence my highly selective intake of fruit, spaghetti, burgers and subs whenever we spotted a Subway franchise, which by the way, saved my life on many occasions in China, South Korea and Japan. 

A post shared by Lisa Barber (@physicalcanvas) on

While some women go through emotional and physical changes, I didn’t experience much variation in either one. My hormones weren’t out of sync enough to feel emotionally off center through my pregnancy. I truly believe being pregnant while living abroad allowed me to be at my personal best physically due to low stress and constantly staying active, whether it was hiking Marble Mountain in Vietnam or exploring the streets of Hong Kong, where we typically walked at least three miles when exploring any city. Since my body composition didn’t change drastically in the first and second trimester, my physical appearance didn’t vary much allowing me to wear all of the same clothing that had accompanied me in my suitcase. I never once purchased maternity clothing throughout my pregnancy. Since any weight gain went directly to my growing belly, I opted for flowy dresses and repurposed sarongs as skirts to avoid tight waistbands which is easier to get away with when you’re chasing summer and don’t have to worry about frigid temperatures back home.

Unexpected Challenges

While the highlights of pregnancy seemed to amount to new heights, it did not protect me from the unexpected challenges of carrying a child while traveling. On the scale of least important, I passed up certain activities including trying new foods that would endanger the baby including the raw Hida beef sushi in Japan and wearing a form-fitting Japanese kimono. One instance in particular included opting out of an excursion to explore the smaller islands off of Thailand due to the high impact speed boats which could potentially cause a miscarriage. Luckily I had already visited Phi Phi island a few months prior and swam in its turquoise salty waters. But that was just the beginning of unforeseeable challenges.

The comforts that we happily sacrificed as a result of no longer being in the States turned into major hurdles. Previously, the inability to read labels in a foreign language was laughable at best as our tongues fumbled our way through menus and street sign pronunciations displayed on Google maps. But as expectant parents, the quest of finding prenatal pills in South Korea and Japan led us on a wild goose chase because 1). few people understood that we were asking to resupply my prenatal pills and 2). the prenatal pills seemed to be sold in the most unlikely places. Up to this point, we had mastered the ability to communicate to others using non-verbal cues however our efforts seem to be coming up short. The ease of reading labels in English was a luxury that was outside of our reach. However well intended our hand gestures were of pointing to my growing belly while pantomiming pills, each pharmacists led us to shelves filled with children’s vitamins. Not prenatal supplements. Our saving grace was a older cashier who spoke just enough English to help us find a prenatal supplement with folic acid. I will forever be indebted to her and expressed my gratitude numerous times before my departure from the store’s premise.

Oddly, in a turn of twisted events, we found ourselves subjected to inconveniences as a result of archaic health practices that are no longer common place in the States. In 2017 the secondhand smoke in a few of the places in Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam, is alarming where cigarette exposure is confined to enclosed spaces. It’s quite common in Vietnam for trains and indoor restaurants to not have designated smoking sections. Meaning someone could ignite a cigarette inches from your face. Additionally, the air quality in Asia was poor in some places due to the heavy reliance of coal and carbon dioxide that was emitted from the herd of motor-vehicles. Wearing a mask served the dual purpose of protecting myself from pollutants and unwanted germs as public places and transport centers are known to be petri dishes for travelers and locals alike. More scarier than germs was the thought of contracting Zika which led me to remain covered up at nights and to liberally use natural mosquito repellant despite places that were not affected. Of all things, we also found it difficult to find salads in Japan as most dishes were either served raw or deep fried. Lotions with non-bleached ingredients were also non-existent throughout Asia where the pervasive idea of white skin is glorified and obsessed over.

Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan

Nothing but love and serenity in Japan.

Looking onward

Beyond the few challenges outside of our control, I couldn’t ask for a better pregnancy while living abroad as I was gravely concern that I would become too sick to continue traveling. I’ll never forget feeling the first flutters of our child in the privacy of our condo or hearing the heartbeat at our second prenatal visit in Phuket.

While many of our friends and family were elated to hear about the arrival of our baby once we made the announcement public, I am happy that we initally kept the news under wraps as many would have tried to talk us into coming home prematurely due to their own anxieties about healthcare abroad. Initially I was worried about medical standards and the associated costs however surprisingly prenatal care expenses abroad are quite inexpensive based on our hospital visits throughout the various countries. My hope is that sharing our pregnancy while living abroad will give others the confidence to enjoy life’s many blessings on the path set before you. From one major leap to another, we are ready to embrace the ultimate adventure of parenthood. Oh the stories we will tell to our little one of the unforgettable moments abroad.

Lisa's pregnancy abroad on


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