Love Looks Like This: Childbirth Abroad, Visa Woes, and a Pandemic

couple

Cristina Cianci/Courtesy of Elen Turner

 

Brides is committed to guiding ALL couples through not only their wedding planning journey, but through relationship milestones and ups and downs. Every love story is beautiful, has its own distinct history, and its own trials—there's no relationship that looks the same. To celebrate that uniqueness, we're asking couples to open up about their love story, for our latest column, "Love Looks Like This." Below, Elen Turner tells her story. 

I met my husband on a white-water rafting trip in Nepal in 2015, a nine-day expedition down the Sun Kosi River. We floated and bounced down the choppy river by day, surrounded by mountains and jungle; we drank and shared stories by campfire in the evenings; we camped on gold-sand beaches at night.

When we tell people how we met, we usually get a wink, a nudge, and a: “Were you his client and he your guide?” Yes, that’s exactly how it was. While this sounds cute where we now live in suburban New Zealand, we are far from the only Nepali guide-Western woman duo to walk the earth. Practically all our friends in Nepal fit this profile.

As our relationship developed, I pondered the huge differences between us: he’s from a small village in the Nepali mid-hills, where most people are farmers. His is the first generation of his family to be literate, let alone to travel abroad. I grew up in small-town New Zealand and have a graduate degree. There’s no denying our backgrounds and life experiences make us very different people. But like many couples, our common interests and perspectives bonded us, as well as the belief that our lives would be richer for the cross-cultural element.

Early on, I fielded occasional stupid comments: Does he expect you to cook and clean? (He’s a better cook than me.) What’s his class/caste/religious background? (Caste doesn’t interest me. I’m from a predominantly Christian society but am agnostic; he was born a Hindu and is similarly agnostic, though he doesn’t know the word). How do you know he’s not just interested in your passport? (OK, that’s just offensive).

Importantly though, we didn’t encounter any resistance from either his family or mine. Nobody who mattered was anything but supportive, even when I got pregnant before we were married, something completely taboo to many Nepalis.

We married in a Nepali Hindu ceremony in his small hometown in a river valley. While being pregnant wasn’t the only reason for the marriage, it sped things up. Nepal doesn’t legally recognize de facto relationships, so to be able to stay in the country once I’d used up my annual tourist visa allowance, we needed to marry. After that, getting a marriage visa was straightforward. 

The relative ease of our life as a couple in Nepal didn’t prepare us for the difficulties we’d face trying to get him to my country.

Just three of my close friends were at our wedding, but his whole village attended. We’d asked his mother to plan a small event, but that wasn’t an option. As the oldest son, finally getting married, his family wanted to put on a show. Red silk bridal sari and veil, brass band, chicken sacrifice, DJ blasting movie songs all night—the works.

The relative ease of our life as a couple in Nepal didn’t prepare us for the difficulties we’d face trying to get him to my country. I’d built a happy life in Kathmandu and didn’t especially want to leave, but getting pregnant changed things. A few weeks before our wedding, we applied for a partnership-based New Zealand visa for him. 

It hadn’t occurred to me that his application would be rejected due to lack of evidence we were a real couple, because we were. In hindsight, I was naive about the number of official documents we needed to provide to authorities. Cue Plan B.

Because of Nepal’s poor medical facilities, my doctor recommended we leave Nepal for the birth. But, this isn’t straightforward. Being unable to go back to New Zealand, we had to choose somewhere near Nepal that would allow both me and him in for several weeks (Nepali passports are hard to travel on). The place also needed excellent medical facilities, and be only a short flight away. Doctors will only approve air travel for pregnant women in their third trimester if the flight is under four hours. We had two options: Delhi or Bangkok. 

We chose Bangkok, and definitely made the right choice. I’m sure I had a better birth experience than I would have in New Zealand, although not having any family nearby was the dark cloud around the silver lining. 

A month after the birth we returned to Nepal with our newborn daughter. My sister was getting married in New Zealand later that year, so we applied for a New Zealand visa for my husband a second time. We were confident we’d easily get it now we were married and had a New Zealand-citizen child.

That was naive assumption number two. Two weeks before my sister’s wedding, no visa had arrived. I booked a ticket just for myself and our baby daughter to return to New Zealand, alone. The idea terrified me, but I couldn’t miss the wedding. Luckily, three days later, the visa came through. It wasn’t the work visa we’d applied for, but a tourist visa. At that stage, it was better than nothing.

It now seems rather quaint that I was worried cultural differences would be the biggest difficulty we’d face in our marriage.

With ten days’ notice, we packed up our lives in Kathmandu and flew to New Zealand, together, not knowing how long we’d be there. I farewelled friends, in denial that we’d be gone very long. I hoped he’d get a work visa quickly, could support our family while our daughter was tiny, then we’d resume our lives in Kathmandu. But every step in the visa process dragged on for months, and almost three years later, we’re still here in New Zealand. 

It took nine months before he got a work visa. We planned to use that up and then return to Nepal towards the end of 2020. Then this pandemic blasted through the world, closing borders, stopping flights. We don’t know if or when we’ll be able to go anywhere. Like everyone else right now, we just have to wait this out. 

It now seems rather quaint that I was worried cultural differences would be the biggest difficulty we’d face in our marriage. Giving birth in a third country, moving across the world with a newborn, being the sole earner for nine months with a baby, and living through a pandemic... is quite a heavy load. We’ve weathered these storms the best we can, and the fact we come from totally different cultures is the least of our concerns! 

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