Power People: Najell X Ilana Buhl
Our goal at Najell is to encourage parents to stay who they are, do what they love, and parent by their own rules. In this series of interviews, we highlight and discuss all aspects of parenting with our selected Power People. People we find inspiring as parents and individuals, and who empower themselves and others.
In this interview we meet Ilana, @the_lykke_charm on Instagram. An American influencer who, for the past 5 years, has lived in Copenhagen. On her social media, Ilana shares her experience of living and parenting abroad and showcasing everything the Danish Capital has to offer. We will be covering topics such as pregnancy abroad, culture clashes and the challenges and benefits of starting a family in a different country.
Ilana first came to Copenhagen during her time in college. Known for its scenic canal routes, bold street style and incredible pastries, it’s no wonder she fell in love with the capital city. However, she decided to return a few years later, only to fall in love again but in a different way.
‘’...That’s when I met my now-husband, who is Danish. We were long distance between Copenhagen and Dallas, Texas (where I lived) for two years, and then we got married… This past June, I received permanent residence in Denmark after over 4 years of living and working here.’’
After first moving, Ilana quickly adjusted to life as a Dane. However, it wasn’t without its inevitable challenges.
‘’ There are definitely cultural differences between the US and Denmark, but all in all, I didn’t find it too difficult to adjust… The language was probably the most significant difference; even though Danes speak excellent English… I really felt like an outsider when I couldn’t understand Danish.’’
Fast forward to 2020, where Ilana and her husband find out the incredible news that they were expecting a baby boy!
From the food you should eat to the amount of medical intervention, the pregnancy journey can be vastly different culture to culture. Meaning we all naturally have pre-existing notions of how our experience should be. But for those of us who find our home away from home, we are hit with a whole new approach we have to understand and work with. And as scary as that sounds, it can be a very positive experience. Ilana explained…
‘’When I found out I was pregnant, I immediately started to consume every resource I could find about pregnancy and birth, mostly from the US–but then I realized that the approach is actually quite different in Denmark. The biggest difference is that prenatal care in Denmark is midwife-led instead of obstetrician-led, and pregnancy is seen as a natural process that the body can more or less handle on its own... At first I was definitely a bit thrown off by how “lax” everything was here, but I came to appreciate it. I felt like if my GP (general practitioner) and midwife weren’t worried about certain things, then I didn’t need to be either. I also really liked that in Denmark, they try to use minimal interventions with labor and delivery... There did come a point in my labor when my midwife was concerned about my baby. At that point, nurses and doctors stepped in and made sure I knew what was going on, what my options were, and that I consented to all of the interventions that were used. I very much felt like I was “in charge” of my pregnancy and delivery, which was empowering, while still feeling like I was well taken care of.’’
Outside of unknown preferences and practices, another very common expat concern is being able to replicate the support system they leave behind. When considering the distance between Denmark and the US it's no wonder Ilana faced challenges being so far away from immediate family during such a monumental time.
‘’ Being far from family is definitely one of the most difficult things about raising a child abroad. My immediate family did come to visit right after my son was born, and we have been to the US to visit them once when he was 6 months old. But I am acutely aware of how much time passes between each visit, and how much he grows and changes in that time. Of course it would also be nice to have more family support, to be able to have grandparents babysit and whatnot, but I think the hardest thing is knowing that my family and my son don’t have the relationship that they could have if we were closer. I feel guilty about that.’’
From her instagram and blog it's clear to see how much Ilana loves Denmark. From learning its traditions to becoming proficient in Danish, she has truly dived into the culture head first. And while her new Danish side is flourishing we were interested to know how she keeps her now 2 year old son in touch with his American heritage.
‘’Aside from visiting the US as much as we can, I think one of the most important things is supporting English as one of his first languages… I wanted to make sure that when we visit the US or my family visits us, he will be able to communicate with them.... So I almost always speak English with him at home, we read lots of English books, and I let him watch American children’s shows (I think Ms Rachel on YouTube has honestly helped a lot with his English language development!). We also celebrate Thanksgiving, my favorite American holiday. I think as he gets older, I will need to be more intentional about teaching him about the US, its culture, and its history, but while he’s so little, I think this is enough.’’
And it’s clear that being a multicultural family has a lot of advantages…
‘’ At first, I found it really stressful to be learning about parenting from both the US and Denmark and navigating all of that input, but I actually came to appreciate having both perspectives. I could clearly see that the two countries might do some things completely differently, but that doesn’t mean that one way is “right” and the other is “wrong.” If one country’s practice didn’t resonate with me or work well for us, I could simply choose to follow the other country’s approach. Parenting in another country can be a huge privilege for many reasons, but I think this is one: you get to see such a variety of approaches and really choose what works for you. ‘’
Finally, we asked Ilana for any words of wisdom she had for other families or parents having kids away from their home country.
‘’My advice would be to put yourself out there and look for ways to make mom friends (or dad friends!) in your area… My mom friends have been my lifeline! In Denmark, you are assigned to “mother’s groups,” and I was lucky enough to have a Danish group and an international group. I’ve remained friends with some of the moms from those groups, and also made lots of mom friends through social media. I think it is especially helpful to have mom friends who are from the same culture or country as you, but I have also gotten a lot of support and comfort from my mom friends who aren’t from the US. Being a parent is hard and doing it in a foreign country is hard, and it’s really nice to have people to talk to who have had some of the same experiences as you. ‘’
If you, like us, are interested in learning more about Ilana and following her amazing content then we recommend you check her out either on instagram @the_lykke_charm, tiktok @the_lykke_charm, youtube or her blog.