Updated: Apr 9
I first met Clarissa in a postpartum support group run by GrowParents with Life Coach Laura Vanderputten and Psychotherapist Amy Temple . Though we had a great connection, we didn't keep in touch as she lived in another area of the city, but we reconnected about a year later when we realized we were both in a related business! Clarissa has crafted an amazing space for expat moms to find and purchase many of the clever, must-have baby items that your friends back home recommend and you just can't find easily here in Spain. She's also building a community for moms in Madrid. This space is called Charlie's Footsteps, named after her own little boy.
Let's learn more about Clarissa and her amazing initiative!
1. Tell us about yourself and how you first came to Madrid.
I came to Madrid with my then boyfriend now husband who had the opportunity to work here for 18 months at his company’s head office. Almost 8 years later we’re still here! We got a cat, got married, bought a home and had a baby, so I really feel like I grew up in Madrid.
2. What was your journey into motherhood like?
In one word I would describe it as slow. Before we moved to Madrid, we were in NYC for an 18-month rotation for my husband’s job. I never really settled there, it never felt like home and I assumed I would feel the same in Madrid. So for 18 months I tried not to make roots and get comfy. I spent a lot of time flying back to the UK for all my friend’s weddings, and then my own. And then I was always flying back to meet all the babies that were starting to appear amongst my best friends. But I always thought “well, we’ll start a family once we’re home again”. But slowly Madrid did become home. My husband accepted a permanent job here and I started taking my job as an English Teacher more seriously.
We felt settled and we loved the way of life. I started thinking about what it would mean to have a baby here instead of the UK. Eventually, it was more about time than anything else and I realised I would have to start thinking about having a baby sooner rather than later! But as is so common, it turned out getting pregnant wasn’t as easy as my teachers told me it was when I was 15! After about a year of trying to conceive and one pregnancy loss, I was expecting Charlie and he was born in October 2019. Even then, I found the journey into motherhood quite tough. I thought I would be a natural mother because my own mum is an amazing role model and most of my friends back home had at least one child if not two and made it look a breeze! Turns out, it was so much harder than I had anticipated and I really struggled with my new role as “mum”. Being in a foreign country was also an added element to my struggle I think, not having all the support I would have had if I were back in the UK.
3. What inspired you to start Charlie's Footsteps and what does Charlie's Footsteps offer to website users?
A number of things. Even before I was pregnant, I noticed that the products that I saw my friends buy for their new baby just weren’t available here. I could find them in UK online stores, but the shipping costs meant it wasn’t viable for me to buy and on some occasions it wouldn’t even ship to Spain. I thought at this stage it was a potential new niche for Spanish consumers. Spain can be a very traditional country, but eventually new trends do arrive here, and the craze in the UK was all about Scandinavian and muted design, Baby-Led-Weaning and silicone crockery and cutlery.
Once I was pregnant with Charlie, this became a more urgent issue, I was getting as many tips as I could from my friends in the UK who’d had children already and what I would need and things I can buy in preparation, and many of these things I just couldn’t find in my local stores.
Another thing I really struggled with is the actual “how to be pregnant in a foreign country”! I didn’t know the process, how the health system works, if I could join an antenatal course (in English), how to get breastfeeding support, someone simply to talk to about all the pregnancy things who wasn’t my husband!
I was lucky that I found Bel, of Bel & Mums and I joined her “Bumps Tea” events and signed up to her antenatal course and via this I found an amazing network of peers and support. But having joined many mum/mom/parents Facebook groups, I could see this wasn’t the norm and there were still a lot of pregnant people and new parents really struggling. I wanted Charlie’s Footsteps to be more than a place to buy helpful and beautiful things. I wanted to make the journey to motherhood in Spain an easier process than it had been for me.
4. Do you have advice for new moms who are trying to find a way to connect with other moms?
Reach out! There is a huge community of new parents in Spain. From my personal experience in Madrid, there are even mini-communities available to connect with within small barrios. Some have given birth here and truly understand the overwhelm this can cause. Some have moved here with their little ones, which is a different but just as jarring experience.
Over the course of this year, I am going to expand the connection aspect of Charlie’s Footsteps. I will share the people and services I used as a new mum to help me connect not only with other mums, but also with my baby. I believe that worldwide the understanding of maternal mental health has taken leaps and bounds forward and it’s totally accepted that we need more support, I think now is the perfect time in Spain for someone to collate all the amazing services we have here (with you as an amazing bilingual Doula just being one of them) to make it super easy for parents in need to find easily, without the stress and time it took for me to find!
5. What's your number 1 baby gadget for the newborn stage? For the infant stage? For the toddler stage?
Tricky question!! For the newborn stage I think a feeding support pillow. Whether you bottle-feed or breastfeed, you are sitting in a prone position for a LOT of the time in the newborn stage. I didn’t have a pillow until the second week and even in that short time I had really messed up my shoulder from feeding without support. My body was also healing from a high-intervention birth and I felt like I had been hit by truck after having run a marathon! I think having an adaptive pillow from day one would have saved my posture.
For the infant stage I think some suction silicone tableware. I think everyone underestimates the messiness of weaning whether you go the baby-led-weaning or the spoon-feeding puree route! I actually did a combination of both with Charlie and whilst he was really into the food and eating part (I feel very lucky about this!) he also loved trying to play with his bowls and plates. The fact I could suction them onto the table saved so much time and mess! Also the fact they were unbreakable and dishwasher safe was the cherry on top!
For the toddler stage (in fact all, but for me I’m finding it most useful now) is a waterproof reusable wet/dry bag. Charlie was quite a neat and tidy newborn and I don’t think I ever had to change his outfit when we were out and about (it probably helped we were in COVID lockdown from about 5 months old so his weaning journey was pretty much exclusively at home!) but he is a grubby toddler! We use washable wipes, and I need a huge amount of wet wipes when we leave the house and a spare outfit. Inevitably I am taking a load of dirty wipes and/or clothes home with me, and having a spacious wet/dry bag on hand saves cleaning out my main changing bag every time we leave the house!
6. Just for fun, what's your favorite place in Madrid?
Pre-baby it would be bar hopping in Malasaña until the early hours. Now, I think it has to be Retiro Park. The last summer I spent so much time at socially distanced picnics with the other mums I had met via Bel & Mums with our babies. Before they could walk/crawl much it was such a wonderful summer to reconnect after lockdown and relax with relatively easy “flower-pot” (they stay where you leave them) babies!
Thanks so much for the information and resources you've shared Clarissa!
Giving birth in Madrid or a new mom in Madrid? Looking for support on the wild ride called parenthood?
Look no further - book a free discovery call with me (Madison - doula in Madrid) today and let's chat about how together we can work to make your experience a positive one! And be sure to check out the Madoula homepage.