Interview: Laura Sheehan, supportive rugby wife and loving mother
The life of a ‘WAG’ would appear to be one of luxury and glamour, but when you are uprooted from your hometown to move to a foreign country with a child and another one on the way, life can get complicated.
Laura Sheehan was born and raised in Perth, Australia and met her now husband Brett Sheehan at a local bar in Perth in 2010. Laura was teaching at the time and had no idea that this encounter would change her life forever. Brett is a professional rugby union player who was playing for Perth based team, the Western Force and Australia.
Skip forward two years, Laura and Brett were blessed with the surprise of their first son, Brody. Then, in 2014 Brett was unexpectedly offered a rugby contract to play for Racing Club de Narbonne Méditerannée, in the Languedoc-Roussillon region in France. So they packed their bags, said their goodbyes, and embarked on this both challenging and enlightening journey in the South of France.
Laura, what was your initial reaction when you found out you would be moving to France?
Shocked is probably the only word to describe it! We had just bought our first home, a business, and had found out we were pregnant again only a day earlier, so by all accounts we were preparing for Brett’s retirement from rugby so it was a lot to process and to comprehend at the time. It later became a huge time of excitement as it was a massive opportunity and adventure for our little family.
How did you settle into your new home? Many people experience culture shock or homesickness, did you experience this? Or were your first months full of excitement, exploring and discovering the region?
This question is difficult to answer as I guess our initial experience of France was different to that of others and not one of normal circumstances. The first few days we were just in awe of where we were in the world. The people, the culture, and summer in the south of France it was just magical!
Ten days after we arrived though is when we lost our baby son Beau, I was 7 months pregnant. Losing him and being so far away from our family was gut-wrenchingly difficult. Not to mention having to deliver him in a foreign country, without speaking a single word of French while grieving was incredibly confronting.
Losing him and being so far away from our family was gut-wrenchingly difficult.
We were living in Narbonne at the time but from a horrible situation we found a beautiful sense of community from the people as well as the Narbonne rugby team. They didn’t know us from a bar of soap, but they came together and became our family supporting us through it and even though we couldn’t communicate, grief translates and an empathetic embrace from a stranger can speak louder than words.
I am sorry to hear about your son, losing him would have been very difficult especially so soon after arriving in France. How did you and Brett move forward from this experience?
In truth it probably consumed our first year here, grieving and moving forward as a family in an unknown place and community. In a way, as difficult as the time was, some of my favourite memories of France are from then! I’ll never forget sitting in hospital the morning after we had lost him, the breakfast nurse came and asked if I wanted breakfast, there I was sat with my little phrasebook all prepared and ordered a ‘Thé au lait’. Proudly I thought ‘yes well done you managed to speak in French’ only to have the nurse return with a bowl of hot water, milk, a tea bag and a baguette.
My face must have said it all as the nurse quickly demonstrated to me that I was to dunk my bread in the bowl of tea. All I could do was laugh! A complete cultural misunderstanding, but one that still makes me laugh today. We were incredibly blessed to fall pregnant with our daughter Daisy 6 months after our loss, and life in France really began to unfold then!
Speaking of ‘Thé au lait’ how have you coped with the language barrier?
The language, wow, definitely the biggest hurdle here! We literally didn’t speak a single word of French, and I hadn’t realised that the people in this region didn’t speak a word of English. In a way though it’s forced me to learn and I’m happy for that! There are good days and bad days with French, some days I feel confident and breeze through conversation, other days I feel like I’ve fallen flat on my face and look like a monumental idiot! But it’s all part of the experience!
Raising children here is wonderful. The support, care and education they make available to families can’t be compared. There are difficult days, but they often link back to language barriers, it’s much easier to make a doctor’s appointment over the phone in your native tongue! Though, again it is through my experiences with my children that I’ve probably gained the most from my time in France.
What is it like being the wife of a rugby player? How do you and Brett support one another being in a foreign country and adapting to a different way of life?
Being married to a rugby player is a complex thing; there are both positives and negatives. Athletes and sportsmen are complex human beings to say the least. Their lives are dictated by sport and they tend to live an existence of routine and ritual which is often difficult to understand or even accept in a relationship. They require a lot of support which can often mean your aspirations come second.
I don’t say this in a negative way, more so that the relationship is in a continuously changing shift between supporting one another.
Moving to France reinforced this more than I ever could have imagined as you are hit with the reality that all you have is each other! That is a lot of pressure to put on individuals and a couple, and trust me many a fights ensued! But it is a time of rediscovering yourself and each other, figuring out how to be there for each other but at the same time giving enough space to be your own person. Understanding and empathy is probably the only thing that’s helped us to find our feet in France.
What are the positives and perks about France? Has life in France become easier after living here for 2 years?
The perks would be the time we get as a family, Brett’s home all the time and it’s such a wonderful time for him to have with the kids, not many dads get that opportunity! Being able to jump all over Europe is fantastic! Being Australians we appreciate the ability to visit all parts of Europe, as normally it’s so far away for us to get to, so the travel has been immense and welcomed! Life has become easier in some ways but more difficult in others. My French has improved but I would still like it to be better.
I’ve accepted that French time is agonisingly slow but it can still be frustrating! The normal day to day has become easier and slotting into the lifestyle has been wonderful. Homesickness still plays a big part for me as we haven’t been back since we moved here 2 years ago and I do miss the familiar things of home. However there are pros and cons to everywhere you live so for now we are making the most and loving our time here!
You have recently started a blog, can you tell me a bit about it?
I decided to start writing my blog ‘The Whole Mummy’ as something for me, to give me a drive and purpose. I had begun to feel isolated here, your experience as a mother living in a foreign country is different to those without children. When you have small children you tend to be locked into routine and essentially time at home. Raising children along with the challenges of a new place and language barriers can make the isolation amplified.
I love being a mum and being able to spend time with my children but I also love to write. It’s something that I’d left dormant for a long time and once I’d started writing again I regained my appreciation and joy for the role I’m currently in. On top of that, the experiences I’ve had in my life; good, bad, rewarding and challenging are varied and could have an impact on others. If one thing I write about speaks to one person then I feel like what’s happened on my journey so far is creating positivity and creates more than just a story for us.
Laura, do you have any tips for other expats in France?
I would first advise to have a basic understanding of the language as you can then build on that once you’re here. Also to bring a few important small items from home that make your house feel like home, for example photographs and knick-knacks.To read our feature article on Laura Sheehan, click here.
Have you also faced challenging moments in France like Laura? We’d love to hear if you have had similar experiences to Laura in the comments box below.
All images © Laura Sheehan.