I’m Melanie Ham, co-founder of Shanghai Mamas
. My friend Linda and I started it in 2006 as an outgrowth of a play group that met on Fridays. We made a Yahoo thread to connect people and share tips about where to find things like band-aids with characters on them because at that point it was harder to find supplies around town. Somewhere around 2009 the group got a little too big with almost 2,000 people so we built out a website.
We’re a single point of entry for people new to Shanghai, we turn up pretty high on a Google search for “parenting in Shanghai” so we’re focused on arrivals…and WeChat groups, lots of WeChat groups. We’re a non-profit run by volunteers so anything we earn goes back into the community, like coffee mornings where parents can meet other parents, form connections, and make friends.
There’s a loss of identity that comes with moving to Shanghai especially as a “trailing spouse” (a term I actually hate). You may be taking a break from your career, so it’s actually common for parents to take a baby break soon after arriving. This loss of identity mixed with becoming a new parent can make for a tumultuous time. I came here in 2003 with my husband, his job brought us here. From there our daughter was born and four years later our son came along. Living here for a long time, you meet a lot of people and where you see a need you fill a need. That’s what Shanghai Mamas has done for families, it's a way to grow a support network.
I’ve also been with Bloodline
from the beginning, which was built out of a need for Rh negative blood since there was a low supply at the Hongqiao blood bank. Bloodline formed as a database of Rh negative people so we could bring them in to donate if there was an emergency.
I think I would have been a social worker in another life, but you can’t really do that here, so community organizing is my way to give back. My actual job is lactation consultant, I help moms with new babies that are having challenges breastfeeding. To get them completely latched on, educate, and help moms problem solve any issues. Breastfeeding is something people think of as natural, but it’s actually a skill and can be really difficult. There are usually just little things to tinker with to make it easier.
My daughter just started high school at SAS
so we’re locked in for four years. It’s an amazing school, I wish I went somewhere like that growing up, and she just loves it. There are always school events, and I’m my daughter’s Girl Scout troop leader. As a troop we do a lot of service work and right now we’re studying consumer decisions around food. We don’t sell the official Girl Scout cookies but to be fair I don’t think you’d want a moldy Thin Mints coming through customs. We do make our own “Minty Thins” very similar to Thin Mints but better.
As a family, we always like to explore, so we’ll often just grab Mobikes and ride around. We’ve been in Old Town since we bought a lane house in 2007 (it was easier back then). There’s not a ton of restaurants around us, but really good noodle shops. There’s also Crystal Jade
in Xintiandi, it’s a combination of Sichuan and Taiwanese and quite good. If we’re going out my favorite spot is Colca
, I love their ceviche.
We have no regrets, but I think my kids have a feeling that they don’t really know where they’re from. When we’re back in the U.S. people ask and they’ll say “America!” And that’s not really an answer you give to somebody in America. My husband is from Shanghai and he grew up here, so when we go back we stay in my hometown Highlands, North Carolina. We’ve always wanted our kids to feel at home in both places but as they get older it gets harder and harder.
I’m a strong believer in trusting instincts, if there’s a little voice in your head that’s telling you something listen to that voice or at least explore what that voice has to say. For parents and in general, it’s important to let go and realize you can’t control everything. Especially here.