Dear working / stay at home / entrepreneur / fit / pregnant new mama / future mama,
To make sure I captured on paper my first year as a mother, I wrote these thoughts in December 2016, a week after the first birthday of my first-born baby girl, and a week before I turned 30, and almost 3 years since I started ash be nimble!!! It has been the toughest year of my life. I wanted to tell you about what I've learnt in my first year of being a mum, while trying to run my start-up which designs affordable sportswear, while trying to get my fitness back in check so I can do my trail races again, while trying to be a good wife / daughter / sister / friend. I wanted to give you a real, raw, honest picture of what it looks like, not to scare or discourage, but in the hopes that it would inspire, encourage and relate to what you are going through so you can draw strength to keep on going!
Despite the happy clappy positive-vibe photos you see on social media, motherhood is not easy, and running your own business adds so much stress and complexity. Being a mama for me is the most important job in the world, but I also can't drop the ball on my business as I have full time staff. I need to make sure I develop, grow, inspire, challenge and pay every month! It's scary when it hit me the other day that they are someone else's daughter or mother. I still find it difficult to switch off from work and take time off, but being a mother is more than full-time - it's not something you can switch off or close the door and take a weekend away from.
I barely have time to finish my work every day, let alone exercise more than once a week, get appointments to remove hair in the right places, plan my baby's first birthday party (yes I sent out facebook invites a week before the event, got catering organised 4 days before), get my car serviced, set up her baby-room ... Most days the goal is to do two things at once: breastfeed while replying my 1000+ unread whatsapp messages, feed her while trying to chomp down my own dinner, stand up typing with my laptop on a ledge while entertaining her with toys on the ground, breastfeed while trying to cut her nails, bathe her while trying to half bathe myself, brush my teeth while teaching her how to do her own, talk on the phone while taking her for a walk around the park.
Most days end with me falling asleep while trying to nurse her to sleep (which is how we always end up with her in our bed), and then dreaming about the 10 other things I've not been able to complete for the day, then feeling guilty that I've been only thinking about what I haven't finished doing and not focussing on playing, talking and listening to my baby.
I'll sometimes get woken up at 3 or 5am with her wanting to feed, then after she falls back to sleep I sometimes think I should get up and finish my work. But sleep is so precious since I still have not been able to get her to sleep through the night, so I most frequently end up going back to sleep and wake up feeling unrested and still with a growing list of things to do.
A few things you need to know about my journey as a mama + entrepreneur:
- Everyone thought I'd be up and running the week after I gave birth. I went through 4 hours of induced-contractions, 45 minutes of pushing, lost 3x the normal amount of blood, stayed on the delivery bed for 9 hours, didn't leave my maternity ward for 3 days, was in hospital for 5, and I only started doing walks outside 6-weeks later.
- I still have not set up my baby room - 1 year later.
- Asha never took to the bottle so up until she could start on soft foods, for the first 6 months of 2016 I had to drop whatever I was doing and make sure Asha was near me for me to feed her directly.
- I was lucky breastfeeding was not an issue for me or Asha, although the first 2 weeks was extremely painful!
- Because Asha needed to feed directly from me and therefore is extremely attached, I have had to bring her to many of our pop up store events and work trips: Borneo International Marathon in Kota Kinabalu, speaker engagement at Young Entrepreneur Conference in Penang and Kota Kinabalu, and countless more local events in KL.
- I did not read any books on parenting except 1/3 of one, a week before Asha turned 1.
- I can't afford a full time helper, and even if I could I can't risk wasting money on one I can't trust with my baby.
- There have been at least 4 or 5 moments this year when I wanted to give up on my business, because, you know, you can't give up on your baby instead.
- There were 3 occasions this year (the most recent one in October) I broke down in tears when close friends just gave me a hug and asked me, 'how are you doing Hui?'. There have been quite a few weeks where every day I'd have to take a deep breath, hold back my tears, put on a brave smile and walk into my office and shop to greet my team.
- I cry in the shower - maybe once every few months, because I always feel silly and better afterwards, and ready to smile at my baby again!
- I work out maybe once a week - with work and no full-time baby sitter as my excuses. Which is why I've only managed to do 2 races this year - and although I've done well, they were extremely tough and painful due to my lack of training.
- I still nurse Asha to sleep, every, single, night - but I hug her like a teddy bear to sleep most nights too and feel like I'm still dreaming when I wake up and see my baby girl right next to me!
- I organised and put together her 1st birthday party a week before the event because I wanted to celebrate but have been so exhausted and chasing my tail closing off 2016 for the business! (sorry for all the late invites, haphazard deco but we enjoyed every moment of the celebration!)
What I've thoroughly enjoyed about this past year:
Bringing Asha to work and to my events makes me and others a lot more approachable! The most stern-looking aunty would stop and say hi, the seemingly macho-handsome athletic guy will not be shy to say hi and make faces at my baby, and there is no room to be angry and stressed when Asha is around the office on Thursdays when I bring her in.
Despite the constant feeling of not being able to finish my to-do list every day, I've become incredibly focused and priority-driven every time I step into work. There is only room for the 5 most important things every day, which helps me focus on outcomes and getting things done in the most effective and efficient way. (I really don't have a choice otherwise). My team have to put up with me demanding a focus on outcomes, not just tasks and activities, and we are constantly updating each other, discussing progress, and highlighting key decisions that require my input.
I've learnt and seen my husband in a whole new light - as he takes on his role of being a papa so amazingly and with so much love I have not seen before. Asha adores him and he has been most supportive in giving me space but yet support with my business ventures and with me lashing out when I'm the most stressed!
I have this new badge of honour which helps me connect with other mamas, especially those who are into fitness and those who run their own business, or both! It has opened up a whole new world of topics of conversation and far deeper insight and empathy for mothers.
I've loved this new challenge of trying to stay fit while being a breast feeding mum. I've discovered wonderful abilities of the human body - how efficient mine is at producing milk for my baby, so I seem to be able to get away with snacking on chocolate bars and cake every now and then.
When I do get the time and space to train in the trails, I really push myself because I know the time and opportunity is limited. I make full use of every single spare hour I have - whether that's being purposeful about DOING NOTHING, or I have a growing to-do list of ENDLESS things to catch up with. This makes my life so purposeful and I finish most weeks and months feeling like I've not wasted a single moment.
I've enjoyed every stage of watching Asha grow - discovering herself, discovering me and papa and the world around her - the feeling of her first realising how to reach out and hug her mama, or give me a kiss on the lips or cheek. I love that.
So, is it worth it?
Yes I do wonder whether the safer choice would be to go back to employment, send Asha to full time day care so that I can put aside decent savings for her education and for a home of our own. So I would not have to tear my hair out every month end making sure I have enough cash flow to pay my staff, overheads and keep the business afloat, and also be able to pay my own personal bills, loans and be able to afford good food and toys for Asha. But yet no corporate job would give me the same sense of drive and ownership AND the flexibility of being able to drop what I'm doing, get Asha sorted out, and then pick things up again where I left off. If I were still in a Corporate job, I would probably have had to quit my job, given how Asha refused the bottle entirely (we tried cup-feeding, different bottles, syringes, droppers ....). I know 2 mums who had to quit their jobs because their babies refused the bottle, and they went into depression because the change was so drastic and abrupt!
I always ask myself whether it is worth it, about my business, but never about my baby. It's out of the question. I would never trade having a baby for anything else in the world. It is hard work - both of these are - no one said it would be easy, and if it were, it wouldn't be half as wonderful. Some days I equate it to doing a difficult trail race, like an ultra marathon - where it always hurts, it can get ugly, you ask yourself why you signed up for it in the first place, you can try to train and prepare for it but nothing compares to the actual real thing or day itself, sometimes there is blood and sweat and tears involved. (or pee - yes I pee'd my pants once because Asha wouldn't let go, and I had on a ridiculously inconvenient skirt to remove...I had a meltdown afterwards which my husband coaxed me out of with hugs and kisses).
But then there is this sense of accomplishment, sweet victory of the feeling that you've moved beyond yourself, what you know and what you are comfortable with, that you are becoming a stronger person, inside out. That your life has meaning and purpose, with quite a few uphill battles and difficult moments but never a dull moment, that you are in the thick of an unknown adventure with unfamiliar territory but exciting prospects.
So I hope you forgive the haphazard writing style and the random bits and pieces of my past year - I really wanted to be as real as possible, and I also didn't have a lot of time to edit and write this piece! I hope you find your rhythm and clarity in being a mother, a woman, an entrepreneur in the best possible way for you. I don't know if I'd tell everyone to go through the same experience I have, but I have no regrets as I've taken one step at a time, and given it my very best.
I hope Asha will grow up to see that I've made the most of my time and opportunity and kindness shown to me, and that she will do the same for herself and for others.
I hope that you find courage through my story, scars, sweat and pee-stained pants to face your daily demons, your seemingly insurmountable challenges, or just the feeling of being stuck in a rut. I hope you also find the clarity to be grateful regardless of what situation you're in, because that has helped fuel me to be the best I can be, and live without regrets as I turn 30 this Sunday!
Much love to my man Ashish for standing beside me this whole time - I can now say he has loved me for half of my very crazy and full life!