10 things I learnt in 100 days of being a mother

Left: Skinny RJ at two weeks old. Right: Growing plump cheeks by two months old.
Left: Skinny RJ at two weeks old. Right: Growing plump cheeks by two months old.

I recently came across an article on my Facebook timeline that promised “8 Things Top CEOs Do Before 8am”, the title made me laugh. Look at me, it’s 8am today and I have already been awake for two hours. What have I done in that time?

I managed to pump milk, eat breakfast, bathe, do the laundry, plan for lunch, and now I’m trying to squeeze in a quick blog post. Hey, that’s an achievement when tending to a three-month-old baby.

I must admit life has changed tremendously in the short period of time since my daughter was born. As my dear daughter RJ turns 100 days today, here are some thoughts on what i’ve learnt so far.

1. Wanting to have a child is one thing… wanting to become a mother is another thing altogether

Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? It SHOULD strike you that becoming a mother is synonymous with having a child, but let me tell you, these are two different things – one is a physical act, the other is a complete, irreversible redefining of your state of being.

All the guide books in the world can prepare you for the physiological changes in your body that pregnancy brings, or coach you on how to go through labour and childbirth. But no guru can adequately explain the identity metamorphosis you undergo after becoming a mother. It alters who you are, for better or for worse. Let’s just say I enjoyed the “watching-my-child-blossom-and-grow” part a lot, but not so much the “watching-my-body-expand-and-contract” part.

Yes, I always imagined being a mother Some Day, I just didn’t count on the package including turning into this person who looks like the auntie in the pasar, and speaks like (*horror of horrors*) my mother!

2. People look at you differently

Which brings me to my second point about being perceived differently. Because of the baby in my arms, people who have never given me a second glance before, now open up to me. Walking around in my condo, older ladies inevitably strike up a conversation, comment on/ try to touch/ give unsolicited advice about RJ. Several times, kind coffee shop proprietors have offered me a chair with a back instead of the typical plastic stool.

Of course, while it has opened up a new world of kindness and potential friendships, it also closes the door of who I used to be. Since I no longer wear the high heels, tight black skirts and crisp jackets of a trial lawyer, salespeople automatically perceive me to be of a different tax bracket. When my husband accompanied me to shop for a car, the salesman talked specs and figures to him, all the while ignoring me as the “tag along” who might be consulted on for colour choice. The good news about this new physical appearance is that it works as good “armour” against pesky credit card promoters. Heh. (If you are a credit card promoter, no hard feelings :p)

3. Being a mother is not a full time job… it’s a lifelong relationship

A friend asked me, do you ever get tired of looking after her? I thought for awhile about the frustrating moments and I said, yes, there are moments in the day when I feel tired of looking after the baby. But those moments pass. They do not linger long enough to cloud my memory of her smiling half-moon eyes, or make me forget the pealing bells of her laughter when I steal a kiss.

Becoming a mother is not a job or duty, I discovered. It is a relationship. In every worthwhile relationship, the bad moments do not detract from the larger satisfaction. In the big picture of life, there will be decades worth of moments to share with my daughter. Thousands of hours, millions of minutes. So what if she cries for five of those minutes? It’s a drop in the ocean of love. The crying will pass, but our bond will hold. Thankfully, she will grow up.

4. Until you become a mother, you’ll never appreciate hygiene so much, yet be so unfazed about grossness

This one is a bit gross, feel free to skip it if you’re squeamish. (Don’t say you weren’t warned).

It starts around the first month of pregnancy, when you become hyper aware of your food cleanliness and environmental hygiene (hello nesting instinct). It exacerbates when baby is newly born and you become obsessed with sterilizing equipment, washing hands, wiping surfaces, and basically wanting to obliterate every particle and atom that comes into contact with the atmosphere your baby is in. (hello paranoia).

You find yourself doing strange things like steam washing mattresses, deep cleaning sofas, cleaning out every corner and crevice, and more than once fantasizing about getting rid of every single piece of furniture in the house until all that’s left is the essential pieces that are easy to clean and child-friendly.

At the same time, you find yourself amazed that you don’t freak out at diaper explosions, baby peeing (or poo-ing!) on you, milk stains on the bed, and other disgusting tales that are now simple facts of life. True story.

5. Time is elastic

Is it just me, or does three minutes feels like thirty, when a colicky baby cries? Also, pumping for ten minutes might feel like an hour, but an hour of baby’s sleep may pass by like it was only ten minutes! When you’re in it, the first week feels like forever… but after your maternity leave is over and it’s time to go back to work, you’ll feel that time flew by.

On my first day home alone with RJ, the day felt impossibly long. I was convinced the batteries in my clock were spoilt because the minute hand never seemed to move! After three months, I’ve learnt to chop up the day into segments, and to have mini goals to aim for in each segment (two naps before lunch, etc.) If all else fails, I learnt to take a deep breath and step back. After all, this too will pass.

6. Things I thought would make my baby happy vs. What actually made us happy

Before RJ was born, my woozy pregnant self wanted to have a pretty decorated nursery with a handmade mobile, beautiful cot linen and perfectly sorted drawer organisers. Turns out, she is not even sleeping in her room yet (at three months). Of course, there is nothing wrong with making beautiful preparations to welcome baby. I just learnt that the prettiest Pinterest ideas were not always the ones that made our days happy.

Instead, we were happiest during her bath time, when she lies on her changing mat, when mummy kisses her neck, when she plays with a cloth napkin, and when people interact with/ make faces at/ play with her. Oh and my personal favorite thing-that-makes-me-happy is baby wipes that are folded so that when you pull out one piece, the “tail” of next one comes out too. So. Convenient.

‘Enuff said.

7. You can be happy even when baby is grumpy

Spend enough time with a baby and you’ll see his mood change from a smiling “ten” to a screaming “zero”, then back to ten again – all in a flash. What gives? Even when baby is fed, cleaned, and rested, he could still cry or be restless/ grumpy. So don’t take a grumpy baby as a sign that you’re doing something wrong. Also, never allow baby’s fickle emotions to dictate yours.

One of my best discoveries was that sometimes, RJ’s shrieking cries were not an indicator of excruciating pain, but a call for attention and affection. Aha! Busted! As mothers, we tend to channel or be affected by our babies’ emotions. In fact, they are sometimes mirroring ours. They are so perceptive and can often pick up our feelings even though we don’t say it out loud.

My wake-up call came when i realised that my baby’s default frowning face probably came from imitating my frowns of concentration as I struggled to make sure everything is up to par. I’ve since stopped putting happiness on hold and embraced the joy of living in the imperfect moment. Nowadays when she acts up out of the blue, I stay calm and tell her “I refuse to be upset even though you are grumpy. I’m going to smile and enjoy the moment with you, even if you’re not enjoying yourself right now.”  More often than not, she would soon cheer up after that.

8. It’s not about you, but it IS about you

For awhile after giving birth, I felt like my identity had been usurped, or the “I” that I had spent years cultivating, had disappeared overnight. People tended to ask, “how is the baby?” or “how is motherhood?” all the time, as if my life revolved around it. It took some time to adjust to a new normal state, where I embraced RJ as part of my life, without her overshadowing everything else.

It’s easy to get sucked into the Mama Vortex, when your life has temporarily shrunk to a small room and an endless cycle of feed-sleep-clean. Sometimes you feel the pressure to be the fountain that never runs dry (of energy to stay up all hours, of patience to care for baby, of milk to feed baby… you see where this is going?)

Remind yourself that there’s life outside the four walls, that above and beyond being a mother, you are also a person with needs, interests, and goals. Have a conversation with your husband about non-baby/ motherhood related stuff. Meet up with friends who are not parents. Once in awhile, do something just for you – and don’t feel guilty about it.

9. Each stage has enough challenges of its own… don’t worry about the next one

The chinese have a saying that for every mountain, there is a higher mountain. I find that true in motherhood as well as life. If you thought breastfeeding was tough, wait til you try potty training. If you couldn’t wait for baby to turn over soon enough, wait till he starts crawling all over the place. If you were eager for baby to start talking quickly, wait till he becomes a chatty toddler and never stops asking questions. You get the picture.

There are different challenges that come with every stage of the child’s life, so instead of worrying about the next big milestone, enjoy the moment you are in, while it lasts. After all, like every wistful empty-nester will tell you, they grow up so fast.

10. You never knew how much you were capable of, until you became a mother

Becoming a mother is also about discovering hidden superpowers. Late-risers, you never knew how little sleep you could get by with. Short-fuses, you discover just how patient you can be. Timid ones, you are surprised to hear your voice speaking up boldly for your child.

You learn courage in labour and childbirth. You discover how resilient your body is. You realise how few things you actually need to survive. You manage to stretch every ringgit and marvel how the same salary can expand to include baby’s ever-growing needs. You learn to work quickly, with multiple interruptions. You reach a new level of multi-tasking. (Hey, i’m breastfeeding while writing this. Top that.)

To a student, three months spans a semester of academic life. To a new employee, three months represent the probation period that will make or break their future with the company. To a pregnant woman, three months or a trimester, makes all the difference between puking your guts out every morning, and glowing with life and vitality.

To me, the past three months have been a transition from a high-flying career woman to a domestic (not-so-)diva. Boy, has the ride been a bumpy one. Here’s to more lessons, and hopefully laughter, in the months to come!

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