Making Choices

This is my family.

Valerie is now almost 2 years and 7 months, while Isaac turned 9 months young a week ago. Kevin holds a full-time corporate job and is the main breadwinner of the family.

I work from home. I have my own General Insurance business, while helping my husband with the administrative aspects of his work baby – Affinity.

I resigned from the first position I held post-graduation in September 2015, after 2 years 3 months. I was in my first trimester with Valerie then.

My resignation was planned, and I had actually decided to leave prior to finding out I was pregnant. Fun fact: my resignation letter was rejected by my superiors two times before they finally accepted my decision to leave.

I took up a part-time position in October that same year but I left after a month because I was constantly nauseated and dizzy, all thanks to pregnancy hormones.

And I’ve not been back to the corporate world since.

That said, I wouldn’t say I stumbled into the role of a stay-home parent as I could have easily gone back to work a few months after Valerie’s birth. (I did have a promising job offer from Gleneagles Hospital.) Becoming a SAHM was a deliberate choice by Kevin and I.

In my two mummy groups, I have shared countless times about my experience as a stay-home parent, the reasons why we are doing what we are doing, and the sacrifices we chose to make just so that Valerie and Isaac will always have their mum around through their growing up years.

I am documenting my various thought processes here, in the hopes that – when the going gets tough, and when the routines get mundane – I will always remember why I chose the road less travelled.

I am thankful that Kevin and I have always been on the same page about this since day one. I wouldn’t be able to thrive as a stay-home parent if it weren’t for his unconditional love and support.

With that in mind, our preference for having at least one parent be with our children at any one time is different.

For Kevin, having his spouse be the primary caregiver for his children has been a long-time desire of his. He was a latchkey kid and his parents were always busy working. He rarely spent time with them, and yearned for some form of parental guidance as he grew older. That’s when he promised himself that if he ever had the privilege of becoming a father, he would very much prefer his children to be brought up by their own mother.

For me, the choice to be a SAHM was a no-brainer. Those who know me would know why. My mum herself was a SAHM for 15 years. She quit her 9-year job when I was born, and only went back to working full-time when I was in Upper Secondary. When I was young, I took her presence for granted (because what did I know – I thought everyone’s mum stayed home too). But as I grew older – especially as a mother myself now, ironically – I started appreciating her being around for my sister and I all the time. Whenever we needed her, she was there. Rain or shine, she was there. And this continues to this day. What a powerful impact it had on my life; and I wanted to be able to do the same for my own children.

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I will not lie to you. Having one parent stay home and not hold a stable full-time corporate position is really not easy. It involves deliberate lifestyle changes and choices.

Here are some truth bombs that I would like to share.

1) We have a tighter budget, obviously.

I have not bought anything I’ve wanted for myself since I quit my job. That’s three whole years of adding things to my cart and then not carting out because I have zero financial independence. Though Kevin allows me to buy things without consulting him, I just don’t because I rather save that money for stuff we need instead of stuff I want. 100% of the things I now buy is for the house, for the children, or for our meals (ie: groceries and/or wet marketing). And… I used to be a shopaholic, once spending $400+ just on makeup during the Christmas period in 2014.

2) We will not vacation further than Malaysia for the time being.

We have decided not to go for family holidays further than Malaysia when the children are young. Firstly, do you have any idea how tiring it is to travel with young children? I won’t want to take flights with them – as much as I can help it – until they are both in primary school, capable of walking on their own and willing to follow our instruction. Maybe I will consider flying with them if we have extra helping hands on board… But we will decide if and when the opportunity presents itself. Next consideration is of course, cost – holidaying in Malaysia stretches our dollar! And lastly, beach holidays will suffice for our family for now. After all, our children are still young. All they will want is just the sand, the pool, the bathtub, and US. They don’t care where they are; they just want to be in our presence. Plus we have their teen years to take them to see the world anyway… For now, shrewd financial planning and building up our savings come first.

3) We eat in all the time.

Yup, you read that right. We don’t eat out. Except Kevin when he’s out on the field working, though I’m already making plans to pack him meals daily from our kitchen. (Healthier + saves money… Win-win!) We don’t have brunch in cafes, or coffees at Starbucks. I consider even a meal at Sun Plaza’s Kopitiam a luxury because someone else prepared it and I didn’t have to shop for the ingredients nor meal plan! Bubble tea? I have it like once in two months… And it does taste like heaven.

4) Stay-home mum depression is real.

This is a real struggle of mine. I wrote a little about it here, you can jump over to that post if you’d like. To many, being a SAHM might be the dream. And shouldn’t I be happy that I get to spend all day with my children?

Well. While I am truly honoured that Kevin has given me the chance to be a full-time mum, life can get extremely routine after awhile. And man, is it emotionally draining! In case you were wondering, my job scope includes…

Constant attention, constant vigilance, constant scrutiny, constant touch, constant use of my voice, constant relegation of my needs to the second tier. It’s needing an hour to do what takes others 15 minutes. It’s doing all this while concurrently teaching virtually everything – language, manners, safety, resourcefulness, competency, discipline, curiosity, creativity, empathy, and everything else in between.

This space is as real as I’m going to get, and I will be the first in line to tell you that being a mum is not easy. I have struggled, heck, I’m still struggling!

And yes, I am also here to tell you that SAHM depression is a thing.

And no, it is not because we hate our “job”. It is because sometimes, just sometimes, the overwhelming mental load of motherhood is simply too much.

5) There’s absolutely no shame in admitting we need extra help.

I have a helper. Her name is Anita. She started working for us in May this year, a mere three days before we moved.

This begets a whole lot of questions because the assumption is housewife plus helper equates to rich housewife. Firstly, that is a load of bollocks. Secondly, with two children under the age of three and with my physical and mental health not doing so well recently, having an extra pair of hands to help out around the house has been a huge blessing and I am thankful we took a leap of faith and decided to engage her at the recommendation of a friend.

Yes, no doubt a helper increases our cost substantially… But we engaged her precisely because we saw a need.

Anita now does the physical work of running our household (cooking, chores, grocery shopping, errand-running), while I focus on the children and on expanding our side businesses.

These are the choices I have made for my family.

What choices will you make for your family today?

The Fourth Trimester

I’m not one to mince my words so I’d be honest: Life is so tough now.

The late-night feeds. The through-the-night feeds. The baby-refuses-to-latch feeds. The baby-struggles-at-boob feeds. And the baby-won’t-stop-crying-though-boob-in-mouth feeds.

You guessed it. I’m struggling with breastfeeding Isaac.

My supply is really good this time round, and I have more than enough milk for his needs. I have so much milk, in fact, that out of Valerie’s three milk feeds a day, two are of my milk (morning and night), while she takes formula in school after her afternoon nap on weekdays.

But as with all things, there’s the good, and there’s the bad. Good supply is what every breastfeeding mum dreams of, but for me, my good supply comes with extremely forceful letdown that causes Isaac to choke.

I know how strong my letdown can be because I observe my milk flow when I use my trusty Haakaa, and my milk SHOOTS out. Like a fountain. So I can imagine how Isaac feels when the milk suddenly sprays HARD towards the back of his throat. Of course, he’d get a shock and unlatch. Then he’d be upset that he unlatched and cry badly. Then I’d (quite) forcefully re-latch him and he’d be struggling. Rinse and repeat.

I spoke with Aunty Tok about this yesterday and she watched me breastfeed Isaac and the same thing happened. She came to the same conclusion I did – that my letdown was too strong for Isaac. I mentioned to her too, that I was honestly considering being an Exclusive Pumping (EP) mum, and asked for her thoughts because I value her opinion.

I’m currently still seriously considering the EP route. I mean – whatever works best for Isaac and I, right?

This was taken on Kevin’s 38th birthday. Isaac coincidentally turned 38 days old that same day too.

I’m posting this photo up because… Well, I need a reminder that his infantile stage, especially the fourth trimester (!!!), will pass before I know it. And though now it seems like things will never end, I will miss this phase when he goes into the next. (Oh, the irony of life.)

He is now sleeping on my chest after feeding. Such moments are far and few between, but these are the moments I treasure most. It’s during these moments that I feel him breathe, I feel him live. It’s during these moments that he is near and still enough to hear my heart beat, just like when he was still swimming around inside my womb.

He rarely is this still. He rarely is this quiet.

And this is another struggle of mine.

Isaac is a very light sleeper. He wakes up at the slightest noise or movement.

He constantly grunts – I think that’s just his way of babbling but it does get too much, at times.

He prefers to be carried, and cries to be cuddled. BUT it must be in HIS favourite position – the cradle.

Day in, day out; I’m either latching, pumping, or cuddling him. Just really thankful that I have extra hands to help me carry him when I need to pump, eat, shower, spend time with Valerie, or just take a y’know… BREAK.

Honestly, it’s tough. And I am struggling. There seems to be so much more to do now with two children completely dependant on you, though Valerie spends the most part of the day in school (thank GOD seriously).

Before I delivered, I was told that the BIGGEST transition any mother would have to go through would be going from ONE child to TWO children; and now I totally get it.

I’m a mess. I’m a complete mess. My children’s schedules are not in sync. My pumping schedule is chaos (I’ve gone nine hours without pumping before). I feel like I don’t even have proper time to eat, bathe, or even pee. I’m locked in the room with my boobs out half the time to milk my jugs… And I haven’t had a proper sleep in ages.

There are times when I feel like giving it all up. When I want to run away. When I want to just take care of my own needs again. When I want my body back to myself.

But then I think of life before I had my children, and as tough as it is now, I’ve truly never been happier.

So I’m pressing on, step by step. But man, it is hard.

First Outing As Four

One word: C. H. A. O. S.

But at least we survived, hey.

So the plan was for us to drop by IKEA to have lunch and to look at clothes and toy storage options for the kids’ room. Sounds simple enough, right? Not.

Here’s how our day went.

1020: Kevin and I jerked awake and went “crap” at the same time because we slept in when we weren’t supposed to. So many things to do, so little time – hello?

1200: Finally left home after feeding Isaac, pumping milk, getting him bathed and dressed, getting ourselves washed up and dressed for the day, eating a quick bite, packing the Anello and preparing both prams.

1230: Drove out of carpark after setting up the Doona for Isaac, putting the Fedora and Anello in the boot, and packing ourselves into the car.

1330: Arrive at IKEA Tampines after doing a detour to collect Valerie from my parents’ place as she spent the night with them. The car ride was interesting as I sat behind with both of them wanting my attention at the same time. Isaac wanted out of his car seat because he wanted to latch, while Valerie wanted to sleep on me. So I latched my son while being my daughter’s pillow. I’m immensely glad both children managed to fall asleep for the most part of the journey.

1400: Finally reached the IKEA restaurant for lunch as Kevin and I took a good 20 minutes to unpack everyone from the car. It was kind of like a circus, for lack of a better word. Imagine Kevin putting a sleeping toddler into her Fedora, removing the Doona and then strapping Isaac in while I get, uhm, myself in order and button up my dress. Meanwhile, Valerie wakes up and decides to wail while Isaac fusses as he’s not used to the pram. I started to feel overwhelmed but this was just the beginning…

1430: Started eating, finally. No food photos because who has time now seriously. I was just trying to prevent Valerie from rocking Isaac’s pram from her high chair.

1530: All four of us were done with lunch. (Yes, latched Isaac at the table too.)

1600: FINALLY (I’m using this word a lot hahahahaha) started our shopping trip after a half-hour trip to the nursing room which saw both kids changed and Isaac fed (again).

Going from this…

… To this took about two hours.

Those two hours consisted of a mini melt-down by my toddler, constant cries by my infant, and whining and more whining from both.

We are fortunate to have been able to purchase SOMETHING from the sale. At least it was not a wasted trip!

1930: We reached back to my parents’ place to drop Valerie off (she was due to stay another night) and where dinner awaited us.

2100: Kevin, Isaac and I reached home. I forced myself to take a quick shower and then pumped milk before feeding and changing Isaac. Turned on a movie (Pitch Perfect 3) and barely watched till the halfway mark before falling asleep.

But we survived. We survived our first trip out as a family of four! I’m proud of us. Things can only get better from here on out… Hopefully.

The Truth About Birth

I decided to post this photo up because I want to be as real as possible – and well, this is as real as it gets. That was me on Isaac’s birth date, and I honestly wasn’t feeling my best. I felt sick (dizzy and nauseated), was exhausted (hadn’t slept in 2 days) and just wanted to pack up and go home. (But obviously couldn’t because there was a baby about to come out of me.)

“I can’t do this”, I thought to myself.

“Yes, you can”, I fought back.

My mind was tired. Everything was a blur. I didn’t even know what time it was or what day it was, even.

I just wanted for it all to be over.

“It’s been a really long time since I’ve felt ok.”

“I just want to eat again.”

“How did I survive a pregnancy once more?”

“Can you take off all these tubes and just let me go home, please.”

Thoughts like these were floating around in my head the entire seven hours I was in active labour. I didn’t even know what I was thinking of half the time.

And then Isaac arrived. After three pushes in nine minutes, he arrived.

He was here!!!

After all the pain and discomfort I went through, my rainbow baby has arrived. I should have been elated…

But I felt nothing. I was numb. I was too exhausted to even WANT to hold him and held him out of sheer obligation because the midwife insisted I do skin-to-skin with my newborn.

You see, no one told me this.

No one told me the truth about birth.

I went into the delivery suite expecting to come out a few kilograms lighter and with the new love of my life – my baby.

But I’ve given birth twice and that has never happened. Not the first time, and certainly not the second time round either.

No one tells you how the sheer anticipation of your little bundle of joy (and of course, labour itself) can completely wipe you out.

And no one tells you how grossed out you will feel after you shoot a baby out of your vagina.

The blood. The amniotic fluid. The placenta (that’s basically like a huge bloodied mass that weighs about 500g). Not to mention, having to put your legs up in the stirrups for a stranger to see you in all your (bloodied) glory AND have him/her stitch you up.

… Tell me now. How am I supposed to fall in love with my baby with all this going on? I barely even saw what he looked like because I could not keep my eyes open, anyway.

And honestly, I just wanted everyone to leave me alone. I wanted to be cleaned up as fast as humanly possible. I wanted to curl up into a ball and go to sleep.

Fast forward 12 hours and finally feeling somewhat human again.

Seeing this photo again brings back all types of feels because this was the moment I first held Isaac in my arms. This was the moment I saw his face (and thought – hey another photocopy of Kevin). This was the moment I vowed to protect him until he grew wings to set up his own nest away from ours. This was the moment I fell in love with my son, my little boy.