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The first night her newborn twins were home, Mimpikita’s Nurul Zulkifli thought her dreams were over.

Facing breastfeeding difficulties and two screaming babies, the founder and designer of the homegrown fashion label was a bag of intense emotions. It was the busy Raya period for her label, and because the self-professed workaholic had never been away from the office like this, panicked texts had also been coming in all day for her counsel.

“At one point, on that first day, my husband said ‘Nurul, seriously, stop looking at your phone!’ He was screaming at me, and I was crying, and people kept asking ‘Nurul,  what do we do? What do we do with this and that?’” she remembers.

“I was crying and thinking: There goes my dream. Mimpikita is gone. Just like that. On the second day, I put down my phone. I told them that I can’t do anything anymore – it is beyond my control. Here I am in pain, and I’m struggling, I just cannot. I let go.”

Unprepared for baby, let alone twins

The 36-year-old is known for her professionalism and drive when it comes to the modest-wear fashion house she set up with her sisters Amirah and Syahira in 2008.

But when it came to preparation for a baby or two, Nurul said she was extremely unprepared for what was about to happen to her life.

She was an entrepreneur who happily worked 7 days a week and worried about everything being executed well. Although she had been struggling to conceive for 10 years and has been public about her fertility challenges, Nurul said she did not read any baby preparation books or attend any prenatal classes as she was deep in the throes of work.

By her own admission, this was a huge oversight, as she was already “not really into kids.”

“Can you believe it? I did not really help my sister when she had her baby or help to change diapers. I delivered at 37 weeks, three weeks before Raya. So imagine the craziness at work! I had to deliver people’s orders – I was still working up to the night I was admitted into hospital.”

On a scale of 0 to 10 of how prepared she was for a baby, Nurul said she was probably a ‘2’.

“I had the barang (things) but mentally I was not prepared. And then the maid tak sampai (had not come), and I did not book a pantang (confinement) lady! Somehow, I was pretty sure that we could all manage – I had my sisters, I had my mum …”

The day of labour

When the babies came, Nurul and her husband didn’t know what hit them.

“The first day was okay because the babies were inside the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). But I was struggling with breastfeeding. I thought I would have been able to do it easily, so I had not asked anyone or read anything. The nurse asked me to express milk on that first day, and so I thought okay, perhaps I’m just not used to it.

“But on the second day, my babies were screaming! They screamed and screamed, and they were so small, and I was thinking ‘Why can’t I feed you?’ My aunties were telling me how to do it, and everyone was touching my boobs. I was struggling with not one but two babies, and even though they were teaching me how to do tandem feeding, I couldn’t even manage with one!”

Her emotions were overwrought, but Nurul said she did not cry in front of many people.

When she had more privacy, however, the tears did not stop flowing.

“I was crying, crying and crying. My dad said ‘What is wrong with you, you are not like this, you are strong!’

But I said I could not breastfeed and my babies were both screaming. Everything was such a struggle.”

Many, many tears

She had stayed in the hospital post-partum for five days, but when she returned home the breastfeeding difficulties continued and the babies continued to cry non-stop. In her household, nobody knew how to handle anything formula milk or milk bottle-related, so when formula was finally purchased in the end, nobody knew how to give it to the babies.

“On that day, at 8pm, I called the nurses and said ‘Please help me’. My friends also told us to feed the babies with a cup as they did not yet know how to feed from a bottle. I was scared and feeling so guilty about giving them formula.

“It was bulan puasa (fasting month), and my mum and my dad were tired. It was just my parents and my husband and I at home. I remember one night we had not slept at all and the babies were still crying at 4am. I asked my husband to fetch the breastmilk I had pumped, and he dropped the milk! He was screaming and crying and saying sorry!

When she saw her husband crying, Nurul decided she had to control her emotions.

“I just could not cry. And I saw that my mum was tired, so I asked my mum and dad to sleep. I had no milk, so I had to give the babies formula. And at 5am, they finally slept. I remember holding my husband’s hand saying, ‘We did it’. We closed our eyes. And then one of the babies cried again.”

Taking Care of Her Mental Health

Nurul remembers those newborn days as extremely dark. She ended up mixed feeding her babies but received comments from those closest to her that made her feel guilty about not being able to breastfeed them fully.

“But at the time, I was like, ‘Whatever’. I had been crying every day. Crying when I ate. I felt like it was the end – there goes my life, my business. In the mornings I would feel hopeful but come lunch time I would feel down again.

“I thought ‘Do I really love my own kids?’ I still remember thinking and feeling that, and I hate that. Yes, I hated that period.”

It took a lot for Nurul to stand up for herself to overcome these baby blues.

She had been staying in Johor Baru with her mum, and her husband went back to KL to work. “I was crying, and I wanted to go back too. I told my mum I was so depressed, and I just needed to go out.

By the third or fourth week, she had returned to KL and ventured out to her own shop despite her confinement period. This made her feel better.

“I just had to. Some people can (do this). But not me. I remember my mum asking me why my sister could do it all. I told my mum ‘Syahira is Syahira and I’m Nurul. I’m not her.’

It’s not that I’m bad, it’s just that I am not used to this. And to have two babies at one time, it was too overwhelming for me.”

Trial by Fire

Looking back now, how did Nurul cope with all the strain and struggle?

She said she kept reminding herself every day that she would be okay, and that it was a matter of getting used to the routine. After confinement and back in KL, she said she felt much better.

“I think the guilt will never end. But when I’m out, having my coffee, I feel better. And then I can play with them better later. There will always be judgment as well, but I don’t really focus on that.

“Some people say ‘Why do you leave your kids with the maid?’ I think if you feel you are okay to handle your kids on your own, then go ahead. But I cannot. Of course, I have time with my kids, but when I’m working, I need to work.

Finding a Balance

The entrepreneur makes no qualms about the fact that she still has her dreams and that she is still ambitious.

“I want things to go my way and for things to be successful, whether it is my family or business. Whatever it may be, I think we have to find a balance. I always asked God to give me children, and of course, I am a workaholic, but I don’t want my life to be all about this. I love my business but when I go home, I focus on my family.”

As to what she would offer as advice after all she’s been through?

Nurul thinks mothers shouldn’t be scared of telling people when things are not okay.

“I understand that people don’t like to be told the negative or bad side of things. Or that people prefer to keep their problems to themselves. But it’s about sharing. There are always flaws, the struggle is real. Don’t be afraid to say that it isn’t perfect, you aren’t perfect.”

Oh, and one more thing, she grins.

Prepare yourselves for motherhood and the newborn phase properly, expectant mothers!

 

By Laych Koh, Liyana Taff and Murni Roslim

Photo credit: Nurul Zulkifli Instagram

Organic skincare, organic food, traditional medications, essential oils, hipster apothecaries. There is no denying the trend of going back to the ‘natural’ way among the young urban millennials these days. This extends to young mothers as well – from gentle birthing to breastfeeding. This is one trend I hope will stick around for long.

It is important, though, to want to breastfeed not because everybody else is doing it. But because you, yourself realise the importance of it and have made that decision for you and your little one.

Here’s a cheat list on how to start right, and have it easier. Do this, and you can skip the unnecessary mistakes and heartaches of a new mum. Let’s begin!

1. Learn about breastfeeding in advance

Take some time off during your pregnancy and look for a breastfeeding class from a trusted organisation. It’s important that you learn how to position and latch correctly before you give birth. It will explain to you what to expect, and gives you more confidence, preventing you from panicking if things don’t turn out the way you had imagined. After the birth of the baby, it might be too overwhelming for you to learn something new.

2. Tell the doctor you want to breastfeed your baby

Tell your attending obstetrician during your checkups that you plan to breastfeed, and then again when you check in to the hospital ready for labour. This should alert the hospital staff that they should be handing you the baby for some skin to skin care right after birth, and prevent them from quickly sending your baby to the nursery and feeding her formula while she’s there.

Photo credit: Bondahaven

3. Book a breastfeeding massage in advance

Make sure to book a good and trusted masseur who knows how to do a breastfeeding massage before you give birth, and plan to have her come round your house a day after your birth. The massage will help to stimulate your breast milk production, and also ‘open up’ your virgin milk ducts. Some lucky mothers have their milk come in early in the first 3 days after birth, and will still likely be needing the massage to relieve them from any breast engorgement.

4. Do the kangaroo immediately after birth

I’m not talking about doing jumping exercises here, I promise. The first hour after birth is acutely important – you must do skin-to-skin kangaroo care with the baby, and attempt to latch her during this time. This will encourage milk production and ejection, and help your uterus to shrink too. You might have read about the ‘breast crawl’ – please don’t be frustrated if it doesn’t happen! It’s okay to just relax and bathe in the relief and joy of seeing your baby for the first time.

5. Seek help sooner rather than later

Have the phone number for a lactation counselor/nurse near you handy if your hospital doesn’t have one. If you realise you are not able to latch or worry that your baby might have other problems such as a tongue tie or a lip tie that’s making the journey difficult, it’s important to seek help early. The earlier you establish the latch, the easier your breastfeeding journey will be!

6. Say NO to the bottle

Even if your milk comes in late and you find yourself needing to feed your baby with supplementary milk (donated milk or formula milk), please feed using cup/spoon/syringe feeding. Using a bottle too early will lead to nipple confusion, and with the added risk of overfeeding the baby as well.

7. Stay positive

Many mothers worry too much or too early about their milk supply. In the first 3 days, you will most likely only have colostrum which is of a thick consistency and rich with antibodies, famously known as ‘liquid gold.’ It’s difficult to express this out because of its thickness, and usually only the baby is able to remove most of it from your breast. As long as your baby is calm, sleeping after feedings, pooping and peeing daily, you should do nothing but exactly those things too.

 

By Dr. Tengku Atiqah

Dr. Tengku Atiqah started her career counselling psychiatric patients. She has since taken a different path and now counsels distressed breastfeeding mothers. She runs her own breastfeeding spa called Bondahaven and is on a mission to build a maternity wellness empire while raising two beautiful, incessantly curious toddlers.
The team from Bondahaven

It’s Malaysia Day! On this day of national unity and diversity, and this very significant year, we celebrate the very best of what Malaysia represents.

But what do parents wish for when it comes to Malaysia’s future? We ask some mothers and fathers about their hopes and dreams.

Tricia Yeoh :

I hope for a Malaysia in which parents (especially mums) can choose both to work and care for their families if they so desire, and receive the necessary recognition, value and accommodation by their employers to make sure that they can.

I hope for a Malaysia in which my daughter can go to a government school as I did, and receive high quality education while mingling with children of all backgrounds.

I hope for a Malaysia in which my child will grow up free to be who she chooses to be, without any systemic discrimination.


Daphne Iking :

I pray new Malaysia will be committed in ending child marriages and making quality education and basic medical needs accessible to all children, regardless if they are Malaysians or refugees.

I would like there to be harsher punishment for sexual grooming and child rape. My hope is for a brigher future for our children.


M.T. :

Malaysia Day will eternally remain a special day for me because, quite simply, my firstborn son was born on that day. To feel an overwhelming sense of patriotism and national identity for my boy would be an understatement. It would be fun for him to know that his birthday will always be a public holiday as long as he stays in Malaysia.

But staying in Malaysia throughout his life isn’t necessarily a predestined future. As the world grows smaller, our boundaries become less of a barrier than the lines drawn on a map. My hopes for him is to be a globalised individual – one who is not constrained or defined by his nationality and yet, bring his Malaysianness to the world. Oh, the places he will go.

My hopes for Malaysia Day is that he grows as we, as country, continue to grow – with eternal hope and steadfast ideals. I remember giving him his first flag when he was nearly three, and he loved waving it around. This lasted for months. May he carry that flag for his many years ahead.


Sereni Linggi:

I hope for a strong and stable Malaysia for my children. One that is peaceful, fair and with many opportunities. As much as I hope for a more modern society, I also hope for one that will continue to preserve its multi-cultural traditions and heritage so that our children can truly appreciate our colourful past.


Dessy Barnaby :

It has been 12 years since I first call Malaysia home. My hope for this country is to see more effort put into action for the betterment of its children; its extremely diverse, uniquely well-versed, multi-talented, mostly multi-linguistic children. (Mine are no exception)

As parents, we hope to have more well-kept and safe communal parks. A place for our children to have more outdoor activities, to play and be children; a place for parents and family to set up picnics and have a nice morning brunch or playdates; a place for many adults to simply lie down and unfold a book to read the afternoon away.

Happy Birthday Malaysia, better-cared children will make a better future. Happy Malaysia Day!


Azura Rahman :

I wish for a Malaysia for my children that is more inclusive. Where people of different backgrounds, abilities, cultures, political affiliations can come together and work things out. I wish for a Malaysia for them that is even better than mine.


Desiree Hersham Kaur :

I hope for a more inclusive Malaysia – regardless of race, religion, abilities and sexuality. The change starts with us. As a mother to a child with autism, I hope for a country that embraces the fact that he is different. And in turn, I hope, when my son is old enough to understand, that he will be proud to be Malaysian!


Lina Esa :

I wish for a more progressive, open-minded and safe (physically safe, and safe to express oneself) Malaysia for the future and for the younger generation. While there are amazing organisations and initiatives for early learning, they do cost a lot more. So it would reshape our future if every child had access to the same opportunities.

Better childcare and a public school framework that is not restricted entirely to academic performance would set the wheels in motion. This takes cues from countries with wildly successful outcomes and fulfilled families. This can only translate to happier workers and a healthier economy.

I think sex education is a must within this firmament, as well as freedoms for people to express themselves. I think certain laws that are too arcane also hinder us from moving forward, so they should be looked at. I also wish for a more fluid public transport system — does that sound weird? But it’s only because the most advanced countries have them in place, as it facilitates a better life and living environment.


A.M. :

Ever since I moved back to Malaysia over a decade and a half ago, I’ve heard the term “Malaysia Boleh”, but more often than not it’s peppered with a smirk or even outright disdain. Boleh je speed because there will be no consequences or you can always, you know, give the authorities some ‘duit kopi‘. Boleh je segregate based on race because “that’s the way it’s always been and maintains the harmony”. Boleh je allow men to marry children because of their “religious beliefs and because their families allow it”. Boleh je have billions change hands in the name of donations…you get where this is going. That being said, we’ve recently experienced a renewed bout of optimism (to some extent) after the most recent elections, and what I hope for Malaysia is for the ‘boleh’ to truly harness empowerment.

Empowerment to learn: constant self-improvement and knowledge-seeking. Empowerment to be accountable: no more lawlessness and consequences for your actions. Empowerment for humanity: to stand up for human rights, regardless of race, sex, orientation or creed. And all this to be instilled within our children from the start, building a culture that is not lackadaisical and instead something to be proud of. Malaysia is already culturally rich but at times it feels lost. Let’s get back on track. Boleh je… 


Ayuni Ayatillah :

I hope Malaysia progresses to become a family-centric society that believes in the holistic nurturing of our young ones, a society that supports parents’ efforts. The role of parents are of the utmost importance in bringing up a generation that is more compassionate, diverse, inclusive, responsible and patriotic.

Let’s celebrate and support the role of every mother and father in making Malaysia a safe and happy place for our children to call home.


Amanda Sura :

As a new parent, I hope that with a new Malaysia, people continue to have hope for a better future. That Malaysians will continue to fight and work hard for what they want to achieve and change. Let deams be made a reality for many. I yearn to see a Malaysia that values unity and respect amongst its people, with leaders who accept challenges without losing their empathy and steadfastness.


Jasbir Singh:

Our country is going through a period of change, which presents both opportunities and risks.
I hope the spirit of nationhood that we have seen this year will translate into meaningful change over the long term that will strengthen our institutions and mature our politics, so that our children live in a country where every citizen has a voice, access to a fair justice system and opportunities to achieve their full potential.


Sarah Sabaratnam :

My hope for Malaysia and Malaysians is that we will all learn to dream and take ownership of our nation and its future. We need to take a leaf out of the likes of people like young Heidy Quah who founded Refuge for Refugees or John-son Oei who founded Epic Homes or Tengku Zatasha Idris who started a #sayno2plastic social media campaign that changed attitudes towards single use plastics. Like them, we need to think, “How can I contribute to my community, to the needy and to the gaps I see around me?”

Rather than just criticise or complain, I hope we will think about volunteering, or pironeering or contributing resources towards making Malaysia the country of our dreams. It’s time to be vested and invested, emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically. The time for apathy and thinking only about ourselves has passed. A new dawn has risen in Malaysia. I hope we will be proactive and arise with it.

 


Do you have something to say as well? Write us at [email protected], or message us on Instagram!

Happy Malaysia Day! May all our dreams and hopes for our country come true. x