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The Dream

If you are anything like me, from the moment you found out you were pregnant, you started dreaming. Dreaming of a little baby in your arms to love and to care for. Dreaming of the smiles, the cooing, and of course the tiny feet. You’d lap it all up and love every moment no matter how exhausted you were because at the end of the day, you are a mother to the most beautiful baby in the world. You are blessed beyond words.

Photo credit: Kristy Tan

My reality

My reality was more like a nightmare. One week postpartum and I found myself curled up in my bed sobbing my eyes out. I was overwhelmed, exhausted and feeling like the most incompetent mother ever. I also knew this was part of the baby blues so I pushed on thinking it would pass. It didn’t.

I didn’t want to be alone with him.

It freaked me out.

Five weeks later and the crying continued, the lethargy dragged on even after getting more than enough sleep and feelings of hopelessness consumed me. I looked at Joshua, my son and felt more guilt and shame than I did love and gratitude. I worried and obsessed about his feedings and his naps.

I didn’t want to be alone with him. It freaked me out. Something was wrong. Very wrong.

Living with Postnatal depression

I never thought I would get postnatal depression. I was a happy person generally and I didn’t think it would be my issue. But the truth I’ve learnt is that it can affect anyone. One in seven mothers are affected, and fathers aren’t exempt either.

It took a lot of humility for me to accept that I was unwell. For a while, I tried to beat it the natural way, with exercise and taking breaks and looking after myself. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t shake it.

I needed everything to stop.

I felt like I was going mad.

One night, after not being able to sleep for two days due to the racing thoughts, I had reached the end of my tether. I told Sam, my husband, to call an ambulance. I needed everything to stop. I felt like I was going mad.

Luckily there was a spot at the local Mother and Baby unit. We were living in Melbourne at the time and this was something the government had set up and I am forever grateful. This was a unit attached to a medical center that helped mothers who were struggling with postpartum illnesses such as myself. I spent five weeks there with six other mothers and this is where recovery began.

Photo credit: Bitesize Visuals

Recovery

Treatment for postnatal depression is different for everyone but is aimed at a person’s psychology, social environment and biology. At the Mum and Baby unit we were supported in all three aspects till we felt we were able to cope in our normal lives. For me, although I was resistant to medicine initially, in hindsight, I knew that I needed it.

Postnatal depression is by far the hardest thing I have had to go through and recovering from it was a slow and painful process. Every day, every moment was a battle. I struggled with feelings of guilt for not being the Mum I had wanted to be, for having this illness and for being a burden to the people around me.

Every day, every moment was a battle.

The most painful feeling was feeling like I couldn’t cope. And the truth is I couldn’t on my own. In my illness, with the mental state I was in, I couldn’t care for Joshua the way a healthy person would. Accepting that was important. I had to know that I was in fact,  sick, and I needed help.

Being Asian, I feel, made it a lot harder to accept. I come from a society where mental illness has such a stigma to it. I had to learn to advocate for myself. I had to first educate my family that what I was going through wasn’t imaginary, it was very real. It also wasn’t the end of the world – I will get better, I will be me again.

And with time and a lot of support, I did get better. The crying spells lessened. The low points were less pronounced. My interest in life returned. When Joshua was six months, I started weaning off my medication. I took my last antidepressant a month after that and never looked back.

Photo credit: Bitesize Visuals

What I learned

In many ways, I feel like postnatal depression was a thief that stole so much of the joy that was meant to be mine in the first year of being a Mum. In other ways, it has taught me so much about patience, suffering, humility, empathy and about love.

I learnt to empathise with others who struggle with illnesses both visible and invisible. I learnt how they are heroes for surviving every day.

I learnt that my worth was not based on what I could do or achieve but simply who I am as a human being, created by God. Grace will carry us where striving can’t.

I learnt that knowing my limits made me wiser, not weaker. Asking for help is humbling but healthy. Often my pride gets in the way of what’s best for me.

Finally, I learnt that I have always loved Joshua to the best of my ability, even when I couldn’t feel an ounce of that love. I learnt to shake off the guilt I carried within me as a mum who couldn’t be the mum I thought I would be. I learnt that love is not based on how we feel, but our commitment to do what’s best for a person, even in the haze of depression, hospitalisation, medication, recovery and beyond.

 

By Kristy Tan

Kristy Tan is a mother, teacher and occasional writer. Together with her husband Sam, who she has known since Standard 4, she tries to find the joy in the madness that is raising two boys under three.

I am a feminist. Loud and proud. When I got pregnant with my first son, my friends were tickled to see me lumbering around with a “penis growing inside me”. Twenty two months later, I delivered another penis into the world. So today Charlie, 8 years, and Neil, 6 years are my two joys, frustration, and loves of my life as I co-parent them according to my definition of feminist principles, in hopes to raise feminists. How do I plan to do it?

Questioning authority

One of the principles and practice of feminism as I have grown to know and love is the constant questioning of authority. It comes with an awareness of power and how those who hold power are able to abuse it. And as parents, the power we hold, is, scarily, absolute.

Many a times we bark and shout at our children and justify it as “They don’t listen, we have to shout!”, “We were in a hurry”, “They were driving me up the wall!”

So, as I plead guilty, I also plead attempts at rehabilitation through our Swear and Shout jar.

With his penchant for numbers and laser sharp observation skills, Charlie voluntarily took on the monitoring and enforcement of this system. RM1 goes in the jar whenever we mutter swear words, or ramp up the decibels. For him, it doesn’t matter if I am, as mother and chief cook, effectively the Mom Official 1 (MO1) at home. I still have to cough up. So does dad.

The only free pass is if a warning has been given before the shouting. For example, “Neil, I have said it three times. Stop trying to lick the Marmite off your cheek. Your tongue is just not long enough. Go and wash your face. If I have to say it one more time, I will raise. My. Voice”. The last three words said in a deep tone for maximum effect.

Painful as it is parting with the (loads of) money, I hope that through this, they are learning to question, do the right thing, and hold other people accountable. I hope that they will grow up to be boys who call out rape jokes, stand up against people calling girls sluts, and as they grow older, have the courage to make interventions, just like these two Swedish students. And perhaps one day, stand together with others who are making demands to end discrimination against them because of their gender, class, race and citizenship status.

Imagining possibilities

To me, the feminist movement has inspired women and men around the world to be more than what they are supposed to be. This reimagining of our world is also important where it comes to raising boys. The ideas that boys are strong, leaders, masculine, stoic and naturally aggressive is proving to be more harmful than helpful. Raising boys for me also means that they are able to safely express who they are, in the home, so that they have the courage to do so outside the home.

This includes crying. This includes feeling sad. It includes an eight-year-old’s attempts to work out the complexities of friendship with its heartbreaks and laughter. Or pushing Bunny in a pink pram in the park at high speed. Charlie tearing after reading that Cleopatra killed herself after realising Anthony was dead. Charlie wearing a paper crown proclaiming that “I am a queen! I am a queen!”. Neil wrapping his purple blanket around his waist, channelling Elsa and belting ‘Let it Go! Let It Go!…” This includes acknowledging Neil’s distress by not continuing to watch The Good Dinosaur after the scene in which Arlo’s father dies (I mean, seriously, Disney, I am still haunted by Bambi’s mom).

Really, it does not matter. What matters is that they are comfortable in their own skin and are able to have a healthy relationship with themselves and others.

It takes a village

2018 Amelia Bloomer’s Top Ten – Image from ameliabloomer.wordpress.com

Raising feminists is about critiquing, and breaking away from narrowly defined ideas of what is acceptable. It is not easy, against patriarchy’s currency of male privilege. However, thankfully, ‘nasty women’ and men are everywhere, building their villages in spaces such as the Amelia Bloomer Project that recommends literature with strong girls and characters; forums on raising feminists; and just parents reaching out to other parents, supporting each other in wanting their children not to be confined to set roles in their lives because of a penis or a vulva.

To these women and men, I will be celebrating International Women’s Day with you. Together, we celebrate our struggles and in solidarity, let’s rock the world.

By Tze Yeng Ng

Tze Yeng worked in advertising and  made a leap to work in the non-profit sector. Fourteen years later she is contemplating her next chapter. She does this as her two boys, eight and six, raise her with their daily lessons in love and laughter within their organised  chaos.  

As women, and especially as mums, it’s easy to be filled with admiration and amazement at the achievements of Dr Jezamine Lim. She obtained a PhD in Stem Cell and Tissue Engineering, becoming the first woman in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) to earn a doctorate in the field. The inspirational news left a lot of other mums wondering ‘How?’

How did she do that while mothering 3 kids and managing her husband’s career and household?’ Naturally, society started calling her a ‘Super Mum’.

I truly admire her achievements. As a mum to two girls, I dream that my girls will someday achieve greatness and make a difference. But it is that hope that is actually making me more aware of my own status as a ‘regular mum’. One who doesn’t make headlines and stays at home full-time to care for the kids. Ask any regular mums in your circle and you may find the typical reaction to Dr Jezamine’s news are the same as mine. There is always a deep admiration and awe at first. Then what follows is a sense of inferiority and underachievement – that we will never be a ‘Super Mum’ like her.

Having It All?

The truth is, for you to be able to ‘have it all’, you need an incredible support system. One that can help care for your children while you dedicate those hours to your career or your passion. It could be parents or family members, or a high quality daycare or trustworthy domestic helper.  These people need to carry out the vision that you have for the kids’ well-being and development. Without this tight-knit support, something has definitely got to give.

And not all mums have the kind of support that they can really trust.

Not all mums can go and pursue their ambitions whilst ensuring the best for their little kids. For some, giving the best to the kids means giving up on their personal ambitions, in the hopes that their kids get to achieve their full potential.

Tough Calls About Childcare

Take my decision to stay at home, as an example. Faced with the option of sending our children to daycare or hiring a new maid after our previous maid left, we had a tough decision to make.

Daycares that were affordable to us didn’t meet our criteria, such as having closed-circuit television that streamed online for real-time viewing, bilingual carers, or a low ratio of babies to carers. On the other hand, daycares and playschools that were of a better quality had a long wait list and also didn’t come cheap!

As for hiring a new maid, not only did that cost a tonne of money upfront, there was no guarantee that you would get a good one. Leaving the kids with a new maid without any supervision also did not sit well with us.

Apart from the lack of affordable yet high quality childcare options, there was also a strong pull factor for me to become a stay at home mum and put my ambitions on hold. According to UNESCO, early childhood (From birth to year 8) is a time of remarkable growth, with brain development at its peak. Children in this stage are highly influenced by the environment and the people that surround them.

My husband and I considered our circumstances. The best bet we had to ensure the kids were well cared for in all aspects was for me to stop working and be a full-time mum. And the scary part is that it really is a bet – we will only know the outcome of our decision in many years to come.

Many kinds of sacrifices, many kinds of mums

We all make our own sacrifices in our own unique circumstances.

Some mums shy away from promotion at work. They want to avoid longer hours or frequent travels, so they can be more present in their kids’ lives.

Some mums need to strive and excel in their work. This is in order to afford good education for their kids and provide a better future for the family.

Some mums choose to stay at home. There is the lack of a trustworthy childcare option to help achieve all that they want for their kids.

These mums are all around us. They won’t be making headlines or put up on any pedestal, but it doesn’t make them any less super!

No fixed template

The point here is that there isn’t a fixed template of how a ‘Super Mum’ should be.

We should celebrate all mums who give their best in their very own way. They may be sacrificing their time and becoming the most efficient multi-tasker at work or study. They may be sacrificing their careers to give the best care to their kids.

Here’s to all mums I know, you are all super in your own ways!

By Farah Bashir

Farah Bashir used to drive the National Transformation Programme as a management consultant, but has since put away her power suits to be a stay-at-home-mum to two lovely girls. Some days, she wonders why she traded intelligent problem-solving debates for negotiations with a toddler about changing diapers.