Being a mother is not easy. I think we can all agree to that. From lack of sleep to constantly feeling like you are not doing enough -- even with help, it can be one of the hardest challenges women face.
When it came to raising my twins, I could not have done it alone.
Looking back at the first 2.5 years of their lives and how I got through them, I am not afraid to give a lot of the credit to our nanny. Without her help, I would be a total wreck right now.
With my first child, I did it all by myself. The breastfeeding, the waking up at nights, the playgroups, the swimming with babies courses, the weaning off solids, the potty training, the whole lot. I say "alone" because as amazingly "hands on" my husband was (and still is), the fact of the matter was that he had to return to work two weeks after she was born, and since my family lives overseas, I couldn't really rely on anyone apart from myself to do anything.
It was hard, but I did it, like many other women all over the world -- with lots of mistakes, highs and lows, but I somehow did it.
With the twins I had a totally different experience. During my second pregnancy, I had to spend two months in hospital due to having preeclampsia. I was only 28 weeks pregnant when I was first admitted, and the doctors predicted I would have to be delivered within a matter of days due to the severity of my condition.
"Being a mother is not easy. I think we can all agree to that."
Since I had a 2-year-old daughter at home at the time, it was clear to me that we needed help, and so we decided to hire a nanny, or rather a "mother's helper," which is how the agency referred to her.
I interviewed a few ladies while sitting on a hospital bed, not knowing when I was going to actually give birth, or how long I (or my premature babies) would have to spend in hospital.
Ionela was the third lady I saw.
Out of the lot, she had the least experience and had never worked with newborn babies before. Despite this, something about her made me feel she would be the best choice for our family. She came across as warm and loving, and I thought to myself, the rest can be learned, but being a kind and loving person is something you either are -- or are not.
We hired her immediately. While I was still in hospital, she helped around the house with cooking, laundry, picking up my daughter from nursery and just making sure my house did not fall apart while I was away.
Dani and Arielle were finally born at 35 weeks followed by a very dramatic and traumatic post-delivery experience, with me nearly dying a few hours after giving birth. Four days later, we were allowed to go home with our new babies and start a fresh page in what was, up until then, a bit of a nightmare journey to say the least.
I will never forget Ionela's face as she saw Dani and Arielle when we took them out of the car. She had never seen such small babies in her life, and she looked terrified. That evening after she left, I said to my husband, "I don't think she is coming back tomorrow." I was prepared to have to call the agency first thing to let them know we needed someone new.
But to my surprise, the following day she showed up at 7 a.m. sharp, ready to work.
I was lying in bed, as I was still recovering for my C-section, when she came into the bedroom. I asked her to please get into bed with me -- and to my amazement she did! I handed over Dani, who at 2.1 kg was the slightly bigger twin, while I held Arielle and said, "Now, look at what I am doing, and do exactly the same."
And just like that, I taught Ionela everything from how to hold a baby, change a nappy, feed, wash, burp, to how to juggle three demanding kids while cooking dinner, standing on one leg and singing "baa, baa black sheep" -- all at the same time.
Like two mothers, raising the twins together, Ionela shared all the ups and downs of motherhood with me. She laughed, she cried, and she was also my rock when I needed her to be. I soon came to understand the term "mother's helper" and realized that this was exactly what she was. She helped me in many ways like moms help their daughters with their own children, and although she got paid to do this, it never felt like she was doing it just for the money.
"Like two mothers, raising the twins together, Ionela shared all the ups and downs of motherhood with me."
My decision to go back to work relatively early this time was not an easy one. I was filled with guilt, but I also knew that I had to get out of the house because the truth was that, even with the help, I was finding it hard being home with my two babies. The other side of that same coin was that we needed the money, and as I was going to earn more than what childcare was costing us, it gave me the justification I needed to just do it.
Like many working moms, leaving my babies with "the nanny" was not easy.
I felt guilty for not being there with them like I was for my eldest. Most of all, I found it hard to trust that anyone else except me would be able to give them what they really needed. How could Ionela possibly know when they are sad or hungry or when they need a cuddle? And most of all, how could she possibly give them the love that they need, the love that only a mother can give her children?
I have to say that despite my worries, I have no doubt that my girls received an enormous amount of love from Ionela when I had to work and couldn't physically be with them. My initial intuition about her nature proved to be right, and I can say for a fact that I have never seen such dedication, care and devotion in my whole life, like hers, towards my children.
At times, when Dani in particular would prefer Ionela's company over my own, it did pinch me a little, and I did wonder if I was letting my children down by allowing someone else to spend so much time with them. I asked myself who was actually raising them, me or her, and just admitting that I wasn't always sure broke my heart, time and time again.
BUT (and there is a massive "but" coming), I was lucky. I was lucky because Ionela worked with me and always followed my lead. She was happy to do things "my way," but at the same time, I was also open to hear her suggestions. And I actually learned a lot from her, more than I ever expected to.
In many ways, it felt like we had formed some kind of sisterhood, like the one that has long gone from this world when women used to help other women in raising each other's children, and motherhood was shared and didn't feel so isolated as it does now days.
She was also smart, and I am pretty sure she did not tell me when I missed out on any of their "first times." Somehow, as if by some bizarre miracle, I was there the first time they crawled, for their first step, when they said their first word, and I am positive it was Ionela who was responsible for it being "mommy."
"How could she possibly give them the love that they need, the love that only a mother can give her children?"
I know many women out there, for whatever reason, decide to get help -- and this is always such a charged issue. It made me think about how lonely raising children in this modern day and age can be. These days, women (and men) are expected to manage with far less family help and support because times have changed -- people live overseas without their families around them (like in my case), or simply because it's just not the norm anymore.
For many people, "hired help" is the only option to get any help at all.
It is such a shame that it comes with a negative stigma attached to it, because let's face it, we are all just doing our best -- is it really so wrong to ask for help if it's needed?
For a long time, I felt embarrassed even saying that we had a nanny, almost as if I was cheating as a mother, like I wasn't a real mom because I had help. I find that so ridiculous now when I think back. After all, I made the choice that was right for me and my family at the time, and I don't believe that having a nanny made me any less of a mother.
The way I see it now is that my kids got the best of both worlds.
They have taken so much from the time they spent with this extraordinary women, like her kindness and patience. I honestly think that their amazingly caring and soft natures are a testimony to how wonderful she was with them. On the other hand, they also got a happy mommy, who did what she felt was right, and who is always trying to do better.
They got double the love and double the cuddles, and I know in my heart that they are blessed and lucky to have had both their mommy and their nanny by their sides.
Although Ionela no longer works for us, the girls see her at least once a week. They are over the moon when this happens. The friendship and sisterhood I have with this lady goes beyond words and is truly hard to describe. I will forever be grateful for having her in our lives, and I often think how lucky I was that day in hospital to have had her walk through my door.
I have no doubt she will be in our lives for many years to come.
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A version of this post originally appeared here.