Welcome To Mommyland

The struggle is real.

#becomingmom: I became a mom almost 10 years after getting married. We were one of the last of our friends to become parents and had been consciously delaying having a baby for a while, for personal reasons and also because of my job. I was on the road a lot, stressed, and away from the required process that actually creates a child. When we were ready, my body wasn’t and we had no luck for a long time. It turned out that moving from hectic New York to the more laid-back island of Singapore was just what the doctor ordered, and when our little miracle finally arrived we felt incredibly grateful and blessed. I was welcomed to mommyland, and a generous (but never enough somehow!) maternity leave kicked in.

#gettingback: To be completely honest, and a lot of moms will agree, it felt awesome at first to be back at work. To be able to dress up nicely and go somewhere for yourself, not smell like curdled milk, have a cup of coffee in peace and talk to grown-ups on topics other than poo color and breast-feeding. The feeling was wonderful and uplifting to my self-worth and confidence. I felt like the old me again but also a bid odd and incomplete. It was as if I had left an entire body part or even half my brain (which felt like it had turned into banana baby food mush) at home. The thrill of being back (and even the joy of the amazing micro-kitchens and free food of the office) soon wore off however, and mostly I couldn’t wait to rush home to my gurgling bundle of joy each evening, who, by the way, did not even have the decency to smile at me when I walked in excitedly through the door.

Honestly, how is it possible to focus on a client’s problems when your body is still majorly “on call” and you’re constantly thinking about your own problem, aka the tiny hungry human that fully depends on you for survival? I would duck into the newly created Mother’s Room several times a day to pump, but for some reason it felt super weird pumping at work! I detested pumping anyway, and I actually felt guilty about being away from my desk several times a day. Did people understand where I was going and what I was doing there? And why? I hope they knew I was working while pumping! My inner voice (the crazy new mom one) was going nuts, and I definitely wasn’t a confident working new mother. Reentry into the workplace was hard.

#scaredAF: Pump on a plane! Pump on a plane! These four words tortured me day and night (and you thought “Snakes on a plane” was an issue!). My job required traveling to clients at least half the time. This was a big fear for me coming back to work, and I knew I could only deflect and avoid the travel commitments for so long. New ideas were needed and clients were waiting to be pitched to; the big spends lying outside of my little island of Singapore meant that in my creative strategy role, it was time to jet off. Dust off the old Kate Spade laptop bag and get back on the road.

#breastfeedingsucks: But my biggest commitment as a new mother, and internally, my redemption factor for feeling guilty about having a child long after most of my friends, was my decision to breast-feed my son until he was at least a year old. This was no easy task by the way, and in fact, I almost gave up on day 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 19, 22, and 24. But after the first fairly hellish month of being a new mom, battling some major postpartum feelings and limping around like an injured cow, I broke through into “Hey, look, I finally look like that ridiculously unrealistic advertisement of a mom nursing her child” territory.

“Mostly, no one talks about postpartum lows, loneliness, loss of identity and confidence. It’s much easier to discuss swaddling techniques, baby monitors, and post-natal yoga.”

I’ll never forget that third or fourth day at home after the emergency cesarean: my ankles were elephant-sized from the epidural overdose (the anesthetist was angry and mean because I had bravely refused the epidural at first, which led to seven hours of torturous labor, and then I finally gave in at 1:00 a.m., which meant madam had to get out of her pajamas to come to the hospital with an “I told you so meets tsk-tsk” attitude), I couldn’t walk, I was miserably failing at nursing, and I just cried and cried. I felt worthless and useless. Just a week ago I was conducting a two-day workshop with top-shot clients from a leading bank . . . and now I was a substandard milking device!

The sudden change to my lifestyle was intense, probably something I should have been better prepared for. I was so busy focusing on birthing (which didn’t go as [over]planned, and then I ended up having that dreaded emergency c-sec, resulting in terrible guilt), I wish I knew then how disappointing and challenging breast-feeding might be and how my self-esteem would suffer. Mostly, no one talks about postpartum lows, loneliness, loss of identity and confidence. It’s much easier to discuss swaddling techniques, baby monitors, and post-natal yoga.

#scaredAF: I survived the initial shock of new motherhood, as most moms do, and no plane ride to see a demanding client was going to stop me now! I just couldn’t see myself pumping on a plane—how do women find the courage to do that? I think pumping was literally the worst part of it all for me; I felt so reduced to nothing and I just couldn’t get all yoga-mamma positive Zen-like about it. I bow my head down to all working moms who travel and manage to figure it all out—pumping and all the paraphernalia that goes with it, detaching from wailing offspring, being brave, organizing all the details with crazy commitment and courage. The thought of freezing bottles of breast milk and hauling them back in a cooler from India or Korea (where my clients were) made me shudder and squirm. I couldn’t wrap my head around it; I didn’t want to. I was a coward. Medela meets Kate Spade? I couldn’t reconcile.

#respectmoms: I ended up working for 10 months post–maternity leave (I moved on to work at a VC with a work-from-home setup and flex hours). Flashback to fleeing conferences held in fancy hotels, where by late afternoon my milk-producing body bits were about to explode and there were no nursing rooms made available. Why don’t conference organizers add that on the registration form? My income bracket is actually none of your business, but my lactation status should sure as hell be. Hey, I know, Miss Receptionist, why don’t you lend me one of the 435 rooms you have up here in this hotel instead of directing me to the toilet? It was often humiliating when it didn’t ever have to be. There should be giant, glorious “mommy-time” rooms everywhere—on planes, trains, in hotels, stores, everywhere! How dare people object to moms nursing in public?!

#clichédandtrue: Becoming a mom changed my life and career overnight. I became one with the couch, nursing constantly while I watched my FOMO-inducing colleagues jet off to cool meetings, fun dinners, and off-sites. I had been working at a company where everyone wanted to be and I was part of something great ― my job was my cool factor. It took me a long time to feel like myself again and embrace all the changes that came with this new job. I struggled to redefine myself and reestablish my self-esteem. There has never been a job harder than this one, but then there will be those moments when I’m feeling really down and my son decides to squeeze me and declare “Mamma, you’re so beautiful!” It’s been a long journey to realizing that despite the lack of frequent-flier miles, cool swag, and often suboptimal performance reports, this is the job of a lifetime and the one I’m keeping forever.