Frequently asked questions

So I’ve been back at work for 2.5 weeks now.

The first 3 working days were spent getting myself oriented, the next 5 in Bangkok learning about the market and the most recent week in office and getting into full swing of things.

Knowing that I’ve just returned to work after a 6-month maternity leave, I get questions from friends and colleagues (and people who are neither) almost all the time.

I know my friends and some colleagues I’m closer to / more comfortable with ask out of genuine concern, and I really appreciate them for that.

So this post is not about them or the questions they ask. πŸ˜…

FAQ #1: How are you coping?

This is usually asked out of genuine concern.

I usually say I’m fine and happy to be back and things are well at home.

FAQ #2: Are your kids ok with you coming back to work?

Erm.. not ok then how? πŸ˜‚

FAQ #3: Who’s taking care of your kids while you work?

Well, this is perhaps the most frequently asked of all frequently asked questions.

And I always tell them the truth: My helper takes care of the baby during the day. My elder daughter goes to full day childcare.

It’s the varied reactions that I’m, well, reacting to.

Some of them go, “Wah you not worried?”.. or “Wah, your helper good? You trust your helper?”.. or “Grandparents cannot help?”..

Do I trust my helper?

Yes. And no, you can’t trust anyone 100%. I can’t even trust myself sometimes.

Am I worried?

Yes, I worry all the time. I worry if the kids don’t eat well don’t sleep well don’t grow up well. I worry a lot.

Do I wish our parents would help everyday?

Well, no. I’m very grateful to my dad and FIL for dropping by from time to time to help watch the baby while my helper picks Clarissa up from the school bus.

But I don’t think our parents are obliged to help.

They’ve worked hard enough to bring us up.

Of course some of the folks who ask this question simply nod in empathy and say, “Good that you have a good helper!”

To the folks who question, I simply tell them, smiling, that this is currently the best arrangement.

I don’t tell them how I try my best to leave by 530pm, how I shower my elder daughter and do bedtime stories and chitchat with her, and how I sleep in the same room as my baby and attend to her middle-of-the-night calls.

To them I’m probably just a bold and over-trusting mum. *shrugs

In the ideal world, I’d be earning my keep, having a career that defines me, while taking care of my kids on my own.

In the ideal world, you’d be asking this question because you can offer some kind of help.

But life is never going to be ideal.

FAQ #4: Are you still nursing / pumping?

I can write an essay on this. πŸ˜‚

I was at a work lunch the other day and the colleague who was ordering the food, a guy, kindly asked me if I had any food restrictions.

He’s single, so I thought he asked simply out of concern, that maybe there are certain food we need to avoid post partum.

But my response – “oh, no restrictions” – was immediately met with another question: “You are not nursing?

I tell them the truth, “Nope I’ve stopped.”

Cue awkward silence.

I always tell people the simple truth. Sometimes I add, “Well, something’s gotta give.” And laugh.

And I stop at that, because no one needs to know about my medical condition and my sob stories about pumping.

I’ve once told someone how my milk supply dipped after returning to work, and that I thought it might be due to stress.

That person laughed and said to me, “Aiyah it’s all in your mind!”

Going by her logic, if I willed myself to be a billionaire, I would be a billionaire. (Ok, technically not wrong but a lot needs to be done and I’d need some luck too.)

Of course there are folks who don’t flinch at my response at all. They tell me, “Oh, good! So tiring otherwise.”

And then there are folks who obviously think it’s bad and feel bad for me.

So they ask questions like, “Oh how old is your baby? 6 months? Ok can wean already.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell them I actually stopped pumping after Allie turned four months old. πŸ˜‚

And then there are folks who obviously think it’s bad and don’t bother hiding their thoughts.

“Oh but 6 months old still needs a lot of milk right? I thought you need to feed until one year old.

This was the only time I fumbled a little before responding.

It was a new colleague, I didn’t know her well enough to crack a joke / tell the whole truth / be sarcastic.

I think I simply told her it’s hard to do that when I have to be on business trips.

And I quickly followed up with a question for her: “Oh how many kids do you have?”

I usually don’t ask this kind of question to people I’ve just known for a few days so I don’t know what got over me that night.

I knew her age (because we were all forced to share over dinner lol) and since she seemed to know so much about breastfeeding.. I asked.

Cue awkward silence.

Oh, I’m not married,” She said, slowly.

I swear I saw crows flying past our table.

So much for good first impressions. My tact went to the bathroom. πŸ˜…πŸ˜‚

I don’t feel the “mum’s guilt” so much this time round when people ask me if I’m still nursing and I tell them I’m not.

But I have very mixed feelings about it.

Firstly, I don’t feel comfortable talking about my boobs to people I don’t know very well.

Secondly, isn’t breastfeeding supposed to be sacred and special and the bond between the mum and the baby? Why is it deemed an appropriate topic for small talk?

Thirdly, I dislike having to make people feel comfortable after they ask a question that makes me feel uncomfortable. Sometimes I laugh too much and too quickly to stop them from having to hide their judgment.

I’m glad that I’m an Older Mum. I’m getting better at filtering.

But mums, no matter how educated or informed or giving or self-sacrifical they are, will always feel guilty about something.

I know for a fact that I’m trying my best, that my best isn’t everyone’s definition of what best needs to be, yet I’d always wonder if my best is right.

There is always an easier way and a harder way to do things. They might lead to the same outcome, but mums who take the perceived easier way almost always get shamed for it.

Like the age-old debate of giving formula milk versus pumping. One of the many reasons why people think formula is bad is because it is the easy way out.

There is no room for medical conditions or genes (some women simply can’t produce enough breastmilk); the only reason for not nursing or pumping is laziness and mums cannot be lazy and hence it is so bad.

I choose my battles. Making choices means having to compromise, and to deal with the consequences of the compromise.

Rationally I’d know it’s the best decision I can manage but I’d always have doubts, regardless of how old or mature I am.

Like how, rationally, I know it’s best to let Allie sleep in the sarong at night because she sleeps better. But I cannot help wondering if it is right, if it’d affect her development later on, if I’m just not trying hard enough to make her sleep in a cot, if I’m just plain lazy for not sleep-training her.

I met a mummy in Thailand who seemed to have the most perfect life. She lives in a 400sqm apartment (that’s 4 times the size of a regular 4-room HDB flat) with her 2.5 year-old boy, her husband, a nanny and two helpers.

She owns a restaurant and runs an online business selling bags. Both of which are more like hobbies to her because the family can live luxuriously on her husband’s income. She’d quit her high-flying job after getting married because her husband didn’t like her job.

She told us she didn’t mind because it was her choice. She was very open and shared a lot about her life before and after marriage.

Yet there were a few moments where she faltered. She wondered, briefly, if she’d lost her own identity in her choice of family over a job she loved.

“I think I have lost the fire I used to have,” she said wistfully.

“But it’s ok. It’s my choice,” She added quickly, and smiled beautifully.

#consumerstories

It has become more apparent to me from the recent trip that often the real insight comes not from the actual things they say.. But the things they don’t, that split second of hesitation, the way they falter and then swing back immediately.

And yes, mums make choices all the time, and wonder all the time if those were the right decisions.

Even without being questioned by people around us, we question ourselves all the time.

So really, it’d be great if people could keep their questions and opinions and judgment to themselves, and not add on to a mum’s doubts for the sake of small talk or gossip.

FAQ #5: Oh 2 girls! Trying for Number 3?

No.

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