Happy 1st Birthday, Son | And 12 Months Postpartum Update

This year has gone by fast! All that feeding, diaper changing, burping, singing ... and most importantly, watching him grow up!

We had a mini celebration for Archer's 1st birthday with just one friend over and others video calling in to wish him a happy birthday. He was calm as a cucumber when we sang happy birthday to him, but absolutely loved the cupcake (and had a sugar high afterwards).

In Chinese tradition, you can also do 抓週 (Zhua Zhou), which is a fortune telling process for 1yo to pick one item from various items related to occupation to see what job they will have in the future. 

Here are the links to where I got everything:

 Cake by Sugar Bakery House (ReUBird)
 Cupcakes by Kisses Cupcakes
 Balloons by Simply Love
 Decorations from Amazon
 抓周 toys from Taobao


Motherhood 1 year Update

It's tempting to go through all of the milestone achievements that my son has gone through (crawling, using a spoon, walking .. etc). But every kid goes through that, just in their own paces. 

I wanted to use this opportunity to reflect on all of the things that I wasn't prepared for, no books taught me, and other parents don't talk about. 

This year flew past, but at the same time, thinking about my pregnancy, or pre-pregnancy days feels like a decade ago. I've learned so much about my son, and myself (a lot of self-reflection going on). And thankfully we've survived, with the help of many friends and family, and good online communities for mothers. 

Here are the things that I've learned in my son's first year of life:

1. Breastfeeding and the fatigue that comes with a new born is hands down way more difficult than pregnancy and birth itself. 
I read through encyclopedia equivalents of pregnancy and baby books. I knew the medical process of both natural birth and a c-section procedure, I knew a lot of stuff about newborns, and some stuff about breastfeeding/breastmilk. But I was not prepared to be hallucinating from the fatigue. I had moments where I woke up all of a sudden in shock thinking that I dropped my son on the floor. There were times when I finished a whole cycle of pumping and storing milk on autopilot. I had many many issues with clogged ducts, engorgements, and cracked nipples etc. It was a nightmare, and a miracle that I lasted till month 4. Maybe I should've consulted a medical professional. And I did ask on mom communities for help, but nothing worked. There was a lot of pain and tears.

But so what, my son started having supplements of formula before month 1, and was fully on formula by month 4. He had his first cold at month 9, other than that he is a very big and healthy boy. 

I know some mothers feel guilt about not being adequate because they didn't breastfeed long enough (to the recommended 6 month period). All I can say is, breastfeeding is just one small part of the beginning a baby's life. There will be so much more, like starting solids, physical/psychological/social milestones. 

2. The baby's sleep (and feeding) is so important 
Other than the fact that if your baby sleeps well, you sleep well too... I didn't realize how much sleeping and feeding goes hand in hand with a baby's development. I knew nothing about a baby's sleep till we dove deep into sleeping training in month 4. There is A LOT of information on baby sleep training out there, an overwhelming amount. At the same time I also know mothers who just let their baby dictate entirely, which forms bad habits that snowballs into problems in their toddler years. We went through transition in month 7 by dropping the 3rd nap, and will soon be dropping the 2nd nap. But all in all, how well a baby eats and sleeps can be the deciding factor on how easy it will be to parent the kid down the line. 

3. A roller coaster of motherhood mental health issues
I went through a few different not-so-happy stages in my mental state as a mother. Very early on, it was doubt on whether or not I was doing a good job, because in fact I had no clue on what I was doing and how well I was doing it. It was a lot of panic and self-doubt, and lasted probably until my son was 6 months old. 

Phase 2 was Postpartum Depression. I wasn't actually diagnosed, but I didn't want to get out of bed in the morning. I was sleeping unusually large amount of hours (the same as my son, 14hrs a day), and I was not eating. And this lasted thankfully for just over a week. After reading a book called This Isn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression, I realized that what I had was Postpartum Stress disorder. My son was 3 months when we were stuck in Taiwan for immigration paperwork because we had to relocate form Singapore to China. On top of relocating, I didn't go back to work as I planned. My career meant a lot, but I had lost my identity as a career woman, and pretty much all of myself except for being a mother. I felt very lost, very stuck, useless, and felt like there was no hope. What blows my mind is almost no one talks about this, or wants to admit it. At mother groups, everyone just wants to talk about how their kid is advancing, which schools they will choose, what they are eating, what play groups there are etc. When do we sit down and take care of the mother

Phase 3 is rebalancing my identity. For the longest time, I'm constantly at battle with my identity pre-pregnancy and now. I view it as me vs mom-me. A part of it is acceptance, but a part of it is also trying to restructure what I was doing previously so that I could continue to pursue my hobbies and be confident about myself, which is separate from being a mom. I have to be conscious to detach from the mom role to get a mental break and recharge myself. I did feel loss for a long time, thinking that all I am now is "mom". I even felt resentment when everyone got to nap except for me. But we are not just "moms", it just takes some time for a new mom to figure out how to balance a new identity and schedule which keeps everyone happy. It's especially easier for me to refocus on my hobbies once the kid was sleep trained and can mostly self feed on regular food items. 

Also, one point to note, dads struggle with postpartum identity crisis and depression too, and even less of them open up to talk about it. I wouldn't force someone to talk about it, because it is their privacy and up to them if they want to share. I actually only shared it to my husband and my mother. But I think the important thing is to acknowledge it, and not to put more expectations and pressures on new parents. Everyone is trying their best. And offering a night of baby sitting so there can be date night again is the best thing a friend can do. 

4. Babies are smarter and more adult like than you think, so respect them and treat them like one
People assume that because babies can't use words, they don't know any better, or that they are just fussy (or an asshole) for no reason. And let's be honest, any parent would have had moments where they thought about throwing their kid out the window. 

But I really have to say, sometimes there really is a reason for their behavior, if you observe carefully enough. Take my son refusing his nap for example. One big one could be he is transitioning to taking less naps. But there could also be reasons such as the room is too hot (he's a little heater like my husband, so MY AC settings might not be cold enough for him). My son has also recently (month 10-11) learned to shake his head during feeding to indicate he doesn't want the food. That could mean many things: he's full, he doesn't like the food, he's actually thirsty and wants a drink of water first.. etc. When trying to figure out if he actually hates the tomato/carrot pasta paste, I feed him a few times. If he still rejects it, and I know for a fact he is hungry, then I mix in some of his favorite butter and eggs, then he finishes all of the pasta in heart beat. 

The main point here is, listen, watch, and observe your little one. Don't just force your adult will on them because you are the parent guardian. They are also human and have their needs. Spend some more time with them, and you will understand your little one, even if you don't communicate with words yet. 

5. Repeat Repeat Repeat, and they'll copy you (just like training a pet)
Sometime around probably 9-10 months, they will start trying to copy everything you do. A lot of things that you do, they find hilarious, like brushing your teeth. 

So I kneel on the ground with a rag to wipe down the floor at least twice a day since my son started crawling around. After just a week of doing it, he started doing the same exact floor wiping motions. 

I got him to fully understand the meaning of "dada" by repeating it everyday when my husband comes home from work. We also have wooden blocks with pictures on it, so now he knows what a monkey and son is. Other than dada, mama and nene (which stands for milk), his fourth word and a very important one is Xie Xie, which means thank you in Chinese. I taught him that by repeatedly handing him items and then for him to hand back to me. I also taught him "good job, clap your hands" and he will follow the phrase cue by clapping his hands. Another good one is "full belly" and he will rub his own belly. 

But be conscious of what you do around them, my son is often grabbing spatulas, unrolling toilet paper, having a sip of my drinks, using the remote to point at the TV.. so now you know what he seems me doing during the day. 

6. Traveling solo with a kid is possible, and it doesn't have to be difficult. Preparation and packing light is key. 
I've done 2 solo trips with my son at month 8 and 10 to Japan, first to places I've been, and second time to places I've never been to before. This is part of what brought a lot of my confidence and self-identity back. I didn't know it was possible until I did it for the first time. And once you get the hang of it from the first experience, it's much easier from there. The key here is the baby's sleep and eating habits have to be in check. But at the same time, there should be measures and tools to help them be comfortable with an unfamiliar environment and to increase their tolerance of uncomfortable or unfamiliar situations. Also, I packed a lot of travel-size items for both myself and the kid. There are ways to hack bottle sterilizing, feeding - both formula and solids.. etc. You just really have to do your research in advance. 

Our furthest limits stretched includes things such as 4hr walks in sub zero snowy weather, hikes up a mountain, hikes up stairs to a pagoda, 8hr full-day group tour.... etc. So this gives you an idea on what is possible when you are properly prepared. Babies are resilient and adaptive, so long as you respect their naps and milk time. 

Big thank you to everyone who has been a part of this journey, supporting us both online and offline. We hope to continue to bring you joy from our every day life as well as travels. 

Follow us on instagram @ariel.land and @archerlee.m for more stories

12 Months Postpartum | How I’m feeling Physically and Mentally, and how to overcome the struggles

“How are you feeling? Physically and Mentally?”

A friend of mine asked me this question around 6 months postpartum, and it is one of the only handful of times I’ve been asked this. Being all caught up in motherhood, we often forget to pause and really think about how we are doing, until everything catches up and then a mini meltdown happens.

It’s important to acknowledge that being a parent is hard, especially when the little one utterly depends on you for everything. And I hope by sharing my experience, I can somehow help those who are about to becoming a mom or are struggling in the first year of parenthood.

[ Physically ]

Exhaustion from lack of sleep (1 – 6 months)
This was absolutely brutal within the first 3 months. Even with a help of a confinement nanny who took care of my son overnight, I was still struggling with catching up on sleep since I was breastfeeding every 2-3 hours. The exhaustion was to a point where I’d be half asleep and hallucinating in the first weeks. My body had to readjust to the concept of very fragmented sleep and be ok with it (going from 8hrs straight a day, to chunks of 1-2hour naps that add up to 8 hours a day) 

Get help from your husband, other family members, or a (night) nanny
In month 1 – 2 I had a live in Confinement nanny whose job was to cook and take care of the baby while I focused on recovery. This concept is more popular in Chinese cultures but is now being more widespread. You can also hire a night nanny. If those are not options, get a family member to help. I had times where my mom would offer to look after my son overnight just for 1 night, and that really helped me recover to last for the coming week.

After 4 months, I made a deal with my husband where he would let me sleep in once a week, usually on the weekends. That means that my husband would takeover between the hours of 7am – 9am once a week. And again, I cannot tell you how much of a difference that makes.

Sleep training (4mo+)
Between the ages of 4-6 months, you can start training your baby to sleep. The point is to get them to self-soothe so in case they wake up overnight you don’t need to wake up and intervene, that includes cutting out night feeds. I’ve dedicated an entire blog post on the steps of sleep training, you can read about it here.

After sleep training, between 4-6mo, my son occasionally woke up overnight needing to feed. But for most nights, he slept from 7pm – 7am, which gave me my evening time and sleep back.

Body Changes: Hair loss, C-Section Scar, breastfeeding issues, excess skin and fat

Hair loss was pretty consistent, but gradually became less and less as time goes on. Not everyone experienced this, but I had noticeably less hair. It did affect my self-confidence a little bit, but I didn’t let it bother me too much since hair grows back. I just try to not brush it hard, and I went to a salon for a treatment once every 3 months.

C-Section Scar: my scar was stitched as beautifully as humanly possible by my amazing doctor, however I am prone to having Keloid scars (where the scar area skin rises up instead of just flatten out). This potentially be solved by using Keloid scar silicon stickers, but I know for a fact that it doesn’t work on me since I carry a glass cut on my arm from over 15 years ago, so I just accepted my scar. Also, the scar would sometimes hurt, more like an internal pull or dull pain. This didn’t have anything to do with physical activity, it would just happen from time to time out of the blue, and I know it is one of the things you have to deal with after having a c-section.

When I first went back on the ice (exercise): 2 months postpartum
For a c-section, the recommended wait time before exercise was 6 weeks. But since ice-skating uses a lot of core muscles, my doctor advised me to wait another 2 weeks. I didn’t feel any discomfort during or after, so it was good to know that exercise was an option again.

Excess skin and fat (or the baby bumper):  
During the 1st month of postpartum, the belly will shrink significantly on its own while you bleed to also clear any leftover tissue inside your body that was designated for the baby.

Jamu Massage: 3 weeks postpartum
This shrunk my belly significantly. Jamu is a postnatal massage originated from Indonesia and very popular in Singapore. Jamu are herbs that help restore the body post birth. I did the massage for 5 days straight, and though painful, it was super effective. First my whole body was massaged to get rid of excess water, this is head to toe including the breasts to get the breastmilk flowing and unclog any stubborn ducts. After the massage, the Jamu herbs are applied to my abdomen area, and then I’m wrapped tightly with a belly binder which would then stay on from morning to evening, or if done in the evening it’ll stay on overnight. The first day was tough, since I could barely breathe after the binding, and the herbs felt like my belly was on fire. Not to worry though, this is very safe for the body, my c-section scar was healed and covered properly so the herbs did not get on it. After the belly binding, I was out of maternity clothes and back to some of my lose pre-pregnancy clothes.

Pilates: 4 months postpartum
I started going to Pilates around 4 months postpartum, and within the first month, the results were amazing. I’ve never tried Pilates before, and I went to a 1-on-1 trainer twice a week who is known for postpartum recovery. She focused on strengthening my core muscles, back muscles, and regaining my flexibility. I was back down to a size small (pretty much pre-pregnancy) after the first month, but I continue to go now. The belly bumper is a bit harder to get rid of, and after the initial slim down, the exercise routines get tougher and tougher.

[ Mentally ]

This was way tougher than I thought, and some of these feelings also affected my husband. The main theme around this one is transitioning from a self that had more freedom and time into a parent that dedicated a lot of self and time to a little one. Another thing to note is that I am also a stay-at-home-mom. This was a surprise to me since I had originally planned to go back to work around 4 months postpartum but decided not to since we relocated to Shanghai and the work-life balance in China is just non-existent. My husband and I concluded that it is better to have one of the parents happy instead of the both of us overworked, tired, and never able to see the kid.

The loss of self-identity and stuck in the “mom” role
Early on, this really hit me hard. My husband returned to work within the first month of me giving birth and had a lot of business trips. We were also in progress of relocating countries, so it was also tough. I spent the majority of my time at home with the baby during the first 3 months. But here are the things I did that helped improved the situation significantly:

1 month postpartum: try to find time to get your nails, lashes, or hair done. This is relatively quick but can help you feel like a brand-new person and boost your confidence. Can’t leave the house? There are services you can look for that will come to your house to do these things for you, or you can get some nail polish to do it yourself. Another quick way is just to take a nice long shower while the baby is sleeping, get out all of the body scrubs, face masks, foot masks, and body lotions that you have, give yourself a spa at home.

3 month postpartum: now that you have somewhat of a routine, and soon you can sleep train your baby, it is time to get back into the hobbies. For a while I was focused on the hobbies that was harder to do such as traveling and competitive figure skating. My time as a mom was fragmented and. I couldn’t leave the house for long durations of time. I had to revisit those hobbies I did at home but overlooked and took for granted: journaling, scrapbooking, vlogging, decorating the house, reading, photography... I went through a few weeks of paint by numbers.

These were all things I could do at home with my fragmented time. Journaling, scrapbooking, and vlogging really helped me unload my thoughts and remind me of just how good my life is. Decorating (and decluttering) the house helped me feel happy within the space I spent so much time of my day in. Reading was a way to get lost in another world or learn about something new. And with photography, for a while I dwelled on the fact that I couldn’t get nice travel photos, and that most of my photos were of my son... until I dived into the flat-lay world with many visits to the cafes around Shanghai. It was still my hobby, but also a new method/style of photography that I had to learn.

The golden rule: whenever my husband and I had the chance to leave the house for a date or to mingle, we made a point to not talk about the kid. It was hard at first but segmenting your time with your roles as a mom, wife, friend etc helps to remind you that you do have other identities other than “mom”. 

“If I look at what I can get back, then I’m concentrating on that something was stolen from me. Whereas if I look at what I might be able to do, that’s a different mindset”

Rekindling the marriage
The first year of having a baby is said to be one of the toughest times during a marriage. Everyone is a zombie from a lack of sleep, and nerves are fried from all of the new things to be learned with a screaming baby in the background. We were months into the postpartum period, or you can call the 4th trimester when my husband and I realized that we need to take care of our relationship and it is just as important as being parents. Happy parents, happy kid, right? Another thing is, my husband has a high-stress job that takes up a lot of his time, so how do I also help him get into his dad role?

Daddy’s time with the kid: just like how my husband lets me sleep in once a week so my job as a mom is made easier, I like to leave the “fun” parenting jobs to my husband. Since he is pretty fried at the end of a day after work, instead of asking him to wash the bottles and change nasty diapers, I let him bathe the kid and read bedtime stories.  These are key moments where it is not only fun but also bonding for a parent and kid. By helping him get into his dad role, happy dad = happy husband = happier couple.

Time at home: when the kid is asleep and it is just the two of us we try our best to maintain one rule, sit down and have dinner together. This is tough because of trying to balance out China’s overtime work situation, but also that we have really different diets. Even if we are eating different takeaway or cooked meals, we will make a point to sit down and eat at the same time and also talk about good things that happen in the day. Remembering to ask “how was your day” sounds easy but is easily forgotten.

Date nights: every week, we set aside either Friday or Saturday night to go out as a couple. If for any reason the nanny isn’t available or the schedule is just tricky, we at least try to go out and have brunch on Saturday (with the kid, but still the key is to get out of the house). And remember, the golden rule applies, no talking about the kid.

Feeling Isolated, difficulty making new friends as a (younger, stay at home) mom
This didn’t really hit me until we got settled into Shanghai. My friends are scattered around the world (blessing and curse as an expat who moves every few years), most my classmates are single or happily married without a kid, and it’s hard to get into the social scene in a new city with a baby. I spent a lot of my time at home, only interacting with the nanny (a very traditional Chinese woman in her mid-60s), and it was driving me nuts. So.. what are the solutions?

Make a point to connect with family: for my habit tracker, I made a point to call a family member at least once a week. It could be a video call or voice call, it could be with my mother or mother-in-law, but I make sure I call someone.

Connect with other moms: first place to start is Facebook. For example Singapore had “Stork’s Nest” and Shanghai has “Shanghai Mamas group”. I’m super thankful that the Shanghai Mamas group has regular meetups every day of the week throughout different neighborhoods in Shanghai. They also have bigger events like Halloween or Christmas gatherings on a weekend where the dad can join as well. There are also a lot of chat groups with mothers in them. Singapore for example had building complex mom chat groups, and in Shanghai there are chat groups based in the neighborhood you live in. You just need to be a bit more proactive in asking around, and just make a point to go to these events and not be shy ab out it.

Connect with non-moms: there are also a lot of meet-ups you can go to meet new people. We’ve also been to a few expat ones (Internations runs regular ones each month). But I also ask my husband to keep an eye out for me since he has work events that will expose him to more professional but also people who are not just in the “mom” or “expat” role. He keeps an eye out for ladies around my age who have similar interests with me.
To keep it appropriate, he usually shows my Instagram account followed with a picture of our kid so that it is clear what the intentions are, and I’ve made plenty of good female friends that way.

Connecting purely online: I also have two major circles online for my social interactions, one is Instagram where I get followers asking baby related or China related questions. There are a handful I chat with on a daily basis and have become friends. Based on my hobby (traveling), and my passion for Japan, I also joined a Japan travel group on Facebook. This way I am talking with people that have the same interests and can appreciate my contribution. Social media can get very tiring and negative, so make sure you are really strict with what you allow yourself to be exposed to. Stick with groups that are positive and supportive!

The best for last, and the most important one. I mean, it’s not great; it was horrible.
I was never officially diagnosed with Postpartum Depression, but I had a lot of symptoms pop up all of a sudden around the 7month mark. That’s the thing about postpartum depression, it can happen to anyone at any time. There are people that are more prone to postpartum depression, for example single mothers or those who don’t have supportive families throughout and post pregnancy. However, even the happies people with everything they need in their lives can get postpartum depression.

There are different types of postpartum depression, and they all come with a set of different symptoms and ways to treat it. A book that was very helpful, full of medical explanations, facts, and how to get help was:

This Isn’t What I Expected: Overcoming Postpartum Depression

I bought the book on Amazon Kindle, read it within hours and all of a sudden everything became clear. For a little over a week, I had no motivation for anything. I was crying or sleeping all day. I didn’t even want to get up and play with my son, and I just felt miserable and helpless. I didn’t feel like myself, and like no matter what I did, I screwed everything up. I had no friends, I wasn’t working, I was being a bad mother, and I felt extremely trapped.

What I had was “Postpartum Stress Disorder”. It comes with a lot of anxiety and self-doubt, a deep desire to be a perfect mother. But the enormous expectations to be a perfect mother, wife, and in control at all times comes with the feeling of inadequacy and helplessness. A good example is me beating myself up. While my husband is sleeping, I feel tired too, but I don’t allow myself to be tired because he is the one that has to go to work the next day. All I have to do is wake up early, feed the baby, do laundry, play with the kid, and do dishes. They key stressors that triggered all of this is being a first-time mom, moving to a new home (countries) within months of giving birth, job change (or shifting to a stay-at-home-mom).

The book goes on to give a lot of coping mechanisms depending on which type of postpartum depression you have. It talks about cognitive therapy or changing the way you think. For my type, I tend to catastrophize or overgeneralizing. I get myself into a loop and think that I have no options. One thing the book mentioned that really helped me was the concept of “finding an exit ramp”. There is always an option, and I need to stop, pause, and de-escalate my brain going into an exponentially catastrophic loop.

When you are feeling vulnerable, one of the best ways to protect yourself is to set clear and reasonable boundaries. You need to remember that you have needs too, you are not just a mother, wife, or neighbor. Recognize that there is a difference between asserting yourself and being selfish or inconsiderate. This was so important to me since I realized I let everyone around me walk all over me because being a stay-at-home-mom (and pausing my career) created a big gap in my confidence and I didn’t feel like I had the right to set boundaries, I did feel selfish whenever I requested for everything. But I had to reset that mindset. I can’t victimize myself, and I’m also not responsible for making other people feel happy right now.

The last point I want to make is how important having good social support is. That means friends and family. There are some that do not understand postpartum depression at all, and my husband was like that at the beginning too. He would say things that worsened the situation, for example “just snap out of it” or “you have a good life and everything you need, you have nothing to be sad about and stop being spoiled” or “get it together”. He was my husband, so I gave him the book with the chapter dedicated to help husbands understand postpartum depression. I didn’t share my postpartum depression with anyone else, so I didn’t know how my family and friends would’ve reacted. I don’t know if they understood or not, but I would imagine it to be tough if I was surrounded by people who unintentionally made the situation worse. The key is, find someone you trust to talk about it. The book also talks about going to a therapist or psychiatrist (using words vs drugs to balance out hormones), you can read more on which one is most suitable for you. They also do a deep dive in to drugs, when it is appropriate, different brands.. etc.

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