Mama Says is a monthly series where I catch up with cool women to talk work, play, life and (you guessed it) motherhood. In this first installment, we meet Jennifer Chua, creative director and co-owner of Hip Mommies, a Canadian distribution company on a mission to do better business. Think: innovative products for babies, kids and pets, manufactured responsibly by suppliers who support good causes and do business ethically. (Hooray for that!) She shares her experience of coping with a difficult birth, why her daughter is her favourite human, and what she thinks you should buy when you’re expecting. (Her answer might shock you!)
Founder, Tenth Moon Mother Care
Tell us about yourself?
I’m a creative director, a collector of cookbooks, an asian food enthusiast and a mother to a two year old. I live in Toronto with my daughter, Edie, and my husband, who is also my business partner. Together we own Hip Mommies and we are huge supporters of the shop-small, shop-local movement. We have been so fortunate to partner with companies that are really shaking things up and doing good things in this world.
If you could travel back in time, what three pieces of advice would you give yourself in those first days and weeks after becoming a mother?
- Things might not go as planned. If you need help, get it.
I spent my pregnancy doing everything I could to have a natural birth. I ate properly, did prenatal yoga 4 times a week, was committed to Hypnobabies and suffered through endless squats. I had a healthy pregnancy, a very complicated birth and a very healthy baby. I had planned on having my daughter with midwives at a local Birth Centre, and ended up with a an emergency C-section after a long labour. I was crushed, tremendously disappointed and in shock. I was left with some pretty bad postpartum depression that affected everything. I got help, and I am in a much better place now.
- Learn about breastfeeding beforehand if you plan to breastfeed your baby.
Breastfeeding can be really hard. I thought (like with everything) that it would just come naturally. It didn’t. Read a book, watch a video and gain some knowledge beforehand. Have a lactation consultant on standby, and maybe a container of formula and a bottle in your house for backup just in case.
- Don’t buy anything until you meet your baby.
This is going to sound strange coming from someone who makes a living selling baby gear. I am very conscious of what I buy and when Edie was born we lived in a 600-sq-ft loft which helped me not go too crazy. You are encouraged to set up a registry and the nesting instinct is strong, but let’s be honest, you really don’t need much. Edie was born smaller than we expected, and lived in 4 one-piece sleepers for the first few months of her life. A couple warm blankets and a couple muslin blankets (which I adore because they are so multi-purpose) some cloth diapers and a wrap carrier was all we needed in the beginning. You won’t know what your child will be like until they arrive. You won’t know if they will take a bottle, you won’t know if you will breastfeed, you won’t know their size or temperament. Register for gift certificates or diapers or HOME-COOKED MEALS. You will want those much more than anything else.
“I am very conscious of what I buy… Let’s be honest, you really don’t need much.”
What have been your biggest challenges in motherhood so far? And how did you overcome (or come to live with) them?
Overcoming my daughter’s traumatic birth and the depression was really tough. I can’t honestly say I am over it yet. Breastfeeding and then weaning after age two were tough, too. And parenting an incredibly bright, determined and energetic two year old can be a challenge. My advice is to seek help where you can. Once I found a councillor, a sleep consultant , a caregiver, a friend who would let me cry on their shoulder and my “mom” community – things got a little easier. We no longer raise children in a village, and it’s really tough to do everything on your own. I face each challenge with as much support as I can get.
What are your favourite parent hacks/tips for making life easier with kids?
SNACKS. I wasn’t always good at this. I assumed that as a mother I would be more prepared, especially after starting my career in restaurant kitchens and then at Food Network Canada. We would be out and I would be eyeing the other mothers at the park pulling a million snack options out of their bag – pre-washed, cut up and prepared. We would have a collective meltdown and I would be running to get some takeout. I am learning. Edie is very active and always hungry. Keeping snacks on hand is the best thing I can do to keep both of our blood sugar regulated and my sanity in check.
EZPZ! Because of the business, I have spent countless hours talking with nutritionists, “picky eating” experts and feeding and speech pathologists. Good eating habits last a lifetime, and you want to start them early. Baby-led weaning, self-feeding are all really important if you want independent eaters with fewer food aversions. Ezpz mats are specifically designed to encourage good eating habits. I’m also fanatic about the Kizingo curved toddler spoons.
TOY SWAPPING. Rotate your toys in your house, but also swap with friends. Once every couple of months gather together and have everyone bring the not-so-loved-anymore toys along. It’s better than Christmas.
How do you decompress?
I used to love cycling, but since becoming a mother I’ve become too cautious to enjoy it. I read, do yoga, and try to escape by myself to a coffee shop at least once a week. I was such an extrovert before, and now I crave time alone. I aim for 15 minutes of meditation a day and I also try to sleep by myself as much as possible so I get some deep, uninterrupted rest.
“I was such as extrovert before and now I crave time alone.”
If you could have a conversation about motherhood with any person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Edie was named after my grandmother Edith, who passed away while I was pregnant. If there was anyone that I wish I could have talked to about motherhood, it would have been her. She went through so much. She had five children over a span of 20 years, including twins. She also lost a child. I loved her artistic and entrepreneurial spirit, and I wish I could have gotten some tips from her on how to raise another fiercely independent little Edith.
What’s your favourite knock-knock joke?
“What do you mean, MOM WHO?”
There’s a lot talk about losing ourselves, or parts of ourselves, in motherhood. What do you think about that?
I think I did lose myself for a while. Everything that I associated with my identity was gone after my girl was born. I was not designing or creating. I was not seeing my friends, writing, reading or being active. Everything in my life became about my daughter and taking the best care of her that I could. Now that she is two, things are slowly becoming about me again and I am starting to focus on what I need to be happy and whole. I think this is perfectly normal and that two years is a reasonable time to give up on some of my goals for the sake of my child. Some women might take two months, some ten years. I do think you “lose yourself”, but it’s not for forever.
What is your greatest hope for your child?
When I was pregnant, a good friend of mine asked me what I wanted for my daughter. I told him that I wanted her to be fearless. Little did I know that this is exactly who she would be. When I said fearless, I was hoping that she would have the courage to stand up for what she believes in, have the ability to go confidently towards her dreams, and to have faith that everything will work out if she puts in the work. What I was not counting on was for Edie to be afraid of absolutely nothing or no one. She is the child climbing to the top of structures not meant to be climbed on, barrelling her way into bouncy castles packed with much older kids, having conversations with anyone and everyone and running right up to strange dogs for a kiss. I’m sure being fearless will serve her well in the future, but as a mother, WHAT was I thinking asking for it?
What’s the best part of being a mama?
Getting to spend my life with my absolute favourite human. Seeing her learn and grow and try to make me laugh. There is nothing better. I completely adore her and cannot imagine a moment without her. I am incredibly fortunate to be her mother, and even when things are really hard, she is the greatest thing in my life.
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