Damned if You Do and Damned if You Don't
“I wonder if they can tell, I’m sure that they can tell. Should I say something first? I’m allowed to have a holiday, a kid-free break….aren’t I?”
These thoughts are going through my mind as we boarded the plane in Singapore, bound for the USA, feeling guilty and certain that those around us would instantly know and disapprove that we had decided to leave our 7 month old daughter at home with family.
As a new mum, motherhood is a new language that I need to learn fast, navigate and apply daily. I never had to be more considered and organised, but equally as flexible and go-with-the flow in my life, until I had a baby.
So you can imagine planning to attend our good friends’ wedding in the USA, which would have usually been exciting and easy, was now fertile ground for guilt, doubt and anxiety. To help the process, my Husband and I asked a cross section of friends and family for advice and it became apparent early on how polarising this issue is. Some were firmly rooting for Camp A (“Oh she’s so young, definitely take her, it’s the best time.”), and just as many swearing by Camp B (“Are you crazy? Don’t take her, she won’t remember a thing and you won’t be able to enjoy anything”). Both camps equally impassioned in their beliefs, and shared cautionary tales from their own personal experiences. Divisive they were, indecisive we remained. We were walking around with big imaginary L Plates on our heads, secretly pleading for the ‘right’ answer from a higher power, one that would guarantee safety and security for our daughter, while providing oodles of fun and 8+ hours sleep in one stretch for us.
That’s the thing though, there is no ‘right’ answer. Our landing page of truth was that we were definitely going to attend the wedding and make it into a holiday ; it was the decision process of whether or not to take our 7 month old daughter that needed divine intervention. Initially, we had always intended to take her and didn't accommodate any other option (frankly, we didn't know we had another choice, and appreciate that not everyone does). It wasn't until a friend (and fellow mum) framed it to us very unsubtly that taking her would mean the end of sleep and fun - basically all that you want a holiday to be. We mulled over the decision for months, my Husband even booked two trip itineraries- one with and without her, just so we could decide last minute. In the end, we decided not to take her and we had an amazing trip. We fully celebrated our friends’ wedding, stayed up late, met new people, and slept in; all while spending quality time as a couple exploring the southern states of America.
I realise it’s easy to share this now because we are safely reunited with a happy baby and the narrative could have been very different. It’s all about choices and consequences, we make these everyday, but as parents the spotlight of judgment (by self or by others) is sharp, acute, and not always rational and fair. No matter what you choose for your family, it is the right choice at that given time.
So if you find yourself in the same predicament as I did, allow me to share, while still fresh in my mind and unedited, some points from our decision to leave the baby -
1. You and your partner need to be on the same page. It will not work if one party feels pressured into a decision. Enough said.
2. Yes, you will feel guilty if you leave them. And no, the enjoyment level will not be the same. If you can accept these two notions it will make the trip easier. Rather than resisting and trying to ‘make it like was before the baby/kids’ embrace the fact that you will spend a lot of time looking at photos of them on your phone (especially at 1am when you are awake, emotional, and jet lagged). You will be checking in all the time, and yes, you will be talking about them with your partner and those within a 25m radius a lot. And that’s okay.
3. You will be judged. By others and by yourself. It doesn't make people good or bad, it just makes them human. Don't justify your decision either, it weakens it. Just see point 1 above. That’s all you need.
4. Know your baby, we feel blessed that our daughter is a healthy, happy and relatively easy-going baby (for now!). We would not have left her in the care of my mum if she was a fussy, sickly or high maintenance baby. We simply would not have been comfortable.
5. An obvious but important one to re-iterate, have your contingencies in place. Emergency numbers, blood type, medical history, allergies, nearest hospital. My rule with my Mum was if I didn't hear from her during any 12 hour period, I would have a friend go to our home immediately. We were in the US so this made sense to me. For you, it may be within a 2-3 hour window. WhatsApp and FaceTime were our lifelines.
6. And finally, once you know the baby is okay, consciously practice to calm down and chill out. Have a drink, look into your partner’s eyes and enjoy the moment. You deserve it. You are not only a mum.
“Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticised anyway” Eleanor Roosevelt.
Elyse is currently based in Singapore with her Husband and baby Daughter. After more than 12 years in the corporate sector, Elyse is embarking on a new journey as a certified Nutritionist, through her company The Budding Nutritionist. The company will focus on 2 main areas - nutrition counselling and management for individual clients, and designing & delivering nutrition workshops for companies. She is also the Co-Founder of a new collaboration - 'SHE Movement' which aims to bring awareness and education around simple and sustainable skills for skincare, health and wellness to women of all ages, purposefully geared towards graceful aging. Watch this space for the official go-live date of her website “www.thebuddingnutritionist.com”
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