Stepping into Motherhood with Sophie Mong (@phiemong)
"It’s essential to have a check-in with yourself. Sometimes you’re so into motherhood that you forget about yourself. I think you have to feel happy, and healthy also... I make sure that I still have some connection with myself." - Sophie Mong
Welcome to motherhood! How has the journey been for you thus far?
It's been getting better. I think that's my answer. I wouldn’t say ‘Oh, it’s amazing!’ because sometimes it’s not.
The highs and lows.
Correct, correct. Especially as a working mum, you really have to juggle between work and your baby. As much as I want to spend all my time with him, I still have to work, right? I guess that’s the challenging part - the balance.
I’m still navigating [it]; I’m on my maternity leave and working part-time to slowly adapt back to working life and having a baby. Come May, I’ll have a full taste of what it’s like working and having a baby. But [Liam] will be in infant care, so I think it should be better. In the sense that I’ll have more time.
Maybe there will be longing for Liam?
Yeah, that’s a hard part also. I am already wondering, will the teacher be gentle with him? Will he fall asleep? How is he taking his nap? Because right now, he needs me to suckle and yeah… I'm quite nervous.
Does he use a pacifier?
He doesn't take pacifiers. I'm the pacifier. (laughs)
How do you manage to stay focused and get other things done?
One thing at a time! When I’m with him, I try to be fully present. For sure, I’ll think about work and other things I need to do. I try to set the timing, like, ‘Okay, right now he’s playing, but he won’t be awake for that long, so I’ll just be fully present.’ When he naps, then I’ll find time to do my stuff.
Right, right. Are there any memorable moments you've experienced together with Liam and/or Travis (Sophie's husband)?
When he started to call us, ‘Papa, Mama!” That’s something that’s quite, like, ‘Wow! He’s talking.' Actually, during our trip to Perth, he was saying, ‘Mama, Mama’ all the way. I was like ‘Aww, okay, that’s very sweet.’
What is something you're loving about motherhood, and something you might be struggling to cope with since becoming a mother?
What I love about motherhood, I think, is caring for someone else other than myself and Travis. I never had pets growing up, so I never knew or thought that I could care for someone else, that I was capable. (laughs) Like a plant, even. So it’s quite rewarding, actually, to see them grow bigger and healthier, and have more flesh.
From both of your efforts, and from breast milk too!
Yeah. Breast milk too; I’m able to feed and supply!
It is very fulfilling that [women's] bodies can provide for a baby.
I tried really hard. I couldn’t [breastfeed] at first. I was in this really dark place. When [the time for] breastfeeding came, I didn’t expect it to be so hard.
When I was pregnant I was like, ‘Pregnancy is so hard.' After that, I was like, ‘Postpartum is so hard,’ and your body doesn’t look the same anymore. But, breastfeeding is on another level. It’s a real challenge. The first few weeks were very emotional because of the hormones. Physically, you’re recovering; there's the wound and the pain. Breastfeeding is also painful.
I felt that if I cannot provide for him, then I am not a good mother. So I tried really hard. Liam could latch, but he struggled. He was not getting enough milk, so we had to constantly top up with formula. I was like, ‘Oh, but the formula is not that great for my baby.’ People have this popular thought that the formula is second-best. So we struggled, and then I stopped. I did pumping exclusively for a whole month because I really wanted him to drink breast milk instead of formula.
Eventually, we went to see a lactation consultant. They said, ‘He’s already 5 weeks old. It is a bit late to go back to latching since you are already pumping.’ I was crying on the way home; I told [Travis], ‘Oh no, what have I done? Why did I start pumping?’ I was so affected.
Anyway, I still believed that Liam could latch because he was good at it the first few days. Then, we went to see a specialist about a possible tongue-tie, which would have prevented him from breastfeeding. Turns out he had quite a severe tongue-tie.
So it's not you!
It's not me!
That gave you a good perspective.
Yeah! Right after the fix at the clinic, he could latch immediately. It's amazing. I've been breastfeeding since.
What did they do with the tongue-tie?
They simply snipped it.
Was it painful?
For sure, it was. But it was a quick, one, two-minute procedure. We were not in the room with Liam because they don’t let you stay in the room. But it was alright, just light bleeding.
I'm glad you shared this, because other mothers should know this too. You really tried different options and solutions.
Yes, I really tried.
So you've talked about the different struggles postpartum. What about when you were pregnant?
It was quite smooth-sailing, I would say. There weren’t many ups and downs. It was just getting bigger and bigger, heavier and heavier each day. But I was still able to move.
You were still quite active?
Yes, but I had gestational diabetes. So I changed a little bit of my diet and exercised more after that.
Is there something you wished someone had told you before you became a mum?
I think, not to obsess about or rush your baby or yourself into certain phases.
When Liam was just born, I had a really difficult time figuring out how to breastfeed. My nipple was sore and bleeding… But it will pass. But, no one told me that it would pass.
That moment of struggle was real for you.
Yeah! I kept obsessing, ‘How can I breastfeed while my nipple is hurt, all the time?' I didn’t know, because people don’t really go into detail. Nipples will get sore, but they will also recover and heal, and breastfeeding will become easy. That’s one thing.
Also, I try not to rush him to reach certain milestones even though I have anxiety. Like, ‘Why is he not crawling?’ I think, ‘Just let him grow.’ I think everything is a phase.
I believe, a baby, as long as they're happy, healthy, reacting to you, crying, alert, that's ok. Do you think your perspective on things, in general, changed very much as you've taken on this new role as a mum?
Yes! Yes, I’m not so self-centred anymore. (laughs) Like, the world doesn’t just revolve around me. I think it opens up my mind, it also brings me to places that we’ve never been.
Perth was such a different trip that we took together [as a family]. We’ve travelled so much, and we always do what we like, right? But this trip was all about Liam. We planned the trip around him, like the playground. Such places we would never go to! Even when he can’t play yet…
It's about trying to enhance his experience.
Yeah. He brings us to places we’ve never been, which gives us new experiences.
Many mums have to sacrifice their me-time when they have kids. Is that the case for you as well?
I still find time for myself.
How do you manage that?
It’s because I think that’s important for my well-being. Of course, the first month is impossible. I couldn't even get out of my house. But the help from my husband and the family is important as well. Your village. I would be like, ‘Ok, I need a facial, I need to do my nails.' Then, we check each other’s schedules to find the time. It doesn’t really take much; one, or two hours tops. But it’s essential to have a check-in with yourself. Sometimes you’re so into motherhood that you forget about yourself. I think you have to feel happy, and healthy also. I don’t do much, but I paint. I make sure that I still have some connection with myself.
That's really nice!
It takes a while. I only started when Liam got more stable at 5, or 6 months. So it takes time to get there.
How would you advise other expecting or new mothers on self-care?
I think, just go for it. Just do it, don’t think so much about being away for an hour. Things won’t change much. Support is important. Find the support that you need. Without support, you can’t do it.
Okay. So you've shared online about your journey with DR (diastasis recti). Would you care to talk more about that?
As much as I want to bounce back… I think "bounce back" is such bad wording because you can’t "bounce back." At least, for now, [my body] doesn't look the same for sure. You can recognise and work on it. As for the DR, I actually didn’t even know about DR.
But you actually had it? Because I have DR.
I wasn’t so self-aware about it. I didn’t even realise my belly button didn’t look the same [after birth] since I stopped looking at myself in the mirror. After [Superself] checked on me, I kept looking at myself in the mirror, like, ‘How can I not notice?’
But you were busy with a baby!
Yeah, so I was like, ‘Ok’ and accepted it. I just tried the treatment.
Did it help?
It did, it did. I don’t know if it’s just the treatment, or because the body is also recovering and healing. I think it helped me mentally, that I did something for myself and I feel better for it.
I appreciate that you're so honest about it, thank you for sharing. I know that you were an avid exerciser before having Liam. What is the conversation you have with your body now?
I’m still struggling, to be honest, to fully accept how I look right now. I used to have, like, a four-pack, but right now, it’s different. But I recognise that this is not my priority. Having a fitter, more sculpted body is not my priority right now. My focus has shifted to Liam, to my well-being. More than just how I look. I think that’s another side of motherhood; you realise that it’s not all about the outside. You need to feel happy and healthy. I recognise that things can come slowly, later, one thing at a time.
If there is one thing you would like to teach Liam, what would it be?
Be kind, be gentle, I think. Be gentle with himself, and with people. I think that’s very important. Don’t judge, because when you judge people, you're also judging yourself. If things are [the way it is], just accept it.
Anything else you'd like to talk about?
There’s a lot of help out there. If you’re struggling, try to find people to talk to. Don’t keep it within yourself.
Yes. You’ve mentioned that Travis has been a great support. With Liam as your first child, how do you navigate parenthood together?
I must say, he is very hands-on and incredibly helpful. He’s very ready to embrace Liam and to help all the time. It’s really easy for me. We work like a tag team, I feel. I do all the cooking and feeding, and he does all the cleaning up after, showering him, diapers... it’s all him. So we have roles, which is perfect.
It is. Well, thank you so much!