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Mon, Sep 20, 2010
The Star/ANN
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Celebrating motherhood

For first-time mother Sheahnee Iman Lee, being a full time mum is a challenging, yet rewarding experience.

AS Sheahnee Iman Lee, 31, lounged comfortably on her sofa with a nursing poncho covering five-month-old Zara Aaliyah Nazruddin, she was a serene picture of peace and maternal bliss.

It was exactly the kind of picture many mothers had described to her before she tried breastfeeding: that it is so peaceful, she can calmly and nicely bond with her baby, and it will be a beautiful, peaceful experience.

As if she sensed me sitting down beside her mother, Zara began to squirm and let out little shrieks of protest.

I asked whether we should continue after Zara is full. But since breastfeeding is a daily routine Lee has grown so used to since she became a full time mom, she was not the least perturbed.

Without skipping a beat, she set my mind at ease. “Don’t worry, I’m used to doing this.” A moment later, Zara settled down.

Baby steps

Visit her four months earlier and you’d see a totally different scenario. Because the truth is, like any new mother, she wasn’t sure what she was doing was right.

“When you are a new mother, you have a lot of insecurities and self-doubt. You always think that the milk you are producing is not enough, that your milk is not enough, that you are not good enough. That, or the way you are taking care of the baby is not right,” she recalled.

And although she can now vouch for the indescribable happiness a mother can have when she nurses her baby, she felt exactly the opposite when she first started breastfeeding.
To cherish Zara’s childhood years, Sheahnee Iman Lee and Nazruddin keeps a baby book already half-filled with jottings of her baby steps.

For the first week, she cried every time she had to breastfeed. “It felt like someone was cutting my nipple off. And nobody told me that,” she recalled. “I think they didn’t want to scare me off.”

It certainly sounds scary when she described it. “I would just walk around without any clothes on if I could, because it was so painful. But I have made up my mind early on that I was going to do this.”

Determined to breastfeed her baby fully up to six months, Lee got help. Nursing became easier after her lactation consultant, Rita, taught her how to breastfeed properly.

“It took me, like, a month to learn to do it properly. Then, tada! Now it feels like everything people were telling me about.

“You know, that it’s normal, it’s natural, it’s peaceful, and it’s bonding. But I can guarantee that every first time mother will not feel that peaceful bonding at first,” she explained.

Mommy, full time

Being a self-professed “lousy multitasker”, her decision to switch from being a full-time newscaster, TV host, and producer to a full-time mom had helped made it easier for her to breastfeed fully. Her husband, 32-year-old Ntv7 Breakfast Show host Nazruddin Rahman, gave her his full support.

“We mulled it over when I was pregnant, but I always felt I sort of knew that I wanted to do it,” Lee mused.

“As the date (of delivery) approached closer and closer, he warmed up to the idea and I started preparing myself mentally to give up my job. It didn’t feel that bad. So, when I imagined what it would be like, I thought, ‘yeah, I think I could do this’.”
While being a mother and breastfeeding for the first time is challenging, Sheahnee Iman Lee feels that mothers should have more faith in their abilities and get the right support to help them enjoy the whole experience.

But living in current times, where women often need (or are expected to) to work to help keep a family afloat financially, Lee states upfront that the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom (SAHM as she calls it) is a blessing.

“Mental and financial preparations are absolutely necessary for anyone planning to be a SAHM because you are giving up an independent part of yourself to care for another,” said Lee.

“I am thankful that my husband was supportive of my decision, and that he was financially able to allow me to quit my job. It’s a tall order for any man, and I’m fortunate that he stepped up to the challenge,” she added.

The rewards are many. “Being a stay at home mom is a really wonderful experience. Not everyone can do it – this isn’t for everyone – and some women can’t imagine themselves doing it. And I respect that.

“But for me, personally, it has been really rewarding.”

Besides the simple, comforting knowledge that she is now able to give the best nutrition and undivided love and attention to Zara, her rewards come in the little things many people miss when their children are growing up.

Little things, like when four-month-old Zara was able to sit up on her own and stand up just by holding on to railings or objects around her, are her daily rewards.

However, full-time motherhood also comes with its challenges.

“The most challenging aspect is that my time no longer belongs to me. Gone are the days when I could read the paper and enjoy my lazy morning cuppa.

“Being a SAHM also means besides taking care of all Zara’s needs, I’m also a cook, maid and confidante to my husband. Finding time to juggle all these other roles while tending to a baby who needs attention all the time is tough!” she said.

Then there are the things she misses: going out for a movie or a date with her husband, the freedom to do whatever, whenever, and her career (somewhat). “There will be time for other (career) opportunities later on, but I will never get another chance to experience Zara at this age!”

Even though she recognises that it is easy for a SAHM to lose her identity in a life dedicated to the needs of her family, Lee realises that she had always hoped to be a SAHM someday. “This is what makes me feel complete as a human being.”

It takes two

All things said, just like marriage, it takes a couple effort to make parenting work. And the same goes for breastfeeding.

“I dedicate half the success of breastfeeding to him (Nazruddin) because he has been there to help me through all of it,” Lee said.

It certainly helped when Lee’s lactation consultant Rita convinced and taught her husband Nazruddin how to be supportive of her when she breastfeeds.

“When you see the process of how it works, you develop a kind of appreciation for it. It’s not the case of saying ‘yeah, if she wants to breastfeed, she can breastfeed’.

“He was always okay to allow me to breastfeed, but being okay with it and knowing how to support your wife when she wants to breastfeed is different,” she explained.

When she felt down after hearing advice from well meaning people about what she should and shouldn’t do to take care of the baby, Nazruddin was there to tell her it’s okay.

When she decided to go back to read news part time, Nazruddin was there to help her take care of Zara for the few hours when she was away. “He feeds, bathes and plays with Zara and she loves the time she has with her Abah,” says Lee.

For this, she counts her blessings.

“Gone are the days when men just sat around and watched their wives struggle alone. I believe quite a few Malaysian men have come a long way and are increasingly involved in the household. Kudos to these guys and man, am I lucky to have one of them!”

While being a mother and breastfeeding for the first time is challenging, Lee feels that mothers should have more faith in their abilities. It may take some effort to find ways to make it work for you, but with time and experience Lee believes it will come naturally.

“Because it is the most natural thing in this world to be a mother,” she said.

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