Being a Working Mom to a Newborn in 2020

by Jay Loh, Head of Corporate Services

Hey! I’m Jay, Head of Corporate Services in Teleport. I oversee finance, legal and company secretarial, and office support — and I string them all in a loop. I’m told that I am a square person but very organised and structured. That’s what squares give you… and we need all shapes and sizes, after all!

I am also a blessed mother of two. I had my first boy, Zyon, after trying for six years. He just turned five! God blessed me with a second one — a girl — Zyra in February 2020, just a month before MCO started.

When I first found out I was pregnant… again, I was overjoyed. After years of struggle to conceive Zyon, I was grateful with one. To have another felt like a greedy blessing. I remember that my feeling of joy was very quickly mixed with some guilt — I wasn’t sure how to break the news to my boss, as another Head of Department (we had four HODs then) had also just announced her pregnancy, and we might just have barely missed each other when she returned from maternity. We tried to ‘time’ it perfectly so that there’s no overlap — we tried!

Since the day I found out that I was pregnant a second time, it became a race against time to complete my to-dos. So much to do, so little time! It was a start-up after all. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that there’s nothing faster the workload that pours in when you’re getting things done in a hurry. “I have to at least settle x before I pop!” was a chant that went on for the eight months that followed.

The light at the end of the tunnel was that I could have my two months — I wishfully tried to push for three months, but there was just too much to do — of maternity leave. Who knew that when I came back from my maternity leave, the company I thought I knew was no longer what it was. Work as I knew it was not the same.

When I came back to work in April 2020, COVID-19 was already in full force, and the Movement Control Order (MCO) had started, so work became a ‘work from home’ scenario. I couldn’t have the excitement of getting dressed and putting on my makeup before my drive to the office. I would wake up, do the necessary clean-up, switch on my laptop while still in my pajamas, and feel so glad that I wouldn’t have to rush out to drop my kids off at their daycare. I thought, ‘Now Ihave extra time saved from driving and getting ready for work. What bliss.’ Obviously, I didn’t know any better.

At that time, we had just launched our platform business, now known as airasia food and airasia fresh. The OCD nerve in me twitched nonstop! This meant… no structure, no process and no legal parameters in place, yet the business was already running. What kind of audit nightmare were we to expect? Even now, I’m catching my breath recalling it. For the next few months, all I was busy with were Zoom calls after Zoom calls — one after the other — while trying to catch up with the ever-evolving model, getting contract templates in place, and outlining processes the best that I can.

During the first stage of the MCO, I mostly worked in my bedroom while my husband took the study room. My son was… around (he’s one super active boy!), and my baby girl stayed by me while I worked. Every few hours, I would turn off my Zoom video to breastfeed her. I remember that most of my days were spent with my hair up in a bun, and I smelled like dried milk aka cheese. My two options were: to drive myself crazy with the expectations of keeping my household in order, or to make peace with and accept the state of my house. I chose the latter. (Or rather, the latter chose me.)

Baby Zyra, born February 2020 — just a month before the MCO began!

In the first few months, Zyra slept a lot. It was easier that way. But in the following months, it became more difficult to keep her still. Then when the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) took place, I was forced to make the difficult call to put my son to daycare, while keeping my baby girl at home, despite the increasing cases.

In most of my interviews with potential candidates, I like to be transparent with them about our work life balance equation; that is, ‘work = life’, and we can’t find the balance. What can I say? We’re a bunch of people motivated by a steep learning curve and we’re passionate about what we do. That equation pretty much defined my 2020 (and 2019 — and even 2018, when Teleport was born). Not to be dramatic about it, of course!

One of the perks of working from home with a newborn is that I am there for every new milestone. I get to see her ‘firsts’ first-hand, and not through some story passed on by a nanny or daycare teacher. I saw her first smile. I witnessed her first time turning over, and when she took her first crawl, her first step, and her first words. Until today, I get to spend more and more time with my baby. I get to be there for her, and for many mothers, it’s a truly magical feeling to be able to watch and experience their growth every single day.

One of its drawbacks, however, is that there’s no separation between work and motherhood. Some days, I would feel like a superwoman, clocking off work to spend time with my family and put decent meals on the table. Some days, I would sit and cry because of a mother’s guilt — my son glued to the iPad for more than 8 hours a day, my baby girl fell from the bed five times before she turned 6 months old — because I was distracted by work, and we’d had to have instant noodles (or takeaway) for lunch and dinner because it was the quickest to prepare.

It takes a village to raise a kid. I have two kids, so I technically need two villages. Those hot mums walking down the street with every single hair in place —well, their village is much bigger. Hence, their support is much stronger. The COVID-19 pandemic is unfortunately not a time where you can pay for help. Part-time cleaner… no thanks. I just can’t risk it! I have to be selective between that and daycare for my son.

As I reflect on the year, I count myself blessed to have the support system I do from the people in my life, and to still have a career while the world is dealing with many things. It feels a little selfish to complain, given what the rest of them have lost versus what I struggled with.

I also thank God for my husband, who took the dump load and kept my sanity in order. At certain points, it was a delicate line between that or losing it. I am grateful for my dad, who came all the way from Kluang, to help me with cooking and caring for Zyra. Those days felt like fresh air to my lungs and efficiency turbo-charged for my work. And I am grateful for my boss, who allowed the flexibility to work from home for a whole year and only show up for meetings at my discretion. And, one of the latest additions to my family: Xiaomi Roborock, for picking up the trail of crumbs left by Zyon & Zyra.

Being a mother is never easy, but being one in 2020 was unbelievably and unassumingly hard. Being a mother a second time doesn’t always mean I know better (I can change diapers faster, I suppose!), it just means that I’ve gotten the hang of it a bit more. While I’m still finding the sweet spot of ‘balance’ in my blurred work life equation, I suspect this journey will be a long one. Nevertheless, I’m focused on being deliberate about the time spent with my family, and to evolve the way I work so that I can make time (time is not a given, you have to set it apart) to even out this ‘balance’.

Motherhood in 2020 is like a case of leaked poo-poo from a diaper in the middle of a management meeting. The question is, am I a mother or part of management? Depending on the day, sometimes I choose to be mum. Some days, the poo-poo got to wait.

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