Welcome to our series, The Motherhood Diaries. The pandemic years have been hard on everyone but when it comes to maternal mental health, there have been added layers for those who have had a baby in the past two years. Over the next couple of weeks, we’re talking to some of our past How Are You Today people who have had a baby in the pandemic to talk about their experiences and how they’re feeling now. Last week we spoke to Sharyn Casey and today we’re talking to The Project co-host & Sort Your Life Out host Kanoa Lloyd about having her first baby just before Auckland’s 100 day lockdown, why she missed having a community around her and why women need to stop giving themselves such a hard time about using formula to keep their babies fed.
Hi Kanoa, how are today?
I’m good! It’s a perfect scenario for a busy working Covid mum chat, as I’m driving to an appointment that I can go to because my in-laws are in town and they’re looking after my baby before I go to work.
I can imagine the juggle of returning to work requires some very intense scheduling.
And not just back to work but I just decided it would be a cool thing to do to come back to two jobs, so I’ve been doing six-day weeks for the past two and a half months. There’s something about being a parent that kind of just makes you find the fortitude that you didn’t really know you had before. It’s the most exhausted I’ve ever been but I feel like I’m the most focused I’ve been in a long time, as well.
Well, that’s a serious combination right there. And you had Nikau just before the big lockdown last year, is that right?
We had two weeks of real life – I gave birth, I had a little bit of time in Birthcare and then my mum came up for a week, then my in-laws came up from Christchurch and they were on Day Two of staying with us and suddenly we went into that 100-day lockdown [laughs].
I mean, the first three months of having a newborn sound fairly gnarly to begin with, even in the best circumstances. When you look back now, how was that time period?
Well it’s interesting because heaps of people said, ‘Oh, well you don’t really want to leave the house for three months anyway, so it’s probably kind of good in a way.’ And I don’t know if it’s my Māoritānga, but I don’t roll like that [laughs].
I was desperate to have a community around me and show off my baby and be proud of this incredible thing we had achieved! I really, really missed people and I started to get paranoid, ‘Is Nikau going to be scared of people when she finally meets them?’
There’s something about being a parent that kind of just makes you find the fortitude that you didn’t really know you had before.
How has she been?
Amazing [laughs]. I shouldn’t have worried at all, she’s such a funny, really smiley, really engaged little baby and I don’t know – whether it’s something in her personality or maybe something in that formative time gave her some confidence and a really good secure attachment with us as parents, and that meant she was like ‘cool, okay – I like the world, I can handle this.’ I needn’t have worried… but I think that’s what parents do. If it wasn’t a lockdown, I’d be worried about something else.
But you’re so right – up until like 100 years ago, we would give birth in more of a village-type scenario where you would constantly be surrounded by people and have many generations helping with a newborn. We don’t have that any more these days – and then a lockdown on top of that really limits your options.
It doesn’t feel natural to me! I am 100% into this idea of there being a fourth trimester, because you’re so vulnerable after you give birth – you’re a literal and figurative open wound. I mean; I had an emergency C-section. And that’s just a time when you need someone – many someones – who are picking up what you’re putting down and making you cups of tea, making you laugh when you feel like crying.
Because he’s worked from home, my husband and Nikau got to have a really strong bonding time that I think a lot of dads miss out on because paternal leave in New Zealand is stupid
It’s a lot of pressure on your partner too. My husband is amaaaaazing and what I will say, is that because he’s worked from home, he and Nikau got to have a really strong bonding time that I think a lot of dads miss out on because paternal leave in New Zealand is stupid.
A lot of partners don’t get an opportunity to have that bonding time and now he and Nikau are best buds. And on a practical level – we take turns doing night feeds and he does half the childcare still and that’s all set up from when it was just the two of us, there wasn’t a mum or mum or sister-in-law to pick up some of the slack and take over.
How have you found going back to work and the mental juggle?
I’m not going to lie, it’s obviously hard. Honestly, you do just go: what’s important? And it boils down to really simple things – your kid; are they sleeping? Are they eating? Are they warm? And then it’s been boiling down to the really simple things for me as well: am I sleeping? Am I eating? Reminding myself that it’s okay if I’m running late because I need to go to the toilet. I guess the way you parent your child is also how you parent yourself. That’s what I’ve been doing during this time – getting back to basics and being as kind and gentle on myself as I can.
I think that is such good advice for any new parent! I do think a lot of the chat about motherhood is either a) ‘You’re finally a woman, you finally know what love is, you finally have a purpose’ or b) ‘Welcome to hell, you’re never going to sleep again; Oh, just you wait.’ And in between, there can be a lack of sensible, kind chat that doesn’t make you feel terrified.
The discourse is really binary – like it’s either (which to be honest, I kind of love) the women who are like ‘I secretly hate my children or I wish I’d never done it and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,’ and I’m like ‘Woah, I respect you for being straight-up about that.’ OR there’s the full-time, Instagram Mom that’s always got a shiny ponytail and is always giving their kid everything that they need. The reality is such a section in between.
Like it’s really bloody hard but I’m really grateful I get to do it; like Nikau is the best. Literally the best baby. I’m sorry to the other babies, but she is! She’s worth having a hard time for. And that’s not me wanting to be a martyr or glamorise motherhood or reduce the struggle – shit’s hard, but it’s worth it.
Were there any books or resources that you found helpful in preparing to be a mum?
I cannot rate more highly Emily Oster’s books. The one I read is Crib Sheet and she is an economist and a massive data nerd and has done decades and decades of studies around the world and condensed them down into ‘here’s what you need to know the data says.’ Her whole thing is about empowering people to make their own decisions that suit them, armed with non-biased, really strong scientific evidence.
The big one for me is that you get this constant messaging that breast is best and breast is frigging great, don’t get me wrong but from what I got out of her book is that one of the reasons breast-fed babies have better outcomes is because their mothers are in a position to take more time off work, have better incomes and have a healthier lifestyle due to this, so the connection may not be due to the actual milk that’s coming out, it’s a combination of all of these other factors. And often, formula-fed babies come from lower-socio economic families where the mums have to go straight back to work.
That’s just one example and reading that, I was like ‘F—-ck, thank god!’ because all of the messaging you’re given is ‘breast-feeding, breast-feeding, breast-feeding!’ and actually, I wasn’t able to breast-feed for the first couple of weeks Nikau was born, so we used a mixture of formula and then I used a breast pump to increase my milk supply.
I wasn’t able to breast-feed for the first couple of weeks Nikau was born, so we used a mixture of formula and then I used a breast pump to increase my milk supply.
I’ve weaned her now but all the way through the time I was breast-feeding, we were also using formula to top up, because guess what? When you have to go back to work and you’re stressed, your milk slows down. And it was never a worry for me because I knew we had a back-up and I never felt like I was taking that away from her. It was just a transition and she lovvves formula and now we do solids as well and… f—king thank God!
Honestly, this is one of the things I feel so passionately about because as a non-mother; because the propaganda – and that is what it is – around breast-feeding can be so overwhelming for new mothers who are just doing their best.
What I will say is that breast-feeding was incredible and I’m so grateful I got to do it and I’m so grateful to all the nurses and midwives that encouraged me – and they can push you, for sure! – but I’m so glad I got that time with Nikau.
I still see really awesome, progressive, well-educated women beating themselves up, saying things like ‘Oh, it’s so bad that I used formula because I couldn’t produce enough breast milk.’
But it just breaks my heart to see people in an incredibly vulnerable time thinking that they’re doing something wrong to their child. There’s nothing wrong with using formula if that’s what you have to do; I still see really awesome, progressive, well-educated women beating themselves up, saying things like ‘Oh, it’s so bad that I used formula because I couldn’t produce enough breast milk.’ Like, don’t say it like it’s a bad thing, be proud that you’ve got this beautiful kid.
You’re a woman and you’ve had a daughter, is there anything about the female experience that you’re aware of either wanting to change with your daughter or unlearn for yourself along the way?
Something that I do really try to do in my conversations with her – I mean, she doesn’t talk yet – is just give really positive feedback. I like to tell her that’s smart and clever and strong and – yes, she’s also very beautiful and she’s also very funny – so it’s not just ‘oh, what a pretty girl.’ It’s just a small thing but I’m aware that those habits you create now, even pre language, can carry on. If I can raise a kid who feels valued for all sorts of reasons, not just what she looks like, then I’ll be pretty pumped with myself.
Speaking of language, is it important to you that Nikau also grows up hearing and speaking Te Reo Māori as well?
Yeah totally, I’m hoping she’ll get really good at it and then she can teach me [laughs]. We do try and use both Te Reo Māori and English when we talk to her. I hope that that means she’ll be confident and inspired and go out into the world and be an amazing Māori woman and absolutely crush it!
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