How motherhood changed me: Perfection in Imperfection

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"How motherhood changed me" tells of how becoming a mom changed the life of theAsianparent Regional Chief Editor, Carla Perlas.

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How motherhood changed me: Before becoming a mother, I strived to achieve perfection for (almost) everything in life.

In my 11 years as a magazine editor, my professional mantra has always been this: perfection is key. There is a lot of pressure—from the readers, advertisers and competitors — to consistently produce one perfect issue after another. From the cover to the inside pages, every little detail must be impeccable.

No mistakes in grammar, spelling and syntax? Check. Content is verified? Check. Seamless eye flow of layout? Check. Cover girl looks immaculate? After tweaking with Photoshop (yes, we use it and with much creative liberty), check! With tough competition and the magazine’s credibility constantly on the line, there’s certainly no room for flaws.

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How motherhood changed me: Learning that no matter how many lists I make, my daughter may have other ideas of her own!

And beyond the print product, it’s still all about donning the perfect veneer. As a member of the team responsible for the fantastic magazine covers, an editor has to look the part everywhere she goes. So before stepping out to attend the many events and client meetings I get invited to, again I have a checklist to tick off. Full makeup and polished hair? Check. Chic cocktail dress, covetable clutch, vertiginous heels? Check. Business cards and charming smile? Check!

For a decade I abided by these checklists. For a decade perfection in my work and public image was the goal. It gave me a specific sense of purpose, as well as security since I had control of the output. That was the case—until I became a mother.

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I made more lists to prepare for the arrival of my daughter.

As parents, we strive to provide the best we can afford for our children. Again I made a checklist — several, in fact — to give just that to my daughter, Cadence. Nursery items, bath and body products, clothing and diapers? Check. Breastfeeding kit, bottles and feeding set? Check. Travel gear, stroller with car seat? Check. Toys, books, baby-friendly apps for tablet and mobile phone? Check, check, check!

While pregnant, I also studied baby books, browsed parenting websites, visited mummy forums and consulted with fellow parents. I read up on the benefits of setting up a regular routine for my baby and decided that was the best course since it would give me control over my baby’s sleep, play, bath and feeding times. And if I could achieve a regular routine for my baby and her nanny to follow, then I could confidently return to work after maternity leave knowing my baby was set on a clear path.

But as new parents find out the first time, I discovered that all my meticulous planning and checklist-making still couldn’t guarantee the results I wanted. I should have known that when I had to undergo an emergency cesarean operation: when it comes to motherhood, no amount of preparation can guarantee the outcome.

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Once my daughter was born, she was in control!

And it also shouldn’t have come as a surprise that my daughter would turn out to be just like her mother: a control freak. Instead of allowing me to establish a parent-led routine, Cadence took the lead. She cried, fed, slept and played whenever she wanted. And sometimes she performed all those at the same time! When she wanted to be carried, I had to stop whatever I was doing to carry her. And she had the set of pipes to make herself heard. If she wanted me to hold her hand while she attempted to wobble-walk, she’d let me—otherwise, she’d snatch her hand away.

My baby was in total control. She had me feeling frantic when she impatiently cried for milk, smelling like pee and poop after a diaper explosion, and looking disheveled from the lack of sleep after a 3AM playtime. I was not the image of perfection around her. I was helplessly and 100% wrapped around her chubby little finger.

When a friend told me about how he had established a feed-play-bath-sleep routine for his toddler, I couldn’t help but wish I had succeeded in doing so with my own baby. How could an editor-in-chief such as myself, who was used to being the leader and doling out directives, be so powerless and in shambles around an infant?

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I tried establishing routines for my daughter’s bath, play and sleep times – but that didn’t always work out.

“You’re not,” my husband assured me one night as we watched our child sleep—after another long night of her favourite game, “Don’t you dare put me down, Mummy.”

“You know what you’re doing. You know how to handle her—and it’s not how the books tell you. She’s not the cookie cutter child that the books have formulaic answers for. She’s unique and yet she’s not because all kids are different,” he pointed out.

Given that outside perspective, I realised I was being too hard on myself. But my real eureka moment happened one morning before work. As I looked in the mirror, examining my OOTD (outfit of the day)—simple shift dress and flats instead of heels, with minimal makeup and hair lazily up in a bun—what I saw was not my old, pre-baby self. I was stripped of the gloss that my profession layered on me for 11 years—and still, I was glowing. That was when it hit me: I loved the way that my baby shaped (or, more accurately, bullied) me into the mother I had become—patient, selfless and nurturing. I realised then that I wouldn’t have wanted our imperfect mother-daughter relationship to be any other way.

Motherhood is new territory to me and I have to accept that there will be surprises I may or may not be prepared for. Perhaps 11 years down the line, I’d feel more confident and in control about being a mother the way I do about my job. Until then, let the chaos ensue.

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