Global Mama: New Zealand

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The “Whoa, Mama!” section is about giving new moms a space to share how they are doing this important work with styletheir style. It’s also where we give them a deserved ovation.

And now, we’re taking this thing global! Introducing …

Whoa, Mama!” Worldwide.

I’m setting out to profile one mother from every country on the planet. Yes … that’s a lot, but I’m game. And I hope you’ll join me on the journey.

In fact, your help is key to this project working at all. If you want to nominate a first-time mother living outside of the United States to be featured here, please send me an e-mail at: get[dot]msmack [at] gmail [dot] com.


I met Elaine Shen Rollins through Sonya Childress, a fab first-time mom herself. Elaine, born in Taiwan and raised mainly in California, moved clear across the globe to Auckland, New Zealand, with her husband and daughter last year. Even though we were in different time-zones (“It’s Monday evening for you, Tuesday morning for me!”) and chatted via e-mail, Elaine’s honesty, insight and warmth came through loud and clear. Read on, you’ll see.

Life before baby …
My parents had a tumultuous relationship, so I was always suspicious of love and marriage. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area allowed me a large circle of friends and close relationships, so I never really “needed” to settle down.

Before I met [my husband] Rick, I threw large parties, met folks for dinner, did some online dating, went to dance class, hiked on the weekends, cooked with friends, and attended fundraisers. I had a great apartment one block from Golden Gate Park, and loved coming home to it.

My ideas about motherhood …
Two of my best friends were inspiring models of motherhood. Not only did I watch their good mothering carefully, I paid attention to how they also sustained happy and loving marriages. It was an eye-opener.

I wasn’t too worried about my biological clock. In fact, I became a mom at 44. It was never about my body’s limits, it was more about finding the right partner to parent with. Someone who really wanted to be a father and had no delusions about it.

Then came Helena …
Clichés work well for me here: Where’s all my alone time? Where did those restful nights of sleep go? Where’s my sex drive? The desire for Rick was there, but when bedtime rolled around, I felt defeated and exhausted by the idea of even taking off my surely sexy oversized Che Guevara t-shirt!

If Helena wasn’t such a fun, easy and responsive baby, I may have spent more time resenting my new life. Helena is a fabulous daughter, though in her first year, I sometimes got sick of being such a moo-cow. Hormones surged and I became the raging wife who yelled at her husband.

The most challenging part of motherhood …
My sudden new identity as wife and mother. I don’t regret getting pregnant when we did, but everything happened so fast.

Suddenly dance class was harder to get to, friends were meeting for dinner when I was home nursing Helena, clothes didn’t fit anymore, my job wasn’t that interesting anymore, and I had only a fraction of the energy that I had pre-baby. Plus, the “who am I now?” question kept cropping up, and I struggled to find answers.

The best part about raising Helena in New Zealand …
Most of NZ is incredibly family friendly:

  • special parking spaces for mothers with children
  • play areas in several businesses and cafés
  • special agencies set up to give everyone (regardless of socio-economic level) support in rearing a child
  • childcare and medical care subsidies
  • free dental care until children are 18.

This country also has PORSE and Plunket, the largest suppliers of support services for the development and well-being of children under 5.

Plunket is essential to any new mum. We found our nanny through PORSE, an agency that believes in-home care is the best place to support early learning and infant brain development. Both groups are free to families and have large government aid.

Also, many businesses openly support breastfeeding. You often see women nursing in public without much criticism, and most public buildings—museums, large stores, theaters—have nice family room facilities with comfortable nursing chairs and well-stocked changing areas.

One could easily walk around many towns and see “Breastfeeding Welcome Here” signs in store windows next to the Open/Closed sign.

Most Kiwis are friendly, warm and generous with their advice and time. I’ve made some wonderful friends here. Besides the fact that my daughter might end up with an odd NZ accent, I am happy Helena is growing up here!

The downside of NZ mum life …
Here in Auckland, not as many mums like to network online. Playgroups and coffee groups are big here, which is a good thing. But since e-mailing isn’t as popular, I find sharing info and communicating hard.

Best piece of advice I ever heard …
My friend Kathy said something about 15 years ago when her son was young, and it’s stuck with me. Often in public I’d see parents dealing with their children in ways I found offensive. Kathy always said, “Never interfere, you don’t know what’s going on.”

Unless the parent was beating their child, I think she’s right. Live and let live. I don’t know their story and, as a mom who loves her daughter, I’ve definitely had my difficult moments.

If we could jump into a DeLorean and race back in time …
I would tell myself: Your infant is doing fine. She’s healthy and you’re taking good care of her. Calm down. Take more time to meditate, write, go on walks, and sit in a café. They will get on without you—and you without them—for a couple of hours. Really. It’s going to be OK.

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