This is where we chat to real parents about all the real sh*t that goes down when you have little ones enter your life. From the hilarious to the heartwarming but also the hard times and heartbreak… This is ‘My Beautiful Chaos’…
These days Nina Whelan is a busy working mum to 3-year-old daughter Parker, taking the delicate balance between career and motherhood in her stride. But just a few years earlier, Nina was faced with a difficult decision that would go on to affect her entire future.
Here, Nina chats to us about being a mum to her “beautiful and funny” little Parker, beating breast cancer and those emotional early weeks and months of motherhood.
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to motherhood?
I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to have Parker as I had breast cancer when I was 31 which was pretty life-changing. My partner Brooklyn and I had been together for just over a year and were forced to make some big decisions quickly. Due to intensive chemotherapy, there was a good chance I would lose my fertility, so we went through the IVF process before I started treatment to save some embryos, just in case.
After a single mastectomy and 5 months of chemo, we got married and just wanted to celebrate life. Several years later following some additional health screening, my oncologist said we could try and conceive. We tried for a year before I gave up. I drank all the wine over Christmas and started to make enquiries about our frozen embryos. It was a strange time, I remember having a vivid dream one night that left me feeling pure joy when I woke up. I took a pregnancy test, and couldn’t believe it was positive!!
After all that you had been through, how did you feel once you were pregnant? Did you enjoy your pregnancy?
It was so surreal to be pregnant, I had cravings very early on which I thought was fun. From 8 weeks the cravings turned to nausea and I ended up feeling nauseous throughout the entire pregnancy. All I wanted to eat was Chinese food and pizza which my husband thought was the greatest! I just wanted the days to pass and then felt guilty that I hated being pregnant.
At what point in your career did you become a mum?
I had been working hard for years to achieve goals in my career, I was travelling frequently and even worked throughout my cancer treatment. I felt ready to take on a new chapter in my life and wanted to slow down. I thought maternity leave would be a break but obviously, I underestimated my new job would be 24 hours a day!
What impact did becoming a mum have on your career, if any?
I decided to go back to work full time when Parker was 10 months old. I was ready to have a bit of freedom again, but mum guilt is a real thing and by the end of the day, I was rushing home for bath-time and cuddles. I’ve become used to juggling work and motherhood now, I try and find a balance and not overcommit. It’s not perfect and I need more time for self-care but it’s doable.
What, if anything, changed for you when you became a mum?
Almost everything changed for me! Looking back, I was so naive, I thought my baby would fit into my life and I would carry on doing the things I love. I struggled so much during the early days, I would cry all the time and felt so anxious. Parker was not a good sleeper, she had to be held for every sleep, she never slept in a pram.
I was breastfeeding with one boob and she was incredibly unsettled due to a dairy allergy. She would cry for hours and hours while we bounced on yoga balls, held her in the rocking chair and had the white noise going. We couldn’t put her down and have a break, it was insanity! But when she was around 10 weeks old, I was holding her for a nap, and something just clicked and suddenly I didn’t care about how hard it all was and I felt so content and in love with her.
The biggest change is that it’s not about me anymore and that’s a beautiful thing.
What has surprised you most about being a mum?
How much a tiny person can take over a space! I’m also surprised at how maternal I actually am. I never felt that way before having a child but now I love mini-humans.
How do you manage the parenting load in your household?
My husband and I have defined responsibilities and tasks that suit our work schedules. I do drop off and he does pick up. I do ballet, he does the swimming lessons. It’s important for each parent to have that quality time, you develop your own special bond. I love when Brooklyn and Parker whisper to each other or have their own little game that I’m not allowed to join!
What is the best advice you received when it comes to parenting little ones?
Try not to obsessively google and research everything. Sometimes I catch myself doing this when most things are just a phase and you can navigate the issue with your own instincts. And when you’re having a tough day, sometimes you just have to accept the circumstances and roll with it. I think Mums can be so hard on themselves.
What is your favourite thing about being a mum?
Seeing her grow and develop into the coolest, funniest person I know and feeling like I have something to do with that. Plus, how my heart aches when she does something unexpected and sweet like holding my hand to show me a flower or stroking my hair and telling me I’m beautiful. I can’t deal.
How are you surviving lockdown this time around? What is your ultimate survival tip?
Go outside every day. Even if it’s raining, put on the gumboots and play in the rain. It keeps everyone sane! Lockdown is forcing me to slow down, there’s no rushing so it’s nice to be able to say yes to Parker more. Yes, I can play with you, draw with you, cook with you, go to the playground with you…
Do you have an amazing story about parenthood to share yourself? Drop us an email at [email protected].