Nikki, tell us about your journey towards motherhood.
I guess you could say my path was a little bit different to most! I always wanted to be a mum, but it just never happened for me – and I was okay with that. I was loving life, had great friends, a wonderful family including two awesome nieces, and a fulfilling career. All I ever wanted to do was work with children, so I felt lucky to have a job where I got to do that.
Then, a good friend and colleague, Nik Webb-Shephard, asked me, “if you had the opportunity to become a mum, would you?”
He wanted to be a dad and thought the two of us would make a great co-parenting team. It was a two-year process where we spent months carefully thinking it through before beginning IVF. Finally, in March 2020, little Carter was born.
What is co-parenting like?
Nik and I have been great friends for 10 years. We own a business together – Source Café, in Auckland – and he works as New Shoots’ Director of Risk, Facilities, and Procurement. We’ve even owned a house together for several years, so our lives were already very intertwined. Co-parenting means we’ve now had a lot of very different conversations, including leaking breasts, baby blue tears, and body malfunctions, to name a few!
Nik is a hands-on father and a supportive friend. Like any parents, we’re figuring it out as we go along, trying to work out who plays what role. It can be hard for dads in the beginning when the baby is so reliant on mum, but we are working through the minefield of parenting.
We have certainly had disagreements over the years, but we haven’t had any over Carter – at least not yet!
Can you share your experience as a “late bloomer” in motherhood?
I don’t know any other way, really! I’m sure younger mums would say that the younger you are, the more energy you have – but I feel like I’m a pretty energetic person.
The key thing for me is having a strong support network. Carter’s been born into a really cool large village of people who love him so much. Having great friends and family has been so important for both physical and emotional help.
A lot of people ask me if motherhood is everything I thought it would be. It absolutely is, but now I understand it experientially. I’ve seen a mother’s love countless times but feeling it is something else entirely.
Tell us about your little boy.
Carter was born on 17th March this year. He’s a busy boy; such an explorer. He takes everything in and is very observant – people always say he’s been here before.
There are no grey areas with Carter – he’s either extremely happy, 93% percent of the time, or he’s letting us know we have missed a cue. Normally it is sleep or food or he just needs a cuddle. As he gets older and we have more time with him we are getting much better at working out his needs.
What have been the best parts of your first six months as a mum?
I just love him. He’s a really cool, fun little guy with bags of personality. We have some special five am chats and he truly makes me smile and laugh out loud every day. And the joy he brings to other people, like his two sets of grandparents, is heart-warming.
What are the hardest parts?
During my 30 years working in early childhood, I’ve seen so many mums hold themselves up to unreal expectations. Working, parenting, trying to be good partners, keep the house clean, exercise, etcetera, etcetera! They’re amazing, but they judge themselves so harshly.
I always said I wouldn’t fall into that trap. I would never be cruel to myself as a mum…then I had Carter and I find myself doing it all the time!
I felt guilty about struggling to breastfeed. About going back to work at four-and-a-half months. I compared my baby’s sleeping patterns – he fed every two hours for the first ten weeks – to others.
It’s so hard not to worry about what people are thinking about you and your parenting choices. Add sleep deprivation to that – it’s certainly challenging.
How do you stop the negative self-talk?
I lean on my amazing friends and colleagues. A benefit of being an older mum is a lot of my friends’ children are older, they’re no longer in the thick of it and can be more honest.
I’ve had them say things like…
“Have you had to just leave the room yet with the baby screaming?”
“I used to stand in front of the television with MTV playing from one to four am – it was the only way to settle my colicky baby.”
“Have you had to ring someone and demand they come home straight away?”
It’s so real! They remind me that not every moment is perfect and precious and blissful, and that’s okay.
What else helps with the challenges of early motherhood?
Remembering to breathe. Finding people who will listen without judgement. And showers are heaven – even just five minutes! There’s something about literally washing it all away and stepping out ready to start again.
I think finding the right fit for childcare is so important. Whether you’re a working mum or one who needs some space, childcare is fantastic as long as it feels right for you. Having the right place with the right people and the right teachers can really help. There’s no perfect time to start – just do what’s right for you and don’t feel guilty about it.
What have been some of the biggest surprises?
Fun and humour are values I have always lived by (how can you not when you work with under five year olds!?) but I have discovered these values more than ever since having Carter. I would rather laugh than cry through the tough times, and ‘ride the wave’ has become my mantra as I learn that nothing lasts for long. One such moment that had me laughing out loud was when I thought I was coping on zero sleep only to discover I was pumping breast milk without the bottle, so it was literally going all over my leg!
How has your career changed since having a baby?
Before Carter, I spent a lot of time moving between our early childhood centres in Auckland, Northland, the Waikato, and the Bay of Plenty. I was working weekends and nights. Having a baby makes you re-evaluate how you work and I have certainly made changes to my work/life balance because of Carter. I am a healthier and probably more productive person for it.
Time management can be hard. It can be a juggling act that I am yet to perfect. However, I am lucky to have amazing, supportive work colleagues and Carter’s Dad, who is supportive as I navigate this part of the journey. I think COVID helped because I had no choice but to step back and hand over roles and responsibilities that could be permanently delegated out.
What do you love about being a working mum?
I love my job. I get such fulfillment out of it, it’s part of who I am. Personally, I need to be involved in my career to be my best self for Carter. I know lots of mums feel this way, but balancing it all can be a challenge.
I’m very lucky to have a flexible role and work in an industry where we take care of young children for a living. There aren’t many jobs where you can walk in and people hold their hands out and offer to take your baby.
When I first went back to work, I was at New Shoots’ support office and Carter was just next door at the children’s centre – being so close was great. It gave me the idea of a hot desk for working mums where they can work near the baby and pop over and comfort them like I’ve been able to do. Future goals…
New Shoots – a space for mums from all walks of life
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