Two courageous Kiwi women, one an author and the other a pediatrician, lay bare the raw joy, beauty, discomfort and humour of modern motherhood. The result is uplifting and fearless.
Parenting is messy, hilarious, heartrending, tiring and above all joyful. There is no one right way to do it – but now two brave mums have shared a bit of their journey, and invite you to “laugh and cry along with us.”
Mum is the word for critically acclaimed writers Michele Powles and Renee Liang, with the launch of their new book, When We Remember To Breathe. MiNDFOOD chats with Renee about the new book, motherhood and remembering to breathe.
Tell me about ‘When We Remember To Breathe’, how and why did this come about?
Michele and I had met at writers’ events, and talked about how in early motherhood we’d wanted to record all the special moments, but we were too tired! When we both got pregnant with our second children we decided to write to each other as a way of cheering each other on.
The conversation became more and more frank, with the joyful comedic moments mixed in with the moments of doubt and exhaustion. And as we wrote we developed our friendship. We weren’t intending to publish but after sharing with other mums, including our eventual publisher, we were persuaded otherwise!
How is this similar or different to your other books?
I’ve written three poetry chapbooks, which are small handmade books. I’ve also published eight anthologies of Kiwi migrant women’s writing. But I’m best known for work which isn’t ‘published’ – I’ve written and toured seven plays, many about growing up Chinese in Aotearoa. I’ve also written words and story for a opera and a couple of musicals, including The Bone Feeder Opera commissioned for Auckland Arts Festival in 2017. Although I’ve always drawn on my own experiences to write, this is the first time I’ve shared something so personal without hiding behind the fiction.
Personally, what has your experience of motherhood been?
I came to motherhood late – I was 39 when I had my first. But I’m also a pediatrician so I had spent years being asked for advice by parents! Having kids made it real for me, and also taught me that babies don’t read the textbooks on how they’re are supposed to behave. I was lucky – I had good support and my husband is the best co-parent. I get annoyed when people ask if the kids miss me when I go to work. Of course they do – but they have their dad, and all their grandparents and aunties and uncles to love them and keep them busy!
Both mine and my husband’s parents are immigrants (Chinese and Croatian) so we’re exploring with our kids what it means to come from many cultures – luckily both sides of the family love to hang out together and eat great food!
Why should mothers remember to breathe?
It’s like that advice you get on planes – in an emergency, put your own oxygen on first. Mums (and all who parent) need time to be themselves, to find their anchors and to fill their lungs with whatever oxygen gives them life.
Do you have any advice for new mums on coping with the challenges of motherhood and balancing a career?
Now when I see parents and grandparents in my clinic, I just want to give them a hug and tell them how well they’re doing. It’s the world’s hardest job but it’s also the most important. Accept help when you need it, offer it when you can. Balancing work and parenting is a different choice for everyone. Follow your instincts, ignore the unhelpful ‘advice’ and know your decisions are the best for your family.
When We Remember To Breathe is co-written by Renee Liang and Michele Powles and will be published on 1st May. NZ$25.00 on Magpie Pulp.