Our founders Clara and Alex on sleep, self-care and responsibilities as new parents

A lot has happened over the past year at Sunday Bedding HQ — and one of the biggest changes has been becoming parents to baby Emma.

Navigating parenthood for the first time hasn’t been easy. We’re grateful to the people around us that we can rely on, especially since we both work full time. We have the luxury of having a helper at home, a confinement nanny with us for the first two months — and, while Alex’s family lives in Hong Kong, Clara’s are in Singapore to support us when we need it.

As a company focused on rest and wellbeing, we believe in the power of sharing our experiences around physical and emotional health. We've always tried to be transparent with our community, and wanted to share an update on Emma’s entrance into our lives, how it’s impacted us as individuals and as partners, and some things we’ve found helpful. If you’re a new parent yourself, we hope our story can help you too, or at least, give you comfort that you are not alone in your struggles.

On our first holiday as a family of three.

Clara's journey

Sleep struggles

I knew my sleep would change drastically the moment Alex and I found out we were going to become parents, but that hasn't taken away the difficulty of living with insufficient and disrupted sleep. The first 2-4 months were a tough period of adjustment — I experienced preeclampsia and delivered 5 weeks early via C-section, which then required Emma to be in the NICU for a while. Travelling to and from the hospital to visit Emma, and facing an uncertain time in Emma's life, all while recovering from the birth, took a lot out of me and I felt exhausted.

Until recently, Alex would take Emma's first night feed at midnight, and I would go to bed earlier and cover the feed at 4am. Then, I try to get a little more sleep in before Emma wakes up again around 6am. As far as possible, Alex and I tried to work with our natural sleep habits, but even that has proven challenging.

For example, Alex tends to head to bed later on some nights, but having to do so everyday quickly became unsustainable. Meanwhile, I feel best with a regular sleep routine from 12am to 8am. Now, I sleep from 10:30pm to 4am, and about an extra hour after the 4am feed. On paper, this means I clock a respectable 6-7 hours a day, but because I don’t find it easy to fall asleep, my sleep is in fact much shorter and more fragmented than it used to be.

Our first few weeks with Emma weren't the easiest, and we're glad Emma made it home.

Anxiety, uncertainty and self-care

A big part of my struggle with falling asleep was also the anxiety of being a parent. Although I read up about it as much as possible, nothing fully prepared me for parenthood — at least, not emotionally. As first-time parents, I had a lot of uncertainty about what to do, and worried about not doing enough for Emma, especially after our confinement nanny left.

Some of my anxieties have eased now that Emma’s older, like those around Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Some people choose to share the room with their babies because of this. We tried that too, but I would wake up at any little cough or grunt from Emma, which only disrupted my sleep even more.

Slowly going back to my old routines also helped, like exercising, which I used to do twice a week. I'm also trying to spend more time with my friends now. The big difference? Now that I have less time, I have to be a lot more intentional about making time for myself.

Celebrating Emma's milestones. As Emma gets older, we worry less about her sleep and SIDS.

Back to work

Returning to work helped take my minds off things too. I'm lucky to have the flexibility of choosing how and when I went back to work. Instead of abruptly returning to full-time work after maternity leave, I gradually returned to work over the third and fourth months, and was able to schedule work around my energy levels each day. Having to trust others with Emma’s care while at work, and realising she was fine after, was a great source of reassurance.

Similarly, we’re blessed to have a great team at Sunday Bedding! Learning that the company won’t collapse after we delegate or take time off work to care for Emma has been liberating for both Alex and me.

At the moment, I'm still figuring out the balance between work and Emma. Some days, all I want is to spend the whole day at home with Emma, and other days, all I want is to take off on a work trip to another country! Becoming a mum is so life-changing, so understanding who I am now is something I'm still trying to work out.

— Clara

We're lucky to have flexibility at work. Being able to work from home has been of great help when trying to balance work and caregiving.

Alex's journey

Our ongoing conversation on dividing responsibilities

When it comes to dividing responsibilities at home, I'm in charge of play time with Emma. She loves more vigorous play sessions, and I'm good at that! That’s as far as my responsibilities go (for now), and Clara and our helper take care of the rest.

Clara and I have been using Fair Play, a book and card game that helps partners assess the division of labour on all our tasks as parents and partners. Going in, Clara didn’t have any expectations that this exercise would change her life, but it was sobering for me to see that she currently manages around 80% of our domestic work.

Clara has also always been more of a doer — if she sees something that needs to be done, she just does it. The Fair Play cards are rebalancing our responsibilities a little, because the exercise has helped Clara to compartmentalise things. Now, if I have said that I’ll handle a task, like stocking up on cat food, then Clara makes it a point to move on, even if I haven't done it yet.

On our first holiday with Emma, where Alex realised just how much there is to prepare and keep track of for Emma!

But the hardest part for Clara has been managing the mental load of all the tasks. It was easy for me to think that she can just ask for help when she needs it, but it’s not just about the task itself — it’s also about the planning required behind each task. There are so many small things that Clara has to keep track of, every hour of every day: What's Emma's schedule? Is she tired? Is she overtired? Are we running out of diapers? Is Emma ready for solid food? How much should she eat? The list goes on, and I didn't realise how much organisation goes into everything until I had to help pack for our first holiday with Emma.

As partners, Clara and I talk often about the disparity in responsibilities and expectations. Maybe it’s our upbringing, and how we have grown up seeing grandparents and helpers assisting with caregiving, instead of our dads. There’s also a difference in the expectations our families have of us as parents. While this can be difficult to bring up with family, we do discuss it with friends or between the two of us.

One thing I’ve also noticed is that mum groups are a lot more common than dad groups. Dads don’t usually reach out in a chat group about how to change diapers or feed the baby, or what to do when we see our partners struggling. I'm also the first of my friends to become a dad, so I don’t have the same support or reassurance from someone I know who has been through the same thing.

We wouldn't have chosen to be on this journey with anyone else.

Shifting identities

So much has changed for us over the course of our parenthood journey. Clara and I have learnt a lot about ourselves and about each other — according to Clara, I'm amazing at giving massages! (I give Clara a well-deserved massage every night.)

Since I didn’t have to experience pregnancy, I've been facing more of a gradual adjustment to being a dad who does his fair share of work. There are so many unknowns now, and there are only going to be more as Emma gets older! But I wouldn't have picked anyone else to be on this journey with.

— Alex

Resources that have helped us

  • Reformer Pilates is a low impact activity that Clara is easing back into exercising with, and has been immensely helpful for Clara’s sleep and mental health.
  • Journaling has helped Alex. He’s made it to 60 days of daily journaling, even if it’s just a sentence or two.
  • The Fair Play book and card game helped with recognising and acknowledging how much work Clara was taking on at home, and with reorganising our division of responsibilities.
  • Other people's experiences by reading Reddit threads like r/beyondthebump, or talking to other parents we know, like our friends and Clara's sister. However, there is a fine line to tread between learning from, or being reassured by, their experiences and comparing yourself to others. We try not to pay attention to social media or certain Facebook parenting groups, which can be stressful.
  • The Huckleberry app, where we record Emma's feeds. We used to note down every nap and feed, and the right time to put Emma to sleep, but attempting to track everything added more stress and we have since reduced what we track.

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