Tell us about yourself!
D: I’m Didan Ashanta – a Jamaican living in the Greater Tokyo Area of Japan.
I’m currently a stay-at-home mother who is transitioning to a work-from-home lifestyle. I am a writer and as a teacher of English as a foreign language. I said ‘goodbye’ to a middle management position in corporate Jamaica a couple weeks before the birth of my daughter because I wanted to focus on my new role as a parent; and today, I want to ensure that I continue to be a constant rock for her in these her foundational years.
I’ve been married to “Mr. Amazing” (also known as Brad) since July 2006 and am enjoying this new chapter of our relationship, as parents, after more than 6 years of ‘just the two of us’. We have a shared worldview and life philosophy, making our new roles flow a little bit easier.
Tell us about your daughter.
D: I have one child and she is 9 months old. Her name is Mwalimu, which is Swahili for (Great) Teacher. She is a charming girl who draws you into her space – grabbing your attention and intriguing you. Very alert and attentive, she is always observing people and is enchanted by nature and music. Mwalimu loves hugs and kisses, and always gets delightful reactions when she puts on a smile. She has definitely taught me more in the past year than I ever imagined – I look forward to learning more!
Can you give us a mini-version of your birth story?
D: I was 38 weeks and the cervical mucus plug (operculum) was expelled on the Saturday afternoon. On Sunday, I had what I thought were Braxton Hicks’ contractions, so I used the opportunity to practise the deep breathing exercises I had learnt through Hypnobirthing to go through the day. However, in the late evening, my husband insisted that I visit the maternity ward for a check up and we were informed that I was already in labour and was 4 cm dilated. Five hours later, after some great coaching from my husband and lots of deep breathing with each contraction, Mwalimu Ashanta was born at 3:33am on New Year’s Eve. Having walked the path, I know that we don’t have to endure painful, traumatic births – it’s hard work, but it doesn’t have to be unpleasant.
Do you breastfeed? How did you juggle breastfeeding and working?
D: I am a big advocate of breastfeeding and so I was determined to do it. However, for the 1st two weeks of her life, I struggled with learning how to get my baby to latch properly. But, I was not going to give her formula! So, during that time I used a manual pump and also hand-expressed the breastmilk and we gave it to her in a bottle. All that while, I kept trying to breastfeed and then my determination paid off! Mwalimu has been exclusively breastfed from 3-weeks until she was 6 months old and she still breastfeeds today, while eating 3 meals from the family pot. For the first 3-4 months, I hardly got anything done, because I was just too exhausted and overwhelmed by all the new responsibilities and was still trying to be superwoman. But, now I realise that this is avoidable if you create a dependable support system during those early days – we need it.
How do you balance work and motherhood? How do you carve out time for yourself?
D: My key to achieving balance has been learning to communicate my weaknesses: I’m not superwoman and I can’t do it by myself. So, I’ve had to learn how to seek assistance from those around me. Plus, the older and more independent my baby becomes, the more work I’m able to get done each day. I just try to write things down (lack of sleep affects the memory) and I constantly check my priorities as I tackle various tasks and manage my time. I’m learning how to enjoy brief moments of solitude, but I frequently remind myself that these years when Mwalimu monopolises my time will go by swiftly. So, I just try to be present in the moments before they’re all gone.
What is your biggest parenting challenge right now?
D: My daughter’s education! I know that home is the first school and that the first 5-7 years of a child’s life will shape the adult she becomes. So, I take full responsibility for Mwalimu’s education – even if she is to be enrolled in a mainstream school. Each day, I struggle with whether or not I am doing enough to guide her along the path she should go. But, everyday, I’m also realising that I should just sit back and learn from her and with her. It is a scary but exciting road to trod.
Who is your child-rearing support group?
D: My husband and I just moved to Japan this year and are still adjusting to all the changes that come with it. This also means that we are having to build a new community, while maintaining the long-distance connection with those back home.
Brad is an amazing life partner, so we tag-team almost everything and we regularly discuss and assess our parenting approach just to ensure that we are heading in the same direction. He has a demanding job but he is ever-ready to attend to our daughter’s needs – feeding, diaper duty, romping, evening walks, story time or even a broad chest to fall asleep on. I’m truly grateful for him!
How do you determine that your kids are well-adjusted?
D: I try to keep abreast with various child development resources and ensure that the medical professionals are satisfied with Mwalimu’s pace of development. But, my main goal each day is that she is happy and healthy. A calm spirit and a ready smile are very important to me. Therefore, I try to secure a caring and safe environment for her to explore, so that anxiety and distress don’t interfere with her developing worldview.
What is the most important value, ideal or philosophy that you want to impart to your children?
D: Mwalimu must never forget that she is African! She must tirelessly pursue knowledge as long as she lives and ensure that she lives for the liberation and empowerment of African peoples everywhere.
What advice would you give to a new mom?
D: Loving your child means understanding that you are the facilitator of their best life. Give them these few years of your life. A career, a lover, and other assets can be attained later. But, your child will only be a child right now. Also remember that, parenting is not a job, and your child owes you nothing! You are simply returning the favour of being raised and honouring the members of your community who raised you.
Didan is a new writer for Baby and Blog! Look out for more content from her in the coming weeks ?