My name is Rachel Colsaerts. I’m 35 years old. I am an Australian married to a Belgian. We currently live in Dubai and see ourselves here for the foreseeable future. We were looking for somewhere to live where we could raise our boys, given we are truly an expat family from two different cultures on two different sides of the world. It was a little difficult for us to find a place to call home. We really wanted to make sure that the boys were raised somewhere where we weren’t continuously moving around. So we’ve set up home here in Dubai.
I have four full-time jobs. That’s right: four full-time jobs. One of them is my beautiful 10 month old boy Ollie. Another full-time job is my beautiful four year old boy Jackson.
My third full-time job is my paying job as a Sales Manager in Asia Pacific for a healthcare technology company. And my other full-time job is running my husband’s business. So that means that I am a little bit busy, but I believe in work-life balance. And I also believe in everything in moderation because otherwise, you go insane. I have a bit of a story when it comes to our children.
When we decided to have Jackson, I fell pregnant very quickly and I felt very, very blessed because I know that’s not the case for everybody. I was on contraception for, gosh, I don’t even know how many years. I think I’ve lost count. And when we decided to try, we thought it would take a long time. So I went off the pill and we kind of just went freestyle and then the next month my period never came.
So we don’t normally tell that story because I know that’s not everybody’s case, but we fell pregnant very quickly with Jackson. And we were very, very lucky. I had a very normal pregnancy. He was a rather big boy and they induced me two weeks early because they were worried in Monaco (where the babies are averagely smaller) that he was too big. But he was a great four kilo baby – nine pounder – depending on which measurements you use. And yeah, he was born a happy, healthy boy.
He did not sleep. It was absolute hell. Maybe baby sleep is a separate topic in itself that you could also interview women on because that’s just a huge, huge, discussion point [We will!]. Do you have routine, do you not have routine? Do you go with the flow? I think that there’s a lot to be said about that, but that’s another story.
Then in between, in the middle of COVID, we thought we would try for a second. We did leave it a bit longer than I had anticipated to have two children, but that’s because Nico was away. I was doing everything on my own and I was exhausted and I couldn’t bear the thought of having a second child and basically doing it solo. So we actually waited until Jackson was just over two and it took a little bit longer to fall pregnant this time. But I fell pregnant in the middle of the first lockdown.
We had gone to Switzerland for a ski holiday with Jackson. And while we were there, I found out that I was pregnant and while we were there, the world went into lockdown. So we couldn’t find an obstetrician to do a scan. Finally, we got into an obstetrician. I had to go in by myself because of COVID and we went in and she said, “congratulations, you’re pregnant.” So we were, of course, on a high, we went home, we both got COVID.
Then we went back for another scan and keep in mind, we were in Switzerland and the doctor only spoke French. And my French was not very good at the time. So the communication between the two of us was tough. And we had Nico on FaceTime. And during that scan, she said to me, “by the way, the embryo looks a bit small, come back in another week, we’ll rescan.” We went back and of course that whole week I didn’t sleep. I was worried; something’s not right. I didn’t feel pregnant this time either. Whereas with Jackson, I felt quite nauseous and I was very tired. So I knew something was wrong. And we went back in and I prepared for the worst and she said to me, “oh, there’s a heartbeat. Look, there’s the little baby.” So of course, it was still early days, but we called my mom and we called one of my close friends.
And we were all ecstatic. We had the scan and we sent it to our close friends. Because it was still early days, we didn’t make an announcement. We were still in lockdown and then when we went back for the follow up scan and Nico wasn’t allowed in again, and she told me, “I’m sorry, but the fetus is not viable. There’s no more heartbeat. And actually, it’s been like that for a couple of weeks (I think we had four weeks in between) and you haven’t passed the fetus. You need to go to the hospital or you need to have a procedure at home.” And I was like, “I’m fine. I can take the tablets at home.” And Nico was like, “no, you know what? We’re up the mountain, we’re an hour and a half away from a hospital, if anything goes wrong, you need to be near a hospital.”
And actually thank God we were there because otherwise I’d probably be dead. I started hemorrhaging. They rushed me into Emergency and gave me emergency surgery. They’d given me lunch, so I was actually awake. I was awake for the whole procedure and it was the most horrific thing I’ve ever been through.
So anyway, we ended up getting through that and I was really open about it. I started telling people and the more people I told, the more I realized that actually, I would say, every second person I told the story to had already also been through a miscarriage. And I didn’t realize that the statistics were so high until you start talking about it and other people tell you. I have to give it to us women. We are heroes to go through that and then to decide: let’s go again, I’m prepared to go through this again. So of course once I’d recovered, we decided to go again. Then when I fell pregnant with Ollie I was very, very worried that it wasn’t going to be viable again. We went to the doctor, had a very early scan and she said, “congratulations, you have twins!”
And then we went home and we were like, “holy shit, we’ve gotta buy a new car. We’ve gotta move. We’re not gonna be able to fit three children in our current car. How are we gonna survive this?” And obviously we’re over the moon, but also freaking out at the same time. Then we went back for another scan and she said, ‘I’m just going to prepare you. Things are not looking as they should. One of them is actually bigger than the other. So what that tells me is that there might be an issue with the second one.” Fine. Went back for another scan: two heartbeats. Everything’s fine. Went back again, “I’m sorry, but you’ve lost the second one.” They call it a vanishing twin. So I, as you can imagine, am absolutely over the moon and blessed that we have Ollie and I have a new appreciation for any woman who goes through any trauma during the pregnancy, during the birth, or of course afterwards.
And I think that us women are absolute heroes. I think you’re doing an amazing thing here. I think us women need to get together more and unite on the things that we go through because it’s not easy and everybody together I think can make a difference to empower women to move on and to do better at what we do and to be appreciated for what we go through.[Thanks for sharing Rachel]
I always knew that I wanted to have kids. In fact, I’ve always had this thing in my head that I would have three. We’ve got two right now, so go figure. I think my husband, Nico, might be done, but we’ll see what happens in a few years. I always knew I wanted to be a mom, but I guess you never know when the right time is. And I hadn’t really thought about it. I knew I was with the right person because he was something very, very different to anybody else. I think it was a mutual decision because we both knew that the relationship was right. We’d spoken about settling down. In fact, it was the first time both of us had lived with another partner or another half. So that was pretty special for both of us.
However, we were in a bit of a unique situation. I had moved from Australia to Monaco and Nico was traveling a lot. So I knew that if I decided to be a mom, I might be doing a lot of it solo because we were both expats living in a country that wasn’t home for either of us. We had no family around and I had started working for myself. So I knew it was going to be a challenge. But at the same time, I knew that it was probably a good time to think about having a family, but we never really said, “okay, let’s start now.” We just discussed it. And I had said, “how about we get a puppy? You know, we have someone at home with me while you’re traveling, so I have company,” and he turned around to me and said, “no, let’s get a baby instead.’ And I was like, “well, babe, you don’t just get a baby.” So, we decided we might begin to try. Because no time is a good time. He definitely knew that he wanted a family with me. And I knew that he was the right one to have a family with too.
And then nine months later, little Jackson came along.
Motherhood has changed me as a person more than I could ever, ever have imagined. You know, when you think about becoming a mom, you just assume that you’re gonna lose a little bit of time, probably a little bit of sleep, but your priorities completely change. And probably one of the biggest things for me was the change in values as well. There’s a huge change in what motivates you. What makes you happy? The time that you have for people and the time that you no longer have for certain other people, because these little humans bring so much joy. Other things just either become irrelevant or not important anymore. It’s a difficult thing to explain to others unless you’ve had children: how much you can change as a person.
I definitely have less time now for bullshit. Am I allowed to swear on here? [Yes, yes you are.]
You know, it has definitely changed me for the better and totally unexpectedly as well. I have so much love for these two little humans and more love than you can ever think you could ever have for anything. Jackson, my eldest, is a real feisty little guy. And the change that we’ve seen in him in these short four years is just incredible to watch. It’s brought us together as a couple as well.
It brings you together as a couple. It can also tear you apart as a couple, because you don’t sleep, you’ve got crazy hormones. Your priorities have changed, as I said, but I think if you are able to manage expectations and know that the sleepless nights are temporary and see the bigger picture, then it’s okay. But yeah, the biggest thing that has changed in me as a person is prioritizing my time, but it’s all so worth it.
And I would say the second main change I’ve seen is what brings joy. It’s not the same as it was five years ago. Definitely not the same. You know, now joy is much more simple and I absolutely love it.
HOW HAS MOTHERHOOD AFFECTED YOUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH FRIENDS, FAMILY MEMBERS, YOUR HUSBAND AND THE RELATIONSHIP WITH YOURSELF?
I’ll start first and foremost with the relationship with myself only because that was probably the most profound. What I realized was that having Jackson, our first son, completely changed my identity. And I think it does for a lot of women, and a lot of men as well. But mostly what I saw was that I wasn’t the person that I was before I had a child, because my identity changed.
And I wouldn’t change it for the world, but you have to have, I guess, a reassessment of yourself and a readjustment of what is my identity now? Who am I now? Am I a mother? Am I a wife? Am I a girlfriend? Am I, you know, whatever your situation is, am I defined by my job? Which is often the case of women before they have their first child. You know, particularly for women that are somewhat defined by their job. It is also one of the first things that people ask you when you’re in a social setting, you know, “hi, I’m Rachel. And what do you do?” And suddenly you find yourself saying, “well, I’m a mom,” which should be absolutely celebrated because it’s definitely the hardest job in the world. I’ve worked in really high pressure sales environments over my time. And being a mom is much, much harder than a high pressure sales role. I know that a lot of people have high pressure jobs, but this is just something different. There’s no break. You cannot close your computer and walk away. You cannot walk out that door and come back to work the next day, it’s 24/7. So I think the biggest relationship that changed for me after becoming a mom was the relationship with myself and my identity and redefining who that was.
And I think once you can accept that this is who I am now, that’s who I was before. Then it becomes a little bit easier. And then the relationships around that, of course it also changes your relationship with your other half or the mother or father of the child also changes. Nobody is sleeping in the beginning. It takes a lot out of everybody.
In my case, I have a very helpful family surrounding me and it brought us closer actually, but not everybody has that. So depending on the pressure and the responsibility and the household, it can really, really shake things up. And I think if you set the expectation early that it won’t be like this forever, everything is a phase, then everybody has an understanding that times are a bit difficult right now and it’s all gonna be worth it in the end. And it absolutely is.
I think the second part of that is so beyond yourself, your significant other and your immediate family, is the relationships with your friends. I think you naturally are drawn to friends that have children of the same age, probably because they’re going through the same thing as you. And that happens for a few years and then you start to readjust again, but the early years are the tough ones. Although people say to me, “the bigger the number, the bigger the problem, or the bigger the child, the bigger the problem.” So I’m not there yet. We’ll see what the future holds.
LIKE YOU SAID, YOUR SITUATION IS UNIQUE TO MOST. WITH NICOLAS, YOUR HUSBAND AND FATHER OF OLLIE AND JACKSON, GOING AWAY WITH WORK FOR SOMETIMES MONTHS. HOW DO YOU THINK THIS HAS CHALLENGED YOU AS A MUM AND HOW HAVE YOU ADAPTED TO OVERCOME THE CHALLENGE?
So right. Kids are fed, bathed. Teeth are brushed and now they’re in bed and it’s 7:57 at night. And sometimes this is my favorite part of the day. And I don’t like to admit that, but I actually think it’s because it’s the quietest part of the day after the craziness that has been. But then the other side of that is sometimes I sit here and can’t stop thinking about how much I miss them. And I just watch them on the monitors. So it’s really a contrast of both feelings. It’s nice because it’s quiet and I can enjoy my glass of red, but then of course I miss my babies.
So our situation is quite unique. Nicolas, my husband, is often away for sometimes 40 weeks of the year. COVID has changed that a little bit. So we’ve been very, very lucky to have him at home a lot during the last couple of years, but in a regular year, he is away more than he’s home.
And a lot of people don’t understand that. And unless you’re also in that situation or a similar situation, then it’s very difficult to understand the responsibility that puts on me. I often hear people complain that I had the kids alone this weekend. Can you believe he was away or she was away the whole weekend, but try doing that 40 weeks of the year and working at the same time and living as an expat with no family around.
So one of my very wise friends, Megan, who doesn’t have children herself, said something one day that’s really stuck, “you know, Rachel, only a couple of hundred years ago, us women were all living in villages and the other women in the village would help raise your child as if it was their own. It takes a village to raise children and you need to create your village.”
And that completely stuck with me. I was trying to be superwoman and do everything. I was trying to work. I was trying to raise children. I was trying to run the household all basically on my own. And it wasn’t until I realized that I did need to call in help and that I needed to create my village, whether it be a friend down the road that can take the kids. I actually had some great friends that did do that for me. I had to travel for work one weekend and she had two kids of her own – young kids too. And she took Jackson for me for a whole weekend. (Thank you, Sarah. I love you.) But yeah, once you realize that you are no less of a woman or no less of a mother or a wife or a friend or a daughter, when you call in on your village and put your hand up and say, ‘I need help,’ then things get easier. And it’s not because you can’t do everything – we’re actually not meant to. And that’s how I’ve survived. I think also because I knew what I was signing up for marrying a professional golfer and someone that was traveling more than full time. And so I have no excuse for that. I knew exactly what I was signing up for, but I never, ever, ever expected that it would be this challenging. So my advice to any other woman is don’t be ashamed to lean on your village, or even first don’t be ashamed to create one, because you’re doing enough already.
In the beginning when I had Jackson, I didn’t know what my village was. I didn’t know how to create my village. And all I could do when we were living in Monaco was sign him up for the preschool or the crèche. And I signed him up when he was born, he got accepted. And he started when he was seven months old, because that meant that I had time at home to do what I needed to do to run the family and time to work. And actually a lot of people gave me grief. They would say things like ‘he’s so young…he’s only seven months old. Why are you already putting him in childcare? If you don’t have to?’ But I absolutely had to.
A lot of women don’t have a choice to put them in creche. I know in some countries it’s too expensive. But that childcare center was my village. And it meant that he was growing as a little baby as well, because he was socializing with others. He was getting used to being with other people other than just me. But the reason I use that example, is because everybody has a different village and you just need to figure out what yours is, whether it be childcare, whether it be a relative, whether it be a babysitter an au pair or a nanny, figure out what your village is and what you’re comfortable with and then use it.
What products could… RACHEL COLSAERTS not parent without?
What product can I not parent without…am I allowed to say a glass of red wine? [Also – yes!] Uh, Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays <laugh> is that acceptable? No, in all seriousness, I have quite a few products that I have learned to love over the two children and they’re not sponsored. I just genuinely love these products.
And the first is my Cubo AI baby monitor. In my opinion, it’s the best on the market. I’ve tried everything. It connects to the internet and you can go as far as you need to and keep the monitor on. I have it linked to a spare iPhone so that it doesn’t suck the battery on your own phone. It also comes with a portable stand. And then you can always have full view of the cot. Otherwise, you have to mount it on the wall. We moved around so much as a family when Jackson was born, that it was just impossible to mount it on the wall because we slept in hotels more than we slept at home. And so what I found with the Cubo AI was that it comes with this stand and you can set it up wherever you want, directly over the cot. So I’m a big fan. It’s only available in certain countries. So I went to the extent of sending it to my mom in Australia, and then she brought it over with her.
And then obviously the pram is a big one. Bugaboo is my absolute favorite brand. I have had the donkey and we also had a Yoyo in between, but I’ve now circled back around and gone away from the big bulky ‘Rolls Royce’ prams because it just doesn’t fit in the trunk of the car. So even though it’s got great suspension, big wheels, loads of storage underneath, we actually went from the big fat one to the Yoyo, which is great to travel with. But now I’ve gone somewhere in between, which is the Buggaboo Bee 6. And it’s absolutely perfect because it’s not too big. It’s also not too small that it has no suspension and no storage underneath. Like the Yoyo – Jackson actually fell head first backwards out of the Yoyo because it’s a bit flimsy. So the Buggaboo Bee 6 is a solid, robust pram. It’s super light and it folds in one piece and fits in almost any boot. So my big word of advice for any mums out there that haven’t already bought a pram is don’t go large, don’t go small, go somewhere in between.
The other item that I love for home is the Leander changing mat. It’s a great brand and you can move this around. So you can put it on the change table to begin, then you can put it on the bed, you can put it on the floor and it basically moves with the baby until they’re out of nappies. And if they do a little pee on it then you just wipe it off.
And then the item that you absolutely cannot go without is a little bunny or a do-do or whatever it’s called in your country. When Jackson got to about one, he started carrying this bunny around. Once they become attached to one, buy five and then rotate them all so that they look used and smell the same because if they lose it, when they lose it, then you’ll have backups forever. I speak out of experience because they discontinued Jackson’s Bun Bun. And we tried everything to find one. I found the model that was very, very, very similar. I would’ve found it difficult to tell the difference. And he took one look at it and said, “that’s not Bun Bun” and threw it on the ground. And so we of course lost the back up and we ended up with only one left and he was obsessed with this bunny. He took it everywhere. And so we went to the extreme measures of actually opening Bun Bun up and putting an air tag inside the final copy, because it’s gonna be a disaster. He’s four and he still sleeps with the bunny every night. If we lose that thing, we are in for a hell of a ride. So big tip there is to buy five and rotate them.
And then finally, when traveling, the one item that I absolutely took everywhere: the Baby Bjorn travel cot. It’s super light and it folds into a very nice little rectangle and you can check it in on any plane for free. And I know they make a Bugaboo one now, but I haven’t tried it. The Baby Bjorn travel cot was a lifesaver because we lived life on the road. And the cots you get in a hotel were sometimes absolutely horrific. Like the mattress was basically a sheet of metal with plastic over it. So we went everywhere with it, even when I go to my mom’s place and she has a proper cot, I still take Baby Bjorn because that’s what he’s familiar with. And both boys have been the same. They know what their bed smells like and looks like.