So, my name is Zoe O’Sullivan and I’m a 34 year old British expat living currently in Dubai. I’ve been in Dubai for the last 10 years, where I met my husband Myles. We got married after being together five years in 2019 and later in 2021 had our daughter Skyla, who has just turned one.
Previous to my pregnancy, I was in the entertainment industry for 15 years. Progressing from dancer to creative director over the span of my career. Since having knee surgery in 2020, my career has been on hold. I had the lovely surprise of getting pregnant and made the decision to take on the role as a full-time mum, which I am really enjoying. However, I am looking forward in the next few years to getting back to work. I have a few business ideas and projects that I am looking forward to pursuing in the near future.
About my pregnancy journey…On reflection I actually loved my pregnancy. Aside from the first few weeks of nausea, I remained healthy and active. I took classes such as yoga and pilates multiple times a week. I did a lot of walking and swimming right up to 39 weeks and I was obsessed with my growing bump.
Unlike England, a lot of physicians in Dubai, suggest that you should deliver around the 39 week mark. However, I wanted to give my body at least the opportunity to go into natural labor. Although I knew that was a very small chance considering it was my first pregnancy. So at 40 weeks plus three days I went in for an induction and after two pessaries, my body went into overdrive and I had a very intense but quick labor, and ended up delivering Skyla naturally, with a partial epidural.
How has motherhood changed me? Well, it is my first weekend back in England for quite a while, 9:00 PM on a Saturday night. And Instead of glamming up for a fancy dinner in London, I am fishing poo out of the bath and making DIY blackout blinds with tin foil. But I’m so okay with that. And I think that’s probably the main change I realized with motherhood I have become so selfless, it’s like this deep rooted instinct is awakened, to do whatever you need to do for your child.
There’s no part of me that wishes that it was any different. I think that’s because I’m so at peace that this is just a short term scenario. You know, I will eventually get some freedom back, I’ll get my evenings back. So I think I am so at peace with that kind of all consuming nature of motherhood, because I know that this intensity is just for a short time.
Secondly, my empathy and respect for other parents has definitely increased. If somebody was flaky, canceled plans, or I hadn’t heard from them in weeks, I might make that personal to me, like, “oh, what have I done? What’s wrong? What’s going on?” Suddenly, I realize that it’s probably not about me. And there are hundreds of reasons why that person could have not gotten back to me. Maybe they had an hour sleep the night before. Maybe they woke up to a sick baby or a teething toddler. As a parent, I think suddenly you just wake up to the realization that there’s just no time to even second guess or judge anybody, we are all just trying to get through the day.
HOW HAS MOTHERHOOD AFFECTED THE RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR FAMILY, FRIENDS, HUSBAND AND IMPORTANTLY YOURSELF?
How has motherhood affected my relationship with myself? That’s actually a really tricky question to answer because I honestly feel like the last year has been such a blur and there’s very little time for myself. I’ve not even had the time to kind of reflect and adjust to come to terms with where I am. Physically, definitely things have changed. I have been very fit my whole life, being in a dance career where the physical form is extremely important.
I actually have the utmost respect for what my body went through during pregnancy and postpartum and I’ve been very gentle on myself. I still to this day haven’t thrown myself back into fitness. You know, I do love a bit of yoga and Pilates, but I definitely haven’t put any pressure on myself to get back to my pre-birth body.
What people just probably don’t even tell you is that you’re just so fucking knackered all the time, the last thing you want to do is workout <laughs>. And I know that it’s so important for my mental health and that “me” time, but honestly, when she’s napping, it’s just kind of the last thing on the priority list.
But being more forgiving to myself in all areas is personal growth for me. In my twenties and thirties, if I made mistakes, or things didn’t go as expected, I was very hard on myself. Whereas now, I’m much more forgiving and if I’ve had a crap day or things just didn’t go right, I’m not sweating over it, over thinking it, or kicking myself. I’m just like, okay, that happened. I’ve registered. Let’s move on. So I’ve developed that kind of kindness to myself.
So in regards to mine and Myles’ relationship, I think there’s definitely an increase of respect from his side, having seen me through pregnancy and the birth and then taking on this full-time mother role. I think the more time he spends at home with us, he realizes how challenging day-to-day life with a child can be. Naturally, we haven’t had much time alone together in this first year. Skyla just turned one a few weeks ago and we have had a few dinners out at most. But that’s got a lot to do with our lifestyle choice. We are expats living between England and Dubai and these last six months of Skyla’s life has been based in Dubai, where we don’t have any immediate family. A lot of expats employ full-time nannies but that’s just something we’ve decided not to do.
Now we’re in England and Myles’ family is just down the road. As soon as Skyla is adjusted and feeling comfortable and confident in her environment, we’ve got lots of date nights planned that we have to look forward to. And I think Myles, very much like me, knows that this scenario is a very short-term one. We will grab those moments of alone time again and he just understands that right now this is my main priority and job. He knows that we will get that time back.
In regards to family, my sister became a mother a few years before me. So just knowing now what she went through and the trials and tribulations of parenthood, it just makes me have this abundance of respect for her. I could only hope to be half the mum she is. She’s amazing.
In regards to friends, I have a lot of very supportive friends who are a big part of Skyla’s life, which I absolutely love. Skyla has been very welcomed into the team sheet. And I’ve also welcomed a lot of new mom friends, who I value so much. We’ve been through this journey together and it’s really made the world of difference, having people to lean on that genuinely understand what you are going through day-to-day, and have got your back.
So in the beginning, it was difficult for me because we moved from Dubai to England at three months old. And I think your natural instinct as a mother is to provide that safe cocoon. And then to get on a plane and go to a different climate, with your comforts and your things not around you was difficult. Stupidly, we were a bit too adventurous and thought we could move between a few accommodations during our few months here, which was, needless to say not the best idea. But we made it, we survived. But it definitely added a lot of pressure and difficulty.
As time has gone on, I realize that, as much as the dream is to have a baby that can sleep through anything and sleep anywhere and is very adaptable, this is not always so realistic. Many babies thrive off continuity and familiarity and they need that schedule. They want those familiar faces and surroundings that makes them feel safe. And when they are going through changes themselves, whether it’s a leap, teething or a sickness, they want stability. They want their comforts. Like we all do. So doing that, moving around at such an early age, wasn’t ideal. But it was very important for us for the family to be involved in those first few months and for us to spend that time in England. She’s 13 months now and this is the first time that she’s had her own room with child friendly decoration and all her animals. And, you know, it is really nice for her. And honestly, the joy on her face and her waving at the pictures of the animals and her going to her teddies in the corner, I’ve only now realized how important that is.
Sorry I got a bit off topic there, but basically yeah the constant change of environment definitely didn’t help in the sleep department. She was quite a chilled newborn and slept long stretches from early on. Until we hit a major turnaround. What I presumed was just the 4 month sleep regression also coincided with the big move overseas and starting to combi-feed with formula. Up until then, I had exclusively breastfed, which was easy when my days were mostly based from home. Suddenly, we were on the move and I struggled to keep up so introduced one or two feeds with formula. Not only did this reduce my milk supply but Skyla was dairy intolerant, and we didn’t know this yet.
I had a baby that was waking every hour to ninety minutes screaming in pain and unable to settle. And this went on for months…I was so broken. We ended up co-sleeping to get through the night. I was so lost to what was wrong but my instinct told me this wasn’t normal. I started questioning every move: was she overtired? were her nap times incorrect for her age? But I knew the difference in her cry for comfort and her cry in pain. So eventually, we got seen by a private doctor who diagnosed her with a milk allergy and she has been dairy-free ever since. Once that was finally figured out, naturally her sleep got better, she went to waking a couple of times a night, once for a feed and once for comfort, which was much more expected for her age.
I chose not to do “traditional sleep training” and wanted to go with her flow and knew she would give me signs when she was ready to drop the feed etc. That time came at 11 months and we finally had our first night she slept through. We have enjoyed that shift for the last few months, aside from our current sickness bugs and teething which, as you know, throws it all out the window, but it’s reassuring knowing when she’s happy and healthy she can sleep through confidently solo and in her own room.
BEING AN EXPAT IN DUBAI, HAVING NO FAMILY NEAR, YOUR HUSBAND WORKING FULL TIME AND DOMESTIC HELP THERE BEING MORE AFFORDABLE THAN MOST COUNTRIES, HAVE YOU FELT PRESSURE TO GET A NANNY?
So there’s definitely been times of temptation where you just think it’s so convenient and easy to employ full-time help in Dubai. I do compare myself to other families that I know do have that help and it definitely makes life a lot easier, but until now, my personal choice has been against it. Myles has said that he would support my decision if I said that I needed that help.
But for me, I have taken on this role as a full-time mom. I am not working at the moment and that’s totally by choice. I had knee surgery a few years ago and kind of retired from my dance career. Now I definitely have future ambitions in other areas, but for now I’m very happy to have those on the back burner while I just focus these first few years of giving Skyla the best start in life.
And because I have that luxury of choice, I think it’s kind of my primary responsibility to take my job as a mum with both hands and give it all I’ve got. Don’t get me wrong, I have help in other areas. I have a cleaner that comes one and a half days a week to help me with the laundry because I do believe that being a parent is such a juggling act, you can’t have it all, you can’t have the happy, clean baby, food on the table, pristine house and everything else. No one is super woman, so I do have help in other areas, but having a nanny to Skyla, I have been against.
I’ve seen and been around so many of the caregivers in Dubai and you know, some of them have been absolutely excellent, but I’ve also seen others that aren’t qualified enough for the role and treating children in a way I wouldn’t be happy with. As I’m currently not at work, I know that the best caregiver for Skyla is me. Then after she’s 18 months, possibly getting her into a nursery for a morning or two a week would be great to have time to start venturing into these other career paths that I’d like to look into. But for now, in these first immediate years of her life, I don’t have the pressure to be at work. I’m very lucky to have a choice in that.
Hey, my love, sorry. I absolutely passed out. I hope you weren’t waiting up for an answer for too long. I was sparked out well for a few hours until Skyla decided to wake up every hour. I should probably add that comment into my sleep deprivation bit: nothing and no one can prepare you for those really bad nights. I worked in night life and a high demanding job. Some nights I would survive off three or four hours sleep and crack on and do a gig the next day. But it’s still different than having a baby because at least those four hours you might get, you’ll get some uninterrupted sleep and eventually catch up a few days later, but with a baby, especially if they are teething or sick, you might get interrupted 5 times during those few hours. It’s not solid, restful sleep. It’s relentless. And if you co-sleep, your baby might be wiggling all over the place. You get a foot in the head or knee in the rib. <laughs> It’s just not the same and obviously the accumulation over the space of a year and probably beyond really adds up. But, we are so resilient and somehow you just power through and every morning, despite the night before, you get up, you crack on and you just try and be the best parent you can be.
And in regards to what drives me to do it myself…it’s probably ignorance and stubbornness <laughs> and just I’m absolutely mental. But I think it’s more having the control and power over what Skyla is exposed to and how she is being brought up. That has always been in my nature. I’ve always been someone that wants to do it myself, that doesn’t ask for help. And at times, on reflection, there are a few moments that I should have released the reins and, maybe got…Sorry. I was distracted by Skyla dripping porridge all down the new velour chairs. <laughs> Yeah, I should have accepted help. But in our scenario doing this expat life, it’s just not been something I’ve been willing to give the responsibility to a stranger.
Now we are home, like I said, there’s going to be lots of date nights planned out. I’m very happy for the grandparents to give that assistance and help out. So it’s something to look forward to.
Hey, sorry for the delay. Um, Skyla literally won’t let me put her down today. I do follow a few accounts on Instagram of mothers that align with my way of parenting and one of them is @terredemamans and there’s another one @lyndsey_hookway.
They daily put up inspirational quotes and pockets of motivation that are really encouraging on those kind of difficult days. Their approach is towards gentle sleep training and responsive parenting, which definitely aligns with how I want to parent. So, yeah, seeing their little quotes pop up every day definitely give you a pick me up and a bit of reassurance when you need it most.
What products could… ZOE O’SULLIVAN not parent without?
Does wine count? <laughs> That is the question. But no in all seriousness, in the very beginning of my breastfeeding journey in those first few weeks, I just wasn’t prepared for the pain and discomfort that was going to come. I invested in these nipple shields called Silverettes, and they’re basically a solid silver nipple shield, and they literally were a godsend with the dry cracked nipples, the soreness, the bleeding. All of that recovered and healed so much faster because of them.
And also, my Yoyo buggy. With all the traveling that we do, it’s just a fantastic project. It folds away, you can put it in the airplane cabin. You can unfold it with one hand, if you’ve got baby in one arm, or you’re shopping, you can flick it out and have it ready to go from the back of the car in one hand. It’s just probably the best investment that I’ve made in motherhood.