The Birth of a Mama - Dr. Hela Bar
Getting to know new Mama & top NYC Pediatrician Dr. Hela Barhoush
Name: Hela Barhoush
Children’s ages: 10.5 months, 2.5 years old
City: New York City
Instagram handle: @drhelabar
1) Exploring identity change in motherhood.
What was the transition to motherhood like for you?
As a pediatrician with a huge number of nieces and nephews, I was immersed in everything related to children prior to having kids and it's so true when they say nothing can prepare you for motherhood until you have children of your own! The first few weeks of my eldest, Zane's, life were not easy, and it didn't help that he was a December baby in NYC! It is a total blur thinking back on it now, but every now and then I look at pictures and recall those challenging times. At some point around his 2 month mark, he started sleeping better, I started understanding him better, I started leaving the house and I started to feel like a human again! I have to say, the second time around was a lot easier.
How did your identity change?
I wouldn't say my identity changed, but I did not appreciate the level of personal autonomy and independence that is given up when you bring a child into the world. All of a sudden you have to think of another human before yourself, and children take a lot of attention, so that makes self care quite the challenge.
Did your career change?
No. Becoming a mom helped me tremendously with my career as a pediatrician. It allowed me to better relate to and empathize with my patients' mothers. Now, when a mom complains of her child not sleeping or nipple pain with latching, I totally feel her pain and want to take that extra 10 minutes to talk through it and come up with solutions! Some of my patients' families that I'm closest with are those children that were born around the same time as my eldest son, since their moms and I experienced getting through those early days of motherhood together.
How would you describe yourself pre-baby? How do you describe yourself now?
I'd like to think I continue to be adventurous and spontaneous after having kids... it's still in me, but may come out in different forms, like goofing off with a toddler. I would also say I'm more empathetic since having kids.
2) Understanding that you can’t completely prepare.
What do you wish you knew that you learned the hard way?
That it's okay if things don't go as planned and that there are SO many different ways to do things and no way is the right way... you gotta just roll with the punches and do what works for your family.
Knowing what you know now, what would you change?
I would've accepted the support of others more, particularly hands-on help, especially in those first few weeks.
3) Cherishing the memories.
What is your happiest memory?
Bringing our baby home from the hospital and witnessing the wonder in our older son's eyes when he met him for the first time.
What was most difficult for you?
Balancing work and kids, particularly during the pandemic, when, like many moms, I was juggling working remotely and taking care of my kids without childcare. Thankfully, as a pediatrician, patients understood when I was feeding my baby during a virtual visit!
4) Getting all the gear
What would you definitely purchase?
Safe and effective swaddles with velcro, like the Halo swaddle, so you don't have to swaddle manually, a good breast pump like the spectra, a good pump that can be used remotely like the Willow (if you'll be pumping regularly at work) or the Haakaa (for the occasional manual on the go pumping needs).
What was a total waste?
Pricey 0-3 month clothing- my boys wore maybe once before they outgrew it.
What do you actually need?
The basics: onesies, swaddles, breastfeeding supplies/pump, a good stroller, a safe place to sleep like a bassinet or crib... online delivery makes it very easy to get non-essentials as you need it within a day or two so you don't end up with a million things you don't end up using.
5) What about mama?
We’ve found that with all of the focus around the baby moms tend to put themselves last. This can be as true for finding a minute to take a shower or bathroom break as it is for being able to eat or prepare meals. If your breastfeeding this becomes even more critical as your nutrition becomes your babies. Did you struggle to eat well in the first few months post-birth?
What would have been helpful?
I think having easy access to easy to prepare healthy meals and foods would've been a game-changer and having the foresight to seek these options out!
6) Feeding Baby (0-6 months)
Nothing seems to have created more judgement than the way we choose to feed our children. Breastfeeding is filled with benefits, but not always possible for a myriad of reasons, and that’s OK too. What do you learn from the feeding journey that you wish you knew going in?
That there is no one way or right way to feed your baby. The way you feed your child is one of the most personal decisions and every woman's journey is different. I know, it's so much harder to do than say, but it's so important to not let external pressures influence your choices and instead just do what feels right and is most comfortable for you and your little one.
7) Discussing the tough topics.
2020 has been fraught with pain and conflict. The coronavirus pandemic has also peeled the lens back on other human struggles. Most notably the black lives matter movement. As parents, we have the unique opportunity to collectively build a healthier generation. This is as much about the minds that we help form as it is about the bodies that we help build. Creating an anti-racist society starts at home. What are you doing in your home to help build a healthier future?
My kids are young, but I truly believe to embed anti-racism and inclusivity in children it starts on day 1 and has to be intentional and thoughtful. In addition to exposing them to kids books and screen time depicting Black and ethnically diverse characters in a positive light, we have made a conscious decision to personally learn about Black history and anti-racism and model anti-racist behaviour so they can learn through observed behaviour.
8) Snuggling in
What are some favourite books and activities to do with your baby (0-12 months) and toddler (12-24 months?).
My 10.5-month-old is pretty captivated by the simple activity of removing and placing objects into containers- I keep it really simple with Tupperware and large figures or legos (not small enough to be a choking hazard). Not only is it stimulating, but it also helps with the development of fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. My 2.5-year-old is super active, he needs to spend time outdoors where he can run and get energy out, this has been hard at times during the pandemic, but it is so important for toddlers!
9) What traditions are you creating and celebrating?
We have a mantra that reminds our 2.5-year-old of values that are important to us as a family (like kindness, love for everyone, generosity) and he has started repeating them to us when a related topic comes up. I think repetition allows concepts to sink in.
10) Creating Routines
Routines can be a lifesaver in the early days, even if just for your own sanity. What worked for you? Did you try to keep to a schedule?
I'm a big fan of routine. I think children (of all ages) do better when they know what to expect. Some people aren't schedules and that's totally fine, but personally I found scheduling feeds and naps early on really helped with both my boys' and my mental sanity!
Sleep glorious sleep Sleep deprivation is real! Because it’s not challenging enough to learn to look after a tiny human. How did you make it through with getting your baby to sleep as well as yourself?
Again, sleep training may not be for everyone and there are so many different approaches. I found putting them in their own room and a gentle Ferber like method of sleep training around 3 months (when I was going back to work) did the trick. Also, loose scheduling of naps and feeds during the day helps to get them to sleep better overnight.
Any final words of wisdom you’d like to share?
You'll hear opinions and advice given left and right about parenting, listen to it and use it as guidance, but remember, there is no one way to do things and what works for one family may not work for another. The only way to know what's right for you and your family is to live it and feel it.