Our Expat Real Mum: Catherine!

As a new mum, one of the best things (as I’ve mentioned before) is getting to know other mums and really building a social and support network. Through one of the Facebook groups I’m apart of, I met Catherine, and I just HAD to share her story. Catherine and her husband Rob moved to Dubai before having kids (after going through some real tough times), and have lived there since. Catherine chatted with me about her move overseas, her life as a mum and her awesome initiative The Nursery Collective to help new and pregnant mums. Thanks Catherine for the great interview!


Hi Catherine! We’re very excited to have you share your story as part of our #RealMums series! Firstly, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your family?
Thanks so much for having me Fiona!

I grew up in Sydney as a first generation Aussie – my Dad emigrated from Sicily and Mum from the Phillipines in the 70’s. My hubby Rob and I moved from Sydney to Dubai 9 years ago and both our children were born over here. In what feels like a previous lifetime (my twenties!) I worked in advertising but gave up the work hard/play hard life when we moved to Dubai.
My eldest Maxi is 5, and Halle is 2. Hubby grew up in the UK but was born in Sierra Leone, so our kids are a real ethnic mix, but proud to call themselves Australians! I think their gene pool covers 4 continents! The African gene is really strong in Halle with her darker skin and crazy curls whilst Maxi takes a little more after me. They’re great little people and such different personalities….Maxi is an artistic, sensitive soul,  while Halle is boisterous, very strong-willed and loud! We love the expat life here in Dubai and it’s such a great experience for the kids to be growing up in such a culturally diverse and innovative city. But we know that our forever home will eventually be back in beautiful Sydney in the not too distant future.
What triggered the move to Dubai? How did you and your husband deal with this move?
We certainly never had a plan to live abroad together, although Rob had previously lived in Hong Kong and Canada as an expat. We had been together as a couple for almost 7 years before we got married, and had just bought what we thought would be our family home. Shortly after we married we fell pregnant. We were absolutely thrilled and it seemed like everything was falling into place. Sadly we lost our little one in the early stages of pregnancy although I didn’t find out until my first scan at 11 weeks. It came completely out of left field and was totally devastating, I think I stayed in bed for 2 entire weeks… my poor hubby had to deal with sharing the news whilst also dealing with his own grief. When I finally managed to get back to work the only way I was able to cope was if nobody mentioned the pregnancy or talked to me about it at all. Not long after, the opportunity came up with Rob’s company to do a short yearly stint in Dubai in their new office. I really believe that if we hadn’t lost the baby we might never have moved – it was a real catalyst for so much change in our lives although I didn’t see that for a very long time. At the time I just wanted to get away from everything and everyone, so moving to Dubai where I would be able to have time off work and have a fresh start was extremely appealing. 9 years and 2 kids later we are still here!
You had a bit of a rough road through pregnancy and the start of motherhood, can you tell us a bit about that?
Well after our first loss, I thought I would fall pregnant quickly after we moved to Dubai. The benefit of a tax free salary meant we could afford for me to be a SAHM for a while so we really wanted to start our family ASAP. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way. Month after month passed and we weren’t falling pregnant. We did test after test, I was misdiagnosed with PCOS along the way, I took various medications and still nothing. My diet was immaculate, I did acupuncture for months, you name it and I did it. I look back now and remember just how stressful it was, every month we would go through the “two week wait” only to be disappointed. The months turned into 3 very long years which took a huge toll on both of us.  By this point we had pretty much given up and booked an appointment with an IVF clinic. You hear all the stories about people who give up and then fall pregnant right? Well that’s exactly what happened. Two weeks before our appointment was scheduled I got a positive test result.
I spent most of the pregnancy being worried that something might happen, but thankfully all was fine and 9 months later Maxi came into our lives. And totally turned it upside down J We had a really rough time with breastfeeding, he was a little barracuda! I think it took almost 2 months of blood (literally) sweat and many tears before we worked out how to latch properly! And then we hit the 4 month sleep regression and spent months waking up every 45 minutes at night. Every night. I was a complete wreck! And after taking so long to fall pregnant I really struggled with the guilt I felt about not enjoying every minute. My hormones went crazy and my weight plummeted.
Luckily I had an amazing support network and eventually managed to get through the difficult early days of motherhood.
Catherine’s gorgeous kids, Maxi, 5, and Halle, 2
Your story is so inspiring because you have had lots of bumps in the road, but you’ve come through the other side! You attribute this to your ‘village’. Can you share a bit about what this concept means to you and why you think it is important for every mother to have a village?
They say it takes a village to raise a child – I think in this day and age it’s even more important for a village to raise and support a new mum. There’s so much pressure as a woman to be a supermum, and juggle kids, work, running the house etc.
I was so lucky to meet women who have become my closest friends here in Dubai. In many ways as expats we were all in the same situation of having to start afresh and make new friends so it was quite natural to become close very quickly, and become each other’s family or village if you like. I met some of these women whilst I was struggling to become pregnant and we all supported each other through this struggle. A close friend and I were the last ones in our circle to fall pregnant and amazingly enough we got our positive pregnancy results on the same day! We had the same due date and our kids were born exactly 1 week apart and we even ended up in the same hospital room! J
I really think that there is so much that is unsaid about the early days of motherhood. The loneliness, frustration, sleep deprivation, loss of identity, feeling “touched out”, the ever present “mum guilt”…. It was so much harder than I ever imagined it would be. Being able to vent frustration and have a solid support network of fellow women who “got it” really made a huge difference. There’s something so beautiful when women support each other – it’s like this incredible, goddess feminine energy that builds us up and gives us strength. Look at Constance Hall and the amazing movement she’s started by just being open and loving towards other women!
I was also amazingly lucky to have my Mum come out and stay for the first 2 months to help look after not only bub, but me. I can’t thank her enough for her selflessness and how she took over the house and kitchen and even managed to freeze another 3 months worth of food for us before she left. Wow did I appreciate her when I became a Mum. I have no idea how she managed when my sister and I were only 13 months apart in a new country with no support –She told me once that she cried a lot and I believe her!
What made you decide to go into business ownership? Where did you come up with the idea for The Nursery Collective?
Now that the kids are a bit older and the little one is at nursery 2 mornings a week, it’s given me the headspace to think about wanting to do something again for me. In many ways I was feeling like I’d lost my identity a little and the timing seemed right to reclaim that part of me beyond being “Mum”. But I wanted to find something that would allow me to work around the kid’s crazy schedules – I still wanted to be able to do school pick ups and take them to play dates and extra curricular activities. So starting my own online business made a lot of sense.
And as women, we all love a bit of retail therapy right? The Nursery Collective is a curated online directory of unique and stylish boutiques for new and pregnant mums. There are so many beautiful online boutiques in Australia, many of them owned by mums. The idea was to bring them all together in one place to make the shopping experience easier for timepoor mums whilst also being able to support all these amazing local biz mums! I’m working on some collaborations at the moment so I can also use the blog section of the site to give new mums loads of relevant content to help them navigate their way through early motherhood.
The beauty of an online business is that I can run it from anywhere, even here in Dubai. I wanted to start an Australian business as Australia is our home – it’s like a little bridge I’m building for when we eventually move back. And speaking of villages, I’ve been amazed at just how supportive the “mumpreneur” community has been! There’s that goddess energy again – I’ve found another tribe of women who are all passionate and willing to lift each other up!
If you could share one piece of advice for new and pregnant mums, what would it be?
“This too shall pass” – it all does eventually. With my first I got so bogged down in each struggle I would totally lose perspective and think things would never change or improve, but inevitably they always did. When Halle was born “This too shall pass” became my mantra and I could see beyond each difficult phase. Don’t be guilted into feeling you have to enjoy every minute – “they grow up so quickly etc” – absolutely, but if you’re having a crap day you’re entitled to a moan!

One other piece of advice (sorry I had to have two!) would be to reach out and seek help if you need it! Whether it be hiring a lactation or sleep consultant, seeking medical help for PND, or even just getting past the “mum guilt’ mindset of thinking you have to be able to do it all. Call on your village of fellow women and mums if your feminine energy is needing a boost. It’s totally OK to ask for help.
If you would like to check out The Nursery Collective, you can visit the website HERE, see it on Facebook HERE or see it on Instagram HERE.

Leave a Reply