They say it takes a village to raise a child, but a new mom in a foreign country may find it hard to find her tribe. So Pooja Kawatra built her own community by starting a parenting group, Mums & Babies, to connect with other expat moms in Singapore.
That spawned her blog of a similar name, TheMumsandBabies, where she shares recipes, parenting tips and lifestyle product reviews. Since starting it in 2011, her online presence has grown to over 50,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook.
She has also been featured as one of the top 36 parenting bloggers in Singapore to follow by theAsianparent and was one of Lancome’s top 100 inspiring women in Singapore in 2020.
But Pooja is more than just a mommy blogger and social media influencer — she is also a cancer survivor. She says her bout with stage 2 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2009 taught her to cherish every moment with her family.
We spoke to Pooja recently about her journey as a mom, blogger and cancer survivor.
You were a few months into motherhood when you were diagnosed with cancer. Any insights from that time that you can share with us?
Family support is important, especially when you’re going through a really low time, not just physically but also emotionally.
I had just come off my maternity leave and returned to the office when I started getting really tired all of a sudden. I also had weight loss and a persistent cough. At first I thought they were only post-pregnancy changes but doctors diagnosed it as tuberculosis. They gave me medicine for it, but I still had a cough.
So my husband, Nikhil, finally said I should get some tests done. After some X-rays, PET scans and a biopsy, I was diagnosed with stage 2 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer that starts in the lymph nodes and lymphatic system.
I could not stop crying after hearing that. No one is ever ready to hear they have cancer. We had also just started a family — my first child, Aayan, was only nine months old — so everything looked so uncertain.
I had to undergo chemotherapy, which I couldn’t have done without my husband’s support. He is a hands-on dad and so held down the fort while I was in and out of the hospital and through my recovery, taking care of himself and our nine-month-old baby on his own. It’s a partnership, you know?
We didn’t share the news with our children then as they were still too young. We wanted them to read my blog and understand it on their own. Aayan, my eldest, was seven years old when he read the blog. He was very curious about the whole thing compared to my daughter who was a bit more emotional. She was in tears when she read my post recounting my experience and she hugged me right after, telling me that she was proud of me and I was strong.
How has your parenting style changed since then?
That one year changed many things in my life, not just my parenting style. My whole outlook in life changed, to where I just wanted to embrace my family forever.
I now see every moment as worth celebrating, no matter how mundane it is. I also care less about what others think of me; I only care about my family who stood by me when I was at my lowest.
How did you start The MumsandBabies?
I started a parenting group, Mums & Babies, in the same year that I gave birth to Aayan in 2008. My husband and I were first-time parents and had a lot of fears about how we were going to manage everything in a foreign country, away from family and friends. Though we still called our parents in India, I also wanted to connect with other expat mommies.
Raising kids on our own was emotionally and physically challenging but, together, we did it happily. We had playdates and celebrations, and the friends I made are like family to me.
It was also around that time that I created my blog, TheMumsandBabies, where I started writing about my baby food recipes. Today, I write about everything, from raising kids in a foreign land, growing with your kids, travel diaries, daily logs and the positivity I gained as a cancer survivor.
Why does your voice resonate strongly with your audience?
When I started TheMumsandBabies, I was drawing readers with a similar cultural background or were raising their kids alone. My kids were also young then, so I was mainly writing about raising toddlers, which attracted other moms with kids of the same age.
My posts followed the growth of my kids. As I now have a teenager, I write about how to support him as he experiences peer pressure in school or prepares for major exams.
I also started writing about my cancer journey and how I overcame it by not letting it dictate my life. This may have resonated with other women who were going through the same thing as they would message me for advice, encouragement or a listening ear.
It definitely makes me happy when my readers, followers or friends come up to me to talk about cancer because it’s an opportunity to give hope to a person. I share with them the biggest lesson I learned, which is that a positive attitude — despite the odds — can change everything.
That’s why I always quote Robert Schuller: tough times don’t last, tough people do.
What have been some of the joys and/or disappointments associated with having a platform with a following?
I feel blessed that I have a platform where I can share my thoughts and experiences, while also helping others.
It is still a big responsibility, though, and I never want to give the wrong impression to my readers when recounting my experiences or recommending certain products.
Everyone curates what they show or talk about online so constantly comparing yourself to others will not bring any joy.
What have you learned since starting TheMumsandBabies?
Content creation is a full-time job because you’re doing everything. Doing this while raising two kids is a tad challenging. It was easier when my kids were younger, because they would listen to me when I asked them to be on camera. Now that they’re older, it’s harder because they want their privacy. So I really learned how to find the balance between creating content with my kids and spending quality time with them outside of work.
What does home mean to you?
In terms of place, Singapore is home now. But wherever I go, my kids and husband will always be my home.
This article is part of Ohmyhome’s The Most Interesting Person Now series, which features personalities who captivate and engage others with their incredible stories, passions or work. Watch this space for more.