Welcome to our series: Perelel Lives. We live in a society that glamorizes and celebrates women‘s careers, the companies they’ve built, the movements they’ve created. But, what we’ve failed to highlight is a facet of their lives that is far more personal—a side that presents perhaps the hardest, but most rewarding job of all—a job with no PTO, no holiday breaks, no sick days, and no salary. Oh, and it also lasts a lifetime: motherhood.
Perelel Lives elevates stories on becoming and being a mother from our community of women we admire, women who do it in parallel to their personal and professional pursuits. Here, we have real conversations about motherhood.
Six months after having her first child, jewelry designer Jessica Hendricks Yee packed up her Brooklyn, NY apartment and moved to Madrid, Spain with her husband amidst a global pandemic. A seemingly unconventional decision to some—for Yee, travel and worldly traditions are in her DNA.
Captivated by design and travel from a young age, Yee was born in Paris and grew up outside of Manhattan. In college, she travelled to South East Asia to teach English and the experience led her to launch her first jewelry brand The Brave Collection, a line handmade in Cambodia to support local artisans and empower women against human trafficking. She was named a Forbes Listmaker, invited as a guest to the White House, and eventually launched her second jewelry line, Zahava.
Somewhere, in the middle of it all, Yee became a mother. And shares that decision with us in today's Perelel Lives. Keep scrolling to read our conversation.
Perelel: Did you always know you wanted to become a mother?
Jessica Hendricks Yee: In high school all I dreamt about was traveling and becoming an actress, which is what I was pursuing at the time, and I wasn't sure how motherhood would fit into that dream. While I loved the warmth and comforts of my suburban neighborhood growing up, I also felt this sort of stale energy from this environment that really scared me. I associated having children with a settled life, and associated a settled life with giving up on my dreams. I decided I'd adopt one child, something I'd always wanted to do (Yes, a la Angelina Jolie at the time.) and raise him all over the world. Something shifted though when I got a bit older. I got my yayas out and this desire to experience every aspect of motherhood began to grow from deep in my bones. By the time I was married and trying to get pregnant, it seemed to be the only thing in the world that truly mattered.
P: How did you know when you were ready? Did you wake up one day and just have a feeling? Share the story.
JHY: I remember the moment I knew I deeply wanted to become a mom. We had just started really trying to get pregnant and I was late. My husband and I were upstate for the weekend and we were sitting at brunch and I was in this sort of giddy dream state counting down the months until when the due date might be, thinking of names, and it all just started to feel so real. I went to the bathroom and there it was: my period. I felt so instantly deflated like I'd been working for days on the most beautiful meal and then right before putting it into the oven dropped it all on the floor. I was so sure I was pregnant that I didn't even bring tampons with me upstate. It was Sunday and everything was closed. So I left my husband at the restaurant and did this walk of shame up to the local grocery store to buy tampons. Lo and behold it was the day before Halloween and I couldn't get to the grocery store without walking through a full on children's parade. There must have been 100 babies and little kids dressed up in the most adorable costumes, walking proudly with their parents, and I just couldn't hold back the tears. Walking upstream through a parade of little Dorothies and Supermans, crying en route to my tampons! It was definitely a low. But the beauty was that from that moment on I knew this was something I really, truly, deeply wanted, and was ready for. The next month I got pregnant.
P: Motherhood is wonderful, but also hard. Did you feel like you had honest support ahead of that stretch of your motherhood journey to really understand what you were getting into? Do you think there’s been a generational shift where women are more open these days?
JHY: Yes, I think I was one of the lucky few who really had a strong sense of what I was heading into, and had the means and support system to really embrace that whirlwind. The thing that baffled me the most was the birthing process and immediate postpartum. I took a super intense, multi week long hypnobirthing class with my partner, and was fortunate enough to walk into the experience feeling empowered, in control, and super prepared. However I realized how supremely rare my experience was, with so many women walking into birth and early motherhood without the tools they need to feel confident or even safe. I definitely do think there has been a generational shift and I got to really experience this with my mom. When she had me, she was given very little information or even autonomy, and had a pretty rough labor, c-section and recovery. When I told her I was studying hypnobirthing and wanted to attempt to have a medication-free labor, she thought I was out of my mind. However, watching me in the delivery room, her eyes were opened to a way of giving birth that wasn't even part of the conversation in her day, and I think there was something deeply healing and cathartic for her about getting to experience that again through me.
P: What has surprised you?
JHY: The actual birth. I'm still not over it! When I walk outside and see 100 people walking down the street and think that all entered this world through such an absolutely mind-bending intense experience, it positively blows my mind!
P: Have you translated revelations about yourself from your role as a mother into your other roles?
JHY: Growing a baby inside my body, going through the Herculean act of childbirth, and then raising a tiny person who relies on me for everything and looks up at me as though I have all the answers has definitely instilled a deeper sense of strength and confidence in me. I trust and respect myself more deeply, I value my time more dearly, and I am more dedicated than ever to being the best version of myself that I can be because it's not just about me anymore.
P: Looking back, what was the biggest lesson you learned in the immediate weeks following the birth or homecoming of your first child?
JHY: How much you need to eat postpartum! This sounds trivial but it is NOT! I felt so weak and depleted after childbirth, until I truly realized the incredible physical feat I had just accomplished, and the life-sustaining milk my body was producing as it recovered. This whole pressure to "bounce back" and look thin and fit postpartum is so insane, and I think it subconsciously put this idea in my mind that after the baby was born I would need and want to eat light. For me it was the opposite, I didn't start feeling strong until I started eating hearty, home cooked meals—I'm talking lamb stew and chicken marbella. I desperately needed all of the fat and calories and started to feel much better once I began to deeply nourish myself.
P: Most proud moments?
JHY: We have been raising our son in Spain and seeing him become fluent in Spanish makes me feel so proud because at two he is already transcending an aspect of life my experience.
P: Any rituals you’ve incorporated that have helped you forge stronger connections with your child as well as yourself?
JHY: Shabbat has become such a gorgeous, powerful anchor in our week. I turn off my phone for 25 hours, and really spend that time focusing on my son, and also on myself with rest, yoga, cooking, meditation—all the things I love and need but can get pushed aside in the demands of a crazy week. We light the Shabbat candles together, and we sing and celebrate, and it's this really pure moment of connection that the three of us share each week.
We want to hear your motherhood story! Tell us by joining our community, Village by Perelel.