Parenting Abroad (During A Pandemic): Meet The New Yorker Doing Motherhood in Mallorca
Equal parts wildly talented, soul-warming hilarious and ultra-inspiring, Paris-born, New York-raised, Mallorca-living jewelry designer, Jessica Hendricks Yee, is here to chat about how she went from mothering a newborn in Manhattan to chasing a toddler in Spain.
Just like Golden Retriever Instagram accounts, we can’t get enough of Jessica Hendricks Yee.
One of the earliest conversations Jessica had with her now-husband Patrick (which she’ll tell you was probably aggressively early in their dating days) was that she wanted to be clear on a couple of things:
1. She wanted to be a mom at some point
2. She wanted her kids to have a Jewish education.
‘I had this conversation early because I’ve seen so many couples go through pain later when they wanted different things. As a Chinese-American, Patrick comes from a tight family with a rich heritage. We both agreed that we wanted to have kids at some point and that it was importnant that they felt connected to both of our cultures.’
Before their courtship, Jessica finished studying Theater at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and did a stint in Southeast Asia teaching English.
After basing herself back in New York, she began focusing on launching her first jewelry line, The Brave Collection.
As a child who grew up with her eyes glued to her own mother’s jewelry store display cabinets, it wasn’t surprising when Jessica headed in that direction. For years, she had been on the sales floor and watched how jewelry could evoke emotions, encourage self-expression and possibly become heirlooms for generations to love.
‘When I was working in Cambodia, I learned about the tragic genocide in the 70s, the current issues with human trafficking and the country’s beautiful culture and artist community. Mesmerized by the tangled synthesis of both the beautiful and heartbreakingly violent past of this small Buddhist country, I combined my love of jewelry and philanthropic spirit, to create The Brave Collection. Its purpose: to celebrate Cambodia’s artisans, connect courageous women across the globe and channel funds to partners on the ground to support programming that empowers vulnerable Cambodian girls.
When I met Patrick in 2011, I was on a date with someone else at a karaoke bar. Because Brave was so new, talking about it still felt like I was trying it on for size. Since I didn’t know anything about Patrick, I just said, ‘Hi, I’m Jessica and I have a line of jewelry that’s made in Cambodia. We’re working with groups to empower women against human trafficking.’
To be honest, it kind of felt like I was bluffing or just practicing my elevator pitch. Turns out Patrick was one of the early partners at Refinery 29 and deep in the fashion space. He suggested that maybe he could help me with my business. It started out a bit mentor-mentee, but eventually evolved into so much more.
Unfortunately, he was living in LA and I was in New York. We did long-distance for quite a while. Whenever we had to be apart, we were tangled up in charger cords, talking and telling stories every night. It was very sweet.
One weekend, we made the call to meet in Austin, Texas to see if our relationship was what we thought it was. After 48 hours, we both knew we wanted to go all in. Patrick ended up moving to New York and joining Refinery full time.’
Even though the baby-talk happened in the early days of their courtship, Jessica and Patrick didn’t dive right in. Instead, they focused on their careers, their relationship and the logistics of where to live. In early 2016, they had a stunning Chinese-Jewish wedding in Palm Springs and Jessica began to dream up a new jewelry collection.
As I spent time with my mother, sister, and extended family throughout the wedding planning process, I knew that I wanted to tell stories through jewelry that related to my own Jewish culture. With The Brave Collection having reached maturity and self-sufficiency, I had time to start building and launching Zahava.’
Image via Zahava
Ethically produced in small batches by global metalsmiths, predominantly in Tel Aviv, Zahava has been gracing the necklines of celebrities like Zosia Mamet and Sophia Amoruso since 2018. Sentimental and timeless, it’s been featured in publications such as Goop and Allure, and was named one of Glamour’s “Best New Fashion Brands of 2018”.
With work going well and their wedding behind them, Jessica and Patrick decided it was officially time to start trying for a baby.
‘I’ll never forget the first time my period was late. Halloween had fallen on a weekend so as the citizens of New York spent their Saturday gallivanting around the city in clever costumes, my husband, Patrick, and I were winking at each other and silently acknowledging that we must be so totally pregnant.
However, at brunch the next morning, I got my period. I didn’t have any tampons because I had been convinced that I was pregnant. Feeling completely deflated and suddenly not hungry, I excused myself to walk to a grocery store nearby to buy a box of tampons. As I was making my way back to the restaurant, I realized that I was in the vortex of a Halloween parade for kids. The last thing a woman who desperately wants to be pregnant needs to see is 100 moms with babies dressed in little pumpkin suits. I felt the tears start to well.
When I got back to Patrick and it was obvious that I had been crying, he asked what was wrong. I explained that I was so sad that it hadn’t worked. He reassured me by saying it was still early days in the grand scheme of trying and that if anything, this showed me how much I wanted to have a baby. He was right. It was early days and I wanted a baby – badly.
For another six months, my period came like clockwork. No matter how many different techniques I googled or how much trust I put in the universe, we couldn’t get two pink lines to appear on a pregnancy test. Half of me tried to remain really spiritual about it and believed that when my child’s soul was ready to come earthside, it would. The other half of me decided I needed to get down to business.
The first course of action we took was getting a box of ovulation strips. Boom = pregnant.
Turns out I had been about four days off of when I thought I ovulated.’
Aside from vomiting at least once a week for the entire nine months, Jessica still managed to feel the elusive pregnancy glow and invincibility so many women talk about. In fact, she describes her pregnancy as one of the most primal and powerful times of her life.
‘Even though I felt physically miserable, I was still so incredibly happy and determined to put everything I had into my pregnancy, labor and birth.
After finding the right OBGYN and doula for (I interviewed seven OBs and six different doulas… I admit, I was a bit of a psycho about the whole thing.), I started studying hypnobirthing.
I admit I am not a very physical person. In no way would I describe myself as an athlete or even anything close to an endurance person. (Don’t ask me to even run down the street.) That’s why I loved hypnobirthing. I learned that your body is what’s birthing the baby and you just have to mentally stay with it. It’s almost like rewiring your brain to think about the experience in a different way than society usually prepares you for the experience.’
When Jessica went into labor she was at home with Patrick in Williamsburg. Wanting to stay home for as long as possible, and also aware that she needed to stay in a relaxed and happy state, Jessica put on the cinematic classic, It Takes Two! (Yes, the movie starring Kirsty Alley and the Olsen Twins.)
‘In a way, I reverted to my eight-year-old self. I just wanted to watch old Nancy Meyer movies starring Diane Keaton and eat grilled cheese and be in a safe little bubble.
Eventually, the contractions became close enough together that it was time to meet up with our doula at the hospital. While the rest of my labor and delivery was incredibly intense, I remember feeling superhuman.’
And just like that, Jessica and Patrick’s son, Ezra, was born in August 2019!
‘I was and still am so humbled by the birth experience. I’ve never felt so vulnerable in my entire life, but to also feel so supported through that vulnerability was beautiful. My sister surprised me by flying from LA and walking into my hospital room while I was in labor. Apparently, when we told her we were in the early stages of labor, she went straight to LAX and said, I need a ticket to New York! I think she had to connect through a few cities but made it to me in time.
The only really scary thing that happened was that I ended up with a touch of postpartum preeclampsia and had to go back to the hospital. I became so anxious because as any Downton Abbey fan will tell you, Lady Sybil died from it! After my OB reassured me that I would be fine because the year we were living in was 2019, not the 1800s, she laughed about how many people reference that show whenever they are diagnosed with preeclampsia.
Throughout the first six weeks, I felt physically weak and was kind of unaware of just how much I needed to eat to keep up with my recovery and breastfeeding. I needed meat. I needed carbs. I needed the Chinese medicinal soups my mother-in-law was bringing me. (These had been passed down for generations in her family and were the absolute best.)
Once I started to lean into the Fourth Trimester and focus on nourishing myself as well as my baby, I started to feel so much better.’
While Jessica was intentionally trying to honor The Fourth Trimester, it was difficult for her as an entrepreneur to wear two hats.
‘I loved our little walks around the neighborhood during the first few weeks of Ezra’s life. I loved family and friends making time to come and visit. We had a bris, and we savored those early moments. I also remember feeling slightly stressed because even though I had just had a baby, I still very much had a business.
I have a very small team so taking true maternity leave wasn’t an option for me. As little situations would come up, I would need to focus and respond. It was hard and is still hard to be honest. I want to be a really present mom, but I also want to be present in my business. That push-pull started the second I got pregnant and it’s still happening. While having a baby has certainly made me feel more inspired and fufilled, it’s certainly made the idea of ‘balance’ just an idea.
I am lucky that I had so much family support as well as such an understanding and self-sufficient team.’
Shortly before Ezra was born, Patrick was offered a job in Spain. After weighing up the pros and cons of moving abroad with a baby, Jessica and Patrick put their Brooklyn home on the market, packed a few bags and took off for what they envisioned as the family adventure of a lifetime.
‘It’s funny because when most people have a kid, they sort of adopt the notion that, it’s not about us anymore and focus on putting down roots. Patrick and I had the opposite approach. We were thinking that we only have a handful of years until Ezra is going to be in school and making friends and having his own life. We’d always dreamed of living abroad so when the opportunity came knocking, newborn or not, we knew it was the right time to consider it.’
Jessica, Patrick and Ezra landed in Madrid on March 1st, 2020. Like a lot of the world, whispers of a global pandemic were only that: whispers. They spent two weeks enjoying tapas, exploring the city and pretty much just living on a high about getting to live abroad. While Patrick began settling into his new job, Jessica began interviewing nannies.
‘I think our nanny worked for two days when the devastating news from Italy started taking over our TVs and newsfeeds. At first, we thought Covid-19 was just Italy’s problem, but day by day, we became really afraid. We ended up telling our nanny we’d still pay her, but not to come again until we knew more.
And then we went into Lockdown. This was such a scary time because we had no clue how long this would last. We also didn’t have very many items of clothing because we were due to go back to the US just four weeks after arriving for a gala Patrick helps organize. We had planned on getting the rest of our belongings then. I only had like postpartum leggings and nursing bras.’
Obviously, it wasn’t a lack of clothing that was distressing Jessica. It was the lack of community. As someone who places a huge amount of emphasis on family, spending day after day inside a tiny apartment was challenging. Knowing they wouldn’t be able to sustain that living situation for much longer, Patrick and Jessica found a way to move to Mallorca, where they’re still living today.
‘When we first arrived in Mallorca, there was a community of moms who totally embraced us, which was so nice. As social-distancing restrictions eased, we started doing lots of playground days and playgroups, which was great. I find everyone to be really inclusive.
It’s important to me that Ezra gets to be around other kids. While we absolutely love it here, I think that Spain is ultimately just an adventure that we’re on. I would never say never, but our connection with the US and our family there is undeniable and something we value. With that being said, we’re most likely here for another year or two!’
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