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That Mama: Aivonne Chong, Founder of Brown Bag Wines

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This month’s That Mama is Aivonne Chong, mother of three and founder of Brown Bag Wines

This month’s That Mama is the beautiful soul Aivonne Chong, founder of Brown Bag Wines. We caught up with Aivonne and her two adorable kids – Maddox Jian Chin, 6; and Lara Rae Chin, 14 months. Aivonne talks to us about how she heartbreakingly lost two of her children, and how despite such dark times, she has managed to reframe situations to gain a positive perspective, by starting up her company offering organic, chemical free, biodynamic ‘clean’ wines by bottle or subscription plan.

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
I am a 39-year-old mom of 3 kids, a morning macchiato addict, founder of Brown Bag Wines and now working at owning life, living life consciously and beautifully.

Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I had Maddox when I was 33. I wanted to make sure my career was in a good place before I had him. By then, I was ready. Fast forward 6 years later, I left the world of advertising to join the world of entrepreneurship. It was the hardest decision in the course of my business. The thought of not earning a steady income was daunting.
In those 6 years, we conceived 4 kids of which, our second and third children past away in 2014 and 2015. Due to a cervical incompetency, I lost my second child at 16 weeks and had to deliver my baby. It took me months to recover and I grieved in silence. Despite taking medical precautions for my third child (bed rest and medications), I went into labour at 26 weeks (after a scare at 22 weeks saved by Prof Biswas who successfully kept Kara in by manually pushing my water bag back into my cervix). Kara had a 80% chance of survival. Unfortunately, we had the raw end of the stick – Kara was with us for just 4 days.

During that time, my career obviously took a backseat.

How did you cope with the loss of your two kids?
The departure of my two kids took a toll on me. I spent those 6 years either being pregnant, breastfeeding or grieving. Kara’s passing was the darkest moment of our lives. No life experiences teach you how to deal with something like that. It was a period in my life that I simply don’t remember. I operated mechanically as I still had to attend to my 6-year-old boy (life goes on but I was dead inside). It was a black hole.

I lost myself in those years. Lara came along in 2016 and I spent a lot of time rebuilding my life. I learnt how to be happy again and be present in everything that I do.

Kara’s departure left the most impact on me. Oddly enough, in a positive way. It’s weird but according to psychologist Adam Grant, growth is actually a common reaction “More than half the people who experience trauma, report at least one positive change, compared to the less than 15 percent who develop PTSD.” I bounced forward. I was searching for meaning in life and that led me to start my own wine business. Why wine? I derive tremendous pleasure knowing the combination of food, wine and good company can blossom friendships and deepen relationships. Wine is simply a conduit, but that intrinsic and invaluable outcome is meaningful on so many levels.

How do you maintain an identity separate from your child?
I don’t think I do and I’m not sure if mothers do see themselves separate from their kids. We are maternal creatures by nature and in that aspect, we nurture, impart knowledge and values based on what we believe in. We strive to be a better being – we take our kids’ failures personally as much as we celebrate their successes. As a result of that, we see ourselves and kids as one.

How has having a child changed the way you define work?
Everything I do now is about the meaning that I derive from it (whatever it may be). Things got to count!

How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
I don’t. Instead, I try to see things differently. I think it’s less about saving time but a function of reframing our mindset – how we perceive things or the situation we are in. As a result of that, we become present in the moment. Through time, you will inevitably learn to reprioritise what brings out the best in you.

I wish I had more time for…
Nothing really. I think reframing my mindset and being present makes me appreciate the moment as is. Taking it all in.

I always feel saner after….
A run.

What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
I live in the East Central area – Marine Parade to be specific. I have been living in this ‘region’ for as long as I’ve been in Singapore, since 2004. I love that it is bright, airy and there is a lot of trees. The combination of trees and water lend a calming feeling.

Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
I simply love having family friends over on a Sunday where we would order take-outs and our kids would play together. It’s a great bonding for all of us. It is intimate, cosy and weirdly relaxing (despite the noise pollution from the pool of shouting kids!)

Favourite kid-friendly restaurants in Singapore?
Cafe Melba Goodman Arts Centre – it is spacious. The kids get to run around, play ball and bounce on the bouncy castle. It is also nice the way the tables and seatings are arranged. We get to watch the kids and still enjoy our meals and company.

Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
So far, we had a great time in Club Med Bintan.

Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
We try our best, and are still trying! So I guess none at this point! 🙂

Favourite date night restaurants?
We recently had dinner at Cheek by Jowl and it was a fantastic dining experience. We always head out after our kids have gone to bed and that means dinner at 830pm, and home by 1030pm. Dinner at Cheek by Jowl exceeded our expectations.

Do you have any tips for working mamas in Singapore?
I don’t have tips per se but I live by these two life quotes that have guided me in a lot of my business doings.
(1) Gary Zukav once said “When the personality comes fully to serve the energy of its soul, that is authentic empowerment.” I am an introvert. I never knew this until a few years ago. It is only recently that I learnt how to live life meaningfully as an introvert and living it to my fullest potential. I meet people, I network and in that space, I learn to find a realm of truth that I know stays true to who I am (my core). And that feeds me strength and energy.
(2) “Conviction and Convenience don’t live on the same block” – Lisa Nichols.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
“Every action, thought, and feeling is motivated by an intention, and that intention is a cause that exists as one with an effect.” – Gary Zukav.

As a mama I wish I were better at…
….I wouldn’t go there. All parents learn as we go along, from one kid to another. ‘Wishing I was better at’ takes away the joys of parenthood. It only brings us to a negative space. Instead, I would reframe it to ‘things I do best with my kids’. Focus on what works. And it is the same principle that I apply to my business.

What’s your favourite family ritual?
Hmm…good question. I am not sure if we have any! There are so many variables in our lives, even on the day itself – the weather, our moods, if the husband is travelling the next day, our energy levels etc. Having said that, we spend a lot of time together as family every weekend and the activity varies.

 I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
How to drive more subscriptions in my business – that is the current topic that keeps me awake at night. Not fun!

My favourite moment of the day is…
When both kids hit the sack! It’s that ‘Ahh….’ moment where you feel instantly at ease and relaxed (mentally and emotionally; and you literally feel your heart slowly retreating into a quiet, peaceful spot). But that obviously is short-lived as you then open up your computer and are back at work.

A huge thanks to Aivonne, Maddox and Lara, and a big shout out to Irina Nilsson Photography for the spectacular snaps!

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