Motherhood brings unique joys and pains to every mum, and we are better off acknowledging that. In this series called Mum Truths, mums reveal their secret successes, miseries and gripes about parenting in a no-holds-barred first-person recount.
For most couples, the arrival of their first child marks the start of an exciting new chapter in their lives. Welcoming a little human is no triviality and requires complete dedication and commitment. At least that’s what my husband and I believe, which is why we made the decision that we would both stay home with the baby for at least the first five to six months of his life.
It’s an unorthodox decision, for sure, especially considering the high costs of living in Singapore. However, we felt it was the best decision for our family for several reasons. First, we did not have any external help. My husband’s family lives overseas and my family isn’t really in a position to help out much as both my parents are still working full time. We were also not keen on hiring a helper so it was down to the two of us to make it work. Second, my husband had already been toying with the idea of switching industries so having a child offered the perfect opportunity to take a break before a career reset. Third, and perhaps most importantly, we felt it was beneficial for us to both be there for our son’s formative months.
As we’d already made the decision early on in my pregnancy that my husband would quit his job when our baby was born, we started planning months in advance. He timed his last day with my due date – but then our baby came a week earlier, which just goes to show planning doesn’t always work!
We cut back on frivolous expenses (bye, GrabFood deliveries…) and channelled at least 50 percent of our monthly salaries towards a “baby fund” that would cover about six months of expenses (not counting my four months of paid maternity leave). We used Syfe Cash+, which is a cash management fund that offers an interest rate that’s higher than a regular bank savings account, with no minimum investment and no lock-in period.
We also made sure to get our insurance coverage in order so that we didn’t have to worry about debilitating expenses should anything untoward happen while we were unemployed. This included maternity insurance as well as a critical illness protection plan and a hospitalization plan for our then-unborn baby.
After our baby was born, my husband and I suddenly found ourselves knee-deep in the middle of a new reality. Muslin cloths, Haakaa milk collectors and other infant paraphernalia scattered in random spots around the house. Struggling to change a diaper quickly before your baby pees or poops on you (again). Learning how to bathe a tiny, slippery newborn who has zero head or neck control. Only sitting down for dinner at 10pm (or later).
The first few months were exhausting and nerve-wracking. My husband and I barely left the house and we were basically in survival mode. However, as time went on, we started to get the hang of things and developed our own little rhythm. I would feed the baby, he would change his diapers. I would cook dinner, he would wash up. I would put laundry into the washing machine, he would hang them up. And so on. Even when I suffered a bad bout of mastitis that required A&E treatment, we had sufficient savings to cover the cost (even if it was eye-wateringly expensive).
Sometimes I feel we even had our own silent “dance” where we knew what the other needed or wanted without them saying it. For example, one person would swoop in to clear the soiled diaper as the other changed the baby. Or when the baby was crying with one parent, the other would step in after 10 or 15 minutes to take over so the parent didn’t get overwhelmed.
Caring for our baby together has helped my husband and I grow so much closer and opened up a completely new perspective of each other. Besides being my best friend and soulmate, I now see my husband as a solid teammate – someone I can count on to go through the toughest, ugliest and most difficult parenting moments together.
Of course, it’s not always sunshine and roses, raising a child is hard work and spending 24/7 with anyone – even if you love them dearly – can cause friction. Add stress and sleep deprivation to the mix, and it’s no wonder we had our fair share of flare-ups and arguments. However, becoming parents also forced us to focus on what’s truly important – our son and being together as a family. Having that shift in perspective makes it easier to shrug off minor annoyances and close one eye to each other’s idiosyncrasies.
My son is now almost eight months old and his dad has recently gone back to full-time work while I work part-time from home. We had agreed that we would have about 5 months of “uninterrupted” family time so he only actively started job hunting when our baby was 6 months old. While it is a relief to have a stable household income again, it’s sad not to have my partner at home with us as much as before. Now everything is a lot more manic for me – I can no longer take naps (or even visit the bathroom for a long time) since he’s not there to watch the baby. We now have a part-time helper, who comes once a week to help with bigger chores. But when my husband comes home we still do the baby’s bath-time and bedtime routine together. Weekends are now extra precious for us as that’s when we get to do what we love best – hang out and spend quality time as a family.
I get how lucky we are that we even got to spend the first seven months of my son’s life together. As my husband put it, “Being able to watch him grow and learn every day has been immensely gratifying. It has given me a fresh outlook and made my life’s meaning and purpose that much more apparent.”
Victoria Tan is a new mother-of-one navigating the weird and wonderful journey that is parenthood. Even amidst the sleep deprivation, breastfeeding woes and endless diaper changes, she’s finding joy in rediscovering the world through her son’s eyes.