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.

As a millennial mum, I know I’m much luckier than the generations that came before me when it comes to the wealth of information available about pregnancy and motherhood

Weird rash? Need to know how to wean your baby off breast milk? Got a bad case of baby blues Everything is just one Google search away. Well, almost everything. There are some things about being a parent that get glossed over or are simply not talked about at all. When I encountered these experiences, it caught me off guard and I wish I had an article like this to refer to. 

Behold, here are five unexpected things I discovered only after having a baby. 

Postpartum recovery is more painful than giving birth 

Whether it’s from hearing horror stories from other mums or being exposed to the million and one TV shows and movies that portray childbirth as pure agony, it’s little wonder most women grow up feeling terrified of giving birth. I was no different. That is why I went into the labour room in full battle gear – I had my birth ball, an assortment of essential oils, and a Spotify playlist crammed with positive birth affirmations. The delivery was no walk in the park, but the moment my baby was out, any pain was immediately forgotten. 

What I did not expect was just how excruciating the next six to eight weeks was going to be. Having delivered vaginally, I’d experienced a second-degree perineal tear so my perineal area was in constant pain, which made it hard to sit or sleep comfortably. Then, there were the sore and cracked nipples that accompanied breastfeeding – not to mention the anguish that is mastitis. My stomach muscles had also become so weak I could barely pull myself out of bed. I remember lying on my back, tears spilling down my face, wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into. It was only about 10 to 11 weeks postpartum that I started feeling like myself again. 

You lose friends in the process of becoming a mother

I’m not sure if this is a symptom of hitting my mid-30s, getting married or becoming a mother, or a combination of all three. All I know is that my friend circle seems to be shrinking with each passing year. Once-active WhatsApp conversations are now conspicuously silent, and trying to find a common time to meet up with the few friends I have left is a feat that requires a Masters Degree in Logistics. I get it – people’s priorities change as they move into different seasons of their lives. Mine has too. But it stings when some friends automatically assume you’ll be too busy to want to hang out, so they don’t even send an invite your way. On the upside, I suddenly find myself getting reacquainted with friends who are parents and it’s been very helpful having people around who just get it to exchange stories and swap notes about our kids.  

Postpartum depression hits dads as well

This was something that definitely came out of left field. Having dutifully read all the pregnancy literature and gone through an antenatal course together, my husband and I thought we were ready for whatever parenthood had to throw at us. However, nobody told us about the tsunami of emotions fathers experience in the immediate aftermath of the birth. My husband had trouble processing the difficult labour experience – where for a few scary minutes, he thought he was going to lose both me and the baby – and this manifested in anxiety, depression and occasionally, even rage. It was only after a few tearful arguments that we identified the source of his low moods, and could talk through and process his complicated feelings. Now that we’ve emerged from the other side, we try to share our experiences with soon-to-be parents so they don’t get a rude shock the way we did. 

Maternal ambivalence is a thing 

I’d never even heard of this until my baby was a few months old and I was chatting with a few other new mothers. According to a BBC article on the topic, maternal ambivalence is a conflicting mix of emotions where alongside a deep love for one’s child, mothers might also feel “anger, resentment, apathy, boredom, anxiety, guilt, grief or even hate.” While disconcerting, it’s actually completely normal given the complete upheaval a woman goes through when she becomes a mother, and the myriad of expectations heaped on her to always be a “good mum”. 

I can honestly say I’ve never felt hate or resentment towards my baby, but I can definitely identify with the cognitive dissonance that comes from being pressured to “Treasure every moment!” There is a lot of pressure to always be a “good mother” but as any honest mum would tell you, it’s hard to feel lovey-dovey when it’s 3am, your baby is screaming and nothing you’re doing seems to work. 

Experts suggest that one way to deal with maternal ambivalence is to embrace it. By talking with other mothers and being candid about our experiences, we can debunk the myth that motherhood is a one-dimensional experience of love and sacrifice. Being a mum can be tedious, messy, and frustrating… and that’s okay! 

Nothing really prepares you for how much you will love your child 

Despite the lows that come with motherhood, they all pale in comparison to the heights of love you have for your child. For me, the full force of that love hit me on the second day in the hospital after giving birth. I was trying to burp my baby after a feed, and seeing his tiny, hunched figure on my lap, I was struck by his vulnerability, and just how much he needed me. It made me realise the enormity of my decision and I swore then and there that I’ll do everything I can to keep this little human feeling safe and loved, always.

Even on days where I’m run ragged by the never-ending things to do or when he’s being extra cranky, the affection I feel for him is unwavering. The best way I can describe the love I have for my son is to use the metaphor of a great tree – it has roots that run deep, it is there through all seasons and it has the ability to weather many storms, bending but never breaking. It’s a source of life.

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.