Forging new friendships in motherhood

Seeking comfort in a circle of mummy friends pulled me through the early days of parenthood

Two years ago, I thought I knew who my go-to friends were going to be for the rest of my life.

It sounds idealistic, I know, but I am a fiercely loyal person.

I believed I had good reason to hold fast to such ideals too.

The friendships with these people had been lovingly nurtured over many years. From family problems to failed romances, I knew the ins and outs of their lives. They knew my life in detail too.

Although we had very different personalities, we had always been able to "get" one another.

Because these friendships had endured across various life stages, I assumed we would always be close and be able to talk about everything.

But, as is often the case, things change.

Something changed two years ago, when I became a mother before all my closest friends did.

I consider that year the loneliest one of my life where friendship was concerned.

My go-to friends didn't distance themselves from me. But I felt unmoored from them.

My first year of motherhood was immensely challenging.

I struggled to make sense of my new life and grappled with what seemed like myriad parenting problems.

My infant refused to feed from a bottle after I returned to work, and I felt like a failure for months, when I could not get her to transit to solid food after she turned six months old.

I was miserable and felt even more miserable that I was experiencing drudgery rather than joy as a new mother.

I wanted to ventilate to human beings apart from my husband and my mother, who knew first-hand what I was going through.

But organising meet-ups with my friends proved so much more difficult, as I had a clockwork-like schedule - nap times, breast-feeding times - to keep to.

I found myself constantly apologising and thanking my friends for accommodating me. Some were understanding, but I sensed that others found it annoying having to work around my schedule.

It saddened me that I had to try so hard. I wished they would be forthcoming rather than obliging with their thoughtfulness.

When the meet-ups finally took place and I told them about my struggles as a new mother, I was hoping not just for listening ears, but for understanding hearts.

These friends were not mothers, but why should that hinder their ability to show empathy?

I was wrong. It seemed like they could not "get" me.

I'm sure there's a way out, there always is, some said. You are just being too hard on yourself. Hire a maid and that will solve everything, others offered.

They were well-meaning, but in them I did not find solace.

As the months wore on, I grew increasingly disconnected from these friends and increasingly lonely.

I was gutted that I made effort to reach out, but was left feeling even more distant from them at the end of our time together.

I considered joining parenting support groups online, but found it awkward reaching out to strangers with my problems.

Eventually, I decided to go in search of mummy friends.

Some may wonder why I didn't do so earlier.

Well, I thought I had my social circles carved out.

I viewed friendships with my go-to friends like a marriage: You don't think you need to find anyone else.

It seemed like a betrayal to go in search of other company.

Yet I knew I had new needs as a new mother and my old friends could not meet those needs.

It wasn't their fault. I do not blame them.

Still, I was not enthusiastic about having to make new friends.

Here I was, a 31-year-old feeling like a kid who moves into a new neighbourhood and finds herself having to go to a new school.

This new neighbourhood was motherhood and this new school was the profound sense of displacement from my old friends.

I was already feeling lost in this new neighbourhood. Why did I also have to deal with a new school?

I decided to stop viewing my situation as a problem or setback.

Rather than fight reality, I decided to accept the fact that I no longer felt the same sense of belonging in my old social circles.

When my attitude changed, I felt freed from the various emotional tensions and a sense of newfound purpose took over me.

I was a mother on a mission.

I resolved to abandon self-consciousness and the fear of being vulnerable in front of new people.

I would extend my hand of friendship and bravely attempt to make friends in this new school.

I began posting more openly on social media about my struggles, and made efforts to warm up to mothers in church and at work, people whom I previously did not speak much to.

Whenever I faced a roadblock in my parenting journey, I took the initiative to reach out to fellow mothers for help.

As I stepped out of my comfort zone, mummy friends stepped into my life.

In came private messages on Facebook, where mothers that I had known over the course of my life told me they identified with my struggles. Although we had been out of touch, they willingly talked to me about their own struggles.

Some of these mothers were no longer living in Singapore, but our experiences were so similar that we could connect intimately in spite of the distance.

One sent me a song, I Get To Be The One by American singer JJ Heller, which had helped her through the darkest days of her motherhood journey.

I remember weeping as I listened to the song, thinking: This woman knows my heart. This is precisely how I feel.

Others asked me out to lunch. During the meals, I met these mothers for the first time and we exchanged stories about our lives.

I left such lunches thinking: I am not alone in my struggles. I am not weird. I do not need to strive so hard to be understood because these women understand what I'm going through.

Through my work as a parenting and family writer, I have also had the chance to interview many mothers. Some of these women have since become my friends.

As I write this, I am on the cusp of concluding my second year of motherhood - my daughter turns two later this month.

Taking action to address my own personal needs instead of wallowing in resentment or self-pity has proved fruitful.

I have found something precious in the process: Community.

I now have a keen sense of belonging in this new school, in this new neighbourhood.

Parenting challenges persist, but the feeling of being alone with these challenges has dissipated.

I have been encouraged by the many mothers who have generously offered me support, advice and everything else in between.

But I dare not call these mummy friends my new go-to friends. They don't know my life journey as Bryna, the person. They only know my struggles and me as Bryna, the mother.

Who knows if these newly forged friendships will stand the test of time?

The idealist in me holds out for a future where my old friends and I will be able to connect at the level that we once did.

Because of that, I choose to liken the season in this new school to an exchange programme, where I hope to leave with friends from two schools, rather than one.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 10, 2017, with the headline 'Forging new friendships in motherhood'. Print Edition | Subscribe