All images by Zachary Tang for RICE Media, unless otherwise stated.
Exciting as it is to welcome a new addition to the family, a mum will tell you the journey of pregnancy and motherhood (albeit fulfilling!) is not an easy one.
Like most mums, my pregnancy journey has been riddled with its fair share of fears and struggles, even though most of my Instagram Stories and pictures showed otherwise. I was careful not to sound like I was yet another young mum-to-be complaining about the changes my body was experiencing.
After all, shouldn’t the prospect of being a mother be something to rejoice about? Yet behind every mother’s perfectly curated photo and pearly white smile are struggles we don’t see.
So how — and more importantly, why — do the mumfluencers I’ve been following on Instagram continue to paint a rosy picture of their role as mothers?
Behind the Scenes of Mumfluencing
One glance at Aarika Lee’s (@aarikalee) Instagram feed, and I can’t help but think: how does this cool mum of two juggle a career as a marketing director, life as an influencer, and still have the time to paint with her kids, take them on cable car rides and spend time with the family at the beach?
Not to mention looking so fit and well-kept at the same time, I tell her over a Zoom call.
“Any kind of media we consume, we need to take it with a pinch of salt, at least to recognise that it is one perspective or aspect of what the whole truth is,” Aarika laughs.
“The only way there are real conversations is really when I am being honest and when I expose a vulnerable part of myself.”
Smiling, Aarika recounted a time when she shared on Instagram Stories about her eight-year-old daughter, Zola, overcoming her challenges in reading going into Primary One.
She was surprised to find a casual post resonating with other mums who were encountering the same difficulties. It sparked an authentic discussion among her followers about their own kids struggling to cope with the demands of transiting from pre-school.
“Those conversations helped me, as well as those whom I was speaking to. That’s when everyone realised that nobody was on their own.”
Life isn’t as peachy as it looks on social media. And as someone with an influential platform, Aarika believes it’s important to be honest about it.
On the other hand, social media can cause one to feel demoralised when they start comparing their lives to others, cautioned Bella Koh (@catslavery) about consuming content online.
“A lot of influencers will show just the good sides of their life, but deep down there’s a lot of hard work that comes with it too.”
On keeping it real with her followers, Bella’s authenticity comes through her Instagram Stories, where she shares a bulk of her daily life. These include the not-so-happy topics like her divorce and insights of a 40-year-old single mum to her six-year-old daughter.
As for second-time mum-to-be, Yuhui Wang (@spoiltbytes), reveals she wasn’t posting much during the first 20 weeks of her second pregnancy. She was too busy dealing with morning sickness and a host of other symptoms.
“One of the struggles I faced was also self-image; I developed itchy skin that created a very dark patch on my tummy. I just kept finding ways to cure and prevent the itchiness.”
But instead of whining about her situation, the 33-year-old would rather offer solutions to help other mums who are going through the same thing.
Physical Scars and How to Embrace Them
It was a no-brainer for Yuhui to turn to Bio-Oil as a fix for the darkened tummy patch. After all, she was already slathering on Bio-Oil Skincare Oil religiously as part of her skincare routine, to help prevent stretch marks during her pregnancy and improve the appearance of uneven skin tone. This mum goes through a bottle of Bio-Oil Skincare Oil a month — that’s how much she relies on it.
“For the first pregnancy, I brought a smaller bottle with me to work. Every time I went to the toilet, I would apply Bio-Oil Skincare Oil on my belly,” Yuhui laughs sheepishly, admitting she might have been too enthusiastic with the product.
“I would say, start applying Bio-Oil Skincare Oil as soon as you find out you are pregnant and nine months after you give birth so that you give your body time to heal.”
Bella is familiar as well — she was routinely applying Bio-Oil Skincare Oil throughout her pregnancy: “After birth, I could really see the results. I feel it has helped with keeping my belly taut after going through a cesarean delivery (C-section).”
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in Yuhui and Bella’s case. As I interacted with more mums, the more I found it to be true that not every pregnancy journey is the same. From time to time, you’d hear of absurdly lucky mums who’ve had pregnancies that are a walk in the park.
One such mum is Aarika. Not only did she have smooth sailing pregnancies (twice!); she hardly had any concerns for stretch marks on her belly. Or anywhere else on her body for that matter.
The only issue she faced: dry, scaly skin on her legs, which she faced since young. The first time she tried Bio-Oil Skincare Oil was when she was given a bottle during her first pregnancy by a friend who shared the same skin issues.
“It was really moisturising for my skin whenever I used Bio-Oil Skincare Oil after my shower, my skin wouldn’t be dry and flaky for the rest of the day,” notes Aarika.
Aarika did deal with a C-section scar after giving birth, but it’s something she wears as a badge of honour.
“When my kids were younger, they would ask about the scar and I would tell them it’s one of the ways a baby comes out from a mum. It’s a powerful conversation I get to have with my kids.”
Besides the scar, Aarika was at one point in time uncomfortable about having loose skin on her belly after giving birth.
It never occurred to Aarika to share about her C-section scar or the loose skin on her belly back then. Unlike these days, there were very few open conversations about a woman’s body during and post-pregnancy.
The Reality of Motherhood
As mums become more transparent about their raw feelings and experiences on social media these days, I wondered if it was the same for these three influencers.
Their responses were unanimous and passionate.
“Sharing gives us a sense of being a part of something bigger than ourselves — it does a lot for someone’s emotional and mental state,” says Aarika.
Sharing helps relieve stress. That way, parenting won’t be so difficult, she says.
The pain after having a C-section, being unable to get up from the hospital bed by herself, and the many weeks it took to heal were some of the things Bella experienced.
“I remember lashing out on social media: ‘Why does nobody talk about this!’”
Bella found that people do like hearing about personal struggles.
“When you’ve shared your vulnerable side, people tend to relate to that and will be comfortable to share more things about their lives with you in return.”
On the same note, Yuhui expressed her own concerns about expectations.
“Pregnancy is hard, not just on your body but your mind as well. If only the ideal or good parts of it are shown, many girls are going to get a rude shock and have unrealistic expectations!”
It’s my third trimester of pregnancy and the reality of becoming an actual parent soon is starting to finally sink in. I recalled ‘rude shocks’ and ‘unrealistic expectations’ were the exact two things I experienced when I first became pregnant — I wasn’t expecting to have morning sickness that would drag on for nearly three months!
This, on top of the mental and emotional turmoil. Or how nobody tells you exactly what changes the body undergoes, besides growing bigger and the possibility of having stretch marks. Also, very enlarged and darkened areolas.
Thankfully, the other symptoms I experienced later on in the pregnancy were much more manageable. After hearing how Bio-Oil Skincare Oil has helped Yuhui lighten the uneven skin tone on her belly, I gave it a go and saw improvements on my end too. To top that off, the scent was subtle and soothing, which helped with melting away the frustrations.
As a soon-to-be mum myself, it’s always comforting to hear their pregnancy stories. Whether mums enjoyed or hated their pregnancy, the journey is worth it all in the end. Scars or not, these mums have embraced them and turned them into valuable lessons.
“I read somewhere a long time ago that how a mother sees herself and what she says about herself leaves an indelible mark on her children,” shared Aarika.
The mumfluencer speaks from personal experience. As a teenager, she struggled with body image and an eating disorder that she later realised was in part contributed by passing comments about weight made by her mum and aunt. That, on top of being in an unhealthy relationship and pressures to perform well in school back then, resulted in Aarika’s former obsession with weight.
“I try to not say things that will make it seem like I’m not proud of who I am. I have really dry skin on my legs, and I have eczema, scars and moles — a lot of things that are imperfect by societal standards.”
“Now that the kids are older and would call them out, I would tell them everyone’s different and that’s fine… It’s who I am and they need to know that it’s okay. It’s part of who I am!”
For Yuhui, the scars, both external and internal, have taught her so much about love and the self-sacrifice each mother goes through.
“Again, it won’t make me stop trying to find ways to lessen or remove the marks. I think there shouldn’t be any shame in wanting to do so, but the shared experience has allowed me to understand and support the ladies who choose to live with and embrace them.”
Yuhui offers her own wisdom: “It’s important to be as open and honest about pregnancy and motherhood as possible. To let mums know that they’re not alone and they’re part of a large community who are there to love them, encourage them and help them.”
Bella agrees. “Conversations about vulnerability and scars scare people off, but I’d rather share the truth. It shouldn’t stop you from getting pregnant, because everyone will go through it differently, and it’s great that through sharing we can help pre-empt mums.”
Self-Care is Survival
Motherhood is a tough gig, no doubt about it. It’s why all the mums I spoke to emphasised to me the importance of putting aside mum guilt and indulging in self-care.
“Now that I’m so busy caring for the kids, I give a lot less time to myself. But all the studies are true, our kids benefit when we are healthy — physically, mentally and emotionally,” Aarika assures.
Some of her daily routines include taking the time to moisturise thoroughly after stepping out of the shower. Having moisturised skin means having non-flaky skin and non-itchy skin, which Aarika said helps in boosting her confidence.
“From the times I’ve used Bio-Oil Skincare Oil, it has definitely soothed my skin, and with the mild scent, it makes me feel like this is my me-time and I’m doing my best to care for myself in my very busy lifestyle.”
Besides using up a bottle of Bio-Oil Skincare Oil a month, Yuhui’s routine involves drinking more water and applying masks twice a day to maintain her youthfulness. And it really shows — the mum-to-be radiantly glows.
“As a mum and a business owner I already have so many other things to worry about. I think it’s just that peace of mind knowing that Bio-Oil Skincare Oil will help with the stretch marks, which enables me to focus on other things while feeling good and confident.”
As for Bella, the active mum stresses the importance of not losing one’s sense of self after having a child. That means taking time out to exercise and spending time caring for her appearance, which includes using Bio-Oil Skincare Oil to moisturise and keep her skin’s elasticity.
“Contrary to most mums, I’ve always felt the need to take care of myself first before I can properly look after my daughter,” offers Bella frankly. “If you need to take some time out for yourself, don’t be afraid to ask someone to help with babysitting for that few hours.”
Trust is a Two-Way Street
There’s a popular African proverb that says “it takes a village to raise a child”. I find its relevance during the pandemic, especially when it comes to allowing others to help.
I’ve come to terms with letting go and trusting — not just in the process or the changes in my body, but also the people around me. To go to them when I have questions, or to lean on someone when I need help.
Aarika muses: “My challenge was to recognise — especially when you’re pregnant and when the babies come — people will always feel the need to give you advice, and it took me a while to realise that it’s actually all coming from a good place.”
“Mothers have that special connection even without knowing each other, just from the sheer fact that we have a kid,” says Aarika.
She goes on to share the importance of finding your tribe — parents who have the same values as you and are like-minded in the way they raise their kids: “That’s when I feel parenting becomes a joy.”
The same can be said when you’re looking for products to use or a skincare routine to adopt to make pregnancy and motherhood more enjoyable.
Said Yuhui: “I have a group of close friends that I really trust. I’ve seen how things work for them, one of them being the use of Bio-Oil Skincare Oil. Of course, after my first pregnancy, I’m now a first-hand believer.”
Yuhui finds herself checking in on fellow mums and friends who are soon-to-be mums too. It’s just an instinct, she says — women should help women. Amen to that.
Strength in Vulnerability
At the start of my pregnancy, I found myself being stubborn and taking the harder path, oftentimes rejecting the advice I got.
Now that the pregnancy is coming to an end (and maybe feeling a little less uptight and more comfortable about this surreal life milestone), I’m starting to see the positive effects of allowing other mums to pass on their wisdom in motherhood.
As I look back on these conversations I’ve had with these three mums, I was comforted to know that I wasn’t alone. The emotions and stress I’ve gone through were validated when I listened to their stories.
Like what Aarika said, mums do have a special connection and affinity with each other — we just need to be open and vulnerable. Keeping struggles bottled up can be isolating, and does more harm than good to ourselves.
“It’s definitely the opposite of what self-care is,” Aarika remarks.
The one thing I took away from writing this piece is to celebrate the woman I am transforming into as I step into this new phase of life. Scars and marks are just the beginning of this motherhood journey — there are many more to collect along the way.
As confusing as it is to take on this responsibility of caring for a tiny human being, I’m looking forward to receiving my new title in life: Mum.