This Lunar New Year is a special one for Lily Kew. The 48-year-old is celebrating it as a mum of two, having given birth to her second daughter in November last year. “I’ve always wanted two girls so my first thought was: ‘Thank you God for fulfilling my heart’s desire’,” the founder of facial organic bar Kew Organics says.
As one of Singapore’s most prolific women entrepreneurs — she won the Women Entrepreneur Award in 2018, and was a Spirit of Enterprise winner in 2019 — Lily has always been more business-minded than mummy-minded. She opened her third Kew Organics Facial Bar in September 2019, runs four Sugar K Organic Peel Bars, and is still adding products to her homegrown organic, water-based skincare range.
This is the woman who worked till 9pm the night before the birth of her first child. “My husband David and my parents were waiting for me at the Subway cafe below my Clarke Quay outlet that night. They wanted to make sure that I went home!” she laughs.
The birth of her second daughter was a little tougher than the first, Lily tells us. “I did not react well to the epidural and threw up right after my C-section (which was at 1pm) all the way till 11pm. I was drowsy all the time, hence did not have the energy to breastfeed. My baby’s first meal was formula — not that there’s anything wrong with it, it’s just that I’d wished it was the colostrum from my breast milk.”
It has been a long journey to motherhood for Lily, who went through two marriages – to the same man, which is another story for another time – and who never expected to be a mum, let alone of two. “In fact, for this pregnancy, we did not want to go ahead,” she confesses.
What made you change your mind?
There is an annual storage fee for the embryos. The clinic will call us each year to ask whether we want to have another round of IVF, or to discard the embryos. My husband David and I were both 48 years old. We discussed it, and we initially thought no. Well, one of us had to pick up the phone to call the clinic. But when you do that you are telling them to discard the embryos, right?
I couldn’t do that. So I told David, you call. As he was going to pick up the phone, we recalled that every time we visited the IVF clinic we would see so many couples who were hoping to have a baby. In addition, the Bible tells us that children are a gift from God.
We decided to pray about it separately. When we got back together after that, the message that we both received was ‘thy will be done’. So we decided to go ahead and try for another baby.
Tell us about your journey to motherhood.
I like children but never thought about having my own. Somehow, the maternal instinct kicked in after I turned 40. So we decided to give it a shot. We tried to conceive naturally for about a year, with TCM. Every week I would go to a TCM clinic, sit and wait in a queue, then go home with five packets of herbs to brew and drink. I was doing this for more than half a year, and one day I asked the sinseh, “Where is this going? How long do I have to wait?” And the sinseh said it was not guaranteed that I would conceive. All this was to “tiao li” (adjust) the body. I thought, if I was 25 years old, it would be okay. But I was almost 45 years old then, and I did not have time to wait.
So you decided to do IVF?
Yes. Some friends recommended a doctor at a local hospital to me. I went there, took a number, and sat down. There was a copy of The New Paper next to me. When I looked at my appointment number I knew I would have to wait for a long time. So I picked the paper up. You know how newspapers are always folded in half? All I could see were two pairs of baby legs, and a headline “Made in Johor Bahru”. I was curious, so I flipped it open and saw that it was a picture of a pair of twin boys.
The accompanying article featured a clinic in JB that a lot of Singaporeans flocked to. Some were Singaporean women who had foreign husbands and so did not qualify for the IVF subsidy in Singapore. Some had tried IVF in Singapore but were unsuccessful in their attempts.
I looked at the paper and I thought wow, so ‘zhun’ (accurate). I am here for IVF and as soon as I sit down, there’s this paper. It was like a divine arrangement. So I took that copy of The New Paper and went home. I didn’t even see the doctor.
I told my husband, I think it’s God asking us to go. We were a bit sceptical because it’s JB, and we had concerns about whether the standards were up to scratch. However, when we reached the clinic we were surprised. It was crowded! From the accents you could tell that many there were Singaporeans. And a lot of them were in their 20s! That was when I realised that infertility is a major problem.
I did IUI first, but it was not successful. Then we did IVF. All in all, it took about one and a half years, and cost about SGD40K. It was not inconvenient, as the clinic is only about five minutes from the Causeway.
What was the first pregnancy like for you?
That was in 2016. I set up my second Kew Organics branch in Clarke Quay just after my first trimester. Within the next six months I also set up my Kew Organics skincare line. So it was like having three babies! I put on 32kg but I did not feel tired. And thanks to technology, I could work from home.
How soon after giving birth did you start work again then?
I had confinement but after two weeks, I had to sort of lie to my mum. I couldn’t take it. So I told my mum that I had to go out to interview staff to hire for Kew Organics. My baby was at home, being looked after by mum and my dad. I was breastfeeding her so I would nurse her or pump at home, then come out and work for a few hours, and then go home again. I breastfed till she was 16 months old, even bringing all the pumping equipment when I went overseas for work.
Did you feel that you had to sacrifice motherhood?
Honestly, for the first year, I did not feel much like a mother. I just felt, like, okay I’ll give you milk. There was not much interaction. Also, for most of my life I was a working woman. So when this baby came along, the first year was my period of adjustment.
It was only when she started to talk a little, and she could interact more, then I realised, hey, I am a mother. And it was only when I could see the difference in her behaviour when I spent more or less time with her that I realised my impact as a mother.
My husband would bring her to send me off at the airport when I went on work trips. When she started calling “Mama”, and hugging me, I knew that she did not want me to go. That was when I fully realised, hey I’m a mother now, I have an impact on this life.
Did you experience mum guilt?
Yes, a lot! I would be doing my work and trying to keep an eye on her at the same time. However I realised that it was no good for either of us. I had to re-adjust. It was during a conversation with a business mentor that I had this lightbulb moment. She told me that it was much easier doing business as a mother during her time. There were no mobile phones, and after 7pm, everyone stopped working. She said, You have to let people realise that you are a mother now. You have to put your foot down. You have to tell them, I have 24 hours and I have to give time to my child. Your email will have to wait.
When my daughter said her first word, I was in Hong Kong. My husband told me that she said “papa”. So he wins lah! But it’s okay. It’s not so much about being there all the time, but about setting an example, and being a good role model. She’s a girl, a female, and I’m thinking more long-term.
I want to show her the resilience, the independence that every woman should have, and that never-say-die attitude. I think all this is more important that missing one or two milestones. That’s my opinion.
Is there anything you’d do differently with your second daughter?
As my company is expanding its geographical footprints, I’d bring her to work or meetings as soon as she is a month old. I started to exercise six weeks post-delivery. I also started my morning juice and smoothie after four weeks, unlike with my first pregnancy, when I only started to exercise and juice after six months post-delivery. Maybe it’s like what people say, you’re more relaxed with the second one.
Your daughters’ names are very unusual.
It wasn’t easy for me to get pregnant, so I wanted a unique name for my daughter. The letters had to be a combination of my husband’s and my name, unisex (haha that’s the cool element) and it had to have a good meaning. So there was a lot of mixing and matching around until I got Uli. The “li” is from me, the “u” is from my husband’s Chinese name. I Googled ‘Uli’ and it was an actual name! It means “noble leader”.
Her middle name is Seven because that number signifies divine completion and divine perfection in the Bible. My second daughter’s name is Quin Gavi. Quin means a wise and intelligent person who gives counsel. Gavi is a Hebrew name which means ‘The Lord is my strength’.
Your skin is fabulous. Which of your Kew Organics products did you use during pregnancy?
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For stretchmarks, I use our Kew Organics’ Luxuriant Multi-Purpose Dry Oil and Coconut Lavender Sugar Scrub twice a day. For my face I use our Kew Organics Mandarin Açai cleanser, Resveratrol Rooibos toner, Hydra Deluxe Mist, Apple Stem Cell Serum, Elixir Hydrating Concentrate Serum, Cacao Okra Age-Defying Eye Serum and Ultra- Fluid Tinted UV Protection sunblock.
Even at my age, I hardly use moisturiser. Because in this weather we all secrete oil. My serums are water-based, and have a tinge of good oil. That’s more than enough. The trick to defying ageing is water. Apart from drinking water you need to feel your skin with good water-based skincare products.
You made being pregnant at 48 look so easy.
Like a lot of older women, I wondered about whether I would end up having children with developmental problems, whether I would have intense backaches, and so on. But I believed that it was divine intervention. My faith helped me to overcome all concerns.
What are your biggest concerns about being an older mother?
We put our faith in God. My husband and I did think about how we would already be 65 when Uli is 20. There may be a lot of people who are 50 years old when their child graduates, but they may not have a healthy body, or a healthy mind. So I think age is just a number. At the end of the day it is how you take care of yourself. My husband and I are careful about what we eat, and we are health conscious, so I think it will be okay.