She was a free-spirited, single 27-year-old who went out of her way to experience every extreme activity there was. YOLO was her personal motto and nothing could hold her back or pin her down. Being a parent was the furthest thing from her mind…until it happened. Now at 41, Junia Tan is a happily married and go-getting entrepreneur, parenting coach, and author of The Naked Parent. Oh, and she’s also proud mum to five kids aged 3 to 14 years. But it hasn’t been an easy ride to get to where she is today. She tells her story.
I was in denial when I missed my regular period. It went against my religion, conservative Asia’s norms, my parents’ expectations…. I felt ashamed, guilty, confused, terrified. I remember taking the pregnancy test in my room toilet, as my boyfriend waited outside. While waiting for the results, I prayed, bargaining that if I wasn’t pregnant, I would stop having sex. Of course, the test was positive. And I was sad, and sadder that I was sad.
(See also: I’m a Millennial. Don’t ask me to have Kids… Yet)
More than sad, I was angry. I was mad at my partner for insisting on no protection and upset with myself for being so careless. I was even angry at God for allowing me to be pregnant. While I was going through the emotional roller-coaster, my boyfriend calmly stepped outside for a smoke, then came back, and proposed. That he was responsible did offer me some comfort.
But now here were three choices: abortion, single motherhood, marriage. I was so not ready for any of it.
I googled “When is it considered a life?”, “When is abortion right?” After reading a few articles and watching a video, I came to a decision. I’d made many mistakes before, but my conscience could not live with such guilt. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t ready; I had no right to snatch away something that wasn’t mine — someone else’s life.
After the overwhelming emotions of anger and rage, there was a peace when I decided to keep the child. The harder decision was whether I should accept the proposal. I was NOT into commitment. On the surface, there was the loss of freedom I so loved. And underneath, the fear of what ifs. All around me, I saw unfaithful and unhappy marriages. If there was no ‘happily ever after’, it would mean throwing myself into misery and pain.
Yet the alternative, being a single mum, came with a stigma I wasn’t ready to own. What would my parents say to our relatives? How about the teasing my child might face in the future? I realised that my carefree days may be numbered. It was time to grow up.
I don’t think my boyfriend was ready to be a dad either. But he loved me, and he was committed to the relationship. In his words, “We will never be ready.” We made plans for the wedding (before the bump showed) and got our first flat.
The Miracle of Birth
My baby girl was two weeks overdue and we had to induce her. I guess she wasn’t ready to come out too! It took 13 hours of labour and I took every painkiller — laughing gas, an injection, and epidural — they offered me. Then she arrived.
And in that moment, I realised how childbirth made me a part of something larger than me. How mother nature designed us to deliver is miraculous!
But I was still terribly unprepared! My shocking induction to motherhood — I was asleep in a four-bedder ward, when infant crying in the background woke me. After 20 minutes of trying to ignore the intermittent cries, I finally decided if I was going to get any sleep, I should gently ask the mother if she needed help. I opened my eyes, turned over, and discovered the baby who had been screaming all that time… was MINE!
I gently picked her up, tearfully apologised, and promised I would always be there for her. In that moment, I transformed from a heavy sleeper into a light one, and have remained so ever since. It’s like my ears now instinctively detect the slightest sounds that indicate my children need me.
Looking back, it was absolute madness initially. To begin with, we brought the baby home in the pink hospital blanket because we didn’t bring clothes for her! I didn’t know how to breastfeed or bathe her. In the first two weeks, I had so little milk; she was constantly suckling and hungry. With one feed melting into the next, I couldn’t differentiate day from night. I walked around the house topless for a week because my nipples were so sore!
(See also: Your Hospital Delivery Bag Checklist)
This ‘woke’ mum started with environmentally friendly cloth nappies but washing, hanging, and folding them just took too much time. I didn’t have confinement help and they were always wetting the bed. So I switched to disposable diapers.
Advice to first-time mums: While well-meaning advice comes with good intentions, only you know what makes you smile. So do what feels right for YOU. When a mum is joyful, her child feels it too!
Rather than bathing in some herbs and not going out (per relatives’ advice), I was rollerblading while pushing the pram by the beach, yes, within the first month. Emotionally, I was thriving, bonding with my little Chloe Jean as I brought her on adventures with me.
The More, the Merrier?
We went on to have three more girls, and then a boy. None of them were ‘planned’, just the results of the lack of protection. It’s like we never learned our lesson!
My second delivery was a breeze, with no pain meds of any kind, and I didn’t even tear up. I had read a book on how our bodies know how to respond accordingly if you let it. So weeks before delivery, I told my cervix to stretch so they would not have to snip me, and I told my hips to widen gracefully — and amazingly, my body cooperated! I loved this second birthing because I was in partnership with nature.
I’ve always been strong-willed, but my third child might be even more so. I had left her swaddled on my bed for 10 minutes to take a quick shower. I got back to see one arm out and she had managed to inch her way almost halfway across the bed. Tilted at an angle, her head positioned towards where my nipples would have been. I hugged her and laughed at her strength and determination — she was just one day old!
By baby number four, I was so used to the rigmarole that I went for supper with the contractions 15 minutes apart. Time seemed to pass faster that way, plus I might as well enjoy food that made me smile! Friends thought I was nuts to push my admission till the last minute, but to me, facing the four walls of the delivery suite for hours was worse. Seeing how my baby has since grown into a highly social six-year-old, she may have felt the same!
(See also: My Child, A Social Being)
My Final Miracle Child
Number five was an ‘accident’ too, a surprise blessing. Our four girls were a great delight, so it’s not like we were trying for a boy. But during a regular check-up in my 11th week, we had to wait longer than usual.
And then came these words: “He’s abnormal, do you want to have him?”
I couldn’t believe what I heard. I’d had four easy pregnancies and four healthy children. How could this be? According to the doctor, my baby’s limbs were not growing normally in tandem with the rest of his body. We discussed my options. There were two tests: the nuchal translucency blood test, and amniocentesis for more conclusive results. I went for the former but stopped short of drawing amniotic fluid because the results wouldn’t matter.
I was having the baby regardless. After considering what the doctors said about his abnormality, I decided my life lesson would be to grow as a mother to raise my child. Once again, taking my baby’s life was not my decision to make. Since knowing the results would not change my mind, I might as well save the $1,200 and spend that on what my baby would need after.
I went home, locked myself alone in the room, and cried. Questioning what I had done wrong to deserve this, I prayed. I apologised for every sin I could think of. After a good cry, I fought back. I refused to accept that he was abnormal. As long as he was still inside me, he was a part of me, and my body would respond to my clear instructions.
So, I spoke life over my son. I told God that I would not accept anything short of a healthy baby, and believed that my son was perfect in every way. Every other week, the ‘experts’ said the ultrasound showed no progress on his bone development. The doctors predicted some form of dwarfism as the best-case scenario. I chose selective hearing and vision — look at his beautiful nose, he’s perfectly normal!
Life went on with me disregarding any bad news, only holding on to positive stories. Like during a work trip in France, where I learnt a colleague’s friend whose foetus was abnormal but grew into a healthy five-year-old. Or another story of a woman who said her child with Down syndrome was born with only marginal Downs after she went to the mountains and believed. You may say I was in denial, but what else could I do? Hang on to the negative reports? No, I chose to believe in miracles.
I spoke to my child, telling him how well he was growing, and how we were looking forward to him. In my mind’s eye, he was perfect.
I chose a Caesarean birth, as the doctor said the baby’s breathing was irregular, so we wanted to reduce the chances of any complications. And frankly, after four natural births, a C-section would be an interesting experience to have. While I was at it, I also opted to have my tubes tied. I wasn’t getting younger, and five was enough!
(See also: Road to a Successful C-Section)
I felt tugging, but no pain. Then the tugging stopped, but I didn’t hear any cries. A partition prevented me from seeing anything. My hands got clammy and my heart raced. Why wasn’t my son crying? Then came a PA announcement, “Calling doctor to Ward Four. Code Blue. Ward Four, Code Blue.” That was me! In a panic, I asked the nearest nurse why my son was quiet and rolled my eyes at the answer: “maybe he’s comfortable, ma’am”.
After what seemed like an eternity — probably only about three minutes in reality — I finally heard a cry! My gynae appeared and assured me that he looked perfectly normal, that they just had to stabilise his breathing. They wheeled me out and my husband came to tell me that he had seen our son. “He’s handsome, just like Daddy!” Still, I wanted to see him, to count his 10 fingers and toes, make sure everyone was telling the truth.
After the anaesthesia wore off a few hours later, I finally got to see my son. He was so tiny, just 2.2 kg. I cried to see the tubes in his nose and bruises where they’d pricked his tiny veins with needles. He was weak, his cry like a newborn kitten. Not like the loud, strong cries of his sisters before him.
But he was normal, his arms and legs in proportion. Today, Elijah David is a handsome and healthy preschooler, perfect in every way.
Parenting Five Kids
People ask me now how I do it. It’s simple — I don’t follow the crowd. I don’t sign my kids up for enrichment classes just to stay ahead. Grades are just a reflection of one’s knowledge at a point in time. I’m here for them for any clarifications, but they largely take on self-study as part of their responsibilities. I encourage them to play, use their imagination, and get dirty! I want them to be self-motivated and resilient, independent thinkers and powerful communicators, unafraid to make mistakes in life and learn from them.
At 14 years, my oldest spends her free time eagerly writing her own book. She wants to be an author! I believe the best preparation a parent can give their child is to empower them to discover their life’s purpose and equip them with life skills so they can be anything and everything they want to be.
Becoming a mother was definitely not something I ever wanted or planned for. But each of my five kids are absolute gifts and I’m loving each and every experience!
:: Giveaway ::
In her bid to positively impact the lives of fellow parents, Junia would like to gift copies of her book, The Naked Parent, to three SingaporeMotherhood readers.
How to win:
- Like and share this Facebook post
- In the comments section, tell us your biggest weakness as a parent in 10 words or less
- Tag two friends who are parents too
Closing date: 12 noon, 28 July 2020