After enduring two devastating ectopic pregnancies followed by multiple unsuccessful rounds of IVF, entrepreneur Ong Shu Hwai finally made peace with the fact that she’d never have a child of her own. Years passed and at the ‘ripe old age’ of 40, she suddenly and unexpectedly found herself with child.
I Couldn’t Believe It!
“I did a pregnancy test at home. When it came out positive, my first thought was: “Oh my god, I have to go through another laparoscopic procedure!” The disappointment from previous failed pregnancies made me expect that this would be another ectopic pregnancy. Not for a single moment did I think there would be a chance that I would really have a baby.
Even a year after I gave birth, it still felt surreal. It took a long time for it to really sink in. That’s how much I had psyched myself into believing I wouldn’t ever be able to have kids.
I became pregnant at a time when my company was breaking ground in a pretty new industry. We were a very lean team, so I was doing all the work from sales to project management. I knew I had to cut back on my work commitments, so I decided to hire someone familiar with the industry, bringing him in all the way from Brazil.
The nine months were hard for me emotionally. I was worried that my body would not be able to support the pregnancy, and with good reason too. We learnt that the foetus wasn’t growing at the rate it was supposed to. I was still working very hard and not eating well — I had little appetite. After doing some tests, the doctors found issues with the umbilical cord, and I had to go on medication.
Aside from that, I was reading up a lot on parenting and was very happy most of the time. The joy of having Marcus inside my tummy, the flutters as he moved — I miss that! After giving birth, however, my emotions bounced between exhaustion and elation. I could be overjoyed when I saw my newborn son in one moment and overwhelmed by how life would be completely different in the next. Nonetheless, I feel so blessed to be able to give birth to my baby boy.
Trials and Tribulations
I had always loved children and wanted kids of my own. So when I suffered an ectopic pregnancy early on during my first marriage, the disappointment was acute. When it happened again, this time in the other fallopian tube, it was utter devastation. I felt cursed and even condemned. It didn’t help that a series of fertility treatments failed too. With age catching up (I was 34 when going through IVF), I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to bear children.
Because my family wasn’t in Singapore, I pretty much went through this journey alone. My then-husband was supportive, but there were underlying issues that this shared journey didn’t resolve. Seven years after we got married in 2003, we decided that our life goals were not aligned, and mutually agreed to part ways, although we remain good friends till today.
The belief that I couldn’t bear children dealt me a profound sense of loss, a nagging feeling of not being good enough. It was hard. I was filled with self-doubt, both about myself, and my value as a woman. It took a lot of introspection and putting myself out there to rediscover myself and reach acceptance.
Finding Myself Again
After my first marriage ended, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery. Previously, I pretty much lived in a cocoon made up of my ex-husband and work. Now I began reconnecting with old friends and expanding my social circle. To take care of myself, I did a lot of cooking to help my body recover from the trauma of IVF.
I pretty much focused on doing what made me happy. I went on a diet and exercised — I did yoga and rediscovered scuba diving and social dance, something I’ve loved since young. Incidentally, it was at those social dance classes where I met my current husband, Kelvin, and we began dating in 2011. He has stood by me through some of the most difficult times in my life and career.
From the start of our relationship, I laid my fertility issues all out on the table. And because there were intentions to go serious, we had a face-to-face conversation with his family as well. They were very supportive and gave their blessings. To this day, I feel grateful for their acceptance, and that I was never made to feel inferior or excluded.
In our day-to-day life, Kelvin showed me how to let go and have fun — he still does! I was always quite serious and hard on myself as a person. As technical director of Durablinds, he is my partner at work, but also sneaks me off on occasional date nights to the social dance floor, or for dinners out, to make sure we don’t just spend all our time together working.
Not being able to bear children does not make me any less of a woman.
In those five years, I underwent a profound change. I came to the realisation that in spite of the hurdles life has thrown my way, I’m still a strong, resilient woman capable of overcoming all challenges. And that’s how I was able to come to terms with my infertility.
My Miracle Child
We opted for a caesarean section with epidural. I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. I prayed for a pleasant experience without drama, and I was lucky to get it. Awake the entire time, I am happy to report that it was a very positive birth experience. Till today, my fondest memory ever is of receiving Marcus, and holding him for the first time.
Going through confinement was especially hard — while enjoying my baby, work anxiety would strike. Not working, for me, was a huge step outside my comfort zone. After all, I used to pull 80-hour work weeks because work didn’t feel like work!
Thankfully, Marcus was a very easygoing baby; even in his cries he was never demanding or angry. It was easy to calm him down and I never felt agitated or impatient. He’s now six years old, and not much has changed. Even today, if he cried, I’d exclaim with pleasure that he looks exactly the same as the day he came out of mummy, and he’d calm down right away.
Marcus is very sociable and has a great sense of humour. Like me, he also loves cooking, so we often work on dishes together, or he’d watch me cook and then taste the food before offering compliments. We chose his current school because it includes cooking as one of their programmes. Most importantly, he’s also very caring. He will cover me with a blanket if I doze off on the sofa with the air-conditioning on.
Busy but Fulfilled
A typical weekday for me starts around 5am and I start my day by cuddling with my son before going to the office. Work is demanding but I try my best to finish strictly by 6pm so that I can spend the evening with Marcus. I work on Saturdays as well, but I keep the day short. Sundays are spent going for social dancing with my husband, excursions with my son, and cooking for family and friends!
Motherhood has definitely taught me to play. Being with Marcus and identifying with him allows me to lighten up and adopt a sense of curiosity. I believe in giving my child room to be creative, and that in turn lets me be creative too. In a way, motherhood has allowed me to unearth a side of me that was previously hidden.
What I want to give him in return is the ability to embrace self-expression, and the courage to make his own choices in life. Independence is a value I hold dear. My own mother is very family-oriented, devoted and kind, but she always gave me room to explore my independence. For instance, she trusted me to cook for the family (more than 10 people) when I was 11 years old. At 16, I went to Canada to study and had to take on multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet.
I also hope Marcus will continue to appreciate the simple things. And I want to help him foster a love of reading, something I value very much. Most importantly, I want my son to know that his relationship with me is a safe space and that no matter where life takes him, he will always find an anchor point in me.”
Besides being a loving wife and devoted mother, Shu is also the founder and managing director of Durablinds Pte Ltd, the exclusive distributor of Ziptrak and Glass Curtains in Singapore and Malaysia. She specialises in helping homeowners create new living spaces through the use of durable, elegant products and smart designs.