SingaporeMotherhood | Parenting

May 2012

The Mums Around Us

With Mothers’ Day just around the corner, we meet four very special women and learn how each has made – and continues to make – a difference in the lives of her children.

Strength In Love

Shirley Teo, 73, Homemaker

As she looks back on her past 73 years, Shirley feels comforted that she has been blessed in many ways. As a young child, she was pampered by a doting father, a successful businessman. Growing up, she knew no hardship and was wooed by many dashing young gentlemen. To the surprise of many, she chose to marry a poor but hardworking childhood neighbour.


Shirley’s husband loved her, but she found life with her old-fashioned mother-in-law a challenge. Over three years, she gave birth to two daughters. In her 38th year, she discovered that she was pregnant again.

Her third daughter was born with bowed legs, the first sign that something was wrong. Once the infant began crying, she would not stop. The doctors diagnosed her with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, commonly known as “brittle bone disease”.

“The doctors told me that my baby would not live beyond a few months,” Shirley recalls. “They said that her bones break spontaneously and a broken rib could puncture a lung, or her heart, and that would be it. They advised me to give her up. Don’t see her, don’t take her home, don’t give her a name.”

Shirley refused to abandon her baby. “I gave birth to her. If she was going to die, it would be in my arms,” she swore. Thankfully, her husband supported her decision. Shirley spent her ‘confinement’ month grieving in a chair, her fragile baby in her arms. She didn’t dare to put the baby down for fear that she would break. The baby was named Mandy, meaning “she who must be loved”.

Mandy lived beyond “a few months”. The doctors then gave her a year, claiming that even if she lived beyond that, she would be bedridden. A year passed, then another. Against all odds, Mandy not only survived, but went to school like any other normal child. Today, over 30 years later, Mandy is a healthy adult, albeit with a shortened stature and a plethora of physical scars – the results of broken bones and surgeries throughout the years.

“I owe so much to my mum,” says Mandy, herself a married woman now. “If she had given up on me, I probably wouldn’t be alive today. She taught me that with faith and love, we can conquer anything.”

Always There For Them

Serene Lee, 50, Floral designer/Queen Bee at

The youngest in a family of nine children, Serene left school at Primary Five and began working blue-collar jobs. She settled into marriage at 21, had a daughter, and became a housewife so as to devote herself to motherhood. She believed that she should be there for her children during their crucial formative years.

When Serene was in her late 20s, with both her daughters in Primary school, she decided to turn her interest in floral arrangement into a career and open a flower shop. As she describes, “It wasn’t that motherhood wasn’t enough for me. Rather, I believed that as a woman, I had to improve myself if I wanted to leave more than just household know-how to my two daughters. I think it’s important to fulfil myself first. Only then will I be a happy and effective mother.”

Even though she was busy with work, Serene made it a point to always be there for her girls, be it for their school graduations or to provide advice when they faced boyfriend problems.

A few years ago, Serene’s marriage ended. Unfortunately she was also left to deal with her ex-husband’s business debts. Their home was repossessed and she was unable to pay even the electricity bills. It was the lowest point in her life. She stolidly hung in there, doing anything she could to make sure her daughters were okay.

Older daughter, Jaclyn, a 29-year-old freelance writer and Worker Bee at, elaborates. “We talk about everything under the sun – sex, tattoos, death, money… nothing is taboo,” she says. “Whatever decisions we make, she will just say ‘It’s your life, you have to experience it yourself or go through mistakes before you realise which path is right for you.’”

Encouraging And Empowering

Anu Ratha, 32, Executive at Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (TAFEP)

Anu believes that raising her two daughters, Mitra and Pooja, aged eight and six, is her mission in life. She makes it a point to teach them that it is important to always be kind and generous to others. “I’ve learnt that the words I speak have an impact on my girls’ lives and that my actions build their character,” Anu explains.

It was only after becoming a mother that Anu realised the sacrifices and hard work her own mother had put into raising her and her brother. “She was a single mum and gave us the best she could, putting a lot of effort into instilling the right values in us and being my constant support. I want to be the same for my two girls.”

With both Anu and her husband working, the girls have were enrolled in childcare. At a previous centre, the learning standards were tough on Mitra; she became withdrawn and uncooperative and the teacher said that she had a learning disability.

When the family moved to Ang Mo Kio in 2008, Anu decided to enroll the girls in Child at Street 11, where using negative words like ‘slow’ is taboo and where encouraging and empowering children is a maxim. Since they’ve been there, the girls have developed excellent social skills and Mitra has gained confidence.

Anu recalls seeing Mitra teaching her sister to read from a storybook. When Pooja managed a sentence without any help, Mitra praised her, repeating words that Anu herself had often used with her. To Anu, it was proof that she was doing a good job as a mother, the most important and meaningful role in her life’s journey.

One Singular Sensation

Jo Chapman, 34, Freelance writer

A single mother, Jo shares that she had been in a relationship that was doomed to failure, when she found out that she was pregnant. After a lot of soul-searching and with support from her family, she decided to keep her child.

“Facing the stigma at times is a little draining. People assume the father ran off but I was actually the one who realised that this person would not be a good role model or a father,” Jo reveals. “He was always given the option to be present in his son’s life, but chose to go abroad to party. Although he now visits on the rare occasion, it’s evident that I made the right decision to go it alone.”

Jo admits that Gabriel’s birth was both the highest and lowest points in her life. Seeing other fathers visiting their newborns at the hospital and knowing that her son would not have that paternal influence was tough, especially when she had a difficult pregnancy due to Crohn’s disease.

But she has moved on admirably. She and her son climbed a hill to raise money for underprivileged children and have a framed certificate to show for it. They have also signed up for a 5-km walk in June for a Cancer charity. Her wish is to raise Gabriel to have empathy for others, compassion for all creatures, and an appreciation of his own worth.

This attractive young mother does not date and has little time for grooming and fashion. She would rather concentrate on raising her son. She chooses to see this as a good learning curve. “It’s very humbling to be a mother. My son was meant to be in my life. He is a great teacher who has taught me the true meaning of love and compassion. It is very hard in many ways to be doing it alone, yet the strength is always there.”

Is there a mum who inspires you? Nominate her for SingaporeMotherhood’s Most Inspiring Mum contest and you could both win a one-night stay at Capella Singapore. Nominations close 4 May 2012.

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The Mums Around Us