In honour of International Women’s Day, we are featuring ten Hegen mums who have found strength in spite of the odds, adversity and loss. This week, we have a mother who finds strength from serving breastfeeding mothers.
There are some people in our lives that we can’t help but recognise as everyday heroes.
For many mothers in our breastfeeding community, their saviour more often than not is the nurse, midwife or lactation consultant who helped give them care, guidance and expertise through difficult times.
Uma’s work with women and how she makes a difference to the lives of numerous young families in Singapore for over 20 years is what she calls her “forte and a calling” which even a debilitating disease wasn’t able to curb. In these times where health is really wealth, we salute caregivers like her who are symbols of strength and always giving more.
Hegen: You’re one of our favourite people, Uma! You take care of women and help them become more successful with breastfeeding! How long have you been in healthcare?
I grew up in Malaysia and left for the UK when I was 18 to become a midwife and a nurse. That’s where I met my husband and we returned to Malaysia together, got married and had my daughter. Then we moved to Melbourne, Australia where I worked for a while and also gave birth to my son. After that we spent a short time in Indonesia and then Singapore for over 20 years now.
Hegen: That is an amazing career span and must have come with some ups and downs! Can you talk about a low period in your life when you had to rely on your strength?
In 2002, I developed rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and had lost my Mother and Mum-in-law, within weeks of each other’s passing. One morning, I woke up and could hardly walk. My fingers were swollen and I was due to take my written IBCLC examination in a few months. In the meantime, I had all these assignments to type out and send online but I just couldn’t do it. So I roped my son in – he was only 13 at that time, but more than happy to write my assignments if I gave him a treat of some sort obviously! He helped me and eventually I was able to do my exams on my own and I passed. In 2003 I became a Board-certified Lactation Consultant (LC) and that was a turning point in my life.
I realised that in those days, I really did have to do a lot to get through the illness and it had all kinds of implications on my life. I had to eat healthy, exercise, have a good mindset, and control stress levels because that was a trigger for RA. Within six months, I was in remission and have been for many years. Overcoming the illness was what helped me believe in myself, and is a constant reminder of what I’m capable of. Over the years, some things might have taken a bit of a toll on me. I have had knee and hip replacements but always bounced back; surgery then rehab then back again, being there for with my clients and helping these ladies through all their breastfeeding challenges.
Helping people has always made me happy. Being an LC and working with women has always been my forte and calling. I love what I do, and even making a small difference to them is something very meaningful for them and for me. This is something I want to do lifelong. For as long as God gives me the ability to use all my senses and strength, I’d like to be able to serve women, their partners and young families, to give them all the help within my power.
Hegen: What is your definition of strength?
Strength is perceived differently for each person but for me it is having the attitude that if I’ve been dealt a card that is not positive, I will rise from the depths to achieve and believe in myself. I would do what I can to rise above adversity and that takes hard work, perseverance and the love from my husband and children to get me through this. I could get through my illness with help of my family who gave me strength and comfort. And I believe that anyone can have that strength if they believe in themselves and what they can achieve with the love of others.
Hegen: What or Who is your source of strength?
My husband Gilbert is my main source of strength. He is an amazing guy who has guided and supported me with his love, always making me believe in myself to choose the right path always. Without him, I would not be who I am today. We’ve been together for over 40 years and he has been my rock.
We’re very fortunate to have two lovely children, my daughter Ashwinni and son Kevin and who are in their early 30s now. As a family we help, support and love each other. It is really important that we have this strong love that unites, bonds and helps us through ups and downs in life. Ashwinni is now a mother to 18 month old Jordan. Kevin and his wife Maud in London are expecting their baby any day now! I really should be there helping them but due to COVID I’m unable to and will instead be supporting them virtually.
Hegen: You have helped a lot of mothers in your career. Do you have any regrets yourself in your own journey of motherhood?
I don’t think so. No Mother is perfect; we all do what we can under the circumstances. As long as she can keep her children safe, that is the most important thing for a Mum. Looking back, surely anyone might think “I could have done this or that better”. On hindsight, perhaps there were some things I could have done differently but my husband and I truly believe we have done the best job ever!
We helped create two wonderful, sensible, well-adjusted children who are making a difference in the world: one of them is a journalist and the other is a psychologist, working with women as well. And now, the time has come for them to do their job as good parents. I definitely don’t have any regrets in my motherhood experience, and loved every moment of it!