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 displayed strength in loving acceptance of her special needs child.
When we first met pint-sized Ann some 15 over years ago, she was busy running her own beautifully stocked luxury concept store on Ann Siang Hill. Like her boutique, she is a stylish treasure trove of information about the best fashion and lifestyle brands. These days, her passions lie closer to home as a mother of three, spending especially more time and care for her middle one who is a special needs child.
Hegen: It’s been a while since we last met, Ann! How are you?
I’m well thanks! I just moved back to Singapore with my family from the United States about six months ago.
Hegen: When we first met, your business kept you busy and now your kids seem to be keeping you busier! What type of Mommy would you say you are?
My kids are my number one priority. In fact, I chose to be an entrepreneur so that I can set my own time and revolve my schedule around taking take care of my kids. It was very difficult for me to get pregnant and I had to rely on fertility treatments to have my first two kids; the third baby, luckily, was conceived naturally. So yes, my kids are very precious to me. In addition, my second daughter, Natalie, has Down Syndrome so I spend a lot of time taking care of her, to ensure that she gets proper schooling and is raised up to be just like anyone else.
Hegen: Having a child with special needs surely comes with special challenges in your life. What kind of strength did you need to have and how would you define it?
My definition of strength is to stay true to myself and my beliefs. As a mother, I trust my gut instinct the most; I know my children best, so I don’t listen to external noises. And I would say that this goes for all mothers. Don’t doubt yourself. I go by my gut a lot when it comes to deciding things for my family and kids and my business life.
Hegen: Can you share with us a period in your life when you were called on to do just that? Rely on that gut instinct as strength?
I got pregnant with my third child when I was 43 years old. I found out about the pregnancy on the opening day of my second shop in Los Angeles. I had such severe stomach cramps.
When I went to the hospital, they congratulated me, told me I was 11 weeks pregnant, gave me some medicine and told me to bed rest for three to four weeks because I had a huge blood clot in my uterus that was endangering the baby’s life. At 43, I was classified as a “geriatric mom” and also at a “extremely high risk” of potentially having another Down Syndrome or Autistic child, just as with Natalie.
I also suffered from severe hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) throughout my entire second and third trimester. I would throw up seven or eight times a day, was underweight and dehydrated, and at high risk of pre-term labor. My family was so concerned about my health, saying that they would prioritise me first. The State Law in California also required that I get DNA tested for potential genetic diseases since I was already 43. This test required 20 vials of blood, which I couldn’t give in one sitting because I would faint. So they had to draw blood from me on two separate days.
It was a doom and gloom scenario but my gut told me to keep going ahead. My health issues just kept piling on as the pregnancy progressed. I was physically weak but thankfully, the baby was strong. Mentally, I told myself that no matter what happens, I’m going to carry this baby to term! It was literally my last chance to have a baby again so I told myself that I better make it happen!
At 34-weeks, I was put on complete bed-rest as I started bleeding and there were signs of pre-term labor. Being an active business woman and mother to two young kids, the order for complete bed-rest was pure torture to me. I made it through that period because my husband was extremely supportive, and my father flew in from Bangkok to help out with the family. At 40.5 weeks, Baby Rosie came out naturally – super loud and super healthy. To this day, I don’t know how I found the strength to push her out. So, I’d probably have to credit that gut instinct and sheer willpower. I’d never wanted anything so badly in my life – and today, I’m blessed with her.
Hegen: That’s sounds like a tremendous amount of strength – and perhaps some pure Mommy stubbornness! What do think gives you this kind of will power?
My source of power and strength is my husband, Ronald Chen. We went through so much together to have our three kids. It has been an emotional journey and I’m thankful that he was by my side throughout.
When we first decided to have children, I had 2.5 years of fertility treatments until my body just couldn’t take it anymore and we had to stop. My husband and I have always loved kids and always wanted a big family. It was devastating to us at that point in time to accept that perhaps we would be childless.
After we halted treatments, he took me on a trip to Paris and Hong Kong, to take our minds off things. We just focused on being together and enjoying each other’s company. A month later, I was overjoyed to find out that I was pregnant naturally with Sofie! Two years later, we wanted to try for a second child so I restarted the fertility treatments. This time around it was successful, but our baby Natalie was diagnosed as having Down Syndrome when she was born. When we heard the news, Ronald and I accepted her condition right away and started planning: education, resources, therapies – anything she needed to be as normal as other kids.
I think it would have been hard for me to get through that acceptance and planning all on my own. Sure, I’m naturally a strong-willed person. But there are moments in life when I just feel so crushed as a mother; there are times when it is like that as we care for Natalie. That’s when I would turn to my husband and he’d lift my spirits again. I’m eternally grateful that I have him to love; I definitely hit the jackpot with him!
Hegen: What would you say to encourage other mothers like yourself who are caring for a special needs child or may be anticipating one?
To parents who find themselves in a situation like, I say that the faster you accept the fact that your baby has special needs, the better. Skip the denial period; it’s useless. Time waits for no one and is of the essence when dealing with a special needs child. You would want to do as many early intervention activities that your child can tolerate because the earlier you help your child, the better. Early intervention therapies and education will really pay off in their future. Be resourceful and contact the appropriate agencies that support your child’s diagnosed condition. These agencies can recommend you to specialists, support centers, programs, and therapists who can help your child develop their best potential. Also reach out to parent support groups; surround yourself with people who can share their experience with you. But in the end, trust yourself and your instinct. Remember that as the parent, you know your child best, and believe in the power of human potential. I think that often, special needs children will amaze their parents, making their loved ones appreciate life so much more.