Why is Aikido an Art of Peace?

Why is Aikido an Art of Peace?

Let’s look at a common scenario these days.

For the more law abiding members within the population, how many of us entertained thoughts of berating people who do not wear masks during the heights of the COVID19 pandemic? Feeling like punching them in the face for not putting on the masks?

How often have we scoffed at people getting their comeuppance? Or we gleam at the opportunity being the one who delivers the punishment?

Tit for Tat, anyone?

Aikido is not Attritional

When we are on the mat, we are not keen to display our superiority and overpowers our opponent. We are not keen to show off that we are better than our partners, nor are we keen to put up a good show.

It doesn’t add up to anything good.

Being inconsistent is an attribute of being a human, we cannot keep up a façade of excellence 24/7/365. We will falter, we will mess up. And when we do, we will need help and support from our fellow humans, friends and even strangers. By pretending that we are better, puts us at a stand-off distance, and alienates people who are in a position to help us.

A false sense of superiority also triggers a competitive instinct in our partners, as they will feel put down by the feeling of being less superior to us. When this comparison starts, the whole dynamics will become a duality, good to bad, superior to inferior, win/lose and swinging back and forth creates an inefficient imbalance which will destroys the harmony we need to achieve our goals.

No chance for destruction

Harry sensei’s style of Aikido lacks a large repertoire of Atemi, which is a kind so ‘soft’ strikes that helps us break our opponent’s balance or distracts them from the actual waza we are doing.

While he has never clearly explained why he doesn’t do much atemi, the understanding is that atemi can invite atemi. When we strike, our opponent can strike back, which will change the whole dynamics of how we want to practice Aikido, by ending things amicably. Striking can potentially escalates the tension and build more conflict, even when we are successful in our strikes, the hurt from being hit is very acute and it can invite retaliation.

How often has we argued with our uke in the principles of MAD? Mutually Assure Destruction’; “I can hit you from that spot! I’d say. And in turn my uke showed me that I can be hit, in exchange of hitting. And because Aikido is such a close quarter art, we will risk being hit, while we engage in hitting people.

Turning dissipates aggression

Aikido is circular. cyclic and cylindrical, even when we do not see it. When violence or aggression occurs, it is often directed, at someone, or something, which means it has a linear energy, it needs to get out, from point A to point B.

“I am hurt (Point A), so I will hurt the perpetrator back (Point B)”

“You punch me (Point A), I will hit you back (Point B)

It draws us back again to a duality where there is one winner one loser.

We want to circle that negative energy so that it can dissipates, and we can absorb it to neutralise the aggression. We do not want to use our own body to absorb that aggression through hard training and conditioning, again, there is only so much punishment the body can take before capitulating, so it make more sense to direct any force outwards, than to use our body to contain the blows.

One Good Turn

Given our volatile world, we need more purveyors of peace, by not fighting, not stopping the aggression with more aggression, instead, using our skills to ‘bleed’ out the negative pressures, we give the situation a chance to deconflict and deescalate the tension.

Aikido’s circular motion means that our opponent’s oncoming energy has a course to run, in a way that is harmonious to both of us. We take away their ability to hurt us, and also hurt themselves. In a move like irimi-nage our uke’s forward motion is turned away from its original path and circled to a location where we will be in a better position to end his/ her energy naturally.

Coax not overpower

This is a higher order skill that is very difficult to achieve, because we have to completely forget about our own stances, and self, and fully immerse into our opponent’s being and intention. Only when we are able to dissipate our image in front of our opponent, then we can have a chance to turn his aggression around, and coax them into a position safe for everyone.

Surely we can overpower our uke, once we are in a superior position, and once our opponent feels that they are being over powered and loses the fight, they will find a way to over power us and win back the fight. What’s the whole point in that?

Project Peaceful Intentions

We often invite the trouble we hope to avoid, and until we can find out why, troubles will continue to follow us. Coming to the mat to practice helps us better understand our own aggression. and puts us in a more pleasant, and joyful state. How often have we come across a person whom we don’t like simply by the way he/she stands? Somehow that manner of postulation simply invites a sense of arrogance or bigotry.

So we need to avoid being picked up as a target for violence or aggression, not by being belligerent, nor by being pacifist. We need to remain neutral in our stance and stay open when we are engaged in a stressful situation, always seek out a better way of making sure all parties involved walks away without a sense of retaliation, only then can we attain the peace we all strive to have in our lives.

A Good Class

A Good Class

It rained heavily these days, well, the year end monsoon is here. The particular thing about our Dojo is, the shelter holds out the rain, but if it gets windy, rain will blow into and onto the mat, wet to an extent where we cannot train.

I wanted to end Monday’s class due to inclement weather, but Ming Jie texted me to ‘push on’, well, let’s do it then. Thankfully, the rain subsided and we can have class, a small one though, since there is only Ming Jie, Melvin, Radek and myself.

It turned out to be a very enjoyable evening and I had a very deep and powerful epiphany, which I will attempt to pen down.

Who am I again?

I consider myself an Aikidoka, a practitioner, not an instructor, I’ve said that before, it will not change how I conduct myself on the mat. I’m far from perfect, nor I consider myself at a reasonable level of techincal competency to dispense Aikido lessons or wisdom.

The imposter syndrome is like an uncomfortable shadow. Harry didn’t even hand the baton to me, I pick it up from where he dropped it, and it is a darn heavy one.

Who will I become

Being thrust into the front, and having to take on the ‘instructor’ role, I got embroiled into who will I become. I can’t help it, it’s a big shoes Harry sensei left behind for me to fill, there is a genuine pressure to not let him down. While I am still struggling with a definition, the only thing I could do, was to turn up for class, as often as I can, and honour the commitment Harry sensei had to Aikido when he was teaching. Just turn up at the dojo, never mind good, bad or ugly.

There is a light in my struggle. You see, it is not about who I will become, it is about who my fellow Aikidokas will become, now that I’ve taken over, through Harry sensei’s legacy and our continued practice, my friends on the mat are becoming better, more peaceful and harmonious.

What did I see?

All this time I’ve been saying that we need to treat each other on the mat with respect, decorum and honour. While we might get frustrated with each other, we still need to know we are there for each other. Train hard, train safe, and train in harmony.

There was harmony on the mat that evening, and it was a beautiful feeling.

Harmony to see that Melvin can correct himself, and relax when I pointed out that there are some technical points he can improve upon, and he did change. Radek, stiff as usual, was amazing, instead of forcing his way through a technique, he stopped himself, corrected the mistake, relaxed and redid the waza. Ming Jie’s technique has also evolved to become less belligerent and more disarming, his commitment to class is certainly a source of motivations for me to keep the class going. That Monday evening, we are learning and reflecting.

As the person offering instructions, when I say move the hips and the hands move, they did it and it worked. There was a genuine change on the mat and my fellow Aikidoka are breaking away from their usual self limiting mindset and embraced something different. Along with my fellow Aikidoka, we have made the mat a safe space for all of us to make mistake, experiment and learn.

The four of us was truly enjoying Aikido and we helped each other explore our techniques, struggles through a spirit of non-judgmental, openness and total vulnerability. It was a very special and precious Monday night to feel that, and it makes me want to go back and relive it again.

Harry sensei would be happy

It’s a thought I shared with my wife when I got home, if for some miracle, Harry sensei was alive that Monday evening and he see where Radek is right now, he would be happy to know what all his teachings and lessons is bearing fruit. He never gave up on Radek, despite of constantly chiding him being stiff and mechanical, Radek was far from mechanical on Monday, I can see a more natural fluid expression of Aikido on the mat. Harry sensei’s tough love paid off.

Harry sensei would also be happy that the tiny little group of us are still training together, growing together and learning from each other. I hope we have done enough for him to know that he left the dojo in a good place. We are not fighting bitterly for egotistical gains, nor critically tearing at each other throat, challenging each other for authority.

Sustainable

There is really not that many of us left, who was with Harry sensei until the end. I’m somehow not concerned with this scarcity, but relish on the fact that this little group of us, is enough to bring a lot of good, love, peace and harmony in our own way. For sure we are not going to change the world in a big bang, but that’s not the aim, we just want to be happy, peaceful human being and the people who interacts with us can feel that. If we can achieve that, I’m sure Harry sensei will be quietly elated, his style of Aikido has cleaned up the world a little bit.

The Ongoing Journey

The Ongoing Journey

Getting COVID earlier this month puts me out of action for a fortnight and being away from Aikido gives me the space to think about what we are going to do and where we are going. This is a reflection on my earlier post “Where do we go from here?

Clarity as we go along

There are many factors I was mulling and in the due process, all the issues, players, external forces, internal inertia all came together and the result is overthinking. Where do we go from here implies a point A to point B, and outcome, destination and endgame; this is the wrong mindset; putting the cart before the horse. You don’t get to go anywhere in this mode.

This is a ‘here’, we can only get to the where when we have the horse pulling the cart, and that in itself is the journey, not a destination. I was fixated on a destination and therefore completely missed the whole spirit of training. We need to focus on the now, and the where will take care of itself- this is the message Harry sensei keep telling us and this is his legacy. He never cared about the future, he cared about is the now.

Let the Jones be the Jones

Comparing myself with social media Aikido only helped to prey on my fears and played on my insecurities, of course I can never be as good as those guys showing off their Aikido skills on Tik Tok, Facebook, and/or Instagram. Damn, those guys are skillfully slick and so well trained. Me? Nowhere near that level! Ha!

So time away nursing a recovery from COVID gave me time to think. Keeping up with the Jones is a zero sum game; looking outwards too much weakened my resolve.

Aikido and Shoshin Aikikai

So does the world has a place for a flowy, almost fakery martial arts like Aikido? Or shall we all go and learn MMA? Until now I still feel that for fighting; MMA would definitely be a better form of applied violence which will work in a violent situation.

Pulling back my lenses a little closer and I look at Shoshin Aikikai, the style Harry sensei left us, and is it a form of Aikido that is on par with other styles of Aikido? Is it an effective form of Aikido? Should we all go and learn anther style of Aikido?

The Answer is on the Mat

While I work on my answer, purpose and existence on the mat and off the mat, I could sense that we do have a distinct existence and contribution to the world. I started Monday’s class looking at my fellow Aikidoka, we bring a certain proposition to the world, one of peace, harmony and love.

When I think about our time on the mat, and how each and everyone of us off the mat, we bring a bit of Harry sensei’s Shoshin Aikikai into our lives, and because Harry sensei left us a style of Aikido that is peaceful, non-violent, and focus on not resisting, everyone brings this spirit into the greater sphere of life. We apply what we learned on the mat, on our everyday lives, and it touches the people we meet off the mat. We treat people with decorum, dignity and respect, well, I try to as much as I can.

Keep trying, never quit, never give up

This is perhaps my own small way of honoring Harry sensei’s style of Aikido, this small band of us are really not interested in the pecking order, not interested in belt chasing, our sensei told us to DROP OUR EGO! We made it our life purpose to keep trying, we come to the dojo to continue the practice, because our sensei inspires us to keep training when he was alive. He never quit, come to training come hell or high water. As long as we keep training on the mat, we embody his commitment, and doggedness, we never give up trying to make our Aikido a little better, not perfect, but better.

It humbled me when I look at my fellow Aikidokas and see beyond their tiny sliver of time on mat, and how our practice and camaraderie influence the bigger world out there, and the people who they come across off the mat. So while there is only that little of us left who is keep Harry sensei’s style on the mat, this little band of us continues to bring good into the world and in every little thing we do, we strive to bring peace, love and harmony to all we meet, I know, at least I try to.

The Einstellung effect

The Einstellung effect

I recently learned a new word call ‘Einstellung’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Einstellung_effect) Generally it means how we will use the most efficient method solution to problem solving, even when it appears that there is another more efficient methods available.

I think we can understand it as ‘ When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem will look like a nail to you.‘ cliché. This is very true to Aikido practitioners, because we train so hard in a specific discipline that we get confined by what we define. How many of us can see the inter-connectedness between sentient beings when we train? All we want to do is to neutralize the ‘attack’. Not every ‘attack’ looks like an ‘attack’ and not every ‘attack’ is an ‘attack’. We need to be aware of The Einstellung effect every time we train.

Which is why we train in the first place! so that we can consciously discern the minutiae of life! No one single moment in life is the same! Once it has pass, it is passed! As valuable as The Einstellung effect is in helping us mechanized our life, so that we can deal with the larger issues on hand, we need to know not to over rely on The Einstellung effect. It will happen and it happens all the time, we just have to be mindful to exercise discretion if what we are doing is actually the best way or is there a less best way, but a more efficient way? Not all best ways are the best ways, some less best ways are sometimes just as good as the best ways. This is what it means to be human, and this is why we go to an Aikido dojo for training.

Published: July 13, 2013 

Aikido teaches us to be nice

I was hit by an epiphany.

All I really learned from Aikido was to be nice to myself and to be nice to other people. That means you do not take advantage of people when they are down, or injured.

It is probably the only martial arts that does that. You really have to treat your partner with respect and preserve your partner’s well being so as to make sure he or she turns up for training the next time!

Those who are movie buffs would have remembered the climax scene from both the original as well as the latest version of The Karate Kid. In both movies, we have the bad guys fighting Ralph Macchio or Jaden Smith. Both of them were severely injured no thanks to the bad guys and, the bad guys capitalised on the injuries.

Well, that is life, you can put it that way, survival of the fittest.

If you are in a Kumite and it is the championship round, you know your opponent is probably nursing a cracked rib from his previous bout, would you have decide to not to attack his cracked rib, or you would go specifically for the wounded area, so as to incapacitate him and win the bout?

As far as where I am practicing, when my partner is injured, or I have knowledge that there are some injuries, I’d be mindful not to further aggravate that injury. It is not me being noble, it is something I see happening in Aikido; your partner will take care of you, if you need to train when you are injured. There is a genuine level of care, we want our partners to be well.

I think we all go to our dojo, ‘wounded’ one way or another, and if we are conditioned to compete for a win, foresaking our opponent’s vulnerability, we are also foresaking our own vulnerabilities. If we cannot help our partners heal their wound, we cannot open ourselves to help from others, to help us heal our wound.

I’d like to go to a dojo, knowing that I can be myself, that my fellow students will take care of me. instead of going to a dojo with a brave front, hiding my injuries, so that I will not be taken advantage of. It is a lot harder for me to learn in such an environment.

Published: January 26, 2015

To Yield is to Heal

To Yield is to Heal

We all know Aikido as a harmonious, peace-promoting, and world loving art, people commonly sees Aikido as a kind of dance, and almost everyone who sees Aikido questions its efficacy in actual ‘combat’ situation. Is it an effective self-defense martial art, or is it a ‘martial’ art at all? It looks too soft, too wavy, and the attacker seems to be cooperating with the defender.

Or so it seems.

Does it work? Why does our attackers seemingly stupidly always falls? Will the movement stand up to a real attack? Does all the turning, twirling and circling around effective?

Everyone, including Aikido practitioners missed out the most important part of Aikido.

Yielding

We constantly handcuff harmony to Aikido, but we all know there is little harmony in practicing Aikido, there is a constant struggle, internal battle waging in us as we try to manhandle our partners in a feeble attempt to form a coherent looking Irimi-Nage.

Harmony can only happens when we learn to yield. We keep preaching to harmonise our attacker’s energy and neutralising it with circular motions and while that all sounds nice and dandy, you cannot do nuts until you yield.

Physically, to yield is to accept that the incoming force is greater than what we can handle, therefore, instead of the fighting option, we look at the flight option, and in Aikido context, flight means to brings our attacker along, and as long as they come with us for the flight, both of us sees little or no reason to fight.

Which is why learning Aikido is so simplistically tricky. We are taught ‘powerful’ technique, but when we apply them, it feels so useless. Other impact martial arts, such as Karate, MMA seems more effective, granted that we’ve seen how a simple punch, roundhouse kick can dramatically knock out a person.

While fighting art seems to look more effective, a fighter cannot win all the fights, no one can stay superior forever, there will always be another champion, and another contender to knock the champion out, this is the forever cycle of quest and desire which Aikido walks away from. We simply yield.

一山還有一山高

In English, it meant that there’s always one mountain taller than the other mountain, and we will eat ourselves empty if we continue on our chase for a higher glory, one medal after another, one conquest after another, we will fall eventually. when we become weaker and can no longer compete on sheer power, we will resort to guile or cunning, and when that fails too, what happens next?

Life isn’t a chase for glory or medal.

While we can pummel a lesser opponent to pulp, try that on your boss, or your wife, or the police officer giving you a parking ticket. We cannot keep fighting and winning, there will always be a greater force which you cannot overcome. Try fighting a volcano eruption.

So we have to yield eventually, and the sooner we realise that the better our lives become. Once we start to learn how to yield, victories become easier as we look for the most economical way to win our battles, and when we yield, we give, and will be given more than we gave out.

Yielding is peaceful

In Aikido, we don’t seek to beat up our attacker to pulp, our attackers do not behave like deranged killers out to inflict maximum hurt on us, when we practice Aikido, we are not looking at a duality of kill or be killed. We are looking for a singular outcome where both attackers and defenders can walk away safely and at best learning something about each other.

Therefore we yield, or try to. As we become more competent, we might want to use our skill and experience to gain an upper hand over some of our more junior Aikidokas, a lot of Instructors does that when they demonstrates their apparent superior techniques over their students, but of course that’ll be the case, but when a better trained student comes along, and shows superior skills, the sensei will be left an embarrassed and bruised ego, struggling to maintain his sensei status.

To yield is to accept that we do not know everything and we have to accept that there will be a better, more superior entity outside of us. When that happens, we have to flow and weave around instead of fighting a battle that is already lost.

Where do we go from here?

Where do we go from here?

I never had such a problem keeping me up at night. All I have to do is to go to the dojo, follow a certain respectable old man do Aikido and go home. Simple.

Now that I am in that shoes and people are following me, there is a certain standards, quality, direction, style, ethos, pedagogy, sub-culture, teaching, curriculum that I have to dish out, someway, somehow, one way or the other.

As my friend Steven always says it “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” Ain’t that the truth.

It’s never far from my mind that this position I held is an extremely privileged one, I didn’t put myself there, someone I respect a lot asked me to be there, and now that I am here, the weight is on me to do something, moving forward. My friends in the dojo put their trust in me to take this place forward and I’m burdened constantly not to let them down. The weight of that responsibility is serious shit.

No Easy Day, No Easy Answer

Such is the cruel reality of change, we are all forced to change. Legacy held us in good stead, knowing we came from a respectable past, but how we move forward will determine how we continue to keep that past respectable.

Deep down inside I do still feel like a phony, Harry sensei’s spot is too big to fill, I know that I have no plans to fill it, faintly even trying to do that is will be preposterous. Then the next question begs to be answered, how do I write my own story? Do I even want to see myself 80 years old 7th dan, dedicated to Aikido? Or can I be who I am, 3rd dan, 80 years old, dedicated to Aikido?

In the world of pecking order and sexy new martial arts, I don’t think I can compel many people to follow an old 3rd dan, still running a dojo 10-15 years from now. It’s not a great selling point, I will age (am aging) and will falter, like Harry sensei did, will people still turn up at the dojo out of respect, sympathy or a little bit of both?

So what?

Even if I were to advance in grade, so what? So freaking what?

I still cannot see myself at the epitome of Aikido, like the shoulder of the giant I’m standing on. So should I avoid the risk of desecrating Harry sensei’s legacy by running a sub-par class? Or should I chart my own way, and risk desecrating Harry sensei’s legacy the same? Damn it if you do and Damn it if you don’t.

No help in finding the answer either

Sorry no sorry, I don’t think there is anyone out there who can help me solve this. That’s the other thing that has always been a me problem, the solutions lies only in me, myself and I. Once I found the solution (which will come to me eventually, I just got to be patient) then I can move. Until then I can only hobble along haphazardly, be the stand-in until the stand-in, stood out permanently.

Right now all I can do is to use my imagination and think about how Harry sensei could have done it under the circumstances when he took over Teddy Lee sensei back then more than 50 years ago; the challenges he faced, the acceptance and rejection he has to face, building up Aikido the way he did. The problem is that there are no cookie crumbs, he left no ‘how-to’ guide on how to run a dojo and take the dojo forward; all I got from him was his teaching, as fleeting, unreliable memory in my head, and that’s all. I constantly ask myself how do I go on when all of our interpretations of his teachings differs widely dependent on people’s perceptions.

Not exciting at all

I can’t build any excitement out of this heaviness at all, perhaps I took this role with a very serious responsibility, and maybe I do want to make Harry sensei proud and when people comes to his dojo, they can say that Harry sensei did a good job, his bunch of Aikidokas are a skillful lot. That’s perhaps my lofty goal and I’m not sure if I am up to it to see it happen.

Until I find a way, I think I’m gonna be kept awake more often than I like to.

An Instructor’s Failure

Last week, we did a technique, Ryo Katatedori Kokyunage. It started out as a simple technique and to add in some difficulty, I decided to apply the ‘unbendable’ arm as an uke so that the nage can have an increased level of challenge.

Mingjie, as the nage, couldn’t do it, so I switched role and be the nage, and he did what I did, using the ‘unbendable’ arm, and I couldn’t do it. No matter how hard I try, Turns out, that method of kokyunage, is ineffective.

It does bugs me a bit, but I have long said, I am not perfect, and some of techniques I do will fail, as it has many times, but this time it makes me think deeper. Perhaps the label as a ‘sensei’ comes with the expectations for me to be able to do every technique, or teach, overcome roadblock or barrier. I couldn’t.

That is a reality check for everyone, particularly myself, of course my ego was bruised.

More than that, this inability exposes my learning path, which I must overcome.

There is 2 ways to look at this inability.

1- I have not attain the level of proficiency to do this technique, hence this technique is more advanced and beyond my current abilities. Harry sensei can do it, and of course, he comes with many more decades of experience.

2- This technique is ineffective. Try as hard as I could, I cannot make it work, Mingjie couldn’t make it work, Choi tried and couldn’t make it work, and checking YouTube, nobody does it the way we did it on the mat that evening.

That is of course not a exhaustive list and perhaps Harry sensei could because this was within his technical ability, or we have been charitable as ukes. Or it is really not an effective way to do it.

Scrap it?

It bugs me because, I have seen this level of incompetence before, in me. There were some technique I couldn’t do in the past, I could now. There are things I didn’t understand in the past, I made an effort to learn and now I possess the knowledge to certain subject matter to hold a conversation.

While I was compelled to write this off as an ineffective technique, the stronger compulsion was to dig deeper and…

Investigate, Probe, Learn, Explore, Discover

It can be so disappointing to those on the mat to see me fail, well, I did. and I explained to the rest that hey, I do fail. and we need to learn from it. the Dojo is a place to learn, and we will fumble, and have our incompetency exposed. It is fine for me, as taking a class is not a performance, I do not expect myself to conduct a ‘perfect’ class. There is no such thing.

Every time we come for class, even as an ‘instructor’ I also learn and at a very different level. While I want to instruct, there are times I couldn’t. Of course the students pay money to have the best possible instructorship, I hope they can also lean something when this instructor fails. I have no intentions to hide my failures, using excuses or some lame justifications. I’m not competent about it, and I am not shy about it either, the only way to overcome it is to train harder, investigate into the whys.

The good thing is Mingjie is on the mat every Monday, and I have to opportunity to work this with him, until we both learn to overcome this, together.

Loss and love on the journey to parenthood

Mum and dad were a long time waiting before this baby girl finally arrived last week

PUBLISHED ON MAR 15, 2015 3:45 PM

https://static1.straitstimes.com.sg/s3fs-public/styles/large30x20/public/articles/2015/03/15/ST_20150315_BABY15_1141852e_2x.jpg?VersionId=EQubjjdkQCrsZmP2Nq8.13F9JINbcIZr&itok=rLt6Ce8_

BY LI XUEYING HONG KONG CORRESPONDENT

As a young reporter 11 years ago, I wrote about an alarming trend: The number of miscarriages in Singapore was going up, up and up.

I got the statistics, spoke to a woman who had experienced a miscarriage, interviewed five doctors and probed a politician on possible ways to address the problem.

It was an assignment to me, a story to be done before I moved on to the next.

A decade on, the issue became personal. Within six months, I had not one, but two miscarriages.

In May 2013, I found out that I was pregnant. It was unplanned but my husband and I, after some initial adjustment, were thrilled.

After all, we had been married for four years but somehow life had got in the way of making space for children: I went overseas to do a master’s degree, then waited for a posting as a foreign correspondent. I was then 34, just a year from being defined as a geriatric mother – or what doctors call a woman of advanced maternal age.

We saw a doctor in Hong Kong where we were now based. He did a scan.

Congratulations, he said. There was a gestational sac – the first sign of pregnancy but no yolk or heartbeat. But that’s normal, he declared. It’s early days yet.

We returned to Singapore for a break and as a surprise to our best friends who had just had a baby. We popped champagne and I had an illicit sip, a toast to the new addition to our group as well as the embryo growing – I thought – inside me.

Back in Hong Kong, we went back to the clinic. The news was not good this time. The sac had not expanded, which meant the pregnancy was not progressing as it should. I’m sorry, said the doctor.

We were upset, of course.

But I sought comfort in research and statistics, including the ones I had cited in my own article from years before. One in five known pregnancies ends in miscarriage. Some of us, I told my husband and myself philosophically, just have to make up the numbers.

We decided I would have the procedure “to clean up” at the public hospital. Like many others who had miscarriages, we told few people. I explained to my office that I had to take a few days off work for a “medical procedure” and left it at that. In hospital, I finished Salman Rushdie’s new memoir Joseph Anton and kept tabs on the Edward Snowden saga then unfolding in Hong Kong.

But my husband and I had changed. Within just two short weeks of being pregnant, our world had shifted. We had begun to plan and dream, to think of what it would be like to be parents, from how we would dress the child to what values we would impart.

Two months later, I conceived again. This time, we were not so innocent in our joy. We waited till we saw the heartbeat on the ultrasound screen twice – a red dot pulsating amid a mass of variegated greys and blacks – before we told our parents.

On our third visit, when I was about 11 weeks along, I complained of slight abdominal cramps. Probably just ligament pains as the uterus stretches, the doctor – a different one – reassured me as she moved a transducer over my belly.

My husband, reaching out for his camera to take a photo of the screen, stilled. It was all darkness. The heartbeat had stopped.

This time, there was little bravado left in us. We opted for a private hospital where I would have a dilation and curettage operation that night.

We shared a room with a Hong Kong couple in their early 20s, who we gathered were there for an abortion and were placed in the awkward situation of having to listen to me tearfully break the news to my mum over the phone.

They went first. As they left, the young man whispered: “We’re sorry.”

Our turn came. In the operating room, my doctor, her pearl necklace shimmering from her surgical scrubs, loomed over me. Later, as I emerged from the haze of general anaesthesia, I blearily asked her: “Did you see if it was a boy or a girl?” She shook her head gently at me.

Silly me. It was all scraped up and sucked out.

Medically, recurrent pregnancy loss is defined as more than two miscarriages in a row. We were two strikes down, one more to go. But as anyone who has gone through miscarriage will know – and without meaning to diminish the pain for those who suffered even more loss – one is one too many.

So we went through test after test searching for causes. Nothing stood out. The only certainty, said the doctor, was my age. Fact is, old eggs are old, which means a higher risk that embryos with genetic abnormalities are incubated.

That there was all this uncertainty made it harder.

It was an invisible grief. We returned to work, looking the same on the outside but bereft within.

There had been no wake, no funeral, no body to be buried. We did not even know what to call our losses – technically they were not babies; the first was “just” an embryo while the second was “old enough” to be a foetus.

I grappled with my feelings. Somehow, society speaks of miscarriages in hushed tones – the word itself seems to suggest some kind of responsibility on the part of women who “mis-carry” their children. See how we use the word when we describe legal travesties as a “miscarriage of justice”.

The fact is, why miscarriages happen is often shrouded in mystery, and most times, say doctors, they are beyond one’s control. Yet, the secrecy surrounding it leaves much ignorance about the issue.

For many, what we know of miscarriages is what we have seen on television – a woman falling down and ending up with blood on her thighs.

Is it any wonder that many who have gone through it choose to keep silent?

I was fortunate to have family and close friends who gave us enormous support.

My husband and I certainly were not ashamed of what had happened. But we were in pain and we were not sure talking incessantly about it would help.

Furthermore, what could we expect people to say except an awkward “I’m sorry”? Unlike for other bereavement, there is no social ritual for coping with this particular kind of death.

Yet, I did feel an irrational resentment that not more people knew of our losses. It was not exactly sympathy I wanted. It was recognition, I think, that a loss from a miscarriage was felt as keenly as any other.

And, I wonder, if more speak more openly of their experiences, would those who have experienced the same pain feel less alone?

It is a personal issue, and different people will feel differently.

In all honesty, I began writing this only as my husband and I were waiting to welcome our daughter.

Kei An, weighing 3.25kg, measuring 49cm and boasting a nose like her father’s, finally arrived last Tuesday, six days past her due date.

Without the hope she represents, I am not sure I could write about our past losses.

But what I do know is that as my husband and I get to know this little one, we will also remember our other babies gone before her.

xueying@sph.com.sg

– See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/opinion/more-opinion-stories/story/loss-and-love-the-journey-parenthood-20150315#xtor=CS1-10

(Published with kind permission from Xue Ying; Thank you!)