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

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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!)

Everyone’s an Uke

Everyone’s an Uke

‘Hold my hands’

No, this is not a line from a romantic movie, this phrase is most often used to indoctrinate anyone who is looking to join Aikido. Everyone starts Aikido holding someone’s hands, that connection is established the moment we step into the dojo.

What is an Uke?

Well this is a theme I’ve been toying in my head for a while, Uke (受け) in Japanese, literally means the person who “receives” a technique. And it is commonly mistaken as the ‘attacker’ in a dualistic sense, because the uke often ‘initiates’ the technique with a ‘strike’ or a ‘punch’ or something else.

As we get closer to the dynamics between a nage (The Thrower)and uke, you can see that the line is very, very fine. Well let’s not go there yet.

Back to being an uke on your very first day learning Aikido. Let’s rewind that back a bit more.

Back to being an uke on your very first day sucking on a milk bottle.

Back to being an uke on your very first day you learn to ride a bike, becoming a Dad, becoming a teacher, learning to lose your loved ones, opening a restaurant, looking at a business problem for the very first time, your first day being a doctor.

Every step of the way, we are in the path of reception, every baby will reach out and receive milk and food when they are hungry. There is no naturally born expert Dad, every dad is a student to their children, and the kids are teaching their parents valuable lessons about parenting.

My baby son holding my hand for the first time

We are constantly receiving

There is no way about it, the moment we are born, we receive our first breath, without it, we will be receiving our first bacteria, coming to rot our dead body back to nature. The irony is, when we think we are becoming remotely good at something, we begin to dish out lessons, and hide behind a thin façade of competency, when we are best receiving.

Even a doctor, or a business consultant, armed with years of medical knowledge, or years of management experience, will have to receive their problem or ailments at the get go, and will continue to receive these problems and issues. Only when you can fully comprehend, and accept what the problem really is, then a medical solution or business proposition will work. A doctor cannot simply give panadol for a runny nose, without properly receiving information from the patient. so the doctor works best being an uke, constantly receiving and not judging, not putting his years of medical knowledge in front and masquerade as an expert.

Refusing

You can only become unhappy when you refuse to accept an outcome and decision, and feels that it is unfair to you. Refusing to accept is not receiving wholeheartedly; of course life can be unkind, and despite of your best efforts, you don’t get what you want, but you will always get something, and when you open your heart to receive, you will realize that you have so much more to learn from something as disappointing as not getting what you got.

Essentially Aikido is the fine art of reception, it is only when we can openly receive what the universe has for us, come what may, then we are ready for more. Fighting for more, hoarding, selfish egotistical pursuits of shallow meaningless material possessions is futile, is unnatural. We are endowed to receive, the more we are open, the more we will get, it’s only natural!

Window for Everything

Window for Everything

Dear Wayne,

I remembered vividly, you were the runt in the family, and as your parents, we were always so concerned about getting enough food into you. But you ate so little when you were a baby.

So one of the afternoon, we were giving you milk, and half expecting you to not finish the bottle. But to our surprise, you managed to finished the whole bottle! That was a moment of celebration.

Well, our happiness was short-lived.

 The next moment, you gave it all back to us, milk vomit.

I never forget that cheeky look you have on you face, almost like telling us, “Hey dad, I finished the entire bottle, and then I didn’t!”

That was an epiphany, I used till this day as a parenting story.

You cannot force things.

Now that you boys are old enough, you are developing the maturity to choose you actions, and hopefully the favorable consequences that follows. It is not always the case, as some things can’t be forced.

Just as much as we tried the best we could to make Wayne drink his milk, when he is not ready to take the full bottle, he will not be able to take a full bottle, period. No amount of forcing can help us better the situation, we can either try our darnest, and just get upset over the failure of the reality to meet our expectations, or we can release ourselves from expectations and let the reality show us how things really are.

This is pretty much the story of the Human Race, sum up in a Dad’s attempt to feed his child one full bottle of milk when the child isn’t ready for it. We are always trying to push our luck, and despite of our best effort, it often don’t go our way. Sometimes is does, more often than not, it doesn’t.

Letting go.

So learn to let go, do what you can, and sometimes, when you are not ready, you simply cannot do it. You can try, put in effort, learn and explain it, it will not happen the way you wanted it to happen.

It is a judgment call, I guess, and there is really no correct answer to it, sometimes, you might be over-doing it, trying too hard; sometimes, you are not trying hard enough. Whatever it is, use your experience and see for yourself, if too much is just nice, and too little is overbearing.