14 years of trying, 3 miscarriages - and finally a baby

Ms Chen Li Jia with her son Hansel and her husband Darren Kuek at home. The couple welcomed Hansel in April this year after 14 years of marriage. Ms Chen, who went through several failed IVF attempts and miscarriages over the years, said it helped to
Ms Chen Li Jia with her son Hansel and her husband Darren Kuek at home. The couple welcomed Hansel in April this year after 14 years of marriage. Ms Chen, who went through several failed IVF attempts and miscarriages over the years, said it helped to have close family members and friends to talk to about her struggles.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Ms Chen Li Jia, 42, has always loved and wanted kids. Three kids, to be precise.

Like many other Singaporean newlyweds, she and her husband started trying for a child a few years after she married at the age of 27.

But no child came, even though checks with doctors found nothing wrong with either of them. By then, Ms Chen was 34 years old.

The couple turned to artificial methods of conception - first to the less invasive intra-uterine insemination (IUI), then in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Two weeks later, they were told that their first IVF attempt at KK Women's and Children's Hospital had failed. The next one failed too. So did the third attempt.

When they were told the bad news for the third time, her husband Darren Kuek, 40, said he could not speak for a day.

"It felt like someone had dug out my heart and thrown it away. The pain was almost unbearable."

That final round of heartbreak in 2013 was the last straw and they decided to stop all treatments.

OPEN UP TO OTHERS

Some people feel a deep sense of shame, as if something is wrong with them, and it is easy to plunge into depression if you cannot share with others and be real with your feelings... Do not blame yourself or dwell in self-pity or guilt, but allow others into your journey.

PART-TIME TUTOR CHEN LI JIA, on seeking help from her friends and family.

"There was only so much disappointment our hearts could take. We decided to just try on our own, await God's time and just hope in Him," said Mr Kuek, who is a pastor at Bethesda (Bedok-Tampines) Church.

Ms Chen was also angry and downcast at their situation, and had suicidal thoughts.

"I felt very shortchanged and overlooked. I looked at other women who were getting pregnant with no trouble at all and felt like God had forgotten about me," she said.

As she watched her good friends getting pregnant, she found it hard to celebrate the good news with them. Instead, she distanced herself from them.

In the tenth year of marriage, a few years after stopping IVF treatment, Ms Chen became pregnant.

She could not believe it and tested herself over and over again, using three pregnancy test kits.

Their friends and relatives went wild at the news.

Unfortunately, at their first ultrasound, the doctor said the foetus had stopped growing.

They had lost the baby within eight weeks.

 
 

Ms Chen sat outside the clinic and did not know what to do. She wept. Then she went for surgery to remove the miscarried baby that very same day.

A year passed and Ms Chen discovered she was pregnant a second time.

But, after a few weeks, they also lost their second baby.

Again, they had their own goodbye service for the child at home.

A few months passed and yet again, Ms Chen found herself pregnant. This time, they did not dare hope much.

At the third visit to the gynaecologist, she discovered that she had miscarried again.

"I was still very sad, but it was a numbing kind of sadness. I thought then perhaps we were not meant to be parents," said Ms Chen.

For Mr Kuek, the concept of hope itself became burdensome.

"The cycle of hope and disappointment repeated itself over and over again. The more I hoped, the more hurt and disappointed I was," he said.

To get away from it all, the couple went for a holiday in New Zealand.

A few months passed and Ms Chen became pregnant again for the fourth time last year when she was 41.

"What? Again? How many times do I have to get pregnant?" she wondered. By then, she had already made peace with the idea that she might not become a mother.

They went for the first scan in October last year and it showed that their baby was at the 11½ week mark.

Mr Kuek said: "When I saw him move in the scan, strong heartbeat and all, I was at a loss for words. I've learnt that extreme sadness or extreme happiness can make you speechless."

On April 25 this year, their son Hansel, whose name means "the gracious gift of God", was born.

After 14 years of marriage, the couple can finally celebrate Mother's and Father's Day.

Last month, the Government announced changes to the rules for assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatment, allowing older women to go for treatment and to undergo more ART cycles.

More subsidies will also be given for ART procedures.

Asked if she will be trying for more children, Ms Chen said: "I am open to the idea, but I will let nature take its course. We won't be doing ART as it is too emotionally draining."

 
 

The part-time tutor said that when she struggled with infertility and then the miscarriages, it helped that she had close family members and friends who gave her safe spaces to open up and share about her journey.

"Some people feel a deep sense of shame, as if something is wrong with them, and it is easy to plunge into depression if you cannot share with others and be real with your feelings," she said.

"Do not blame yourself or dwell in self-pity or guilt, but allow others into your journey. Do not place your identity solely on being a parent. When you think you cannot carry on any more, look to God and your loved ones for strength."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 15, 2019, with the headline '14 years of trying, 3 miscarriages - and finally a baby'. Print Edition | Subscribe