SINGAPORE - Dr Elly Sabrina struggled with feelings of isolation in raising a child with autism.
"My child does not fit into society's definitions of 'normal'," she said.
The one thing kept her going despite the challenges was the support from family and friends.
Dr Elly, a physician, emphasised the need for a support system around mothers, and shared her own heartfelt experiences in mothering a child with special needs, at a Mother's Day Celebration at Joo Chiat Complex (JCC) on Saturday (May 5).
The event, spearheaded by Asiawerkz Communications, was presented by HDB and supported by the JCC Traders' association. Organised specially for the Malay community, it drew around 300 people to celebrate a group often overlooked or forgotten: single mothers, and mothers of children with special needs.
The first-time event gave about 50 mothers a chance to connect and empathise with each other, and learn from others with similar experiences.
Project manager of Asiawekz Communications Zul Rahman said: "Today we just want to celebrate all these mothers for their love and concern."
Dr Elly, who was the motivational speaker for the event, drew nods from the audience as she said: "I know no one here is a super-mum. There will be challenges and struggles. That is why we need a super-support system, to help us.
"Public acceptance and support is also key in building an inclusive society."
As with every celebration, this Mother's day event was not without its share of games, performances, and laughter.
Festivities opened with a zumba workout led by Ms Haslinda Ali, founder of Fitfab, an activewear retailer that caters to Malay women in particular, and a former TV producer and presenter.
Herself a mother of four, Ms Haslinda said all mothers should try to be "fit and active."
"It's important to take care of your health as a mother," she noted.
The crowd went wild, whistling and cheering loudly, with the performance by singer Ajib Alkaff, while a special showcase by 80s star Zaiton Sameon tugged at the heartstrings.
Ms Zaiton, who is 61 this year, told how as a single mum, she lost her only son in a car accident in 1990. He was only 13 and she herself was badly injured. There were wet eyes in the audience when she performed her biggest hit, Menaruh Harapan, which translates to 'holding onto hope'.
"When I was going through what I did, I had to hold onto hope. This is now my message to the mothers here - to remain hopeful amidst their challenges," Ms Zaiton told The Sunday Times.
Connecting with other mothers who had gone through hard times was the highlight for several mothers attending the event.
"Dr Elly's speech made me feel important as a mother of children with special needs," said Ms Aslina Ahmad, 48, a senior retail supervisor with a child who has Down Syndrome.
"I will no longer be ashamed. I know my child is a gift to me."