The youngest of three children, Carolina Tan always wanted a younger sibling, but her mother was against the idea.
“No, you’re the last one,” was the reply a young Carolina would get whenever she suggested that her mum have a fourth child.
Oddly enough, this experience in a way fuelled her goal of becoming a mother and taking care of a child one day.
Little did she expect that her journey to motherhood would be a challenging one.
Fast forward to adulthood, and Carolina found herself having to grapple with fertility issues.
Even when the 35-year-old self-employed mother and her husband, 36-year-old freelance designer Lu Yaohuang, reached out to medical experts, some were left stumped by her inability to get pregnant.
Undeterred, Carolina decided to undergo in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment and successfully conceived on her second IVF cycle.
The couple welcomed their son, Clyde Lu, in August 2021.
The path less travelled
Speaking to AsiaOne, Carolina shares that the couple got married at 30 and the plan was to “honeymoon for one or two years” before starting a family.
Having gone for regular medical check-ups, Carolina was confident that she “understood her body” well and welcoming a baby in “old age” was something they were not keen on.
The entrepreneur who sells baby clothes online adds: “I always hear [that] women who give birth in old age suffer a lot of complications. So I told myself that I have to give birth before 35.”
Conceiving naturally turned out to be quite a challenge, and it did not take long before the couple decided that it was no longer an option.
Carolina then began asking around for recommendations on fertility specialists, and her research brought her to a specific doctor.
IVF treatment is an assisted reproductive technique where eggs and sperms are put together in a petri dish and, by natural selection, the egg will usually allow one sperm to enter.
A successful pregnancy can be confirmed two weeks later, once the egg has been fertilised and the embryos are allowed to grow before being placed in the uterus.
Unfortunately, this did not immediately happen for Carolina.
Her first IVF cycle came back negative, and the couple was set for an “after-action review” with the fertility doctor.
Doctor left perplexed
This meeting with the medical expert did little to ease Carolina’s and Yaohuang’s pain.
The doctor was left scratching his head as he told the couple: “Wah, your case [is] very special. It’s the first time I have come across such a case.”
Hearing this felt like a double blow.
Dealing with the disappointment of a negative IVF result was one matter, but to hear a fertility doctor’s disbelief at your inability to get pregnant stung hard as well.
Carolina recalls just how upsetting it was and admits that she was “feeling lost” at that time.
But her determination to be a mother never wavered.
It was back to doing more research on IVF treatments.
This led her down a path to finding a new fertility specialist. From the get-go, his professional demeanour set her at ease.
Reassurances from the specialist came in the form of reminders that there’s little value in looking back on past events.
Further lab tests were taken in an attempt to pinpoint the root cause of the difficulty in her getting pregnant.
“There were no issues with the eggs, and for my husband, there were also no issues with the mortality rate and health of his sperms,” Carolina shares.
Fortunately this time, Carolina became pregnant, and she gave birth to Clyde in August 2021.
Receiving unsolicited advice
For Carolina, the addition of Clyde has given their family a more complete feel.
And over the last 21 months, she’s beginning to understand what motherhood means to her.
“I always thought that I had the instinct to take care of kids because I grew up caring for my brother’s children,” she confesses.
But when Clyde came along, Carolina learned that first-hand experience is useful too.
“The very first day I brought my baby home, he was actually starving.
“But I didn’t know that he was crying frantically because he was hungry.”
Thankfully, she had her sister-in-law and confinement nanny to guide her along.
Speaking from her experience so far, Carolina opens up about the stigma surrounding unconventional motherhood.
Upon finding out about her struggles to get pregnant, some mums would offer unsolicited advice.
These vary from making temple visits to the age-old ‘legs in the air’ myth.
While her close friends are more tactful with their choice of words, online forums, ex-colleagues and acquaintances can sometimes rub her the wrong way.
She’d be reminded that IVF treatment may not always provide the intended result and that the process can be a very painful one.
While societal behaviours take time to change, Carolina is pleased by the government’s efforts in supporting women who struggle with infertility.
She points to the White Paper on Singapore Women’s Development, released last March, on women, including singles, being allowed to freeze their eggs for non-medical reasons to preserve their fertility.
Carolina recalls just how happy she was about the White Paper.
“I know a lot of friends who haven’t found a partner yet and they also love kids,” she tells us.
Such shifts in policy can also assist a woman in welcoming a little one.
Using “unconventional” as a term to describe IVF treatment is all well and good but that should not come with the stigma and labelling, like in Carolina’s case.
Seeing changes made at the institutional level is “really good”, but Carolina believes that there’s always more that can be done.
This time around, maybe it’s time for society to buck up and follow suit.