Zao Bao Article (Dated 10 June 2018)
Felicia Tan knows well the pain of losing a child. She was once pregnant twice in one year and lost 3 babies. Felicia turned to writing to overcome the pain of her loss and published her books hoping it would help other bereaved parents walk out from the shadows of their pain.
In 2015, she finally welcomed her “Rainbow baby” – son Titus Low Jia Sheng, born after 10 years of marriage. Afterwards, Felicia joined “Angel Hearts”, an organization that provides Angel Gowns for babies who have gone before their time, to work through her own grief while helping other bereaved parents.
Felicia Tan (40 years old) has been pregnant thrice in the last 7 years but only on the third time was she able to hear the cries of her baby. The first two times, it was herself and her husband who cried.
Pregnancy and child birth have long been regarded as a given but, not all couples can become parents successfully. Oftentimes, infertility, miscarriage and other issues make the road to becoming parents one filled with heartache. Felicia’s three pregnancies were all boys, and in her 2nd pregnancy, she was carrying twins. But the babies from the first two pregnancies were born too prematurely and could not survive.
Then in 2015, after 10 years of marriage, Felicia and her husband, Low Lieneng (44 years old) welcomed their SG50 baby. Felicia said, “I remember saying to my husband in the maternity ward, congratulations, you are finally a father”.
On June 23rd, Felicia’s son will turn three. Although born slightly prematurely at 35 weeks, and initially with weak lungs, today he is a healthy and happy boy.
On the day of the interview, her son was running a fever and resting at home, however he was still very active, playing with his toys and asking his mother to shower him. When talking about her son, Felicia smiled happily and said, “It was so difficult for us to become parents, so my husband and I do spoil him. When my son is not feeling well, I do get worried and sometime over-react. But we remind ourselves not to overindulge and mollycoddle him.
A Cervix that dilates too early
Some women like Felicia Tan suffer from a condition known as Incompetent Cervix (IC), which leads to premature births. In her first two pregnancies, Felicia gave birth prematurely at 23 weeks and 21 weeks respectively.
In general, during a pregnancy, the cervix remains tight until contractions start and it is time for delivery. However, in an incompetent cervix, the cervix starts to dilate without contractions, leading to the water bag being broken and the baby being born prematurely. During Felicia’s second pregnancy, the doctor performed a cervical cerclage, a surgical procedure where the cervix is sown closed during pregnancy. Unfortunately for Felicia, the procedure wasunsuccessful, and she lost her twins.
All the first three premature babies had names
After 6, 7 years of marriage, Felicia and her husband were looking forward to the birth of their first son, who they had named Dominic Low. But he was born prematurely at 23 weeks weighing only 525 grams, with his eyes and ears not fully developed but with fully formed hands and feet. Felicia and her husband could only cry helplessly while watching his heartbeat slow to a stop.
Her twins from her 2nd pregnancy, Elvis and Louis were also born prematurely. 21 weeks into the pregnancy, Felicia was rushed to hospital with bleeding. Although her water bag had not broken, her stitch tore. Felicia was given an injection and put on bed rest but after two days, she had severe contractions and gave birth to the twins while in the maternity ward.
Felicia’s first two pregnancies were through IVF. Although medical science has advanced a lot, IVF is still a procedure filled with hope, disappointment and a rollercoaster of emotions for couples. Felicia said, “During the first pregnancy, we were happily buying all the baby’s things including his crib. When I gave birth to him prematurely, my family put everything away before I was discharged so I would not come home and be reminded of the loss. During my third pregnancy, we waited until our son was born safely and in the neonatal ICU before we started preparing everything he would need his homecoming”.
In the last few years, while Felicia has been focused on having a healthy child, her younger sister has had three children. Felicia said, “Coincidentally, my sister and I got pregnant around the same time and she had three smooth deliveries. While I am happy for her, I also couldn’t help feeling sad for myself. My sister sometimes tells me that she feels guilty that while it has been easy for her to become a mother, I have faced so many obstacles. Of course, I understand that this is not her fault. My family, my husband and mother-in-law have always been by my side, supporting me.
“In the first few years of marriage, relatives and friends frequently asked when we were going to have children. After the first two unsuccessful pregnancies, people started to ask, “How many times are you going to try? Why not adopt a child?”. Now that we have a child, people ask, “When are you going to have another one?”
My heart was pierced by three knives
While recounting her story, Felicia remained dry-eyed although she had already shed countless tears in the past. The first two unsuccessful pregnancies also put her health at risk.
The rupture of amniotic fluid not only presents the possibility of foetal infection, but also threatensmaternal health. When doctors inject large amounts of antibiotics, they also increase the risk of maternal kidney and heart failure. Even though she had lost her baby, as with any other childbirth, Felicia still had to undergo confinement and continued to produce breastmilk.
From 2011 to 2012, she was pregnant twice in one year and lost three babies. Felicia admitted whenever she was depressed, she could not help but feel guilty. She said, “I felt like my heart had been pierced by three knives, and while the blood had dried, the wounds and the pain remained.”
Whenever it was the death anniversary of one of her babies, she would inevitably ask herself if she should try again to have a baby. Truly, not everyone can withstand so many physical and emotional blows. But as Felicia told me firmly during the interview, “I always believed I would have a child”.
Not part of my life but part of my existence
With a strong determination to be a mother, Felicia, at 36 years old in 2014 became pregnant for the third time, and this time it was naturally conceived! She also took medicine and injections at the doctor’s suggestion to effectively control the problem of cervical weakness.
She said, “During my third pregnancy, I was surprisingly calm. I thought I would cry when I finally gave birth, but I did not. My heart was full of indescribable emotions and all I could do was look at my new born son. Later, I wrote my son a letter, “It has not been an easy road to get here but finally the sun has come up after the rain. Is this a re-birth or another chance? I only know that I must cherish every moment and do my best. I don’t know what lies ahead but I know that with you at my side, everything will be worthwhile.”
Just like a rainbow after the rain, Titus Low is the “rainbow baby” that Felicia finally welcomed after weathering storms. A “rainbow baby” is a baby born following a miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or infant loss. The rainbow symbolizes hope, and a rainbow baby brings light again after the darkness, but it does not replace the angel babies who have gone before them.
Time has not lessened the pain for Felicia, only changed it. Sometimes, the pain is like a soft murmur, other times like a crashing tidal wave. “When I bring my son out, people will ask “Is this your eldest?”. Although it is a simple question, yet it makes me think of my angel babies and I have so much to say but am unable to say it. One day, my son suddenly asked me, “Mummy, where is my elder brother?”. I was stunned at his question and sad while wondering how my son knew to ask such a question and how I should reply. Later I found out that it was his older cousin that he is referring to. Just like that, I realised that while my three sons may not be in my life, they will forever be a part of my existence.”
Making burial clothes for babies who have gone before their time
Felicia hoped that she would be able to use her experience and understanding of the pain of losing a child and the difficulties of recovering from such a loss to help other bereaved parents and let them know they are not alone. So last year, she jointed a local volunteer group “Angel Hearts” to help run the organization.
The founder of the group is Rosalind Ang Nappalli who two years ago founded “Angel Gowns” with the aim of sewing burial clothes known as angel gowns for babies lost through miscarriage, stillbirths or other illnesses. The group was later renamed “Angel Hearts”, meaning ” Angel babies that we have lost but are forever close to our hearts.”
The organization currently has over 100 volunteers who communicate through Facebook and WhatApp and meet regularly to share sewing skills for the angel gowns.
A little angel on each angel gown
These angel gowns are made from donated wedding gowns and other formal wear and re-purposed into angel gowns of various sizes. For babies who have passed away before 20 weeks, there are wraps and beanies.
Felicia said, “Before there were angel gowns, bereaved parents would have to buy dolls dresses to fit their little ones as even new born clothes are too big. With each angel gown, there is an angel pendant sewn on the gown for parents as a keepsake.” Felicia mentioned in one of her books that when her first baby was cremated, they did not even have a proper burial outfit.
The volunteers at Angel Hearts re-purpose the wedding gowns into angel gowns of various sizes and designs. The materials from the wedding gowns are packed into kits and given to volunteers who sew from home using printed sewing tutorials and patterns. Whenever the team receives a wedding gown, they will take pictures and make a record of the gown including date received and name of donor to ensure that each gown is handled appropriately.
Once sewn, the angel gowns are given a wash and packed for distribution to various hospitals including KK Women and Children’s hospital, Mt Alvernia hospital and others. Angel Hearts volunteers do not have direct contact with bereaved parents unless bereaved parents reach out to them.
Felicia Tan said, “Everything from sewing supplies, gown packaging to delivery as well as sewing workshops and even refreshments at meet-ups have all been provided by volunteers who not only donate their time but their money as well. To raise funds for all these costs, volunteers make handicrafts such as jewellery, pencil cases and tissue holders for sale at fairs and bazaars.
Sewing angel gowns is for some volunteers part of the healing process.Angel Hearts has also collaborated with Whispering Hope Singapore to provide counselling services to help such volunteers and bereaved parents who reached out to Angel Hearts after receiving angel gowns, to work through their grief.
Writing and crying at the computer
Felicia said when her son grows up, she will tell him about the story of his three older brothers. She has also written about her journey of loss, pain and eventual motherhood in three books – To Baby With Love, Lost And Found andA Gift From Heaven.
Felicia is self-employed and works on graphic and web design. She also writes a blog and kept a journal while she was pregnant. She self-published her three books and said, “I published my books on my angel babies and my rainbow baby with the hope that by sharing my story with other bereaved parents, it would help them on their healing journey. I also hope it helps people to understand the process of conception and pregnancy and the problems that could arise. Everyone’s life experience is different but we all need the same courage and strength to meet life challenges.
The silver lining in the clouds
“When I finished the first book, it was also the time that my first child should have been due. I wrote the book while often crying at my computer. But I hoped that something positive would come out of it and that my book would help others to understand the challenges some women face with fertility. At the same time, I want to help others appreciate mothers as well as the children they have. Children are a gift from God, not a burden and having a child should not be taken as a given.”
Having read her three books, I can feel her great courage and perseverance. I believe her three angel babies have given her strength to overcome her suffering. Felicia said, “After her books were published, she received quite a few enquiries as well as words of encouragement and concern from readers. Now, in addition to being busy with her work and family, she also participates in events to share her experience and motivate others.
To find more or buy the books, please go to https://artoflife22.com/shop.