Becoming A Mother At 39
For many Singaporeans, happily ever after looks like this: getting married to the love of your life, having a child and starting a family together. With how normal all this seems, we don’t often hear about the struggles that some couples go through just to conceive a baby.
In fact, 1 in 6 Singaporean women experience difficulty conceiving, yet the topic is still taboo. For 40-year-old Melissa, she went through three painful miscarriages — the last nearly taking her life — and two failed IVF cycles before she finally conceived her firstborn daughter in 2021. We spoke to Melissa, who shared with us her darkest struggles, and why motherhood is so important to her.
- Becoming A Mother At 39
- Melissa Shares Her Struggles & Success From Conceiving Her Firstborn Daughter At 39 Years Old
Struggling to conceive after marriage
Melissa during a photoshoot
Image courtesy of Melissa
Growing up with our parents by our side every moment, we don’t take the time to think of the sacrifices they went through for us before we were born.
Melissa herself was unaware, sharing that, “I didn’t have much of an opinion on childbirth when growing up. I thought it was very common — I never saw anyone around me having problems conceiving either, including all the women in my family.”
So when Melissa first got married at 33 years old, it didn’t take long for her to feel excited from seeing two lines on the pregnancy test indicating that she was pregnant. Unfortunately, that excitement didn’t last long.
“Around five to six weeks into the pregnancy, my gynae told me that there was no heartbeat. We had no choice but to terminate the pregnancy.”
Despite feeling upset about the first miscarriage, Melissa still kept her head high. She thought that it was easy to get pregnant again, but little did she know that the second time around would take longer than she expected. She consumed some supplements and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) herbs to increase her chances of conceiving. Sure enough, she was pregnant again after three months of trying.
“The second pregnancy went on longer than the first. But after 21 weeks, my water bag broke and I had to be admitted to the hospital. Because there was no more amniotic fluid in my womb, the baby couldn’t survive. I was devastated.”
Aftermath of undergoing three miscarriages
It took a long while for Melissa to grieve and recover from experiencing two miscarriages before trying again. She still hoped for another pregnancy — which eventually came — except this time, she wasn’t even aware that she was pregnant.
For ladies, a pregnancy scare correlates to missing a period cycle or two. But Melissa was still having her period, so naturally, she didn’t suspect anything. But one day, she had an abdominal pain so intense that she was rushed to the hospital.
The cause of this sudden pain? A baby was growing in her fallopian tube instead of her womb, also known as an ectopic pregnancy.
“Since the space in the fallopian tube was so tiny and the baby was growing bigger and bigger, the fallopian tube was on the verge of rupturing. Emergency surgery had to be done to remove the whole fallopian tube as it was beyond repair. The baby was around 10 weeks old at that point, and I didn’t even know about it until I had to undergo surgery.”
This meant that Melissa went through three miscarriages in total, with this last one nearly taking her life. If her fallopian tube had ruptured, Melissa would have suffered from major internal bleeding.
At that point, things were looking quite bleak for Melissa. All three pregnancies resulted in her not having the chance to hold a baby in her arms.
To make matters worse, after doing a check up, she was informed that the other fallopian tube that she had left wasn’t looking too good either. She was diagnosed with Tubal Factor Infertility, which is a blockage in the fallopian tube that prevents the egg and sperm from meeting. There was an added risk of getting an ectopic pregnancy again if she were to try conceiving naturally. Her hopes of becoming a mother dimmed as time went on.
Resorting to try IVF
During this point of time, Melissa also saw her peers getting pregnant and starting families one after another. While she tried to be happy for them, deep down she was dealing with her own demons — wondering if she could ever be a mother and feeling the pressure of giving grandchildren to her parents.
Many of us can relate to the feeling of masking our pain in front of our friends and family. But with all that Melissa had gone through, the facade she put on hurt her tenfold. “I began to feel like a failure.”
Not wanting to give up, Melissa sought her gynae, who then recommended her to do In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF), a process where the egg is removed from the woman’s ovaries and fertilised with the male’s sperm in a lab. The embryo would then be inserted into the woman’s womb to grow.
Her husband was quite sceptical about IVF at first. For reference, a public hospital charges up to $15,000 per cycle, whereas a private medical centre costs up to $22,000. Not only was it pricey, but they had also not heard of anyone around them doing the procedure before. Plus, they were worried about what others would think of them not conceiving naturally.
But Melissa was desperate. She was already 37 years old by then. “I really did not care anymore. As long as the goal remained to have a child on our own, I had to convince him.”
In the end, her husband was supportive of them trying again because they really wanted to have a baby together. Going through with the IVF, Melissa had to find the strength to do a self-administered injection every day for around 10 to 14 days. She was informed that the embryos didn’t look good, but still went through with inserting the best one into her womb.
However, the embryo did not stick. Melissa tried IVF again, and the second embryo did not stick either. Spending all this time going to and fro to the hospital and experiencing failure after failure soon began to take a toll on Melissa’s mental health.
Trying a different approach
Melissa with her husband when she was pregnant
Image courtesy of Melissa
As Melissa was going to try IVF again for the third time, the Covid-19 pandemic struck. This meant she had to wait longer to start a new cycle. It wasn’t exactly a bad thing — with the extra time, she decided to take her time and not to rush right into it.
“I really wanted to adjust my body and condition it to be ready for the third one. I didn’t want to fail again.”
While researching for tips online, Melissa discovered that many mothers went for Babies Bliss’ Fertility Strengthening Massage before undergoing IVF. On forum pages, women who succeeded in IVF, aka IVF Warriors within the community, were praising this treatment. Since Melissa wanted to leave no stone unturned to prepare her body for pregnancy, she decided to give this massage a shot.
“When I contacted them, they told me that I had to condition my body at least three to four months before starting my next IVF cycle. They visited my house and did this fertility massage that was so relaxing that I always fell asleep.
They also brought in calming herb scents and gave me tips on how to prepare my body for pregnancy, such as consuming specific types of tea, what ingredients to use when cooking and to put on socks at home to warm my womb.”
But of course, even with all of that, Melissa also had to believe that things would work out for her. As she went through multiple Babies Bliss’ massages, she also tried to manifest good things ahead too.
Finally conceiving at 39 years old
Melissa with her daughter
Image courtesy of Melissa
For those who believe in the quote “things will get worse before they get better”, that was just what happened in Melissa’s journey that resulted in. 4 months after undergoing her third IVF, Melissa became pregnant again. This time round, she successfully got through the full pregnancy and gave birth to a daughter in July 2021.
“When I first heard her cry, it was a feeling that cannot be described. All of us shed tears of joy and ever since then, our lives have changed. We’re happier as a family, and it made me feel like everything was worth it.”
The most fulfilling part of being a mother? “Watching her grow day by day.”
“I love looking at all her milestones, such as when she first ate, walked and talked. Sometimes, she would come and hug me and my tiredness melts away into happiness.”
TBH, listening to Melissa’s raw emotions while describing her daughter got me a little choked up. I can’t imagine all the pain and struggle she went through for years, and it made me suddenly feel extra grateful for my own mother too.
Advice to all mothers out there
Melissa with her husband and daughter
Image courtesy of Melissa
Even though being a mother was all that Melissa dreamed of for a long time, she still couldn’t deny the inevitable self doubts, asking herself, “am I really a good mum?” But at the end of the day, she believes that as long as her daughter is growing well and is showered by her endless love, then hey, she’s actually doing a pretty good job.
Growing older, Melissa also saw more people like her who were struggling to get pregnant. As she recalled her own experiences dealing with her condition alone without telling her friends, she realised that Singaporeans have to speak up about these issues.
“More people need to hear of these stories, so that they will know how to seek the help that they need. But I also think that we have to be careful when approaching this topic, as it is a very sensitive one. Some might not want to talk about their struggles — and I understand, because I know what it’s like to feel defeated with every pregnancy failure.”
As an IVF warrior herself now, she tries to share whatever she can so that others won’t feel embarrassed to talk about dealing with infertility. Melissa also knows not to push her methods onto other mothers. After all, what works for her might not work for everyone, as our bodies are all very different.
For ladies who are struggling with the aftermath of a miscarriage, Melissa wants to share, “take as long as you need to grieve. There is no definite time frame. Once you’re back on your feet and decide that you really want to be parents, speak to your gynae for advice.”
“Take up hobbies to make you feel happier. Because when you’re happier, everything gets better.”
Even after all the blood, sweat and tears of conceiving her first born at 39 years old, Melissa is actually considering a second child. She’s planning to start soon since she’s already 40 this year, with extra determination to go through everything again.
With Mother’s Day on 14 May this year, Melissa ends off with her well wishes, declaring that “Mother’s Day is not only for those who already have children. I believe that this day is also for people who are still trying to get pregnant, or mothers who have lost their babies.”
“All of you are still women and still mothers. I believe that we’re all doing great, and if being a mother is your true calling, don’t ever give up.”
Cover images courtesy of Melissa.
Some quotes have been edited for brevity and clarity.