Disclaimer: In Real Life is a platform for everyday people to share their experiences and voices. All articles are personal stories and do not necessarily echo In Real Life’s sentiments.
I have been married for nearly 15 years to a loving husband. I work in a stable job, my parents are well taken care of, and I paid off my house loan ahead of time.
Everything seemed to have gone according to plan. Well, except for the fact that for the first 10 years, I was childless. And every year, as if to remind me of my failure, my relatives would ask me: “Wong, when are you having kids?”
I had a miscarriage when I was in my third year
In my 3rd year of marriage, I got pregnant. I was ecstatic! I couldn’t hold in my joy and expectation.
We went to see a gynecologist and get the ultrasound pictures. The doctor gave me some medication for morning sickness and a list of foods to avoid. But I was simply reeling from the news that I was going to be a mother.
I told my relatives about the news, and they were very happy to hear the news.
My husband started buying baby products. We researched articles, listened to talks, and had long conversations with our gyne. We were so ready to welcome our little one into the world.
One day, I was getting ready to go to work when I felt something wrong move in my uterus. I phoned the doctor and my husband rushed me to the hospital. I had a sinking feeling that it was worse than a simple bout of nausea.
I just knew, even before the doctor gave me the shattering news, that my baby was gone.
When they confirmed it, I could feel my world become unbalanced. It felt like the floor had crumbled under my feet. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t breathe.
My baby is gone, my inner voice screamed, everything else fading into a greyed out filter. From amidst the chaos, a small voice piped up, how will I break the news to my relatives now?
I had suffered a miscarriage, and I had to pick up my life as if nothing had happened. The baby products we were planning to buy, the talks we attended, the late night pillow-talks we had with each other about how we would raise our child from birth to adulthood — all of that disappeared in an instant, and we had to pretend to be married, childless, and happy again.
After that day, I had trouble conceiving again for 7 years.
Emotionally, that decade had taken a heavy toll on me.
But none of my in-laws or family members could understand my pain and desperation.
Every CNY, I would be asked, “When are you going to have kids? You’re not young anymore.”
I would answer through gritted teeth, “We’re trying our best.”
Whenever I opened up about my condition, suddenly each aunt and uncle became the World’s No. 1 Fertility Expert, promoting some special tonic, pills or methods that their so-and-so had tried.
But instead of taking my soft “no” for an answer, they would barrage me with links to some herbal website claiming to solve women’s childbearing problems with a few dried herbs and spices.
At one point, I became so frustrated that I refused to go CNY visiting one year. This outright refusal, mentioned two weeks before CNY came around, led to a huge argument within my family.
“Why don’t you want to come back?” They asked me, incredulous. The way they were reacting, it was like I had publicly disowned them.
I wanted to fire back, “Because everytime I do, I’m reminded of the time my baby died inside me.”
But of course I didn’t, because I’m Chinese and we don’t say things like that. So instead, I just told them I needed space. They still didn’t quite understand, and things soured between me and them for a while.
That year was the year I became depressed and had terrible mood swings.
On the one hand, I hated that it was my personal issue that caused such misunderstanding in the family. On the other, I resented them for not being more understanding.
I had made countless visits to gynaecologists, fertility clinics and even prayer groups all in the name of trying to have a child. Having family members pester me about them, was only reminding me of my failure.
Then in my 9th year, I became pregnant with twins.
That particular CNY stood out as a very happy one for me. I was overcome with relief. At last, I was able to meet relatives and show them my baby bump!
“This will shut everyone up,” I thought, with no small amount of satisfaction.
But after my children were born, I found that the prying questions I got about having kids never really go away — they just evolved.
“Why have you gained so much weight?” They asked.
Duh, because I gave birth!
The next few CNYs after that, I asked, “When are your kids going to be able to read?” or “When are your daughters going to be more ladylike?”
This will never end, not until I’m the oldest person in the room.
There’s a unacknowledged toxicity in Asian families that many don’t realise
Let’s face it — these pesky questions about one’s childbearing and marital status have always been part of our Chinese culture. Some might say I am being oversensitive, that I should just develop a ‘thick skin’.
But why should the responsibility be on me to manage my emotions to unwanted questions? Why can’t the people asking them be more considerate to begin with?
Do we really need to suck it up every year when we get drilled by our nosy relatives? How do you save yourselves from all the agony?
But I’ve learnt that no response can be a good response. Even though not coming round for CNY was a drastic move that ruffled some feathers, I felt the need to do that to preserve my own mental health.
One thing the older generation needs to understand is that there’s no “right” time to get married, have kids, or settle down – especially when a pandemic delays life plans for so many.
And ultimately, the culture should change so that we bear our children because we want them, not for the sake of others.
For more stories like this, read: 8 Things Your Relatives Always Ask During Chinese New Year Reunion.
Edited by Gabriel Gan with permission by the author.
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