Becoming a mum at 18
By Hoe I Yune, Jul 25, 2019
Raising a child is an incredibly challenging journey. And having to raise a child while you’re still growing up yourself makes it that much tougher - this is what happened to Mieko Lange who found herself pregnant at the age of 18.
Her parents insisted that she abort her baby or move out, but Mieko and her then-boyfriend, now-husband, Charles, knew very clearly what they wanted and giving up their baby wasn’t it.
Mieko and Charles chose to become teenage parents. She had to move out of home and give up on an education so as to earn a living. He had to quit smoking and driving, and work and save twice as hard. All they wanted to do? Start and raise a family of their own.
Hi, my name’s Mieko.
Growing up, I always knew I wanted to become a mum. My sister and I would talk about how many kids we would like to have, and I dreamed of getting married at 25, then having my first kid at 27.
But life didn’t go according to plan. I was 18 when I found out I was pregnant.
Charles and I first met at church and I was introduced to him because he was dating one of my friends. I was 16, and he was 20.
Charles had the typical bad boy look, which I didn’t like at first. But we got talking as friends, and I realised that he’s a sensitive guy who’s always willing to help family and friends when they need him the most. That was something we had in common, as I’m close to my family too.
We also shared the same taste in music, and remained friends even after he and my friend broke up.
Like best friends, we could hang out every day and not get sick of each other. Thinking back, it was probably because we were on the same wavelength and could talk about anything and everything while enjoying each other’s company.
Then, my birthday came around and he asked me out to dinner at Hyatt’s Straits Kitchen. To my 16-year-old self, it seemed so grown up and mature. No other guy had ever asked me out to such a nice restaurant before. After dinner, in front of the hotel’s water feature, he asked, “Would you be mine?” It’s so cheesy, I know. We still laugh about it, but I like how personal it was. Of course, I said “Yes.”
For the next year and a half, we led a pretty party-heavy lifestyle. We would go drinking at Clarke Quay or have house parties almost every weekend. So it was really unusual when one day, while drinking, I couldn’t stand the smell of alcohol and smoke.
At this point in time, I hadn’t gotten my period for the past two months. I had been carrying pads and tampons in my bag wherever I went, and I didn’t want to entertain the thought of being pregnant.
Charles suggested we get a pregnancy kit. Even though we’d speculated that I was pregnant, I felt nervous and reluctant to buy one. It seemed so much easier to avoid the truth.
Undeterred, Charles went ahead to buy it and coaxed me to give it a go. “Just take it, then at least you’ll know,” he said.
I took the test three days later and within minutes, the plus sign appeared. I quickly texted Charles and asked him to meet me at a nearby polyclinic the next morning. I wanted a second opinion.
At the polyclinic, I felt really uneasy, and to make matters worse, I felt as if the doctor was talking down to me. When I told him that I took the pregnancy test, he sounded almost dismissive of my request for a consultation. “The pregnancy test would be 99 per cent accurate but if you want, I can arrange for you to take a blood test,” he said in a condescending tone, as if he was looking down on the fact that I was a minor who didn’t know any better.
The blood test results confirmed my pregnancy.
Strangely enough, I didn't have any concerns at the back of my mind, I felt happy. It’s hard to explain but Charles had the same reaction that I did. We were practically jumping for joy and we were excited!
In that moment, we didn’t think about how we had no money, or how we’d have to break the news to our parents.
When I went back in to see the doctor, he asked if I’d like to schedule an abortion. That was when I realised I needed to make a decision. I was handed a referral letter, and told that I could take a few weeks to decide what I wanted to do.
Charles and I had discussed marriage and kids before, and we both knew that was what we wanted eventually. We always saw a future together and this is probably why we were so excited when we received the test results even though the pregnancy was an accident.
But I knew we were also very young.
At that point in time, I was studying for a marketing diploma and working part time as a cashier. An ITE graduate, Charles had just ORD-ed and was working as a machinist at a shipyard.
As much as we wanted to get married, we had to speak with our parents first.
I come from a family of average income. My mum and I are very close, but back then, she was juggling work at a childcare centre while pursuing a degree, so we had very little time together. To text her seemed like the easiest way to break the news. I felt terrified, because I had no idea how she would react.
I was at work the next day when I summoned up the courage to text her. I wrote, “Mommy, I have something to tell you.” She replied asking if I gave up smoking, and this was when I told her that I was pregnant. I remember within two minutes, she replied saying, “We need to have a talk at home.”
My dad doesn’t like to get involved in the emotional side of things, so he leaves it to my mum to deal with me and my sister. But he’ll always support her decision, saying “Whatever mummy says goes”.
When we sat down to talk, my mother was evidently upset and told me, “If you want to have this baby, get out of the house.”
I tried to explain that I wanted to get married because I knew that I loved Charles and that we both wanted a future together, but she couldn’t understand and that frustrated me.
Charles couldn’t bring himself to tell his mum, so when we were together one day, I gave her a call. Waiting around was making me feel increasingly uneasy and wondering how she would react was driving me crazy. Her initial response was to ask us to get married. The problem though is that I was still a minor then and in Singapore, you need your parents’ permission to get married if you’re under 21.
When I told her that my mum was against marriage, she sided with the abortion plan.
I felt like I had no other option. My mum was paying for my school fees, and I didn’t know how I was going to support myself if she chased me out of the house.
I remember being in the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital waiting room and I couldn’t stop crying. It caught the nurses’ attention and they asked if I really wanted to go through with an abortion. “My mum wants me to,” I remember saying in between sobs. I felt so torn. The nurses reassured me that I didn’t need to go through with the appointment if I wasn’t feeling up to it. Looking back now, I can see why many of us can benefit from counselling before a doctor’s appointment.
I went through with the appointment and was given a file with the ultrasound scan inside. That’s when it really hit me. Seeing the scan made me think, that’s our flesh and blood; that’s mine, how can I get rid of it? It was a very surreal and foreign feeling that I can’t quite describe.
Feeling overwhelmed, I ran out of the clinic and Charles followed me, wondering what was going on. I passed him the file and said, “Look inside.” When he saw the ultrasound image, he teared up and called his mum. His mum still tried to convince us that abortion was the right choice, saying “You’re young and can have more kids in the future.” All I wanted to do was to go home.
Charles and I were afraid, but we just couldn’t bear to go through with the abortion. As a practising Catholic, my faith doesn’t believe in abortion either, and that made me feel more confident about my decision. I know a few people who’ve gone through abortions, and I'm not saying if there’s a right or wrong, but it just wasn’t for us. The whole time, we did what we felt was right and figured that if anything turned out to be wrong, we would live with the consequences.
It really helped that Charles and I could agree on a lot of the same things. We might have arguments, but one thing was always clear: we knew that we wanted our relationship to work at the end of the day, and we always choose to love each other.
My mum stood her ground, and I moved out.
Thankfully, one of Charles’s aunts opened up her home to me and said I could stay there for a while. I felt so grateful because I don’t know where I could’ve gone otherwise. Charles and I had to live separately because his family are staunch Catholics who didn’t want us to cohabitate until we were married. We understood where they were coming from and respected their wishes.
It took my mum a few weeks to cool off before she started visiting me, bringing me clothes from home, and taking me out for meals.
I know that while my mum might be firm, she’s also very understanding so she didn’t cut me off entirely. We talked things through, and I realise that she was more worried and afraid for me than angry at me. She wanted me to go with an abortion because she didn’t think I was mature enough or financially prepared to start a family.
Now, as a mother, I get where she was coming from. To be honest, if my 18-year-old daughter tells me one day that she wants to do what I did, I would be like, “Huh? No.”
The question that first crossed everyone’s minds was how we’d cope financially, but it was also a trying time emotionally.
There were the people who said we wouldn’t last as a couple and felt that we were compromising on our future prospects, but we remained firm about our decision. We had so much to worry about that even if there were people who disagreed with our decision to become young parents, we didn’t have the time or mental capacity to address it.
Going through pregnancy was so tiring that I stopped working. Charles came to visit me every day after work as we were living separately throughout my pregnancy. I felt bad that he had to work so hard and still come back to deal with the stress that came from knowing that our parents were against us keeping our baby. He was understanding and would bring one or two friends during his visits, so that I wouldn’t feel as if I lost my old life and sense of identity.
I was the first among my friends to become a mum, so naturally they were curious about what it was like and would ask what it feels like when the baby kicks.
We were lucky in that we had people in our corner. Till today, his cousins and my friends share how they were always rooting for us and think that what we did was respectable.
It took me a while to feel emotionally settled, but it helped that we had faith that a child is a gift from God so if he gives you a child, he would take care of you.
Five months into my pregnancy, we focused on saving money. Before I was pregnant, we would spend everything on cigarettes and alcohol. We did whatever we wanted to do and if money came in today, we would spend it all tomorrow. We knew all these had to change, and we became a lot more prudent.
We not only stopped buying alcohol and cigarettes, we also stopped going to the movies and dining out. We’d eat at home, and instead of shopping for maternity clothes, I’d get hand-me-downs from friends and family. I also gave up studying because I had a more pressing need for money to raise my daughter. We knew we didn’t have enough money but wanted to make it work somehow.
Looking back, I guess it helped that I’m the kind of person who takes things one step at a time.
During monthly checkups, I’d ask the doctor and nurse things I was curious about, such as the epidural and how it works. I would also Google what I could and could not do while pregnant, look up the stages that I was at, and search for images to see what was going on inside.
There’d be all these pictures illustrating when your baby was the size of a peach and at which stage it would have fingers and toes. After a while, I began reading websites on childbirth. The KK website was especially useful. I guess being informed put me at ease.
I also remember having all these random cravings during my pregnancy, and Charles would always helped fix my cravings. There was this one time when I really wanted to eat Oreo cheesecake, so Charles ran out to get it from the nearest McCafe.
It never once crossed my mind that Charles would abandon me, and it was reassuring to see for myself that true enough, he remains steadfast throughout our relationship.
Over time, my mum grew more supportive, which was really helpful when it came time to prepare for the baby’s arrival. She’s really giving as a person, and would think to buy things such as baby clothes and maternity pads - stuff that wasn’t on my mind at that point in time.
After giving birth to our daughter Dayna, I went through a brief spell of postnatal depression. For about one month, I was reluctant to leave the house but found it a bit difficult to explain how I felt to anyone else.
The tipping point was when Charles picked Dayna and I up from the polyclinic after her check-up. I was quiet throughout the ride, and as soon as we reached home, I went into my room and burst out crying. I could hear my mum asking Charles what happened, but I couldn’t stop crying until I dozed off.
When I woke up, I wondered where Dayna was. Seeing how small she was, I said to myself that I needed to be strong because it was my decision to have this baby and live this life. I told myself to buck up and thankfully, I eventually managed to snap out of it.
There was still a lot of moving for me. At one point I moved back with my parents but we argued again, and I’d move out to live with Charles’s different aunts. But wherever Dayna and I were, Charles would come by every night to tuck her into bed before going home.
We probably only became more financially stable when Dayna was about one, because that’s when I got a job as a sales assistant. I was grateful for my mum’s generosity, but I also felt guilty that she was supporting us and I didn’t want to be a burden to her.
My mum also helped me apply for government subsidies. I was still unwed so I was able to apply for the single mother subsidy on top of the basic working mother subsidy. That allowed me to pay only $3 for infant care school fees, which would’ve otherwise cost over $1,000.
It was difficult for my parents to accept Charles in the beginning, just as it was hard for his parents to accept Dayna and me. Even after giving birth, I tried telling my mum that we still wanted to get married. She ended the conversation by saying that we should wait till I turn 21.
The year I turned 21, Charles and I had just finished lunch when he asked, “Shall we go to the beach?” It was so hot so I said, “Don’t want la. Can we just go back to your house for the aircon?” He kept quiet and as I was putting on my helmet, I noticed him smiling weirdly at me.
“Why are you smiling like that? It’s so weird,” I pestered him. He said, “I got the ring but I don’t know how to propose” and burst out laughing. I was so excited that I exclaimed, “OMG you got the ring already!”, and just took it from his hands and put it on my finger. It was so unromantic! I bet Charles would do it over if he could!
Sadly, I didn’t have my parents with me on my wedding day, because they still didn’t want to accept Charles as my husband. Even in my early 20s, they felt I was too young to know what I want and that our marriage wouldn’t last. But my sister was there, and Dayna was our flower girl. I went through all the emotions you’d expect a bride to feel - anxiousness, ecstasy, and that feeling that I was the most beautiful girl on the planet.
A few months after our wedding, my parents finally came around and accepted Charles as my husband. They didn’t think too kindly of him because he got me pregnant, and they didn’t think we were serious because we were so young and financially unstable. But I think they saw how we went through with the wedding and how he cared for Dayna.
A year later, I gave birth to our second child Emma, and we bought our own place. Today, I’m 26, a mother of two, and I’m so happy with my little family.
These days, every Friday, my mum babysits Dayna and Emma so that Charles and I can have time to ourselves. I’ve also just started a new job. I think it’s nice to be able to go out and meet people, and of course earn money to support the household. I’d go mad if I stayed home all day! I love how I can talk to Dayna, who’s now seven, about my job. Whenever I see her in the evening, she would ask, “How was your day at work, Mummy?” and I’d feel my heart melt.
We went through so much as young parents and it was incredibly stressful. Sure, my life didn’t go according to what I had planned, but I wouldn’t want to change a thing.
Photos provided by Mieko Lange.
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