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10 years and three kids later: Why I had my first child early
People & Society Articles

10 years and three kids later: Why I had my first child early

Elaine and her kids

We discovered that we were expecting our first child about three months after we got married back in late 2007.

It came as a bit of a shock – my family had just gone through a period of mourning after my grandfather’s funeral – and set off a series of complex emotions stirring within.

My husband, however, had far fewer issues.

“Huh, sure or not. Can you check again?” my husband said after I showed him the test, which proclaimed on its box that it was correct 99 per cent of the time.

The second test did not turn out differently, even though my husband stared at and shook the test kit for a while longer. This meant that I would be a mother at 26.

Some women still ask me, 10 years and two more children later, why and how I did it.

Why did I start having children so young? Did I not worry about my career or money? What about friends, or scuba diving or being able to watch a movie at night without leaving halfway because your toddler woke up crying for you?

Ahead of the curve

Back in 2006, the median age that Singapore women got married was 26.9 years. Their first birth was slightly more than two years later, at 29.5 years.

I was ahead of the curve – I got married at 25, and my first birth was at 26.

If this sounded rushed, it wasn’t. I didn’t plan for either marriage or children to come early. All I knew was that I always wanted to get married and start a family. So when the right guy came along, why not?

Similarly, we knew that we wanted to have kids. We were open to the idea from the start. And when the news broke, it was cause for celebration rather than consternation.

There were the usual comments from my aunties.

“Wah, you married so early!”

“Why so fast? Then your job, how?”

Of course, we were worried about what having a baby so early would mean for our future.

We were just starting out in our jobs – he was in media, and I was in research, and we had a mortgage to pay for our new home.

Money was tight and we had to keep a careful watch on expenses so that we could save. Having a baby meant that the purse strings had to be tightened even further.

We also had to ditch the idea of quick weekend getaways or long leisurely trips to Europe or Japan. Instead, we went to Bali for our honeymoon.

But the biggest challenge I faced was not in the material things. It was having to raise a family with few friends.

My mother-in-law stays with us and helps take care of the kids. She is essentially the third parent. But peers are something you cannot replace.

Whether it is at primary school, or university or even at work, we make friends with people our age because we have shared interests and things to talk about.

Almost no one in my circle was married back then, much less had a baby.

I didn’t have anyone to talk to about breastfeeding, or ask about co-sleeping. Even if I did raise the topic with my friends, they would listen politely but offer nothing in return.

I eventually turned to the Internet and found other mothers on online forums. They were often older than me but were also going through their first pregnancy. They became my support group and eventually my friends.

Is it worth it? Oh yes!

Recently, someone asked me whether I had any regrets in having kids so early.

My immediate answer: Not at all.

Sure, it was difficult at the start. Being a young first-time mum with less life experience than a mum in her 30s meant that I probably made many mistakes. I also probably handled things less well than a mature mum would have.

But the long-term pay-off is overwhelming.

For one thing, you can never take fertility for granted. Maybe it’s the food we eat, our lifestyles or the air that we breathe but more men and women are dealing with infertility.

According to scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, sperm counts among men in the west have more than halved in the past 40 years and are currently falling by an average of 1.4 per cent a year.

Many people we know have trouble conceiving, especially if they get married at an older age.

My philosophy has always been simple: If you want kids, it’s always better to have them early than risk not having them at all.

Secondly, having kids early means that by the time my kids are grown up, I still have a long runway to go.

This is why I don’t have any regrets about my career. I worked for about eight years at the research agency before stopping work and having my third. In about five years, when my youngest who is 2, goes to primary school, I intend to head back to work.

In fact, I am currently training to be a certified breastfeeding counsellor, something I hope to do full-time at some point in the near future. In many ways, it is my second career.

The biggest pay-off, however, is my kids themselves. Everyone told me that it will be difficult but no one told me it would be fun as well.

I love watching them grow up and their personalities form; marvelling at how different they are from each other, even though they live in the same home, eat the same food and watch the same TV.

And every night when I hold my smallest one’s hands to sleep, I think about the first time I held the pregnancy test result in my hands, and how excited and scared I was at the same time.  I’m glad I made the decision to have kids, early as it was.


Related tags: mothers , babies

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