Singapore

Why some women pick lifestyle over kids

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently expressed his concerns about Singapore's low fertility rate. Two career women discuss the choices they made when they first got married and how they feel about them now

Madam Norasidah Jamali, 40, lives a life full of children, even though she has none.

An English teacher of special needs children, she tells The New Paper on Sunday that she treats the children in her class as if they were her own.

She also has eight nieces and nephews who visit her often, and is as close to them as she is to her 30 students.

While we were speaking on Friday afternoon, she received a phone call from a former student calling to see if she was free to have a casual chat.

"Oh yes, they call me quite often to update me about their lives, to ask for advice or even to meet up for a drink," she says.

Madam Norasidah and her husband didn't intend to remain childless.

She and Mr Zaidi Hussein, 45, married 11 years ago and have been trying for a child for the last five years.

They had put off having children for the first five years of their marriage for Madam Norasidah to focus on her studies and career.

Mr Zaidi was busy with his business at the time and didn't have time for children either. Five years ago, they started trying for a child but have been unsuccessful.

They have tried all means - from in-vitro fertilisation to traditional Chinese and Malay medicines - but nothing has worked.

Madam Norasidah says: "I told my husband maybe we should stop trying and accept our childless life."

She says she is no longer the young woman she once was, and is worried about her asthma problems acting up should she get pregnant.

The couple has had to deal with unkind speculation from people they know.

"Some people want to know if I am sick, or claim that we aren't trying hard enough," she says.

But they take no heed. Most of their relatives understand their predicament.

She says: "My mother-in-law, for example, understood that we weren't ready early in our marriage, and now she accepts that maybe we just aren't fated for it."

POSITIVE

Madam Norasidah says they stay positive.

When asked if she had any regrets, she says she has none. "Even though I have no children, I'm lucky that I have so many children to take care of in my work," she says.

Looking on the bright side, she adds: "Well, my nieces and nephews tell me, 'Maybe not having children is a good thing, so now you can spend all your time loving us instead'."

She laughs at the thought of this, then nods and says: "Well, they might be right!"

'I don't want stress of raising kids'

When considering motherhood, she felt it was a choice between living a lavish lifestyle and raising a child.

She and her husband chose lifestyle.

Married for 12 years, the 40-year-old events director and her husband now each drive a sports car - a Porsche 911 Carrera and a BMW convertible.

They travel overseas at least twice a year, mostly to European countries, and usually go clubbing every week.

She tells The New Paper on Sunday: "My husband and I can enjoy the things we do without being shackled to responsibilities at home.

"All these things will not be possible if we have children."

She says she has resisted her parents' attempts at convincing her to have a child. "My mother volunteered to help but it's not like she can take care of my child forever.

"And my father-in-law is so old and living with my sister-in-law who is single. If he were to take care of my child, how can he cope?

"Of course, he was very upset because he does not have any grandchildren.

"But my parents have long given up."

CANCER SCARE

She admits that in their second year of marriage, she wanted to have a child.

But she was then confronted with the possibility that her husband might have cancer.

She says: "He didn't actually have cancer. But I realised then that if he had died and I was left alone to take care of my child, I would have been in ruins."

Mr Michael Chin, 43, a counsellor and marriage expert from Care Corner Counselling Centre, says some women may have a phobia of having children.

Potential parents are often worried about their inability to cope with the demands of parenthood, he says.

The events director says: "I have seen how some of my friends travel and worry about arrangements for childcare.

"And I also don't want to worry about my children's school, their grades and tuition classes.

"I don't want that kind of stress."

She goes on at length about the things she needs to do if she has a child.

They include breastfeeding, visits to the doctor and taking them to school.

"I already have stress from work, why should I give myself more unnecessary headaches?"

There are so many things to consider that it overshadows the joys of motherhood for her.

When asked what it would take for her to have a child, she bluntly says: "Nothing, I'm afraid.

"My dog Buttercup, which I've had for three years, is enough to satiate my maternal instincts."

WHAT EXPERTS SAY

"If money is not the issue, then it could be just the unwillingness to commit the time and forgo the probability of a successful career, which may involve lots of travelling and working in different parts of the world. Raising children is a long-term commitment which requires time and effort, and not something which could be easily outsourced to others."

- Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser, sociologist at the National University of Singapore

"There are cases where couples have a real phobia of having children. Based on the cases I've seen, they are genuinely afraid of bearing the responsibility of raising a child, which makes them hesitate about having children."

- Mr Michael Chin, 43, counsellor and marriage expert from Care Corner Counselling Centre

"I believe the reason for low birth rates is not just parents not having children, but people who do not want to settle down and have a family. One of the greatest fears non-parents have is the responsibility of raising children and making sure they grow up well."

- Mr Winston Tay, 37, who writes on family issues at www.blogfather.sg

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