“The gift is still from God”: Letters of Grace family on choosing to keep their special needs child
On this day in history, on March 20, 1970, the abortion law came into effect, having been passed 50 years ago in Parliament in 1969. Since then, more than 660,000 pregnancies have ended in abortion.
Priscilla Goy // March 20, 2019, 5:20 pm
"Grace is so charming and cute. She's a booster!" says mum Serene Siow. The family travelled to Perth for a holiday in December 2018; it was Grace's first plane ride. All photos courtesy of Serene Siow.
When Serene Siow became pregnant 22 years ago, she was not married and decided to abort the child.
Seven years ago, she learnt she was expecting again.
“Previously, I felt I had no choice but to abort. This time round, I had no doubt that I would keep the child,” Siow says.
But it was not an easy decision to keep.
At 22 weeks into her pregnancy, Siow and her husband, Lau Wai Kit, discovered that their child would have a disability.
“I thought I had no choice”
Two decades ago, an unmarried Siow became pregnant for the first time.
She was at a clothes stall in Bangkok, where she was on holiday, when “the woman at the stall asked if I was pregnant. I was so offended. I said, ‘NO.’”
Her legs were swollen, but she thought it was because she had been walking a lot.
Any hint of a kick in her womb was brushed off as spasms. She had polycystic ovary syndrome, which meant that she had irregular periods and the chances of her conceiving were low.
Scans later confirmed that she was about four months’ pregnant. Her then-boyfriend, the child’s father, did not want the child, but left the final decision to her.
“Previously, I felt I had no choice but to abort. This time round, I had no doubt that I would keep the child.”
She came up with multiple reasons to abort: “I had no money, didn’t know how to raise a baby, wasn’t married, wasn’t sure if I wanted to marry my then-boyfriend. I really thought that I had no choice.”
She kept her pregnancy a secret from her family and wore loose clothes so no one would notice the baby bump.
“I decided that no one could know about the abortion. Otherwise, my mum will die. I’ll die.”
Hours before the abortion procedure, she could feel her son – she knew the unborn child’s gender by then – kicking actively.
“That memory of him kicking is very vivid. I was struggling,” she says. “A part of me knew that aborting him was wrong, but I tried not to think too much about it. I wanted to get it over and done with.”
The procedure was over in a few hours. It was just five days after the confirmation that she was pregnant.
“It all happened fairly quickly. I rested for a day and went back to work the next day.”
About a year later, she broke up with her then-boyfriend, as he was seeing someone else.
A devastating discovery
Siow married Lau Wai Kit in 2008. Their first child, Isaac, was born a year later.
In 2012, Siow discovered she was expecting their second child, but there was bad news during one of the couple’s visits to their gynaecologist.
“I was really looking forward to the detailed ultrasound scan, but as the scan went on, I saw the doctor’s face and I could tell something wasn’t right,” remembers Lau.
“He went silent for a long while. He scanned over and over again, and I asked, ‘Doc, is the baby ok?’ Then he said, ‘Something’s wrong with the baby.’
“He didn’t want to tell us what was wrong at that moment.”
Instead, the gynae told them to go for lunch and return later, after his consultations with other patients.
Siow and Lau left the clinic, went to a stairwell in the hospital and broke down.
“The gynae asked, ‘Do you want to keep the baby?’”
The next few moments after they returned to the gynae were a blur.
The doctor told them their child had spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when the spine and spinal cord do not develop properly.
He explained some of the potential complications, such as mobility issues and bladder problems, and advised them to see various specialist doctors.
One moment stood out in the couple’s memory.
Siow says: “The gynae asked, ‘Do you want to keep the baby?’
“It was a resounding ‘yes’. We didn’t even hesitate.”
Lau adds: “We prayed for Isaac and we prayed for Grace. I felt that I asked God for a gift, the gift came in a box, and the box was a bit tattered and torn.
“But the gift is still from God.
“Every child deserves to live, and live out his or her purpose.”
A difficult decision
In the months leading up to Grace’s birth, Siow cried every day.
“I was very fearful. I didn’t know how she’d turn out, didn’t know the extent of the damage and the care required, didn’t know whether we could afford the expenses,” she says.
“I just prayed and told God, ‘You gave us this baby, so we know you’ll provide for everything.’ And He did, so many times, whether it was in the form of encouragement from people, finances, or timely advice.”
A friend who prayed for her also felt that God wanted Siow to turn her eyes to Him, and the song Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus remains a special one to her till this day.
“I told them, ‘How could you say that I won’t be dedicated to the business if I have a special needs child?'”
However, the couple also faced criticism when they told a few close friends of their choice.
“They said, ‘You’d have to spend so much money. You’re not fair to your family, you’d deprive your other children of finances,’” Lau says. “A friend told me, ‘You’re so selfish’ – those were the words he used. ‘You deprive your children of a better life.’”
Another friend, who had plans to go into business with Lau, questioned if Lau would still be dedicated to the business if he had a child with special needs. Other friends said they would rather end a child’s life so the child need not suffer.
“The comments didn’t make me doubt if my choice was right, but they made me angry,” he says.
“I told them, How could you say that I’m less of a father because I can’t provide more to my family in terms of finances? How could you say that I won’t be dedicated to the business if I have a special needs child? How could you say that my child would suffer?”
In the midst of all this, he was encouraged by a poem by Claudia Minden Weisz that a friend shared with him.
I asked God to take away my pride, and God said “NO”.
He said it was not for Him to take away, but for me to give up.
I asked God to make my handicapped child whole, and God said “NO”.
He said her spirit is whole, her body is only temporary.
I asked God to grant me patience, and God said “NO”.
He said that patience is a by-product of tribulation,
it isn’t granted, it’s earned.
I asked God to give me happiness, and God said “NO”.
He said He gives blessings, happiness is up to me.
I asked God to spare me pain, and God said “NO”.
He said suffering draws you apart from worldly cares
and brings you closer to me.
I asked God to make my spirit grow, and He said “NO”.
He said I must grow on my own, but He will prune me to make me fruitful.
I asked God to help me love others as much as He loves me,
And God said “Ah, finally you have the idea!”
The poem reminded him that life and its challenges are transient, and what matters more is eternal life.
In a heartbeat
After Grace was born, the family lived in blocks of three-hour periods.
Every three hours on a daily basis, Grace – who will be six this year – requires clean intermittent catheterisation (CIC), a process in which a thin tube (catheter) is inserted through the urethra into the bladder to drain urine. She also has a permanent shunt in her body, to help drain extra fluid from her brain to her bladder.
“When God gives us something and we accept it, He’s faithful to meet our needs.”
In addition, she has club feet. She wears leg braces which correct her position and posture, and help her walk better. As she grows, her leg braces need to be changed when they no longer fit.
In the beginning the family had to go to the hospital once a week on average for Grace’s various checkups and operations. They now go once or twice every six months.
Says Siow, now 43: “I hurt her once during CIC, and when I saw her so ke lian (Mandarin for “poor thing”), I asked myself if I had made the right choice to keep her.
“I asked myself as well if Isaac could have had a better chance at life if I hadn’t kept Grace. But I also wanted him to learn that when God gives you something, you accept it, and He’s faithful to meet our needs.”
For a long time Siow also carried the guilt of her abortion.
“Many times, I wondered if what happened to Grace was God’s punishment to me because of my abortion. This went on for a couple of years.”
In a video of her story that was released online in February, she says: “I don’t know if I can ever forgive myself for believing that I had no choice.”
After the video was released, a friend told her that she had to forgive herself.
The video, by Heartbeat Project, is the first in a series of real-life stories of couples who have chosen life over abortion. What viewers of the video do not know, is that Grace was not the latest addition to the family.
Months after Grace was born, Lau’s daughter from his first marriage moved in to live with the family for the first time. She was 15 years old then and now lives with the family for good.
In the space of less than a year, the family went from having one child to three.
A turning point
For two to three years, Siow was highly strung as she juggled work responsibilities with the care of three children.
“I became a very resentful and angry woman, and I took it out on the family. I was very difficult to live with. When I was around at home, the atmosphere was very tense,” she says ruefully.
“I have a Type-A personality. I was already like this, and after Grace was born, more so. I wanted to be in control of everything. I wanted Grace to go for this-this-this, by age what-what-what, and I wanted all the plans to have predictable outcomes. But of course, that’s not how life works.”
Despite the struggles, the couple stayed connected with God and the church community.
Lau coped by dealing with the challenges in a task-focused, methodical approach. He also clung on to the promise in Isaiah 41:13 – that God would hold his right hand and help him.
“Rest in God doesn’t necessarily mean physical rest, but it refers to rest from conflicts, knowing that you need not strive.”
Siow started going for Bible Study Fellowship classes in 2017, which she says has helped her significantly in dealing with her self-doubt and resentment.
“As I got to know God’s character more, I believed that He’s building me for a greater purpose, though I didn’t know what exactly that was.
“The video release was a turning point. I saw that my story could change lives, and the challenges were not in vain.”
She adds: “I also learnt what it means to rest in God. It doesn’t necessarily mean physical rest, but it refers to rest from conflicts, knowing that you need not strive. ”
The couple worships at Trinity Christian Centre and have been going for marital counselling for about two years. They currently do so about once every six weeks.
“It was an intentional move to go for counselling,” says Lau, now 50. “I tell my friends, ‘You send your car for servicing, right? So likewise, it’s important to go for counselling too.’
“Some people associate counselling with negative connotations, but I don’t see it that way. I think it helps a couple to see whether their expectations are misaligned.”
Meanwhile, questions of whether they made the right choice to keep Grace have disappeared.
“She’s so charming and cute. She’s a booster!” Siow, now 43, says. “She’s very perceptive, she’s got high EQ. When I have a bad day, she’ll come and comfort me, putting her hand on me or leaning on me. And she’ll say, ‘Mummy, I love you.’”
In a vision that Siow received at a church camp about five years ago, she saw all three children smiling happily.
“When I have a bad day, she’ll come and comfort me, and she’ll say, ‘Mummy, I love you.’”
“I wondered then how it was possible that everyone was so happy and joyful in that vision. It was such a dark period, given the circumstance and my emotional state.
“But I kind of knew that God was saying that when I think it’s impossible, He will make it possible. It’s always about trusting Him. While it’s been challenging, it’s evident that God has not forsaken us.”
Their home today has a few family photos that show the entire family smiling happily, including taken at the family holiday in Perth last December. That was the first time Grace was on a plane.
When asked if the vision had been fulfilled, Siow joked: “Not yet, because in that vision Grace was much more grown up!”