The Gift of Life



Yahoo! Singapore presents "Life's Journeys," an inspirational series of articles featuring people who have made that big step to make their lives more than ordinary.

by Elaine Ee, for Yahoo! Southeast Asia



Those who have had difficulty conceiving – or have gone through tough pregnancies – will be able to relate and draw inspiration from Dale Edmonds’ story. The 34-year-old experienced nine miscarriages in a span of 12 years before her daughter, Margaret “Maggie” Jane Ying Edmonds-Yap, was born in November last year.

“The miscarriages were all early ones, so I was mostly bracing myself for when my pregnancy with Maggie would end too. I tried to focus on work and accept whatever would happen,” she recounts. “But once we got past 12 weeks, we took a deep breath and celebrated. Everything seemed fine and Maggie was growing well. I had a home fetal doppler set and would check in on her every day to reassure myself that she hadn’t died. Neurotic, but with my pregnancy history, it made sense.”

Dale and Maggie’s trials began on her twentieth week. “I had a small tear in the amniotic sac and was leaking amniotic fluid,” explains Dale. “The leak meant that Maggie had almost no room to move or grow in, so I knew that I would likely have an early delivery at 32 to 34 weeks to balance her development, especially her lungs, against damage from having almost no amniotic fluid.”

Dale made it to 30 weeks before the contractions began, and Maggie was born a teeny-tiny 1.5 kg and under 40 cm long. “I had only two hopes for delivery: that Maggie and I would live.”

Fortunately, both mother and child survived – but not before little Maggie spent 51 days in the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of the National University Hospital (NUH).

“Forget bonding – we got a brief phone photograph of her being worked on in the OR, and then my husband Jim went to the NICU while I was being stitched up. I didn’t get to see her until the next day, when I could painfully manage a wheelchair and be pushed down to the NICU. Maggie was tiny! We couldn’t hold her because of the ventilator and wires, so we would just stroke her hands and head at first.”

Each day that Maggie lay in the NICU, the hospital bill went up. And when she finally came home, there were still many visits to the paediatrician and the Accident & Emergency department during those times when some unforeseen illness would take root in her fragile body. The costs kept climbing… and Dale realised something.

“We don’t have free prenatal care for pregnant women in Singapore. The families least able to afford it are the ones more likely to have a premature baby and be devastated by the bills,” she says. “Premature birth is not a choice; it’s having what should be one of the happiest days in your life turn into fear and grief. It will also likely wipe out your family’s Medisave, while that baby bonus will pay for about two weeks, tops. You can’t get private insurance, MediShield won’t help – you’re left with a fragile, small baby who may have life-long complications and no sense of support. The government needs to first of all fully subsidise NICU for our babies.”

To help, Dale started MargaretJane.org, a community for parents with sick kids that strongly advocates free child healthcare in Singapore.

“Singapore’s medical system is incredibly efficient and our medical care is excellent. But still, I feel people’s frustration and see families struggling. I also hear stories from the families themselves,” says Dale.

“I would like MargaretJane.org to be a place where parents of sick or challenged children can connect to other parents in Singapore, where we can collect practical information about navigating our healthcare system to help them. But most of all, I want us to get our collective voices together and start asking for real change.”

Taking up a cause for kids is not new to Dale. While trying to have kids of her own, this mum also adopted not one but four children from Cambodia who were at risk of being trafficked – and started the charity Riverkids to help fight child trafficking, for which she has become well known. Dale’s four children are now 13, 16, 17 and 21 years old.

MargaretJane.org is a source support and strength for parents of children like Maggie. For Dale, it is also an opportunity to share and speak up after her pregnancy with Maggie.

And she wants to have more kids. “We hope to have another child,” she says openly. “Maggie is 12 years younger than my next child, and I’d like for her to have a sibling close in age. I don’t know if we will manage another successful pregnancy, but we’re hopeful. If it doesn’t happen, I think we’ll explore foster care or adoption. We’d like a house full of children!”

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