We applaud the government’s latest move to roll out the enhanced Marriage and Parenthood Package 2013 in a bid to reverse Singapore’s declining birth rate. After all, by 2030, there’s a possibility that less than half the population would be made up of native Singaporeans (I don’t know about you, but I shudder at that thought). Among the new benefits, I’m heartened that fathers will be given one week of paid paternity leave to welcome the newborn home and get acquainted with the baby. It’s a big step forward in recognising the contributions and importance a Daddy makes to the family.
Many reviews have been written about the enhanced Parenthood Package (a.k.a the Baby Bonus) 2013… I chose to remain silent…until now…because they ring hollow…Deep within, I know that the odds are stacked high against us in our desire to become a parent again. You see, for a couple who has struggled with infertility and undergone IVFs (without any government subsidies at that time) only to suffer three painful unexplained preterm deliveries, we needed no monetary incentives of any kind to persuade us to procreate. We want more children but we won’t be able to, unless there is divine intervention…
For us, the question about the quantity and ages of our brood presents itself ever so often in awkward social interactions…“How many kids do you have?” “One” we sheepishly reply, our voices revealing our somewhat discomfort with the question (Do we tell them we have one or four children? Yes, we only have one by our side; but the rest are in Heaven!). Responses generally range from, “Oh, give her a sibling so she’ll have someone to play with!” to “Don’t wait too long…” and the occasional “Oh, try for a boy next la.” We smile. We shrug. We say, “We leave it up to God..” But, how can you tell a complete stranger, a trusted colleague, a helpful neighbour: “We desperately want more kids, trust us, we do but it’s really not as easy as you think…”.
During our early years of marriage, kind-hearted family, friends, and relatives, who learn about our infertility, share stories about a mother or sister (or a church-mate), who finally became pregnant. They recommend “doctors”, who have a proven track record of curing infertility. But unfortunate for us, our quest to parenthood was ridden with obstacles and wrought with heartaches. Every trip to a doctor is a risk, because once again, we start to hope but hope alone does not fill one’s home with children. The hope-filled decision to conceive a child became a bitter task of disheartened waiting for ten barren years. Announcements of pregnancies and births became stark contrasts to my unproductive, empty womb. Images of ultrasounds of friends and relatives on Facebook announcing their child #two and #three (#four and #five!) remind us of our UN-quenched yearning…Yet God’s amazing grace was there in the midst of the aching pain and the valley of tears.
Do we welcome the new enhanced Marriage and Parenthood package? Sure, any measures that are pro-family calls for a celebration. The increase in dollar-for-dollar matching in CDA (Child Development Accounts), higher infant-care and childcare subsidies, higher co-funding of Assisted Reproductive Treatments (A.R.T), enhanced paternity benefits, creation of a new CPF Medisave Grant for newborns; the extended mediShield coverage for congenital and neonatal conditions…all these come at the opportune time to deflect the rising costs of raising children (makes one wonder why it takes a by-election for the government to be awakened to the cries of its citizens…). The hype surrounding the announcement of these parenthood package enhancements reminds the hubs and I to accept and give thanks for the cup that we have been given. When God answered our prayers with Dana, it was already our dream came true. It was and forever will be undoubtedly the happiest moment of our lives. There’s no greater fulfillment we have ever felt than the day we became a parent. For those who truly want (and have the capacity for) more children, we do not need any extrinsic incentives to make it sweeter. As a Mom to an only child, my heart is full and my joy is not lacking. If God thinks fit to bless us with another baby (so that Dana has a sibling to play and grow up with), that will be a bonus. If not, we will still give Him all the glory. Our seasons of barrenness have mellowed us to truly appreciate the gift and sanctity of a human life. Conception and birth of new life come only through Him and so we submit our desires humbly at His feet…
Perhaps, we were married that our lives might become a joint-offering of love to God and to the world – To our nieces. To our nephews. To our family. To our friends. To the needy. To more children, yet to be born, but whom we hope to one day welcome. Perhaps, we weren’t married that we could experience the joy of having a quaver full of children. Whatever the reasons, divine or otherwise, for couples like us, the REAL baby bonus would be the bonus of a baby.
Psalm 113:9 “He maketh the barren woman to keep house and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD.”