Vernessa’s Story of Loss and Hope

Life & Death, Sadness & Joy

How does one cope with the grief and trauma of having lost their children before?

Vernessa Chuah went from three unsuccessful pregnancies, and hearing loss in one ear, to make one more bid for a child. How did she get through such trauma, and what was her experience of her fourth pregnancy?

Hypnobirthing was key in her journey through life and death, sadness and joy. Her story is shared candidly for all mothers in Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month this October.

One, Two, Three

My first and second losses were unplanned ones, what people call miscarriages. The third was a planned loss (abortion).

When I realised I was pregnant the third time, I immediately went back home to stay with my mom. I followed my parents advice because I didn’t get a chance to for my first two.

So by the 12th week of my pregnancy, I was really excited, because I could finally tell my friends!

I remember very clearly the doctor scanning me and talking, when he suddenly became quiet. But I could see the baby’s heartbeat.

Then he said, “I need to tell you that your baby’s organs are outside of its body. The stomach, intestines and kidneys are outside the body.”

I did not quite understand the situation. What does it mean? Is there hope?

He said, “There are such kids who come into the world. Some of the kids survive. Some don’t.”

I started to get really scared. It’s been so hard to get a child. Now I’m finally pregnant, and I hear this.

The doctor did say perhaps it’s better to let it go because sometimes such children don’t have a very long life.

“Eating will be a problem for the child because the stomach is outside. Breathing would be a problem. Digesting, a problem. When the baby comes out, you need to expect his first months to be in the NICU (Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit).”

My husband and I told the doctor we would go ahead with the pregnancy.

We were quite confident for the first two weeks after the news. We were prepping ourselves positively. And crying a lot at the same time.

Turning Point

“The turning point came when my dad took my husband aside to talk to him.

He said, “I had a son before Vernessa. He passed away at seven years old, of cancer. Till today, it’s still painful.”

And my mom prompted more questions to help us really think things through.

“Do you have the finances, the time and the energy? Because one of you will not be able to work. You just need to be home 24/7. This kid will need you to eat, to sleep, to breathe…”

“What if, when the kid is three or four years old, you don’t have enough money to finance the medical bills?”

“What if you’re gone and the baby is still around, and still needs the support of machines? What is the life of the baby if they cannot take it off the machines? Isn’t it really cruel as well?”

Making The Call

It was really, really hard to make that decision. By then, it was the second trimester. I had already done a DNC twice. The doctor said, “If you want another kid, it isn’t good to do another DNC. Your womb lining is too thin. You need to induce labor.”

I remember lying down, my sister and my mom on one side. My husband couldn’t be with me because he had already been travelling up and down. He was going to come when I went into labor with the child.

There were two big screens I could look at. I was very scared. I was afraid to face the child. I felt a lot of guilt because I was killing it. So I didn’t really dare to look.

They took a really, really long needle, and poked it through my stomach. But we had to wait for the baby to turn over. The organs outside of the baby made it heavy in front, so it had turned with the spine up towards my belly button, and they couldn’t pierce the needle into her heart through the spine.

My heart was confused. I thought, “Oh, don’t turn around!” But I needed the baby to turn around. It was very conflicting.

When the baby finally turned around, they poked its heart. It was procedural for them but very, very emotional for me. I broke down In a flood of tears, crying and crying and crying.

The doctor said, “I think you made the right decision. Now we need your body to realise that the baby is gone, and to reject the baby naturally. You will probably need to wait a week.”

That was the hardest week of my life.

The unplanned losses were much easier. The babies made the call, that they were not fit enough to survive. This one, I made the call.

The Hardest Week

I still had pregnancy symptoms. I still felt nauseous. I still felt hungry. But I know it’s a dead baby inside. Every morning I’d wake up, and miss the baby. I didn’t feel it kick, or any movement.

A week later, I was back at the hospital. I remember being admitted in the afternoon. I stayed over one night. I delivered the next morning.

“We’ll induce you, and you’ll start feeling contractions.”

I waited. And when the water broke, we still had to wait. I remember they examined me and said, “Oh you’re ready to deliver. Why didn’t you tell us you were in pain?”

At that point in time, my heart was much more painful than the physical pain.

The baby got stuck in the birth canal because of the organs outside of the baby. It was not a smooth flow. The doctor needed to put his hands in to pull it out.

My husband saw the whole process. He was holding my hand and watching everything.

Keep The Baby?

They asked me if I wanted to see the baby three times. I said no. I didn’t understand why they were so insistent. I finally said ok.

I sat up to look at the child. The image that hit me was that of an animal that’s been hit by a car. Its intestines and organs were all out. I quickly laid down again, because I do get fainting spells.

I was horrified when they asked, “Do you want to keep the baby?”


They took the baby away.

It was years later that I wondered how they disposed of the baby. It wasn’t buried. A medical friend said they dispose of it in a bin. I would’ve done things differently if I knew.

Hiding From The Emptiness

“I got myself busy after that so I didn’t have to feel and think. I remember believing I was okay because I can function, I can work, I can cope with things. It was me putting on a strong front.

Inside me, oh my God! I felt so empty. It came to a point when I constantly needed someone to be with me. I was scared to be alone to have thoughts or emotions come to me.

Off Balance — And Deaf

Six months after my third loss, an old ear infection I had became invasive. It attacked so badly, I started to have vertigo. There was a three-month wait for the doctor I needed to see at SGH. So I waited.

Some days, I had to walk sideways because I couldn’t balance. I tried to cycle and kept falling. It got so painful, that I searched for the doctor’s email and emailed him and said it was getting really painful and unbearable!

He said, “Come in tomorrow, I’ll put you in emergency.”

When he saw me, he said, “You need to go into surgery.”

They placed me with a pain management team. The infection was like termites. It ate everything it came into contact with — flesh, nerves, bones. That’s why there is a gap between my hearing bones. I was already deaf In that ear before my operation.

Perhaps A Blessing

I was on a lot of painkillers. Then they said they could not give me anymore because my kidney was failing.

Looking back, I felt that my grief of my trauma activated the infection to attack me.

Thank goodness I did not keep the baby, because it would come out more damaged with the medication it would need to have.

In a way, I felt it was a blessing, a good decision, to let the baby go.

One Percent Of Fear

While on painkillers before the operation, my husband and I decided to travel.

The doctor had said that when you open up the ear, there are a lot of nerves — it’s like an electrical junction box. But an electrical junction box is colour-coded. This one is not. It’s just a mess, with blood all over.

To clear the infection, they need to cut through the nerves and clean and polish the bones as much as they can. If they accidentally cut your facial nerves, there is nothing they can do to undo it.

There was a one percent chance of that happening, but they needed to declare it upfront, along with all the others risks.

We thought, if I have to go through shit and not be able to smile after that, I’m going to enjoy my life right now. So we went to Japan, and on to Vietnam to attend a wedding.

Choosing Life

We hiked in Yakushima, Japan. I would fall a lot. I was literally limping through. There were times when I would open the car door, and then find myself sitting on the ground. I could not balance well.

Two hours before the flight took off to go to the wedding in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, I was still hugging the toilet bowl, vomiting because of vertigo. My husband was ready to cancel the trip. I said I would be okay. I was just very determined.

And when I was there, nobody knew I was actually sick because I was having fun. But when I came back, my body collapsed.

It made me realise that the mind could control the body, but it isn’t healthy because I am not listening to my body.

Now I will let my body rest if it needs it.

Two days before my surgery, I was still on holiday in Rawa Island, Malaysia, cramming the pleasure I could have because I didn’t know what was going to come next.

Thankfully, surgery was successful.

Another Child?

“Do we want another child?” I remember asking my husband. We weren’t getting younger.

I had so much medication, I needed to flush the toxins out, eat clean, and avoid alcohol, before trying to get pregnant again.

We booked a flight to Nepal to hike Annapurna. Two weeks before the flight, my body felt a little bit different. I went home and took a pregnancy test. It was positive.

I was excited, so excited.

And that’s when this inner self talk started: “What do I want her to feel?”

I really like hiking and I wanted her to feel this joy. I went to two different doctors before the trip, and they both said it’s okay as long as it is below 10,000 feet, so that the baby has sufficient oxygen. We changed our hiking itinerary, and hired a porter to carry my bags.

It was such a beautiful moment. I was so happy that my husband was so supportive. We hiked about 4 – 6 hours each day for a week.

At the same time, there was a lot of anxiousness. What if she doesn’t make it? I would be past 35 years old….

Talking Back To Myself

In my inner self talk, I told myself, “Vernessa, cut the bullshit. The last time you went back to Malaysia and did all the old wives tales, shit still happened. In fact, it was the biggest shit that you had ever been through out of all the three pregnancies. If shit’s going to happen, it’s going to happen anyway. It’s really beyond my control. I have done what I can. There’s nothing more that I can do, or not do.”

If I was going to have this child, I decided I wanted her to see the world through my womb, to feel it and experience what I am seeing, to sense the energy. I didn’t want to pass her the fear and anxiousness.

I don’t know whether she is going to make it or not. But I can choose to live the nine months in fear, or that nine months just enjoying the present moment. If bad news comes, then it comes, but at least I have had those good times with her.

I felt really bonded with her during the trip. I was able to talk to her, to feel her energy… I just felt very happy.

I only told my parents after I came back. They were supportive.

I continued to fly for a friend’s wedding in Kyoto, Japan. We went to the Philippines, to Malaysia, to Melbourne.

Hypnobirthing Inspiration

My neighbour, Joey Lai at the time was a hypnobirthing trainer from Baby with Bee . She was past 40, and she had one loss as well. And she is very, very scared of pain. When she was pregnant, she wanted to do a C-section but her friend suggested she try natural hypnobirthing. And her husband helped convince her.

When she told me her story, I loved it!

It was still early in her pregnancy. She had gone to visit families in Malaysia at 36.5 weeks, and planned to come back to deliver. But her water broke while she was there. Yet she was still very calm.

She called her doctor at Mt Alvenia hospital and asked if she should come back to Singapore. She couldn’t drive, so her husband had to drive all the way from Singapore to KL, pick her up and drive her back — at least eight hours.

At customs, there was a jam. She instructed her husband to tell the officer that she needed to go to the hospital.

She told me how beautiful it was, for someone like her so afraid of pain, to feel so calm. When they got to the hospital, the doctor said, “Wow, if every pregnant woman could be like that, we should get everyone on the hypnobirthing course so that there’s not so much drama or screaming women in my labor ward.”

She decided to become a hypnobirthing trainer after her experience with it. It was really inspiring. That’s when I really wanted to do hypnobirthing too.

To Be Empowered

During my losses, I had felt very powerless — I didn’t know whether I was going to get good or bad news. You fear the worst news.

Thankfully, when I told my husband about hypnobirthing, he was supportive.

I did ask him if he was okay if I did a natural birth and not a C-section. A lot of people kept asking us to do a C-section because of my losses before.

He said, “It’s your body. You are the mom. You make the call. I’m just following through.”

Wow, I really liked that!

What’s Hypnobirthing Anyway?

A lot of people mistakenly believe that hypnobirthing is avoiding an epidural for a natural birth. But hypnobirthing just means that you learn to trust your own body.

If you have an emergency, then do what you need to, because the circumstances may be different. It’s about knowing what your body needs at that time.

Women’s bodies have been engineered to have babies. In this medical time, we’re so scared of having babies! We think, “My God, it’s painful. Let’s do a cesarean.” We want convenience.

Throughout the hypnobirthing journey, there are scripts you and your husband would read to your baby. You massage your belly, and talk and sing to the baby. There is a lot of bonding.

Hypnobirthing teaches you not to panic when your water breaks, and to go to the hospital when it’s closer to your delivery time. It teaches you to count the contractions so you know you don’t have to rush to the hospital immediately.

It also teaches you how to handle a home birth for those who want that.

It’s a 6 to 8 week course that you attend with your husband, so that he knows what is going on. That is really good.

A lot of times, men feel giving birth is a woman’s job, and they don’t know what to do.

In hypnobirthing, husbands get to see videos of women in labor to prep them for what to expect. They learn the butterfly massage, how to keep their wife relaxed, what to do if she wants to shower, or sit on the Pilates ball, or to help her into a cat or cow position.

Learning to Surf The Pain

My labor position was squatting down, using gravity to help me deliver. In between contractions, I can go on all fours into the cat or cow position to get comfortable.

I learned to surf the waves of contractions. Breathing in before the contraction, and breathing out as the contraction starts, instead of thinking that you have to push, push, push — and get very tired because you are not leveraging on the contractions.

And they don’t say push, they teach you to do J-breathing in hypnobirthing, and to visualise the muscles that you are using.

Every night, you listen to the Rainbow audio: recite the colours of the rainbow and slowly visualise them… But I never got past orange because I would fall asleep! It was just very relaxing.

To end, it would have you visualising your vagina like flower petals slowly opening up — that’s how you’re to welcome your baby into the world. It’s a very beautiful visualisation. That gave me a lot of confidence.

I was also reading so much of the book — things like the breech position, how to help your child move into the correct position with yoga. And if baby isn’t coming out, it gave me the idea how you can use massage points to induce yourself, instead of getting medically induced.

When My Water Broke

Before my water broke, I had gone to the midwife the day before, and told her I was going to visit wineries the next day.

She said, “I think you’re okay, you still have two or three weeks more. It’s fine.”

I said, good, because my husband had just left Australia. So, I happily drove my mother, mother-in-law and cousins to the winery. We planned to visit 6 to 8 wineries that day.

At 10 AM, I felt some discharge. I thought at 37 weeks, maybe you have a little more discharge. I stayed calm, feeding the donkeys with carrots at the Yileena Park vineyard.

By noon, I had quite a bit of discharge, and my pants were all wet. The trick is to wear black so nobody noticed.

I began to take note of the code, the odour, the amount. I kept going and driving everyone around the wineries.

By 3 o’clock, I called the hospital to tell them that my discharge is pink and there’s quite a lot of water.

“From your description,” they said, “it is more likely your water has broken. You can come in this evening.”

I remember feeling very excited because she said “this evening”. It meant we could still visit the last winery, and I could to send my folks home after.

The Conspiracy

I did pull one of my cousins aside to tell her, “I need to go to the hospital later because they think my water has broken. I need to make up a story that I am going to send you home, so we don’t need to have dinner with the moms, and we can go to the hospital.”

That’s when I also called my husband and told him to catch the next flight. He managed to get a ticket for a 10pm flight.

I told him he had time, that it would take about 10 hours before the baby showed up.

After I got to the last winery, I realised my contractions were beginning. My family had been drinking. I had not. I remember driving and my contractions getting stronger. I knew the baby wasn’t coming yet just by the intervals of the contractions. So I was still very calm, still joking with them asking what wines they drank.

But I could see my cousin starting to panic. Her face was very pale. After I sent them home, and got my bag I said to her, “Let’s go!”

I remember pushing the keys to my cousin saying, “The contractions are very strong, I don’t think it’s safe for me to drive.”

Wanting It Natural

We arrive, still joking. The nurse came and told me that I was 3cm dilated.

She said, “If your contractions start coming, let us know if you need any laughing gas or painkillers.”

I said, “No, no, I’m not taking anything.”

And my cousin said, “You can take it, it’s okay. I won’t tell anyone that you took something. You don’t need to try and be so strong. Just take it!”

“If I take it now, when it really hits me, I haven’t built up my pain tolerance to it. I just want it natural, I don’t think I need it.”

“You’re crazy! If I were you, I would take everything they have on that list. Just give it to me!”

It was so funny. It felt like she wanted it more than I did!

The nurse came in. “I think you’re okay. You can go home and come back tomorrow morning.”

I said, “No, I’m delivering soon. I can feel my contractions.”

“Yes, you’re feeling contractions but they’re not intense enough. Usually when people have contractions, they can’t even talk. Let alone like you are right now.”

“I just have a very strong tolerance to pain!” I wailed.

Pregnant Lady Mode

We were given 15 minutes more in the emergency room before leaving. In those 15 minutes, I noticed the contractions getting much stronger and more frequent.

When the nurse returned 15 minutes later, I was in ‘Pregnant Lady don’t-mess-with-me Mode’!

“I need to go to the labor ward — now! I am not going anywhere except for the labor ward!”

They had no choice but to bring the wheelchair and put me into it.

I could feel the baby coming. I couldn’t even walk now.

So they wheeled me in, checked my heartbeat, and measured me again.

“You’re 10cm dilated! We need to go! You’re in Stage 2 now!”

I remember how hypnobirthing empowered me with knowledge. They also teach you what choices you have.

I asked them to dim the lights, bring me the Pilates ball, a yoga mat on the floor, told them how I was going to squat…things like that.

I remember telling my cousin, “Can you go to my bag? There is a book…”

“You’re going to read right now?”

“No, my birth plan is there. Can you show it to the midwife? And bring me my phone so I can put on my hypnobirthing audio.”

It’s really, really beautiful because it’s telling me that in a while, I will be welcoming my baby. Trust your body. Bond with your baby. And the tone is just very soothing.

Getting Into The Zone

My cousin was asking, every few minutes, “Are you okay? Are you okay? Are you okay?”

I saw her so pale. I said, “I’m okay. Maybe you can sit over there. You don’t need to ask me any questions. If you keep talking to me, I can’t get into my zone.”

While I was doing the breathing, I remembered I could hear her breathing following mine. She was really anxious because she didn’t know what to do.

The midwife said, “We can’t really see your baby if you are squatting down.”

She kept trying to convince me to lie down but because of hypnobirthing, I knew what I wanted.

“This is my position and it’s my choice. When the baby is out, I will call you.

So I just continued breathing, and feeling my body and baby moving with me with every breath.

Gathering The Family

At this point, my cousin asked, “Hey, now that you are 10cm and ready to go, when are we telling your mom?”

I totally forgotten about it.

“Good idea. Can you call them and tell them I am delivering? But when they come in, no noise. Just let me do what I have to do. Don’t disrupt me.”

She called her mother.

“Hey mom, how was dinner?”

“It was good.”


“What’s going on?”

“I’m at the hospital.”

“What happened? Is it Kai Vern? You already knew at the vineyard …?” and she started asking more questions.

“Mom, I can’t do this right now. We can talk about it next time, okay. But right now she is already 10cm dilated and ready to go. You can come here with Aunty Karen.”

When they finally came in, they were really good. They respected my wishes. They were quiet. I didn’t even know that they were there until I looked up and saw them.

Although my husband wasn’t there, because he went to the hypnobirthing course with me, he instructed my cousin what to do. She did the butterfly massage and figure-of-eight on my back while I was on all fours.

Even though he wasn’t present throughout my labor, I was okay with it because I was calm and taking charge.

Work With Mommy

The nurse came in an hour later. “You are already 10cm. If you don’t have the baby out in the next hour, we will need to use the forceps or the vacuum.”

I remember being very pissed off. In my heart, it was “first you tell me I can’t deliver and now you tell me I have to deliver quickly?!?”

I took a deep breath and said, “I will deliver her. Just let me do my own thing.”

I said to my baby, “Elvanna, work with mommy, we’ll do this together. Just feel me and let’s work together.” It was like we were communicating telepathically.

Her head was already out and we flowed so beautifully that there was no tear.

Women usually have an episiotomy, but I didn’t need it or any stitches. When Elvanna finally came out, I called the staff.

I cut the umbilical cord and I put her on me. My mom watched it, amazed how calm I was.

After delivering, I started to bleed a little more.

“You’re starting to bleed a lot. We will need to medically inject you, are you okay with that?” they asked, aware of my birth plan choices. “Otherwise you might fall into a coma.”

For some reason, even through that bleeding, I was very calm. “Yes, I give you my consent.”

I wouldn’t have been able to go through this if it had not been for hypnobirthing. The knowledge helped to ground and center me. I wouldn’t have felt so empowered. I would be shaky and followed whatever I was told no matter how I felt. The knowledge was really powerful in that sense.

Elvanna was born in July 2018.

How Was It?

When people ask me about my hypnobirthing journey, I say I really enjoyed my pregnancy because I was able to do the things I like to do.

And my labor was very beautiful. The energy of it — I have never felt such energy before. I love the moment.

There was no screaming or drama in spite of having lost three babies before.

I think that is a very powerful message.

Mother’s instinct is so powerful. I think women should know that, and trust that of themselves.