Written By Priscilla Goy, Singapore
On August 10, 2019, just a day before Natalie Tan experienced a little spotting, friends had put together a gender reveal party for her and her husband. Expecting triplets, they opened three boxes of balloons, one by one, and found that their prayer for a mix of genders was answered. Natalie and her husband were going to be parents to a boy and two girls.
For over five months of the pregnancy, Natalie had hardly any medical issues; “everything was going so well”. The couple knew before they got married that she would have trouble conceiving, so they tried intrauterine insemination (IUI), wherein the sperm is placed directly into the uterus. It worked on their first try, and they were surprised to have triplets.
As her husband did some research online, they found many search results talking about the risks of multiple pregnancies. Their doctor also briefly mentioned the practice of “selective reduction”—to reduce the number of foetuses to improve the chances of a healthy pregnancy. But the couple chose not to proceed with that.
“They all had beating hearts. How can we do selective reduction even if it’s to the benefit of the remaining ones?” Natalie said.
“They could all be healthy. How could we take away a life?”
They chose to entrust their future and their babies to God. “If God gave them to us, then we’ll take them and look after them as best as we can,” she said.
Yet a day after the gender reveal party, just before the 22nd week of her pregnancy, she started spotting, then bleeding. She was hospitalised the next day and came down with an infection. Up to this day, Natalie does not know what caused the infection, but things went downhill from there.
Two weeks later, she had “green discharge flowing out with a foul smell”. The infection had worsened, so doctors had to deliver her babies or her life would be at risk. All three were delivered; the second one even came out crying. But they all passed away, just days before the 24-week mark—when they would have had a much higher chance of survival.
When Natalie heard the second baby come out crying, she hoped against all odds that a miracle would happen.
“I still hoped that at least one would refuse to stop breathing and that the doctors would find that ‘This one still wants to live, so let’s try (giving the child life support)’.
Unfortunately, the miracle was not to be. After the third child was born, Natalie passed out, and when she came to hours later, her babies had passed away. As the doctors had predicted, the babies’ lungs were not developed enough and they did not survive.
Natalie took her questions and anger to God.
If You were going to give them to us, why did You take them away? Did I do something to make You that unhappy—and yes, I’ve probably done many things—is this my punishment? Is this enough punishment?
You could have just not given any child. Why give and take away? And three at that. Could You not have left me even one?
That day, as Natalie left the delivery suite, the sound of other babies crying and the sight of other mothers holding their babies made her more painfully aware of her loss.
Thankfully, she was moved from a subsidised ward where she would be with other patients to a private ward where she could be alone. She was there for a few days and could still hold it together when family and friends visited, but when she was finally discharged—and saw other pregnant women and newborns—she broke down again.
“I came in with triplets, and now I was leaving with nothing—nothing inside the womb, and nothing that I’m carrying on the ‘outside’.”
She cried every day in the immediate days that followed, feeling a mix of sadness, guilt, and shame. She felt guilty about “failing the babies”, wondering if she could have done anything differently.
“I remember feeling a lot of shame. This is what my body is supposed to do; how come I can’t even do it right?”
What kept her going was having activities to do—from reading Our Daily Bread and doing Bible study with her parents every morning, to going for walks with her husband and cooking classes with friends.
While she had moral support from them, she also hoped to learn from women with similar experiences. She searched online for stories of other women who had lost triplets, but could hardly find any, and the stories that she did find were cases that happened many years ago in the US.
“I felt so alone at that time. Did it mean that every other woman who carried triplets was fine?”
In time, she came to see this was not necessarily the case. There is not much discourse about pregnancy loss, and many women share publicly about their pregnancies only in their second trimester, so they don’t share when they suffer early miscarriages.
Meanwhile, to protect her mental well-being, she began to distance herself from people who were pregnant—most of them were not close friends anyway—muting their posts or unfollowing them.
But less than half a year after her loss, her very own best friend told her she was pregnant. Natalie went through “happiness and envy, anger and hopefulness”, and struggled to talk to her friend about her pregnancy and share in her joy.
Eventually, upon her husband’s encouragement, the couple arranged with the friend’s husband to give her friend a surprise visit two days before her birthday. This was into the latter part of the friend’s third trimester, and came after months of them not seeing each other.
“What touched me was her patience, and the understanding she extended to me. Instead of being angry at my absence, she forgave me for my selfishness,” Natalie shared. “When I finally saw her, I cried. I cried because I saw how I had missed the milestones in her pregnancy.
“She’d been through so much with me, even before the loss (of the triplets). All I had to do was just check in on her, ask how she is, visit her—and I did not do that.
“It made me become more aware that life is greater than just my own needs.”
“Life is too short to always be putting myself first and missing out on these moments. I realised that I could be happy for her, and I did not want to ever repeat not being there for a friend, because you cannot get that time back.”
and Loving Baby Hannah
Every year, August is a flurry of activity for Natalie’s family. Apart from the National Day public holiday in Singapore, August also marks the death anniversary of her triplets and Natalie’s birthday the day after.
On her birthday that year, nurses at the hospital got her a birthday cake. Her friends visited her with cake too. “It helped take my mind off what had happened for a bit, but there was also an emptiness within,” Natalie admitted. “There were thoughts of, I should be pregnant today.”
She allows herself to feel sad on August 23, and writes messages to her triplets—Adam, Emma, and Eva. The messages are tied to balloons that she releases to the heavens.
Meanwhile, she has accepted that the triplets were God’s gift to her, and like other gifts from God, they are meant to be enjoyed, but God does not promise how long these gifts would stay with them.
“When I look back at the six months we spent with the triplets, we really had a lot of fun. We enjoyed having them and they were loved by many people. We travelled with them and they ate a lot of good food.
“As fleeting as that period of time was, it was a part of my life that I loved. And the pain comes from loving them. I agree with a quote that a friend shared—‘you hurt deeply because you love deeply.’”
She continues to celebrate her birthday on August 24. “I’d like to imagine that when the children look down on us from heaven, they also want to see their parents happy. If we don’t stop feeling sad, they’ll feel sad too.”
On August 6, she also celebrates the birthday of Baby Hannah, whom the couple adopted last year. After the loss of her triplets and other medical scans, the couple found that the chances of her getting pregnant again would be very slim, so they considered adoption. Hannah came into the family at seven weeks old.
Even as Natalie welcomes Baby Hannah, she recognises that every child is unique and precious, and this baby is not a replacement to her triplets: “A loss is a loss. Having another child doesn’t replace the child you lost.”
Baby Hannah has been a smiley child who hardly cries. During the times when Hannah cried but Natalie could not understand why, she wondered if the parent-child bond was not strong enough, and whether this was because Hannah was adopted. But she’s learnt that her concerns were unfounded as mothers of biological children have similar feelings and questions too.
The stay-home mother with a patisserie diploma from the UK is currently pursuing an advanced diploma in counselling psychology, so she can support women who have gone through pregnancy loss. In January 2022, Natalie started doing practicum work for her diploma with the same Christian grief counsellor that helped her during her own grief journey.
“Not that anything would ever justify the loss, but I need to do something that would make the loss meaningful.”
Amid all that she went through, her belief in God’s existence has not wavered. Despite the anger she felt towards God, she chose to cling on to Him.
Citing the example of Job in the Bible, Natalie said: “We’re allowed to be angry with God, but it’s never to pull away. It’s easy to want to blame God and say that He took whatever we were hoping for.
“But when I think about what He gives us as gifts, what he places in our lives for us to enjoy, we don’t really deserve them in the first place. That we even get to have them—whether it’s for a few days, a few weeks, or a lifetime—it’s already a bonus.”
“To have been able to carry three heartbeats in my body, along with my own heartbeat, for that amount of time, I don’t regret that. I would never say that I wished it never happened.”
Natalie hopes that by sharing her story, she will be able to help other women with similar experiences. “Prenatal loss and infertility issues are rarely spoken about, especially in Asian cultures. We need to talk more about it, because no one should ever feel alone. You are never alone.”
She added: “I desire to create a legacy for our children and to give meaning to their premature passing. Helping others and supporting those going through a similar path of loss is part of the memory I want to create with my children.”