Alden Boon

By 19, Jennifer Heng Already Had Two Abortions. This Is Her Story of Secret Shame, Self-forgiveness and Triumph.

14/02/2018

Jennifer Heng is in a cold, sterile room. Lying on the surgical bed and staring into nothingness, she waits. The silence, interrupted only by the murmur of the air-conditioning unit, is drowning. There comes a prick of a needle — a manageable pain.

“No one will ever have to know. My life will be back to normal after this. Everything will be all right.”

A pain gathers and crashes like ocean tides. The nurse administers two injections of painkillers. The pain ebbs.

It has been a few hours. The familiar face of the nurse reappears. She informs Jennifer that she is heading out for lunch with her colleagues. Bravely, and naively, Jennifer says she will be fine.

Jennifer is now all alone in the entire clinic. Twenty-two weeks pregnant and alone.

The pain strikes again. So excruciating is the pain this time that she feels as if someone is ripping her body open with a scalpel. Poised on the brink of sheer agony where seeming death is but an inch away, she wrestles and screams for help. But no one comes to her aid. Everyone is at lunch.

A temporary moment of relief comes. Gouts of sweat trickle down her face and body.

“Help me! Help me!” Jennifer begs and screams, gritting her teeth as the final wave of contractions hits with unrelenting vengeance. The doctor refuses to give her more painkillers as she has already maxed out her limit. He proceeds to rupture her amniotic sac.

At the doctor’s behest, Jennifer pushes with all her might. Such crippling pain of gargantuan magnitude women all over the world have experienced, but they have their husbands or boyfriends or life partners on the sidelines cheering them. Jennifer’s support system is absent.

And suddenly, just like that, the pain recedes. Her eight tormenting hours of induced labour are finally over. Jennifer dresses herself and with a withering strength props herself up.

As she leaves the cold, sterile room, and everything behind, she espies a small package wrapped in newspaper.

It is her son.

No one told the teenage Jennifer about the emotional heft that comes with having an abortion, let alone two. For years, she had to live with pangs of shame, guilt and paranoia. It was only by the mercy of God that Jennifer was able to turn her grief into strength. In 2014, she founded Dayspring New Life Centre where women and families with unsupported pregnancies can be empowered to make life-giving choices. After the centre wound up in 2016, and still driven by the same mission, Jennifer started Safe Place under Lakeside Family Services in February 2018, and is now the director of the programme. Jennifer speaks to nedla about her life journey.

In your book “Walking out of Secret Shame”, you wrote about your growing-up years which were fraught with tumult. Tell us about your transformative years.

My father ran a chain of shoe stores, and for a while we lived quite comfortably. When I was twelve, he attempted suicide. I remember being in the car with my mother and sister, and during the twenty-minute ride en route to the hospital no one spoke a single word. It was later that I learnt he had accumulated a huge financial debt, which was further exacerbated by his gambling addiction. And one day, just like that, he fled the country to escape his debts — I initially thought he had gone on another business trip. As my mother was the guarantor, the financial burden fell squarely on her shoulders. I remember reading one of the reminder letters, and it had a long string of numbers — at the time I didn’t even know if the debt ran up to a million, billion or trillion dollars! My mother had to declare bankruptcy, and we had to move out of our home.

As a young girl on the cusp of change, how did you cope as the world you knew crumbled?

It was the routine of everyday life. Even though everything was falling apart, I still had to attend school, do my homework and whatnot. My family never talked about it; we didn’t know how to discuss about our feelings and we tended to sweep things under the rug. We were barely scraping by — my mother had to work; till this day I still don’t know what jobs she took up to make ends meet. I didn’t ask her, because I was afraid of the difficult conversations. It couldn’t have been easy for her, and the last thing I wanted to do was to question her.

How would you describe your younger self?

I think I inherited my dad’s traits: I was strong-willed, smart and rather bossy. But I was also very sensitive. I could always tell when someone was upset, and I would want to render help.

I never knew how to react to authority. Whenever there was a dispute, I would become angry and start quarrelling. Or, I would launch a cold war and run away from the problem. There were days when I would sneak out of the house and not return home for a night. Eventually I became more daring, and one night became two. My mother, of course, was very angry and hurt; as a mother I know now that she was terrified for my safety. But the fifteen-year-old me did not see it that way. I deemed that I was mature enough to know what was best for me, and that I had been through so much more than my mother (in just fifteen years of living).

Read also: Dr Siew Tuck Wah on Breaking the Poverty Cycle, Saving Singapore’s Street Dogs and Finding Buddhism 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.

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