With due dates looming and COVID-19 curbs, Malaysian expectant mums in Singapore faced with hard choices

With due dates looming and COVID-19 curbs, Malaysian expectant mums in Singapore faced with hard choices

St John Singapore
A total of 37 Malaysians in Singapore, made up of expectant mums and their family members, returned to Malaysia on Apr 21, 2020 in a specially arranged trip. (Photo: Facebook/Andrew Chen Kah Eng) 

SINGAPORE: Chow Yan Mei and her husband, who are from Ipoh but working in Singapore, have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of their firstborn. 

Now eight months into her pregnancy, the 36-year-old said her husband was looking forward to being by her side in the hospital when the baby is delivered. 

But the couple is not sure if they can reunite in time, as she is now back in Malaysia and serving a 14-day quarantine in a hotel in Johor Bahru, while her husband has remained in Singapore amid the extended “circuit breaker”.

“I do feel a bit lonely. If he really cannot return to Malaysia, we’ll have to see how to make it up to him when the baby is born,” she told CNA. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensued movement restrictions have thrown travel plans into disarray. It is even more daunting for pregnant Malaysians working in Singapore, who might have to reconsider their birth plans with border controls imposed on both sides complicating their travel home. 

With international travel discouraged and no flights and buses serving the Malaysia-Singapore route, they shudder at the thought of having to walk across the 1km causeway as their due dates become near.  

Malaysian expectant mums
Malaysian expectant mums, some accompanied by husbands and family members, returning to Johor Bahru via a specially arranged coach. (Screengrab: 8world News)

Chow, an administrative assistant with a gaming company, has been undergoing her pregnancy check-ups in JB. Singapore’s high medical costs aside, they are renting a room and living with landlords. Her original plan was to return to Ipoh, Perak as soon as her maternity leave starts in mid-May.

But when she sensed that cross border travel might be hindered by the spread of COVID-19, she had to quickly think of an alternative. A Singaporean polyclinic referred her to a government hospital in case she has to deliver here. 

In the meantime, she also wrote to the Malaysian High Commission to enquire about consular assistance for pregnant Malaysians wishing to return home. 

READ: Undaunted by COVID-19 and border controls, Malaysian mums in Singapore send around 3,000kg of breast milk to babies back home

Last Saturday (Apr 18), she was informed by the office of Johor’s Stulang assemblyman Andrew Chen Kah Eng that a special coach operated by Causeway Link would take them over the Johor causeway on Tuesday, free of charge. She immediately signed up. 

“I was happy, but at the same time worried that I have to go through this alone,” she said. A urinary tract infection back in February which caused intermittent fever for almost a month and a five-day stay in hospital was still fresh on her mind. 

“My husband was worried too. He disagreed initially, but we decided it’s the best thing to do, to return home earlier so that our parents can care for me,” she recounted.

bus
A Causeway Link bus carrying 37 Malaysians, including expectant mothers and their family members, to the Johor Bahru checkpoint. (Photo: Facebook/Andrew Chen Kah Eng) 

On Tuesday, Chow was among the 37 travellers - pregnant mums along with some of their husbands, kids and parents - who crossed the causeway in a coach. They are now placed under mandatory quarantine in hotels in Johor Bahru. 

With Malaysia’s movement control order (MCO) extended further until May 12, uncertainty looms for these mums. They are unsure if they can head back to their respective hometowns, as police permission is required for interstate travel. 

CHANGING PLANS DUE TO MOVEMENT RESTRICTIONS

Tuesday’s morning trip across the causeway was bittersweet for some mothers, who had to part temporarily with their spouses.

Some of their husbands - like Chow’s - had decided to stay back in Singapore until work was scheduled to resume on May 4 following the circuit breaker. Little did they know that the circuit breaker would be extended until Jun 1 that very evening. 

St. John Ambulance of Malaysia honorary secretary-general Hoo We Tak, who was on hand to help out together with a team of six St John Singapore volunteers and an ambulance, said it was heart-wrenching to see a woman bursting into tears. 

A few appeared to be close to their delivery, he said. “Looking at the situation, I think it’s very likely the newborns will not be able to see their fathers until much later. I think it will be quite emotional for some of these women.”

St John Singapore ambulance
Volunteers and an ambulance from St John Singapore were enlisted to escort the coach carrying pregnant Malaysian women across the Johor causeway. (Photo: Facebook/Andrew Chen Kah Eng) 

Meanwhile, some had their husbands in tow, as in the case of Pei Jing, who only wished to be known by her given name. However, she said they were not placed in the same room in the quarantine hotel.

“With my due date in early June, I had wanted to return to Perak, where my mother-in-law is, at the end of April or early May. But both countries have since implemented lockdowns,” she said.

READ: ‘It doesn’t feel like Hari Raya’ - Malaysia’s Ramadan vendors fret over slow sales amid COVID-19

Delivering in Singapore could mean having no confinement nanny to help with postnatal care, Pei Jing said. 

Now that she and her husband are back in Malaysia, she might deliver her baby in Johor Bahru to make things easier. Her sister-in-law and the latter’s mother will take care of them, she added.

A couple walk with their child and luggage across the causeway
A couple walk with their child and luggage across the Causeway from Malaysia's southern state of Johor (top) towards the Woodlands checkpoint in Singapore on Apr 1, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)
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Pei Jing is thankful for the specially arranged coach, especially after a brief encounter with a family of three - husband, pregnant wife and their toddler - who walked across the causeway on Tuesday. 

“We met while waiting to be sent to the quarantine centre. They looked fine, but it’s very sad that they had to do this. 

“The wheels on their luggage broke as it was being lugged across, but the husband joked that the moral of the story is to get a better luggage next time,” she recounted.

READ: Isolated and short of supplies, Malaysia's indigenous groups depend on aid to ride out movement control order 

WALKING OVER TO JOHOR BAHRU A LAST RESORT

Chen, the Democratic Action Party assemblyman who organised the special trip for the pregnant women, said his office has been inundated with enquiries from Malaysian pregnant women in Singapore, as well as Malaysians wishing to bring senior citizens and children home.

This particular trip was made possible together with the Malaysian High Commission in Singapore, bus operator Handal Indah Sdn Bhd and St John Singapore. The presence of the nurses and volunteers was important in case of an emergency, he said. 

St John Singapore
St John Singapore volunteers checking the Malaysian travellers' temperature at Kranji MRT station on Apr 21, 2020. (Photo: St. John Ambulance of Malaysia) 

“I try to help out whenever I can,” he said. “Many still reach out to us, asking if there’d be more of such trips. Any future arrangements will be made based on the regulations and controls imposed by both sides.”

Expectant mum Candy Tan, who missed Tuesday’s trip, told CNA she has resigned herself to the possibility of walking across the causeway. 

The 30-year-old beauty consultant is currently alone in Singapore, after her husband returned to Johor before Malaysia’s MCO.

While she is anxiously hoping for a safe way to return to Muar, Johor before her due date in early July, she keeps herself busy with online training and classes. 

“I have indeed thought about walking across. It will probably take me 45 minutes,” she said. 

Source: CNA/tx(aw)

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