Sarah with daughter
Sarah Chai had a difficult pregnancy for 10 months before she gave birth to her daughter, Deia. Photo by Picspirations Photography

If she’s lucky, Ms Sarah Chai wakes up only 3 times a night to tend to her one-year-old daughter, Deia. But on a bad night, she’d be lucky to get 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Adding to the challenge is the fact that Ms Chai is juggling motherhood, a part-time job and full-time study at Yale-NUS College all at once, making her one of the rare few in her cohort who’s married with a child before completing her university degree.

The 22-year-old said she decided to marry her boyfriend of 5 years after learning about her pregnancy last year. This marked the start of “adulting” for her, and she said the transition was admittedly “very stressful”.

“At 21, I was already being bombarded with [questions about] housing, investments, insurance plans and finances, which was very stressful,” said Ms Chai.

“But I feel that once you see your kid, everything is worth it,” the young mother added.

According to data from the Ministry of Home Affairs, the number of women who became mothers before their mid-20s remained low in recent years.

In 2016, there were 2,594 women aged 15 to 24 who gave birth. In 2018, the number fell 16 per cent to 2,178. Together, these young mothers contributed only about 6 per cent of all live births in 2018.

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Ms Chai is one of these young mothers. She believes young mothers like her won’t have it easy in Singapore as the society by and large expects young, educated women to build their careers first before planning for a family.

“I would say the stigma in Singapore is still there. That’s why I feel that for a lot of people who are in their early 20s, being a mum is just not their first priority,” she added.

Clarice with daughter
Clarice Tan finds a balance between looking after her daughter, Adora, while working as a financial advisor with Great Eastern Life. Photo from Clarice Tan

But there are other young mothers such as Ms Clarice Tan who doesn’t feel stigmatised at all. She said people tend to be “quite shocked” that she’s a mum at her age but “won’t be mean about it or avoid you because of that”.

Ms Tan found out that she was pregnant at 19 years old. Her boyfriend was supportive.

The young couple took a gap year together to tie the knot and prepare for parenthood.

Ms Tan, who’s now 21, said having a child has changed her life for the better. “It makes me want to become a better person because you’re now aware that you’re a role model to this young child.”

Her 2-year-old daughter, Adora, even inspired her to start her own business, Adora Box, a service providing baby bed boxes.

While motherhood can sometimes distract her from her work, Ms Tan said it can also be a source of motivation.

“I also see it (motherhood) as an opportunity. With your family as a motivation, you’re pushed to work harder.”

Jena with son
Jena Lim describes her 3-year-old son, Gordon, as her best blessing. Photo by Tze Hong.

For Ms Jena Lim, who was pregnant when she was 18, keeping her child was a no-brainer as she’s “always loved and wanted children”.

The 22-year-old single mother is now a freelance marketer and graphic designer. She is planning a year-end event for children with special needs and their families as a way to give back to society.

“We’re always in a constant rush to do everything, be everywhere,” said Ms Lim.

“Motherhood taught me that I should always remember to just stop and live in the moment with my son. Everything else shouldn’t matter,” she said.

Ms Lim does miss her former social life, but at the same time, she is grateful for all the joy that comes with spending time with her son.

She also believes that her sacrifices now will pay off. “It’s hard to raise a child while you’re still somewhat a child, but in the future, I’ll have things much easier.

“No matter your age or whatever decision you’re trying to make, don’t care about what society thinks. Instead of making decisions based on which you think you’re less likely to be judged, make them based on what you think is best.”