On both occasions, she was one and a half months overdue when she gave birth to her sons, now aged three and 12 months. Mary (not her real name) told me that she did not once see a doctor when she was pregnant because she had no money.
“I checked myself into KK when I felt my stomach was too big,” she said. She had to have a Caesarean each time.
Hers was one of the more startling anecdotes I came across while researching for my story “It’s not always easy” about broken or dysfunctional families.
It was a humbling experience speaking to people who get by on less than $500 a month. Some of them live in a rental flat, others in a shelter. Then there are others who stay with their family members in a three or four-room flat, straining fractured relationships even further.
How do they do it? Especially if they have children in tow?
Well, something has to give. In Mary’s case, it’s her health – she looks anaemic.
Mary has just one meal a day so that she feed her three kids. Besides her two sons, she also has a 14-year-old daughter from an earlier liaison.
But there is a ray of hope. Mary has started working as a telemarketer.
She speaks English well and is quite articulate just like the other single parent in my story, Jack. You get a sense that these people haven’t had the opportunity to develop their potential, partly because life had dealt them some bad cards and also because they made some unwise choices of their own.
Still, there is hope that their children can break from this cycle of poverty.
Take for instance, Mary’s daughter – despite living in a one-room rental flat with four other family members – the 14-year-old is smart enough to get into a mission school in the east. Her grades are average and who knows what they might have been with a different home environment? Mary lives in a shelter because her mother kicked her out of the flat.
“She said there was no space for me,” said Mary.
Recently, Mary’s three-year-old has been bugging her to send him to school.
“When he sees other kids going to school, he wants to go too,” she said.
The problem is, she needs $100 to register him in a child care centre near the shelter where she is currently staying. She also needs money to buy him shoes and a school bag.
When I heard that, I think about the $200 bill I recently racked up when I was feeling down – I had splurged on a bag, necklace and matching ear rings.
Mary’s troubles and others like hers really put mine in perspective. What about yours?