Cover Velda Tan, founder of Our Second Nature

Our Second Nature founder Velda Tan candidly shares the most challenging aspects of her motherhood journey—from her experience with infertility and IVF to finding strength after a miscarriage

When asked if she’s looking forward to her second child, Velda Tan’s answer catches me off-guard. “Not really,” she admits. We’re about 40 minutes into our interview, and frankly, I expected a different answer, given how she had just detailed her lengthy fertility journey to me. 

In response to my perplexed look, Tan chuckles. “It’s not that I’m not looking forward to welcoming my baby, it’s just that I’m not very keen on going through the whole newborn phase again,” she clarifies, candidly. “For me, the most challenging part of motherhood so far is the whole breastfeeding journey and having to juggle work and taking care of a newborn whilst not being able to feel yourself.”  

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Tan certainly has her hands full with Ellery, her four-year-old daughter, as well as her day job as the founder and creative director of local lifestyle label Our Second Nature. Currently five months pregnant with her second child, nothing seems to be slowing her down—minutes prior to our interview in her office, she wrapped a morning shoot for her label’s new collection, and just the day before, we had met for a four-hour shoot for this story.

While she’s bracing herself for the hamster wheel that comes with the newborn phase, Tan’s excited “for Ellery to finally have someone to call her sibling”, having always desired a big family for herself and experiencing a “very lovely childhood” with her two sisters. “I think that’s probably the main reason why I wanted more children,” she says. “I started wanting four, but along the way, that dream changed.” 

“Along the way”, for Tan, spans 10 years of marriage, three years of actively trying for a first baby, and nearly two years of trying for a second. “It’s been a really long journey,” she reflects thoughtfully. Tan tied the knot in 2012 at 25, but had never seriously considered a child in the early years of her marriage. Three years on, the couple realised that while they had not been intentionally planning to conceive a child, things were also oddly quiet. “Nothing was happening, and that’s when I decided to go to a gynaecologist to get a checkup just to make sure that everything was working fine.” 

The trip to the gynaecologist would change her life as it is. Tan discovered that she had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a common endocrine disorder that can result in an infrequent release of eggs. According to Singapore’s Advanced Centre for Reproductive Medicine (ACRM), the hormonal disorder affects 10 to 15 per cent of women in the reproductive age group. While the symptoms vary, PCOS can cause irregular periods, obesity and infertility. 

“When the gynae diagnosed me, she said that it's going to be very hard for me to conceive without any assistance,” Tan recalls. “PCOS affects everyone differently, but for me, it specifically means that I don’t have a regular ovulation cycle and my eggs are unable to develop and mature.” Tan’s doctor recommended she immediately start on medicated cycles, where she would take oral medication to help stimulate egg growth and to allow the eggs to grow to maturity. 

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One cycle slowly spun into another, and soon, Tan found herself going through six medicated cycles within a year, all of which failed. The stress and anxiety resulted in an emotionally draining time, with Tan also affected by the physical side effects of the medication, leading to increased weight and bloating. The following year, Tan persevered through three more medicated cycles, which were all, unfortunately, unsuccessful. “In total, I failed nine times with the medicated cycles, over two years,” she recalls.

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Tired and discouraged, she confided in a friend who introduced her to a fertility specialist that had previously gotten her pregnant through Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). “At that time, I honestly didn’t know that there was a difference between a gynaecologist and a fertility specialist,” Tan tells me. 

She adds: “The first step the specialist took was to test my husband’s sperm, which is something that my previous gynae didn't do. Thinking back, we were quite surprised as to why we didn't do that earlier. It doesn't just take the woman’s side of things to make a baby, the man’s side of things should also be factored in.” 

After all the testing, the specialist recommended superovulation, a different course of treatment from her previous medicated cycles. Also known as controlled ovarian hyperstimulation, superovulation is the process whereby medicated drugs are used to induce the release of multiple eggs within a cycle. “To our immense joy, we were successful on the first try. After six years of marriage, we welcomed Ellery in our lives in 2018.” 

A year and a half after conceiving Ellery, Tan and her husband decided to try for a second baby. They revisited the fertility specialist, who placed Tan on two superovulation cycles, both of which failed. It was then they decided to turn towards In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).

“It wasn’t a hard decision to make, but there were the considerations, of course,” says Tan. “Especially for my husband—he was a little bit more concerned about my overall well-being and he knew how much I had been through for our first child. I knew that I wanted to work towards a second child though, so if it required IVF, I was open and game for it.” 

Tan embarked on the procedure, and had 15 eggs—a healthy number—retrieved at the start. Only seven eggs were fertilised, however, and ultimately, only one single egg made it to the blastocyst stage. “When I received that call, I remembered being so devastated. When they told me that I only had one egg in the end and it was an average quality embryo, it was painful news to accept,” she shares wistfully. “I was really upset, but I comforted myself by saying that one is all we needed, right? And so we worked towards a successful transfer with that one precious blastocyst.” The transfer succeeded, and Tan soon tested positive for pregnancy, which she describes as “a dream come true”. 

Then, just like that, her dream was woefully cut short.

Somehow, one of the best moments of her life transformed into one of the worst. “I was really hoping that it would become a viable pregnancy, but sadly, I lost the baby due to a miscarriage at week eight,” Tan tells me quietly, with a faraway look in her eyes. 

As a precaution with IVF procedures, she was required to routinely test her blood in order to ensure that her Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) levels are increasing, she explains. This was a measure of whether a pregnancy is developing correctly. At week seven, her levels were stagnant, which set alarm bells off. “The doctor did a scan, and then sat my husband and I down to tell us that it was most likely a non-viable pregnancy. I had two options: I could choose to naturally discharge the baby which would happen over the course of 10 to 14 days, or go for a Dilation and Curettage (D&C) procedure to remove all the contents and clear my uterine lining.”

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Tan opted for a natural discharge as she was in the early stages of her pregnancy, and the next 10 days, she describes, were “a waiting game”. On the 10th day, she had just ended a morning work call at home and headed to the washroom when it happened. “I just sat on the toilet and I could literally see it. There were some contractions, and then I expelled the foetus and the placenta,” she pauses, taking a moment to breathe. Her calm facade broke a little, but even as her eyes were bright with unshed tears, Tan’s voice remained as unwavering as ever. “I told my husband and asked if he wanted to have a look, and then that's it, we closed the chapter.”

She had taken some time off to grieve, she tells me and was consoled by the amount of support she found in loved ones during her painful journey. “A lot of other women have experienced this, and that gave me some consolation that I'm not alone,” she adds. “A miscarriage can happen, and if it does, you don't ever have to feel or be alone going through it.”

Losing a child is one of the most heartbreaking experiences, and while the unbearable grief is felt so deeply by many, it’s spoken about by very few. Miscarriage still remains a taboo topic in many societies, often linked to guilt, stigma or shame, especially in more traditional cultures that measure a woman’s worth by their ability to reproduce. 

A miscarriage can happen, it might happen, and if it does happen, you are not the only one that is going through it.
Velda Tan

Hoping to break the culture of silence that has enshrouded topics like miscarriage, Tan decided to open up about her experience on social media.

“It’s definitely daunting to share something so private and to be so vulnerable, especially in our Asian context where it’s still quite a taboo subject,” she shares. “But in my mind, I wanted to be like my girlfriend who helped me. It takes someone who has experienced it to fully understand the layers of emotions and the nuances of it all—even a spouse might not fully understand, but someone who has been through a similar experience will.”

This wish to provide a sense of community is also what spurred Tan to host mini support groups before the pandemic hit, for women who face fertility challenges. When she had spoken about her journey with Ellery on social media a few years back, she received an overwhelming number of messages that flooded her page.

“So many women go through it but are afraid to talk about it,” Tan shares. “I created these mini support groups gathering 10 to 12 women in a condominium’s function room, and we’d just go around talking about our personal experiences. These sharing sessions were so powerful; they ended up being such an emotional process for a lot of women to finally be able to get it out of their systems and to have someone they could relate to.” 

This was also how Tan met some of the founding members of the recently established​​ non-profit community Fertility Support SG, which aims to “create a community where couples facing infertility can get the right information, as well as to share their experiences and gain support during these hard times”. Tan, who has been involved since its inception, is now part of the core team. “My role and my focus are to raise awareness. Our objective is really to encourage more conversations around this topic, and also fundamentally to provide support for women who go through assisted reproductive technology or even pregnancy loss.” 

Tan’s story does have a happy ending, however, as even in the greyest of times, silver linings can appear. “After the miscarriage happened, I remember the date very clearly—August 14th—I took a while to just get myself ready for the next step and the second round,” she recalls. As she was entering a busy work period and her schedule was getting packed, she decided to push the IVF procedure to the following year. “I remember being very stressed as we opened our new store in December, and the lead-up to it was a lot of anxiety due to the mountain of work.”

On Christmas morning that same year, she received one of the greatest gifts of her life. “There was a voice in my head telling me to test myself,” she says with a laugh.

“People say you don’t really get pregnant when you’re stressed, but I felt an urge to listen and so I rummaged around trying to find a leftover pregnancy test kit which I honestly didn't think I'd have because with my miscarriage…” Tan breaks off, a dark look flitting across her face, momentarily clouding the shine. “The miscarriage was sad because I had to keep testing again and again from positive to negative to make sure that the hCG levels were completely out of my body, which meant that [the foetus] was all gone. That experience was quite traumatising.”

Taking a moment to compose herself, Tan shifted to a lighter tone. “I thought I didn't have any pregnancy tests left, but I found one eventually, and it's the digital option that would state whether you’re pregnant or not very clearly,” she says. “I tested and I was brushing my teeth when I saw that it said ‘pregnant’ and ‘one to two weeks’. I literally fell to my knees and burst out crying—I couldn’t control myself.” 

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For Tan, having been able to conceive naturally and soon approaching her third trimester is a dream evolution after a long fertility journey. It signifies a new start, even as the past trauma of losing an unborn child lingers: “I think one thing people rarely talk about is how traumatic a new first trimester can be after having experienced miscarriage before,” she expresses sombrely.

“You feel like your body might fail you again at any point of time, and you're just so worried that you would spot, or have some sort of bleeding, or your doctor will tell you that their heart is not beating anymore. Such trauma is not really spoken about, but during my first trimester with this second baby, it was very real. This is probably something I would try to create more awareness about in the future, and I think it’s a reason why I've been so open with my journey as well.” 

I think one thing people rarely talk about is how traumatic a first trimester can be after loss. You feel like your body might fail you again at any one point.
Velda Tan

Going back to our earlier conversation, I ask Tan if she still desires four kids, especially given how much she has been through when achieving half of her goal. “Now, I think maybe I was a bit ambitious when I thought I wanted four kids,” she says with a laugh. “They say you will only truly know how many more you want after you have your first, and that is so true.” 

A second child was always part of the plan, what with Ellery looking forward to the day “she can bring a younger brother or sister to school”. But for Tan, she’s undeniably a little worried about the upcoming—albeit joyful—chaos, both at home and at work—a common dilemma amongst many working mothers. “Quality time with them is so important,” she shares. “For me, it's all about managing my time, but also my energy. I just want to be a good role model to my children, and I want to come from a good place. I want to come from a cup that's filled, not a cup that's empty.” As for what's next, she says: “Let’s see, after number two, if we can go on with number three.” 

When asked how she would define motherhood, after all she's been through, Tan answers without hesitation: “It's truly been the best experience of my life. I'm just very happy to be on this ride.”

Take a peek at the cover shoot behind-the-scenes, where Tan also discusses more about what being a mother means, including the hardest thing about motherhood and how it has changed her life.


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