Dr Baby

Now in her forties, Dr Tan is the immediate past president of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation (SCWO), having served in its board for two years. She is every bit the successful career lady that women aspire to be, yet very down-to-earth when it comes to being a parent and a socially responsible person in society.

Her appearance belies her long journey to becoming a well-known "fertility" doctor in Singapore, which she attributes to her ability to maintain a healthy balance between work and play. Caring for the fairer sex remains her fervent effort, as she believes that empowering women has a multiplying effect on society. She wrote in the SCWO's 1980-2010 commemorative journal: "... empowering both halves synergistically can only be more productive and powerful than when one empowers only one half of the population."

In an exclusive interview, Dr Ann Tan shares her views about fertility, health and personal growth with THIS Quarterly.

THIS Quarterly: As the immediate past president (2008-2010) of Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation (SCWO), do you see yourself as a champion for women’s welfare?

Dr Ann Tan: As past President of SCWO, I do see myself as a champion of women’s needs – be it in terms of education, finance, social, emotional and health. It has been a daunting task and I thank my committed 15th board of SCWO for their unstinting support, inspiration and assistance in seeing our term through. Not forgetting all the assistance we get from various foundations and friends who support our causes humbly and anonymously too in some instances.

How far have we come in achieving equality between the two sexes? Where are the sore points?

In Singapore, women have many opportunities [to excel in their fields]. However, I feel women have chosen not to fully stretch their own capabilities and have always been less likely to push themselves forward as compared to men. I have a feeling that the younger women are of a different mould and I think we will see changes in the future. The sore point is that at SCWO, we continue to feel that there are insufficient women in positions of decision-making in companies and in the government.

How do you manage your busy schedules? Are there any secrets to your time management?

There are no secrets – it is all about continuously juggling and having people to help you! Don’t be afraid to ask for help or get help – that’s my advice.

As a medical doctor specialising in fertility, what are the main reasons couples remain childless even after many years of trying?

The main reasons for women are age, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease and hormonal issue. For men, these include decreasing sperm quality due to age, excessive alcohol, and other toxic effects of stressful lifestyles. Some couples may be unable to consummate after many years of marriage due to other factors – I urge couples who face such problems to come forward to seek treatments early in their marriages.

What solutions do you have for childless couples wanting children?

Depending on the cause of the 不孕症, the necessary treatments will be offered. If there are blocked fallopian tubes or severe male factor, IVF is the only way to achieve a pregnancy. If the causes can be treated or conditions improved through surgery, medications or nutrition or just lifestyle adjustments, we should aim to correct these so that the couple can try for spontaneous or natural conception which is often the preferred route. Adoption should also be considered if either of the first two options is unacceptable or impossible.

Can medication and nutrition help improve fertility?

Nutrition can certainly help to improve fertility, as we are literally what we eat! Over-nutrition and obesity is bad for one’s hormonal balance while under-nutrition and anorexia are likely to render one infertile. The middle path of moderation with adequate nutrients is the best path to follow. Medications can be use for targeted treatment e.g. for treating anovulation (inability to produce eggs), polycystic ovaries, and other problems.

Much has been written about the correlation between health and lifestyle. How should one be mindful of the dangers of unhealthy lifestyles?

Unhealthy lifestyles have always been glamorised and that is the danger. The idea of indulging oneself with excessive food and drink must surely be unhealthy as the key to longer and healthier life is moderation and eating less.

What pointers do you have for people who are advancing in age?

Eat in moderation, exercise, sleep adequately, and think happy thoughts often as bad emotions can deride one’s health and age one prematurely.

What kind of services does your clinic provide?

Working together with Fertility Centres (which are the laboratories), the Women & Fetal Centre can provide the entire range of fertility services, starting from pre-pregnancy screening to fertility testing. Thereafter, the centre provides planning assisted reproduction programmes for the couples – from simple methods of timing the intercourse to intrauterine inseminations to IVF.

Apart from fertility issues, what should women and men know about childbirth and parenting?

Most importantly, both men and women need to ask themselves early in their lives how important having a family is to them. The saying – where your treasure is, so will your heart be – is true. If having a life partner and family are critical to one’s long-term happiness than these goals should be worked on as diligently as other goals alongside one’s learning or career path plans. When there is a will there is a way – asking for help from family and friends should not be sneezed at!

What are some of your own personal achievements that you are most proud of?

Being able to introduce the First Trimester Pregnancy Screening into Singapore and helping to make it easily accessible to patients has been one of the more challenging but worthwhile endeavours I have undertaken. I have always been keen on the area of Health Education and I think I have spent many precious hours over many years contributing to the society in this area.

I have also had the privilege to help many high risk couples achieve parenthood – these have been both humbling and satisfying experiences. All the sweat and loss of sleep over these pregnancies are always forgotten when the baby turn outs well!

As a professional medical practitioner, what health trends have you seen over the past decade that people should be aware of?

People should really pay more attention on their health and make it an important part of their life – as much as work is. Prioritise time for health improvement and maintenance as much as work. I feel in the long run we will be the wiser and happier for it.

What are your proudest moments as a doctor?

To be able to prevent a pre-term birth of a baby until it crosses into viability – that is one of the most satisfying experiences I can remember but I feel immensely blessed to be able to walk women through their pregnancies. Each pregnancy is a special journey in itself. I hope I have made it easier for those with difficulties or dangers to cope with the pregnancy journey.

MODEL IN LIFE

Dr Ann Tan’s is perhaps the model family that Singaporeans look up to – a successful career as a professional, a loving husband, and two lovely children.

When asked who is her model in life, Dr Tan has this to say: “My model in life is Jesus for His teachings as He is Love personified and someone I strive to follow on this earth. Although I am acutely aware that I am but human, I have many earthly models – and these are my mentors, men and women who have inspired me throughout the various stages in my life thus far. There is no one single model that fits in every situation.”

“When I was a little girl, my parents and my teachers were my models,” she adds. “Later on, they became senior doctors whom I had the privilege to train under. As my network of friends widen, so too are the depth and breadth of those who inspired me. I am humbled by the many great men and women I have met who have spent time to teach me through their invaluable experiences. Life is a continual learning process and I feel I am always a WIP – work-in-progress.”

“My proudest moments as a woman are when my children whom I love fiercely demonstrate kindness and thoughtfulness. It is when they do these that I feel they have learnt to be a good and loving person!” she says.

When asked what pointers she has for people to take away that will make them a better person, this is what she has to say:

  • Do unto others what you would have them do to you.
  • Make health a priority.
  • Don’t forget to enjoy the process of life with a purpose and not only on the desired end.
Dr Ann Tan
Dr Ann Tan, PBM
Obstetrician & Gynaecologist
MBBS (S'PORE), MRCOG (LONDON),
M MED (O&G) FAM (SINGAPORE)
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