WORKING MUMs: When a mother is also a nurse

The decision to continue working or not can be difficult for a mother when she has a child with special needs to care for. Be it going back to work or staying home as a full time...

...caregiver, the choice made has no right or wrong to it. Each family makes the best possible decision in the best interest of the family and this article marks the first of our three-part feature on working mothers - how they cope with work and family life on top of caregiving responsibilities.

Mdm Zou Hong Qin

Hong Qin is a Nurse Manager in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at a local private hospital. She is also a mother to three boys aged 17, 14 and 5 years old, the youngest diagnosed with global developmental delay (GDD).

Special Seeds speaks to her to hear her story and understand how she does it all each day.

Special Seeds (SS): Tell us about your children. 

Zou Hong Qin (ZHQ): I have 3 boys. My eldest is 17 years old and is currently pursuing a course in Biomedical Engineering at Temasek Polytechnic. My second one is 14 years old and studies at Queenstown Secondary School. My youngest one, JYC, has special needs. He attends the early intervention (EIPIC) programme offered at Thye Hua Kwan (THK) centre at Ang Mo Kio.

SS: Did you have to stop working when your son was diagnosed

ZHQ: I did not stop working. But I had to defer my part time studies for a Masters in Nursing after he (JYC) had general convulsions in 2012.

S: Do you feel mummy guilt at any point when working?

ZHQ: I do not feel guilty because when I work as a Nurse Manager, my income allows me to finance alternative treatment for him. For example, seeking Traditional Chinese Medical consultation from Eu Yan Sang, including cordyceps in his diet, increasing the frequency of therapy for him in physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. Being financially independent also means I have sufficient funds to pursue more costly medical interventions that may benefit him for example, financing overseas trips for him to undergo Mesenchymal Stem Cell Infusion which is not available in Singapore.

On a personal note, being away from him for 8-9 hours when I’m at work is also good respite. I’m less stressed than if I stay home to take care of him 24 hours a day. This balance allows me to be mentally relaxed for a fixed period of time each day.

SS: Why do you think going back to work is important?

ZHQ: The additional income allows me to better support his daily needs and secure his future needs. I can also keep abreast of the latest medical developments and good practices as a nurse and in turn, this will benefit in giving him the best care. I will have 8-9 hours away from taking care of him, so I will not keep thinking about his disability. This allows me to stay energized and continue the long term care for him.

SS: What will you say to mummies with special kids who can't decide whether to go back to work or not. Eg. What are the top 3 things that should be in place first?

ZHQ: 1. You should have trusted caregivers for the special needs child at home. Caregivers who can attend school with him and know how to seek medical consultations at any clinic or hospital in times of urgency.

2. Your special needs child must be able to fulfill his basic needs with the care of the care providers. Eg He can sleep well, eat well.

3. The mother is comfortable to be away from the child for 8-9 hours or even longer without feeling guilty or anxious.

SS: How long have you been in Singapore? Where were you previously from?

ZHQ: I have been in Singapore for 22 years. I was originally from China.

SS: How does your profession help you with caregiving for your son? How do you help similar families as a nurse?

ZHQ: I specialise in midwifery and baby care. I have no issues looking after my son as I know how to search for medical and nursing information. I shared my experiences with others. As my son has gone through a lot, I am more patient when I see others having similar problems.

SS: How did you cope with emotions at the hospital when he was younger and in the hospital?

ZHQ: I cried a lot. I will continue to do my best for him. I will never give up. I united my family members to accept his disability and motivated them to give our best love to him. We treated him as the lucky person in the family. The grandparents, his two older brothers, my husband and me, including the helpers always give him the best.

SS: What's the one thing you insist on having every week to ensure you spend quality time with family?

ZHQ: Every day, we drive him out just because he loves sitting in the car. We bring him to any mall to just go up and down the escalators as he loves that. My older sons are usually busy with their own things. The rest of the family members will have dinners together.

SS: What's the no. 1 thing that keeps you focused and strong in difficult times?

ZHQ: I am a mother of a child with special needs. I have to remain strong (for him) no matter what happens.

SS: Do your family or relatives fault you for going back to work as opposed to staying home as a caregiver to JYC?

ZHQ: No. They understand that I have a lot of burden to bring up my son (JYC). At this moment, my parents-in-law, together with a domestic helper, are the ones who help me to take care of JYC when I’m away at work. 

SS: What in your opinion, can help mothers like yourselves cope with working and caregiving duties? 

ZHQ: We have to get help from our parents or parents-in-law. The child has special needs. Some like my son cannot speak yet so there’s always the worry that the helper may abuse him when we are not around. We need to ensure the trusted people (family) are around to ensure our special ones receive good care. We have to involve the father by inviting him to share part of the caregiving duty.

SS: How can family members help mothers make a suitable decision (to work or not) without feeling guilty either way?

ZHQ: We can openly ask the family members to vote for the best possible option.

SS: What are your top 3 wishes for working mothers of children with special needs in Singapore?

ZHQ: That they have trusted caregivers.

That Singapore has childcare centres for special needs children in various neighbourhoods.

That the Singapore government will help families with children who have special needs by further reducing school fees (especially in early intervention) even if the child’s mother is working.

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