Christabel Koh, 30, is the proud mother of a feisty, vivacious 5-year-old daughter, Chrislyn Rae Koh.
As Chrislyn watches an episode of Peppa Pig, eyes fixated on the television screen just like any young kid, no one would have noticed that her left hand is missing. She was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome (ABS), a rare condition that affects 1 in about 11,000 births.
Amniotic Band Syndrome occurs when the fetus becomes entangled in fibrous string-like amniotic bands in the womb, restricting blood flow and proper development, thus causing various birth defects. Besides ABS, Chrislyn is also showing symptoms of Global Development Delay (GDD) and Ocular Albinism, both yet to be a confirmed diagnosis, speech development delay and some kind of behavioural issue.
All these problems, however, do not stop this little firecracker from living her life to the fullest.
As she giggles and clambers onto my lap to show me her new doll, I realise how Chrislyn is just like any normal kid.
At childcare, she is sociable, loves being around her friends and takes part in every activity together with her classmates. She loves playing with her dog, Haku, enjoys ballet lessons, gets up to mischief occasionally, is fond of splashing in the pool and has a sweet tooth.
Her mom attributes this to the excellent support system provided by the childcare: “Her school is very supportive, they are willing to accommodate to her and work with the rest of the team to help her. I am very thankful for that.”
Rainbow After A Storm
Things were not so rosy during the first few years. Hefty expenses, self-blame, mental turmoil, postnatal depression and a lack of support from the father sent Christabel into the downward spiral of depression. She attempted to commit suicide on several occasions and was even taken away by the police.
Fortunately, the last suicide attempt was a wake-up call. With sheer determination, she fought a victorious battle and emerges much stronger than before.
From being jobless and depressed, Christabel bounced back in life and is now a confident and successful Account Manager. That is one huge personal achievement!
“Before I had her, I was willful and naïve. I did not have plans for the future. Chrislyn changed me and made me a better, more responsible person.”
Life is definitely better for both mother and daughter now.
However, she reminds me that there will always be a constant battle because of ignorance and non-acceptance from society. “The main challenge now is how I can help my daughter manage her emotions properly and translate the inner frustration she feels into words. One of the greatest worries I have is that she would be subject to bully and ridicule in school.”
“For the rest of her life, she’s going to have people looking at her because she is born different. I want her to be confident of herself and explain to other children about her condition. I want her to be happy.”
Limb Difference Does Not Make A Difference
Through her daughter, Christabel wishes to create more awareness about limb loss, or limb difference in this case – to remove the stigma of missing limbs and make this society more accepting of differences.
April is Limb Loss Awareness Month in America, recognized and supported by all 50 states. Not in Singapore though.
Woefully, she shares: “There is a lack of awareness about ABS in Singapore. So far, I have only met 3 to 5 persons with this condition. There is no support group set up and help is not readily available.”
Through constant advocation of limb difference, Christabel hopes that other parents will be more involved in explaining to their own children that not everyone is born the same but everyone deserves the same rights and same opportunities.
Being born different does not mean they should be denied the pursuit of happiness.
She urges society to be kinder and more accommodating to special needs children. She explains, “For example, instead of telling your children not to stare and suppressing their natural curiosity, encourage them to understand that all humans are born different and accept them as an equal.”
Moving forward, Christabel hopes that she can excel in her career so that she can build a better future for them.
Emotionally, she wants to be stronger; financially, she wants to earn more and be able to support whatever Chrislyn wants to do in life and not be denied a chance. With a smile, she ruffles her daughter’s hair and tells me:
“She is my all, my everything. She gives me the strength to do my best for her.”