One Tough Mama

Celebrity mum Lina Ng risked her health and life to deliver her three sons, but she tells us it was all worth it.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Lina Ng’s life seems like a fairytale come true. She got her start as an actress after clinching the first runner-up spot during Star Search in 1993, when she was only 19 years old. Twenty-five years later, she’s now a respected veteran in the business.

She is also a mum to three adorable boys – Jeriel, 14, Joel, 12, and Samuel, seven. But few know about how she put her life on the line to become a mother.

Jeriel: the miracle baby

Lina had been married to former national bowler, Mike Lam, now 48, for four years before conceiving their first child at age 30.

But her elation soon turned to trepidation when a routine check-up at the gynaecologist showed that her unborn baby had swallowed meconium, which is greenish black stool that a newborn first passes after birth.

The emergency C-section that ensued dashed all her hopes of a natural delivery. Worse still, her baby was born with his umbilical cord wound twice around his neck. Jeriel was ultimately saved, a miracle she held in her arms.

During her confinement, Lina fell very sick and coughed so badly that her stitches came loose. She had to return to the hospital to get them re-done.

She recalls: “The traditional Chinese medicine physician told me my body was not ‘receptive’. I drank only water – not even red date tea – so my body didn’t get much nourishment during confinement.

“I tried to breastfeed, but what I expressed was not milky but murky like barley water. My eldest was breastfed for only three months…”

Lina signed Jeriel up for swimming lessons when he was four years old, but the boy remained scrawny. In primary school, he finally put on weight and his body mass index shot up so much that he weighed 60kg in Primary 3 – his waist hovered between 32 and 34 inches.

“We enrolled him for water polo but he was so big, he couldn’t swim fast,” she says. “When he went to Secondary 1, however, training intensified, and his weight dropped within a year,” she says. Now, he plays water polo for his school.

Joel: breastfed with a spoon

Lina transferred hopes of a natural delivery onto her second baby, Joel. She also wanted to take the opportunity to restore her body to good health during confinement.

“But my period came during the pregnancy and every month, I was given about four or five HCG injections,” she says. HCG or Human Chorionic Gonadotropin injections are sometimes used to safeguard pregnancy.

“Even though I ate a lot, the baby couldn’t absorb the nutrients – when he was born, he weighed only 2.2kg,” Lina adds.

“Like his brother, he couldn’t latch on by himself, so I fed him breast milk with a spoon. This continued until he was 3kg.”

Nonetheless, she panicked less with Joel. “Firstly, I was now more experienced. Secondly, since my baby was naturally delivered, my body recovered faster and I also managed to breastfeed him for six months.”

Samuel: as small as a palm

Born premature at 32 weeks old, Samuel weighed as much as a 28-year-old foetus. He was less than 1kg and no bigger than a human palm.

Lina had observed that when each of her older babies reached 32 weeks old, their rate of nutrition absorption lowered dramatically. After many rounds of tests, she was diagnosed with preeclampsia.

“During a scan, the doctor said I had high blood sugar and high blood pressure. I was immediately transferred to KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

“I had my test at 2pm, but at 6pm the doctor said I needed an emergency C-section; otherwise, I could lose my baby or even die from excessive blood loss!”

Samuel was kept in the incubator for two months after he was born. Lina was allowed to bring him home only after he hit 2.2kg in weight.

“During my confinement, I tried my utmost to express milk so I could breastfeed him. My husband delivered the milk to the hospital every day,” she says.

“I visited my newborn at the hospital every other day, but I would cry every time when I saw him. People told me it’s not good for a new mum to cry during confinement. But I was so sad, I couldn’t do my confinement properly; I even thought I had depression.

“I had no idea how I overcame that period. Fortunately, Samuel pulled through. But I was a little angry with myself because I wasn’t able to nurse my body back to health.”

Staying home was worth it

After turning freelance in 2005, Lina enrolled in an early childhood education course with ex-colleague, actress-host Evelyn Tan. Then, she worked as a teacher at an international school for three years, but it exacted a toll on her – she lost her patience easily whenever she was at home with the kids.

So, she quit and became a stay-at-home mother and part-time actress for the next nine years.

Having spent a lot of time with her boys, Lina now enjoys a close relationship with them. This, to her, is the greatest value of being a stay-at-home mum.

“I know my kids love me because I spent time to build our relationship. My eldest is so old now, but he still dares to hug and kiss me in public. And he won’t feel embarrassed about it.

“I know every child’s temperament and habits. I can detect any changes easily. My eldest is usually soft-spoken, sensitive and considerate to others. But when he was in Primary 4, he started throwing tantrums and hitting others. We found out he was getting bullied at school, and discovered it had begun way back in Primary 1…”

Lina also told The Straits Times (ST): “I am proud I am a stay-at-home mother. I know that whatever time I spend with my children will go to building their confidence. Forgoing my full-time acting career for them is not a loss.”

Lina the Lion Mum?

Discipline is an attribute Lina insists in her kids. In fact, she no longer has a maid, because she wants them to learn to be independent and not leave things to the last minute.

“If they have tried their best, results don’t matter. I also tell them often, they can hate me now but they will thank me for this later,” she reasons.

That’s why even though her second son Joel is taking his PSLE this year, Lina isn’t panicking the way she did when Jeriel took the same exam. Thankfully, her eldest got into the school of his choice via Direct School Admission scheme because of his water polo prowess.

Following the trend of celebrity offspring in the local entertainment scene, Lina is not averse to having hers try their hand at it, too. But studies take priority.

“Jeriel shot an ad when he was in Primary 4; Joel appeared in a Channel 8 children’s programme, while Samuel was in a Channel 5 reality TV show. They knew how much they were paid, but I gave them only a portion, only because I wanted them to understand how hard we adults have to work,” she says.

Looking forward

Lina hopes to travel more often especially since she’s still young at 44. “But there’s no one to take care of my youngest. My mum is overwhelmed, while my in-laws are getting older… I hope that #mumgoals two years later, when he is in Primary 3, he would be able to take better care of himself.

“By then, my eldest would be nearly an adult. My youngest is really easy to take care of; he’s obedient and independent, plays by himself and goes to bed by himself. He’s just a little difficult when it comes to food as he’s picky.”

For now, however, Lina appreciates having an endless deluge of assignments as well as endorsement deals. Besides appearing on Ladies First – Singapore, she will be working on Channel 5’s Lion Mum 3, which starts shooting in September.

“Working freelance is more advantageous for those with family commitments, like myself. I can choose assignments that I enjoy, and I won’t feel guilty for neglecting my husband and kids,” she says. 

In her ST interview, she adds: “As a freelancer, I have time to reflect and rest. I want to be able to step into a place and emit positivity. I want people to remember me as someone positive and who brings joy wherever she goes.” 

“I visited my newborn at the hospital every other day, but I would cry every time when I saw him. People told me it’s not good for a new mum to cry during confinement.”

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