Liu Ling Ling: No regrets having baby at 50
SINGAPORE - Instead of hearty congratulations, what she got after she gave birth last September were mostly malicious talk and cutting remarks. The worst of the gossipmongers had it that getai veteran and actress Liu Ling Ling had bought or adopted a baby.
More hurtful were the nasty comments, especially since she had the baby at 50.
It did not help that the status of Liu's marriage to her businessman husband had also previously been the subject of media scrutiny, with rumours swirling that they were estranged.
Liu recalls the time with calmness.
Motherhood was not a decision she made rashly, she reiterates.
"Right from the start, I knew it wasn't going to be easy - from pregnancy to birth, or even thereafter," says Liu, 51.
"But I have not regretted it at all. Being a mother enriches your health, your well-being and mostly, your life."
Liu kept her pregnancy a secret from everyone, including her mother and other family members.
The headline-making news, which came as a shock to everyone in showbiz, would not even have broken if she didn't have to give the Shin Min Daily News-Lianhe Wanbao Getai Awards a miss.
She had promised to pick up her Top 10 Popular Artists award, but gave birth just a day before the event.
In her first full-length interview since, Liu explains: "I thought I could just keep mum until maybe after Xiang Xiang's first-month celebrations.
"I wanted us to settle in properly first."
Liu says she also did not want the public to misunderstand that she was using her pregnancy to grab media attention. "I didn't want all of that negativity," she says.
Which explains why it took some persuasion before she agreed to speak to us for a Mother's Day feature.
It took even more coaxing before she finally agreed to send us a photo of her son.
Baby Xiang Xiang (she declines to reveal his full name) was conceived through artificial insemination.
Three obstetricians and gynaecologists told The New Paper on Sunday in a previous report that the oldest mothers they have seen were between the ages of 45 and 48.
The rarity is one reason she had kept the pregnancy under wraps.
Another reason? She had suffered a miscarriage in the seventh week of pregnancy after the first round of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) in 2011.
Liu says: "You know what it's like, you don't want to raise your hopes until you are very certain.
"By which time, you also get very protective and want to guard that secret very dearly."
But keeping the pregnancy a secret had consequences.
She could not make any excuses and went on to film a movie, Everybody's Business, and also performed the full getai run during the Hungry Ghost Month from Aug 7 to Sept 4.
Liu laughs at the memories: "Aiyoh, it was a good thing I didn't say anything. My mother told me that if she had known about the pregnancy, she would not have been able to sleep the whole month." The trick to getting through the pregnancy almost nonchalantly, she says, is not to feel like you have to act pregnant.
"I didn't suffer from any terrible morning sickness or felt like I had to walk with the 'pregnant woman' posture," says Liu.
"I just made sure that I ate well and that I took care of myself when going up and getting off the stage."
Liu is aware of the speculation that she had adopted her baby, given the shroud of secrecy.
At the time, she had even declined to reveal which hospital she had delivered her child in, except that it was "government-run".
"Do you know that I stayed in a Class C ward? I was lucky because there was an Indian mother on one side, and on the other was a Malay mother, which is probably why I managed to keep the news quiet," she says.
Liu believes that her doctors were also sympathetic because she was a high-risk patient.
"Ever the professionals, they were more concerned for me and my child's well-being."
But she is thankful that she decided to take a photo of her fully pregnant belly just before she set off for the hospital.
"It was perhaps intuitive, now that I think about it, but I took that one selfie because I wanted to record it for Xiang Xiang."
But the early weeks of being a mother were not as easy as she thought they would be, admits Liu.
She was all ready to be discharged from the hospital on the third day when Xiang Xiang was diagnosed with jaundice.
She recalls: "I am normally a strong woman, but tears just welled up when I was told the news.
"The doctors told me not to worry. I knew that it was common, but I couldn't help crying."
Liu also became so paranoid that each time she heard a baby cry, she'd ask the nurse: "Is that my baby crying?"
She chuckles heartily, then says: "The nurse had to keep telling me, 'No, no, your baby is fine.'"
Then came the onslaught of attention that followed the headlines.
Liu recounts: "It was mayhem. My mobile phone rang non-stop. There was message after message. Everyone was calling me to express their disbelief and of course, to congratulate me.
"But I nearly couldn't cope. I had a nervous breakdown."
She also had difficulty breastfeeding.
Liu says: "I was quite depressed at first because I could hardly feed Xiang Xiang, which I wanted so much to do.
"I nearly gave up until I read somewhere that you could massage your breasts and also use an electrical pump to help you."
We delved into other rumours, including that of her marriage.
Liu declines to elaborate on her relationship with her husband, but stresses that her son is growing up normally in a proper family set-up, contrary to the speculation that she is a single parent.
She says: "All I want to say is that my son has a father and a mother with him."
She also says that she and her husband were "never divorced".
A domestic helper takes care of Xiang Xiang now, under the watch of a relative when Liu goes to work.
She is in the local comedy, Filial Party, where she plays the mother of school security guard Beng (played by Christopher Lee), who is a contestant in a reality game show with a million-dollar cash prize.
But she tries to spend as much time as she can with her eight-month-old - be it taking him out for a swim or staying home to bond. She says: "He is such a cheerful baby. He loves to laugh. When he wakes up, he won't cry but make gargling sounds to let you know that he is up."
BABY GETS HER
Liu says her son understands what she says. "I don't baby-talk him and I believe this is why he understands what we say. "For example, I'd tell him, 'Xiang Xiang, please be good. I am going to do some work and I want you to sleep first. When you wake up, you'd see mummy.'
"My maid and relative tell me that he'd do just that without a fuss," says Liu.
She concedes again that there are some people who are critical of her decision to get pregnant at her age.
She holds back the tears, and says: "Yes, I have been told that when I am 70 years old, my son will only be 19.
"(Film director) Royston Tan, who had encouraged me to go for the IVF, told me that a child's first seven years are the most important stage. And I am giving Xiang Xiang my full, unconditional time in his early years," she says.
"The promise that I have made to my son and myself is that he will not find anything lacking as he grows up.
"I will bring him up him such that he will learn independence.
"As long as he knows he will always bask in his mother's love, I am confident my child will be fine."
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