Made in Singapore: Asia's first test-tube baby

Mr Samuel Lee with a projection of a newspaper article marking his birth.

My friends used to tease me when we were children: "You're man-made!" I would laugh it off, but when I think about it, they were right.

I was the first test-tube baby born in Asia, on May 19, 1983. My father was 21 and my mother 19 when they married in 1976.

They tried to conceive, but with no luck until 1982, when they took part in a clinical trial under Professor S.S. Ratnam and Professor Ng Soon Chye. Although doctors implanted embryos in eight women, I was the only success.

I was born to great media attention, which made my parents uncomfortable. We were ordinary Singaporeans living in a three-room flat in Woodlands.

My father was a security supervisor and my mother a secretary. Thankfully, the in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) was subsidised, and thus affordable to them.

My birth might have been considered extraordinary, but I was raised like any ordinary Singaporean. I played with my cousins, who were around my age, and was punished when I misbehaved.

I didn't have many toys either - it took months of pestering before my father bought me a remote-controlled car when I was five or six.

I got my first inkling that I was somehow different from other kids when I heard other people referring to me as a test-tube baby when I was four or five. I asked my parents about it, and they just gave me a simple explanation of how I came about.

I used to ask my parents for a sibling. They'd laugh and tell me it was a very difficult request to fulfil. It was only when I was older - around 13 - that I understood why and realised what my birth really meant.

My life has been quite ordinary too. I attended Qihua Primary School, Woodlands Secondary School, ITE Tampines and Temasek Polytechnic before serving my national service with the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

Then I worked in sales and business development before settling on my current job as an online media consultant.

Like most Singaporeans, I love food. My hobby is travelling around Singapore trying new food with my friends. To me, Kam Jia Zhuang Seafood in Ang Mo Kio has the best chilli crab, and Ban Leong Wah Hoe Seafood at Casuarina Road has the best fish head curry.

My birthday is not a big deal in my family. I usually have a simple dinner with my parents at a coffee shop or a mid-priced restaurant.

The late Prof Ratnam gave me the name Samuel. I don't know why. We did not really stay in touch after my birth. But I do e-mail and text Prof Ng occasionally. Without them, there wouldn't have been me.

You could call me an advocate of IVF. I often encourage my friends who are trying to conceive to go for it. I love kids and would definitely want my own. But first, I have to find myself a girlfriend.

Not like other kids I got my first inkling that I was somehow different from other kids when I heard other people referring to me as a test- tube baby when I was four or five... I used to ask my parents for a sibling. They'd laugh and tell me it was a very difficult request to fulfil.

It was only when I was older - around 13 - that I understood why and realised what my birth really meant.


This article was first published on May 17, 2015.
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