Singapore obstetrician/gynae busts myths of the profession

SINGAPORE - Busting myths of the obstetrician/gynaecologiist profession with Dr Ann Tan:

How would you describe your job?

I'm a tour guide of sorts.

These 'tours' can range from 'free and easy' to 'totally guided' as in IVF (in-vitro fertilisation).

I help couples achieve pregnancy.

This means timing the journey of the sperm to the egg and when the egg is expected to ovulate, maximising fertilisation.

Sometimes artificial insemination is done to shorten the journey from a marathon to a sprint.

I guide the couple by trying to determine where the difficulty in getting pregnant - if any - lies and work towards correcting them.

I also help deliver the baby.

And as you might imagine, in tours, there can be many surprises along the way, some not very pleasant.

Is it true that a visit to the gynaecologist always means clambering into stirrups?

Stirrups(metal supports that hold a woman's legs in position during gynaecological examinations) are used in the operating theatre.

Assuming the position of sitting astride a horse when there is none is not the most comfortable.

But we use foot pads (a chair which electronically adjusts to suit the patient) in the clinics instead as they are more comfortable.

When it comes to examinations, many patients have asked why I chose to do this unsavoury duty.

Are gynaecological examinations one of the downsides of your job?

You could say the downside is long and unpredictable hours, leading to dark circles, puffy eyes and always eating dinner late.

But seriously, the absolute worst part of the job is having to tell people bad news, such as the baby has died or the patient has suffered a miscarriage.

Are there any perks to the job?

Of course, feeling happy and blessed when someone conceives and finally delivers a healthy baby.

Then there are happy patients who constantly feed the nurses and myself with chocolates and cakes.

The biggest and best surprise was getting milk fruit from Vietnam from a grateful patient. They are a real treat as I cannot buy them here.

Spending your time delivering babies, do you ever yearn to have more of your own?

Nah! I am happy with my three lovely daughters. I think God knows I could not handle a son.

I also get my highs from cuddling my patients' babies and playing with their kids when they come to visit.

The newborns grow up so quickly, it's amazing. They keep reminding me of how fast time flies.

Is it true that breastfeeding is nature's contraception?

It is! And it works well for at least three months for most women. Some women, however, do ovulate soon after that period.

I constantly remind new mothers that they cannot assume they are infertile just because there is no menses.

In your experience, do women generally prefer a male or female gynaecologist?

It's different strokes for different folks. The preference in the gynaecologist's gender tends to differ according to what stage in life the woman is at.

For one thing, I find that mothers of teenage girls tend to take them to see a female gynaecologist.

Dr Ann Tan is in private practice. She is the first Singaporean to hold the Diploma of Fetal Medicine from the Fetal Medicine Foundation, an international body accrediting maternal medicine specialists, and her expertise lies in the field of prenatal diagnosis and care of both mother and foetus.

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