Christabel Koh got a shock when she delivered her first child, Chrislyn, three years ago.
During the Caesarean section, doctors found her baby girl’s left forearm had been severed by amniotic band syndrome (ABS) in the womb, a rare congenital disorder where thin strands of tissue form inside the amniotic sac entangle around the foetus like rubber bands. In Chrislyn’s case, the bands had gone all the way around her left arm, cutting off half of the forearm, and fusing the fingers on her right hand.
“They found Chrislyn’s tiny left hand inside my womb,” Christabel says, recalling the belly-twisting memory. “Throughout my pregnancy there hadn’t been any symptoms that showed I had ABS.”
What followed after Chrislyn’s birth worsened by the day. At a loss with her newborn’s permanent disability and crippled by financial hardship, Christabel plunged into severe post-natal depression. Around the same time, her estranged relationship with Chrislyn’s father soured and they parted ways.
“When I was pregnant, I dreamed of Chrislyn playing the violin and dancing the ballet. But all I got were dirty or pity stares from strangers.”
“I was convinced that her quality of life was going to be so poor it would not be a life worth living. But she’s defied all expectations. I didn’t know, because I couldn’t have known back then, how strong my little girl is and that I would eventually fall in love with her.”
“I had no job, a mountain of hospital bills, and a child with an uncertain future. Many times I’d climb up to the highest floor with Chrislyn in my arms, ready to throw us both over.”
“On one especially dramatic episode, the police was alerted and they snatched Chrislyn away and locked me up for 24 hours. It was during the isolation that I realised how much I loved Chrislyn and cannot be apart from her.”
After she was released, Christabel decided to put her life back on track. She found a freelance job as a shopper with Honestbee. The flexible work hours and supportive colleagues enabled her to continue caring for Chrislyn, who was in and out of hospital for three major surgeries to separate her fused fingers. Together with financial support from Chrislyn’s father, who still visits them weekly, things began to look up.
It’s a mental fortitude that this year alone has seen Christabel rise from a depressed freelance shopper who earned an hourly rate to an optimistic and independent full-time lead supervisor at Honestbee.
Yet, perhaps the biggest milestone last year was purchasing her own four-room HDB flat with her mum.
Anyone who has ever come into contact with little Chrislyn will know that her energy, optimism and unbridled enthusiasm for life is infectious. According to her contented mum, Chrislyn, now 3, is a feisty little rock star who is no pushover.
“I just wish people would stop gawking at her and treat her like any normal kid. I even had thoughts of printing T-shirts for her that read ‘A shark bit off my arm!’ just to add some light humour,” she jests.
“My greatest wish for her is that she’ll never feel less capable than other girls just because she’s missing a hand.”
“If she wants to play the violin or dance the ballet, I’ll go all out to make it possible for her. I will do everything I can to help her fulfill her dreams,” Christabel says.
Text: Sylvia Ong
Photos provided by Christabel Koh