Amber Chia is not a morning person, but nothing – not even the late night flight from South Korea the day before – could stop her from hopping out of bed at the crack of dawn last weekend.
Malaysia’s top supermodel did not do it for a five-digit paycheck but for Ashton Wong, her son.
“It was for his school event,” she says. “I rushed back so I could watch Ashton perform.”
It’s hard to imagine Chia – who has carved an empire out of looking fabulous – skimping on her much-needed beauty sleep to attend PTA meetups and school events. But motherhood is so powerful, according to Chia, that “it makes you do things that you’d never thought of.” (Once deathly afraid of roaches, Chia thinks nothing of taking one down now.)
This post-baby revelation sent shockwaves through the 34-year-old Chia, who used to believe that life after a baby can and should resemble that which went before.
“A lot of people said that my modelling career would be over when I had a baby. But even while I was pregnant, I never believed them,” says Chia. “I always thought I could still work and travel. I even told my New York agency that I’d resume working with them after giving birth. That’s how confident I was.”
She never did return to New York, of course.
Instead, Chia went from being a supermodel to a supermum. “I decided to become a stay-at-home mother when Ashton turned one,” says Chia. “I cut down on work and I stopped going to the gym.”
But it wasn’t as fun or as rewarding as Chia had envisaged. “My son was the only thing I had going for me at the time and it wasn’t healthy for both of us. We were in each other’s space all the time and, by the end of the month, I knew it was time to resume my career.”
The incident taught Chia that even the most devoted mothers need some alone time to focus on what she loves. “If I’m not happy, I can’t share the happiness with Ashton,” she reasons.
With two companies – Amber Chia Academy, a modelling and makeup academy, and Amber Creations, a production house – to run, in addition to appearing on the catwalk from time to time, Chia now works full time, and is much happier.
Nevertheless, she admits there are trade offs.
“Ashton spends more time with his dad these days,” says Chia, who tries to make it home before 10pm every night. “But when I get back, I give him my undivided attention.”
She also travels overseas for work once or twice a year, and stays in touch with Ashton via Facetime. But she guiltily recounts the time when she failed to pick up her son’s call. “He rang me eight or nine times and he was very upset. I vowed never to let him down that way again.”
Having a pre-bedtime ritual helps strengthen their bond, according to Chia. “I make sure I have a heart-to-heart talk with him 20 minutes before bed every night. He tells me about his day and I tell him mine.”
She admits that being a parent to an energetic and headstrong four-year-old boy isn’t always easy. “Sure, it’s easy to raise a child. But to raise them to be a good person is difficult. I’m still learning every day.”
But while Chia is quick to reprimand her son for any wrongdoing, she never gets physical. Instead, she talks to Ashton like an adult. “We also reduced the amount of toys we bought for him so he would start appreciating the things he has.”
Finally, when asked about her flawless figure, Chia laughs.
“I force myself to exercise and I watch what I eat. One of the things I learnt in New York is to always know the calorie content of different foods. I have it committed to memory. It’s part of my job!”