As a medical practitioner, Dr Raudah Yunus has met, diagnosed and treated many sick patients, including children.
However, she only began to understand the sufferings that her patients and their families have to endure, when she met Nusrat, a young mother from Bangladesh.
Nusrat and her husband have two sons – Sunan, who is autistic, and Awan, who was diagnosed with laryngomalacia (a congenital softening of the tissues of the larynx or voice box above the vocal chords).
Unable to find adequate help for Sunan in Dhaka and unwilling to have her child endure the stigma of being autistic, Nusrat and her husband uprooted their family to Malaysia and travelled back and forth to Singapore for treatment.
It was expensive and exhausting but they found the strength.
When their second son Awan was also born with a medical condition, things got harder.
“Spending time with Nusrat and her sons and listening to her story was a wake-up call for me. I’d never seen first-hand how difficult it was for a mother to raise a sick child. Like most people, I never even thought about what it might be like.
“I was very moved and felt that her story needed to be shared. There is a lot of ignorance in our society about children who may not seem ‘normal’. As Nusrat related some of the mistreatment she’d been through and people’s judgemental attitude towards her children, I knew what I had to do,” says Dr Raudah, who is currently completing her doctorate in public health at Universiti Malaya.
And so the 33-year-old doctor embarked on a mission to compile stories of mothers who had overcome difficult challenges as parents. The task wasn’t easy and a number of women she approached refused to have their stories told, preferring to keep their lives private.
But Dr Raudah didn’t give up.
She found eight extraordinary women who agreed to share their inspiring stories. With the help of her husband, Dr Md Mahmudul Hasan, an English Literature lecturer at the International Islamic University Malaysia, Dr Raudah compiled and co-edited her first book, Tales Of Mothers which was published two years ago.
The process of putting the book together was an emotional one for Dr Raudah, a mother of two children, aged five and seven.
As a doctor, Dr Raudah knew the medical facts about conditions such as autism and cerebral palsy.
But as she learnt more and more about the trials and challenges of raising special needs children, she began to grasp the challenges families face; from the stigma and discrimination that the sick and disabled face to the prejudices that limit their access to education.
“I had no idea. I cried as I was editing the stories. I learnt so much and the experience completely changed the way I looked at things and at life,” she says.
But she is quick to point out that despite her tears, the book is one of hope.
“The challenges that all these women have borne tug at the heart. But what’s inspiring is despite what they were up against, all their stories have happy endings. Maybe it’s not the happy ending we are accustomed to believing in, but every one of them would not have their life or their children any other way,” she relates.
The stories are varied.
Mardhiyyah Sahri shares her painful experience of losing one of her twins and raising her son, Ayyash who has cerebral palsy.
In her moving story, The Chosen Ones, Mardhiyyah writes about how her son hasgiven her the “courage to face my fear and turn it into an adventure”.
She talks about the endless treatments and therapies her son has to go through, and the anger she felt at being judged by society.
“It’s amusing how people call him disabled, and yet he enables so much. Every day, he tries hard at everything. And every day, no matter how hard the day is, he smiles at us with utmost sincerity. Such purity is contagious … It was hard at first to grapple with people’s judgemental and unsympathetic attitude, and I sometimes struggled hard to restrain myself from snapping or reacting impulsively.
“With time, however, I learnt to be more tolerant … they may not understand what it means to have a special needs child and maybe they have no idea at all what cerebral palsy is all about,” she writes.
Then there is Nor Adlina Mustafa Kamal who talks about the joy of adopting a young orphaned baby she met as a young doctor, and the often hurtful prejudices she faced as a single mother.
Sarah Ibraheem writes about the break-up of her marriage and raising her three boys – her pillars of strength – on her own.
Zaahirah Mohammad talks about her surprise decision to leave her job as a doctor to be a stay-at-home mum and Afzan Maria narrates her experiences of living abroad and the struggles of juggling a career and family.
Another chapter is on Faezah Rokhani who endured the pain of being separated from her child to further her education. Yet another story is on the end of Kaseh Aini’s marriage and how she picked up the pieces of her life.
Raising awareness was one reason Dr Raudah published her book.
But she also wanted it to be a lifeline for other mothers who feel alone and overwhelmed.
“Everyone’s circumstances are different and it’s easy to feel alone. Hopefully by reading about these mothers and how they’ve come out stronger, they know that they’re not on their own.
“Men need to read it too because they should know what women go through,” she says, adding that the book also featured several articles written by parenting experts, offering tips for mothers of children with special needs.
An unexpected journey
Dr Raudah never imagined that she’d be an author.
But five years into her medical practice, Dr Raudah realised that she wanted to do more.
“In medical school, I never dreamed of doing anything like this. Medicine was the only thing on my mind. But after some years, I realised that practising medicine wasn’t my passion and so I went into public health, which deals more with society.
“As a clinician, I’d meet patients, prescribe drugs and that would be the end of story. In public health, I get to be more in touch with society. It isn’t just about facts and figures, and Maths and Science, and I found myself drawn to it. I guess I didn’t discover my passion until now,” she says.
Writing a book, as a way of raising awareness on how mothers cope with challenges, was a surprising development to Dr Raudah.
She has always been interested in writing but she didn’t think she’d pursue it seriously.
“I never had much confidence in my writing. I’d write (stories) on a sheet of paper and then crush it and throw it away as I didn’t think it was any good. But a few years ago, with my husband’s encouragement, I decided to give it a go.
He was very supportive and told me that I had talent. He urged me to keep at it.
“Being a literature lecturer, I figured he must know what he was talking about and so I continued writing,” she recalls.
Tales Of Mothers was published two years ago and Dr Raudah recently completed a a second book. This time, the focus is on refugees.
“I have been helping with various refugees’ programmes since 2007 and I think that we need to raise awareness about refugees and the issues they face. Most Malaysians know very little about the refugee situation.
“Some of my friends … and these are people who are highly educated … have a lot of prejudices towards refugees. It really shocked me that instead of being humane, they see refugees as a burden to our society. It shows how little we know of their stories. They may look like you and me but they have been through the unthinkable to get here and I needed to tell their stories,” she says.
At the moment, Dr Raudah is focused on finishing her doctorate.
But she hasn’t ruled out a sequel to Tales of Mothers. The response to the book as been overwhelming, she says and she has received requests for a second book.
“I’ve even received mail from single women who found the stories to be quite a reality check, before they get married and settle down. I think that’s good because they need to know that life isn’t always a bed of roses.
“I’ve been asked to do a second one and I’d love to. Maybe soon,” she says.
Tales Of Mothers is a nominee in the Popular-The Star Readers’ Choice Awards (Nonfiction)