Alicia Cheong

A Testimony of God’s Love

I was drawn to register for the Conversion Experience Retreat (CER) in March 2008 at the Catholic Spirituality Centre when I was going through one of the darkest periods of my life. I felt overwhelmed by challenges at home and demands at work – I had 3 young kids then, 2 of them are twins, so 3 demanding kids and a rather laid back husband well, that was a potent mix for an overworked mum. My 10 years as a Catholic did not prepare me for a crisis like that. Very much a Sunday Catholic, I did not have a personal relationship with God. God was never the first that I would run to when I encountered any difficulties or when seeking for life’s direction. I was used to relying on my strengths and human means. So when that crisis struck, I was spiritually empty, physically drained and having exhausted all human means – I felt totally helpless.

Attending the Conversion Experience retreat was the best decision I had made in a long while. Those four days practically saved my life in so many ways — it made me realise not only in my head but now in my heart God’s incomprehensible love and mercy for me. Little did I know at that time, how crucial this “personal encounter” would be because barely three months later, I found myself facing the biggest challenge of my life.
Soon after the retreat in May, just when my husband and I thought we could have some semblance of life as we once knew it (now that the kids were becoming more independent) we discovered that I was pregnant with our 4th child. It came as a complete surprise as we had not planned on having another child.

However, as we were finally settling on the idea of a new addition to our family, our joy was shattered. An ultrasound conducted when I was 20 weeks pregnant revealed that my unborn child had a tumour growing at the tail end of the spine, a rare condition known as sacrococcygeal teratoma (“teratoma”, in Greek, means a “tumour monster”). The doctor-in-charge of high risk pregnancies at the hospital was called in and another scan was conducted. After what seemed like an eternity, the doctor said solemnly “You know this is not good, right?”

We were completely devastated! Our world just crumbled around us as we tried to come to grips with what the doctor had just informed us – the baby may not survive through the pregnancy as numerous complications could arise as the tumour grew bigger. This prognosis and so many questions assaulted our minds. It was a day we would remember for the rest of our lives – 1 August 2008.

The doctor’s cold ‘bedside manners’ and unwillingness to tell us more as to what to expect coupled with the ‘standard operation procedure’ of asking us to consider terminating the pregnancy all added to our sense of hopelessness and helplessness. The days that followed the shocking revelation were spent in stunned silence and total numbness.

I searched the internet for information on sacrococcygeal teratoma.. Some days the success stories would lift me up while on other days, my spirit would plummet when I read heart wrenching stories of those babies who did not survive. For the first time in our lives, my husband and I found ourselves thrust into an unfamiliar sphere where we had absolutely no control over how things would develop. All we could do was to passively monitor the rate and size of the growth of the tumour as my pregnancy progressed. Thus began days, weeks and months of anticipation that were first filled with mixed emotions — shock, fear and anxieties. With my finite and limited wisdom, I did not know why this was happening and what fate awaited us. My saving grace was my conviction in the unconditional and steadfast love of God which I experienced at the Conversion Experience Retreat. Knowing that He loved me and that He was in complete control gave me the assurance and strength to soldier on through the raging storm of my life.

What was initially a lonely road through the “darkest of valleys” turned out to be a journey of rediscovery and affirmation of God’s love and mercy and a journey of fellowship and faith. Although the path was laden with obstacles and uncertainties, He sent “angels” to help us along the way. Friends and family rallied round, providing support, encouragement, love and prayers. Many who did not even know us “stormed heaven” with their prayer petitions for our family and for the unborn baby.

As soon as we took that leap of faith and subjected ourselves to the mercy and will of God, our fears and anxieties dissipated and in turn we were filled with immense peace and joy knowing that God is in-charge. We named our baby (whom we had grown to love as the months of ultrasound and checkups continued) Emma Grace (“Emma” is the female version of Emmanuel which means “God with us”). Even when the tumour continued to grow rapidly through the subsequent months, we knew that God was with her and He loved her very much. We believed that whatever happened, God knew that was best for her.

Emma at birth
Emma at birth

Baby Emma Grace was born on 16 December 2008 by Caesarean operation. She weighed 4.5kg at birth with the large tumour on her back (accounting for about 1 kg of her birth weight) as big as her torso – a sight only her parents could love. She went through a gruelling eight-hour operation on the 2nd day of her birth to remove the tumour and the coccyx (tailbone) which left her with a large surgical wound in the shape of an inverted “Y” stretching from her lower back to both her buttock cheeks. She made it through that difficult operation and her recovery was nothing short of miraculous as she beat the doctor’s initial estimation that she would need to be warded for one month in intensive care following her operation by recovering well enough to be discharged after 13 days! The laboratory test confirmed that the tumour was benign.

We thank God for His invitation to both my husband and I to the Conversion Experience Retreat, during which He revealed His love to us and which in turn gave us strength to endure those bleak and uncertain times. More importantly, it was our experience of His love that enabled us to “let go and let God” work his wonders in our lives and fulfil the plan He had for our family. Emma’s toothless grin today bears testimony of God’s insurmountable love for us, His finite creatures. If it had not been our Catholic faith and its eternal truths of the “dos” and “don’ts” (of which we were constantly reminded during Conversion Experience Retreat) and our firm belief that God works for the good of those who love Him (Rm 8:28), we would have chosen the “more convenient way out” and, in our human weakness would have made the colossal mistake of terminating the pregnancy and then regretting the decision for the rest of our lives..

Looking at Baby Emma, we cannot help but praise and thank God for the marvels He has worked in our lives. God’s plan is perfect and is revealed in His time. We have learnt first hand that when we can’t see God’s hand, we can trust His heart. Indeed, God IS Love!

Emma1yrold

Alicia Cheong

CER 8