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The fourth child of the Sultan of Johor, she has 10 siblings. Her marriage in 1986 to the Crown Prince of Pahang was a week-long affair attended by 8,000 guests – her father was then the Agong.
“We married in March 1986 but up to July that year, we only went out as husband and wife once! Even then we were surrounded by our retinue and the bodyguards. In Johor Baru, I lived with my parents at Istana Bukit Iskandar which is next to the Johor State Prison. Tengku Mahkota Pahang used to ask me which building was actually the prison!” she laughs.
Both fathers-in-law are extremely close. “They are best friends and give each other nicknames. The Sultan of Pahang calls my father Sultan Mahmud Iskandar, ‘Moody’, while he calls Sultan Ahmad ‘Addy’,’’ says Tengku Puan Pahang with a laugh.
Her marriage marked the third union between the two royal families. In the 19th century, her great great grandfather, Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor married a Pahang princess while Sultan Mahmud of Pahang married her great grandaunt who became Tengku Ampuan Mariam. Both marriages, strangely enough, did not produce any children.
Not surprisingly, Tunku Azizah, 44, feared the same fate might befall her marriage. After nine years, she had six miscarriages.
“I was afraid history would repeat itself, third time unlucky. As I had married the Pahang Crown Prince, I was expected to produce an heir and spare. I fully sympathise with Crown Princess Masako of Japan as I know exactly how she feels,’’ she says.
She miscarried a few months into her marriage and experienced her first heartache. Four years later, her hopes were lifted when she discovered she was pregnant with twins. It was even more heart-wrenching when she lost the first twin at two months.
“I thought I could keep the second twin but I lost it too at four months. I was devastated. Tengku Mahkota and I broke down in London, where we had hoped to get the best medical care.
“My husband was supportive and caring throughout. He told me to never give up on him. He said everything was in God’s hands and if we were meant to be childless, it was not my fault and I should not worry.”
But worry she did. It was her grandmother, the late Sultanah Aminah of Johor who was her source of inspiration in these hours of darkness.
“My grandma and I had a lot in common. She too had six miscarriages! She had seven children of whom only three lived to be adults. The rest died before they turned one. It took her 12 years before she had a child who lived beyond a year old! When I couldn’t conceive, I thought of my grandmother. If she could persevere, so could I. I reminded myself that she did not enjoy such medical treatments as I was undergoing.
“So I put my trust in God and never gave up hope I would be a mother one day.”
After her 15th fertility treatment, Tunku Azizah became pregnant, again. She was two-and-half months pregnant and all was going well. Then one afternoon at Istana Abdul Aziz, Kuantan, the palace guards caught and killed a 20-foot (six-metre) python. The princess was upset over this unnecessary spilling of blood and scolded the guards.
“That night, I had a miscarriage. My husband was in England so I rang the Sultan of Pahang who rushed over. I hugged him and we wept.”
Blessings from the Sultan of Brunei
Finally, the Sultan of Brunei’s second consort, Pengiran Isteri Hajjah Mariam sent her fertility expert Datuk Dr Prof P.C. Wong over.
“Mind you, the nine months were not a bed of roses as I was in bed most of the time – in fact, I was horizontal for six months!
“I was only allowed to go to the bathroom once a day. I did everything else in bed, praying and eating what the doctor ordered,’’ says Tunku Azizah.
When a healthy baby arrived in 1995, they named him Tengku Hassanal Ibrahim.
“We named him ‘Hassanal’ in honour of the Sultan of Brunei and ‘Ibrahim’ as he was born on the same day as Sultan Ibrahim of Johor.”
She never tires of telling this tale.
“I went to the best and most expensive fertility clinics in UK and the US and all failed me. It was Dr Wong from Parit Buntar, Perak, who gave me Hassanal, using IVF (in vitro fertilisation). I travelled the world only to discover the best expert was right at home!”
Two years later came Tengku Muhammad, an ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection) baby and it was back to bed for the mother.
Happily, her third pregnancy produced twins, Tengku Ahmad and Tengku Afzan, in 2000. They were named after her in-laws. This time, she used the frozen embryo technique.
“We used five embryos, two from Hassanal’s batch in 1995 and three from Muhammad’s batch in 1997. The five eggs were thawed and replaced in my uterus in 2000.
“Because of this, one twin could have been made in 1995 and the other in 1997, so in a way, I don’t know their exact ages!” she jokes.
One night after the twins’ birth, her husband asked if she wanted another child. “I said ‘No’. God has blessed us enough. Then came a miracle – our last child was a DIY (do-it-yourself) baby! We did not resort to any fertility treatment.
“Jihan, born in 2002, was a completely natural baby. She was conceived without any artificial means! We named her Jihan Atho’atullah, which means Gift from God. I think God wanted to show His greatness by granting us Jihan after the trials and tribulations I suffered.”
She is now using her experience to help fulfil the wishes of childless couples by launching the Tunku Azizah Fertility Foundation (TAFF). Each couple selected will receive three free treatments worth RM15,000 each.
“It is pronounced ‘tough’, because I tell women undergoing treatment they have to be tough. I had to endure so many disappointments.
“You must believe in the miracle of God and the miracle of science. In my wildest dreams, I never thought I would have so many children. Even now, as I see them playing and running around, I am still amazed and sometimes ask if they are really my children.” W
TAFF will be launched at the Mandarin Oriental on March 28 in conjunction with Tunku Azizah’s cookbook Air Tangan Tengku Puan Pahang & Masakan Tradisional Pahang. TAFF application forms will be available at hospitals and clinics nationwide. For more info, call 019-986 3457/012-954 0804
Intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI)
The eggs and sperm are fertilised in the laboratory by directly injecting a single sperm into every egg. The resulting embryos are placed back in the uterus.
Embryo and sperm freezing
Freezing is a procedure in which the embryos are subjected to extreme cold to store them for future use. The frozen embryos and sperms can be stored between five to 10 years.
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