Helping childless couples find hope


KUALA LUMPUR: It has been just eight months since she became the queen.

Yet, Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah has shown her personal side, sharing about her Chinese lineage and her preference for kampung dishes.

Last week’s Twitter episode showed how the rakyat have been won over by the down-to-earth queen. When she deactivated her account, they begged her to return.But little is known about the difficult times she went through in trying to start a family, which eventually led to her setting up a charity body called the Tunku Azizah Fertility Foundation (TAFF).

TAFF’s mission is to help childless couples who face financial difficulties in seeking treatment or counselling.

In a two-hour interview with The Star, the Queen candidly talked about her personal pain.

She shared about going through a series of fertility treatments before giving birth to Tengku Mahkota of Pahang Tengku Hassanal Ibrahim Alam Shah Al-Sultan Abdullah, who turned 24 on Tuesday.

“I told my husband (Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah) that it was my last try.

“If I didn’t get pregnant, that was it. I mean, I had been trying too much. I would leave it to God.

“Then I got pregnant. Only those who have gone through what I have would know what it is like.

“That is why I set up the foundation. I want to help those who are in the same predicament, ” said Tuanku Azizah, who became emotional when recounting her experience.In the early years of her marriage, she said, she faced enormous pressure to produce an heir.

“I was married to the (then) Crown Prince (of Pahang). I was supposed to produce an heir and a spare. Of course it was (stressful) that I had to produce a child.”

She married Sultan Abdullah on March 6,1986, and gave birth after nine and a half years of marriage.

“I know what it feels like for other royal families who are not able to get a child. In my case, I had to get a son, ” she said.

Teary-eyed, she recalled: “During the pregnancy, I didn’t get out of bed for six months. I was so scared that I would lose the baby.

“It was tough for me. I went through many obstacles as well.

I wouldn’t like anybody to go through what I went through, so whoever gets married, I pray that they will have a child.”

But Tunku Azizah never gave up hope throughout her journey.

“Finally, He answered my prayers and I got Hassanal. I never thought I would have more children, but He has blessed me and I went on to have four more children, ” she said.

Tunku Azizah’s personal journey gave her the idea to set up TAFF.

“I know what it feels like not being able to have a child, and how it feels to finally hold a child in your arms, ” she said.

TAFF’s role is to help those who cannot afford treatment, she added.

“I know how much it costs to undergo fertility treatment and not everybody can afford it. That was when I said ‘Okay, I would like to set up a foundation where I can help the lower-income group’, ” she said.

Tender moment: Tunku Azizah petting one of her cats at Istana Negara in Kuala Lumpur.Tender moment: Tunku Azizah petting one of her cats at Istana Negara in Kuala Lumpur.

TAFF is aimed at couples with a joint household income of not more than RM4,500. When news broke about the foundation, many people called, keen to offer their help.

“The same night after the article came out in The Star, Kak Mimah (TAFF honarary secretary Datuk Hamimah Abdul Karim) didn’t sleep at all as she received phone calls non-stop until morning.

“What was surprising was that it was the men who called. It wasn’t the women calling to say that they had a problem, ” she recalled.

It was reported that the national fertility rate last year continued to decline to the lowest level recorded since the formation of Malaysia in 1963, with 15.8 births per 1,000 people compared to 16.1 in 2017.

According to the 2018 Malaysia’s Selected Demographic Indicator, the overall fertility rate of Malaysian women aged 15 to 49 is estimated at 1.91 children, which is below the replacement level of 2.1 children.

That means the Malaysian population is shrinking, as the average number of babies born to a woman during her period of fertility is not sufficient to replace her and her partner, according to Department of Statistics chief statistician Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Uzir Mahidi.

Sharing the success story of TAFF, Tunku Azizah said it had helped “deliver” 115 babies.

She spoke of many cases which even the doctor had given up on, but “I told the doctor that there is a greater person up there”.

In one instance, she told a TAFF applicant to give it a try.

“If she didn’t get pregnant, then we would be done. And she went on to have triplets, ” she added.

In another example, she said a 44-year-old applicant, who was married for 22 years, also sought treatment under TAFF.

“She got twins despite the odds. She cried and named them after my daughters Afzan and Jihan, ” she said, referring to Tengku Puteri Afzan Aminah Hafizatullah and Tengku Puteri Jihan Azizah ‘Athiyatullah.Tunku Azizah advised couples seeking help: “I can only say to them, ‘I can help you medically, but God decides. It is the miracle of science and the miracle of God. I can help you try, but you have to pray and ask from Him, as only He can give you a child.’” Asked about TAFF’s long-term plans, she said she hoped she could help more couples conceive.

She also advised couples to go for fertility checks as early as possible.

Tonight, the Queen will be attending Eu Yan Sang’s 140th anniversary dinner to raise funds for TAFF.

This is the third time Eu Yan Sang has held such a drive in aid of the foundation since 2009. To date, it has raised over RM3mil for TAFF.

For the full interview, look out for Sunday Star.

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