Image: @aileentan80 / Instagram

In the new movie Long Long Time Ago, local actress Aileen Tan plays protagonist Zhao Di, a mum of three going through a fourth pregnancy.

While the 49-year-old TV veteran is in director Jack Neo’s nostalgic paean to the kampung days of 1960s Singapore sporting a prosthetic tummy, the role did not remind her of her own brief period of maternity.

In 2006, Tan had to abort her baby a week after finding out she was pregnant. She was in her first trimester.

Doctors told Tan, whose husband is Hong Kong-born director Gerald Lee, that she had an ectopic pregnancy, in which the foetus grows in the fallopian tube instead of in the womb.

Ectopic pregnancies can be fatal for the mother if the fallopian tubes burst from the growth of the foetus, resulting in heavy internal bleeding.

“I have no more memories of that (episode), as it happened 10 years ago,” she told The New Paper over the phone matter-of-factly.

“To play Zhao Di, I simply focused on doing every scene well. It helped that the child actors playing my kids were very professional.

“We had so many overnight shoots and despite being sleepy and cranky, they performed well.”

Long Long Time Ago is showing here now.

Tan admitted her abortion was a big blow to her back then, but she “managed to get over the loss and sadness very fast, by faith and God”.

She and Lee, 54, have been married for 15 years. Lee has a 30-year-old son from a previous marriage.

Photo: Golden Village

Back in 2006, she was traumatised after receiving news of her ectopic pregnancy.

“I kept looking at myself in the mirror and asking why it must happen to me. It’s a 3 per cent chance of getting an ectopic pregnancy. Why me? Why was I so suay (unlucky in Hokkien)?” she told TNP then.

“I was crying almost every night at that time, and every time I thought of my baby, I would burst into tears.”

But today, she is able to recall the fateful week before her abortion operation in a calm manner.

“I remember it was my stepson’s 21st birthday and the three of us had already planned a backpacking trip to Hokkaido,” said Tan.

“In the end, due to my condition, I couldn’t do the Hokkaido leg. I stayed in Tokyo and visited Tokyo Disneyland.

“At Disneyland, I only took one picture of myself, posing with a mermaid. It is the only picture of me in my briefly pregnant state.”

Tan added: “If I didn’t have an ectopic pregnancy, my baby would be 10 years old this year.

“Who knows? In (that parallel universe), I might not be working as an actress any more.”

Describing herself as “happy-go-lucky”, the devout Christian said it is her belief that “kids are a godsend”.

The couple have never considered in vitro fertilisation or adoption. They “do not actively plan for kids”, and if they ever have a baby, she wants it to be conceived naturally.

“Let nature take its course. If I have kids, I have kids. If I don’t, I don’t. It’s okay,” said Tan.

“When I look at my friends who are mothers, I feel that motherhood is mighty. The hardest part isn’t the baby stage, but later, when mothers have to raise their kids for life.”

She added: “Our relatives do not badger us any more with such questions during Chinese New Year.

“If they really do ask, I say, ‘I have a son mah!’

“I definitely treat my stepson as my own. I’ve known him since he was 10 years old and we are very close.”


This story was originally published in The New Paper. For more stories like this, head to