updated 14 Jan 2011, 12:25
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Tue, Jan 12, 2010
The Sunday Times
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Roar of the tigress
by By Cheryl Tan and Magdalen Ng

Recent incentives for Singaporean married couples to have more babies may be no match for age-old superstition.

If past records are a good gauge, this year looks like it will be quieter than usual in hospital nurseries as it is the Chinese Year of the Tiger, an inauspicious zodiac sign.

Girls born under this sign are believed to be fierce, rebellious, ill tempered and unpredictable, say geomancers.

Mr Cecil Lee, principal consultant of the Center for Applied Feng Shui Research, says: 'This superstition is directed at females as women in the past were supposed to be subservient while males born in the year of the Tiger could get away with being the more domineering and bad tempered type.'

According to data from the Singapore Department of Statistics, the last three Tiger years (1998, 1986 and 1974) saw an average of 3,225 fewer babies in their respective Chinese zodiac cycles - a dip of at least 6.7 per cent in terms of the number of annual live births. (See chart below)

Sudden boom years are those that coincide with the Year of the Dragon, when birth numbers rise by nearly 20 per cent. The Chinese believe the mythical creature is the most auspicious of the zodiac signs.

Such age-old superstitions might seem irrational in Singapore's cosmopolitan society of city slickers.

But according to geomancers, old habits or, in this case, traditional beliefs, die hard.

Mr Chan Yong Jian, 29, an administration manager and his wife Chien Ming, 28, prefer to err on the side of caution.

'I don't really believe in this, but no one can be sure that there is absolutely no truth to this superstition,' says Mrs Chan, a housewife who has shelved her plans of having her first child in the Tiger year.

She adds: 'I don't want my in-laws to blame me if anything goes wrong.'

Mr Ric Ow, a professional geomancer from the Ministry of Mastery, says couples have been consulting him as early as 2008 to ask for an auspicious date to conceive so that their child's birth would not coincide with the Tiger year, which starts on Feb 14 this year.

He says he sees nearly 40 couples a month and nearly 80 per cent of them have come to him with such requests.

He adds that older parents also get jittery about their sons marrying Tiger girls.

He says: 'The first thing they ask me is whether it is okay for their son to marry his Tiger girlfriend. The fear is so great.'

National University of Singapore Chinese studies professor Lee Cheuk Yin says: 'We cannot conclusively trace the origins of the beliefs that people take after the characteristics of their zodiac signs.'

Nevertheless, so deeply entrenched is this belief that superstitious expecting parents are known to induce births one to two weeks earlier, especially if their child is a girl.

Dr Beh Suan Tiong, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Beh's Clinic for Women at Thomson Medical Centre, says he had about five birth induction requests in the last Tiger year, 1998. He has received only one such request so far this year.

He adds that he will accede to those requests only if the pregnancy is after 38 weeks and he has explained the risks of inducing labour to the couple.

However, he cautions against inducing birth for non-medical reasons as 'induction may not succeed all the time and may lead to unnecessary Caesarean procedures'.

Dr Tan Kok Hian, chairman of the division of obstetrics and gynaecology at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, says C-section births are major surgeries that are not encouraged unless a previous C-section had been done or if the baby is in a breech position.

He points out that there are advantages to giving birth to a baby in the year of the Tiger - birthing rooms and maternity wards are less crowded.

And that is even before you consider primary school registration seven years later.

These pluses notwithstanding, pharmaceutical salesgirl Serene Chang says she will love her third child, a baby girl due in April, as much as her two older daughters, Jenna, 2 ½, and Joy, one.

The 32-year-old says: 'Their upbringing is more important and that is something I can control.'

LifeStyle profiles four other parents, daughters and wives who do not subscribe or managed to debunk the myth of girls born in the supposedly ferocious year of the Tiger.

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This article was first published in The Sunday Times.

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