“I’ve done amazing things, glossy on paper, but this phase of my life is different. It’s about the most important thing of all – my daughter.” ~Tini Fadzillah

Tini FadzillaWhat is it like to be told on the birth of your first child that your child has a disability or special needs? Or any condition for that matter? How do you deal with the very real emotions and breakdowns that follow?

Many parents who deal with this type of heartache are ill-equipped to cope with the sudden tragic news. Having seen my own parents torn apart by the premature death of my baby brother and again when my younger sibling was diagnosed with a condition, I sympathise with the feeling of hitting rock bottom and not know how to get back up. We all have these moments, in some form, but how to deal with it when the unexpected blows come? What are some of the things we can do to find out way out?

I attended an inspirational talk recently by Tini Fadzillah, one of Southeast Asia’s most sought after executive coaches, who shared her story of raising a child with Down Syndrome. Tini‘s story is a story of finding peace and renewed sense of purpose during life’s most painful and isolating moments.

Tini’s story

Seven years ago, after and going through a series of IVF treatment, Tini and her husband, Vynx, were finally expecting their first baby, Maia. Completely unaware of Maia’s condition during the pregnancy, it was only on waking up after the caesarean that Tini heard the life changing news.

“I woke up and saw my husband’s face. It didn’t look like a man full of joy and happiness who just had a baby. He stood up and said, ‘the doctor thinks our baby has Down Syndrome.’ It was completely unexpected. I didn’t know what that meant.”

Like many difficult subjects between families, Tini and her husband never spoke about it. She spent the next two years convincing herself she would be the best mother for Maia while her husband silently fell apart. “He was a mess for two years. I’m Malay, he’s Chinese; maybe it was a cultural difference and I didn’t understand what he was going through. I just tried to make his life seem normal, encouraging him to go out with his friends, play pool, find a sense of normalness. But he was really sad. My husband is strong but had completely collapsed.”

During the two year rollercoaster, etched in Tini’s memory was the night saw her husband on the bathroom floor crying uncontrollably with a bottle of wine next to him. “It was the saddest thing I’d ever seen. But that was the beginning of something new; he trying to figure things out and we finally spoke about it.”

As Vynx began to rehabilitate, Tini continued trying to hold things together, acting like everything was ok. In the survival mode many women fall into during times of distress, Tini didn’t dare consider her own emotions. But after years of bottling it up, she reached a breaking point. “I couldn’t take it anymore. I called my best friend and just cried. All I could say was ‘I didn’t sign up for this. I did not sign up for a baby with special needs or a husband who started to drink. I didn’t sign up for this.’”

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The turning point

The turning point for Tini was when she and her husband began a nine month coaching course together. It was during one of these coaching sessions, Tini recollects a pivotal moment.

“My husband came out the session and said: ‘I get it. She’s perfect. Maia is perfect.’ His face looked different. It was like the light had come on; like someone had turned on the switch. Since then he has taken on life in a whole new way. His philosophy, his attitude; he reconnected and took up wakeboarding. He’s like a new human being. Now we define who we are as parents, not just surviving as parents. I’ll never forget what he looked like at the breaking point, and what he looked like at the breakthrough.”

 “My work is my passion. It’s about people. My work for the last 18 years has been about that. But little did I know that the work I did would support me in the journey I was about to embarked on.”

Through support and coaching, Tini and her husband were able to not only come to terms with their daughter’s condition, but find peace, joy, deeper connection and meaning in it.

Tini attributes the strength of her support system to the care and support of her line of work. “I was lucky. Given the work I’m in I had a lot of support. I was surrounded by people who are honest and open. And friends, once I was ready to share and connect, who were there.”

Life today

Maia is now ‘a diva of a seven year old’ with her own personality. She goes to school that is inclusive of children with special needs. Tini says the school has been amazing. Not all schools in Singapore are inclusive; Tini credits the school and nuns who proclaim Maia can learn from typical kids, and the typical kids can learn from her – about patience and tolerance.

“It’s been a great journey. There’s a lot of learning when being a mum of a child with special needs. About patience, about being playful in life, about being creative, about learning to do things differently, about not assuming anything and taking things step by step. I apply it in life and work by being present with people I work with and what’s happening around me.”

An accomplished executive coach, daughter of a Malaysian diplomat, well-travelled, well educated, but more than anything, Tini Fadzillah is one of those people easy to adore, illustrating all the beauty and strength of a mother’s love. She radiates a warmth and genuine love for people that’s manifested in the success of her career as sought after coach and trainer with clients throughout Southeast Asia.

I’ve seen Tini first-hand at work, having been through one of the programs with The Works Partnership, and see how she dives wholeheartedly into her work, helping people overcome challenges and to design the life they truly want. Tini is a lady who lives the work she leads, practicing what she preaches, just an incredible woman of personal strength and love. Here’s Tini’s five distinctions of getting through hardship:

1) Fully experience your experience
“The ‘I can handle it mentality and everything is ok’ doesn’t work. It will erupt. If you want to cry, just cry. If you want to scream, just scream. If wanting to scream, find the appropriate place, not a shopping mall” she chuckles.

2) Support
Sharing, reaching out and connecting with friends and coaches can give you the perspective, tools and support needed to get through.

3) Focus out
It helps to focus other people and situations and to live in the moment. When you focus outwardly, you can spend your time helping and concentrating on what’s directly in front of you instead of worry about things outside your means and control

4) Be open to learning
Everything happens for a reason. Who knows what the reasons are. Sometimes kids are the best teachers because they see life so simply.

And perhaps most beautifully…

5) Everyone is perfect
As soon as we decide that something is perfect, then nothing needs to be fixed and a new conversation can start.


Thanks to Caffe Pralet – a bakery that holds monthly inspirational talks. Cakes, coffee and topics of substance! What’s more to want?$15 includes a set meal (main course, dessert and a drink – steal!)

This post was first published on Executive Lifestyle –

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