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That Mama: Plastic Surgeon Dr Karen Sng on Women’s Self-Esteem, Raising Boys and More

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This month’s That Mama is Dr Karen Sng, who balances running her own plastic surgery practice with raising two active boys

Earlier this year we met Dr Karen Sng of The Plastic Surgery Practice @ Orchard at a networking event and she was so lovely! We enjoyed hearing about her experience launching her own practice while also raising two young sons (Alex, 10, and David, 5). We were also fascinated to learn more about how she got into plastic surgery, particularly her thoughts on how women – especially mothers – in Singapore approach various procedures and treatments. Read on for a truly enlightening interview — and wonderful photos, as always!

Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?

I am a plastic surgeon and I’ve been in practice for about 15 years. In the early part of my career, I was practising at the Singapore General Hospital, but I left to start my own private practice about 7 years ago.

I am also a very proud mother to two very active boys – Alex, aged 10 and David, aged 5; and a lucky wife to a wonderful husband!

Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?

Pre-baby, my career was mainly focused on surgical training – first basic surgical training, and then advanced surgical training in plastic & reconstructive surgery, which included a 1-year fellowship stint in the USA.

I participated in numerous surgical mission trips, in which we provided free surgery to treat children (and adults) with deformities such as cleft lip & palate. In the local context, you never see a child, much less an adult, with an unrepaired cleft lip or palate. Yet in some neighbouring countries, the locals are unable to afford treatment (or local healthcare did not provide for treatment) for such conditions. I travelled to countries such as Indonesia, Myanmar, Laos & China.

Each trip was always an eye opener; you never realise how fortunate you are until you see how life is like for others who are less fortunate. These mission trips were really rewarding experiences on so many levels, and I was glad to be able to make a difference for the patients.

Having children was an entirely different experience from anything I’d ever done before! I remember working all the way till Alex was born, and in the first few days after he arrived, I remember feeling so clueless and thinking that being a surgeon was much easier than being a new mum – I wanted to put him back in my tummy and go back to work hahaha! But I guess I must have got the hang of being a mum, since we went on to have David 4 years later!

How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?

I don’t think I ever got off the swing! For both pregnancies I worked up until the boys were born. It was funny because sometimes the patients would be concerned about whether I would be ok during surgery. With my first pregnancy I even went on a surgical mission trip to Laos when I was about 6 months pregnant – they almost didn’t want to let me on the plane to come home! 

I was very fortunate that both my pregnancies were smooth and straightforward. Knowing what I know as a doctor, I know it was really a blessing.

When Alex was born, I had the luxury of maternity leave, but I couldn’t wait to go back to work because it was a realm that I knew and I felt was within my control – very different from being a new mum to a baby with his own mind! So I was constantly leaving home to assist my husband (also a surgeon) in his procedures, much to the annoyance of my nanny!

With David, I was already running my own practice, so it was back to work within a couple of weeks. Of course, I had more flexibility with my time, so that really helped.

How do you maintain an identity separate from your children?

I think it is very important to maintain a separate identity from your children, much as we love them. For me it is easy since I work away from home, and at work my focus is on my patients and their needs. I also make sure I squeeze in time for my workouts, even if it’s just a short one – it’s me-time and I always feel better for it, and helps to keep the weight in check!

How has having children changed the way you define work?

I prioritise and organise and say ‘no’ when I feel I have too much on my plate. I set aside an afternoon during the work week to spend with my boys, and I try to get home early when I can to be with them. They are growing up so fast that I feel I should not miss out on their growing years! 

So I have taken a break from my surgical mission trips, although I would love to take the boys with me when they are older; I think we live in a privileged society and it is important for them to see and understand how others live, that life is not just about parties and holidays! 

I’ve also learnt to step down from or turn down roles in professional organisations, such as stepping down from the role of President of the Singapore Association of Plastic Surgeons last year.

Given your line of work, what advice do you have for mamas in need of a self-esteem boost?

I see lots of mums needing a self-esteem boost in my line of work. My advice would be – don’t feel guilty if you feel you need a boost sometimes! As mums we give a lot of ourselves, but it’s important to feel good about ourselves, too. And treatments do not necessarily mean surgery – there are many non-surgical options that we can offer as well.

So depending on what makes you feel a little ‘down’, treatments vary – from simple, in-office, non-surgical procedures like injectables or lasers to enhance your facial appearance (such as when you feel you are always looking tired, or those lines on your face that really shouldn’t be there), to non-surgical fat reduction treatments that target those stubborn pockets of fat (like those muffin tops, or those thighs that would look better in tights if not for that annoying bit of fat that is not coming off despite exercise).

Some mums feel distressed and down because they find their bodies are so different after pregnancy and breastfeeding. For mums who feel they need a bit more help, mummy makeover procedures such as a tummy tuck, or breast enhancement like breast augmentation or a lift are great options to rejuvenate the body!

The decision to undergo a surgical procedure such as a tummy tuck is  one that would likely require a bit more thought and planning, and I always take time to ensure patients understand the procedure and what it involves.  Some mums take several months (or even a couple of years) to make their decision to proceed, but they all look and feel great after!

How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
By making to-do lists and calendars! I have a calendar for work, and a calendar for home, ie for my boys’ activities. 

I wish I had more time for…
Being lazy! 

I always feel saner after….
A workout or a massage.

What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
I live near Novena. It’s a great location, near to everything – school, work, restaurants, shopping and the Botanic Gardens.

Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?

We love taking the boys to the Botanic Gardens. The trees and greenery are very therapeutic for all of us. The boys have so much energy and they love to run in the open spaces. We need more open green spaces in Singapore!

Read more: Our favorite parks and green spaces in Singapore 

Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
Dates and holidays for just the two of us.

Favourite date night restaurants?
We like to try different restaurants, but old favourites include Halia at the Botanic Gardens, and 10 Scotts at the Hyatt after a massage at the spa.

Favourite kid-friendly restaurants in Singapore?

Pete’s Place at the Hyatt! The boys love pizza and they love to watch the pizza chef in action; it keeps them occupied while waiting for their meal. Pete’s Place has been there since I was in school – it’s wonderful to find something constant in ever-changing Singapore.

Read more: Ultimate Guide to Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Singapore

Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
It would have to be Bali or Phuket – lazy days and great kids’ clubs!

Do you have any tips for working mamas in Singapore?

Try to leave work early once a week to take your children to ride their scooters or bicycles, or for a dip in the pool, or to eat ice-cream, or anything fun that they like to do!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
To love and treasure each child as an individual.

Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.

Being a new mama for the first time may be daunting, especially in the early days (regardless of what you see on Instagram or Facebook), but it gets easier! Try not to think or plan too much; your mama instincts will guide you! I think it’s more important just to be there for our children as they grow, be their friend instead of just being a parent. And they grow so fast, so treasure every moment!

As a mama I wish I were better at…
Cooking up a good meal for the family.

What’s your favourite family ritual?
Pre-bedtime, we all hang out in the boys’ room, playing a quick game together – card games, board games or Nerf guns! Or just being together and chatting. Sometimes it’s hard to get a word in when the boys have so much to say haha!

The last activity is reading. We always read to the boys at bedtime and they love it. It’s wonderful that they will choose a book and hop onto your lap in anticipation; it really is a special bonding time. And they are spoilt so they get one story from mum and one from dad! Alex is older now so he reads on his own, but I would like to believe that his love for reading stems from our bedtime story rituals.

I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
I try not to think if I wake up in the middle of the night, otherwise once my mind is active, I can’t get back to sleep!

My favourite moment of the day is…

When I look in on my boys after they are asleep. They look so beautiful and peaceful when they sleep. I say my prayers for them and thank God for the wonderful gifts He has given me.

Thank you so much to Karen, Alex and David for their time, and thank you as ever to the fabulously talented Irina Nilsson Photography for the gorgeous pics!

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