IN DEFENSE OF SINGLE MOMS, BYSINGLEMOMS
Being a single mom is not without its unfortunate stigma. This is in fact confirmed after Sen. Tito Sotto’s misogynistic joke about single mothers during the recent confirmation hearing of Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo.
The good thing that came out of it was it started a muchneeded conversation about in- dependent motherhood in the Philippines.
According to the 2008 data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, about 38 percent of 1.8 million babies born in the country—or at least 666,000—had unmarried mothers. Meanwhile, in a 2015 World’s Women study by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, increasingly, having children is becoming delinked from formal marriage, as one-parent households, among which single mothers with children make up more than three quarters, are becoming common in both developing and developed regions.
As the population of single mothers continue to surge, a commonly shared idea (although spoken in hushed tones) lies in the context of moralism, especially in a fundamentally conservative society. Despite the reality of the fallibility of unions and marriages, and the general frailty of human relationships, it is still difficult for some people to process and accept that no family structure is perfect. On this front, there is no guarantee of happily ever after.
To talk about single moms is to know one. The Inquirer got the opportunity to talk to seven,
and asked for their personal insights about single parenthood, what they feel about Senator Sotto’s joke, and what they love most about their unique and blessed journeys.
Meet 38-year old marketing professional Karla Maquiling, mother to Jacob, 16; 36-year old model/host/personal trainer Hillary Isaac, mother to Asher, 5; 36-year-old writer Mels Timan, mother to Reef, 15 and Sky, 11; 32-year-old project manager Mara Sarmiento, mother to Antoine, 6; 31-year old tax lawyer Atty. Nina Asuncion, mother to Avi, 11; 31-year-old entrepreneur Ranzel Montanez, mother to Isey Irish, 12; and 31year-old ESL online teacher Margalita Dalit, mother to Simone, 22 months.
These strong women are either single by choice or by circumstance, and gladly shared their most challenging experiences as a solo parent, armed with beautiful lifelong lessons no amount of offensive jokes can ever undermine. Take us back to the moment you realized you were pregnant.
Karla: I was 22 when I found out I was pregnant. There was some pressure to get married, to “make it right,” as they say, because my parents are devout Christians (and my father is a preacher). But my ex and I were no longer together at the time, and there were many factors to consider. I felt I was not yet ready to commit to marriage. I was just starting my career in public relations at the time. I kept asking myself, “Do I want to spend forever with this person?” I was unsure, because we had different beliefs. He also had personal issues to sort out, and he was always absent. I didn’t want to wait for him to make up his mind, because I realized that nothing would happen if I kept waiting for him. I had to take matters into myown hands. Hillary: Asher was a total surprise. I found out I was 15 weeks pregnant around a month post-breakup with my son’s father. I had a pretty ideal life for a single woman—successful, independent, mobile and I have a good social life, so finding out I was going to be a mother devastated me at first. I was about to lose my freedom. I felt like I disappointed and disgraced my family, and ultimately felt like I had disqualified myself from the best of God’s plans for me. Mels: I was 21 years old. Since it was a planned pregnan- cy, we were both happy to find out about it. I married my boyfriend who was 10 years my senior. I got pregnant after our wedding. But I became a victim of domestic abuse. Separating from my ex-husband wasn’t an easy choice. I never had a career after graduating and I sincerely doubted my capacity to raise my kids on my own. The emotional and psychological trauma of the relationship also left me with a serious case of selfdoubt. Thankfully, with the help of family and friends, I found the courage to leave him and establish a better life for my kids.
Mara: I was 25 years old when I got pregnant. It was unexpected and unplanned, to say the least. I was scared of the future, scared of what my family would say, scared of what people would think of me, and scared I would lose my job -they would all think I’m a disgrace. I grew up in a conservative Catholic environment so this definitely was not a situation I pictured myself in.
I was seeing my “sperm donor” (as me and my friends call the father) for just three months. No surprise that he didn’t want to have the baby. He told me to get rid of my child as he wouldn’t support me. That was the last time I saw him.
Nina: I learned I was pregnant when I was 19 during my graduation year in college. It was very hard for me. I was so scared of what my father would say and do. He had big hopes and dreams for me and I knew that most of them would not happen anymore. In my desperation and because I did not know any better that time, I thought of running away and even getting rid of my baby. However, after some deep soulsearching and the counsel of my uncle, cousin and closest friends, I changed my mind. I could not, for the life of me, bring myself to do anything to hurt my child.
The father of my child was my first boyfriend. As I was not allowed to be in a relationship then, I kept him secret before I got pregnant. After giving birth, we stayed together but then differences in values, beliefs and goals in life made us drift apart. I broke things off with him during my third year in law school.
Ranzel: I found out I was pregnant when I was 18. My concern was how to tell my mother. I was not worried about me. I was worried because I know the pain it would cause her. I know that I disappointed her and that hurt more than anything else. The pain I endured giving birth is nothing compared to the sadness I gave to my mother. I moved in with
the father of my child to try and be a family, but it didn’t work out. Our values and personality just clashed. There’s no third party. Coming from a broken home, I didn’t want that for my daughter so I tried to make it happen. It didn’t work and I ended up going home just after months of giving birth to my daughter. Marga: I was 29 when I found out I was six weeks pregnant. It wasn’t a happy moment for me because I wasn’t ready at that time. The father had no idea I was pregnant until I gave birth. He did not acknowledge his kid with me because he did not believe it was his. How did you manage to handle the situation, especially after you realized you may have to raise your child on your own?
Karla: I learned to be practical with my money, with the thought that there was nobody else who would help me. My firm did not have health insurance, so I had to pay for laboratory tests out of my own pocket. I was ready for a life with my kid—just the two of us and no support from anyone (I was too proud and didn’t want to be crawling back to Mom and Dad in Cebu!). I didn’t think they would accept Jacob and me. But I’m humbled to share that when I gave birth to Jacob, all the family came together. I felt grateful and humbled, and took it as a sign that they had forgiven me. Despite all the family drama on his end and against the wishes of his family, my ex was there, and he signed Jacob’s birth certificate. It was important for me that he sign the birth certificate because I didn’t want my kid to grow up being judged that he didn’t have a father. Now looking back and this scenario now many, many years behind me, it doesn’t matter anymore.
Hillary: When my son’s father and I found out we were having a child, his solution was for me to terminate the pregnancy. He insisted repeatedly for me to consider but my principles in life do not allow me to even consider it. I’m not religious at all, but I was vehemently against it and it was cause for a complete 180-degree turn of what our relationship and respect for each other used to be. At no point upon discovery of my pregnancy did I ever consider not going through with it or keeping my child. I had immediately made up my mind to step up to the plate and prepare for motherhood.
Nina: I had to take responsibility for everything. During my pregnancy, I felt that I could not be like how other mothers are -spoiled and pampered. I had to show people that I could handle myself well. I finished my collegiate and law studies, and eventually became a lawyer. When I broke up with my daughter’s dad, I already had the confidence that I would be able to give my child a good future even as a solo parent. One great factor was that I have a supportive family who contributed so much time and effort to help me raise my daughter.
Ranzel: I’m very grateful and blessed to have a supportive mother and sister. They helped me through it all. It was a tumultuous and blurry part of my life but they were my rock. We three have been together ever since. I literally could have not done and survived this without them. They both have such big hearts for being able to forgive and accept me even after all the disappointments I gave them. Whose help and advice did you seek? Nina: While my friends were there to remind me to still enjoy my youth, I also became friends with other mothers who were older and wiser. I also had one professor in college whom I believe was God-sent to me during those trying times. She was my professor in Marriage and Family and her words about marriage and how it should be inviolable and its sanctity preserved stuck to me. She assured me that it was okay to not marry if I knew in my heart I was not ready. Hillary: I spoke to older friends of mine who were married and had kids, and whose faith I found encouragement and inspiration from. My colleagues at the preschool where I was teaching at the time were very supportive and covered me in prayer and constant encouragement. Marga: My bestfriend for 10 years helped me go through whole nine yards. Zara was so amazingly supportive of me when I was expecting. She was one of the very first people who knew I was pregnant. When I realized my pregnancy was a lot to handle, she gave me a fresh start. She practically stepped in and provided for me. Howwas the first few years raising a kid on your own? What were the challenges and how were you able to come through? Mels: The first year was difficult because the kids and I were still healing from being in an abusive environment. Being a mother, your natural instinct is to protect and nurture. But how do you do this if you are coming from a place of depletion? It was a huge challenge for me to simultaneously overcome my own trauma and help my kids handle their own. It still is a struggle but we are all getting better daily. Meditation and the practice of mindfulness helped a lot, as well as an extremely supportive network of family and friends. Their unconditional love kept us from succumbing to negativity.
Marga: I thought it was going to be easy because my mother was around when I gave birth, but it was when they left that I realized how difficult it is to do everything on your own -from washing bottles, putting a crying baby to sleep, to preparing everything before she even wakes. I wasn’t truly prepared, too, for how incredibly alone I would feel.
Mara: Being an OFW, saying it was tough doesn’t seem to cut it. After giving birth, I was only able to spend time with my son for two full months. The pain of separation is indescribable. There was the physical pain, too, because I was breastfeeding. Some people may not talk about it, but having unconsumed milk in your breast feels like a balloon inside of you is about to explode.
The biggest challenge for me is distance and finances. I knew from the beginning that I would need to be both mother and father to him. I opted to continue working abroad to provide better for my son. Being the sole provider, money didn’t go a long way. There were times when I had to borrow from my friends to pay for the increasing expenses. On top of my regular job, I started doing modeling for photography enthusiasts on the side to earn a little bit more. I also made it a point to travel home every three months as I didn’t want to miss his milestones. What are you most proud of as a single mother?
Karla: I’m proud that I stayed and raised my child alone, when it’s so easy to walk away and forget your responsibilities like some parents do (I’m not saying only men walk away; some women do, too). It takes commitment to stay. It’s a forever thing. You can’t bail out halfway through. After watching the movie The Hours, I wondered how it was like to just walk away from your child. Have I ever wanted to? No, because having Jacob was the best thing that happened to me. I am a better person for it.
Hillary: What I am most proud of is how my son is affectionate, articulate with his thoughts, empathetic and sensitive towards others, kind, and joyful. Those attributes suggest to me that I’ve been doing a pretty decent job at protecting him well from bad elements of life and society. Some kids that he meets in playgrounds and parks can be mean little terrorists but I’ve witnessed my son stand his ground, smile, and tell a bully in the park, “It’s okay if
you don’t like me. I still like you because I’m a positive boy. I like to be happy.” Such a simple sentence, but how many of us “mature” adults can respond to adult bullies that same way? That he is aware of our life situation as a single parent and single-income family, and yet he harbors zero ill will towards his papa (as he fondly calls him) is my proudest accomplishment.
Marga: My entire perspective changed. Just like that, I gained a new form of clarity in my life that I didn’t know before. My identity as a single mother took on an entirely new meaning. Now I wear it as a badge of pride, not a veil of shame. Making the decision to become a single mother is one of the most selfless things I’ve ever done and the best blessing I have ever received.
Mels: I am proud that I was able to find the courage to leave and carve out a new future for me and my children. I am proud that we have grown rather than be limited by what we went through. In light of Senator Sotto’s controversial joke about single mothers, what do you advise single moms, especially in handling comments that spring from societal stigma and patriarchal beliefs?
Nina: I have also been a target of this. I was seen by the mom of a friend as less than what I am because “may anak na.” My advice is you should just continue mothering. I think everyone wants the ideal family. Nobody really wants to be in a situation wherein you have to single-handedly raise children. I would never promote or wish solo parenting to anyone. But things happen and we have nothing else to do but to accept, stand up and continue mothering. I think single mothers should always be self-assured and confident as a parent. While it is not the ideal set-up, it is the family you are given. When you’re sure of yourself as a parent and you’re confident that you are giving your child the best, these judgmental remarks would never bother you.
Mara: Being a single mom is already a tough job as it is and not just for women but all single parents. You literally have to do everything. Then having to deal with shaming and social stigma on top of that? One thing I’ve learned from being a single parent is sensitivity. The struggles that I’ve faced definitely changed my perception of things and made me more empathic to the different struggles people may have. It’s never our place to judge things we know nothing about.
Ranzel: I experienced all judgments there is when I was 18. From gossips to people staring. It was weird going to PTA meetings because I was the youngest one there. You could tell from everyone’s looks they’re wondering what I was doing there. People can be cruel especially if they don’t know you. People think that when you’re pregnant at a young age, you’re malandi. My advice is
don’t let anyone dampen your spirit. We don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why we’re living our life this way. As long as you’re not hurting anyone, just live your life and keep raising a good kid.
Hillary: Sotto is just a speck, a tittle in a sea of talking heads and self-appointed experts at life who will all too easily be ready to critique your life choices and lifestyle. It doesn’t benefit you to pay that kind of talk any mind. Motherhood is difficult, whether you’re married or single. Parenthood is difficult. All the more being a single parent/mother, your resources are limited but constantly required. Be wise about how you spend them and who you spend them on. I used to vocally show my abhorrence for ignorant comments toward single parents like myself. Eventually, I decided that since those people don’t feed, clothe, or shelter me and my child, their opinions don’t get to be priority. You are all your kids have, so don’t let them down by allowing other people
who didn’t struggle for you and with you to put a chink in your armor. Life is hard, so you’ll need to be tougher! What do you love about your child? What do you want to remind him most about life?
Karla: I always say that Jacob is a better version of me and his dad. That’s an improvement!
Jacob is kind and gentle, but he is also outgoing, funny, and talkative and he speaks his mind. I love that he has totally changed the dynamics at home. We used to be a quiet, serious family of academics. Now we’re a little more relaxed and able to have a good laugh, thanks to Jake. We’ve also become more affectionate. I always tell Jake that he could be anything he wants to be, but he needs to work hard, because the world doesn’t owe him anything, and it’s not going to make an exception for him. Connections will only open doors, but you need real talent to stay.
Nina: I love that she exists and that she is teaching me a lot of lessons about life. I would like her to always remember that I am always doing my best for her, and that being raised by a solo parent is never a weakness. What matters most is what you make out of life despite this circumstance.
Mels: My children remind me that there is still good in the world. Despite what they have been through, the two of them escaped relatively unscathed. They are both consistent honor students and have clarity on what they want out of life. If there was one lesson that I want to impart, it would be that they are authors of their own narrative and masters of their own destiny.
Marga: There’s no prettier child to me, inside or out. Her compassionate heart, adventurous spirit, and bright eyes remind me every day that there is still good in this world. I would brag about my daughter often, and I’ll never apologize for it. I want the world to know that this beautiful, loving, smart and talented child belongs to me and she’s my greatest source of pride and joy. I’ve failed miserably at a million things in life, but she’s the one thing I got right.
Mara and son Antoine, 6
Karla and son Jacob, 16
Nina and daughter Avi, 11
Hillary and son Asher, 5