Yasmin was taken by surprise upon learning she was pregnant at 22-years-old. She felt ashamed of her circumstances and concerned for the judgement she would receive from her workplace and family in the Philippines, which led her to the emotionally challenging decision to cut ties with the majority of her family members and navigate this next chapter of life with her boyfriend and a very limited support network.
What’s your name and who’s in your family? My name is Yasmin and I live with my husband, Josh, and my two kids, Jarrah (22-months-old) and Ayla (1-month-old).*
How did you feel learning you were pregnant? What concerns/thoughts/feelings came up for you? I had no suspicions that I was pregnant despite my constant vomiting, dizziness, and developing a UTI. It was when my doctor advised me to have a gall bladder ultrasound that I learned I was pregnant. My boyfriend and I went to the hospital chapel to talk. I cried. I felt very frightened.
It was once a rule in the school where I worked as a teacher that if you fell pregnant out of wedlock, you must resign, or you will be forced to resign. Although they did not force me to, I felt extremely ashamed to continue working because my boss was already devastated that I was pregnant and would be missing classes at the school. I was also furious and frustrated because I knew people, both colleagues and students, were gossiping about me. It was a tough couple of months and I hadn’t even told my parents yet. I was living with my grandmother at the time and moved out immediately upon learning I was pregnant. I cut my family off and did not tell them about my situation. The only family I had was my mom and my sister, with whom I was in constant contact with. They currently live in the US.
So, there I was, 22 and pregnant, jobless, and with no family to lean on. I lived with my aunt in a small house where I had to pay for my lodging. I was anxious about the hospital bills, how I was going to pay for my ultrasounds and check-ups because my boyfriend had just started working and neither of us had savings. Thinking about this new chapter of my life made me happy yet simultaneously anxious about how I would handle it.
Did you feel supported during pregnancy by your family/partner/medical team? I was close to some relatives but felt quite isolated and lonely with my mom away and my dad unsupportive of my pregnancy. My boyfriend and I did not live together until we got married just a few months before I gave birth. So, in most of my pregnancy, I was on my own – even in the doctor’s appointments. My boyfriend had to work overtime to bring home more than his daily wage. He would visit me every other day of the week, but we were mostly apart. Although this was the case, he was always loving, caring and supportive, along with his family. My mom was away physically but she would always call and check in on me and send me money to help me feel safe and secure.
How old were you when you gave birth? I was 22 when I gave birth, just a few days before my 23rd birthday.
What was your birth experience like? I was 40 weeks already but felt no signs of labour. I went to the hospital at midnight and was induced. After more than 12 hours of waiting in the delivery room, my OB-GYN said that my cervix had not dilated more than 1cm. I decided to have a c-section to avoid any further complications. I was asleep during the operation, but when I woke up, the anesthesiologist was putting lipstick on me and asking me and the baby to smile – she was taking photos of us! She even took videos of the baby while he was being cleaned, weighed, and dressed and also recorded the precious moment when my husband first saw our baby. I was very thankful! She didn’t have to, but she did, and now I have all these videos and photos to look back on and cherish with my husband and baby.
Were you able to debrief your birth experience in a way that helped you to process the experience? When I was pregnant, I would always ask other moms what their birth was like, to give me an idea of what to expect. Some of them had very painful experiences and others seemed to have gotten through it without much of a struggle. It prepared me to expect the unexpected and to condition my mind that whatever happens, I must be strong, push through and overcome it.
Talking about my own birth experience afterwards definitely helped me in processing it, because it helped me to appreciate that what I’ve gone through is no joke; I, too, am a tough momma, like all moms out there! It gave me a deep source of strength as well, knowing that if I have overcome such hardships, I can also conquer future hurdles in my life.
What do you think could have made you feel more supported during pregnancy and childbirth? What would have helped you? I think having my whole family by my side would have made me feel better. I was so frightened of how they would receive my pregnancy that I did not talk to them even when I was about to get married. It would have made me feel at peace if they were there with me, and I with them – to be able to enjoy simple meal outings on occasions, and if they had thrown me a baby shower. It would have also lessened my worries about the financial problems I was facing.
What were the first few weeks of motherhood like for you? What concerns/thoughts/feelings came up? The first weeks of motherhood were very dark for me, to say the least. I was afraid of a lot of things – I was tired and I felt alone. I was scared of making a mistake and constantly checked if the baby was breathing.
We lived with my husband’s family and it was very uncomfortable – some family members would come into our room to see the baby, not taking into consideration that I wanted to get some sleep or needed privacy. A few weeks later, we decided to move out and rent an apartment. It was a small apartment in a place where I didn’t know anyone. We did not have any appliances – no refrigerator, no air-conditioning or a washing machine. And the building had only a few tiny windows, so you couldn’t see the view outside. It almost felt like I was in solitary confinement. I was a new mom in a room full of walls, with little to no cellular signal, alone with a baby. I was going crazy. I cried almost every day – I felt completed isolated from the world and disconnected from my old self.
I was blessed that my son was quiet, rarely cried, and fell asleep easily. He was such a nice baby. But all the problems going on around me made me feel so overwhelmed and sucked the joy and life from me. Without a fridge, I had to cook fresh meals day and night and finish them so they wouldn’t spoil and go to waste. Without a washing machine, I had to hand wash our clothes. Without an air conditioning unit, it was damp and hot even at night time. We only had a single, 36-inch-wide bed which the three of us had to share. It was difficult. I had suicidal thoughts. I was living in misery and at times, wanted to vanish. Our son brought joy to me, but this wasn’t the life I wanted for us.
Do you feel that you had a healthy support network? I couldn’t really say I had a support network then because people barely visited us, and my dad and I were just starting to patch things up. I connected with my friends and other relatives through Facebook but as we had poor reception in the apartment sometimes it felt like too much effort. But as months passed by, I drew strength from my other mom friends who gave birth the same year as I did. We constantly met up with our kids and even had a group chat to discuss mom matters or just to send memes that would lift our spirits. My cousins also visited us often and that gave me strength and support.
How did you find transitioning into parenthood? Transitioning into parenthood, I could say I got the hang of it quickly. Since my son was not the loud crier nor the colicky type, it was quite easy for me. The challenges I encountered were mostly lack of sleep and balancing household chores with taking care of the baby.
Did you have strategies in place to manage stress and anxiety? To manage stress and anxiety I started watching Korean dramas and movies on Netflix. I also started reading the Bible.
What challenges did you face in the first year of motherhood? In the first year I guess one of the biggest challenges was when my son started biting while feeding. My nipples were sore and bleeding. He was exclusively breastfed until then. When I couldn’t take it anymore, we gradually transitioned him to bottle/formula milk. Another thing I found a little difficult was planning and preparing food at 6 months. I got a 2-in-1 blender and steamer to make things easier for me. Things were also hard when my son learned to crawl, stand, and walk because we had to baby proof the house and be on alert.
What do you wish people could understand more about being a young mother? I wish people would understand that being a young mother does not mean it’s the end of a woman’s career. In our culture, people tend to judge and look down on young moms, thinking that having a kid at an early age would impede a woman’s success. If a young mom wants to remain as a stay-at-home mom, don’t feel sorry for her or shame her for not having a job. I would also like to see postpartum depression (PPD) more recognised and support provided to mom's who are impacted.
What’s helped you the most in becoming a mum? Three things that have helped me most are God, family, and friends. Personally, getting back to church, attending prayer meetings, and Bible study sessions has helped me get out of the dark place I was in. Strengthening my faith in God has led me to a brighter and better path. Having my family around just makes me happy and I believe maintaining a healthy relationship with your family, visiting them every week or every other week just makes you feel recharged for days. We can all communicate via Facebook, but nothing beats reunions and birthday parties where we all gather, laugh, and "pig out" together! Keeping my friends close has also helped me tremendously, as even though I’m a mom already, I still get to be in touch with the people I was friends with before motherhood. It’s a lovely feeling when you remain friends with them and they become godparents to your kids. Having mom friends is also a delight because you get to have play dates with your kids and bond with people who share similar sentiments and experiences.
What do you love most about being a mum? What I love about being a mom is that I get to love and be loved. I am blessed to be able to bear and give birth to my children who are my greatest source of joy and comfort.
What life lessons have you learned? Through motherhood, I’ve learned how hard it is to be a mom. I’ve regretted how I’d sometimes disrespect and disobey my own mother. I remember how annoyed I was whenever she’d call me; now every call from her soothes me and keeps me sane. My mother was not perfect, but she loved me in the best way she knew how.
I’ve also learned that being a mother gives a person a different yet sublime kind of purpose, in which you give the ones you love all of yourself, and often put your family above all else. It seems like a lot of work but your life becomes fuelled by the love you have for your kids; it becomes easier to trudge on through any hardships because you love them. Lastly, I’ve learned that every decision you make affects your children – our choices are crucial because we affect our kids’ lives long-term in ways we cannot even imagine. So, it’s imperative that you make the right choices that impact them in a positive way.
*Please note that alternative names have been used in this blog to respect the families privacy.
Photography by Joey Thompson via Unsplash
Thank you so much Yasmin for your vulnerability in sharing your story.
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