Written by Danielle Uy, contributor

She is a teenager, beautiful and intelligent, two qualities considered by many as essential for an adolescent in this country. Those around her are excited about what she can become. This bright young lady could charm the world, they say.

Then she gets pregnant.

People still believe she is beautiful, though many also think she is a shame. Sayang, ang gandang bata pa naman (What a pity for such a beautiful girl.). Her parents are disappointed. Her peers talk behind her back. The baby’s father is not ready for a child. Her beautiful world is apparently falling apart.

A tale so common in the Philippines, but typical this story may be, it has not made it any easier for young mothers to face single parenting let alone deal with disdain.

Young, tender, pregnant

The walls are a bright shade of yellow and the sun peeks inside the house. It is silent but the atmosphere is light – a quaint space away from all the chaos of Metro Manila. A woman sweeps the floor while another dusts the cabinets. Later, we find out that both are clients of the Grace to Be Born Maternity Home and Nursery, a shelter located originally in Pasig, but due to its renovation, the clients now live in their branch in Pampanga.

Grace to Be Born offers free counseling to their clients as part of their services for healing.             Photo credits: Grace to Be Born

Established in 2009, Grace to Be Born envisions preventing abortion cases in the Philippines. Today, it provides physical, psychological, spiritual, and financial help for new mothers. It also serves as a temporary shelter for newborn babies, while their mothers decide to either take them home or give them up for adoption. While the shelter accepts mothers of all ages, it has seen younger and younger women coming to them each year.

According to social worker Joy Reyes, Grace to Be Born now houses 10 mothers. Majority of the women were victims of incest. In the Philippines, reported cases of incest are estimated to be between 1,000 and 3,000 per year, while it is believed that most are underreported.

In this shelter, women tell of familiar tales of love, rejection, and abuse.

Reyes narrates how it has sheltered a mother who had been repeatedly raped by a relative since she was eight years old. When she reached the age of puberty at 12, she got pregnant. At such a young age, she did not only have to deal with the trauma of incestuous rape, but she also had to deal with the stigma surrounding early pregnancy.

Discrimination is one of the biggest obstacles to healing, Reyes tells NewsNarratives. The notion that early pregnancy is merely a result of flirtatious acts lingers in the young mothers’ minds. In the end, the stigma of early pregnancy brought about by incestuous rape causes paranoia among these girls who had the least desire to get pregnant.

Hindi naman nila ginusto ‘yun eh. ‘Yung iba, nagmahal lang talaga sila. Hindi naman nila alam na lolokohin lang sila. Or ‘yung iba, ‘yung taong pinakapinagkakatiwalaan pa nila sa bahay nila, ‘yun pa ‘yung wawalanghiya sa kanila,” Reyes says. (They didn’t even want the pregnancy to happen. Some of them fell in love, not knowing that they would be betrayed in the end. Some trusted the men closest to them at home, not knowing they would be the same ones who would violate them.)

Reyes recalls that one of the girls here was discharged as she was deemed psychologically healthy—enough to face the world outside the shelter. The girl was confident that she was ready to go back to school, but not long after she had heard her classmates tell stories about a girl who was laspag (worn out), she quit school again.

In cases like this, Grace to Be Born usually refers their clients to other shelters once the pregnancy stage is over. These shelters can provide mothers with trainings that will equip them for independent living. But more importantly, they offer counseling that caters to the psychological well-being of mothers after pregnancy. Most of them need more time to heal, Reyes says, especially after experiencing sexual trauma.

The crisis of fatherlessness

In a 2013 report issued by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), more than half of the total registered births in the Philippines were delivered by unwed mothers, an indicator that a huge number of mothers in the country face child-rearing alone.

The crisis of raising children without their fathers around had become a global phenomenon.

Owing to the fundamental principle that the family—composed of a father, a mother, and child or children—is the most basic unit of society, its strength thereby contributes to the strength of society. When a family faces a crisis, fatherlessness for example, society faces the same.

The World Needs a Father, a global movement that aims to raise awareness about how important fathers are in society, has conducted studies to find out any correlation between fatherlessness and societal issues.

Dennis Espique, a full-time volunteer for the movement, says that they have studied issues surrounding causes of rape, corruption, a bad education system, unemployment, toxic physical and mental health, and illegal drugs, among others.

“Based on studies, what we’ve seen is the lack of leadership in the family, which starts with the father,” Espique tells NewsNarratives. Simply put, the movement says absent fathers (i.e., no father figure at all, with fathers who have no time for them, or with abusive fathers) breed absent fathers. The awareness of the role of a father stops the cycle of poor child-rearing.

One report cited by The World Needs a Father, which was retrieved from Howard University, political science professor Stephen Baskerville states that fatherlessness was found to be one of the major roots of personal and societal problems like substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, and violence. “Fatherlessness far surpasses both poverty and race as a predictor of social deviance,” the report reads.

“Based on research sa (in) holistic development, there are six dimensions,” Espique shares. “[There is] spiritual at the center, intellectual, emotional, social, physical [and] environmental … All of these things must be addressed. Ang [general] concept ng fathering is mabigay ko lang ‘yung environmental [development] (The general concept of fathering is to provide for the environmental development). May (There is) food, shelter, clothing, education [and] that’s it! Some won’t even teach their children values because they’re busy working. So, in the context of a holistic human development or child development, kailangan ma-address ito (this needs to be addressed.) And if these are not addressed, the child is going to have a problem.”

A deeper look into these six human development dimensions shows how each is essential to the holistic growth of a person, he reveals. For example, emotional intelligence helps people cope with problems and manage emotions. Mental health issues often stem from poor emotional development, in the same way that physical health problems come from the poor development of the physical dimension.

Espique further explains that social intelligence helps a child relate to people. Intellectual intelligence must also be developed for a child to work smart and responsibly. The poor development of the intellectual dimension contributes to society’s poverty rate. Finally, the spiritual dimension is concerned with morality and values. Adults without convictions or with poor moral compasses may have lacked development in the spiritual dimension.

“If we take a look at what’s happening around, it will all point to the lack of fatherhood by a lot of fathers who were not trained,” Espique says.

Based on these reports, the Philippines may be in a crisis indeed.

According to a report by the National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) and PSA, seven percent of Filipino women aged 15 to 19 was either already a mother or pregnant with her first child. The University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI), on the one hand, has reported that 83.8% of Filipino women did not use any form of protection against pregnancy during their first act of premarital sex.

Wala akong (I do not have) statistics [of mothers taking over the responsibility instead of fathers], pero (but) based on what we see [and] based on observation, the women would normally take the responsibility of taking care of the child at the same time providing for the child,” Espique says.

While fatherlessness has been more felt in recent times, solo parenting has attracted attention from the government. Programs for solo parents have been initiated through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). A solo parent may be granted more vacation leaves, financial help, and educational aid for their children, so long as he or she has a solo parent ID. However, not all these privileges are accessible by everyone.

According to DSWD administrative officer Aurelia Lesma, while employed solo parents can easily take additional parental leaves, further assistance like financial aid or livelihood support are given only to a chosen few who are deemed as most in need of monetary assistance.

Lesma also admits that solo parents are not offered so much. “Wala masyadong benefits ang solo parents (There are not many benefits for solo parents),” she says. She discloses that most municipalities have not properly implemented the law for solo parents, neither have they given the solo parent law enough budget to bring it to operational level. Most of the time, solo parents are assisted through other government programs that they can fit into, like indigent assistance programs, Lesma further says.

The plight of children growing up without the guidance of both parents has not yet been as recognized either. According to Espique, he has yet to hear a government program that addresses the growing issue of fatherlessness in the Philippines. However, he is hopeful that the government would be cooperative and involved once The World Needs a Father reaches out to them for partnerships on trainings for intentional parenting.

Facing single motherhood with hope and love

Mikah was 19 years old and in love with her newborn son Sky

Meet Mikah Franco, who plays princess for a living being a vocalist in Hong Kong Disneyland, but her life isn’t always a fairytale. Although singing has always been something she loves to do, leaving her son Sky isn’t.

“It’s the most challenging and the most difficult decision I ever made because it was never part of my plan to be apart from him,” she tells NewsNarratives via video call. Having been a hands-on mom since then, it was the first time ever that she had to leave Sky for a long time.

She recalls she was only 19 when she had Sky, now four years old. While most teenagers would be anxious upon learning about a pregnancy, she was instead overflowing with affection toward her unborn child. “When I found out — automatic — [I was filled with] love,” she says, her eyes glowing with obvious joy.

Unfortunately, her ex-boyfriend felt otherwise.

“He palpitated,” Franco laughs as she recalls how the baby’s father reacted to the news. “We all tried to make it work, but our relationship was too toxic. ‘Yung lifestyle niya (His lifestyle) was no longer healthy … I had to make that decision [of breaking up with the father] to protect Sky from the lifestyle na (that) he was living … Until now, I know I made the right decision.”

The first person she told about the pregnancy was her mother. And as expected from most mothers, hers did not take it well initially. “‘Yung reaction ng mom ko (My mom’s reaction) was heartbreaking. She was just, she didn’t expect it.”

Regardless of her parents’ disappointment, Franco knew in her heart that they still got her back. She was right.

As she tried to finish her final year in college, she also juggled two jobs to provide for her son. “I wanted to finish school for my family … I was so pressured na (that) when Sky turned two, I felt like, okay, I’m going back to school pero hindi lang ‘yun (but not just that.) Gusto ko nagtatrabaho ako. (I want to be working.) I want to do everything.”

Her schedule was full. Before going to school on weekdays, Franco would spend her time teaching music and movement to children. Weekends were not restful either, as she had gigs as a character host during her free days.

On top of all that, she was a single mom.

Mikah and Sky take time to talk every day via video call even when they are miles apart

“At first, ang saya saya (it was so much fun). [I was] studying, [I was] working, [and] I’m a mom. ‘Yung (The) pride, yung parang (like) this reputation that I had, I wanted to keep it up. Unfortunately, I went back to, you know, my old harmful ways. It was just really bad na talagang (that it was really) rock bottom – I hit rock bottom.”

Before having Sky, Franco was diagnosed with clinical depression and had a lifestyle that would take a toll on her health. When she learned about her pregnancy, she dropped everything—smoking, drinking, partying, taking her anti-depressants, and harming herself—as she wanted to make sure her son would come out healthy.

For a long while, Sky was enough to drive Franco to work her hardest and give her all. “Kapag (When you have) depression kasi parang ang hirap (it gets hard) to take care of yourself. It started na parang (like) I was forcing myself to take care of myself kasi (because) you’re thinking about the life of another human being that came from you.”

Trying to sustain both her life and Sky’s on her own eventually wore her down. She went back to her old ways and habits and had her feeling even worse than before. “Even if you work hard, kahit sabihin mong (even if you say) ‘I will do this out of love because I love my son,’ it’s impossible to do it alone.”

Eventually, Franco understood life from a different perspective. While she still acknowledges today that she would have rather made wiser decisions, because having a baby while she was not financially prepared was indeed tough on her, her new realizations made things easier for her to handle. “God allows these things to happen so that we know that we need a Savior. I surrendered to God so that’s how my eyes opened to the reality na (that) I’m really not alone,” she says.

Raising men to raise men

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and Franco is grateful that she has a town to raise her son. “I’m a single mom, but grabe ‘yung (the) overwhelming support from not just family and friends but [also] support groups.”

She admits there have been times she would think that it would have been simpler if Sky had a father figure around. “It would have been good for Sky din (also), for us na may (to have a) partner. [My stress] strained my relationship with Sky kasi pagod na eh. [I was] working [and] studying. Tapos dun din ‘yung [And then] at some point nasabi kong [I had said], ‘I wish I had help.’”

Later, Franco realized that there were two fathers who could provide paternal love to Sky—her own biological father and her Heavenly one. “As a parent, it’s my responsibility to raise him as a child of God. He doesn’t have a perfect father or mother here on earth, but he has a perfect Father in Heaven who loves him infinitely.”

She admits her own family is far from perfect, having past issues with her dad as well as inevitable fights among family members, but a lot has changed since Sky came into their lives. And today, they are all determined to give her son a loving environment.

She says: “That’s why I can raise my son well, because my family has been there. Even if we had a lot of issues then, they were resolved through God’s grace.We’re now all working together, and Sky is a blessing. God worked through Sky na nagkakabati na lahat ng ano sa family (God worked through Sky so the conflicts in our family were resolved.)”

But not everyone understands the importance of providing a healthy atmosphere for a growing child as well as an ever present parental guidance. This reality provides the impetus for The World Needs a Father to conduct trainings for fathers on their role in the family.

“We train fathers to become fathers because we recognize that the reason for the issue on fatherlessness is because wala namang na-train na tatay (there are no trained fathers). Walang training ng fatherhood sa eskwelahan (There is no training for fatherhood in school),” Espique says.

To educate fathers, they teach the four roles of a father: establishing moral authority, conferring identity, providing emotional security, and affirming potential. According to Espique, these roles were derived from the Bible, specifically from God’s modelling of fatherhood towards Jesus during the baptism and the transfiguration.

“We want to level up in a culture of nobility during the time na (that) I believe men would fight for the weak. ‘Yun ang gusto natin (That is what we want.) They would really take charge in leading their own families,” Espique says.

The World Needs a Father also conducts supplementary trainings for mothers. It also recognizes that some families cannot ensure the presence of a father. To address this, they introduce children with absent fathers to groups of gentlemen who have the heart to mentor.

Ang role naman ng The World Needs a Father is to be able to involve [the children] in active communities na may mga tatay tapos makikita ng mga anak nila na may mga role model pala na [makakapagpakitang] ganito pala maging isang tunay na lalaki [at] tunay na ama (The role of The World Needs a Father is to be able to involve them in active communities with fathers. The children are able see that there are role models who can show how it is to be a real man and a real father),” adds Espique. The organization exists for children needing to experience paternal guidance, hoping single mothers would never have to feel alone.

As for Grace to Be Born, their community wants to make sure that single mothers are provided a place where they do not feel judged nor condemned. There are several other shelters and non-government organizations that cater to the needs of single mothers. Among these are the Abiertas House of Friendship and Norfil Incorporated, which are both in Quezon City; the Heart of Mary Villa in Malabon, Women of Worth in Cagayan de Oro, and the Kaisahang Buhay Foundation Incorporated in Cubao, Quezon City.

Creating happiness and magic

Mikah’s father with his grandson Sky

Franco considers herself blessed to have the full support of the men around her—her father, brother, and guy friends—in raising Sky. She is excited of the opportunity to raise his son to be a man who is respectful and kind, and to introduce him in the future to concepts like women empowerment. “Hindi kita palalakihin ng ganito, na babastusin mo ‘yung babae (I will not raise you in a way that you will be rude to women).”

She has discovered the power of community involvement as well. “[My] support groups, aside from my family, [are] my friends raised by single parents, [the] Breastfeeding Pinays FB (Facebook) support group, [and] The Parenting Emporium – you can find them on IG (Instagram) – [a] venue for learning and support [and a] parenting community.”

She also has created an Instagram account under the username “themagicmilk” to build yet another community for mothers. “[I made it] to support breastfeeding moms, single moms, and to celebrate the beauty of motherhood by sharing my experiences.”

Franco’s supportive environment continues to help her until now, and she makes sure to provide that same environment to her son, assisting him every single day through video calls. “We would read books every time na namemorize ko ‘yung ‘Oh! The Places We Go’ by Dr. Seuss. Every time we talk, he finds comfort and security when we read books. Ang galing talaga! As in ‘yung routine namin sa bahay, ginagawa niya through video call, like kukunin na naman niya ‘yung toys, as if I’m there with him. [I would tell him] ‘Get books! Get books! Ayan tapos we would play. Ang saya saya. The challenging part, ‘yung masakit talaga, is when he’s crying or nagtatantrums siya [but] he knows na even that we’re not magkalapit, he knows that I’m still here and that magkikita pa rin kami,” she says. (We would read books every time that I’ve memorized ‘Oh! The Places We Go’ by Dr. Seuss. Every time we talk, he finds comfort and security when we read books. It’s amazing! Our routine at home, he would do through video call, like he would get his toys as if I were with him. I would tell him ‘Get books! Get books!] Then we would play. It’s really fun. The challenging part, the painful one, is when he’s crying or throwing tantrums, but he knows that even when I’m not near him, he knows that I’m still here and that we would still see each other.)

Mikah successfully graduated from college even while being Sky’s primary provider

One would say her life—or the life of those single mothers—is indeed anything but a fairytale. However, in the end, Franco got what she needed: her son Sky and her lifelong dream of singing. And after everything she went through as a single mother, she is glad to have a son who reminds her most of what it means to be happy. For that, she remains beautiful and intelligent no matter what other people say.

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