by Rahayu Natalya
Being a single unwed mother is a challenge on its own. Being a single unwed mother in our country and in the community is a harder challenge altogether.
My journey has not been an easy one. It’s been a roller coaster ride from the moment I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. I tried to hide the fact that I was pregnant for as long as I could. When word got out, I felt like I was being ambushed all at once by family, society and even friends. It goes to show you that in life, you will know who are the people that will stand by you through it all, be it good or bad.
I had an empathetic employer that was very sincere and understanding of my situation. It was a ray of sunshine that I needed throughout the hard high-risk pregnancy. My partner at the time was not so empathetic. He was abusive mentally, physically and emotionally.
I still pushed on, I still found courage and strength to stand by my decision to have my child. My family was not much different from my partner. The trauma was unbearable but I still found strength from the hate and courage from the torture that I had to endure.
At 5 months pregnant, I found myself single, jobless and homeless. My partner decided that he didn’t want to be in a relationship with me or the unborn child. So he left right when my pregnancy got critical. I had to move out of the apartment and had to swallow my pride and begged an aunt that I always looked up at as a mother for help. She agreed to take me in but under her rules, her judgments, and her wrath.
Nights became a very lonely time for me. Laying on a piece of comforter on the hard, cold tiled floor was a punishment for me being “dirty”. A sinner. Sleep was the hardest thing but I forced myself every night to just close my eyes, cry in silence and drift away. Days were better, I would go out in the morning, to my medical appointments just to wander around the malls, window-shopping for my unborn princess, wishing that I could afford so much more for her arrival.
Weeks go by and my health got worst. My kidneys were failing and by now, I was severely swollen from water retention.
I was strongly advised to be admitted to the hospital because the doctors were afraid of pre-eclampsia. I finally did admit myself a few days after with a carry-on luggage and teddy bear. 42 days in the hospital, I was known as a permanent residence. A joke between the Nurses and I. Every day it was bad news: about my deteriorating health, my unborn child’s life, and other unknown issues. Every night I would sneak out of bed, go in the bathroom to take a long hot shower and cry. I made sure I muffled the sounds of my cries… It was just easier to face the world with a happy mask.
The happiest that I’ve been through my unstable and hard pregnancy was when I was in the hospital. I wake up in the morning eagerly waiting to hear my daughter’s heartbeat. That was the fuel I needed to face whatever I had to that day with strength and courage. The saddest part of my stay was on the weekends. Families get together for visits, the food, the laughter and the excitements that everyone had on the arrival of the new bundle of joy or the anticipation of a new member of the family. For me, I was alone, no visitors, no home-cooked food and no laughter. My very compassionate doctor came to me on a Friday morning and asked if I would like her to approve a “home leave” for me during the weekends. I get to go out for a couple of hours during the weekend to just roam around and get away for a bit. I, of course, jumped at the opportunity.
Sometimes, my baby’s dad would come to get me and take me out to Bugis and just sit and have coffee. Sometimes I would just be on my own. But mostly, I was alone. As always, alone to think and deal with the unknown.
As a single high-risk pregnant woman with no family support or acknowledgement, I had to think about the pros and cons of the birth of my child. As per my doctors, I might not make it or she, my unborn child would not make it. So I did all I could to prepare for the bad and the good.
As I didn’t have a place to stay or bring my child back to, I was desperate to find housing. I requested for home leave on certain days so that I can go seek help with HDB, MPs and SSO. It was not an easy feat. I was denied and rejected numerous times. But that didn’t deter me from being more aggressive and to speak louder to be heard. SSO did step in to help with finances and they did write a letter of recommendations for housing to HDB. I begged doctors, organisations and medical social workers to please write to HDB so that I could get a rental, something to bring my baby home to when she is born. It took a lot of strength, endurance and determination to even get my foot in the door to be heard.
But in the end, they still needed my child to be born for them to even approve my request.
Another issue that I had to deal with was if I did not make it and my daughter did. Where would she go? Who would take her? Who would want her or willing to raise her with love? I tried to get her dad to sit down and have a discussion but he just laughed and brush it off. My medical social worker got me in touch with an adoption agency. I was not only planning her birth, where to live if we survived but also planning the worst outcome. People say “Hope for the best and prepare for the worst”. That’s what I did. It was a heartbreaking, emotional and draining process. All this and she is not even born yet.
My Daughter was born on March 29th. At 33 weeks and only 1.74kg. Seeing her and holding her in my arms made me deliriously happy, sad and so scared all at once.
The issue of not having a place to bring her home to, not having much money to provide her necessities and both of our health condition scares the living life out of me. Holding her in my arms gave me strength. You never know what strength is until u have reached rock bottom and there is no way out other than up.
I pushed, I begged, I cried and I made sure I was heard. We finally got approved for housing and slowly her dad came around and started giving us money for maintenance.
Even though I am doing all that I can and to the best of my ability to make a dollar stretch, to overcome the stigma of “unwed mothers”, to be heard, to fight for our rights in this society, we are still pretty much frowned upon. But I get up every morning and I do what I need to do to raise my daughter to stand tall, to be strong and to love. Because only love can change hate. Only with love can we overcome any obstacles that may lay before us.
Rahayu is single, unwed, with a beautiful baby girl.
Illustration by Ishibashi Chiharu