Unwed mum thought of terminating pregnancy
Unwed mothers face a different set of challenges from their peers in raising their children, as TAN TAM MEI and RONALD LOH find out
Being an unwed mother is not easy, but each time Miss Katherine Sng looks at her son, who turns five this year, she knows she made the right decision.
The 38-year-old, who is the founder of online parenting magazine BubbaMama, said that while the "accidental pregnancy" was daunting, she has never had second thoughts about choosing single parenthood.
Her pregnancy in 2010 came as a shock as it was discovered only after she had broken up with her then-boyfriend and the father of the child.
"There were moments when I thought of terminating my pregnancy because I was scared of what society would think of us," said the former account manager who started her online magazine during her pregnancy.
"I was also worried I would be unable to support the child. But at the back of my mind, I always knew that I would go through with it."
Miss Sng said that feeling the baby "kicking in her belly" gave her the strength to move on.
She is no longer in contact with her son's father, save for one time last year when she had to ask him for more financial support. He now gives her $700 a month.
"My son is the love of my life and I'm blessed to have such a supportive family who help to look after him," she said.
"Family support is of one of the most important things to an unwed mother."
Miss Sng's mother, Madam Teo Mui Hong, 67, said: "She's my child, I cannot just leave her to fend for herself. I help in whatever way I can.
"I told her to keep the child, it's an innocent life. Some people who want children can't even conceive."
Madam Teo also said that although she was initially caught between the feelings of "sadness and joy" when she heard that her daughter was pregnant, she is proud of her for having the courage to face life as an unwed mother.
Miss Sng lives with her son and her retired parents in a three-bedroom flat in Pasir Ris.
Her three sisters are married and live with their families. On weekdays, her mother takes care of her son when she is busy at work.
Being an unwed mother is tough, said Miss Sng, because she is unable to enjoy certain benefits that married parents have such as buying a HDB flat, parenthood tax rebates and the full 16 weeks of paid maternity leave.
Miss Sng earns about $60,000 a year, so she said she has to think twice before splurging on branded shoes and bags.
She said candidly: "As a single parent, I have to do the job of two people. But I've made my bed and I have to sleep in it, so might as well make myself comfortable."
Miss Sng admitted that social stigma towards unwed mothers still exists and she cannot escape from gossips, which is why she avoids being around when her relatives visit her parents during Chinese New Year.
She said: "My mum understands. So while my son is happily receiving red packets and snacking on goodies, I'm usually out of the country or out visiting friends."
Since giving birth, Miss Sng has been on only several dates as she has no time and energy for dating while juggling work and taking care of her son.
"My heart is only so big, 80 per cent is with my son, so it will be hard for any man to win over my heart," she said.
I was also worried I would be unable to support the child.
- Miss Katherine Sng
She was in denial for 9 months
ONGOING: Jasmine admits she’s still learning how to be a mother. TNP PHOTO: BENJAMIN SEETOR
While most women celebrate news of their pregnancy, Jasmine (not her real name) was unwilling to accept hers and tried to hide it.
The final year polytechnic student was 19 and had just started her internship when she found out that she was pregnant by her then boyfriend.
"I was unhappy with my pregnancy," she said.
"I wasn't ready for a baby and was in denial throughout the nine months. I hid at home, never met friends and never took photos."
Jasmine, who turns 24 this year, said that back then, only her family and the father of the child knew about the pregnancy. She kept it a secret from even her closest friends as she was worried about what people would think of her.
"When the doctor told me the news, I was with my mum. I turned to her and told her that I didn't want to be pregnant," said Jasmine, who is currently a first year student at a private university.
"I was in denial and thought that maybe there was a chance of a miscarriage because I couldn't accept it."
Jasmine said that as an unwed mother, her own mother played a major role in providing support and encouragement, persuading her to keep the baby and offering to take care of her child while Jasmine completed her studies.
Jasmine's mother, who is 59 this year, said: "The pregnancy was already into the fifth month when we found out, so abortion was out.
"I felt that if we could afford it, why not keep the baby."
Jasmine has not contacted the father of her son since they went their separate ways after she gave birth. He does not provide financial support.
She said: "I don't mind him not being here because I don't see myself with him in the long run.
"I'm fine but it would be nice to have a partner and more financial support."
The family survives on the $2,000 that Jasmine's mother brings home each month working as a clerk at a factory. Jasmine's younger brother is training to be an air steward.
Today, Jasmine actively posts on social media about her adventures with her four-year-old son. She said she is proud of him and is more open with friends about being an unwed mum.
"When I look at him, I feel happy, except for the times when he is naughty and makes me angry. But he is really quite a sweetheart and brings laughter to the family," she said.
Despite the joys of motherhood, she admits that being a student and an unwed mum can be overwhelming and takes its toll.
"There are days when I'd be in school doing a project and I'd think of my son and how I'm not spending enough time with him," said Jasmine, who describes herself as still learning how to be a mother.
"And there are other days when I wish I had my old life back so I could fully invest my time in a project or go out with my friends."
UNWED MUMS MUST SEEK HELP
Raising a child on your own is no easy task.
This is why social workers The New Paper spoke to advised single, unwed mothers to seek professional help.
Ms Mary John, a case worker at Family Life Society, said most of their helpline callers are women dealing with unplanned pregnancies.
She added that these single mothers are usually stressed out by a multitude of issues such as housing, employment, finances and family support.
A Family Life Society spokesman told TNP it receives about 20 to 25 calls a month.
Ms John said: "They're usually emotional and feel alone, and they don't know what to do. Sometimes they are afraid of what their family might say about the pregnancy or they can't decide whether to carry the baby to full term."
"When women experience unplanned pregnancy, they need emotional support. Besides giving that, we try to go through various options with them, such as fostering and adoption, rather than just abortion," added Ms John.
She said that a phone call typically lasts a couple of minutes, so social workers try to arrange a meeting to further discuss the options available for these mothers.
Ms Rachel Lee, 47, principal social worker at Fei Yue's Family Service Centre, agreed.
"A social worker would be able to advise the mother on her options and allow her to make an informed decision," she said.
"The social worker would also help counsel and prepare her, such as advise her on the physical changes ahead of childbirth, guide her on what she can do financially and even teach parenting skills."
Ms Lee, who has over 20 years' experience, said social workers would also meet with the unwed mother's family and boyfriend to discuss all possible avenues.
"We walk the entire journey with these mothers, even after the child is born."
WEBSITE HELPS UNWED MUMS
It is a website that aims to provide unwed mothers with information to help them through their pregnancies and the challenges after.
Launched earlier this month by four Nanyang Technological University students, Hey Solo Sister (heysolosister.com)hopes to provide an "unbiased, comprehensive and balanced" avenue to help unwed mothers make informed decisions, said Miss Anthia Chng, 22.
She added: "The website links up unwed mothers to relevant organisations that can help them."
In partnership with DaySpring New Life Centre and Babes Pregnancy Crisis Support, the website is part of the team's final year project at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.
Miss Chng explained that providing an unbiased platform that is neither pro-life nor pro-choice is important because they found that many websites provided information with certain "agendas".
She also clarified that while Hey Solo Sister seeks to help unwed mothers, it does not advocate unplanned pregnancies or pregnancies outside of marriage.
The group chose the topic after narrowing down the category of single parents, as they found that not much has been said about unwed mothers.
One of the challenges faced was finding unwed mothers willing to share their stories because of the perceived stigma and "shame factor" of the label.
Miss Natalie Goh, 22, said: "Personally, I started out not knowing much about unwed mums.
"But after talking to the mothers and relevant groups, hearing their stories got me quite emotional.
"I realised that their issues are really not just practical ones but also largely emotional.
"There are so many aspects, like emotional pressure from family and friends, and the feeling of loneliness as the father might not be around."
1800-833-6666 (24 hours)
1800-686-8623 (24 hours)
Pregnancy Crisis Service
6339-9770 (24 hours)
Singapore Planned Parenthood Association Counselling Hotline
1800-775-8582 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm)