Author is a survivor and alumni of My Refuge House. Here, she shares her experience of starting a new family, and quickly losing her partner at the start of that journey. She explains how she is persevering in building the family network through tragedy.
This article has been lightly edited for proper translation and clarity. Names have been changed.
When George was still alive, he would tell me about his life in Manila and how it was to live there. George was born and raised in Manila Quezon City. If ever he had children, he planned to raise them where he grew up. I met George in 2017 when I was 19. It wasn't love at first sight - there was absolutely no spark at all. He was merely a friend of a friend of mine. I often went to the Urgello neighborhood to visit one of my friends and would always see George hanging out with his other friends. I was surprised when George approached me one day and started a conversation. From that day on we became friends and then a couple.
Everything went really fast. Within a month of being together I got pregnant. We moved in together after that. I wasn't really thrilled to get pregnant or excited to have a child. I experienced a lot of traumas in my childhood years from my mom so becoming a mom myself was really not in my plans. I couldn't stop my tears when my pregnancy test came back positive, and I was hysterical when I showed the test to George. The first thing that came to my mind was that he was going to leave me like the rest of the men before him. But he stayed and comforted me and assured me everything was going to be alright and that having a child isn't that bad. I was only a couple months pregnant when he contacted his family and let them know about the news of him becoming a dad. His family wanted us to go to Manila and live there right away. I didn't want to go to Manila and never experienced travel outside of Cebu.
George tried his best to provide in the beginning months of my pregnancy, he got a job working as a System Administrator in a company named Direct 2 Guest. Things stabilized with George's work, and all I had to focus on was my health and our baby's health who was still inside me.
Part of George's job was traveling to different resorts in different parts of the Philippines, installing cable boxes for resort customers to watch movies on the television. When I was seven months pregnant I got to go with him to Surigao. It was my first time flying on an airplane. George and I talked about what to do on our trip. We weren't really going to have fun in Surigao, the purpose was only for work. After that we would travel to Ormoc Leyte then by there we would get a public van for hire (v-hire) to travel to Borongan, Eastern Samar, Leyte to visit his cousin and the hometown of George's father.
The day of our flight to Surigao I got everything prepared. When we were about to get on the plane I suddenly had pain in my stomach. I couldn't understand the pain. I was sweating and George was concerned and wanted to take me to the hospital but I knew it was too early for me to be in labor. The flight attendant wanted me to sign a waiver before I got on the plane and so I did. All the way on the flight going to Surigao I never got the chance to focus and enjoy the flight. I was too concerned with the pain I felt and hoping everything was going to be okay.
It was a quick flight to Surigao. George and I went straight to the resort and George went straight to work while I was left in the room alone. Thankfully the pain that I was having finally disappeared. As I lay on the bed all I could do was read. I learned that I was having what they call Braxton Hicks, very normal to experience during seven months of pregnancy.
George and I only stayed in Surigao for one day. We took a few trips to the park and got a few photos of Surigao City, then we started to get ready for our travel to Ormoc Leyte. It was a short 2-3 hour ferry ride going there. It was raining really hard and many roads were closed because of landslides. Thankfully there was a v-hire that went straight to Borongan Eastern Samar. Traveling to Borongan was an unforgettable trip. We passed by the San Juanico Bridge - the longest bridge in the Philippines. The bridge was wide and long and red, and it looked really amazing. On the ride, I was feeling a bit nervous to meet George's cousin and other relatives for the very first time.
As we arrived in Borongan it looked like a small province in Cebu. There weren't many cars or any traffic at all. The place was very peaceful and the people were all smiling. I was really shy and nervous as we arrived at the house of Lloyd's cousins. It was hard for me to converse in Tagalog or even Waray (the main dialect spoken in Eastern Leyte). George hadn't seen his cousins for years since his college days. They already knew that we were coming and they greeted us with excitement. I wasn’t sure if they were excited to meet me or to see George after a very long time or maybe both.
They had a room prepared for us upstairs. The house was two storey with 3 rooms with a living room, dining room and a kitchen. They even have a backyard. George said the house is owned by his aunt (his father's sister) who had never married or had children, and worked her whole life in London as a Nanny. She was the one who supported George's education until he graduated college with a degree in Computer Engineering. It felt really great to be part of his family and learn his family history.
George and I stayed in Borogan for a few weeks. I got to know a few of George’s cousins and the places he used to go to with them. George took me to the beach and to some restaurants. The food was amazing and different than anything I have never tasted before. I felt I belonged in Borongan. His cousin gave me newborn clothes for the baby to wear. They even wanted me to stay in Borongan and give birth there. I didn't want to make any promises to them about giving birth in Eastern Samar but I assured them we would come back and they would get to meet George's baby soon.
At that time, my sister was also 3 months pregnant. I got a call from her saying she already had symptoms of labor. I told George about it and we went to get a ticket going back to Cebu. The plan had been after Borongan we would travel to Manila so George could introduce me to his mother and show me the place where he grew up. But I didn’t want to miss my sister giving birth for the very first time and I wanted to be there for her so George and I went back to Cebu and got there just in time for my sister's delivery.
Fast forward, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl that her father named Cora. It was love at first sight for me. Somehow time stopped when I held her in my arms. I loved her even when she was inside me and when she was in my arms, I felt complete and that nothing could ever compare my love for her.
Motherhood was a struggle for me and for George as well. We both didn't have any idea how to take care of a baby, even the basic stuff like changing a diaper or how to bath her. I wanted to ask for my mother's help but I couldn't since my mom has been in jail for a very long time and she wasn't with me growing up. George's mother was very far away in Manila and they weren’t in communication through call or through text.
George and I made it through the first months of sleepless nights, a lot of arguing about who had to change diapers, feed Cora, who had to put Cora to bed, and not to mention the endless fights about not having money. It was quite a journey with George. Even though he passed away so soon, I will never forget him and he will always be part of Cora's life.
Never did I expect to be offered to go to Manila to visit my mother and also visit George's mother for the very first time. George and I had planned on it for a long time and I finally got to make it happen. I was really nervous to meet George's mother without him by my side but I knew if I didn't do this I would never get to have this chance again. I had so many things to say to her and ask about George's childhood and what he was like growing up.