CULTURE

More Filipino women are delaying motherhood – here’s why

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We ask six women about their decision to be consciously child-free — for now or for good. Illustration by JL JAVIER

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of good fortune, good genes, or a lethal combination of both, must be in want of a child. But in today’s post-Jane Austen era, more women all over the world are delaying childbirth or abandoning the idea completely — the public or the Pope’s opinions be damned.

This has unsurprisingly become a cause for commotion in the Philippines. Actress Maxene Magalona addressed this in an Instagram post last month, explaining why people should avoid asking, “Bakit hindi pa kayo mag-baby?”

“Random strangers would go up to me for a photo and ask me this question as a form of small talk,” she wrote. “It is awkward, invasive and can be a bit rude.” (Despite the long lecture on her caption, some people still missed the point. Someone in the comments section of ABS-CBN’s coverage had this to say: “May awa.ang pangino on dasal lsng bigyan kadin nya bata ka pa kuma in ka ng monggo protein yan mag ka baby kadin God Bleseed ganda ka pa nama.”)

Attitudes toward parenthood take root in society’s ideas about gender roles. “The role of motherhood is seen by society as central to a woman’s identity,” write Sabra L. Katz-Wise, Heather A. Priess and Janet S. Hyde in a study. “Men perceive fathering as something they ‘do,’ whereas women experience mothering as something they ‘are.'”

Now more Filipino women are deferring or delaying motherhood, as shown by the Philippine Statistics Authority’s records of sharp birth rate drops — in 2020, there were only 1,516,042 million registered live births in the country, the lowest since 1986 and around 10% less than the births recorded in 2019. This, according to Population and Development Undersecretary Juan Antonio Perez III, could be attributed to “the combined impacts of fewer marriages, women delaying pregnancies during the pandemic, and increase in women using modern family planning methods to prevent unplanned pregnancies.”

Here, we ask six women about their decision to be consciously child-free — for now or for good.

Photo courtesy of the respondent

Sibyl Layag Decena, editor

I find that my reaction to the question “Bakit wala ka pang anak?” depends on how the question is asked. It can be infuriating when there is a negative implication baked into the question. Some people, usually older family members, sound like they are pressuring you to have a child, or that they think it’s weird that you’re still childless. Others, usually friends and acquaintances, are just genuinely curious, and it’s sometimes nice to have a conversation about it and provide enlightenment to those who were perhaps raised to think having a child is a requirement. It’s funny because you’d think this kind of question can only come from family members and friends, but I actually also get this from total strangers, like the lady at the waxing salon. Most of the time, it is not intrusive so much as it is shallow and insulting, that it’s thought of as the only point of interest that all women can bond over.

When the question comes from the older generation, it can be especially hurtful because you just know that being childless diminishes you in their eyes, even though it’s far from the only thing women are capable of. It is unfortunate but unsurprising, especially given the Filipino culture, that childbirth and child-rearing are one of the many “standards” by which women are judged.

"When the question comes from the older generation, it can be especially hurtful because you just know that being childless diminishes you in their eyes"

Pamela Yap, senior executive

People have different priorities in life, but most believe that what will give them ultimate joy are money and children. But there are many couples who have children but remain unhappy, and people who have no children but are very happy with their lives.

It is our personal decision not to have children because we want to focus on our spiritual life. While we believe that families are God’s design, we also believe that at present having children isn’t the sole source of joy. For us, whether you are single, have children or none, true joy can only be found in serving God and living according to His standards.

Photo courtesy of the respondent

Joni Vergara, ballerina and dance teacher

I teach environmental education. Knowing the data and statistics of a dying planet makes it hard for me to justify bringing another human into this world. (I also don’t find it fair raising them in the Philippines where we barely even have free beaches or mountains where we can walk, run and bike without having to pay a hefty price resort, guide or some sort of fee. Compared to living in a different country where there are free nature trails and free health care, I think I’d be giving them the shorter end of the stick if I raise them here.)

On a more personal level, if I do choose to have a child, I don’t want a yaya. I want to raise them myself and be a full-time, hands-on mother which means putting my own life on hold. A lot of people tell me that I’ll never know what it’s like until I have my own child and I think that’s the point of not having one. There’s no turning back from that, and if I do want one past the age of a safe pregnancy for my body, I can always choose to adopt. They say, “iba parin pag sa ‘yo” so I always reply, “My love is not conditional. Yours is?” and I think that also helps them reflect as to what it means to want to have a child.

"Knowing the data and statistics of a dying planet makes it hard for me to justify bringing another human into this world."

Precious Gutierrez*, graphic designer

Everything is so expensive already — what more with kids? What’s worse, any life I bring into this world will be condemned to suffer the horrors of climate change. It makes me sad, not excited.

I’m sick of men telling me to “hurry up” and have children, as if it’s the only thing left for a woman my age to do. We readily believe those who say that having children was the best thing that happened to their lives. When I say childbirth is not for me, all I want is to be believed, too.

Photo courtesy of the respondent

Liane Reyes, banker

Why am I child-free by choice? At first, it wasn’t really a conscious decision since I didn’t know it was a choice to begin with. Marriage then the whole nine yards was something I thought was a given. But it wasn’t until an ex brought up the idea of being child-free that I finally realized that “Hey, I don’t feel pressured anymore!”

I always doubted if I had the emotional capacity to raise another human being. I really felt I had no love to give and didn’t want to subject that child to the possible trauma that would cause. Plus, I realized my desire to have a child was rooted in the idea of seeing what product my future husband and I would produce. It wasn’t really about starting a family. They always tell me that I’ll love that child once I have them. But honestly, I don’t feel inclined to take that chance. We already have enough abandonment issues going around. If I want a child later on, I can always adopt. After all, child-rearing should really be about that: love.

"I realized my desire to have a child was rooted in the idea of seeing what product my future husband and I would produce."

Cheka Dela Cruz*, PR officer

It’s easy for society to dictate that the purpose of a woman is to raise a child. But what if I am not equipped physically, financially, and emotionally to carry a child in my body for eight months and more so to raise one? I’ve been carrying the trauma of my parents being ill-prepared for parenthood. I am honestly slowly healing from that. I do not want to pass on that generational trauma.

My reason is honestly more selfish. I’ve heard many of my peers not wanting to have a child because the world is not prepared to carry future generations. Mine is I do not see myself yet carrying a mini-me. Hopefully, when I am 100% healed and it’s not yet too late, I deeply truly honestly pray to God that I can still bear a child.