Cover Jessica and baby Layla with older brother, Luca at home

Five young parents speak out on the hopeful reminders that made them realise that life doesn’t stop because of lockdowns

A CHANGE OF MINDSET: Anne Gauthier & Mickael Cardoso Das Neves

Through a home test right before the implementation of enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) last March 2020, Anne Gauthier and her husband, Mickael Cardoso Das Neves, learnt they were pregnant. But because of the uncertainty of the times, Anne was able to visit her doctor only in the third month of her first trimester. “It was painful not to be able to celebrate and hug people when I found out I was pregnant, or right after giving birth,” she remembers.

The couple’s strong relationship, however, allowed them to lean on each other and work things through together during the pregnancy, labour and birth. “Although I would’ve loved for my close [friends and family] to have been there, [my pregnancy] turned out to be a wonderful experience. My husband and I had to rely on each other even more. With no social or work interruption, we were able to spend a few weeks getting to know our baby girl and bond as a family. Those are moments I will forever cherish.”

Their daughter, Claire Das Neves, is now close to her sixth month. “In 2020, [she] lit up the world of those around her at a time they needed it most,” Anne says.

Her experience was something like out of a mov- ie. “[In my first ultrasound], everyone was in full gear with hazmat suits, face shields and masks. There was a plastic cover separating the doctor and myself.” She also had to go through the birthing process alone, adhering to the strict protocol required. “Closer to the due date, my husband and I had to isolate ourselves from others as well as take swab tests on a regular basis. The rules were very strict,” she recalls. “During labour I couldn’t have anyone by my side except the doctors.”

Difficult as it is, Anne knew the best thing to do was just to accept. This exercise in submission has allowed her to change her outlook: “I learnt that I couldn’t control everything, [and that I had to] take things one step at a time. [I learnt to] appreciate the small things. I also discovered a strength I didn’t know I had and now I have even more respect and admiration for all mums out there.”

As a first-time mum, Anne admits that the first few weeks with Claire were “demanding”. She also felt somewhat isolated. “Reaching out to family and friends was very helpful,” she shares. “We [participated in] Zoom calls and small gatherings. In a way due to the physical distance, those very close to us went out of their way to show their love even more.” Now, the new mum is more than inspired, crediting it to the “strong mum community” in the Philippines. “[The pandemic] has allowed us to be more mindful of each other,” she shares. “[It’s important] to check in [with your loved ones] from time to time.”

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THE BIGGEST BLESSING: Jessica Kienle & Jesse Maxwell

The newest addition to the growing family of Jesse and Jessica Kienle-Maxwell is a healthy bouncing baby. Layla Gabrielle, a new sister to older brother Luca, was born last November 12, 2020.

According to Jessica, it was “actually a good time” to be pregnant during the lockdown. “It allowed me to stay put at home and focus on myself and the baby,” she shares. “Work was put on pause, and there were no social gatherings, so I really got to take care of myself and reflect on what mattered to me. I [also] spent a lot of time with my son Luca, which was really one of the silver linings of 2020.”

Now, the mum of two has gotten into the groove of caring for her second born while also focusing on two of her favourite creative pursuits: painting, which she says was therapeutic for her, and reading.

The couple did face some challenges. Doctor’s visits during the pandemic, for one, was worrisome. “There were still so many unknowns about the virus; and yet, I had no choice but to go out and take that risk of exposing myself and the baby,” Jessica admits. 

Fortunately, as her due date approached, a few safety protocols were also revised. Their chosen hospital now allowed husbands into the operating room, which made Jessica feel safer and more comfortable. The only problem then was the timing.

“The PCR test had to be done a maximum of five days before the birth. Since we didn’t know when I might go into labour, my husband was constantly doing PCR tests in the days leading up to it.” Fortunately, everything turned out alright and Jesse was able to be with his wife on her delivery date. Childbirth was a joyful experience; both still could not believe that now Layla is close to half a year old! The couple finds so much joy in their son and daughter. Amidst the doom and gloom, Layla arrived as the “bright light and biggest blessing” of the past year.

A FAMILY IN ADELAIDE: Cristalle Belo & Justin Pitt

A mere 15 days after the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was first implemented in the Philippines last March 2020, Justin and Cristalle Belo-Pitt welcomed their new baby girl, Siena. “It was nerve-wracking,” Cristalle admits. “My husband, Justin, wasn’t allowed inside the delivery room. He couldn’t even hold her. He only had a glimpse of her through the window.”

Fortunately, Siena was born healthy, and soon the young parents were able to bring her home. Five months into lockdown however, both parents realised that the protracted quarantine was taking its toll on their firstborn, Hunter. “It was really difficult to have him to just stay at home, knowing that he was being deprived of exploring the outside world,” Cristalle explains. “When we realised that we had been inside for five months [technically one- fifth of Hunter’s life], that’s when we knew we couldn’t go on this way any longer. It wouldn’t be fair to him.”

This prompted the couple to move their family to Adelaide, Australia, where Justin had grown up. “The hardest part was [going through] four weeks of quarantine—two in Sydney and two in Adelaide,” the young mum relates. Fortunately, the couple managed to work well together, each doing their share in caring for their son and their daughter.

Now, the family of four can enjoy a relatively normal life in Australia. Of course, this doesn’t come without its own challenges. “Emotionally, I crave for connection with family and close friends. Physically, it’s challenging being abroad and not having the extra hands that you are used to,” Cristalle shares. And yet, she admits that the needs of her children always come first. “This phase in my life calls for me to be a mum. My kids need me more than ever and I’m lucky to have the resources to be present for them.”

A REUNITED FAMILY: Martine Cajucom & Cliff Ho

Long-distance relationships are difficult to main- tain; throw in a new child and a world in lockdown, and it becomes ever more challenging.

Martine Cajucom and Cliff Ho have been in a long-distance relationship for eight years now. In many ways, husband and wife have adhered to a very modern romance indeed. “He lives in Melbourne, while Manila is home to me,” Martine explains.

The globe-trotting couple first met through hercousin, Georgina Wilson-Burnand. Since then, they’d fostered a loving relationship that has culminated in a beautiful Balinese wedding(held in 2018).In 2019, while still dividing their time between multiple cities, the couple announced that they were also trying for a baby—news that was met with excitement from both families and friends. Soon enough, Martine happily found herself pregnant.

While the Sunnies businesswoman had initially planned on giving birth in Manila in June of 2020, the pandemic made her reconsider. “Once I saw the borders shutting down rapidly, I hopped
on the next flight to Melbourne, fearful my husband Cliff and I would be separated.” She’d had two hours to pack for the airport before her flight.

Now, happily reunited, Martine and Cliff have welcomed their firstborn daughter into the world. Penelope, as she’s named, is a wide-eyed bundle of joy for both mum and dad. “Nothing I had planned went accordingly,” she admits, “but these past few months have taught me to have such a deep and honest gratitude for my blessings and the quality time I would have never have otherwise had with my baby girl Penelope.” 

While the Ho family continues on with their new life in Melbourne, Martine admits that not everything is smooth sailing. After all, this is their first child and there’s plenty to learn—about parenthood, about their new daughter, about each other and themselves. “[We’ve also had to contend with] weeks of sleep deprivation and months of the world’s strictest lockdown in Melbourne. [Those circumstances] definitely challenges your mental resilience,” Martine adds. Not to mention the fact that her family—who would have made a fantastic support system to the new mother—is back home in the Philippines. Needless to say, the young mum misses them terribly. “There is no Zoom call that will ever make up for my mum’s homemade sinigang and warm hug. But we all have our struggles and joys and that’s what has really connected us all.” Now, the new mum says she is looking forward to an emotional reunion once the borders open.

WATER BABY: Coleen Garcia & Billy Joe Crawford

As one of the most high-profile couples in the country, the recent pregnancy of actress Coleen Garcia and singer-host Billy Crawford was an exciting event not just for the couple and their families, but for many of their fans too. After their wedding in Balesin in 2018, the couple seemed focused just on their careers. Now, as young parents, they have turned their undivided attention on their son, Amari, born in September 2020. 

Coleen’s pregnancy announcement first came in May of the same year, towards the tail-end of the three-month long lockdown. “It was particularly difficult to go for check-ups. We were so afraid of going to public places—especially to hospitals and clinics—because being pregnant made me more vulnerable,” she confesses. “I would definitely say it’s far from how I imagined my first pregnancy experience would be!”

As Amari nears his first birthday, all Coleen and Billy would like is to be able to take him around and introduce him to friends and family. But of course, this may not come for some time yet as the pandemic is still here. “The best thing to do right now is really to be safe and careful, and not to be complacent. The advantage [of this situation] is I do get to spend more time with my family without too many distractions!” she says.

The new mother, who made headlines for her decision to do a water birth, also credits the pandemic for her bohemian choice. “The lockdown gave me more reason to push for the home water birth I’ve always dreamt of doing! I don’t know if I would have been able to go through with it if we were not on lockdown!”

Coleen had a safe and joyous birth in the comfort of her own home. She was surrounded by her family and, of course, her husband. “The lockdown period has taught me that nothing much matters to me more than my family. God has been so good, and He has really carried us through this unpredictable time.”

Now, all the parents can think of is Amari. Despite the challenges and doubts they may have about the future, it’s obvious that both mother and father have so much love to give their son to whom they have these loving words to say: “We love you, Amari. You are God’s biggest blessing to us! Your smiles brighten all our days, and you give us so much hope and excitement! Thank you for being such a good boy, and for being all that you are.”

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