Young and pregnant? These Babes got you
*Some names have been changed or shortened to protect the privacy of individuals
In the light of the sun, a boy laughs delightedly as he dashes around the playground, while a young woman plays with him, her manner at once encouraging and protective.
Later, she wipes the sweat from his face, makes sure he has a drink, and teaches him how to play a game, as they rest in the shade.
The young woman, Sylvia, is only 23, and displays a maternal assurance that makes motherhood look (almost) easy.
But it hasn’t always been smooth-sailing. At 17, Sylvia’s unexpected pregnancy estranged her from her family, while her boyfriend, the father of her child, was in jail.
Struggling with the physical effects of pregnancy, like morning sickness and worrying about her future, Sylvia was certain she wanted to keep the child, but wondered how she would cope. “I don't remember a day I didn't cry. I cried all the time,” she says.
Eventually, the reality of her situation sunk in. “I told myself that I cannot shut myself off anymore. I needed to go out, to start working. I needed to start asking...people for help. How am I going to support myself? How am I going to support my child?”
Babes to the rescue
It was a neighbour who connected Sylvia to Babes Pregnancy Crisis Support, a non-profit in Singapore that helps anyone below the age of 21 in need of pregnancy support.
Pregnant teenagers who approach Babes are guided through their available options — parenthood, adoption or termination. Babes then helps strengthen each girl’s support network, such as by improving relations with their families, and encouraging them if they wish to return to school, or the workplace.
It is a process that usually spans a year, although the case of Sylvia and her caseworker, Linda, they remained in contact after.
After establishing that Sylvia wanted to keep her child, Linda helped her prepare for parenthood — from obtaining essentials like a donated cot, to ensuring Sylvia attended all her prenatal check-ups, to guiding Sylvia in researching what motherhood entailed.
When the hospital hesitated to discharge Sylvia’s baby into her care, Linda was present to assure them that Sylvia had the necessary support to care for her child.
Linda also tried to reconcile Sylvia with her family, in particular her father, so that she had family support, but was rebuffed. Sylvia, however, was undeterred, and continued to try over the years.
Says Sylvia: “Don't see Babes as an organisation. See them as your family. If it weren’t for [Linda], I wouldn't be able to discharge my son. I wouldn't have been so stable when my son was born. She donated so many things to me. She helped me out when I needed to talk, when I needed a listening ear.”
Eventually, Sylvia was able to complete her diploma studies while raising her son, and she also reconciled with her family.
Support, not shun
Babes assists about 100 to 120 pregnant teenagers each year, and has helped more than 600 girls since the programme was launched in 2005. It also runs a 24-hour helpline that assisted 362 callers in 2018.
Although the exact number of teenage pregnancies is unknown, there were 289 live births born to teenagers aged 19 and below in 2018, according to figures from the Singapore Registry of Births and Deaths.
Noting that Babes sees cases of very young pregnant girls — 12 years old in one case — Linda hopes to be able to reach out to students earlier to raise awareness about teenage pregnancy. While tertiary institutions are receptive to their outreach, primary and secondary schools are less so.
“We want to provide support for girls who meet with unplanned pregnancy for various reasons. We want society to know that it's important to provide support.
We are not saying it's okay to start having sexual relationships at a young age, but we want people to understand that this issue is real and it's happening in Singapore. And if we don't do something about it, then who will? We cannot ostracise this group,” says Linda.
As Sylvia puts it, “Bad or good, [Linda] didn’t judge. That's all someone needs, right? To throw out your feelings to someone who won’t judge you at the end of the day.”
LET’S TALK ABOUT IT:
Why is teen pregnancy still a taboo subject, and how can we reduce the stigma against it? Share your views here.
In an earlier version of this story, we stated that each case can span years. Babes has clarified that cases are closed within a year. Babes also clarified that it does not purchase items for the beneficiaries, but will help source for in-kind donations. The story has been updated.
Be it counselling, prenatal care or shelter, here are other organisations in the region that offer support to girls and women in a pregnancy crisis.
What they do: A non-profit that provides contraception, counselling, maternal healthcare for women and girls with unexpected pregnancies. It also helps with those looking for foster or adoption services, as well as life skills training to help mothers develop sustainable livelihoods.
Where: Phnom Penh
Indonesian Planned Parenthood Association (PKBI)
What they do: Founded in 1957, PKBI is an NGO advocating for sexual and reproductive rights acts for all genders, especially among low-income groups. It also has a special youth division operating youth centres across Indonesia, providing reproductive health and counselling services for those in a pregnancy crisis.
Where: PKBI has youth centres in various provinces, details of which can be seen here.
What they do: This Malaysian non-profit supports girls and young women with unplanned pregnancies, by providing counselling, adoption services, baby hatches and shelter referrals. It also works to reintegrate children in institutions with their families.
Where: Its main office is in Petaling Jaya, while it also operates 11 baby hatches around Malaysia, eight of which are run with KPJ hospitals. See full list here.
Kaisahang Buhay Foundation
What they do: This faith-based non-profit provides shelter and services to pregnant women and girls in crisis situations, including counselling, pre and post-natal care, as well as foster and adoption services.
Where: Quezon City