Editors Note: The story is lifted from the book “Migrants’ Stories, Migrants’ Voices 2 published by the Philippine Migrants Rights Watch (PMRW) with the support from Cordaid, an international development organization based in the Netherlands. The book contains a collection of 13 stories about the many faces of migration and details how migrants and their families cope with the separation. abs-cbnNEWS.com obtained a permission from the PMRW to publish the stories online.
I am a nurse, a wife to a doting husband, and a mother to four adorable children. But in spite of these varied roles, my family knows very well where my priorities lie.
I first worked as a company nurse at the Uniwide Sales Warehouse Club in Marikina right after passing the Nursing board exam in 1993. I later transferred to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) hospital in Alabang in 1996. That same year I married my boyfriend for two years, Claro, who is also a nurse.
I was still a nurse at RITM when my two boys were born. Worried about our kids’ future, however, my husband decided to try his luck abroad. In 2001, he applied for a nursing job in London. Many of our batchmates and colleagues have long left for distant shores and were doing fine in their jobs while we in the Philippines confronted the perennial lack of career advancement and making ends meet with our meager salaries. While we have invested in some properties in Laguna and in an aquarium supplies shop, we felt it was necessary to seek greener pastures overseas to ensure a bright future for our growing family.
It took my husband only two months to complete the entire application process. Back then no placement fee was collected from UK-bound nurses and we only had to pay P3,000 for his work visa. He left for London in 2001 and began working as a regular nurse after a 5-month adaptation/mentoring period under a senior nurse.
Taking care of two toddlers became a challenge for a full time nurse and a “full time” mom. I literally became a single parent in an instant and it was not easy.
It helped that my hospital was mom-friendly. They did not mind if I showed up for work with my kids tagged along. The hospital has a daycare room exclusively allotted for hospital personnel where they can breastfeed their children.
I was losing weight. Claro was urging me to quit work but knowing he was not yet getting his full salary I told him quitting would not be practical. I stayed with the hospital and told my husband not to remit anything yet so he can save some money.
I know we will one day join him and we will need that money when that happens because it would take a while for me to land a job.
There was even a time when I went home from work and found my son Ethan vomiting and dehydrated. I never thought twice about rushing him to the hospital even though it was midnight and the streets were flooded because of a storm. A mother would always be a mother come rain or high water. It helped that the hospital where I used to work was just a few blocks away from home. Poor Ethan was confined in the hospital for three days because of food poisoning. Our house helper, according to the doctor, might have accidentally fed him stale baby food.
Life is tough without a man in the house. Even at night I could not help but stay half awake worrying about the thieves that may be lurking outside our apartment. We did actually lose our washing machine to thieves just like that. Who knows what they will take away next.
Our house helper then only confined herself to watching over my children and washing the clothes. The rest was left for me to do. I could not do anything because at that time it was very difficult to find someone more trustworthy and reliable. Luckily a month before we left for London I was able to persuade my brother to live with us. He had been a big help because his presence gave me peace of mind.
Technology helped shorten the distance for me and my husband. One of my husband’s first major purchases in London—partly through a loan from his elders sister—was a computer that cost him £500. Since we had a computer at home we regularly wrote each other emails. The internet was very effective, efficient and convenient; not to mention it was much cheaper than phone calls. Eventually, my husband became used to his regular work shift and even had tome to render extra work. This meant additional income, especially on weekends and holidays where the daily rate was paid higher. He was soon able to pay his loans after a few months.
It also helped that I have a very thoughtful husband. In fact, it helped a lot in easing the burden of raising children and made me realize that the sacrifice was well worth it. I remember vividly, for instance, how he surprised me with a bouquet of tulips on our first wedding anniversary. Claro asked his sister to buy me flowers and she made sure I would get them by delivering them herself. It was such a romantic, albeit unexpected surprise.
After seven months Claro went home for a vacation. Afterwards, he immediately had our application for family reunification processed and started looking for a nursing-related work for me. In 2002, he took another vacation and went back to the UK with me and our two kids. Finally, we were going to be together as a family.
We easily adjusted to this new chapter of our lives in London. However, I could not work for a year because there was no one else to take care of our two boys. The youngest could not go to school yet and we could not afford paying for a nanny.
Life was routine and in time it became depressing. I would up at five I the morning to prepare Claro’s breakfast and lunch (baon). Afterwards, I would take my eldest child, Lance, to school with Ethan in tow. Children stay in school for only six hours so I would be back to fetch him in a short while, still with Ethan in tow. It would be just in time to cook dinner by the time we get home. The only consolation was that I was able to make friends with other parents in school.
We eventually found a Jamaican nanny for the kids so I was finally able to take a nursing job. We typically paid her for just an hour or two. My husband and I took on shifting schedules so that if he is on duty at night I would be home to take care of the kids. Since one would be out for work by the time the other gets back home, we would miss each other a lot. Sometimes it took weeks before we caught glimpse of each other.
As a nurse in London, I also underwent the “adaptation” period. It was difficult in the beginning because you have to work with nurses of various nationalities. Of course, they also vary in terms of social behavior and there were some who tend to be unsociable or quarrelsome. Most Indians and Polish either do not understand or do not speak English. For a Filipino who has gotten used to American English, on the other hand, British and Scottish accents were issues to be dealt with. Discrimination also became inevitable sometimes. Perhaps I was only fortunate because my adaptation mentor was “Pinoy” just like me and she did not give me a hard time accomplishing my competency book.
I was able to adjust after a few months. Currently, Filipinos stand out in my department not just because of sheer number. Naturally, it feels different working with your countrymen or “kababayan.” Work becomes lighter and there is a certain sense of familiarity. One can freely express views, barter jokes, share food, and confide problems. We eat lunch as if we are holding a banquet (fiesta) and enjoy our work so much that we rarely notice the passing of time. Even nurses from other countries notice the difference. They say Filipinos are exceptionally intelligent and hardworking.
But motherhood posed another challenge in 2003. I got pregnant—not with one—but with twins. We were hoping for an easy pregnancy since medical expenses are generally covered by health insurance. The biggest worry, however, was how to cope with two new members of our family considering the boys are still young and both I and Claro are working full time.
Fortunately, we were able to secure a 6-month visa for my mother who helped me take care of my twins in the first few months. But the issue of how to take care of the kids came up once more when she had to leave for the Philippines after her visa’s expiration. I even asked my brother to apply for a two-year work visa to be our “domestic helper” but this was denied. We wrote an appeal explaining to the immigration agency our situation. We even brought our kids with us to make our point. We told them that all we wanted was to be able to make sure that our kids are well taken cared of during their infancy while we practice our profession. Fortune smiled on us this time and my brother was granted a renewable work visa.
Lance is now nine years old. Ethan just turned seven. The twins, both three years old, are growing up fast. Time flies, indeed, so my husband and I try our best to spend our time and resources wisely. We invested in a few properties, including a tricycle supplies store and a junk shop in our hometown in the Philippines. We also visit the country every other year and occasionally go traveling as a family. To make sure they get the best education, we decided to send the kids to private schools in London. We also managed to save a modest portion of our income in regular savings accounts, time deposits and trust funds.
Sometimes, I cannot help but be overwhelmed by how far we have gone and how much we are enjoying the journey as a couple and as a family. I realized the road was not always bumpy. And as long as you keep your sights on your destination, no way will you ever get lost.