Walking away from an abusive relationship and becoming a single mum

By Hoe I Yune, Nov 01, 2019

Natalya knows how difficult it can be to leave an abusive relationship. It was something that she experienced herself.

It was an emotional rollercoaster and she still struggles to get by day-to-day, but she’s standing tall and wants other women in her shoes to know that they’re not alone. This is a continuation from part one, which can be found here

* * * *

For the next couple of years, I was in a turbulent on-and-off relationship with Jim. 

When things were good, they were really good and I’d catch myself thinking, “I could really marry and grow old with this man”. In 2016, things picked up and we moved into a new place together. This time, working in F&B, he shouldered the rent alongside me. 

One day, I was out with my best friend when she complained of a headache and vomited more than once. I joked saying that she might be pregnant and accompanied her to get a pregnancy kit. She was nervous about taking it and asked me to do it with her in an act of solidarity. Turned out the joke was on me because notwithstanding the fact that I had been eating well, feeling fine, and taking birth control, mine turned out to be positive. 

Surprised as I was, I was bubbling with excitement because deep down I thought, “Maybe this time I will really become a mum.” Jim too shared my joy. 

At the time, I was working at a French restaurant and it was incredibly strenuous. Determined not to miscarry this time round, I quit my job five months into my pregnancy. It was largely because I’ve been prone to having high blood pressure since young and had a complicated pregnancy.

Jim paid my share of the rent, whereas all my money went towards hospital visits, medication and food. Money was tight and it was hard but we tried to make it work by stretching every dollar, eating a lot of sandwiches. 

Over time, he grew disgruntled with this arrangement and that’s when problems between us resurfaced. He was bitter and resented that I stopped working. When I tried to explain why I felt so strongly about resting during this period, he shut me down and refused to have a proper conversation about it. On New Year’s Day, he came back around 3am to 4am one night after partying with his friends, which woke me up. 

I struggled to go back to sleep and saw the messages beeping on his phone. One in particular caught my eye. It read: “You called? I was already asleep”.

I copied the number and saved it on my phone, so that I could open the number on WhatsApp and see what she looked like. I was enraged to think that he was still hooking up with other women while I was carrying his child. I went into the bedroom to wake him up, demanding to know what the hell was going on. He didn’t even bother to act guilty and just said we had broken up. 

“What are you talking about? We only had a fight,” I asked confused. But he was adamant that we broke up. “I don’t want you anymore,” he said, and that hurt. 

The next day, we sat down to talk about it again and that’s when he said he didn’t want to pay rent anymore. He was going to go back to his wife and I had to move out. I was at a loss. I had no job and spent a huge chunk of my savings on him over the years. Where was I going to go? I didn’t have a good relationship with my mother and step-mum and was running low on savings. 

I spent so much money on him — $40,000 and not including rent, but I did it all because I loved him. Time and time again, I gave him chances because I really believed that he was a good person at heart. 

A big part of me refused to believe that this man — whom I loved for so long and put up on a pedestal — did not love me back. I refused to believe that I was a victim and that he was using me. But the reality is, he was. 

I moved in with an aunt, whom I was close to growing up. She took me in as a baby when my parents first got a divorce so I saw her as a parental figure. However, as a dedicated Muslim, she couldn’t reconcile her religious views with my out-of-wedlock pregnancy. She thought it was immoral how I got pregnant with a man who wasn’t my husband and made sure to make me feel “dirty” for it. 

When I moved in, there was no spare bed for me to sleep on and she said I had to sleep on the floor. 

One morning, seeing that she had left for work, I lay on her bed. It was just my luck that she returned home an hour later, saying that she didn’t feel too well and when she saw me lying on her bed, she kicked up a ruckus. I distinctly remember her saying, “What’s mine is mine and not yours.” I tried to explain that it was because my back really hurt but she was unsympathetic and said she didn’t care.

She was going through her own personal issues and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and bore the brunt of it. Two weeks later, I moved out of her home and was admitted into the hospital. The medical bills were expensive and I pawned off jewellery to cover the cost. My pregnancy hadn’t gotten any easier and the doctors advised me to be admitted into the hospital in case I had preeclampsia, a high blood pressure disorder during pregnancy. I’ve been diabetic all my life even though I do my best to abstain from sugar. My blood sugar would be so high even when I was sleeping, and I would wake up with all these IV drips.

My kidneys were failing and each week, the doctors would recommend that I terminate my pregnancy. 

My body was stressed out and they said it could get to the point when my body would shut down and I’d die before the baby was even born. It was because the baby girl inside of me was invading my body, and my body was rejecting the pregnancy. Every time I heard that, I’d ask for a sonogram to see my daughter. 

Every time I heard her heartbeat, I thought, “It’s so strong.” That kept me going and I said, “Unless you tell me that her heartbeat is weak, I’m still fighting. If she’s fighting, I want to fight to give birth to her too.” In a way, we were both fighting to be with each other.

I knew I couldn’t rely on Jim who showed up at the hospital ward drunk one day, so I made plans for what would happen in the event that I didn’t survive childbirth. It was difficult to think about, but I wanted her to be well taken care of no matter what. A medical social worker introduced me to an adoption agency and we discussed the pros and cons of adoption.

I also had to plan for what would happen if I survived. Where would we live? I wrote in to the SSO (Social Service Office) and HDB (Housing Development Board) to seek financial aid to rent a place with. I faced issues as I was unwed and the policy required more than one name on the papers. There was a lot of back-and-forth and paperwork to fill in but eventually, I managed to rent a place for $99 a month.

AWWA (Asian Women’s Welfare Association) also helped out and I received baby clothes from donors, as well as a month’s worth of diapers and two weeks’ worth of milk powder. 

A big part of what helped me get through the trying time was how badly I wanted a baby. I think it came down to willpower. Wanting something, you’ll do all that you can to see through it. When I was trying to conceive a child with my American ex-husband, I had a recurring dream of a little girl. I called her Cassie* in my dream and she’d turn and call me mummy. It sounds crazy and back then I didn’t know who this little girl was but now that I think about it, my daughter looks more and more like the girl in my dream. 

Once it became clear that I was not going to give up on keeping my baby, the doctor was really nice and supportive. We tried to hold off giving birth too soon because we wanted her to have the best chance at survival. 

I was scheduled for a C-section delivery but soon after I arrived at the operating theatre, my blood curdled and that meant my body was stressed and about to have a seizure.

What the doctors were afraid was going to happen with preeclampsia was happening right then just as I was going to give birth. 

I heard the doctors scrambling, calling for the senior consultant. They told me to remain calm but honestly it’s easier said than done and I was freaking out. I was given a dosage, and counted myself to sleep. 

The next thing I knew, I was being pushed out of the theatre. I heard the nurse call to see if anyone was here for Rahayu Natalya, but I told her, “Don’t bother because there’s no one here for me.” 

My baby girl was born premature at 33 weeks. I didn’t see her until three days later because she was warded in ICU. She was born with a cyst on the top right of her kidneys, a duplex kidney, two holes in her heart and a narrow vein pumping oxygen to her heart. The two holes in her heart have since closed up, although the narrow vein means she won’t be able to run marathons. A surgery to remove the cyst is slated to take place in the coming weeks.  

It was heartbreaking to see her tiny arms hooked up to the tubes but I was overwhelmed with joy and relief when I saw my baby for the first time. I named her Cassie. 

In spite of everything, I refrained from cutting off ties with Jim and put his name down on her birth certificate and gave her his last name. 

Although Jim never committed to marrying me, I begged for him to be on her birth certificate because I wanted her to know that she wasn’t the result of a one night stand but that her parents had an actual relationship. Whether it was a good or right relationship is a whole other matter. When we swore in at the registry, the lady, a Muslim like me, said she was surprised and happy to see that I was actually letting him be named because many women of my culture and race would not unless they were married.

I tried to make it work one last time after giving birth and we moved in together for a while, but we got into another bad fight and Jim beat me in front of Cassie. Only a year and a half years old, she had this look on her face that made me realise that I couldn’t let this go on, especially not in front of her. 

He called me a “dog” and said he won’t marry me even if he gets a divorce. I realised that I didn’t hope for marriage anymore. I was done with trying to make things work. It was like I suddenly woke up. He was always lying to me, even about things that he didn’t have to lie about:  Like if he had four days off from work, he’d tell me he only had two. 

Cassie is two-and-a-half now so she can recognise him in pictures, although he hasn’t been spending time with her lately. 

I’m still working as a waitress but it’s a struggle being a full-time mum without any help. She attends daycare from 7am to 7pm and I tried not to depend on Jim at first, but eventually realised that I needed financial support from him. In order to contain and slow down the cyst she was born with, she has been on antibiotics every night since she was born. She is due for surgery soon but she is so small and I’m afraid thinking about how surgeons will be cutting her open to take out the top half of her kidney. She also had a few health scares — E.coli, Influenza A, and a UTI. 

Managing money matters is incredibly stressful. I earn $11 an hour as a waitress, which is hardly enough to cover daycare, rent and everyday expenses. As a single mum, I’m already paying for daycare at a subsidised rate of $5 per month, but I had to write in to HDB and MSF (the Ministry of Social and Family Development) to bring down the cost of my rent from $99 to $27 a month. 

It’s a lonely journey. On one especially dark day last year, I felt that I couldn’t handle it anymore and just wanted to end both our lives. 

While Cassie was taking a nap, I carried her and stood by the window. I was prepared to jump, but then she woke up and called me, “Mama”. I couldn’t bear to do it.

Hearing how bad things got, a friend told me about Daughters of Tomorrow, a women’s charity group that provides practical support for women from low-income families in Singapore. Figuring that I had nothing to lose, I reached out. It has been a year since then and DOT is now a source of emotional support for me. 

There’s someone whom I can text when I’m feeling blue and I’ve also attended the Confidence Curriculum and makeup workshops, which I hope will prepare me to get a better job in the future. 

For financial support, I brought my case to Legal Aid where a representative advised me to go to mediation. Right now I get $1,300 from him each month and $500 for her birthday and Christmas, but he covers her medical fees, which can range from $26,000 to $30,000 if she goes for surgery. 

I know what it’s like to be an abusive relationship and hold on to that glimmer of hope because I’ve been through it. But I’m more firm about what I want now. 

As women, we’re immediately held responsible for our actions once we fall pregnant, but I don’t believe we need to shoulder the responsibility alone. It takes two to make a child and I think it should be up to both parties to raise one. 

In the beginning, I was so scared and lonely, and sometimes I would have panic attacks. I would start crying as I thought, “Can I do this? Can I really do this?” I still have those feelings, but you just deal with it. Even though I sometimes cry in the shower, I don’t break down in front of my daughter and frequently remind myself to do my best. 

I grew up in a family where money was no issue, but love always seemed to be something conditional. It’s different with Cassie who loves me no matter what. 

My love for her and her love for me is the truest love that I’ve ever felt. I want to give her a better life. 

Right now my immediate wish for Cassie is for her operation to go well and for her to be healthy. Eventually I want to be able to get a better job so that we can buy our own home, and I want to be able to bring her on holidays abroad so that she can see for herself that there is more out there. 

In time, I hope Cassie will be strong and able to tell right from wrong. When it comes to relationships, I want her to know that she deserves to love and be loved. I want her to stand tall and be somebody, with or without a man. 

Because of my high blood pressure and stage three kidney failure, I'm terrified at the thought of dying before Cassie can take care of herself, but I try to teach her to be independent in the little ways. If anything happens to her, Jim will be all that she has left and the last thing that I want is for her to be abused in that household. 

I’ve made mistakes in the past but Cassie is not one of them and I want to do right by her. 

*Names have been changed.

Photos provided by Rahayu Natalya. 


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