Most Filipinos find the thought of moving to another country exciting. And to move for love? Straight out of a storybook!
Commission on Filipinos Overseas data shows that from 1988 to 2018, around 6,660 Filipinos migrated to the UK because they had married foreigners.
Catherine Wigley and Viva O’Flynn are among those who have experienced the thrills and challenges of building a new life on foreign soil.
The former Catherine Mosquera was 28 in 2010 when she met her future husband John Francis Wigley.
He was a 23-year-old British missionary serving for a year in Iloilo in the Philippines’ Western Visayas region.
Cat was a volunteer teacher at the Emmanuel Foundation for Children with Special Needs.
They started hanging out with other friends. After three months, while they were on a pizza date, John took out a ring and proposed. Three months later they were married. They arrived in England in March 2011.
Viva Andrada met her John in 2014 when she was attending cooking classes in London.
They bonded not only over a love for food but many other interests. They went out on several dates until Viva had to go back to Manila.
Over the course of eight months, John thrice flew to Manila to visit Viva and meet her family before proposing marriage at the Manila Ocean Park.
After a big wedding in January 2016, the couple moved to England within a week.
Migrant mom unmoored
Cat initially started working as a volunteer teacher at a special needs school. The couple was so busy working that they saw each other only on weekends.
Within three months, she got pregnant. It was a delicate pregnancy so she quit her job.
Cat had no one to turn to for advice on having a baby. She was not yet close to any of her husband’s siblings–none of whom had children. Her mother was in the Philippines.
“My son was crying because there was barely any breastmilk and I would cry, too. I had sleepless nights,” she told Rappler in February 2023.
Despite poring over parenting books, she was at a loss.
Then, only ten months later, she gave birth to a daughter.
Cat was subsequently diagnosed with borderline postnatal depression.
“I did not want to eat nor take a bath; I was always tired,” she recalled.
John was really supportive. He took on a lot of the domestic chores while pursuing his career in social work.
“I was full of anxiety. Part of the reason I had zero self-esteem and self-confidence was because I wasn’t sure if I could resume my career in the UK. My husband realized that I had changed from the Cathy that he knew, and that I needed help,” said Cat.
The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) provides services for mothers and their growing babies. Among these are midwives and health visitors to monitor their growth and development.
The NHS referred Cat to a home-start volunteer.
“She took us weekly to playgroups, where parents and their children could bond with each other.”
There, out with other parents, Cat felt rejuvenated. She developed a close bond with the playgroup leader, a pastor’s wife.
The Wigleys soon joined their church.
From isolation to networking
“It’s not easy starting out in a different country,” Viva confessed in a February 2023 interview. “I’ve lived in the Philippines for most of my life. It was an emotional experience, saying goodbye to the people I love most.”
When Viva moved, she didn’t know anyone except her husband in their Gloucestershire community. That increased the homesickness.
She also had to get used to sharing chores only with John.
“When my husband would be out working and I would be alone at home cleaning up, I would end up crying because I missed my family.”
She spent a lot of time online, talking with her mom and sister.
John helped in those first difficult months by joining Viva as she explored her new country.
“He helped me with the transition,” she said.
Viva joined community events and eventually met more people.
Viva also found an outlet for her creativity and a way to connect with others through her Gloucestershire business, Love Viva Cakes and Crafts.
It helped that Viva has always combined her artistic and entrepreneurial flair. She and her sister Happy started F*ART Fashion Art, a shop displaying wearable works of art in Quezon City Philippines.
Her customers for the UK cakes and crafts business found out about her creations on social media and that market has grown due to word-of-mouth.
Viva also expanded her network by actively participating in organizations, including Voices Gloucester, Filipino Association of Gloucestershire and Filipino Women’s Association UK.
Since moving to the UK, she has been awarded Creative Business of the Year 2019 and International Women’s Day Top 5 Business Women in the UK 2020 by the Women’s Business Club.
Viva’s piece “Who Knew” was among the top winners of the World Humanitarian Drive’s COVID Times Poetry Competition.
Reach out for help
Like Cat, many mothers – not just Filipinos – experience isolation.
“But homesickness,” she stressed, “is an immigrant problem.”
To help ease both problems, Cat started in March 2021 the Facebook Filipino Mothers UK group, which now has 4,800 members.
As the online community grew organically, it eventually crossed over to on-ground events.
There are now several administrators and they have events like book clubs, prayer time, a podcast, and market day.
The community gave Filipino women a sense of belonging in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown.
Cat and John now have 4 children, aged 11, 10, 6, and 2.
She eventually earned her UK equivalency certificate and is a qualified primary school teacher.
Cat took a break to care for their youngest, who was born during the lockdown.
“Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it is one step toward regaining your sense of self,” is her message to Filipino women migrants in the UK.
“Filipinos may be shy to ask for help, to take advantage of available services, like talking therapy. But if you don’t, you deprive your child of the opportunity to get to know the real you.”
Both Cat’s and Viva’s husbands love the Philippines, and so, plan to come back to retire.
For now, they have found a thriving community life and are living out their own stories in the UK.
Are you looking for someone to talk to? Get in touch with these organizations!
To meet fellow Filipinas:
Filipino Women’s Association-UK
If you are pregnant or have a baby:
Mari-An Santos is a fellow of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.
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