Model & TV Personality, Phoemela Baranda, opens up about her struggles as a young parent, mending relationships, and an announcement that’s about to change her life
The showbiz world was abuzz when Phoemela Baranda introduced her 15 year old daughter to the public back in 2013. Formerly posed to be sisters, the young teen named Kim, along with her mother, were interviewed on national television. The country watched as Phoem tearfully unloaded a turbulent secret she had been keeping for years, as her daughter shyly comforted her. Anything but simple, there were hard decisions that had to be made that set the course for this top model’s unconventional journey.
A concealed pregnancy
At the end of the summer in 1998, Phoemela and her mother traveled to the US, where her mom had planned for her to give birth. At the height of her career, she found herself pregnant, and cornered by a morality clause in her contract. As the breadwinner of her family, they decided to conceal her pregnancy.
“I was 18 years old, and back then, it wasn’t as accepted. So, my mom helped me keep it on the down low to protect my career as a model. Personally, I wasn’t mentally ready. But I looked at it in a positive way— like, my life is going to be different. But I’ve always wanted to be a model. So, I did it to protect myself and protect my career.”
Living the high life with skeletons in her closet
The trip was written off as a vacation, and they landed back in Manila with a baby girl. With Kim’s father completely out of the picture, she was raised as Phoem’s sister. It was a decision all parties agreed upon to keep their relations under wraps. It would be nearly 20 years until Kim would find out who her real father was.
Soon after giving birth, Phoemela diligently focused on her profession and thrived as an entertainment icon, which she admits took priority over time spent raising her daughter. She was only 20, after all, and left the parenting to be done by her own mother— like so many other young, single parents. The lack of social media gave her the freedom to come and go as she pleased, and kept her private life completely in the dark.
When life changes…
Her role as a celebrity was played to perfection. She worked long hours, became a fixture in the nightlife scene, and spent a considerable amount of time traveling— all while motherhood took a backseat. There was a growing rift in her relationship with her daughter, and with the unexpected passing of her mom in 2009, it became a serious affliction she had to own up to. Time flew so quickly, and Kim was already eleven years old.
She counts her blessings and never her troubles
Looking back on her life now, she is humbled and grateful. Her relationship with Kim has strengthened over the years, and while they still have things to work through, her maternal side shines when she says, “My daughter is a very smart kid. Her generation is very woke, and I believe she is the better version of me. 21 years ago, thinking that having a baby would be a hindrance, she turned out to be this incredible blessing. Now, 21 years later… I am ready to give birth to another blessing.”
Expecting her second child at the age of 41, with her partner, Jason Choachuy, is indeed nothing short of a blessing. “We were friends first. We’re in a romantic relationship now, but we talk to each other like we’re just barkada. We joked around about making a baby! It would be perfect because there aren’t any events, no gimmik, walang Palace, but we were really having fun. I didn’t listen to my doctor when he said I was very fertile,” Phoem quips with a hearty laugh.
Her own modern family
What started out as a joke turned into a playful suggestion of taking a pregnancy test on the first day of her missed period. She proudly mentions that he’s way more excited than she is, and with a baby on the way, she can’t help but reflect on her journey as a mother. An age gap spanning over two decades between her children, Phoem pokes fun at the thought of becoming her own version of Modern Family.
When asked how Kim feels about being an older sister, Phoem says she is ecstatic, but grumbles about being teased as the one who will take care of the baby. Their growing modern family is expanding in more ways than one with Kim meeting her father for the first time just last year, but Phoemela chooses to stay out of their business. She understands that her eldest is already an adult herself, capable of making her own decisions.
It’s time the world embraces the future of modern parenting
To think all this transpired because of a morality issue is as complicated as it is deplorable. Fearing persecution at such a young age, during a time that should be cherished, is a difficult burden to bear for anybody. The stigma surrounding teenage moms or those who choose to have children out of wedlock is unwarranted and, to be honest, severely outdated at best.
The ways of the world are changing and there has been some progress made over the years. Motherhood is evolving, and if women set out to chase their dreams, having children should not be seen as a limitation. A pivotal moment in Phoemela Baranda’s life, decided by the future her mother had envisioned for her, albeit with consequences in tow— it was the path she confidently chose.
“If I could do it all over again, I would have done the same. I feel like women are more independent now, and whatever they choose to be is widely accepted. At that time, religion and society played a really big factor on what was ‘immoral’. I was scared of being judged and losing job opportunities. It’s totally different. I feel more empowered now.”
Second chances are proof that we can be better even after we fall
Owning every bit of motherhood this time around, the soon-to-be mother of two is absolutely radiant. The glow of pregnancy suits her, and she embraces the experience in all the ways she couldn’t so many years ago. “I feel like a first-time mom! I feel as though I’m enjoying this pregnancy so much more now. I feel healthier. My first pregnancy, I wasn’t really emotionally ready, and there were so many things to worry about. I just didn’t really know what to do.”
By now, Phoemela Baranda’s perspective on parenting and family life has completely shifted. She commends this modern generation in being more open minded and accepting, and hesitantly says she considers them luckier, in a way. But with every family comes its own challenges, and nobody understands that more than she does.
“I think every household has its different norms. Every family is somewhat dysfunctional. So for me, I can’t imagine putting my daughter and myself in a nuclear family set up. I think as long as there’s love and there’s support, that’s what is important. I feel empowered that I was able to raise her on my own, which was my decision. I made sure to establish a relationship between her and Jason. And then, now that she’s old enough, she also feels complete knowing her father.”
Any parent would agree that we only want what’s best for our children. We all make different decisions based on personal circumstances, and nobody has the right to judge others for how they choose to live their lives. Parenting is hard enough as it is without the criticism of others. Phoemela Baranda has lived through it, and now, given a second chance at doing motherhood on her own terms, she has fully embraced her journey. “At this stage, I feel like I get to enjoy it more. I feel completely ready,” she says with a wide smile, looking forward to the next chapter of a very colorful life.
Photography: Miguel Abesamis (for Phoemela’s solos)
Makeup: Roge Bernaldez
Hair: Lorenzo Autor