Toni Gonzaga is a huge star in her native Philippines. The 34-year-old is a household name there, having won fame for her talents as an actress, singer and television presenter. Indeed, she is one of the regular hosts of the reality TV show The Voice Teens Philippines. But the hard-working celebrity is also a mother, having given birth to her first child in September 2016. But it has not exactly been a harmonious experience for the singing mom. And Gonzaga has been refreshingly open about the mental discord in her life which followed the arrival of her beloved son.
Born Celestine Cruz Gonzaga in January 1984, Gonzaga began her career as a teenager when she entered the 1997 Metropop Star Search competition. She did not emerge victorious from the Filipino TV talent show but, nevertheless, it still got her name out there. Four years on from her on-screen debut, Gonzaga’s profile received a boost when she advertised the soft drink Sprite alongside fellow Filipino star Piolo Pascual in 2001. The following year, the Taytay, Rizal, resident musically sealed the deal with the release of her first long player.
Following the sales success of her self-titled debut album, Gonzaga’s career really took off in the Philippines. Also in 2002, she became the small-screen co-host of the Filipino entertainment show Eat Bulaga, and won a role in the primetime drama serial Habang Kapiling Ka. In fact, throughout the first decade of the 21st century, Gonzaga was incredibly busy, creating movies and albums, and performing in concerts and on TV.
And all that hard work paid off for the pixie-like star and made her a sensation in Southeast Asia. In 2010, Gonzaga was dubbed Box Office Queen by SM Cinema, a division of the biggest company on the Philippine Stock Exchange. The following year, she won the Female Concert Performer Award at the Filipino Box Office Entertainment Awards. And in 2012 her film This Guy’s In Love With You, Mare! became one of the country’s biggest blockbusters ever.
At the top of her game, in February 2015, Gonzaga announced that she planned to marry her long-term Filipino boyfriend, film director Paul Soriano. Indeed, her then 34-year-old husband-to-be conveniently popped up on his fiancée’s TV chat show, The Buzz, to talk about the romantic proposal he had given his host. “She’s been such a great part of my life, the best blessing I’ve ever received,” Soriano gushed. And apparently he had gone down on one knee the month before, on the day after Gonzaga’s 31st birthday.
Subsequently, the famous couple got married four months later. The ceremony took place at the United Methodist Church in Gonzaga’s hometown of Taytay in June 2015. The bride wore a Vera Wang wedding gown, and the groom a Hugo Boss suit. Multiple celebrities were on the guest list, including Filipino boxing legend Manny Pacquiao and the Philippine’s popular singer-songwriter Lea Salonga.
One month on from the marriage, Gonzaga revealed to the Philippine Entertainment Portal website that she had remained a virgin until her wedding night. Not only that, but the committed Christian took comfort from that fact. “I take pride in myself that Paul is the only man in my life,” the star said. But when the interviewer quizzed the couple over the pitter-patter of tiny feet, Gonzaga and Soriana’s answers remained cryptic.
Nevertheless, just one year later, an announcement was made that a baby was indeed on the way. Gonzaga broke the news in April 2016, appearing on the Filipino TV variety show ASAP. “God finally opened my womb and I’m expecting my first child,” the born-again star declared.
On September 30 that year, Gonzaga gave birth to Severiano Elliot Gonzaga Soriano – known as Seve for short. Proud pop Paul Soriano posted the news on his Instagram feed, letting Gonzaga’s fans know that both she and the seven-pound-something baby boy were healthy. “Thank you for all your prayers and support! God bless,” he wrote. Happy fans piled in to post congratulatory messages in the comments below the update. But little did they know that Gonzaga would soon need all the support and prayers she could get.
Sadly, although the new mom was perfectly fine physically, she fell victim to an all-too-common condition following giving birth. Gonzaga began to suffer the symptoms of postpartum depression – or PPD – a mood disorder characterized by sadness, fatigue, mood swings and anxiety. Consequently, sufferers experience insufficient sleep and a loss of appetite which feeds back into their other problems. Experts have estimated that some 15 percent of new mothers experience postpartum depression.
But, despite the problem being a fairly far-reaching one, there is still a sense of shame around PPD. As is the case with many mental health disorders, victims often feel too mortified to seek help. The conviction that a mother should naturally bond with a baby instantly can lead to enormous emotional pain if that ends up not being the case.
Unfortunately, Gonzaga herself had bought into the stigma surrounding postpartum depression, and before Seve came along the star did not believe the illness was a serious problem. “I used to think that moms who went through depression were just exaggerating,” Gonzaga told the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper during filming for The Voice Teens Philippines in March 2017. She then admitted, “I was wrong.”
Gonzaga continued, “I experienced self-pity. It was like I carried someone in me for nine months, then he was gone all of a sudden. I felt incomplete.” Consequently, the emotionally isolated new mom found herself crying alone all the time. And although Gonzaga’s experience with PPD only lasted a few months, nonetheless she felt it had a huge impact on both her and the newborn.
Indeed, the star informed the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “Seve would cry when he’d get separated from me.” She went on to explain, “It was difficult, especially when I was already too tired of breastfeeding and wanted to rest. I’d cry with him. I once told him that he was making a dramatic actress out of me.” Unfortunately, these unwelcome emotions are all very common feelings for a mother with postpartum depression to experience.
Thankfully, six or so months on from the birth, Gonzaga began to emerge from her dark place and began to feel mentally more robust once more. But she insisted to the Philippine Daily Inquirer that there was no way she could have handled the traumatic episode without support. Her advice to mothers who had the same symptoms was, “Make sure you always have someone with you whom you can talk to – be it your mom or sister.” Perhaps tellingly, Gonzaga is very close to her own sister, 30-year-old Alex, who is also a celebrated singer and TV host.
However, relative comfort was not necessarily the only support Gonzaga felt sufferers should seek. “See to it that you and your child are surrounded by people. They will cheer you up,” the star continued. “I got through PPD quickly because people took notice and warned me about it.” Sometimes, something as simple as hearing a kind, concerned voice can make all the difference. Nonetheless, counseling therapies and anti-depressant medication are recommended as some of the most effective treatments for more serious forms of postpartum depression.
Gonzaga concluded her Philippine Daily Inquirer interview by saying that being a parent “is the most challenging role I’ve ever played in life, but it’s also the most fulfilling.” And once the star had successfully overcome her PPD, she evidently threw herself fully into the project of motherhood. Indeed the star’s Instagram, which is followed by no fewer than 4.5 million people, is testament to her recovery. Gonzaga’s feed is absolutely festooned with happy pictures of a smiling Seve.
But perhaps the infant is just amused by his mom’s appearance. Gonzaga confessed to having gained “mommy hair” on an edition of ASAP in March 2018. Personal style notwithstanding, the star says that Seve coming along has brought her whole family closer together. And she feels that he has helped strengthen her bond with her baby sister even more. It seems Alex agrees, telling the Filipino lifestyle website Metro.style in June 2018 that their relationship had “leveled up.”
However, Gonzaga is by no means the only celebrity to speak up about the misery and dangers of postpartum depression. Chrissy Teigen, Bryce Dallas Howard, Adele and Lena Headey are just some of the other high-profile female performers who have chimed in. And it would appear that these stars’ PPD stories follow similar patterns – crushing depression and fear that was only alleviated when they began to talk about it and seek professional help.
Postpartum depression is a difficult and complex mental illness to endure and overcome – especially dealing with a newborn baby. Even in these days of advanced medical techniques, the exact causes of PPD remain unknown. But one thing is very clear – the disorder ought to be talked about much more. With the vexed subject open to discussion, the stigma and misunderstandings surrounding it will start to lessen. Thankfully, celebrities such as Toni Gonzaga are leading the way…