EXCLUSIVE: Metro in Love With Katarina Rodriguez and Niño Barbers
Soon-to-be parents Katarina Rodriguez and Niño Barbers share how they met, how their love story began and what their journey is like now as they prepare for parenthood
There is a beautiful life ahead beyond the runway and pageant crown. Miss World Philippines 2018, Miss Intercontinental 2017 1st runner-up and Asia’s Next Top Model Season 2 3rd placer Katarina Rodriguez wears a new sash with a new title: mother.
This Metro.Style cover star and her partner Niño Barbers, businessman and co-owner of Bayud Boutique Resort in Siargao, made a funny reveal on her YouTube channel about this new season in their lives. In the video, the model-turned-beauty queen and actress excitedly made a special announcement. The video started with Katarina taking pregnancy tests, anxiously waiting for the results. When it was time for the reveal, Katarina surprised Niño. She told him she’s pregnant, with the camera zooming out to show off her huge baby bump. He replied in jest, “Of course, you’re pregnant!”
The couple received so much love, well wishes and congratulatory messages from friends and celebrities such as Bianca Elizalde, Camille Co, Maureen Wroblewitz, Liza Soberano, among others. It’s been a journey for the pair who fell in love amid the backdrop of sun, sea, sand and surfing.
The ‘last minute’ love story
Sometimes it’s the seemingly trivial decisions we make that change our lives.
In 2018, Katarina returned to the Philippines from a month-long stay in New York City, after doing a reality TV show project and right before competing for Miss World Philippines. She was then invited by her friends to spend time at the beach in Siargao for a break. Katarina welcomed the idea of going to the beach after spending a lengthy time in the city.
“I decided to go and it was an ‘I packed an hour before the flight’ last-minute thing,” she tells Metro.Style. Who knew that this last-minute packing would lead her to meeting Niño?
“We met in July 2018 and it was in his resort, Bayud Boutique Resort, in Siargao. It was our mutual friend Danica who introduced us. He kind of asked Danica to invite me to Bayud for lunch but at the time, I didn’t know he asked,” Katarina begins. According to her, Niño only admitted the lunch arrangement to her recently during her pregnancy. “At the time, we were both single and I didn’t know that it was kind of a setup. I had no idea. That was my very first time in Siargao,” she adds.
Asked about their first impressions of each other, the two played coy. “When I asked Danica na, ‘Uy, ano invite Kat here for lunch,’ I just want to get to know her first. I thought kasi at first she had a boyfriend. Wala lang. Parang we just jammed there, we had lunch and after that, that night we hung out also. We went to different places. Everything was okay, everything was smooth naman. I was trying to get to know her pa lang,” Niño recalls, saying he knew she’s a beauty queen but he doesn’t know enough since he wasn’t really updated with social media and the news.
Katarina has a much more vivid perspective of their first meeting. “For me naman, it was really funny because Niño is nine years older than me and I had never dated anyone older. Whenever I would meet anyone older, be it older female or male, I look at them as ate or kuya, or miss or mister, or tito or tita. When I met him, I didn’t know what to call him. I didn’t know if I should call him tito or kuya,” she laughs. On top of that, Katarina also thought Niño was married and a dad already. She has this tendency to form a background story about people she just met.
“I thought he was a dad already of maybe like three kids. Hinahanap ko pa iyong asawa n’ya. I was thinking for sure sobrang maganda iyong asawa n’ya!” says Katrina of her curiosity. She continued to observe especially when another group of mutual friends came over for lunch, and she was hoping to get more information about Niño. She was also waiting for him to tell a story about his “supposed” family and on how her same-age friends would address the handsome owner of the resort.
“But they all just call him Niño,” she narrates. “He was sitting sa kabisera seat of the table, we talked to him, like maybe three or four hours and he was just wearing shades the entire time. So, I was like ‘What does this guy’s eyes look like?’”
“She was saying ‘po, opo’–ang weird ah. I was wearing my shades the whole time. I was just staring at her,” Niño interjects, laughing and teasing her. Despite hanging out for a month, the two didn’t pursue the romance. Katarina was focused on competing for Miss World Philippines and she also thought Niño was still getting to know her and therefore not ready for anything serious.
“Ang kailangan ko ng time na ’yan was someone who was not going to play mind games or anything. You know, just someone who will support me through the journey. We went a couple of months not talking. He’d reach out to me and s’yempre I would reply but it was something like I would keep him at a distance muna. I’ll just push him to the side first,” she explains.
It was at a challenging time when she welcomed him back into her life. “And then after I competed in Miss World in China, I went through a crazy journey then. Things didn’t go as planned but that’s life, right? He was the one who was there for me. He was the one who really offered to pick me up from the airport, to kind of get my mind off of what I went through,” she continues.
Katarina appreciated Niño’s efforts to cheer her up and help her get past that experience. “Honestly speaking, it was so nice how he helped me get out of that. I don’t think he knew or understood what I went through because we never really talked about it but I think I just loved the way he helped me forget about all of that. That happened around early 2019. So I went to Siargao. Since then, I would go back and forth once a month. Him also—back and forth to Manila until the pandemic happened and we decided to stay in Siargao,” she says.
The two may share common love and passion for the beach and surfing, but the pandemic and living together also taught them how different they are from each other. “I’m very outgoing and he’s more chill. I don’t know. It’s so funny. Like, I thought about it a lot when I’ve been pregnant. We don’t have so much in common but the way we work, works well. Right? Our dynamic is so good. I respect how he is and what he likes. He respects me as well. And then he’s very supportive of me. I think I’m supportive of you, right?” Katarina asks.
He agrees. “Yeah. I give her her own time to do her own things tapos she respects my own time with my work. Even during the pandemic, it was very busy. We will see each other na lang in the afternoon,” Niño says.
“I think it works though because when you live with someone and with them 24/7, if you don’t have your own thing, you’re probably going to get tired of them so we just let each other do our own thing. We actually didn’t fight during the pandemic at all,” she offers.
Niño was equally amazed with the experience too, saying, “When friends ask us if we fight, no, we never fought the whole pandemic. It was just like we were just chilling. Wala talaga. No fights at all. Because you know, I’m very understanding that’s why we don’t fight (laughs).”
Last year’s Christmas Day was life-changing for the couple. Katarina had been feeling some changes in her body, highlighted by the loss of her sense of taste. She feared it was COVID-19 at first but she also experienced some bodily changes and a missed period that ruled out her initial fear. She felt right away that she’s pregnant.
She then asked Niño to buy pregnancy test kits. Since they’ve been living in Siargao, they only have access to the cheaper P35 pregnancy tests. “So I took a couple of those and ang bilis, like as soon as you drop the pee in the tester, it’s going to show right away, like, two lines. I was like, ‘Tama ba ’to?’ Kasi P35 lang so I was thinking maybe it was wrong. But then I told him and he was like, ‘Really?’ He thought I was joking,” she shares.
Niño was equally nervous and incredulous.
“I couldn’t believe it. When she told me and approached me, ‘Hey, Niño, parang I’m pregnant.’ Sabi ko, ‘No, you’re not.’ I called my brother right away because he’s in Manila. Sabi ko, ‘Bro, can you bring, like, 10 pregnancy tests here in Siargao?’ Then my brother goes ‘Why 10?’ I just want to make sure, just bring 10 pregnancy tests. When he got home, she took all the pregnancy tests.”
All the tests showed it’s positive.
It took a while before the fact of Katarina’s pregnancy sunk in. After all, it was the holiday season and they were busy with VIP visits and guests at the resort. “But for me, you know, it was cool to have that few days to myself to think about it. I couldn’t believe it too because he couldn’t believe it. I thought I probably am not but my body is telling me something different. As soon as he understood that I was pregnant, he started planning na the baptism, the ninongs and ninangs…” she smiles.
“I got so excited! Na-fast forward,” he laughingly admits.
The recent pregnancy announcement, even when it’s near her full term, was something Katarina thought deeply about because he knows Niño is a private person. Nevertheless, Niño left the decisions to her. “When it comes to that, Kat plans everything. I have no personality with all the [planning], I just follow her,” he humbly says.
She admits considering his thoughts first before announcing her pregnancy on social media. “Because he’s quite a private person. ‘You know, we should keep things more private’ like that, gano’n s’ya—which I love that about him and I respect that about him but then he’s also very supportive of me with these things. So it was a decision I made from the get-go. I wanted to wait,” she thoughtfully answers.
Even when the day came when she was about to post the announcement video, she felt the need to delay it. “Because I know it’s a whole different image from, you know, being like an island girl and former beauty queen to like a mom. I wanted to do my own research first before I would get overwhelmed from transitioning into having a mom image,” the beautiful mom-to-be explains.
The couple decided to fly to Davao, her hometown, for when she delivers the baby, so she would get all the healthcare she needs. “I was in Siargao for the whole majority of [the pregnancy] so the biggest struggle we had was there’s no proper hospital and there’s no OB-Gyn in case of emergency. A couple of times, I’ve had spotting and s’yempre being my first pregnancy, I would always freak out,” she says. “He was very nervous up until we arrived in Davao especially towards this last trimester kasi what if biglaan na I’m going to give birth? Where would I give birth there?”
Funnily enough, a lot of the preparations for the baby involved online shopping. The pair initially decided for the baby to be minimalist but both exclaimed it’s hard and impossible. Niño would keep teasing Katarina about her online shopping spree.
“I’d wake up around 1am or 2am and she’s doing all the online shopping. I was like, ‘What are you doing? You’re pregnant, you need to rest.’ ‘No, I’m just finishing this’ and parang the whole month of second trimester, all she did was shopping. Akala ko ba minimalist iyong baby? Di ba? And then after like a month, I could see all the deliveries in and out. It’s all for the baby. Wala kahit isa sa akin or sa kanya,” he laughs.
For Katarina, it was easy for her to say no to shopping during the first trimester but the second trimester clicked differently. “Biglang sa second trimester, sa gitna talaga ng pregnancy ko, I was like, ‘I need all of these. I need this and this and this. I need this in all of its colors and all of these sizes.’ And then I even started writing things down. Like, okay, the baby has clothes from newborn, has x amount like this from 0-3 months. I was even like calculating. I looked like a crazy woman in the middle of the night just there with my calculator and notebook,” she confesses.
Now that they’re in Davao and ready for the baby’s arrival, the two couldn’t contain their excitement. “I’m super excited. I’ve talked to other pregnant moms or moms who just gave birth, they always tell me, ‘Don’t you wish the baby will come out na at this point? It’s like a waiting game.’ And I’m like ‘No, I’m enjoying the baby being here just in my tummy and safe.’ I can’t, like, imagine the baby out yet. But we have just a few little things pa to finalize for the delivery,” she shares.
The couple decided on water birth and is doing all they can to meet the requirements and preparations as instructed by the doula and the midwife. “We’re doing water birth. That’s the stuff that we’re finalizing now. Flying the midwife from Manila here and it was so nice that Coleen (Garcia) is lending us her pool because she has a legitimate birthing pool.”
“Before that period where I knew I was pregnant and it wasn’t confirmed yet to him, for some reason, I just thought right away that I want to give birth in Davao and that I wanted a water birth. But I have no prior research, I haven’t watched any videos or Coleen’s or Max Collins’ delivery and I didn’t even know how it worked.
“But the concept of being in the water while giving birth sounded so appealing to me. That’s like the first thing I told him. And he was still iffy about water birth because he didn’t understand it but you know, I guess being in Siargao and being always in the water or near the water and the fact that the baby’s in liquid now and will come into the world and have such a smooth transition, it sounds so nice for the baby and for myself. The only way I can think of it is anything outside of the water, I’m just ‘Oh, baka it’s going to be tough to push out the baby.’ At least, I’ll have some sort of gravity working in my favor with the water, with the pool,” she says.
In the end, water is still playing a major part in their story not just in their romance but also in this new exciting chapter they’re heading into.
With preparations underway, both Katarina and Niño couldn’t wait to meet their little bundle of joy and shower baby Barbers with all the love in the world, keep him safe and start a new season in their vibrant life together.
Interview by Grace Libero-Cruz
Lead photo from @katarinarodri