Thursday, July 31, 2008

On Joy and Sorrow

Written May 1, 2008

These past few weeks, my heart was filled with a quite joy I shared only with those nearest and dearest to me. That which I have been longing and praying for has finally been granted. I was going to have another baby.

I started to dream for this baby again, just I dreamed for my little Maia, another baby I lost two years ago.

But my dreams were quickly shattered when at almost nine weeks, we learned that I lost this little one too. The depths of my sorrow could be equaled only by the heights of my joy as I happily anticipated holding another baby in my arms.

Early embryonic demise. No cardiac activity. These words appeared in the ultrasound report. But I did not have to read it to know. Watching the face of the doctor who did the ultrasound told me everything there was to know. My heart went cold. I could only cry for another baby I will never come to know and love … another baby who would have completed our little family even more.

What followed was a blur of indecision, of me adamantly refusing to take the drugs to induce the expulsion of my baby from inside me, of refusing to consider a D&C, of wanting the process of losing this child to take its natural course … to accepting the drugs when a follow-up ultrasound confirmed my loss, to wanting a D&C and then not wanting it … and finally, to admitting that the waiting was taking too much toll on me and my family … that emotionally, spiritually, physically and psychologically, I am drained to the core of my being.

I am having my second miscarriage as I am writing. I started bleeding as cramps wracked my body last night. This came as a welcome relief to my weary soul.

I was on denial when I had my first miscarriage. I refused to accept my baby’s death even though pain tore through my body day after day. I fought hard by imploring God to give life to my child. As long as I had hope in my heart, I refused to let go. I was willing to do whatever it took if it meant life for my little one. But as fate would have it, my baby and I lost that battle.

This time around, I put up no fight at all. Maybe the past made me more resigned, more accepting of the undeniable fact that losing a child, one that seemed so improbable and so incomprehensible before, has become a recurrent reality in my life.

But while I accepted my third baby’s death, I still refused, and continue to do so up till now, to have a D&C. Only when the choice is taken out of my hands will I submit to that procedure.

But while I still have that choice, I choose for my little one to leave me as God had intended. I want to wait for nature to take its course. But without medical intervention, I realized that the waiting could take so long. And it started to take its toll. Everything in me grew weary from being suspended in a state where I was neither here nor there … where my body felt pregnant yet with no growing life within it … where I grieved and not grieve at the same time. Finally, all that I ever wanted was to reach closure, to be able to move on and open myself up to my family again.

So I finally sought medical aid. I took the medication that would induce the expulsion process. When the cramps came, I welcomed them with relief. There is no use holding on when there is nothing more to hold on to.

I have been asked why I did not want a D&C. I said that going into surgery scared me and that I did not want to expose myself to the risks accompanying this procedure.

But I have been less than honest with these answers. While I do feel this way about D&C, the real reason behind this refusal is my desire for privacy and dignity, for wanting this miscarriage to happen just between me and my child, not in a roomful of strangers where my baby will be referred to as tissue or product of conception and handled in much the same way as medical personnel would handle a surgically-removed appendix or cyst. So cold. So distant and uncaring. So professional. I do not want my baby to leave me that way.

When my baby will finally leave, I want nobody else except me touching it … where it will be held with love, tenderness and great respect.

With Mama alone, this baby will be spared from becoming the subject of cruel jokes by dispassionate medical workers. The first baby I lost suffered that fate. Cheerful lab workers, oblivious to my pain, talked about urinating on the cup containing my poor little one right in my presence.

That is not going to happen this time. This baby will be spared from that kind of indignity and disrespect. This time, my child will receive nothing but all the love and respect it deserves as another one of God’s creations.

Picky Eaters: Born or Made?

Those of you who read this column once or twice might have chanced upon me complaining over how picky my daughter is with her food. It has always been a constant source of friction between me and my pint-sized nemesis, who from day 1 – and I mean DAY ONE!!! – defied me over the subject of food! Can you imagine that? Me? Who worships every gastronomic delight I could lay my hands on … has a daughter who does not want to eat?

As I said, it started all the way back from Day One – when she absolutely refused to suckle from me! I still remember Abby (who was only a few days old then) turning as red as a tomato as she bawled and screamed and kicked and pushed at my face … just to free herself from my breast!

My husband and I figured at that time that if we could manage to make her open her mouth wide enough to take a nipple and then quickly hold her head to prevent her from turning away, that she’d somehow realize the futility of her refusal, cave in to our superior will, and start taking and liking my milk!

Oh well … she put up such a valiant struggle (you wouldn’t believe how strong a newly- born infant could be!) we quickly raised the white flag for fear that she’d dislocate something as she relentlessly twisted and turned her head to get free!! I still remember the raucous that attempted forced feeding caused! The neighbors must have thought we were trying to murder our new baby! And that red, red, RED face … unforgettable!

Down the drain went our superior will … will somebody get the bottle please?

And so the pattern for the next few years was set … feeding time became synonymous with battle of wills … where getting her to take a spoonful only signified the start of the next battle, which was to get her to chew … after which the next challenge awaited … how to make her swallow.

As she grew older, Abby became uncompromising in her refusal to eat food that she thought she wouldn’t like. Can you believe that? If something doesn’t look good to her eyes, it must not be good enough to eat then.

But if she did took a liking to something, she’d eat nothing but that alone for a few days … until she becomes tired of the food, and poor mama has to search for something new to entice her brat with again.

I have always attributed her pickiness as a trait that she picked up from her lola, my mother-in-law, the alpha and the omega, the absolute mother of all picky eaters!

Thus, I came to the conclusion that a child is either born a picky eater or not. There was a time when I saw children from less fortunate families gobbling up their rice with nothing but sabaw sa kamunggay. I remember thinking then that it was a good thing none of them was picky like Abby.

But I had to revise this thinking and consider another possibility when I saw the commercial of Lactum with Claudine Baretto and her daughter. I believe that this was the child who was abandoned outside her home and whom she later adopted.

The ad was about Claudine giving Lactum milk to her daughter to supplement her diet as she would eat nothing but hotdog. Granting that she really is picky in real life, I wondered whether she would still be as choosy had she stayed with her biological family, whom we can fairly assume, would be incapable to giving her the same privileged life she is enjoying with Claudine.

Could it be possible then that picky children are made, not born? It is probable that children from marginal families learn early in life to eat whatever is on the table because there simply is nothing else to eat!

And our choosy dears? They must have also caught on early that if they stood their ground on the food they say yes and no to, mommy and daddy would sooner or later give in to their demands. Why? Because they can. They have the means to give to the child what it wants. Their less fortunate counterparts do not have that luxury, so their children either have to eat whatever is there, or face starvation.

So next time we feel like banging our heads against the wall out of frustration, maybe the thought that we might have brought this upon ourselves in the first place, will somehow extend our diminishing patience.

Imagination Going Wild

We talk about how we’d rather lose electricity than not having any water at all. I’m sure that almost everybody will concur to that. But it sure is hell not having any electricity, isn’t it? I know we can all relate to this because of the series of brownouts that hit our city lately.

Suffering through the inescapable heat brought about by the brownout, I was horrified to realize how soft we have become … how very easily we wilt, sapped of all strength and the will to move even an inch, in the absence of that comforting blast of cooled air which modern times have blessed us with. A blessing? I’d say definitely!

But on the downside, it really is horrifying to realize how dependent we have become on modern technology. Take the lowly matchsticks for instance. Would most of us still be able to light a fire without it?

Have you ever thought about how we’d all cope if we were stripped of all the modern conveniences we surround ourselves with? The recent brownouts denied us the use of our electric fans and airconditioners. The heat was unbearable, wasn’t it? How much more if we were to lose everything … and I mean every little and big thing that we take for granted and would miss only when they go missing. Can you imagine us losing our basic soap and shampoo, for example?

Through the years, we evolved from being producers to mere end-users or consumers. Look around you. What do you have in your kitchen right now that you yourself produced? In our case, except for the malunggay, sili and tanglad growing in the yard, we get everything else from the market or supermarkets.

Have you ever wondered what would happen to us if these stores were to close because the supplies have stopped coming? Where will we get our food? Start planting? Ok, granting that we have a sizable land to plant crops in, which unfortunately, not all of us are blessed with, still, can we imagine us growing our own food???

Imagine no electricity. No water supply. No gasoline.

Our life, as we know it now, will never be the same. Scary!


Are you the type who compares your doctor’s prescriptions against what the pharmacy assistants give to you? I’m not. I recently realized the importance of doing this when my daughter was prescribed medicine in infant drops form instead of the type more appropriate for her age. No big deal really. The mistake was quickly corrected when I called the doctor for clarification.

But this incident got me contemplating on the word kumpyansa…I’m not really sure how this word translates to English, but if I were to define it based on my own understanding of the word, I’d say that it’s complacency born out of placing too much trust on something or someone. In a broader spectrum, it could mean betting too much on chance, trusting that the universe wouldn’t somehow conspire to throw some bad lot our way, thus we toss caution into the wind.

A few nights ago, I thought I heard Abby wheezing during her coughing fits. I had my husband, Nonoy, as well as my in laws, Dominador and Marlene Uy, listen in and they all confirmed my fears. Abby could be having an asthma attack! Nonoy had asthma before. My in laws have two asthmatic children. They should know!

Being the praning that I am, I wasted no time dragging Abby, with Nonoy not far behind, to one of our local hospitals for a consult. Waiting until the following day to see her pediatrician was out of the question. She had to be seen by a doctor right there and then.

The resident who examined her told us that she could hear no wheezing and sent us home with a prescription for antihistamine and Salbutamul. I wanted to question her findings. How could four people be wrong about it? But hey! She’s the doctor! I bowed down to her superior knowledge.

But just we always do, we took Abby to her pediatrician the following day. And surely enough, Tita Doc found her wheezing and crackling and proceeded to treat her condition accordingly.

So what’s the moral of this story? Very simple really. We should still take our children to their own doctor, even after a night consult, at the first opportune moment. Except for the additional cost and the time we have to spend waiting for our turn, we don't lose in any way.

Can you imagine what would have happened had we not taken Abby to her pediatrician? Her asthma would have gone untreated and it could have progressed to pneumonia!

Another lesson learned from this experience is checking that we are getting our medicine from the pharmacy exactly as they were prescribed. Fortunately this time, the clerk spotted the erroneous prescription herself. But mistakes could still be very easily made by fatigued, stressed out, and even harassed pharmacy assistants.

So let’s start checking, shall we? Let’s do away with too much of kumpyansa. After all, nothing is too hard when it comes to our children’s best interests.

Surviving Big School

Another old article

We made a really big move this school year. We decided to send Abby (or Noelle to her new classmates) to a bigger school where almost everything became a first for us.

Why? As Catholics, my husband Nonoy and I decided that it was time for Abby to start getting a Catholic-based education.

Having came from a smaller school where I, as a parent, have grown very comfortable in, with teachers who knew and loved Abby since she was a toddler, and with a population that was small enough we were always assured that our children were well-looked after, moving Abby almost felt like throwing her into an open sea where she’d become fair game to whatever that bigger world could throw at her.

Contemplating that big move, I could not help but imagine my baby thrashing about as she struggles for breath amidst tossing waves, barely staying afloat in a world that’s alien from the sheltered one she had been the last four years of her life.

But steeled my resolve I did … I told myself that she either had to learn to swim or sink in the process. For wasn’t our intention also to introduce her to the world beyond what we consider to be safe and secure? Nonoy and I decided that we’ve sheltered her long enough during her first seven years. Time to start letting go … a little.

As it turned out, I worried too much over nothing. All that imagined thrashing amid turbulent seas should have been reserved for me alone. I was the one who barely survived big school … Abby never had to. My girl breezed through her first days and proceeded to take in all her new experiences in a stride. Her leap from a class of 6 to 36? No big deal! Before long, I started seeing her hanging out with friends from grade 1 or grade 4 or even from high school with equal ease.
Thus it came to be that despite almost five years of prior schooling, it wasn’t until my daughter reached Grade 2 that I truly got to experience the horror stories other moms have been talking about for centuries: school exams!

My friend Jobie once told me how her voice got hoarse from all the yelling she had to do at her two boys as she hovered over them during study time or as they prepared for their exams.

I had the nerve then to assume that I’d do better. Before I had Abby, I was very judgmental on mothers I’d observe snapping or just being generally impatient with their brood. More particularly so with those I’d see spanking their youngsters. I used to tell myself (with absolute certainty) that I’d be different, that I’d never get impatient, angry, yell, or spank … that I’d only have to speak calmly ONCE and my perfectly-behaved and ever-so-obedient child would immediately obey …

I also had this mental image of myself as the incarnation of infinite grace and patience, holding out a book in front of a well-behaved and cooperative angelic-looking Abby as she poured over her lessons with nary a complaint night after school night …

Prrrrrrt!!! Enough with fantasy! Let’s get back to reality, shall we? As it turned out, motherhood in real life is never picture perfect! I never had to worry about studying at home before. But in our new school, come examination period (or almost every night at that), and it’s nothing but dried-up patience, BP raised to ceiling heights, broken rulers, hoarse voices, tempers serious enough to tempt one to start wringing one cute little neck, palms stinging from hitting table surfaces, pencils, papers or smuggled toys flying off to all directions … and what else? Oh yeah … upturned teary eyes and quivering lips seemingly wanting to ask … “what’s happening to you Mama?”

Yeah, what’s happening to Mama? To the entire barangay listening to me vocalize when I start blowing my top, it must have been bad, bad, Olga indeed! A friend of mine once attempted to lecture about being patient and calm … I cut her off by saying, try having a brat like mine first, then we’ll talk again!

All you moms out there … did that seem familiar? If not, lucky, lucky you!

I was told that this was partly the reason why it is best to hire tutors for our kids. They tend to act up less when they are with other people, particularly when the tutor happens to be their teacher as well.

But with moms, believe me, the complaints I’ve been hearing are so similar they seem to come from the same script! Mind you, we don't get mad when our kids don't get their lessons. But what really gets the full solo concert going is the amount of interest they are willing to devote to the lesson at hand, which is considerably less than what they would otherwise give to the lizard stalking its meal at the ceiling, for instance. Yeah! That’s it! Everything else is interesting except …

Can you imagine explaining something to a restless figure who seemed to have assumed every conceivable position there is over the desk only to settle down slumped over it, albeit with the assurance: “I’m listening, I’m listening!!” … only to be answered with “huh??” once you’d start asking questions? Grrrrr!

And how about all that fidgeting with the hands? Even doodling can be very distracting, so you order them to “stop!” and away goes the pencil … for 3 seconds! So you’d say again, “I said stop that!” … and it goes on and on until you’d have to say, “one more time and I’ll throw that pencil away!” In the end, you’ll discover that it saves more time and energy to just get that pesky pencil without a word and throw it to some hard-to-reach area. Believe me, that alternative is much better that giving in to your desire to throw away the child itself!

So who did I say survived big school? Let me check … heart still working, only one or two additional wrinkles, more white hairs though, BP still normal, can still speak, no burst capillaries … yeah! I survived big school! Rejoice!!

Housewife's Back!

I wrote this piece a long time ago, around February 2008.

Yeah! I’m back and for good this time … I hope. I have not written for around five months. It feels like it was only five weeks ago! Time does fly indeed!

Friends have been asking me why I stopped writing this column. My editor Irma Faith Pal was equally perplexed but she never gave up on me. Time and again, she reminded me of my deadlines, and time and again, I broke my word about coming up with something. Actually, I made several attempts to write and had in fact finished one, but they never got off the ground, so to speak.

So what cataclysmic event brought about this silence? Nothing much. I just went on a diet.

Whaaat? Diet? Yeah, I went on a diet. Hey! You out there, you can stop smirking at my diet. I may have stated earlier that it was nothing much, but if truth is to be told, going on a diet turned out to be a heartbreaking roller coaster ride that had me going three steps forward and four steps backwards. Ask anybody who, like me, loves food and hates exercise with equal fervor … and they’ll tell you how it is.

You may be wondering now where dieting and writing connect? I don't know if there is any medical basis to my observations, but when I started Southbeach Diet, nabotol ko. Yes, my mind just seemed to stop working at its usual pace. My thought processes slowed down, my memory became foggy, my body became more lethargic than usual … in other words, an 80-year old grandma would have had a mind that’s sharper than the one I had in the midst of my dieting frenzy.

To the uninitiated, Southbeach Diet is composed of 3 stages, the toughest being Phase 1 which lasts for 14 days. In a nutshell, Phase 1 is an absolutely NO CARB stage. It entails total deprivation of the body of sugar and fats to compel it to utilize its reserves thus leading to weight loss, lowering of blood sugar, healthier heart, etc. And it’s not just our plain old table sugar variety, mind you! By sugar, we mean any food that the body could chemically break down into sugar, which by the way, is what fuels our bodies in much the same way that gasoline is fuel for our vehicles.

To give you a clearer view of what I had to go through, here’s a list of what I was ONLY allowed to eat or have during Phase 1: lean white meat, fish and other seafood (only boiled or broiled), leafy veggies, canola oil or olive oil, a limited number of nuts, black coffee, tea … and oh yes! let’s not forget water because I was allowed to drown in it! Are you seeing the bleak picture now?

Now, here’s what I could NOT eat (and it’s all the good things in life!): fatty cuts and innards, red meat, veggies like carrots and potatoes (because they contain starch which the body could convert into sugar), cheese, all fruits and juices, softdrinks, ice cream, milk, yogurt, and here’s the worst! ALL CARBS … and this translates to NOT BEING ALLOWED TO EAT RICE, BREAD, CAKE, COOKIES, CEREAL, OATMEAL, PASTA, PASTRIES … could anybody be in a worse situation? Could I just let this out? Waaaaaah!

I know, I know … it’s for a healthier body and ultimately a longer life. Hey, that was why I started dieting in the first place! But who am I kidding? My husband was coming home! Honestly? That was my first and foremost reason for this self-imposed torture. Health comes a poor second.

I’d like to go on and on, but I have exceeded my word limit already. Next week, I’ll write more about my chacha-like efforts in preparation for hubby’s homecoming. Friends, no teasing please! OFW wives, rally behind me! Tell those who are still in the dark that it’s not only me. We all go through this pa-gwapa frenzy a month or two before hubby’s return, right? More about that next week.


We all know for a fact that most of us ladies let ourselves “go” after we get married. Generally speaking, weight gain becomes particularly inevitable after a baby or two starts coming.

Only a lucky few are able to keep their 20-something figure. For most, sheer willpower, I’m sure! But some, I guess, are simply not genetically predisposed towards obesity. I call these lucky ones genetic lotto winners. But for the rest of us sorry souls, we could only but sigh at the sight of those nubile young things we see parading around in our streets.

I most unfortunately belong to that latter category. Not too long ago, I used to possess a cola-cola body (sigh!) … mind you … I still got that enviable figure … albeit it’s now in cans! (sigh again!)

I’d often catch my husband looking at me with that bewildered look on his face, as if wondering where that shapely thing he married eleven years ago has gone! In fairness though, I still have all those shapes, they just went to all the wrong places!

Being an OFW wife, it was particularly easy for me to let my figure go. With no husband to make pa-gwapa for ten months at a time, plus add the fact that I am not particularly arte … not to mention my love affair with every gastronomic delight Dumaguete could offer … and let’s not forget my most strenuous activity … surfing TV channels … no wonder I ballooned to unmentionable figures after only one child!

I don't really mind being the “fat lady” … that is, during the first eight months after my husband’s departure for his work overseas. But come the last two months prior to his homecoming, and you’ll find me in a whirlwind of activities that could only be only be described as Olympian!

I know that most OFW wives go through this pa-gwapa stage before hubby comes home. My friend Pam told me how she jogged every morning, ate practically nothing, and started swallowing those whitening pills in preparation for her husband’s homecoming. Good for Pam her that efforts paid of. She stills glows whenever she’d recall the look on hubby’s face when he caught sight of her new look at the airport. Her reward? Instead of rushing back to Dumaguete to their three daughters, they stayed five days in Manila for what could only be called a second honeymoon! Now, if that’s not a happy ending, I wonder what else could be!

And how about my own efforts? Could a heavy sigh be answer enough for you?

Believe me, I’ve tried every diet there is! About three years ago, I had success with the Southbeach Diet and actually lost about fifteen pounds! But sadly, this time around, I could no longer summon the willpower to finish one entire phase without cheating.

Here’s the picture: you’re supposed to finish Phase 1 in 14 days, right? I’d do like 7 days and lose like 5 lbs. Beaming with success, I’d decide to take a one-day breather and reward my gargantuan efforts with a trip to Chow King with my eating pals Maru and Chedette, who, by the way, love Chaofan and Halo-Halo with as much passion as I do! Before I knew it, that one-day break would stretch to two or even three more days. And those 5 pounds I just lost? Take a guess.

Just as girlfriends Maru, Chedette and I binge together, we also start our doomed-from-the-very-beginning diets and weight-losing efforts together.

We have tried going to the gym and invaded Mr. Sy’s realm at Cellutrim with enthusiasm that quickly trickled into nothingness as tortuous week after tortuous week dragged ever so slowly. During our lowest times, we usually comforted our aching muscles with a quick detour to Chow King. Another rational behind this is to give equal exercise opportunities to all our body parts. We can’t be accused of neglecting our jaws, you know! Hence, that trip for the rigorous jaw workout it offers!

And in between those sinfully heavenly trips, together or singly, we tried the pastrami diet, the carbo lovers’ diet, no meals after six, the eat-only-oatmeal thingy, and yeah … the 3- Day diet that I’ll never forget for it’s hellish grapefruit juice! And what did we lose in this last endeavor? Negligible amount of pounds and very substantial amounts from our wallets!

My editor Irma Faith Pal tries to help by inviting me along her biking sorties to Valencia. I’ve lost count of the number of times I said yes only to chicken out at the last minute. But can you blame me for becoming terrified at the idea? The last time I spent considerable time in a bike was astride my easyrider way back 30 years ago!

But I did find an exercise routine that I could live with. It’s a very easy-to-do 45-minute exercise that I could do right inside my home. It’s the 3-mile walk video shared to me by Tita Nini Cabrera. All you need to do is follow the walking movements they do on video. It’s guaranteed to squeeze all sweat out of your body.

My frantic but doomed efforts usually wind down about two weeks from D-day when I’d look at the mirror and decide my poor hubby will just have to adore me for my winning personality!

But all hope is not lost though! My girlfriends put their heads together and came up with makeover in lieu of weight loss. They took me shopping for clothes that could hide my bulges and had Maria Havranek of Cuttin’ Loose get rid of my manang look.

I was a nervous wreak before we started. Imagine having my hair colored for the first time! That was a very big step. But bubbly Maria soon took care of my nerves and proceeded to do a fabulous job with my hair! I love it! She also gave my editor Irma Faith her first-time ever streaks earlier that day! Talk of pleasant coincidences.

So what did my husband had to say about all these? Just like any typical dense-headed male … he didn’t even notice! I practically had to stand under the midday sun before it finally dawned on him. I should have asked Maria to give me a carrot hair … that would have saved me from sunburn!