It Does Take a Village (Musings of a First Time Mama)

When I was pregnant, I read a lot about babies and parenthood as much as I ate Doritos with grapes (yeahp, these two at the same bite). But when the baby came, most things I thought I learned from all that reading did not necessarily become useful as I ended up turning to firsthand advice from every super mother I know (who is basically every mother. Yes mama, you are amazing!) It just feels more valid and more reassuring when I hear it straight from a momma herself. And yes, I have been listening to a lot of mothers. A villageful of them.

I learned that the best thing to have when having a baby is not that adorable set of onesies or that fancy sterilizer. The best thing to have to successfully raise a baby is a village.

Art Work by James Gabriel Wandag

You lose your brain for a while especially during the early stages of parenthood. It’s akin to climbing Mt. Everest with zero conditioning. But your village makes sure you don’t drown or get lost in an avalanche. Your village is there to remind you that life is not all about poop and spit-ups and having one boob out at all times. They are there to reassure you that you are imperfect and have human failings when you start getting too hard on yourself. Though early motherhood proves challenging, your village reminds you it’s a finite period and you should therefore embrace it.

I felt clueless and scared navigating the hows of baby care and even self-care during the earlier days. That Youtube instructional video on how to bathe a newborn felt gibberish. My village had to physically show it for it to make sense. I never knew about breast pads and nipple creams. My village made me aware that I can do something about leaks and sore nips. I panicked over every rash that I notice on my bubba. My village assured me that these are common for newborns and that I’m like every other mama who overreacts to anything when it comes to our babies. My village fed us with hearty broths, showed us how to swaddle, how to do a proper latch, gifts the baby with diapers and clothes and cuddles, and gives me a break from feeling isolated when they visit or chat me up online during this so-called fourth trimester. My village even enabled me to follow tradition when they came together for my baby’s native name giving ceremony–this is really one for the books. My village made sure that that my baby was doing okay, that I was doing okay, and reassured us that we will be okay.

Although being with my village has proven to be a challenge with the restrictions and protocols this pandemic, I’m still beyond grateful for everyone who visited, reached out, shared advice, listened and supported (physically and virtually) our little family in the early stages of our parenthood. Thank you family, friends, social media forums and health websites for being my village. And we know you’ll be there with us moving forward. Wink, wink.

The Things No One Tells You (Musings of a First Time Mama)

Note: This was written with a beautiful baby boy sleeping in my arms. It was done in installments–after a burp, after a bath, etc., and was completed at 3am when my little bub decided to wake us both up just because he is the boss.

I heard superwoman stories about my Alapo’y Banayan when it comes to giving birth. On the onset of labor, she’d supposedly tell her older kids to go take naps. She then delivers unassisted, wakes the kids up, tells them they have a new sibling to help take care of, and goes about doing her chores like nothing monumental just happened. Much of that narrative may be exagerrated but after personally experiencing a long, arduous birthing journey, no way am I going to downplay my grandmother’s unbelievable feat of successfully delivering 10 children at a time when midwives, hospitals and epidurals were not necessarily part of the birthing process.

Igorota woman with child. Circa 1901.
Photo colorized by Bilog Bilugan 2017

I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy just over a month ago. These days my hours are spliced into feeding, burping, nappy changing, non-sleeping, repeat–most times feeling like a zombie but marvelling at the strength and energy that does not seem to deplete just because the mere sight of this tiny creature that I call my son recharges what could otherwise have been a thoroughly spent body.

Even before beginning to talk about the highs and lows of labor and hours of strenuous pushing, I wanted to say something about my pregnancy woes that tend to debunk some notions about being pregnant. We often hear about the pregnancy glow, but whoever came up with the phrase must have taken some rainbow supplements as I on the other hand dealt with a barrage of swelling, headaches, bloating, constipation and the overall feeling of being downright fat and ugly. And these just become minor discomforts when you’re constantly navigating emotional turbulence.

The dramatic breaking of water that we see in movies does not always happen. So is the fairly poised new mom who after a few pushes and screaming gets a naked crying baby plopped on her. Birthing seems like a breeze. Although that’s undoubtedly downplayed and is not the expectation, the birthing process is way more complicated. No amount of research and classes could have prepared me for what actually happens in those delivery rooms. I would not dare go into details. Just that like the actual delivery which was messy, raw and intense, so were my emotions throughout that seemingly endless experience. Suffice to say I absolutely forgot the ‘inhale, exhale’ process but managed to unleash the monster inside me who was ready to breathe fire on anyone I fancied every time those horrendous contractions came.

We women are very lucky these days as we are spoiled with all sorts of medications to make the birthing journey with the least amount of pain possible. And despite being initially heroic thinking I could just do with the laughing gas, I ended up abusing the drugs. Those moments, I became an addict. All my resolutions were thrown out the window as all I could think with sobriety was “Give me mooooore!” Which makes me wonder how in the world did my grandmother deliver those babies, all ten of them, without even a single drop of morphine to dull the pain away. That woman is unbelievable!

Don’t even get me started on what happens after birth. Your body becomes delicately foreign to your own self after. No one really tells you about more swelling,the seemingly nonstop bleeding from your lady parts, cracked nipples, hemorrhoids, incontinence, immobility, more constipation. Plus, you still look very pregnant. On top of these, you have to deal with baby blues or worse, postpartum depression.

Postpartum depression is real. Though you are over the moon with the blessing you’ve been praying for a long time, sometimes you just don’t have control over the surge of loneliness or just an overall feeling of helplessness that comes over you. But you can’t complain. You’re just driven by this unconditional love for someone. Immeasurable love that nothing’s more important than his well-being. But I cannot emphasize enough that PPD is real and this should be recognized and talked about more often for awareness, enlightenment, and support when it is due.

Your body is different from that of another woman. I was so worried when my pospartum healing did not go as fast as I thought it would, especially when you see others making it look like their delivery was a walk down the park. I had feelings of guilt and inadequacy as I felt like I should be doing more for my little one but my aches and pains hindered me from doing so. I had to be reminded constantly not to be so hard on myself.

You’d think you’ll have plenty of time to do things and tick off a couple of tasks or goals that are overdue as a sleeping baby can afford you all the time you need. But very soon you’ll realize that getting the opportunity to take a five-minute shower is a luxury itself. On that note, I have to remind myself daily that sleep is more important than a clean house.

Giving birth is transformative. It changes you from a woman to a mother. It profoundly affects how you feel about your body–whether the experience was empowering or disabling. It either makes you feel like you can conquer the world or you feel downright inadequate.

Those are but a few of the personal realizations that I’ve discovered whilst cruising the calm and turbulence of a first time mom. Now I have found a more enlightened respect and awe for mothers. From being pregnant to giving birth to taking care of a new human being involves herculean efforts that women amazingly accomplish with little to no sleep at all.

Motherhood entails a lot of responsibility and utmost commitment but never should we be pressured by anything or anyone. What works for others may not be what’s best for you. Be reminded that you are doing great mama! You do you!

And although being a mom comes with a tremendous amount of work, it is truly a gift and a privilege. Everything about it should be embraced. Yes, flabs and stretch marks included.

I have a million things I need to learn for someone so new at this. Not everything has been pleasant as I realized when I crossed those bridges but if blessed with another opportunity to have another go through the whole shebang with the promise of another precious being, or two, oh yes I’ll do it again. In a heartbeat. Well maybe not the ten babies like Super Granny had, that’s pushing it.

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