Monday, April 23, 2012

A tribute to the woman who raised me

Circa 1940

I was breastfeeding my son while I laid down on the old hammock that had been sitting in the old house for years. My aunts were around while we caught up on each other's latest stories. I looked at the wonderful woman sitting across me. She had grown so thin. The beauty that was once so radiant was faintly there. It was slowly replaced by lines and wrinkles that bespoke of years of struggle with life's adversities. Her once gray hairs were gone. They were all silver-white now. Silently, I was wishing they meant a silver lining at the end of the tunnel. 

She caught a glimpse of me intently looking at her. She then asked me who were the two strangers sitting beside me. I told her, one of them was my husband's aunt, and the other was my husband's distant relative, and that both of them were living with us in the city to help me around. She then blurted out the unimaginable.

"Napaka-yayabang. Akala mo kung sinong mayaman. Nung panahon namin ilan ang naging anak ko, ako lang naman mag-isa."

At this point, I was stunned in disbelief. I tried to explain that I had a dayjob so I need somebody to look after Zohan whenever I was not around. But she kept on repeating those lines that stabbed my heart like a thousand daggers. I was trying so hard to control the tears that were about to fall down. I was on the verge of breaking down. I decided to pretend I had fallen asleep like Zohan did. I closed my eyes and envisioned the wonderful years I had spent with that woman.

"Tingnan mo nga 'yan. Nagtutulug-tulugan. Nagbibingi-bingihan."

There were a lot of painful words I heard that day. To add insult to the injury, the defeaning silence from the people around us at that time created awkwardness to what was already a heavy moment. It was the longest moment of my life. I tried so hard to maintain my composure. I succeeded at putting up a poker face, but I couldn't care less if my aunts noticed the pain I was feeling. That was the most that I could muster to do.

Deep inside, I know I had lost her. The old woman who was so loving and caring had surrendered to Alzheimer's disease. She was replaced by a stranger who was her exact opposite.

She was my maternal grandmother, whom we fondly call Nanang. She was the one who raised me from the time Nanay left for abroad when I was around five years old. (Nanay still works abroad, so up until before I got married, I have been under the care of Nanang.)

She was a very loving woman. All my cousins would agree on that, as each of us had been showered by her affection every chance we got. When my Mamang would play strict on any of my cousins, Nanang would always come to the rescue. I remembered her reasoning out to Mamang one time I asked permission to attend a party, her words were so vividly etched in my mind, "Iba na ang kabataan ngayon, kung hindi ka sasabay sa kanila, maiiwanan ka ng panahon!" Off to a party I went that night! 

She attended to all my needs - preparing for school when I was little, trying to understand the rebellious highschool student that I turned out to be, patiently waiting for weekends that I would come home from Manila when I was in college, feeling really proud of coming up to the stage when I finished lawshool. She was proud of my achievements, but I had never heard her boast it off to other people. She did not finish her elementary, but she was so good in math and could carry a good conversation in English. She was one of the prayer leaders in our small barrio, she was the epitomy of humility and faith. Not to mention, very pretty. She was close to perfect, if you ask me.

When I passed the bar and became a lawyer, she cried tons of tears. For her, it was the culmination of the struggle that we had to go through to get a chance at a better life. Perhaps, that was the last moment she felt proud of me. After that, she was slowly being taken away from us. She was becoming a little forgetful at the beginning, until  Alzheimer's  hit her full blast. After that, she was never the same.

When I got married and when I gave birth, she was there but not really. It was already the stranger in her, masked by her tired physical features who repeatedly ask me who I was and whose baby I carried in my arms. It was painful to see the person you loved so much slowly deteriorate. It was difficult not to let her words get into you. Seeing her absorbed in her own anger when she used to have so much love to give left me in despair. Realizing that she may never go back to her old self shattered my heart into tiny little pieces. 

I remember the first few days when I started my own family. I faced the confusion and guilt of feeling that I abandoned the family that raised me. How do you manage to start your own without necessarily leaving your old family behind? I guess it was inevitable. We moved on - probably some step up, some step away, or some step behind. But in all of that, there had to be a "moving on"

These days, aside from constantly checking on Nanang on the phone, I see to it that I visit her once a month. Every time I arrive, she would think of me as some stranger whom she hated. But whenever it's time to leave, she would always cry because she will again be left behind. Every step away is a heartache. And this much I know, even if I have moved on, my heart remains with the woman who raised me. There is no way in hell that is gonna change.

Nanang, I miss the "real" you.. Thank you for raising me. I am forever grateful. 
Advance Happy Mother's Day!

I value this photo so much because it was one of the 
rare times that Nanang recognized Zohan as my son. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The wars inside me

Photo source
I have wars inside me. We all do, I think. For my part, I had been embroiled in endless battles with Insecurity, Obssessive-Compulsiveness and Selfishness these past few months.  Luckily, my sword has proven to be sharp and my armor impenetrable.

But as luck would have it, Insecurity has recently turned into a tough foe.  Her photos of wonderfully-kept homes and stories of wives whipping out good food from cookbook as if they have trained under Martha Stewart have awakened the green-eyed monster within me.  During my brief times of contentment, she has forced me to dream of the exquisite things that I unfortunately do not have and the awe-inspiring skills that I can never acquire. She made me throw my armor...

Obsessive-Compulsiveness has likewise joined the party. Her subtle reminders about my son's irregular eating schedules and his unusual sleeping patterns have awakened the control freak within me. During my brief time of rest, she exhorts me to jog, blog, clean, and act out every action words she can possibly think of-- all at the same time!  She made me throw my sword...

To make matters worse, Selfishness has slowly crept into the picture.  Her constant  nags about the things I cannot afford to buy or do and the scenic places I cannot visit have awakened the egocentric toddler within me.  During my  brief times of selflessness, she asks me, When are you going to buy and do all these things?; when are you going to visit these places?; are you waiting for the time when your pockets have the money but your body lacks the will and the energy?  Needless to say, without my armor and sword, I am nothing but a helpless prey ripe for the pouncing.

These three demons,  endowed with the energy of a hyperactive kid and the persistence of a telemarketer, rob me of my precious time with the Universe, my family, and my self. They act swiftly and stealthily like a thief in the night. They know the rules of the game, as I do too.  But unlike me, they can bend the rules to their own liking.

This has been my daily struggle, my constant strife.

But today, the demons have subsided, at least for a while. I can now hear my little boy's squeals and giggles from his father's play pretend – because there is a comforting silence inside me. I can now see the wonderful things sitting in our cozy little space – because my eyes are no longer fixated at a distant sala of another family's beautiful home. I can now feel the marvelous moment of doing nothing but roll in our messy floor  with my boys, while I'm in my pajamas, hair unkempt and face devoid of artificial color – because I have stripped down my anxiety, vanity, and obsession with being in control. The demons have subsided, and I am having a quiet time with my small family on a scorching Sunday afternoon.

It just dawned on me that when I mull over these demons, their strength seems to inrease  tenfold.  On the other hand, if I let loose a little and take baby steps, these demons tend to forget their reason for fighting and they fade slowly.  By letting loose I speak of that moment when I choose to carry my son til he doze off instead of handing him over to his father so that I can start picking up the toys scattered on the floor; that moment when I refuse to think about my to-do list and really listen to the husband when he talks passionately about Ginebra qualifying for the semi-finals; that moment when I look at my clothes in the closet and accept that there is no urgency in buying a new one; that moment when I silently pray at times of confusion, anger, and neglect, instead of thinking about my next argument.  During those moments, the demons become nothing but blurs. My restless heart becomes still. My bruised soul becomes healed. I can see my husband smiling. I can see through my son's eyes. I can hear the Universal language of love.

I wish days like these are longer than the days when I have raging wars inside me. To make that happen, I have to be a little less self-absorbed and a little more loving.  I have a lot of working on to do. But knowing that in this war, baby steps are actually giant steps in disguise, I am relieved. 

I do not win the war all the time. In fact, I am just slowly learning the ropes of the game. But with baby steps, now I stand a chance. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Enjoying the long weekend by not being myself

Photo Source
Lately, I've been stressed out. A lot. My mind is overflowing with so many unnecessary and inconsequential thoughts while my face is slowly becoming a nesting place for pimples.   As a consequence, my words of late are somewhere along the lines of: "You don't love me as much anymore, husband."; "We don't have this and that. When are we going to afford that darn refrigerator?"; "I don't even have the time or money for a decent haircut, demmit!"; "We need to visit the new pedia because I'm feeding my son foods prescribed by google!"; "Why is he always crying these days? Shit, I've raised a spoiled brat!" Well, you get the drift. The long and short of it is - I am having a really hard time adjusting to mommyhood and wifeyhood.

As most marriages go, I usually turn to my better half for relief. Invariably, the husband's words save me from further over-analysis. And feminists forgive me, but I always end up wishing I was a man with no  drama-stimulating hormones. Most days though, I am too stubborn to talk and I keep everything to myself. Unfortunately,  because of my taciturnity, I transform into the moody and volatile version of myself (and gosh, the pimples!). Needless to state, I have never been put to so much stress in my life, I feel as if  I'm taking the bar exams all over again! (Except that this has dragged on for more than four Sundays, and there's no good food and a nice hotel!)

So this long weekend, I will try to emulate my husband and his notorious equanimity, even for just five days. I will cook his requested pasta with sausage without stressing over the grocery bills. I will directly breastfeed my son without thinking of the stored milks at the refrigerator that are about to expire. I will watch DVDs with the husband without drifting my thoughts to the weekend mall sales. I will fold the clothes, arrange the toys, and clean the house not out of duty but out of love.

And yeah, if painful thoughts come rushing to me again, I will  opt  to believe the husband 's words when he says, "It's okay. This is perfectly normal. We are just at the adjustment stage.." instead of my own version of facts that are likely to generate female anxiety. 

I will try not to be myself this long weekend. I will really live the moment, and I promise not to think about the hectic week ahead. I will tend to my son without assessing his growth and development inside my head. I will laugh with the husband like I used to, when we were still silly law students who don't give a care in the world. And I will appreciate myself more, give her a nod and tell her it's okay, you're doing fine..

Carpe diem, mommies! Enjoy the long weekend we rightfully deserve!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Five Ws and One H of Expressing Milk at the Workplace

100% Breastfed onesie from St. Patrick's infant line, gifted by Dad and his sweet kids

For the past seven months, Zohan has been 99% exclusively breastfed.  Roughly, such percentage is equivalent to five months of expressing milk at the office; thousands of pesos worth of storage milk bags; 20 ounces of spilled milk due to spoilage/too much rushing; 10 pieces of discarded papers after spilling milk on them; 765 cuss words uttered every time I spilled milk on something that always happened to be important; and 100% stress-level for this working mama.  On a good note, however, it also means 100% nutrition for the baby!

It isn't a walk in the park. To be honest, I have entertained thoughts of discontinuing breastfeeding my son because of the all the hassles that I have to go through.   Perhaps, the only respite I have is when I breastfeed at home where I could just whip out my boobie and let the feeding frenzy begin. But unfortunately, I have a job that can be overly demanding at times, and more often than not, gets in the way of my breastfeeding. (or vice versa).

But I have carried on. Let me tell you why, where, what, who, when, and how.

1.) WHY?

..because I have no choice. I want to breastfeed him, but I have a job that I can't give up. I can't bring him along to the office everyday, so I have to express milk at the workplace.

I guess the bigger question is, why do I breastfeed? I know the internet/your pediatrician/your friends are bursting with all the right reasons why every mother should at the very least try to breastfeed. And I won't bother to repeat them because for sure, they know better than I do. I have my personal reasons why I do, apart from all that nutritional stuffs. And that is - breastfeeding makes me feel closer to my son. 

I can't make Zohan laugh and giggle as much as the husband.  I get impatient and tired emitting all those sounds that make him laugh. But after they play, the little boy would run to me (okay, not run) to nurse, and when he's latched on my bossom, time and space disappear so suddenly.  I would give this really proud, high-chin look to the husband, as if to say, Okay, your time's up mister. My turn to be loved. Sometimes, I say that out loud. Oftentimes, a bitcher version of that. 


Where do I pump? 
One of the things that make it really convenient for me is the fact that I have a room in the office all to myself. I just lock it up when it's time to express milk, and my secretary already knows the default response when somebody knocks at my door: nagpapump po. 

Where do I store?
Thank God for the home-y feel of our office, it is not uncomfortable for me to store my expressed milk at the refrigerator. In fact, my officemates are amazed at how much I could collect in a day. (When Zohan was still with my in-laws, I had a week's supply of breastmilk stored in our office refrigerator. Every Friday was inventory time! I would put all my milk in a big cooler full of ice packs, ready for the travel home.) But now that Zohan is here with us in Makati, I only store the day's collection in the refrigerator. At the end of the day, I just put the expressed milk in my Avent's insulated bag. 

3. WHAT?

What are the essentials? Please bear with me because there are a lot. Below is the photo of the bag that I carry with me wherever I go - to a court hearing, to a government office, to the office - 

Let's do a bag raid:
I carry this bag to the office everyday!
Light brown small bag for the pumping kit, 
Avent insulated bag for the Avent Via collection cups, 
Cloth bag for the milk-collecting bottle, and adaptor for the electric pumping kit
Photo source

Of course, one has to have a reliable pump. I made a simple review of the pumps that I have tried before coming up with the one that works best for me. You can read about it here. But if you don't have the time and patience, I will say it anyway. I swear by Ameda Purely Yours Double Electric Pump. A little pricey, but definitely worth it. 

For storage, I previously used disposable milkbags because I had to store a week's collection of milk. I have tried Ainon and Precious Moments, which are commercially sold at the mall. I also tried Spectra, which I ordered online from I must say, all of them are good to use, but I like Ainon best - it's sturdy and spacious enough to store large quantities of milk. But now, since I can bring home the expressed milk everyday, I don't need too many storage bags. I'm using Avent Via cups, which I can wash and use over and over again. Pretty neat!

Photo Source

Since travel time from work to home is not as awful as it used to be, I've done away with ice packs and coolers, in exchange for my awesome Avent insulated bag. Thank you Nanay for the insulated bag!

4. WHO?

I realized when I was already writing this up that the Who question is a little out of sync in this topic. But if I think hard and deep, I would have to admit that the bigger person who deserves the "who" spot is the husband. So let's give him his 5-second-fame because really, it would be so much difficult without someone who would drop the pump bag to my office when I need to go straight to a hearing first; bring home my expressed milk when I need to stay overtime at the office; carry the pump bag when we walk home most weekdays; and  be just a staunch ally in this endeavor that I embarked on. Thank you! Your time's up!

5. WHEN?

I express milk first thing in the morning (or before I leave the house if I wake up early) before starting with work because a lot of  of a lawyer's deskwork require "in-the-zone" moments. That way, I do not get interrupted by my pumping schedule the moment that I am already basked in my combative mood. After I have completed a substantial amount of work in the morning, I'm off to lunch. I do not have the luxury of time to overstay at the coffee room for chika with my officemates, because I have some milk-expressing to do. So after taking my lunch, I head back to my room again and set-up my paraphernalia. The next milk-expressing schedule would be after merienda, and the last for the day would be before going home. I try to express milk at least 3 to 5 times a day in the office. My schedule is actually a little counter-productive, but it is the most practical timing that I can come up with. 

6. HOW?

Of course, I don't need to tell you how I express milk. (No mental image please.We're dealing with the sustenance of a child here, for Christ's sake!) But how do I manage to do it? Here are a few tips:

1. Dedication. Self-explanatory. If you do not set your heart and mind to it, laziness could really win you over.

2. Do not think of formula - or else, one will have the tendency to miss out a pumping schedule since there's something to supplement anyway. If you are doing it, might as well give your all. No retreat, no surrender!

3. Think of the benefits - and you will most likely agree that it far outweighs the disadvantages. For that alone, I get renewed strength to stop what I'm doing and set-up my pumping gears. 

4. Be proud of what you do - When you are giving your baby the best food there is, what is there not to be proud of? 

I knew that a lot of times I looked like a tired and stressed mother heavily laden by my pumping bag walking around aimlessly under the scorching heat of the sun. Those days I wished that I need not bring all those things with me (We hardly bring our car to work, that's why I always look like an eloping teenage girl with all the bags I carry every day.)

I knew that a lot of times the pleading that I was drafting had to be filed that same day and I could use every freaking hour to finish it. Those days I wished I need not spare extra time to express milk.

I knew a lot of times I could really use a good conversation with friends from the office - to rant or to ask about their cases or to just blabber nonsense and laugh out loud. Those days I wished I could stay longer for lunch instead of heading straight to my room after chewing on my last morsel of meat.

But I also knew that I was doing everything for my son, so I had to carry on.   After all, he would only need my sacrifice for a year or so, not for a lifetime. And I could never get these days back once I let them slipped by. So yes, I express milk at the office. And I'm extremely proud of it. 

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