If having a baby were as easy as having a stork deliver a healthy, kicking and howling child at your doorstep, there wouldn’t be any occasion for pregnancy-related stress. But the stork is a myth and every mother knows that pregnancy and giving birth are no walk in the park. “Behind every baby is an unbelievable story” says Discovery Health Channel where Baby Week launches on June 12, with four episodes airing as follows: Twins By Surprise on Sunday, June 14; Little Parents, Big Pregnancy on Monday, June 15; Births Beyond Belief on Tuesday, June 16; and Obese & Pregnant on Wednesday, June 17. I couldn’t agree more. I gave birth twice and both stories are unbelievable from start to finish. Too unbelievable, in fact, that my husband gets nervous whenever I make jokes about having a third child.
A lot of women tend to romanticize motherhood. It’s probably an offshoot of the iconic Madonna and child image which seems to perpetuate the myth that giving birth is the epitome of womanhood and femininity. I was probably one of them in my younger years when my idea of motherhood revolved around having a daughter (the possibility of having sons never crossed my mind), teaching her, raising her, buying beautiful dresses and shoes…
My obsession with having a daughter was heightened when, at 24 and just a year out of law school, I fell ill. Never mind the details of the illness. Suffice to say that after four OBGYNs, a hematologist and an endocrinologist, no clear diagnosis could be made and I was advised, quite bluntly, to undergo hysterectomy to save my life. I refused and my father brought me to a fifth OBGYN. That man saved my life and my chance of becoming a mother. Instead of hysterectomy, I underwent myomectomy. I’d talk about doctors who make decisions based on guesswork but that’s an altogether different story.
Needless to say, when I got married a few years later, I dismissed my mother’s advise to wait a few years before having children. A month after the wedding, I was pregnant, and in my gut I knew it was a girl. Now, you have to understand the little superstitions that Filipinos are prone to. Most people in the office said if a woman looked gorgeous during pregnancy, she would have a girl. If she looked like a wreck, she’d have a son. The superstition was bolstered even more when a legal secretary who looked like a train wreck gave birth to twin sons. So, everyone took it as an affirmation and they were all so sure I’d have a daughter.
A few months later, a sonogram proved them right. I was happy as a lark. I was all psyched up to hold my daughter in my hands, read to her, play with her and teach her a thousand things but I was ill-prepared for the physical and psychological trauma that went with my pregnancy. It was a very difficult pregnancy. Physically and emotionally draining.
So as not to gross you out, I’ll just say that, on doctor’s orders, I was on “bed rest” for most of my pregnancy. It was 1992, the country was reeling from eight to sixteen-hour brownouts daily, and all I could do was lie in bed. The few hours in the afternoon that power was on, I watched the Olympic Games telecast.
I was on medication too to avoid miscarriage. And the threat of miscarriage lasted throughout the pregnancy. I was hospitalized three times and that excludes the last confinement when I gave birth. The medication was a part of me for so long that, to this day, I remember the name, Duvadilan – tablets when I was at home, IV drip during my various confinements. But, despite all that, I still didn’t manage to complete the usual nine-month period. After eight months of pregnancy, I gave birth to a girl, Samantha, via Caesarian section.
It’s fashionable these days to talk about pregnancy as a “we” experience. You know, when a couple is expecting a baby, they say “we’re pregnant” and “we’re going to give birth.” The involvement of the child’s father, emotionally and physically, is a wonderful thing. But, no matter how you slice it, pregnancy is a woman thing. No matter how involved a father is, he can only experience vicariously the slow changes that go through your body, the emotional and psychological impact of the physical changes, the body heat that seem indescribable and intolerable during a first pregnancy… I could go on and on.
Does it get better during subsequent pregnancies? Perhaps, for some. But me? I gave birth to our second daughter, Alexandra, again via Caesarian section after seven months of pregnancy. She was a puny four-pound baby who had to stay in the incubator for over a week because her lungs were underdeveloped and she couldn’t breath on her own. Can you imagine what it’s like to see your baby only through glass windows? Do you know what it’s like to see her crying and all you want to do is gather her in your arms but you can’t?
So, when I kid my husband about having a third child, he rarely finds it funny. And I don’t blame him, really. The great thing is that unlike most Filipino males, he doesn’t hanker for a son to carry on the family name. I can only imagine what it must be like for women who feel obliged to get pregnant over and over again just to satisfy a husband who insists that he must have a son. Men will never ever know how trying pregnancy can be.