Baby Love My Baby Love


Dear Jan Andres,

Yesterday, Facebook reminded me of your second birthday last year. We had a little party in your play school, with all your tiny friends gathered around your George Pig cake. Then on the weekend, we went to a kiddie farm in Tagaytay where you played with the animals, ran to your heart’s content and frolicked without fear or worry. It was less than a month before our world would be changed forever, but our photos showed no hint of the dark clouds looming in the distance. You ran through the wide green spaces with playful abandon, not knowing that soon we would have to lock you up in the confines of our urban home.

What a trooper you’ve been this past year, Jan Andres. Maybe it was because you were (and still are, really) too young to process any of these overwhelming changes, but I prefer to think that it’s because you just intuitively know what the people around you need, and you give it with such earnestness, innocence and love. Once last year, I can never forget, I was lying in bed and feeling sad, you lay down beside me hoping for attention. I didn’t turn to you and then after a few moments I heard you whisper, “the gentle seeds of patience”. I know, I know, that’s the title of a book you’ve been reading, but it was still startling to hear you say that — you who have only been in this world for all of thirty months and yet know how to draw from your limited well of words to make human connection.

It hasn’t been easy of course. You aren’t always easy, and I am not about to romanticize you as this docile, well-behaved toddler just because I’m your mom LOL. You have pretty clear ideas about what you want, and are not afraid to express it. You demand attention, and demand it frequently. Sometimes, it can be exhausting. I have to teach myself to be gentle and intentional with you, to learn how to set limits with you but at the same time be your safest space. Sometimes I wonder how other parents do it: tempering the desire to spoil their children with toys and gifts and endless attention to assuage the guilt of keeping them locked up, with the crucial need to ensure this pandemic doesn’t create a generation of self-entitled, sociophobic brats.

I think the answer is in trusting your kids more. Learning to trust you, learning to trust the process, learning to trust that, yes, the gentle seeds of patience will grow magnificently if we let the earth do its work. Several months ago, I was a little disappointed when you told me you weren’t ready to give up your slide. It was not a toy you played with frequently and frankly, it had gotten too small for you. You said you were ready to give it away, but at the last minute, you stopped me by going into a tantrum. Of course I respected your desire, but a very small part of me wondered if I hadn’t been modeling generosity enough. But a month later, you came to me and said “let us give the slide to the babies”. Then just a few days ago, with no prodding and no recent prior conversation, you pulled me to your cabinet of baby toys, and you said “these toys are for the babies.” That didn’t just amaze me, Jan, that taught me that I needed to trust you more. And that kindness is best sown and nurtured with gentle hands.

I do not know when this pandemic ends, and like the rest of the world, I hope it will be soon. This has been, after all, my most difficult year in all my 40 years in this world. At the same time, I say thank you for the chance to bear witness to your life in ways that would not have been possible without this global health crisis. It has been a profoundly transformative year, and the parts of it that are beautiful are because of you.

I love you, Jan Andres.


Baby Love My Baby Love

“Not scared”

It’s only been two months, but it feels like the world I was in when I first found out I was pregnant with my second baby is completely different from the world I am in now. In January 2020 B.C. (Before COVID), my husband and I could step out and celebrate our growing family in any restaurant of our choice. My parents could come to our house and my Mom could yell at me in person not to go up and down the stairs too much. I know I can see my doctor anytime anything felt wrong, and the hospital that’s been my family’s go-to would always be there to welcome me with piano music at the lobby and the rhythmic — never chaotic — movement of patients and doctors. In January 2020 BC, I was reasonably certain of how the next few months would look: me, still going to work daily but with perhaps a more temperate schedule, some weekend excursions, regular doctor’s check-ups and ultrasounds to monitor my growing belly, perhaps a couple of baby showers, and a worry-free childbirth in one of the best hospitals in the city.

March 2020 AC (After COVID) and that image has been razed to the ground. On March 17 — incidentally the same day I turned 40 — the government put the entire Metro Manila under Enhanced Community Quarantine. Everyone save for frontliners were asked to work from home, malls and restaurants shut down, public transportation stopped running, cars were disallowed on the street for all but the most essential of movement. All to halt the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve. I know that I am luckier than most: quarantine, for me, means staying at home in a relatively-comfortable flat, with the capacity to work from my laptop, and with the reasonable certainty that my family and I would not go hungry.

But this quarantine period, as well as this pervasive threat of COVID, brings its own set of difficulties for a pregnant woman. I am anxious everyday. I realize now that I have not completely gotten over the trauma of my miscarriage in 2017, and some days I wake up in cold sweat scaring myself with the thought that my baby has died inside of me. In Life BC, I knew that I could step into an ultrasound facility whenever I wanted, swipe my credit card, and I could see my baby right in front of my eyes. Bit alien and jelly-like in form, yes, but still my baby. And still moving and breathing. Now, I don’t know when my next appointment will be, when I can go to an ultrasound next, or if I can actually go to an ultrasound at all before giving birth. I bought a homemade doppler from someone selling her old one on Carousell, and freaked myself out further because I could not hear the heartbeat (my OB-gyn friend told me not to worry, the baby is still too small at 14 weeks for an untrained hand like mine to find the heartbeat quickly). I watch the news and see footage of hospitals in Italy completely overrun by COVID patients, like World War 2. I wonder how it would be like here in September and worry about where I would give birth if we escalate to Italy-levels.

A fellow mom reassured me that all will be fine and that it’s no different from 50 years ago, when you don’t really get ultrasounds and you only find out the sex of the baby when you give birth, yet everything still works out in the end. But I don’t want it to be 50 years ago — I want it to be 2020, where you can get an ultrasound right before a movie, and see the results on your mobile phone an hour after; or when a drop of blood from your finger can check your child for 35 different genetic disorders, and then some. Or rather, I want it to be 2019, where life is normal and death via respiratory droplets is not a shadow casting itself on literally every aspect of daily life.

My son, he is two. And he smells of cupcakes and promise. Like many two-year-olds, nothing fazes him. One night, however, he and his dad were tinkering with a camera app on his dad’s phone. It was a camera app that distorts your features and morphs you into a monster or a dinosaur or whatever. I guess it was a particularly scary distortion, because he suddenly cried out and hugged both of us. It was the first time I saw my brave little tarzan really scared of anything. I whispered softly, “are you scared, love?” He looked at me with big, watery eyes and then after a few seconds suddenly sat up and pursed his lips. “Not scared!” he yelled. “What did you say, love?” I asked again. “Not scared, not scared, NOT SCARED!” he repeated over and over.

And in that snippet of a moment, I got just the image I needed to tide me through my fears. It was my son — so innocent, so pure — deciding that his conviction was bigger than his fear. That he can talk down to whatever it is that makes his afraid.

And as he does, so I must do.

To a virus so virulent it can kill thousands and ground modern human movement to a halt, to a government that uses a public health emergency to silence its enemies and consolidate its powers, to a present so uncertain and a future even more so: we say, in the stillness of our hearts, or together as a community, we are “not scared, not scared, NOT SCARED.”

Baby Love My Baby Love, Special Occasions

“Happy” (A Post for Father’s Day)

In one of my baby showers before I gave birth, we played a game where Jan and I were asked an assortment of questions that we had to answer separately. At the end of the game, we would then see which answers matched. One question, perhaps playing on the stereotype of mixed Asian-Caucasian kids, asked, “if your boy could only be either an athlete or actor, what would you prefer him to be?” I readily scribbled, “athlete” and in my mind thinking, “with two post-graduate degrees”. When it was time to reveal our answers, I found out that my husband (playing fast and easy with the rules, per usual) wrote: HAPPY.

A few months after Jan Andres was born, we were again talking about what we wanted him to be in the future. “Doctor!” I readily said, in full Tiger Mom mode. Jan then said, “he should be what he wants to be. He can be a carpenter, as long as he’s…. (wait for it)…. happy.” I rolled my eyes at him, promptly accusing him of first-world privilege and ascribing his answer to the naïveté of someone born to a country where you can be a carpenter and still be able to send your kids to good schools and not have financial worries.

Reflecting on it further, however, I now see how important it is to be genuinely and truly committed to your child’s future happiness. I know, as parents, we all say “I want my child to be happy”, but have we really unpacked what that means? In the face of hard choices, can we still commit to our children’s happiness? (Parents of an LGBT child who refuse to accept their child’s gender identity probably also said to each other when their child was a toddler, “I want our child to be happy.”) With happiness as starting point, our children have the emotional resources to navigate towards success, self-improvement, social responsibility. They know they have a safe place from which to begin their journey, and to which they can always come back.

Like my Papa was my safe place growing up, I know my son will have a safe place in his Heit. His mom is a work in progress, she will need to be told sometimes to check her Tiger Mama impulses. She’s good for some things too: making sure that Jan Andres becomes the absolute best he can be, that he eats everything on the table without being picky, that he checks his privilege at the door. Oh and trust her to pay for things like Kumon enrichment classes, because well, Asian mom.

But I reckon it is from Heit that he will learn that grades do not define a person, and that life can beat with a slow and easy tempo. He’ll learn from Heit that weekends are for sleeping in and taking long baths, and that sometimes it’s ok to eat meals on the bed when your feet are tangled up under the covers with the one you love. Heit will teach him that in showing someone you care, consistency trumps flash and flourish; and that marriage is about sending buzzfeed articles about farting to each other. He’ll learn to see the perfect in the imperfect, the beauty in the mundane. He’ll learn that safe places are not structures you seek out, but spaces you create for the people you love through the everyday hard work of showing up, being around, staying present.

He’ll learn all these things, because he’ll be learning from the best.

Baby Love My Baby Love, Uncategorized

Trying your best is best

I remember one afternoon, while on holiday in Singapore, I was breastfeeding my child at a nursing area. A woman and her child then sat on the seat in front of me. I smiled the mommy-solidarity smile, and then looked curiously at the bottle, only because it was of an odd shape. She caught my glance, misinterpreted it, and then said, “yeah, breast is best, right?”. I was startled for a few seconds, not knowing what to say. Finally, I just said, “no, no, I was just looking at your bottle. That’s an Interesting thing inside.” (It turned out to be a vent system against colic). She then smiled, like she didn’t believe me, and we went our separate feeding ways. Then when she was done, as she was packing up and leaving, she glanced at me and said, “For me, fed is best” and then walked out. I didn’t know how to react at that moment, but felt several things: resentment at being lumped into a ‘camp’ I didn’t want to be in, and whose members I actually dislike (the sanctimonious nursing-nazi camp), compassion for moms that feel judged all the time, sadness that there are even camps to begin with.

Few things divide moms as much as the “breast is best” vs the “fed is best” debate. Let me get one thing out of the way: I think there is enough peer-reviewed scientific evidence to demonstrate the superior benefits of breastmilk compared to formula. For this reason, I have chosen to breastfeed my child exclusively for his first year. I also think that the tag “fed is best” is problematic even semantically, because, err, feeding your child is the minimum. Starvation is, I think we will all agree, unacceptable. How can fed be the best and the minimum at the same time? Lastly, there are credible reports of milk companies that use predatory practices to aggressively push formula, and this should not be countenanced.

AT THE SAME TIME, I think something really needs to be said about the self-righteousness of “breast is best” advocates, and how this self-righteousness is really not helping further the breastfeeding agenda. Women are made to feel they are not trying hard enough, and are shamed for considering mixed-feeding or switching to formula altogether. In a breastfeeding group I used to belong to, moms were always told “unli-latch lang yan!” to virtually each and every breastfeeding difficulty reported on. Do they have any clue how hard it is to have a hungry, wailing child at the breast because no milk is coming out? Because I do. Do they know how stressful it is to be pumping like a fiend in the middle of the day, between work meetings, and then getting only 2 oz after thirty minutes of pumping? Because I do.

Yes, I soldiered on. And yes, I successfully exclusively breastfed my child for his first year, but it’s not because I’m some wondermama. it’s also because I’m in a position of privilege. I have a job where I know I won’t get fired for taking long breaks to pump milk. I was given maternity leave in accordance with law. These are things that are not readily available to a female worker working in a factory or fastfood joint on contractual status. Are they any less a wondermama than I am? I think not.

And so this is my alternative formulation for women (like me) who feel caught in the middle of ‘breast is best’ and ‘fed is best’: Trying your best is best. For mommies, let’s try to breastfeed our children, because the evidence of its benefits are incontrovertible. But if it doesn’t work out, we need to tell ourselves that we are not lesser moms for looking for acceptable, medically-sound alternatives. We need not only to forgive ourselves, but to trust that the best we can give is truly the best for our child.

For communities that surround mommies, for families and friends of mommies, the ‘trying your best is best’ framework means that, while we ensure the availability of information and resources to enable breastfeeding, we are not allowed to second-guess women when they say that they try but that it’s not happening. We are allowed to heckle pharmaceutical companies that push formula to moms, but we are not allowed to make mothers feel inadequate for the choices they make. We put the needs of babies as paramount, but we should not ignore the mental health needs of new mothers who are already overwhelmed by this bewildering new frontier called motherhood. Most of all, we need to trust that all mothers want the best for their child and would give an arm and a leg to nourish them in the best way possible.

Because when mothers give their best, they give enough.

Baby Love My Baby Love

1:00 am

No, my baby doesn’t sleep through the night.

He is 14 months old, he is put to bed at 8:30pm, and every 1am without fail, he wakes up, makes his “awake-ness” known to the whole house, gets breastmilk, and then — depending on whether or not the goddesses are on my side — either slips back to sleep or gets cranked up and demands mommy time.

Yes, I know that babies past the age of 6 months *SHOULD* sleep through the night with no difficulty.

Everybody has told me that. I have been inundated with suggestions on how to get him sleeping for 8 hours straight. It has been suggested that I am an overindulgent mom, and my son, a despot in a teacup. A particularly pushy Tita has told me, “there is no medical reason a child above one needs to feed between dinner and breakfast.”

Of course, I’ve read all sorts of books to get him sorted. I’ve spoken to sleep coaches. We have had some improvement after employing some sleep training methods: after the post-midnight feed, we’ve gotten a straight stretch of sleep until 6am. I have gotten a bit used to it, and my body clock has adjusted accordingly.

But here’s the thing: there still is, it seems, enormous social pressure to drop the midnight feed. In the mommy blogs, in the self-help books, in the parenting forums.

I have decided recently to say SCREW IT.

No, it’s not just because I want to make sure my baby is fed when he’s hungry. Or comforted when he needs comforting. Or my warm body when his crib feels big and empty, and his room dark and forbidding.

It’s because that sliver of time when the universe around me fades to a whisper, is the only time my child and I truly have to be alone together. At 1:00am, when the work WhatsApps taper to a halt, when my husband is softly snoring beside me, when our household staff have retired to bed, I feel my child’s heartbeat next to mine. At 1:00am, I breathe his baby smells — milk and powder and little-boy wonder — and trace my fingers on the curvature of his head. I watch him sleepily look for my fingers to hold, reassured by the feel of our palms touching. At 1:00am, I watch what my embrace does to him, how it quiets the swirling chaos, and I wonder to myself how long my embraces will continue having that effect.

At 1:00am, I am his and he is mine.