Self-Image and Little Miss Philippines

When I was a child, I believed that I was beautiful – both inside and out. I wanted to compete in a popular pageant for young girls called “Little Miss Philippines” on a noon time variety show called “Eat Bulaga.” For some reason, I knew in my heart that I would crush it but I wondered why no one really advocated for me to join. That’s when it started… Between 5 and 7 years old, I began to question if I was seen by others as beautiful.

Fast forward to high school. Again, I found myself yearning to be nominated for a chance at the school beauty pageant. I waited for four years to be asked if I was interested but nothing happened. This was when it dawned on me – I just physically did not fit traditional standards of beauty.

It was also in high school that my self-image began its journey into distortion. For the first time in my life, I was told that I could be skinnier. So, at some point, I skipped lunch for a year to lose weight. Somehow, I started associating beauty with skinny (unfortunately, media and Philippine culture do too much to reinforce this). I was miserable and yes, I did stop believing I was beautiful.

Then, through college and through my first jobs, people kept telling me: I was gaining weight, I was getting fat. Even if my boyfriend (now husband) and best friends kept telling me I looked great, guess who I listened to? Guess what I saw every time I saw my reflection or looked at a recent photo of myself? I saw myself as overweight and unattractive.

The funny thing is… whenever I look back at those older photos now, I get so confused – why were people calling me fat? Why was I so convinced that I was fat? More importantly, why did it matter so much? As an example of what I mean when I say distorted self-image, take a look at the pic collage below. From the 4th photo onward, I’ve looked at each photo in the past and thought I looked fat due to either some feedback from the time or my own corrupted view of myself and yet, when I see these pictures now, I think: my BMI may not have been perfect but how come when I looked at these in the past, all I saw was weight I had to lose?

35E52B1B-CA6B-4948-99AE-7819AA97D704

After giving birth, breastfeeding helped keep the weight off for a few months. Then, my milk supply ran out and soon, I became the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. Except this time, losing weight is physically and logistically not as easy.

I’ve been avoiding posting pictures of myself. If I do post something, I carefully choose what makes the cut, fearful that I’ll be judged. I have deleted comments about my weight before.

I’m trying really hard to lose weight again. And this time, I want to do it not to avoid getting hurt by what others think or say. I want to do it for health reasons and without regard for how skinny society wants me to be. Whether or not I succeed, I want to feel beautiful again. Deep inside, I know she’s still there – the little girl who loved and believed in herself enough to think she can win “Little Miss Philippines.” I have to find her. Because no one else can advocate for me better… than me.

 

On Material Things

Dear Niko,

When I was in grade school, I had a yaya (house maid) – several yayas in fact that took care of me. I would buy a new stuffed toy almost every week, thanks to your grandpa, and I would often go clothes shopping with your grandma. We weren’t rich but I thought we were doing very well.
And then, at some point, we weren’t. Money was really tight. I remember getting teased at school because I only had enough cash to buy my favorite sour cream Vcut chips but then, the price went up from 10 to 12 pesos so, I couldn’t even afford it anymore. I was also made fun of for wearing shoes that weren’t branded. Hey, at the time, I thought they looked pretty cool. Then, when the hippest phone was a 3310, I still had a 5110.

I was very envious of other kids for not needing packed lunches, having cash to spend, wearing expensive brands and owning the latest devices.

That was high school. But through college, followed by a few years of work, my financial status kept shifting and ultimately, my thinking changed. I mean I still like having nice things but even if I don’t have them, I’m okay.
Right now, we are not rich, quite far from it. But we are blessed. Childcare is too costly but your Titas (aunts) have been helping us out. We have a roof over our heads, food in our fridge (after we do groceries soon) and our friends and family have gifted you with a constant supply of clothes and toys.

Sometimes, we will have nice things, sometimes, we won’t. I want a nice, comfortable life and the best things for you, and I know that growing up, you will still want what you don’t have. But Son, I hope that when you get older, you realize that the best part of life is enjoying what you do have.
Right now, I don’t need to tell you that. But when you start experiencing teenage angst due to material things, like your mother did, I might have to show you a photo of your toddler self, enjoying a laundry basket more than your actual toys.


Love,

Mama Bear

How long is a year?

img_3214

How long is a year?

Long enough for me to watch you with joy, pride and wonder as you aced each milestone – smiling for the first time, holding your head up, saying your first words, eating solids, sitting up unsupported, sleeping through the night, crawling, standing, walking and getting your first tooth.

Long enough for me to continuously question my capabilities as a mother. Many days, I’ve run on empty but because I love you and because I am accountable for your wellbeing, quitting is not and will never be an option.

Long enough for me to experience “too many cooks in the kitchen” where there are too many opinions on how to raise you. Although suggestions are highly valued, your father and I must still aggregate and filter all available information, sometimes making mistakes in our decisions, so that we could find our own way.

Long enough for me to deal with bouts of anxiety and depression while I struggled to balance family, health and career. Only to realize that things will never be perfect across the board and that I can be happy just from doing my best to get by.

At any other point in my life, a year would have felt like such a long time and yet, it feels like it was only yesterday that I first saw you, held you and heard you cry.

I love seeing you grow and become more independent, and yet, I already miss you being so tiny and fragile. I already miss you asking to hold my hand with every step you take.

The first year went by too quickly and yet, it was long enough for me to feel all the beautiful, scary, all – enriching things you’ve made me feel.

I love you so much, Niko… Although you are officially a toddler now, like I’ve said many times before, you will always be my baby boy.

Happy First Birthday, Baby Bear!!!

Our First Wedding Anniversary as Parents

img_2532

Dear Papa Bear,

It’s been six years since we tied the knot. But this year, it’s different… because we now have a child that will turn into a toddler next month.
As exciting as the past year has been, it has also been rough for us as we went through drastic changes – no more traveling, no more crazy spending, no more proper sleep. I wouldn’t have made it without you.

I want to thank you for setting a good example for our son. As sad as it is, there are still nonsensical stereotypes that stem from outdated patriarchal thinking and you break each and every one of them. You help care for our son, you help cook and clean and do the laundry. Most importantly, you support me working and push me to be my best both at work and at home.

I appreciate all the sacrifices you make for our family. Thank you for being there for me and Niko on our darkest and brightest days. We love you so much!!!

Happy 6th Anniversary, my love!

Yours forever, lol I hope that’s alright,

Mama Bear

Mama’s Boy

img_2520

Dear Niko,

You are currently at an age of extreme attachment to me. During your earlier months of life, you seemed more like a Papa’s boy. But recently, what a big Mama’s boy you’ve become. It fills me with pride when your eyes brighten whenever you see me. You probably just associate me with food, milk, clean diapers, books and sleeping time but I manage to convince myself that you must love me.
I have to admit though that as much as I love you and as cute as I’m finding all this, it’s been a struggle to do anything other than attend to your needs. Every time you spot me, you reach for me… and every time I walk away, in the absence of distractions, you cry for me. My heart breaks each time you cry for me. I tried the whole saying goodbye properly thing with you and it didn’t work. So, on weekdays, I’ve had to revert to wishing you don’t wake up around the time I leave for work.

I know this is just a phase. There will come a time when you will no longer ask me to hold you, when you will no longer jump with excitement at the sight of me, when I’ll be gone and you’ll no longer look for me. It makes me sad thinking about how someday, you will outgrow needing me – the same way you outgrew your clothes, your jumparoo, your carseat…
But until then, I will enjoy this moment. And even if you forget/deny ever being a Mama’s boy, I will always remember. And even if you reach a point in your life when loving your mother so much is not as cool anymore, I promise I will still love you.

Love,

Mama Bear

Baby Bear writes to Papa Bear 2

Dear Papa Bear,

You always joke that you want to be a detached father, watching your heir from a distance until he is ready to inherit your kingdom. You joke around a lot and Mama Bear and I love that about you but the type of father you joke about as an aspiration can’t be farther from the truth.

image

Since the day I was born, with Mama Bear in too much pain and under too much medication after C-section, you had to care for me a lot. Remember when my bilirubin levels were too high and I had to get phototherapy and formula milk for two days and two nights? You had to take me out of that UV machine whenever I became hungry or too irritable. You had to put back my pacifier every time it fell out my mouth. Plus the machine was so annoying because an alarm sounded when its door was opened. Before we left the hospital, the nurses were saying the same thing about you that I want to say again now: You are the best dad ever.

image

Mama Bear’s recovery from my delivery was slow… largely due to her recurring biliary colic from a gallbladder which had to be taken out eventually. It must have been tough for you to coordinate care for me, sister cats and the house while worrying about Mama Bear’s health before, during and after her surgery.

image

Fast forward to a month ago when I started daycare. In one month, I already managed to get sick twice. You rarely used to get sick but because you couldn’t stand being away from me too long, I’d been passing my sickness on to you. I’m so sorry yet so grateful that you sacrifice your health to look after me.

image

Thanks for playing with me, for making me smile and laugh so much. For taking me to daycare and picking me up. For carrying me when my stroller/car seat is too uncomfortable/boring. For always stepping in to watch me when Mama Bear is sick, tired or working. I am 7 months and 4 days old now, and I am the luckiest baby in the world because you are my father.

Thanks for everything so far and still to come. I love you so much and Happy First Father’s Day since your baby popped out!!!

Love,
Baby Bear

My Second Mother’s Day Card from Niko

image

I can’t believe how much time went by since I received my first Mother’s Day card from the child in my womb.

So, my super fluent, super smart child strikes again:

image

“Dear Mama,

I am so happy to have finally met you. I waited so long and I was so excited to meet my family. I bet you did not realize how cute I would be. Well I did promise that I would make it all worth it in the end, and here I am. I grow so much every day and I love you even more.

I am so thankful for what you do for me. You are the best mom that I could ask for and as beautiful as I had imagined while I was still in your belly. I hope you have the happiest mother’s day today.

I love you, mama
From Niko”

The opportunity to have this wonderful child to love as my own – that’s the greatest Mother’s Day gift of all.

image

A Letter to Tita Ninang (Aunt-Godmother) from Baby Bear

Dear Tita Ninang Den,

image

The first time you took care of me, you didn’t have prior childcare experience. Grandma showed you how to hold me, feed me, change my diaper and get me to sleep. While Mama Bear only gave you one simple rule: “Don’t drop the baby.”

image

In less than 4 months, with very little guidance (because Mama Bear is also new to all this) you’ve become an expert babysitter. You looked after me while my parents worked or rested. But you did more than just keep me satisfied with food, naps, clean diapers and play time. You serenaded me, read me books, helped me prep for my baptism (by playing coffee shop background noise for me every day so that people wouldn’t scare me so much on the big day – and it worked). You took awesome photos and videos of me that I hope to look at when I get older.
You sat next to my carseat and made sure I didn’t get cranky during car rides. You sacrificed a lot of sleep so that you can have time to both work and look after me.
You’ve been such a big help to Mama Bear and Papa Bear during this tough transition period of having their first kid.
Now that you’re back in the Philippines, I miss you. My days are not the same without you. But don’t worry, Mama Bear is trying her best and I am still the happy baby you know.
I love you, okay? Please take good care of yourself. Thank you for all you’ve done for me so far and for all I’m sure you’ll do to stay a huge part of my life.

Happy, happy Birthday!
See you later!

Love,
Baby Bear
Niko

Your Anxious Mother

Dear Niko,

People tell you many things before you become a parent. But there are things people forget to tell you or intentionally don’t tell you, perhaps, because some topics are deemed too grim. So here is one of the most commonly skipped topics.
Long before you decide to be a father, I want you to know that until you become a parent: you have never known fear, not like this.

I have always been anxious regarding a lot of things growing up. I get scared by potential sources of conflict, failure, helplessness and loss. So, believe me when I say I have never been this scared before. Why?
I worry about you, your health, your safety, your development, your future… and most importantly, I worry about the possibility of losing you.

You got sick when you were 2 weeks old and to be on the safe side, the doctors did a septic work-up on you – which was apparently a series of tests that required poking a baby all over, even taking spinal fluid from you (to rule out meningitis). You were admitted and confined in a hospital on your first Thanksgiving. So, imagine me and your father clinging miserably to each other because we couldn’t bare to see you suffering… and quite spectacularly on a night when our family should have been celebrating. I wept, wondering what we could have done differently – maybe we should have waited longer to take you out of the house, maybe we didn’t keep you warm enough or cool enough, maybe my breastmilk was not giving you the antibodies you need…image
Thankfully, on the third day, you were cleared of any concerning infections and we were able to bring you home. I can see why people don’t like talking about this. Up to now, thinking about this event brings me to tears.

You’re a week away from turning 5 months. You’ve had 2 sets of vaccinations already. You’ve maintained a healthy weight (consistent 90th percentile). I’m still paranoid about you catching sickness, but I gain a little more confidence every time we go out on an excursion with you. However, I’ve gotten myself a new fear to face… every night within our home.

You’ve been rolling a lot and you’ve discovered the comforts of sleeping on your belly (I was also a tummy sleeper before I got pregnant with you). That’s fine although what’s terrifying is how I’ve been catching you sleeping face down. I’ve lost plenty of sleep, pondering if you would always wake and turn your head without fail in case you had difficulty breathing. You see, Son, your mother sometimes gets over-educated by the Internet which worsens her anxiety. As an example, I learned the meaning of rebreathing.
Hence, I did some more research and purchased you a breathable mattress pad and breathable sheets. Even with all the positive reviews for these products, I’m still afraid. I still regularly check-in through the night to make sure you’re breathing and to turn your head as needed. I hope that in just a couple more months, the worries about safe sleep would go away like the forums say they would.
I can tell though that there will be another cause for fear after this and that my list of fears involving you will just keep growing and growing.

Now, I have heard people say that nothing can make you appreciate your parents more than becoming a parent. Based on my limited experience, I find this statement to be true.
I want to thank my parents, your Grandma and Grandpa. I’m just in the early stages of motherhood and if I’m already frightened by so many things, then, I can’t even begin to fathom how scary it must have been to raise me and my two sisters over the last three decades.

Ma, Pa, for all the times I scared you and still scare you, I’m sorry. For all the things I was too little to know or recall and for all the things I do remember – like when my head got stuck between the balusters of our balcony as a toddler, or when I stayed out too late without bothering to give a heads up as a teenager, or when I went to the emergency room multiple times as an adult.
I want you to know that I love you and that I appreciate all the fears that came and come with caring about me. I could only hope that someday, Niko will see all the love behind my fears and appreciate how scared I am, too.

The Arrival of Baby Bear

When your father and I were still trying to get pregnant, I managed to waste a box set of 5 pregnancy tests in just a couple of days over a false alarm. It was the type of pee test where two stripes confirmed pregnancy while one stripe meant “Sorry, try again.” I used up all the tests thinking, Maybe that’s just a blurry second line, maybe I’m really pregnant. I wasn’t really pregnant, not that time at least.

It wasn’t until March 11th, 2015 that I got my first positive result. I just woke up to get ready for work and with my period delayed a week, I thought of peeing on a stick. This time I used the test for people like me that see invisible lines out of sheer optimism:

image

I called your father and asked him to drive back home (he was still close to the house when all this unfolded). I had no elaborate plans to surprise him with the news. He walked in, all worried, asking why I called and I showed him the pee stick. I forget what he said but I remember how happy I felt when he smiled right before hugging me. It didn’t last very long (because he was running late for work) but it was the sweetest embrace we had ever shared since we got married.

Anyway, your father asked me to not use up a whole box of tests in one day to confirm the pregnancy. So, on March 14th, 2 more tests concurred that my hcg levels were high enough:

image

I’ve already shared with you how I struggled with hyperemesis gravidarum during the first half of my pregnancy. I also mentioned some other pains I felt during the later half. But I don’t think I’ve told you that your father and I were planning a last little getaway before you were born.
We booked a weekend at a bed and breakfast where we were supposed to sleep in this room:

image

…and dine with this view:

image

But on the Friday leading up to the trip, your father and I ended up spending the night in a hospital. I was confined due to preterm contractions and was given medication to prevent me from going into labor. The next day, I was discharged and ordered to take off work sooner for some bed rest.

image

Every week, the doctor was expecting me to go into labor already. But my cervix never dilated until the night of November 14th, one day later than your original due date. Even then, the hospital sent us back home because I was “barely” dilated.
On the midnight of the 15th, your father and I drove back to the hospital since the pain from my contractions had become unbearable. But according to the resident, I only opened 1 cm. I was put on morphine rest to help with the pain. Honestly, it was useless. The pain still barreled through me and the morphine only relaxed me enough to properly breathe through the contractions.
Around 3 to 4am, I had dilated to 7cm. I was in active labor and was administered epidural with my speedy consent.
Around 7 to 8am (forgive the inaccuracies – your mother was pretty messed up during this time), my cervix hardly changed and your head, my dear child, had not come down… at all.
Between 9 and 10am, it was decided that I would deliver through C-section. The operation started at about 11am. I didn’t hurt until anesthesia wore off much later. However, I did feel the poking and pulling on my insides, and I did shiver uncontrollably from what seemed like extremely cold surgery room temperature.
At 11:39am, you were born. 9 pounds and 2 ounces. The doctor said that you were such a big baby, there was no way my anatomy could have handled delivering you naturally.
Another doctor made a comment on your ultrasound weeks before. Based solely on your 4D image, he concluded that I would be having a beautiful baby. When I first saw you, first heard you cry, nothing could have prepared me for how beautiful I found you, how overwhelmingly thankful I was that you’re alive, you’re well and you’re finally with us.

image

When you grow up, I will constantly remind you of how tough I had it while I was pregnant with you. I will also tell you about how tough I had it after giving birth to you – from a not-so-fun C-section recovery, to you catching a virus, to my run-in with gallstones (which I am still currently dealing with). But no matter what I tell you, know that you are worth going through it all… and that I love you very much.

image

This post is a little bit late as I have still been adapting to your arrival. But welcome to the world, Nikolas Ryan!