Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hi, My Name is Joy...and I am Reproductively Challenged

There she is.  Again.  

Jennifer Aniston is staring back at me while I do my business in the bathroom. For months it's been the same thing and it has gotten beyond embarrassing. When normal people do their 'business', they can go ahead and grab their magazines (or books) parked in their bathrooms, read leisurely and perhaps, say, after a few 'visits' within a week or two, they would have been done with the magazine and retire it in their recycling bins.  In my case, however, the same magazine cover with Ms. Aniston and her wide eyes and effortlessly beautiful hair has been staring back at me for at least 4 months now!  What should normally be a relaxed and totally private time has morphed into a tense one for me where I get totally frazzled each and every single time.  

When I go take my bathroom breaks, it feels like I have to beat a timer and it's a mad dash.  If I take too long, I'm going to end up dealing with Noah banging insanely against the door and screaming at the top of his lungs.  This is now that he's three. When he was a baby or a younger toddler, I've had to deal with his crying and totally freaking out.  Either that or I've had to deal with my own paranoia as I imagine him engaging in something totally unsafe, like maybe put something dangerous in his mouth, climb somewhere he's not equipped for, or whatever. You get the picture.  Well, now, not only does he have a choice of either banging on the bathroom door or screaming if I took so long, he also discovered that he can sit on my lap while i'm 'sitting in there' and, for some inexplicable reason, still find it comforting.  And that's just one among the MANY 'challenges' of parenthood/motherhood.  My son is a good boy, don't get me wrong.  But he can be VERY intense.  Genetic, perhaps?  Oh whatever....

But I can't complain.  Seriously, I can't.  Oh sure I get exasperated and allow myself to feel upset, angry and all the negativity that any normal human being is capable of.  But I can't complain to the point of questioning why I ever became a mother.  Not so much because of all the ooey-gooey reasons a typical mother would give you...that your heart melts when your child smiles at you; that it's so rewarding once they learn to speak, say how much they love you and give you hugs and kisses; or that there is nothing more enriching than realizing that your heart is capable of so much love.  

I do not have the right to question why I became a mother as if it were something bestowed upon me without me willing it because it was a extremely conscious one.  I can never deny my willing motherhood because other than Noah being a gift from God, he is also, more directly, a gift from science.


Noah is an IVF (in vitro fertilization) baby.  And yes I am reproductively challenged.  To some, this topic and my admission may be taboo.  Traditionally, people don't go around announcing that to the world for fear of being judged and labelled with terms that point to a singular fact---being 'less'...less of a woman, less of a human being. Well, it is a medical condition that makes me incapable of naturally reproducing.  But I never believed it made me less of anything.  For some reason, which may seem odd to some, I was never afraid of the judgement and more importantly, never really cared.  

After two years of marriage and having no luck at getting pregnant, AJ and I decided to see a fertility specialist.  We both had to go through a series of tests, although I had to endure more of course.  I won't bore you with all the details of what I medically had to go through but suffice it to say that it took about five months for everything to come to fruition.  It took countless ultrasounds and needle pricks done to me or self-administered.  (If you're curious, here's a video that captures a fraction of what I had to do in our efforts to get pregnant). 

And don't even ask me to enumerate all the medication I had to take to manipulate my reproductive system.  I had to give myself shots to help stimulate my eggs to mature.  Then more shots to keep myself from releasing those eggs.  And then there are shots that fool your body into thinking that it's pregnant.  I've had to go through physical pain average women won't normally experience in their efforts to reproduce. From the disappointment of not conceiving naturally, to the disappointment and pain (both physical and emotional) of conceiving ectopically, it's an understatement to say that it was an emotional roller coaster like I've never experienced before.  

It's exhausting.  (Yet another understatement).  And expensive.  (We sure would not have been able to afford all of it without health insurance).  But I had to do it.  More than anything, I owed it to myself to do everything and try anything I was capable of.  All I knew was that I did not want to regret not trying what ever options were out there that were acceptable to me.  I did not want to wait until things were too late.  What was clear was that I did not have forever.  And most of all, it was clear to me that 

After all the medication, the shots, the vaginal ultrasounds and blood tests, and after the egg extraction and embryo transfer are done, then it was time for relentless prayer.  At least for me, this stage (and onwards) spelled out praying like I've never prayed before.  Science has done its job, done all it could.  It was clear that now, it's all up to a Higher power.  My life became a life of waiting and praying...waiting for the doctor's confirmation that I was indeed pregnant after the IVF procedure, that at least one embryo took after they implanted three; praying that everything is going well inside my body; waiting for the nurses and the ultrasound technicians to inform me that the baby is growing normally; praying that nothing bad happens.  As the woman carrying the baby inside you, sure you feel some control over what you do to your body that will benefit your unborn child.  But at the same time, I have never felt so helpless my entire life.  At the back of my mind I knew that even after the first 3 months, which they say is the most sensitive and crucial times for pregnancy, anything can still happen.  I wish I can tell you that I was more positive and more trusting, but I can't.  All my paranoia seemed to have been heightened all the more while I was pregnant.  I remember that my daily prayer was for God to grant me a normal and healthy baby...well, that and beautiful too.  I remember thinking and being humbled that even though we were allowed to go this far and conceive, the outcome is still never guaranteed.  When you are talking about life, conception, and what happens inside your body, you really don't have as much control as you'd like.  At some point, you just need to have faith and relinquish.    

My pregnancy with Noah was not without its challenges.  On my 19th (almost 20th week), I had some bleeding and had to be put on modified bed rest.  I had difficulty walking and had some pelvic pain way before my due date.  I also had gestational diabetes and I would have to say that was the worst part!  For a carbohydrate addict like me, the last few months prior to delivery were torture.  I practically had to give up eating any sort of dessert because it made my blood sugar levels rise and I was scared of what it may do to my unborn child.  Like I said above, my paranoia was at its worst during pregnancy.  

With all these challenges, I felt somewhat tormented....mainly because I knew it was what I wanted, it was something I had prayed for.  At the same time though, part of me resented the fact that it felt like I no longer owned my body. I could not do to it what I wanted or sometimes needed because I always had to think of this child living inside me.  I couldn't self-medicate and did not feel free to ingest what I wanted, what I've been used to all because somebody else owned my body too.  I will not be a hypocrite.  I admit that I resented that idea....but could not do anything about it.  I knew I had to accept it.  I just wanted to give birth already and have my body, and my life back.

How stupid was I for thinking that???....that it all ends with delivery???

After the Stork has Flown
Noah is just like me.  He adores rules and lives by them.  His due date was supposed to be April 22.  He was born on April 21 at 11:55pm...just 5 minutes early!  I guess he just did not want to be late!  

Most of what happened after he came out is still a blur to me.  All I remember was that I was paranoid up to the last minute, constantly checking the monitor for his heartbeat prior to delivery.  I also treated delivery as a sport.  The more my doctor told me to push, the harder I pushed and wanted to show her I was a good 'pusher' if I was being graded for it!  I remember thinking it seemed like I wanted to prove something.  It was as if I was competing with another pregnant woman in the room and that there would be a reward for the one who would push best and deliver soonest.  (What a psycho, huh?)  But hey! got me the results I needed!  When Noah was finally out, I honestly did not have the 'awwwww-you-melt-my-heart-and-fill-me-with-love' feeling.  It's not that I did not love my son.  It's just that I was too busy worrying about him, making sure he was fine and again, wondering and waiting for the nurses to tell me what his Apgar score was.  Actually, now that I think about it, I've never stopped worrying about Noah ever since I was informed of my pregnancy!  

I'm exhausted.  It's all VERY exhausting and frustrating too.  I won't even bore you anymore with the depth of my frustration with the La Leche League and everyone who's a hardcore advocate of breast feeding.  It's one thing to emphasize the value of breast milk (and I'm all for it), but it's another to insist on breast feeding as the only way.  Some of these people just can't seem to understand that some women don't have enough milk, or maybe some babies just won't latch on, or perhaps some women just choose differently.  Don't ask me why they don't understand all that.  All I know is that next time, if I'm ever going to have a 'next time', I promise not to let myself be pressured (or even bullied) by these women.  Never again.

Anyway, soon after delivery, I realized how motherhood is synonymous to sacrifice.  Nothing is just all about you anymore...not your time, not your body, not that thing called 'sleep' (or whatever that means), not your thoughts, prayers and dreams.  It's rewarding, yes.  But I also have to just be honest and admit that it's all extremely exhausting, draining, frustrating, and lonely too at times.  It's almost taboo to say all those things, isn't it?  But as mothers, I believe we need to allow ourselves to say AND feel all those things...all the good and the not-so-good.  I was never a fan of those people who make motherhood seem so effortless and only have nice things to say about it.  I've always been wary of those people and those pronouncements.  I think they're either delusional or big time liars.  Everyone deserves to know how difficult it is, albeit beautiful; how draining and fulfilling at the same time.  That's why I've always said, you have to want it, REALLY want it, to become one.  You can't become one just because it's what's expected of you, or because you think it's the natural course of things.  Know that not all women are built to be mothers.  It has to be a 'want to', not a 'have to'.  It has to be your choice and one that you are willing to stand by.  You don't have to be 'ready' for it because no one is ever fully prepared for all the challenges motherhood has to offer.  But you have to be prepared at least mentally and emotionally, armed with the acceptance that the road ahead will be anything but easy and sweet.

As someone who had to go through assisted reproduction, it was clear to me that I had to want it because once the process starts, there's really no turning back.  Every needle prick, every hormone medication you have to put inside your body to manipulate your reproductive system reminds you that this is a decision and a journey you are prepared to stand by and stick to.  

And why am I writing all these things now?  Well, because I have once again decided that I want it...again.  We are once again in the process of assisted reproduction and very soon, I will be saying my hello's to all the vials and needles and all those hormone medications.  As a matter of fact, this just arrived yesterday... entire box of meds to manipulate my body so it can get pregnant.  

So, wish me luck and say prayers for us.  This is our last attempt and I owe it to Noah, mainly to Noah, to try and give him a sibling.  It's going to be another long and difficult journey ahead but what can I say?...hope does carry us through....hope that after a whole box of medication, we may be blessed again with something like this...


Friday, September 24, 2010

Fortune Friday 9.24.10: Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

“Tell them what you really think.  Otherwise, nothing will change.” 

This is one of those 'easier-said-than-done' things...well, at least for someone like me who has self-assertion issues.  Though I've actually improved somehow, especially in the past year, I would have to admit that I probably would still avoid any sort of confrontation if I had some way out.  My normal tendencies are to either find someone else to speak up for me, or find some indirect, subtle way of expressing how I feel to the person concerned.  If both are not available to me, then I'm left to fester with those negative thoughts and feelings.  I'd have to admit that most of the time, I'm left with those negative feelings....fester, fester, fester.

In situations where our boundaries are crossed, in some way or another, we choose silence over self-assertion mainly because of fear.  We fear that speaking up will strain a valued relationship.  We fear that our feelings are not valid.  We fear embarrassment.  We fear attention.  We fear the possibility of aggression from the other person.  We fear isolation.

But could it also be that our greatest fear is to discover how strong we are?  And in discovering that strength, we fear rejection from others for daring to show ourselves in all our glory, with all that we're truly made of?  When we don't speak out and make our boundaries known, little by little we undermine ourselves.  Slowly but surely, we strip ourselves of power and allow others to ignore our spirit.  And believe me when I say that is probably the worst self-inflicted pain there is.  I have been to a place where I've felt utterly powerless and insignificant and it certainly bred an insidious illness.  Feeling like you don't matter, or what you think and have to say do not matter, can drive you to the depths of hopelessness and depression.  And once you realize how much all this is weighing you down, the only way to truly save yourself (and only YOU can save your self) is to find your voice.  As you learn to use that voice, hope will slowly re-appear, for you will see with such clarity that you have choices, you have power, and you have every right as everybody else to be heard and respected.  Through the boundaries you  establish, you show the world who you are, what you are about, what you will take and what you reject.

Those who don't respect others' boundaries are not evil least not all the time.  Sometimes, they just don't have a sense of such boundaries, while other times, they just never thought those things mattered to some people.  Whatever their reasons are, the fact is that boundaries get crossed because someone allows it to happen.  Therefore, it is our responsibility to have our selves show up, speak up and draw the line.  Again, easier said than done but it's always good to be at least reminded.  Maybe someday soon, I'll be brave every single time someone crosses the line and violates my sense of self.  

For now, allow me to just be selectively assertive while waiting for that day to come.  For now, an interesting list would have to suffice.  Here are a few things I would love to say to a few individuals (personally known or unknown) but still can't, for lack of some needed assertive muscles....

If you're in such a hurry and don't mind either (or both) getting pulled over by a cop or risking your life, then by all means, speed up and pass me up.  But for the love of God, quit riding my butt!!!

I love you.  But when you fail to check the time before calling and you end up calling at past 10 p.m. and it's nothing I can force to fall into my 'emergency' category, you have to agree that it's annoying.  Would you kindly glance at your clock before grabbing that phone at night?  
I think it's not cool to brag about the fact that the cashier at the store mistakenly gave you extra change, and a huge one at that, and you did not return the money.  You should have enough empathy for that cashier and think of your negative karma as well.  So not cool...

We're not friends and we're most definitely not family.  So when I talk about my concerns about pregnancy and reproduction, I would appreciate that you not add to my stress by not giving me unsolicited advice and stories of failed pregnancies and some other horrific statistics that go against me.  You don't know me.  I don't know you.  Please don't give me any more reason to not want to know you even more.


Feel free to spew a few statements to people who have crossed your boundaries but whom you never managed to confront.  Who knows?  Maybe some rehearsal through the comments section will do you good!


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Flashback: Younger Sentimental Me Part III

Sa kadiliman ng silid,
mayroong isang lamok
na nagkamali'ng magpa-untog
sa palad ko.

Habang May Brownout
Nakahiga ako sa dilim
Sayad ang likod
sa kutsong malambot
humahanga sa mga
ng tula
ng mga Atenista.


Nasa kabilang bakod
umaawit sa tinig
ni Sheryl Cruz.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Post It Tuesday

I want to post blogs more regularly but sometimes circumstances don't allow it. Sometimes I just get too busy, and sometimes I try to write multiple long essays simultaneously and end up being unsuccessful at finishing any one of them.  And that's where this Post It Tuesday idea comes in.  I came across this through this blog site / this page and will now be adopting the practice:

So, for Tuesdays when I don't have anything long to say, or just want to resist all inclination to be verbally incontinent, I will be posting a virtual Post It!  

Here's mine for today...

Friday, September 10, 2010

Flashback: Younger Sentimental Me Part II

A poem almost two decades old...

Isang Elehiya

Kaibang panlalamig,
pangangatal ng katawan, 
pagkatulala ng mga mata...
Nakalulunod na katahimikan,
pagkabingi sa mundo,
pagka-likot ng guni-guni...

...Paglisan ng pag-asa,
   kamatayan ng pangarap,
   paglipas ng alaalang matamis.

Ang lahat ay iniuugnay
ng naupos na

Friday, September 3, 2010

Fortune Friday 9.3.10: Mother Bear on Duty

"You are the guiding star of his existence."

This is one post I wished I never ever had to write.  They say some bloggers blog so that their children can read about their mother's thoughts and feelings once they're old enough to understand, but this is one post I truly wish and pray would be irrelevant in the future.  Is that too naive of me to hope for, in the same way that I once thought 'this' was no longer an issue in this day and age???

Race.  Some of us deny its significance.  A lot of us would rather believe that it has no power over us.  Too many of us would rather not talk about it.  Yesterday though, what was previously in the back burners of my mind suddenly and unfortunately, came to the fore of my consciousness. Yesterday was my baby's first day of preschool.  As he expands his world and enters another institution that he will be a part of for much of his lifetime (I hope!), it dawned on me that race relations will now be a reality that my own son will be exposed to.

Growing up, this was never important to me.  I belonged to a society that was not extremely racially diverse and of course, being part of the dominant race, everything was easy.  I never stood out and color never mattered.  I was in MY territory.

Now that I am in the United States, I am part of the minority, I stand out and I know now beyond a doubt that color DOES matter.  I feel it, more than I would prefer.  I try to give others the benefit of the doubt sometimes and chalk it up to my own paranoia and over-defensiveness, but sadly, it's not always unfounded.  

Like I said above, a lot of people are in denial when it comes to this and I guarantee you, from experience, that people are more conservative and narrow-minded than they would like to admit. Closet-conservatives, as I would call them.  Some are even closet-racists.  And mind you, Filipinos are not exempt from that observation.  For instance, I know of a few Filipinos (and of course Americans too) who still don't like Pres. Obama just because of his color (although of course they will deny this and say it's his policies, which they can never and will never discuss with you intelligently).  And I know too that we have a lot of insensitive and ignorant generalizations expressed half-jokingly in reference to other races such as the Latinos, African-Americans, Indians/South Asians and Arabs.  So let's disabuse ourselves of the belief that as Asians, as Filipinos, we are always the victims.  We are all as guilty as any person out there who believes that they are superior in some way or another. 

Anyway, yesterday, as Noah experienced his first day in preschool, I immediately noticed how everybody in his class room, except him, was white.  I am hoping this will never be an issue for him  because the likelihood of this happening to him over and over is pretty darn high.  

I am hoping that his teachers and classmates will not have prejudices because of his ethnicity.  I am hoping everyone around him is 'color-blind'.  I am hoping no one around him will have negative assumptions about his skills and capabilities just because he's not of American descent.  I am hoping he will not be bullied because he has dark colored hair and looks different from the rest of the group.  I am hoping that though he's of a different race, he will be given as much chance as everybody else to develop friendships easily with everyone and anyone, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds...unlike his mother who has had experience being singled out and dismissed because she was different.  I am hoping that the world will see what an intelligent, funny, curious, kind and affectionate boy he is instead of readily assuming that his shyness and introverted tendencies are because of his being a minority, a 'non-American'.    

This fortune could not have come at a better time.  I am the guiding star of my son's existence.  Not only does he look up to me as a role model, he also relies on me to protect him from harm, as well as to prepare him for future challenges.  You have no idea how terrified I am right now of the possibility of Noah being made to feel less because of his race.  I am terrified of him being deprived of opportunities that would otherwise be open had he not been born with colored skin.  It makes me angry to even imagine the possibility of him experiencing the slightest discrimination being part of the minority.  Like any parent, I pray that I can shield him from all these things.  In reality though, the only way I can really accomplish that is to give him the awareness that he needs, as well as the open-mindedness needed to slowly change the future.  

When my child is old enough to understand, I will share with him my dream of a world where everyone is treated the same; where each person sees and respects the fragility of life and therefore becomes capable of receiving the other as a soul instead of merely a physical being.  But as long as that utopic world remains in the realm of the ideal and imaginary, it would benefit my child to remember this piece of advice from his mother:  

"Navigate the world knowing that race does matter, but behave like it does not."