Thursday, April 23, 2015

My Meant to Be

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW). Interestingly, this week is also when my son, my only son, celebrates his birthdaymy one and only triumph against my condition.

I suffer from this disease and I'm just grateful that it feels less taboo to speak about it now than decades ago. It is said that 1 in 8 couples of reproductive age face infertility in some form or another. This is why having conversations about this issue is important, not just on a personal level so that people like me don't feel alienated, but also on a social level as this reality creates ripples in so many different spheres of our social lives. (One cannot tackle infertility as an issue without realizing that it is multifaceted as it includes the medical/health aspect, an economic dimensionfinancial costs, health insurance policies, population issues, etcas well as the moral and religious concerns a lot of us with this condition often times contend with). 

This year's NIAW theme is 'You are not alone'. I know the power of those words which is why I promised myself never to feel ashamed of my condition or my story. There are a lot of articles or essays this week that raise awareness on infertility and here are two that resonated with me:

The 3 Biggest Myths About Infertility (and I highly recommend you read the comments here too!)

I asked myself what it is that's left for me to say when there are already countless brave and wise voices in this conversation. What is it that I want people to know about infertility?

This is my simple answer: That I am just like any other parent; that my infertility doesn't defineor shouldn't make you look at me any differently in terms of the kind of parent I am.

Yes, it was certainly not an accident that I became pregnant. And yes, I obviously wanted to become a mother which is why I actively sought out ways to make it possible. I disregarded all the pain and discomfort of getting numerous shots, vaginal ultrasounds, and countless intrusive diagnostic tests required of anyone using assisted reproductive technology, all because I longed for a child. But my agency in all this, and my deep desire to become a parent don't exempt me from any of the normal sentiments felt by any other kind of parent, and this includes my right to complain. 

Just like any other parent, I go through challenges, frustration, doubts, anger and immeasurable exhaustion from caring for my son. But what I don't want to hear when I vent or complain is that unsupportive tone that says, "Well, isn't this what you wanted so badly? Suck it up and stop complaining! You asked for this.".

I won't even focus on the fact that such an argument doesn't hold much logic, but I will point out its obvious unfairness and cruelty. It's bad enough that people suffering from infertility go through so much physical, pyschological and emotional pain while trying to conceive. We really don't need the added guilt when we are simply being like any other normal parent struggling with our role. Just like any other parent, we need to know it's okay to give ourselves permission to feel the whole gamut of emotions that parenthood brings, from the saccharine sweet to the dark and ugly.

My son turned 8 this week. He continues to fill my life with unparalleled joy and love every second. But I will admit that not a day goes by when I don't ask myself if I'm being the best mom that I can be to him. Fertile or not, I'm still me. I get angry, I scream, I'm a recovering perfectionist, I tend to be impatient and I hurt and will continue to hurt my son's feelings at times. All these make me question if I'm giving my all to be the best version of Mom I could be to my 'baby'. 

But there is one thing I will never ever question, and that is if I was meant to be a mother, and particularly a mother to him, my Noah. It doesn't matter how he was conceived, how we became part of each other's lives. He is my Noah. Just as the Biblical character, he is the chosen one for me, my survivor, the only one from among our three embryos during our very first IVF cycle in 2006 who made it to the end. My son and I, just like every other child and parent out there, fertile or not, are a perfect match in spite of, and most especially because of our imperfections. I know in my heart without a doubt that it was all meant to be. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

What Your Photos Really Capture

Late last week, my social media channels were flooded with photos of my friends with their siblings. According to everyone on Facebook, it was National Siblings Day. I didn't even know this day existed until last week but then again why should I be surprised when there's a day for everything, from grandparents to jelly beans!

I enjoyed all the nostalgic photos posted and the sentimental write ups to honor all the wonderful brothers and sisters my Facebook and Twitter friends have. But I also have to admit that I felt a bit alienated and yes, even jealous after seeing all those sibling pictures.

I was scrambling to find a good photo of myself with my older sister and 'baby' brother until I realized that I don't have any with me, except for the one above. That was taken in the late 1970s, if I'm not mistaken. My sister was probably in first grade and I was in nursery school (the equivalent of pre-K). Here I am in my 40s, living in a foreign country and I really don't have any recent photos of the three of us.

It's not because we're not in good terms. On the contrary, we have nothing but respect and love for each other and I would never trade them for any other sibling in the world. The real reason why I don't have a photo of us is because the three of us have not been physically together since the late 1990s.

My sister left the Philippines to live and pursue graduate studies in Chicago with her family in the late 1990s. My brother and I were together in Manila at the time.

In 2004, I left Manila to go to Chicago for a vacation and never came back. Two sisters in the U.S., a brother left in the Philippines.

In 2008-2009, my sister left the U.S. for good to go back home to the Philippines. I was left here in the U.S., with my brother and sister back home together. 

This means our last photo together might be from the mid-90s and of course I don't have any proof of that because all our family photo albums are in Manila, at my parents' house. Any migrant, especially those who have moved internationally, understands this sad reality and each of us have our own ways of compensating for this sense of 'lost' history. 

After feeling sorry for myself for the lack of 'proof' to display on National Siblings Day, I was left to ponder on my need for photographs. 

We take pictures to attest to certain realities. In as much as pictures are taken as proof of a certain event, they are in themselves proof of a human being's desire to immortalize a memory. We take pictures to aid our memory, to help us preserve an event. In the end though, the basic truth is that photos represent our desire to have some proof of a relationship, whether it's to a person, thing, place or event.

As a migrant, I don't have this privilege of having complete tangible documentation of all of my most valuable relationships. I cannot rely on photos to serve as anchors of my identity. As a matter of fact, migrants like myself would probably tell you that a valuable lesson we've learned is to be able to more easily let go of material anchors for our memories and emotions. Instead, an important skill for us is to internalize that memories and relationships can occupy more valuable real estate in our minds and hearts, rather than on shelves in our homes. We had to develop the ability to carry what's important wherever we go, without necessarily adding more tangible or physical weight. 

The greatest lesson for me has been to focus on how an event, or a memory, has shaped me, more than simply holding on to tangible proofs such as photos. 


Every event, every memory is within me and has shaped me into who I am today. All the love, the happiness, pain, regret, desire or sense of loss that a picture may evoke are already either inside of me, or released after transforming me. 

Often times people take pictures without truly being in the moment, focusing instead on the mere desire to keep a souvenir, or perhaps even obsessing on how it would look once posted on social media. I'm guilty of the same, sometimes. But now I do try to remind myself, especially when it has to do with my son or some other memorable event. Go ahead and take pictures. There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to capture a moment. Just make sure you are not missing out on the present by focusing too much on what you want to offer the future. As you capture images, focus too on how that image, that experience, is capturing you. In the end, it's really those feelings that will last and not what's on paper or your hard drive. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

My Journey to BlogHer Syndication

If you're a writer/blogger/online content provider like myself, you probably have a bucket list that changes each year depending on what you want to focus on. If you're like me, I have on my list a number of websites or projects that I want to be published on or be a part of. 

Last year, at the top of my list was to be able to get on the Huffington Post. With a lot of guts and possibly good timing, I was able to accomplish this through this essay.

This year, I announced to the Universe (as well as to a few blogger friends) that I want to be syndicated at BlogHer. I have been part of the BlogHer Publishing Network, as well as their Influencer Network since 2012 and I've enjoyed the community, especially the exposure my writing gets through their site. I have had several of my blog posts featured on the BlogHer site through the years, and though each time was thrilling and was such an honor, I have always wondered how I could get 'syndicated'. To have a post syndicated means that you actually get paid! Now who wouldn't want that?

It was a mystery to me, and wondered why I was still not getting any of the editors' attention when I've had 2 featured posts each in 2012 and 2013; 10 in 2014 (which meant I was practically getting featured every month last year); and then 2 so far this year. 

Then I met Susan Maccarelli of Beyond Your Blog and Pecked to Death By Chickens, online and in person at a blog conference. She had previously published her recipe for BlogHer syndication and I would advise anyone aspiring for syndication to read that post!

I learned a lot from Susan's experience but I told her that I was still wondering why I wasn't getting that precious email from an editor in spite of my numerous featured posts. Susan pointed out something I never thought about before—my featured posts were 'all over the place'. I had some under Blogging & Social Media, some under Work/Life, Love/Sex, Family and even Race/Class. It was great that I was everywhere, but not so great in terms of really getting noticed by a particular section editor.

This year though, after having two essays featured under Blogging/Social Media (5 Important Life Lessons from 'My Big Fat Fabulous Life' and Going to a Blog Conference When Your Blog is In-Between), I was emailed by the editor, not only to inform me about my featured post, but also to give me the opportunity to pitch three topics that I can write an original post on. She ended up liking 2 out of 3 but asked me to go ahead and send in a completed essay for her top choice to be Syndicated for April!

So, it is with great joy and much humility that I share my very first BlogHer Syndicated Post with all of you! It was published last Friday, April 10, 2015, and it focuses on setting your boundaries when publishing online. I discussed questions you can ask yourself that will help you decide what you can and should not write about on your blog or surrender to social media. I hope you can join the discussion and find the guidelines useful!

How To Set Boundaries With Your Blog

By Joy Page Manuel

‘TMI’, ‘Oversharing’, ‘Sharenting’. These terms, especially the last one, have been the topic of conversations recently. With the 2015 University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health showing that more than half of mothers and a third of fathers discuss their children’s health and their parenting experiences online, one can safely say that sharenting has become the norm more than the exception.

That said, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone who has jumped on this bandwagon have thoroughly thought this out and weighed its pros and cons. I’d even say that our realization of this trend’s popularity has only now magnified the more serious issues and questions that lie underneath such as its long-term consequences on our children.

As a blogger, I’m often asked how I decide what topics to publish on my site. A part of me wishes I could say that I’m completely open about every aspect of my life. At the same time, I know that’s unrealistic, if not, completely unwise. Though I have an understanding of what sells and guarantees a decent amount of online traffic, this desire for constant seductive transparency is wisely tempered by my rational need for privacy. For personal and family bloggers like me, achieving a healthy balance between privacy and being able to come up with riveting blockbuster posts is never easy.

There are (non-anonymous) bloggers who write so freely about their experiences and I often wonder how they navigate their personal relationships given that they write about real ‘characters’ they often interact with.  Are they never concerned about offending someone who matters to them? Don’t they care that certain details about their lives might fall into the wrong hands? I’ve asked some of these bloggers for their input and answers often fall within two categories—it’s either they don’t care about what anyone else thinks, or they are certain no one in their close circle bothers to read their blogs.

But what if you’re one who cares, and whose blog is read by friends, family, employers, the PTA, or your HOA? The picture then becomes far more complicated and yet you know that over-thinking this only kills your creativity. This is why having clear guidelines that define your boundaries as a writer is important. It not only makes it easier to decide when a certain topic is off-limits online, but also helps tremendously in shaping your distinct voice as a writer.

The following are questions that may help define your boundaries for publishing online. Whenever I have doubts about whether or not it’s wise to publish a material I have in mind, I ask myself these questions and they’ve worked for me. Perhaps you’ll find them useful too!

Will it negatively affect a relationship that’s important to me?

And by ‘important’ I mean something that you value on an emotional or even solely on a practical level. Such relationships may include, although by no means are limited to the following: your relationship with your spouse, children, close family and friends, employers, colleagues, and neighbors.

I’m not suggesting that you only write about bliss and events worthy of the Dalai Lama’s high fives. What I’m suggesting is that perhaps, though rants can become very popular online, it’s not always necessary to air out one’s dirty laundry and sacrifice your peace of mind in exchange for a few clicks or even some overnight popularity. I believe there’s a huge difference between honesty and verbal incontinence.

Here are examples:

If you and your spouse have agreed on what topics never to post online, then you should never break that agreement unless you renegotiate. This might include your sex life, your finances, each other’s former relationships/ exes, or something so trivial such as eating or sleeping habits and other idiosyncrasies.

How about each other’s in-laws? We all know that’s a popular area for ranting and though you may love venting about this to your girlfriends, you might want to be a little wiser and more sensitive and keep your thoughts offline. In-law relationships are already complicated as they are. You wouldn’t want to add any more drama to it that you can’t easily undo and which will only lead to awkwardness and resentment.

I included relationships with neighbors and employers as areas that I feel bloggers and social media people need to be careful with as well. Obviously, these are more for practical rather than emotional reasons. If you post something online that offends the sensibilities of your employer, this may affect your job situation. In the same token, offending someone who lives nearby or knows your address poses a risk of making your home life a living hell for you and your family. Sometimes you just can’t be too sure about how insane some people can get when provoked. Changing jobs and addresses are not exactly the easiest things to do, so playing nice is definitely a wiser choice over your need for online catharsis.


Will it negatively affect my loved ones’ relationships with others, or tarnish their reputation and image?

I would never assume that everyone I meet in real life reads my blog. However, when I post online, I always try to assume that it will be seen beyond my immediate network. With social media, there’s really no telling how or where the information will flow once it’s out of your hands.

For instance, what I may find merely humorous about my husband, his current (or even potential future) employer may interpret to be a negative trait and could be taken against him professionally.

Recently I had an encounter with another mom from my son’s school which left a bad taste in my mouth. For days I was so tempted to write about it but I simply couldn’t find a way to fashion my post such that it won’t give away who this person was. Why am I being so careful, you might ask? It’s because there’s a possibility that my son may eventually be friends with this other mom’s child and I wouldn’t want to ruin that chance for my son simply because I couldn’t control my fingers from typing away and clicking ‘Publish’. It’s just not worth it and certainly unfair to my son.


Is this information something I can live with being out in the open a decade from now, accessible to strangers or future potential employers?

Digital footprint is something we rarely think about when we post online. But perhaps we should. What we write, information we share online, stories, photos, personal data—all of those may be accessed by others without necessarily requiring our consent.

You might be a homemaker now and a blogger, but what if you find yourself in the job market 8 years from now? Can you stand by everything you’ve posted all these years should a future potential employer come across all that information? Will your online image build and strengthen you, or destroy your chances for snagging that dream job? Imagining a potential employer viewing your online presence in all its forms might help you become more discriminating with what you choose to expose online.

And what about those pictures of your children that you posted? Are they really for public consumption and ones that your children will approve of once they mature? Most importantly, are you certain that details and images you share online don’t compromise your family’s safety and well-being? With crimes getting increasingly sophisticated in this digital world, we simply can’t afford to not consider the long-term consequences of our online behavior.


Is this information mine to share?

It’s hard for writers to consistently come up with good material. Occasionally, I find myself depending on my friends for inspiration given their personal experiences. That said, I know I have to be careful whenever I use their lives as my material and I always make sure to ask for permission.

I remember one of my blogger friends saying that some of her friends get scared when she’s around during their get-together because they’re always concerned that what they say will be online the next day via a blog post. My friend had to assure her group that she’s not that kind of blogger. But isn’t it sad that some people have this notion about bloggers to begin with?

To me, the rule is simple, whether it has to do with stories or photos: I have to own it to share it. If not, then I have to obtain permission.

There have been times when friends requested me to write about their experience. In those cases, I had to ask specifically what details I can reveal, and which ones I either need to modify or completely leave out. Once, I’ve even had to clear my title with a friend because I had chosen something that sounded controversial and I needed to make sure she was okay with it.

In any relationship, discretion is important. Nothing should change this just because we feel we can hide behind our computer screens.

What is my real intention for publishing this?

Blogging and social media are all about making connections. Let’s not lose sight of that. Maybe you want to make connections by sharing practical tips that could help others or by sharing experiences to make you and others feel less alone.

However, we also have to own the fact that we blog and go on social media to get attention and validation. And that’s perfectly fine! Just make sure you’re not doing it at the expense of others and that you are being true to who you are and your values.

If you are clear about your intentions, it will also set the tone of your writing, the angle or treatment you are giving your topic. A lot of times, tone is the one that sets apart a successful, well-received material from one that turns readers off.

Here’s what I always tell myself: You can always whine, criticize, vent and rant about anything or anyone and write about it. Just remember that you don’t necessarily have to publish it.


I’d like to know what your boundaries are for posting online. Is there one in particular that is most important to you?


*For more information on BlogHer Syndication, click here.*

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Weeds of Wisdom

I can pinpoint exactly when this silly war started. It didn't erupt until I became a homeowner, and more specifically, until we lived in our current home. 

I'm talking about my war against the Dandelion. 

 Original Image by: OsTin (Creative Commons)

I don't recall seeing much of this, if at all, when I was still living in the Philippines. My awareness of it mostly came from books, pictures and movies or television shows and I've always just considered them pretty, like most other flowers. I've always thought dandelion-covered fields were cheery and evoked lightness or playfulness. If you had told me then that in the future these yellow flowers would cause me stress, I wouldn't have believed you at all. 

But sadly, insanely, it has come to that. And I am ashamed and disappointed in myself. 

Each spring and summer, when these 'plants' start to sprout on our lawn, I get annoyed. I ask my husband why our lawn seems to be so susceptible to them while some of our neighbors have perfectly green lawns. My husband is getting tired of explaining to me that our grass is most probably not as healthy as the others', or that our lawn gets a lot of sun. This would then be followed by a longer conversation on what we can do ourselves to make our lawn healthier,more attractive, greener. Whatever options we discusswhether it be fertilizing, seeding, applying weed-killers, or watering more regularly— the bottom line is that we would have to spend a lot of money, even a ridiculous amount, if we opt to hire some big shot lawn care company to 'cure' our lawn and get it to the level we desire.

I think that's unnecessary. It's bad enough that I feel guilty about watering my lawn in the summer when I've read that California has one year of water left (and I hope non-Californians don't think they can just dismiss this and choose to forget the web of social reality that we are all a part of). It's when I realize all the insanity that the dandelion is causing me that I begin to ask the REAL questions:

What is so evil about the dandelion that I've chosen to wage a war against them?

Are they really weeds? Aren't they considered flowers too, and even herbs because they can be eaten as a salad and have medicinal purposes

What's really at the root of my annoyance?

In the end, the age-old advice that 'it all boils down to perspective' holds true.

There's nothing evil about dandelions. They just inconvenience me because their presence on my lawn challenges my idea of the perfect suburban American lawn, an idea that I didn't use to subscribe to prior to being Americanized and indoctrinated into the pristine white picket fence life. Seeing them causes me anxiety because my lawn is so exposed to public view that I'm worried about how it looks to others in the neighborhood. If I factored that out—that fear of standing out, the fear of others' judgment—the fact is that I wouldn't be bothered so much and worry this way. I can choose to see them as pesky weeds, or I can see them as any normal vegetation, and even flowering plants that color my yard and make it a bit more cheery. I can definitely change my mind about them. 

I'm not saying I will encourage their growth and let them take over my lawn. A few here and there is really nothing to stress about. We can focus on strengthening our grass, instead of stressing over the few pops of yellow that can be seen. 

The point is, the dandelion is not doing anything to me. I am the one causing suffering unto myself because of how I choose to see things. 

We all see a lot of 'dandelions' in our respective lives. It could be a slow driver in front of you, an intrusive relative, a rambunctious child. It could be anything that we have chosen to burden ourselves with because of how we continue to perceive it.

What 'dandelion' do you have today? What can you choose to see today as a flower instead of a weed?