I’m a mom.  And I’m proud and happy to be one.

Motherhood is the air I breathe.  It is my reason for being. It is what I was born to be.  Although this realization came belatedly.

I became a mother before I was a wife.  A fact that to this day is causing me a great deal of pain.  That I got pregnant out of wedlock was a disappointment to my family.  And when I finally married the father of my daughter, the only member of the family who was present was my sister.  My brother was not invited, and my mother just couldn’t come.

I went through that first pregnancy with all the hellish drama and heartache that was to be expected when a career woman, single, and who is well on her way up the rungs of the corporate ladder, files for maternity benefits, with no apparent name change, and the only attachment to the form was the medical certificate from the OB-Gyne.  And believe you me, there is nothing worse than office gossip to wreak havoc on a person’s emotions.  And it may be worth mentioning that my immediate superior, the vice president of the division, was single, and a woman.  So, go figure!

But, what people didn’t know, and what I really didn’t care for them to know, was that it was partly my choice not to be married in the first place.  I knew I wanted to be a mother, but was not so sure about being a wife.  Although seven months into my pregnancy, the father just up and married me coz he would not have his child have any other name than his.

The “proposal” went like this:

“What are those?”

“These are the nappies and the blankets our daughter will use.  These were my sister’s, then my brother’s, before they were mine.  And soon they will be our daughter’s.”

“But those have your surname embroidered on them.”

“Yeah, fitting.  Since our daughter will have my name.”

“Of course not.  She’ll have my name.”

“Sorry to disappoint you, Sir.  But this baby will bear her mother’s name.  We’re not married.”

 “Ok.  Let’s get married.”

And so in two weeks, we were married.

And just like my becoming a wife, motherhood came without any fanfare.  Just me going through the horrors of morning sickness, gossip, threatened abortion, more gossip, labor pains in the middle of a strategic planning, and me almost not making it home.  My last recollection in the operating room was me humming along to “An Evening in December”, though it was still October.  Christmas comes early in the Philippines.

Since I never really learned how to whistle, humming was the next best thing.  The baby was in breech presentation, so I had to go through an emergency C-Section.  For a person who has never been hospitalized, going under the knife required bravery as taught by that English teacher, Miss Anna.  Although I didn’t whistle.  I hummed.

Life was happier after the delivery.  Not easier, no.  Just happier.  My baby became the center of my universe, and all the mudslinging at the office slowly died.  I was with a baby for the first time in my life, and I was living with my best friend.

On our way to Tagaytay for the company Christmas Party, 2 months after giving birth to our first child.

2 months after giving birth to our first child.

My husband and I started out as buddies.  We just sort of hit it off right from the get-go.  In a place where we were both strangers, we found ourselves sharing some fondness on topics that were nowhere near the telenovelas people around us were living, sharing music that you wouldn’t find in a karaoke songbook, and spending weekends together just quietly reading side by side, each lost in the world created for us by those who have imaginations richer than ours.  Ours was never what romance stories are made of.  We’re more on the friendship genre.  I’ve lost my faith in romance a long time before I met him.  Our friendship was made more precious by the chemistry that was effortlessly there.  And I’ve lost count of the number of times we were approached by strangers and were asked if we were siblings.

I’ve always known I’m a quick study.  I learn fast, and I learn well.  And so the first two-and-a-half months of motherhood was a crash course in childcare, with buckets of tears at every turn.  Each time the baby cried, I would cry, too.  I felt helpless and clueless on what to do.  For the first time in my life, I was responsible for another life, a baby’s at that, and I had no idea if what I was doing was right.  It didn’t help that we didn’t have a television, no radio, and no computer/internet either.  It was just me and the baby, day in and day out.

Isabel at 2 months

Isabel at 2 months

Much as I loved my new role as a mom, my career was still my priority.  I now cringe at the thought of those times that my baby was running a fever and I would still leave to attend a business meeting.  Or those times when I didn’t notice that my baby had a bruise from falling because I was dead tired from a business trip.  My husband was the parent who was always there.  I’d wake up in the middle of the night to check on our baby, and he’d be there, already up and changing nappies.

We had our second baby after four years.  A conscious decision.  We wanted to be better prepared. But we were not.  The baby was born prematurely.  And just like the first delivery, I went into labor while in a business meeting.  That part, I had down pat.  I was on the phone all the way from Laguna to Batangas, calling my staff back at the office (Hey, I may not be in tomorrow.  Just send any documents for signature to the hospital), the OB-Gyne (I’m having contractions, now 5 minutes apart), the anesthesiologist (We’re aiming for normal delivery, but I’ll want you to be there), the emergency room (I’m on my way there, can you please follow up with my OB?), the admitting section (I’m coming in, I’d like a room, please.), and finally, my sister (I’m on my way to the hospital, can you come?).

Beatrice at 2 months.

Beatrice at 2 months.

You’d think that having two babies would slow me down career-wise.  But instead, having two kids made me more driven to succeed.  My work was dynamic, challenging, male-dominated, and I was out to prove that motherhood and career could mix.  I was so afraid of losing my footing in my climb up the ladder that I failed to notice that I was missing out on my girls’ development.  I was there, but not quite.  My firstborn was struggling in school, and the younger sibling was being bullied.  I tried to be a hands-on mother, attending school meetings, going to field trips, helping with homework, but my focus was still on the career that I was working so hard to keep.  On hindsight, I now realize that I was purely driven by fear.  Fear of losing grip of my dream of being a successful career woman.  Fear of losing the financial rewards that go with that career, and failing to provide sufficiently for our children.

Then came the unplanned third pregnancy.  It was some miracle that I got pregnant at all.  It was to be the turning point of my life.  I started bleeding on my third month.  My OB-Gyne told me not to get my hopes up as it looked like it was going to abort.  But I felt differently.   I was asked to take complete bed rest for a month, and I did, willingly.  For the first time since I started working, I was happy to stay away from the office.  I stayed in bed without much movement, but still, I continued to bleed.  My companion was my notebook, where I recorded every drop of blood that flowed out.   I was fed and bathed in bed.  No reading, no TV watching, as I am a highly emotional person, easily affected by just about anything and everything.  Any sort of emotion was causing me to bleed.  I was in and out of the hospital.   My OB eventually advised me to just wait out the term in the hospital.  But of course, it was not financially possible for us.  Plus, we didn’t have a helper to watch over the girls.

Six months into the pregnancy, I was advised that there may be a need to take the baby out.  They would try to save the baby outside of the womb.  To give the baby a fighting chance, they would have to put me on steroids.  But the baby had other ideas.  Two days short of seven months, and with only one dose of the planned four injections of steroids, he decided he’s had it inside my belly, so out he came.

Jude at 2 months.

Jude at 2 months.

We took him home after a month.  Feeding him was a whole day affair.  He was so tiny, no nipple would fit in his mouth.  He could not be breastfed as he still had no sucking reflex.   I fed him through a dropper, so it would take an hour for him to finish an ounce of milk.  After a few days, we had to take him back to the hospital.  He was refusing his milk and appeared to be cold.  He was shaking.

At the hospital, we were told that the shakes were actually seizures.  He needed to be admitted again.  On the way to the room we have secured, some force led my feet to the emergency room.  I was going to say hi to the staff whom I have become close to in my four months of going in and out of the ER.  While there, my baby turned blue.  He stopped breathing.  He was immediately intubated.  Had we been in our room, he would not have made it.  All the equipments were at the ER.  And we were right there.

He was brought to the ICU.  While there, he stopped breathing four more times.  On that fourth time, his heartbeat quickly dropped from 130 to 25.  I closed my eyes at that number, and just prayed like I have never prayed before.

After that incident, our pediatrician and neonatologist lobbied with the hospital management to have my baby taken back to the NICU (Newborn ICU).  It was against hospital policy to have a baby that has been discharged to be taken back to NICU.  But our doctors reasoned that the adult ICU would not give him the proper care he needed.  The equipments are different, and the nurses are not trained for newborn care.

Another month in the NICU and several tests were conducted to find out what caused the seizures, and to find out if he had oxygen deprivation in his brain in those times that he stopped breathing.

After being discharged for the second time, Jude was placed under the care of a pulmonologist, an ophthalmologist, a neurologist, and the neonatologist who would continue to monitor him for six more months.

The neurologist would monitor Jude for two years.  And so would I.

Leaving Jude in the care of a nanny was not an option.  There were signs to watch out for.  A parent has to be present at all times.  And being premature, our therapist advised that I have to keep him close whenever possible.  He had to sleep on top of me with his head on my chest so he could hear my heart.  I had to time my breathing with his so we would breathe together.

A month before I was due to go back to work, I received a call from the division’s VP.  I was being given a promotion.  A new position to head office.  Which meant that I would either drive to and from Manila daily, or get an apartment there and be home on weekends.

To say that I was devastated is an understatement.  It was a dream position for me.  The challenges that I knew would come with it were exactly what I was looking for.  But with the baby needing close monitoring, there was no way I could be a weekend mother.

We knew I could not afford to lose my income.  We were up to our eyeballs in debt.  From the months of going in and out of the hospital while I was pregnant, to the delivery and consequent treatments of the baby, we just couldn’t give up my salary.  So we worked on our numbers.  Financial obligations, daily expenses, child care, emergency funds – all of these were put in an Excel file, along with our options.

I tried to explain our situation to my boss, and somehow she understood.  Since the most workable set up would be for me to live in Manila, she pulled some strings to get a transfer for my husband, too.  He was also to get a promotion to head office.  So were we supposed to be thrilled with the salary adjustments we were due to receive?  Well, not quite.  Because we already own our house in the province.  Whatever increases we were expecting to receive would just go to the rent, plus we would need to buy new set of appliances for the Manila base.  These concerns were addressed by my boss again.  She assured me that the apartment will be covered in my salary adjustment, on top of the nearly 200% increase on my monthly salary, plus a relocation allowance to cover at least some of the new appliances.  Geez, she really must have liked me!

And she really made it hard for me to say no, but I did.  Here is an excerpt from a page-long letter I sent her:

I must be crazy to even think of saying no.  Yesterday, I was so hellbent on taking it, right there and then.  The idea of having such tremendous responsibility, the opportunity of proving myself to you and to the company I have served for almost a third of my life, is so exhilarating that my head was spinning with ideas on how I will make my mark on this new arena.

Unfortunately, my own ambitions have to take a backseat for now.  As you well know, I have a pre-mature baby who needs special care.  By the time I get back to work in August, he would only be two months-and-a-half old, which by gestation would only translate to a half month of age.  His first year is the most critical, according to his doctors.  To leave him in the care of a nanny for the whole week is unimaginable.

This is one tough call.  I have a headache from crying most part of the night.  I can imagine being away from time to time. I’ve done a lot of travelling before.  But the thought of permanence, making it the rule rather than the exemption, is frightening and emotionally crippling.

I really, really hope that you will understand.  Another time, when there is no baby to breastfeed and watch out for, and when there are no hospital bills to take care of, I’d grab the chance with two hands.  For now, I’ll let this ship pass me by, and watch the other taker with eyes green with envy.

Surprisingly, the decision to leave my employment did not drive me to depression, which my husband actually expected.  He practically called me every 15 minutes, and that is no exaggeration, just to ask if I was okay.  He knew of my career goals, and he was very supportive of them.

Motherhood, finally, caught up with me.

But motherhood, as I have realized, did not have to equate to being idle and giving up on my dreams. I just needed a push to set my priorities straight.  My kids have to come first.  Everything else need to be worked around them.

A career need not be housed in a skyscraper.  A career need not be with a conglomerate.  In the same manner that a successful career woman need not be wearing heels or a suit.  Success can come in a housedress, or a pair of torn shorts and tees.  I found a new career being a mommy, in the midst of all the tears and dirty diapers.  I embarked on this thing they called WAHMing at the time that I had no idea what the acronym really meant.  I was simply trying to contribute to the family income by using whatever skills I have.  And I had no idea of the potential until I was deeply immersed into it.  I researched, I studied, I learned.  And being with my kids made the learning process much more enjoyable.  There really is no exact formula.  You tweak while you go.  You build your tower one block at a time.  And it’s not about ending up with a perfect tower.  It’s how you enjoy putting one block after the other.

This is me now.  A wife.  A mother.  I get to spend time with my children.  And I have a career.

With my kids, near the spot where Jojo and I stopped for a quick pic almost 14 years ago.

This is who I am.  A work-at-home mom.  A very happy one.