Saturday, 7 September 2013


Saturday, August 31st. I started my needlework. I don’t mean the embroidery, quilting, or knitting sort of needlework. I mean the kind required in IVF treatment. I’m not a big fan of injections. When I was a little girl, many grown-ups wheedled (okay, threatened) their children into behaving by saying that if they didn’t they would be taken to the doctor for an injection. I guess this is the Filipino version of the boogeyman. I don’t recall my own parents using this tactic on me or my brother but somehow the sight of other children crying during vaccination time instilled the long-lasting fear of injections in me.

About the same time I started my needlework, I wrote to my friends back home how I’ve been quite preoccupied partly because of my injections. For the first five days, it was one injection in the morning and two at night. (Day 5, there were four!) The remaining six days, it’s two in the morning and one at night. Truth be told, I was probably unconsciously fishing for sympathy and some “cheerleading.” I only realize this after their encouraging and very supportive responses. Several “You can do it!” and a “We admire your courage!” came back.

Hhhmmm. Courage. I never thought of myself as particularly being courageous in going through IVF treatment. I basked in all this positive attention but didn’t make any reply immediately.  I wanted to reflect a little bit more about this courage thing. I thought, well, the needles are actually quite small and it’s not that bad really. Early morning of the fifth day of injections, my husband and I drove to the lab. Then I thought “okay yeah. Maybe it takes a little bit of courage.” Especially for a needle non-fan and total pain wimp like me. After all, it’s not just the 3 times daily injections I have to do. There are the needles needed to take the blood test on the fifth day of injections and every two days after that. Then there’s the egg retrieval two days after the final injections . I won’t go into the details of this process for fear of scaring the wits out of some of my friends. (The curious ones can google it.) Suffice it to say that in “harvesting” the ova a needle is used to aspirate the follicles in both ovaries. Before I went through my first IVF attempt in December last year, reading the description of this process totally freaked me out. I mean, my ovaries may not be fertile but my imagination is! The actual procedure, as I experienced it months ago, wasn’t really that bad though. In fact, whatever drugs I got (as sedatives or anesthesia) made me feel relaxed. I just felt so gooood that it seemed like I have love for for all the citizens of the Earth and maybe some left over for citizens in other planets. So I’m hoping it will be a similar experience next week.   

My brother refers to my IVF injections with the Tagalog word “turok” (pronounced TWO-rook) which essentially means to pierce with a needle. In Cebuano, which is our first language, “turok” (pronounced two-RUK, emphasis on the second syllable) means to grow, sprout or develop. Being the word geek that I am, the different meanings of these almost-identical words is not lost on me.

Perhaps JD was right. I have courage. Even if it’s just a little bit. But mostly, I think I am strong in my resolve to go through the “turok” of the needles so that life can “turok” and grow successfully in my womb. 

My doctor once said that IVF is not just science. It’s also an art. 

Yup. Like embroidery, quilting, knitting and other forms of needlework.

NOTE: And... just because I’m a total geek. I will leave this footnote. Tagalog and Cebuano are among two of over a hundred of languages of the Philippines.

Monday, 19 August 2013

My Nanay

(This piece was written to remember my mother, Rufina, on what would have been her 77th birthday.)

Mom, Morsa, Mutter, Ahm, Maman, Mama. Children around the world call their mothers by a variety of names. I called mine Nanay. I like the word “nanay.” How it sounds, how the word rolls off my tongue easily, how comforting it sounds. Growing up in Cebu, “mama” was more common among my peers. I proudly called my mother “nanay.” Because it was not as common as “mama,” I have always felt it was unique. As unique as my mother.

Nanay grew up in a mountain village in the southwestern part of our island, Cebu, in the Philippines. Her parents were farmers who worked hard to feed their eleven children. Nanay was quick, intelligent, and determined. She was class valedictorian when she completed her elementary education. Nanay had a dream. She wanted to go to high school and then study to become a nurse. But at that time, women did not go to high school or university. In those days, women got married, raised children, and took care of their husbands. Of what possible use would more education be?

In our family, Nanay’s kindness and generosity were well-known. During family gatherings, my aunts and uncles would comment on how Nanay would give the shirt off her back if you need it. Or how, when she had nothing more to give, she would borrow from one to give to the other. This last comment said with a tone of disdain by some; but, often it was said in admiration for her altruism.

It was this selflessness that both baffled and annoyed me especially as a teen-ager. At that time, I was starting to learn about individuality. I was critical of Nanay’s self-sacrifice even when it was for my benefit. I remember telling her, not too kindly, that a woman is first her own person before being a wife and mother. Had she not heard of women’s liberation? Had she not heard of feminism? Why was she allowing herself to be oppressed? Could she not free herself from the shackles of our patriarchal society? These were haughty and arrogant words I said to my mother. Hurting words that I regret now.  

I never really understood Nanay’s selflessness. Though I have to say that I may have had a little glimpse of it a few months ago when it was clear that my husband and I would have to go through the more complex and involved fertility treatment that is IVF. Needles and physical pain have never been my cup of tea. One time, as I was sitting on the skytrain, on the way home from the fertility clinic, I was struck with a thought. I realized that I was now willing to go through all the unpleasant, painful, difficult, intrusive processes for a chance to have a child. Could this potentially be a budding maternal selflessness?  

Just as Nanay was known for her intelligence, determination, her kindness and generosity, her beauty was legendary. When, as an adult, I had the chance to meet people who knew my mother in her youth, they would invariably say how beautiful she was. They would mention how, for five consecutive years, Nanay played Mary during the Sugat or the annual Easter Sunday pageant. Being the mother of Jesus is a plum role reserved only for women who not only exude beauty but embody integrity.

One time, when I was a school girl, I invited a couple of classmates over to my house. Our small living room was filled with framed photos. My friends saw a photo of a young beautiful woman. Who is that very beautiful woman, one asked. My Nanay, I answered.  Then she said: “Liwat di-ay ka sa imong Tatay.” (You must take after your father.) I was speechless for a second but retorted with mock anger: “Hey, do you still want to be my friend or not?” We had a good laugh after. Though her remark stung a little bit, I know what she said was true.

I know I’m not as physically beautiful as Nanay was. I know I will never be as generous of spirit and kind as she was. Yes, I still don’t fully grasp what it means to be totally and unabashedly selfless. But amidst all these challenges of wanting to have a child, I have had a glimpse of Nanay’s selflessness. And maybe for now, that is enough for me.    

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Happy Un-mother’s Day!

Today is Mother’s Day. 

I think that aside from Christmas, Mother’s Day is the other holiday when it can be difficult for women with fertility issues. It’s best to avoid reading your former high school classmates’ Facebook status updates about their children giving them Mother’s Day cards, flowers or breakfast in bed. It almost seemed like there is a competition for the “aaawww, how sweet” factor. It started getting depressing. For me, yes. Not to them, of course.

I thought it best to be kick-ass about the situation. SO I wrote this as my status update:

I think that as a society we should seriously reconsider our definition of motherhood to include all women who have nurtured us and cared for us. They may not have their own children but they have conceived many ideas and thoughts that made a difference in our lives. They have given birth to beautiful works of art. Their kindness and spirit gave birth to our new and renewed selves. So as I think of my own Nanay (mother), I also think of the many important and childless women in my life, Aunt Anne, Aunt Flor, my cousin Myrna, my former teachers – Ms. Ba-ad, Ms. Abellon, Ms. Esmero, the nuns in my school – Sr. Myrna, Sr. Julia, Sr. Godfreda. I say to you: Happy Mother's Day! You have contributed to the woman I am today.    

Friends and former students sent greetings to me which was reassuring. Just as I was preparing to write this journal, I got a heartwarming message from my 16-year old stepdaughter. 
Just wanted to say happy Mother's Day!  You truly are an inspirational person, with your free spirit, thoughtfulness, warmness and creativity! You don't have to give birth to someone to be a mother for sure because you give me so much guidance and more! And you don't have to fit the role of a stereotypical mother either! Just keep being you and that's enough for me. 
Well. That wasn’t too bad for my un-Mother’s Day.