My firstborn son, Kitt, was barely a month old and I was still recovering from a Caesarian section that, I suspect, was not really necessary had I been allowed to give birth in the same hospital where I was born, where my OB-Gyn was. Instead, I was checked into a provincial hospital where the local OB-Gyn claimed the baby was in fetal distress and the umbilical cord was looped around his neck. She did an emergency classical C-section without any consultation from me, something my doctor in Manila would never have done. Nonetheless, Kitt was born a healthy and bouncing baby boy and we went home together after 5 days.
His father–my first husband–and I, had been sufficiently warned against attempting anything that might get me pregnant again, and were told to wait at least a year to make sure my uterus was completely healed and strong enough to sustain another pregnancy. I knew how risky it would be and how I could possibly bleed to death should a pregnancy too soon rupture the weak muscles. His father thought otherwise and, completely against my wishes and ignoring the doctor’s warnings, forced himself on me. I was so angry and feeling completely betrayed and violated. Compounded by post-partum depression which got worse after that, I tried unsuccessfully to hurt myself very badly just before Christmas, and again on New Year’s Eve, when everyone was outside the house celebrating. I hated my husband, hated what he had done, and hated the fact that my period had not returned. I suspected I was pregnant and was desperate. I did not want to be pregnant so soon and hated the fact. Shortly after my birthday in February, I managed to make arrangements to return to Manila, where I really belonged. My then-husband decided to stay with his parents, because his mother insisted that she was the only one who could take care of him whenever he was not well, since, apparently, he was a sickly boy. I was happy and relieved to leave his parents’ home, where living for six months had driven me to desperation as nobody in his family could understand why I did not want to teach in a rural Philippines public school or why I spent so much time reading and writing after I already had a degree, or why I wanted to go back to school to obtain a Master’s degree. They could not understand why I did not want to sit all day in a rice mill, deal with farmers and laborers who needed to get their rice milled, or learn how to tell different kinds of rice or rice quality by sight and feel. They could not understand why I chose to read books and not local serialized comic books in the vernacular. They could not understand why I did not watch soap operas or share in local gossip.
Back in the house where I grew up, my mother became the doting grandma. My parents adored Kitt, who was their first grandchild and first grandson. When my parents found out that I was pregnant, they were outraged, even if they didn’t know the exact circumstances, although they suspected it, because they knew I had better sense than that and I had not denied that I wasn’t a willing party in this conception. Nonetheless, my mother enjoyed her new role as grandma and soon-to-be grandma again, and dressed me (I thought I had escaped that when I left home after high school) and fed me. After six months in provincial rice lands and in-law territory, It was nice and a welcome respite. I was soon offered a teaching job at the high school I had graduated from, by the principal who had known me since I was a student there in our blue jumper-skirt.
I started seeing my OB-Gyne in Arellano Clinic again, where Kitt should have been born. She determined that my second baby would be due in around the first week of November, which was just shy of Kitt’s first birthday, but because it would have to be a repeat C-section since it was way too soon to risk labour. So I picked the 25th of October, a Thursday, the last day of 2nd quarter of the school year, so I would have finished marking exam papers and I would have submitted my grades for student report cards.
Early in the morning of the 25th, around 8 a.m., I was brought to the delivery room, where Dra. Merceditas Villalobos, having to perform a second C-section in exactly the same spot that Kitt had been pulled out of to prevent additional scarring of the uterus, delivered my second child and only girl, whom I named BIANCA MARGARET. She was tiny, wrinkly, pink package at 5 lbs 8 ozs or somewhere thereabouts, actually a few ounces bigger than Kitt when he was born. I was experiencing post-partum depression in a major way and seeing this baby that shouldn’t even have been conceived gave me even more despair as I thought of how difficult it would be to raise and support two babies barely 11 months apart on a teacher’s salary.
She was just barely 10 days old and home for less than a week when I discovered, despite my mother’s reassurances, that she had not been feeding well while I was working on marking exams and writing up grades. She was losing weight instead of gaining any. I asked my mother about it and she happily admitted that Bian had been consuming about an ounce of milk a day. I was appalled that my mother, who was a doctor, thought that an ounce a day was enough and she had not even noticed that Bian had been losing weight and looked almost like a corpse. Bian looked so pitiable, was alarmingly skinny, and had turned a bluish-gray. Her eyes were sunken and purplish circles lined their undersides. Just seeing her looking that way tore at my insides and I wanted to scream at my mother, yet, at the same time, I wanted to break down, but couldn’t. I was terrified and knew something was terribly wrong. I felt that maybe, I was being punished for not wanting her, but I did not have time to sink into self-pity. Cindy the manager and director kicked in and I rushed her back to the hospital where they discovered that she had contracted septicemia, most likely from her umbilical cord. They tried to find a place to insert an IV but her tiny veins had collapsed from being so dehydrated. Finally, the only place they could insert one was through her head. There was nowhere else they could draw blood samples either, except through her tiny heels, which looked like tiny pink pincushions with tiny purple pinpricks after a while. She was put on a course of antibiotics and we spent the next ten days together in a private room–the needles and tubes and bottles were too many to keep her in the nursery and I would not be able to be with her there 24 hours a day. It was all touch and go for a while and during the night, when no one was around, I would curl myself around her tiny body and cry in silence as I stormed the heavens with tears and murmured prayers. I would whisper to Bian and sing to her, holding her as close as I could without upsetting the tubes all around her. Her father visited twice, during weekends, and took my place on the bed next to her so I had to sleep on the couch. After a whole agonizing week, her color began to change from blue-gray to a pale pink and, on the 10th day, the doctor declared that the infection was gone and we could go home, but she would still need another week of antibiotics, which had to be administered as shots.
At home, my mother redeemed herself by offering to administer the shots, which she did in Bian’s thin thighs–which were still the thickest part of her that a needle could be given. She conscientiously reported to me every ounce of milk that Bian consumed and soon, my little angel was putting on weight.
I was still deep in post-partum depression but could not bear to be in my mother’s house any longer, so she helped me find a tiny rental that was actually a small apartment that had been split so that there were two rooms for rent each upstairs and downstairs, with a shared kitchen and bathroom on each floor. We had a tiny room next to the kitchen on the ground floor, which was just enough for a twin bed and Kitt’s playpen, which was also his crib. We put up two stools and a tiny handkerchief-sized table in the hallway outside our door, and a two-burner stove on the shared kitchen counter. The kitchen itself had a bare concrete floor and a laundry area sat next to the stove and the shared bathroom door. There was just enough space for our small refrigerator, which was necessary to keep the babies’ milk and food chilled, but could hold a week’s worth of food. I had to pay for the apartment out of my meager salary, but the children’s father paid for the nanny-cum-housemaid, whom he had brought with him from the province.
Still miserable, I spent the rest of my maternity leave quietly and the only times I left the room were to bring the babies for their doctor’s checkups and shots. It was sometime around Christmas, exactly two months after Bian was born, when I started resisting my husband and, as a result, he started becoming more physically rough with me. Twice more, I tried to hurt myself very badly, on Christmas eve and again on New Year’s eve, when there was so much noise outside that I hoped no one would notice me, but that only got me more rough treatment. On New Year’s Day, I looked at Bian and, for the first time, as she wrapped her tiny fingers around mine, she gave me the most beautiful and sweetest smile ever. I broke down crying and, looking at my babies, I decided that I would live for them from then on. My little angel had just walked into my heart and given me a second reason to live.
My little angel is now a grown woman–but she still is, and always will be my angel!