By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City
Leani Alnica Auxilio was born to us on July 27, 1992 when I was 26 years old; motherhood changed my life. Indian spiritual leader Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh said, “The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.”
Before a mother experiences the immense joy of seeing her child’s smile and tiny fingers and feet and hearing those sweet gurgling sounds in the morning, she goes through hell with pain and physical and chemical changes in her body.
I studied Lamaze with my editor Lilette Santos to help me manage my breathing, so that I do not have to scream in pain at childbirth. It helped me go through the 28 hours of excruciating labor. My doctor was getting ready to get me into Caesarian Section because of the long labor hours, which weakened me because of lack of sleep and food.
The pangs of childbirth were the most terrible pain I had experienced. In the early morning of July 27, it felt like my back was splitting in half as the contractions progressed. At nine centimeter dilation, my bag of water broke and I was told to walk to the labor room.
When the doctor told me to push and never to stop until she is able to pull the baby out of me and I did as she said, I felt like I was pushing a 40-foot container truck all by myself. How I wish I could quantify the pain of child bearing to approximate how horribly excruciating the word push means!
I asked to have the doctor and the medical staff prop up my back on the delivery bed because I could not breathe if laid down. The doctor instructed me to push and never to stop till the count of 20, I stopped at count 15 and said I cannot make it anymore. I saw a panicked expression from my doctor’s face as she ordered for forceps, which to me looked like clamps for bread, only larger. My baby was forced out of my womb using forceps!
The doctor said it was a difficult delivery because I couldn’t hold on to my pushing, and the baby was already in the vaginal canal. She could no longer call for a CS.
It was true what my mother and grandmother said; that at childbirth, you will realize that life is a miracle. This crucial moment could claim the lives of both or either mother and child, after all.
Instantly I felt a mix of joy and exhaustion when I held her. Lilette, teary-eyed that she has again helped another friend at giving birth, told me, there is your baby, as she was being washed in the sink by the nurse. I whispered to Lilette, does my baby have complete body parts, to which she replied, teasing: she has a third eye on her forehead. And we laughed.
I saw my baby who had eyes that were narrow slits, so much like a Chinese doll, with spiky soft hair running all over the place. Tired but joyful, I held her for a short time before she was immediately taken to the nursery.
After that tender, tender first moment with her, I went through the first of many torturous ordeals: when the doctor stitched back my vaginal laceration.
And then I had to be hospitalized a week after I gave birth, due to extreme anemia. My hematocrite level was down to 6 (the normal level is 12). My family was alarmed when I fainted after talking to a friend on the phone, and rushed me to the hospital to have blood transfusions.
Oh, and did I mention that I also went through post-partum blues, that vampire that every woman must brace herself against, after a horrifying experience of childbirth?
Mine included gaining enormous weight (I shot to 130 lbs. from a petite 98), and realizing that motherhood was a womb to tomb responsibility (each time I watched my baby sleeping in the crib, this thought bothered me).
The weight gain proved to be more depressing to me than the exaggerated thought of my maternal responsibilities. All my pants didn’t fit me anymore. I could put them on only up to my thighs. For several months, I had to wear the same maternity dresses. It felt awful.
I refuse to believe that there is such a thing as maternal instinct in an instant and in absolute terms. Maternal skills are to be learned. I didn’t know how to calm Nikki down when she cried like crazy. I didn’t know how to bathe her either.
When she would cry so angrily that her face would turn blue, I would hold her up by the armpits and bring her to my mother. Mommy, could you quiet her please. I don’t know how to do this… this was the constant plea I remember asking my mother every time.
Well, I realized that the trick is just to put a wailing baby on your chest and rub her back. When Nikki was no longer a baby and well into her Terrible Twos, however, I found it easy to ignore her during each of her temper tantrums. As a result my daughter has learned to use her head and reason with me whenever she wants something from me (perhaps a little too well). But I am getting ahead of myself.
My cousin Mary Ann, a nurse, taught me how to properly bathe Nikki the day she flew to Saudi Arabia for work. Since then, Mario and I have gained confidence that no, we will not accidentally slip and drown our child in the tub of water.
After the first few months, motherhood was an absolute joy to me. I saw her through many things, including walking, reading and swimming. Oh, and yes, of course; how can one forget potty training? My baby didn’t stop wetting the bed each night until she was nine years old. She will not appreciate me writing that, but she will forgive me. Among one of the most important things I taught Nikki was how to laugh at herself.
The longest time I was away from my daughter was one year and six months, but it seemed like a lifetime. Now I knew how it felt to be away from the person you truly love. My heart melted away when I saw families together as I walked through the crazy streets of Times Square, or in beaches, or anywhere else.
I told myself, I will do the best I can to bring her close to me once again, at least before she reaches the age of majority.
I had to wait for unica hija to graduate high school in March of 2009 and had to give her three months to officially bid her friends and family goodbye. America waits for you, I told her. I knew she was apprehensive and would have preferred to stay in Cebu where life is so much more comfortable than uncertain.
I focused my time and resources to getting Nikki back with me in New York. It was a difficult feat, emotionally and financially. Expenses for her immigration papers, interview, medical, airfare, and so on strapped me down financially.
Happy was an understatement. Joyful was I. What more could a mother ask for! I have been so blessed to be able to bring her in such a short period of time.
For my mother, Nikki’s coming to the US was a joyful occasion, too. For the first time in nine years, my siblings and I were gathered together again. We could have wanted our father to be with us too, but it wasn’t meant to be yet. I was just grateful that I saw my two brothers and sister in America.
We were all in California for three days until Nikki and I flew back to New York to start our new life together. I was a hands-on mother again, to a homesick and culture-shocked teenager that is.
I did not realize that the challenges would once again be that huge. Nikki came to the US at the time when the economy was in a terrible shape. But our lives as mother-daughter have just begun.
(Excerpts from Biting the Big Apple: Memoirs of a Journalist Turned Immigrant www.amazon.com)