Sunday Lifestyle

Missing my babies

SECOND WIND - Barbara Gonzalez-Ventura - The Philippine Star

It is the 29th of October. The date is two days before my parents’ wedding anniversary. They got married on a day that was to be called Halloween. Because my father was killed by the Japanese in the final flurry of World War II, I guess you could say that was an unlucky day. 

 But the 29th is also the birthday of my second daughter. I remember when I was getting ready to give birth to her. This time I knew what the birthing process was about. I already had a daughter who was more than a year old. I knew that then we went to the hospital at around seven in the morning and I gave birth shortly before 11 that night. Almost 17 hours of labor pains and isolation in the labor room with the women around me shouting curses at their husbands for the pain we all had to endure. At that time giving birth was different. Husbands were not allowed to accompany you. You weren’t given a choice. You had to give birth the way your doctor wanted you to give birth.

In the end when you had dilated enough, they put you to sleep and pulled your baby out with forceps. I didn’t know what those were until I saw them much later and I was horrified. How could they put those things in women?

But never mind. When I gave birth to my daughter, Sarri, my grandmother was still alive. Lola used to sew well when she was much younger and her eyesight was quite good. She had a steady supply of cloth. I don’t really know where she got it. This was in the ’60s when my daughters were born and Lola had a source of materials that I think were originally sacks for chicken feed. They were pretty prints. I liked them and had a few maternity dresses made by my aunt for me. They were pure cotton and very cool.

I remember going to the hospital in a red, white and blue checked maternity dress made from chicken feed sacks. I had been experiencing labor pains since maybe in the afternoon but did not get ready to go to the hospital until around eight that night. I was afraid really that something might happen to me, that I might die giving birth. Then who would take care of my adorable older baby girl, Risa? 

 I think this happens to all mothers. Your first delivery is the best because you go into it ignorant of the pain, of what awaits you in the hospital. Your second delivery fills you with anxiety, at least mine did. You now know what you’re facing and it fills you with dread. What if I die? That was the thought that raced around my head. Who will take care of my babies?

 Fortunately, I lived to take care of all of them. They taught me that each one of them had their own character. The eldest, Risa, was the laughing baby. Her nickname, Risa, is Spanish for laughter. She didn’t let me down. Sarri, the second girl, is named after me. Her full name is Barbara Rosario because she was born in October, the month of the Holy Rosary, and I loved the nickname Sari. She changed the spelling on her own when she grew a little older. Sarri with a double “r,” more exotic than Sari with one “r.” 

 But Sarri was the sensitive crybaby. She was always crying. She would sleep in my arms in the rocking chair but when I put her down in her crib she would cry and would not stop. And she was the shyest of all my girls.

 Then within 11 months my third child was born. Another little girl. My friends were teasing me. “What will you call her — Sirâ?” You know Risa, Sari and Sirâ would have been my three little girls. But I called her Panjee. She was the easiest baby of all. I could breastfeed her and read a book at the same time. You’ll be surprised to know that I personally took care of my babies until they were around five months old. Even after that I stayed at home with them but I would be sewing or cooking or even building shelves.

 Now these three girls are in their 50s, independent, interesting. I hardly see them. Two of them live abroad, only one of my three daughters lives here. Of course they have a brother who also lives here. Now when I think of my children, I miss them sometimes terribly. I do not miss the independent, interesting women. I am very proud of them. I miss my darling little babies, the ones I used to bathe, powder and tickle. The ones I used to endlessly kiss and hug. The ones who thought I was the most wonderful mother in the world until they reached the age of five.

 Happy birthday, Sarri!

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