In an unfortunate time in the world’s history, I find myself having a simple reason to be grateful – I finally had time to work on and finish my master’s thesis. It may sound callous to some (as at some point, I was also angry at posts that looked “entitled”) but I hope you finish reading my story.
The moment I knew my name was on the list of candidates for graduation, I was ready to take that planned graduation photo shoot, all the more because it was needed for the online graduation ceremonies. Why? Because I wanted to tell a rather long story of a mother: of hope and love, amidst the sea of self-doubt, pain, struggle, sacrifice, smiles, hugs, tears, loads of laundry, and trips to the wet market.
“We will get married and have a family after we both submit our theses.”
Z, my then boyfriend (now husband) and I planned our life together in relation to our career. Oh, my young mind then raced through every possible school and specialization I could think of. I felt exhilarated at the thought of writing scholarship grants and living abroad. Z had a more steady trajectory of working towards his counselor license. But our schedule was not ours to implement – on my final semester for graduate course work, I became pregnant with our first child. Marriage came, and then the baby, then all the other adulting stuff that we had to do.
Instead of scouting for countries which had the best cost of living vis a vis scholarship grants, I was looking at maternity packages and vaccine prices. Instead of my husband practicing his counselling skills on others, he had to process both of our feelings and thoughts, especially with the sudden shift brought about by having a child. Most of our friends were in study mode while Z and I were the first to go on the family track.
Of course, I was not all sulky and regretful. In fact, when the thought of raising a family sunk in, I was excited to check out prenatal nutrition plans and try out combinations of names for our child. When our first child was born, I immersed myself in online communities, mostly on attachment parenting practices like breastfeeding, babywearing, cloth diapering, and babyled weaning. I embraced the tiring yet delightful world of motherhood with open arms. I also wanted my motherhood to embrace my world as me with the same gusto.
I told myself, I am a mother, only among other roles.
My sanguine-choleric side loved the idea of juggling motherhood with work and study. My teacher self loved the idea of developing and applying theories of learning and pedagogy to my children. My feminist ideals pushed me to challenge the norms of today’s society and be an inspiration for other moms. But perhaps, it was the weight of regret in the future – what would happen if I did not push through with my studies?
I refused to become a part of the statistics of women who find it hard to go back to work, of women who would give up their studies due to lack of institutional policy by their university, and so much more. After all, I have seen the women in my life multitask and innovate. My mom brought us to graduate class to help her present her report in education as a puppet show. My yaya would be the best hairdresser even without formal training. My mom’s co-teachers would have all sorts of brochures they pass around after school hours. My professor in educational counselling had to go out of the classroom several times to breastfeed her child. My thesis adviser told me her story of being non-tenured while raising her son through graduate school.
I remember taking my comprehensive exams during my 2nd trimester. I went back to work at around two weeks past giving birth. Most of the time, it was my work setup that allowed children to be brought at the workplace. Babywearing saved my sanity each time I had to commute to work with the two children. Breastfeeding and diaper changing breaks would be normal during meetings and classes. Sometimes, an open group chat box would be the only break available in between work, just to air out my sentiments. I would often be irked by the sight of my husband watching commentary videos while washing the dishes, the same way he is irked by my nagging tone. Computing how long would my next salary be as a contractual was always a main agenda after paying the month’s rent or spending a day at the ER.
These, among so many other iterations of multitasking.
Oftentimes I would ask myself if I should just leave study and current work. On the heaviest days, I would pass the yoke to God – should I stop? Should I quit? What do you want me to do with my life?
I never got the answer straight away, but He gave me the solutions to each problem I faced. Now that I had time to reflect, the blessings had always been there.
My children were able to get class slots in schools and daycares in the University that matched my work schedule. Z and I are able to work on our differences and priorities, slowly but surely. Even though late, paychecks always arrive when needed. Babywearing aided me to multitask at work. Our parents send food, clothes for the girls, and assistance, even when we do not ask. I have made friends with staff and other faculty because small yet meaningful talk arose whenever I am with my children. I had more cousins and mothers in Z’s family. Extending my residency in graduate school made my RRL meatier by acknowledging how egoistic and idealistic yet empty my pre-motherhood manuscript was. Taking care of the children meant also taking care of myself, something I usually forego as a person very driven at work. Blogging about my experiences of motherhood connected me to other mothers and opportunities I would have not met if I am not where I am now.
It’s quite a long list of ups and downs – I would not mention all. I believe every mother blogger out there has written a thing or two about these experiences. And even before the phenomenon of blogging, a bag of old wives tales of mothers doing all sorts of things has been there. Save for the patriarchal society that my husband and I have been trying to breakdown as most of our misunderstandings come from ingrained habitus. These affirm that motherhood, among other roles, is not something new.
But in a time of people losing hope (myself included), another human’s story of perseverance,a bit of stubbornness, humility, and joy may be enough to console us. That there are other people like me going through this. If they can do it, perhaps I can as well, in the best possibility that God has in store for me.
So after seven years in graduate school, four of which were dedicated to my thesis, I borrowed a camera and asked my husband to take my photos. He knows how important this milestone is for me. In fact, if not for him and our children, I would have left my manuscript a long time ago. (Also because he told me that he would only take his thesis after I finish, to which I also want him to do for himself.) My family has always anchored my ship. Of course, God directs the water and the wind to where my ship is continually sailing. I may not be where I am as I originally intended to be but this redirection did not stall my journey – it has made it really worth it.