My Graduation Story

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?

Breastfeeding in my sablay, same feels when I breastfeed in a woven wrap

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.

with my children

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.

 

 

Aside

The Weight of Parenthood: Lightening the Load through Babywearing

“Oh, asan ang mga anak mo?”

(“Where are your kids?”)

People at my workplace would often be surprised if I came in with just a bag. Sometimes, I think they would fail to recognize me without my “baby in a bag”. Actually, people would stop to greet NOT ME but my kids, recalling how one used to be just so small, stuck “in a blanket on my chest”, or that now, I have one running little girl and another little one on my “front pack”.

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The fanged apex predators are gone but moms have to survive mountains of living laundry that never die! (babywearing gear: Quality Brand (QB) polyblend wrap, size 6) [photo: JZBCarranza]

It’s been three years since I started babywearing. Babywearing might be a new term but the practice of keeping babies physically close to their mothers has been around in traditional societies. In fact, one theory suggests that babywearing, the sling in particular, helped the ancestors of humans survive as the sling helped the mother become mobile while protecting the vulnerable offspring.

Today, caregivers have a lot of safe babywearing options to choose from, most of which are made from textiles such as cotton, bamboo, and/or linen.  One just needs to do thorough firsthand and secondhand research. It can be as simple as a long piece of woven wrap or sophisticated as a soft-structured buckle carrier with little pockets. Long before the modern branded carriers came, babies were worn using pieces of cloth found at home. Towels and blankets came in handy. In traditional societies, babies were even worn using cradles and baskets!

There is much to say about babywearing – how it has become an “expensive” industry to which babywearing moms like me could attest to; the safety standards concerning ergonomics and the physical development of the child; cultural appropriation; and other attachment parenting practices closely connected to it, such as breastfeeding and safe co-sleeping. With all the issues surrounding babywearing, I can speak most confidently about how it has helped us level the field between husband and wife.

Babywearing has been the greatest equalizer in our family. It has helped us raise our children without the need for a mainstay nanny. Although there are times that we leave our children with extended family members, our children mainly stay with us, me in particular. I have never stopped working and studying even through childbearing and childbirth, except perhaps for a few days after I gave birth.

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Newborn wrapping and Toddler carrying: 4 days after giving birth to our 2nd child, we had to go back to the hospital for our newborn’s BCG shot. After this, we went to the grocery for a quick errand. Wrap used for newborn: QB; Soft-structured carrier used for toddler: Ergobaby Galaxy

Babywearing is just a part of the entire philosophy that our family decides to live by everyday: gender equality. The Philippines is still a largely patriarchal society but little improvements happen. Women are still expected to be the primary caregivers and a career outside the home is difficult, especially with the lack of dependable childcare options.  Although inequalities are still present, women in the Philippines are given more opportunities to pursue studies and a career outside the home. I consider my workplace, also where I am currently finishing my Master’s thesis, to be somewhat child and family friendly. With babywearing, I am able to teach my students while attending to the needs of our child, especially feeding concerns. While bottle feeding stored breastmilk worked for our first child, our second child would not want to bottle/cup feed.

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What break?: I checked on my class a few weeks after giving birth. (babywearing gear: Shadrach’s Collection Hiraya ringsling) [photo: N.Lee]

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Linggo ng Wika: Playing the saggeypo, a set of bamboo pipes, with student-teachers from the UP College of Music. (babywearing gear: Ergobaby Adapt) [photo: C.A.Yson]

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Photo with the workshop participants on the last day of the PSME-NCCA National Workshop for Music Teachers (babywearing gear: improvised sling (rebozo tie) using kroma, a Cambodian traditional scarf) [photo: K.Abesamis]

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Photo with Recorder Ensemble students of the Open School of Music (OSM), an outreach program pioneered by Mrs. Engracia Lim and the UP College of Music, Music Education department (babywearing gear: QB)

When it comes to public spaces and transportation, there are courtesy lanes/areas that accomodate PWD, senior citizens, pregnant women, and adults with small children, although there needs to be more consistency in implementation. Babywearing has helped us get through the daily commute in Metro Manila and even outside the Philippines. While it is not the safest option when riding vehicles, it has given us mobility, especially when people do not honor courtesy area assignments.

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Riding the tricycle on the way to school (babywearing gear: Ergobaby Galaxy)

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Midnight flight to Iloilo for a workshop with the Philippine Society for Music Education (babywearing gear: Ergobaby Adapt) [photo: Philippine Society for Music Education]

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Morning trek around Angkor Wat (babywearing gear (L-R): Ergobaby Galaxy, Ergobaby Adapt)

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Breastfeeding while touring Piazza San Marco (babywearing gear: Ergobaby Galaxy) [photo: Issay Rodriguez]

For the fair share of the pie, my husband also participates in childcare. As I function best during day time, it is fitting to have me take over the children’s needs while they are awake. At night, after dinner, he takes over the kitchen work – even after a long day at work – and waking up to the toilet and feeding needs of the children. When we are out doing errands, he also babywears, especially now that we have two children. There are days that I would feel most of the physical toll on me, considering that I carry an additional 8+ kg while going about work. (Sometimes, I have to lift two kids, especially when both fall asleep due to a long commute!) But, I must say that I am a lucky wife. There might be less romantic frills than most movie-type relationships I see but I get all the extra help a housewife needs. For example, during times my work requires heavy concentration, say writing my thesis, my husband takes over most of the domestic work without batting an eyelash. Also, we collaborate not only inside our home but also in doing work, specifically in the field of music education and values formation.

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Z, doing a module on identifying emotions using color-coded handbells at Food for the Hungry, Siem Reap, Cambodia, a project w/ TCCP-DFA Philippines. (photo: Elijah N.)

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Demonstrating how to hold the recorder to children from different villages in Siem Reap, Cambodia, with Food for the Hungry staff Minear as my translator. (babywearing gear: Ergobaby Adapt) [photo: Zea M.]

“Hindi ka ba nabibigatan? Buhat mo siya buong araw.”

(“Isn’t she heavy? You carry her all day.”)

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QB polyblend woven wrap as hammock in the office

People often ask me variations of this question, especially upon carrying my baby as a way to help me balance my bags or just for the heck of carrying a baby. If anything, babywearing has not made it equal for everyone in the family but it has equalized our playing field. I realized this on the first day I left my children at daycare and school – I was free. I basked in the freedom of walking to my workplace seconds faster than my usual pace, almost tiptoeing every step in delight. Yet, even with additional kilograms every time I go to work, I am still thankful I am able to work, study, and go to some of the usual places I visit when it was just only me.

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Fast toddler backcarry using QB woven wrap after a long day of missing my toddler (first try, need to improve tightness)

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Doing errands around the University with a newborn (don’t worry, morning sun) in Shadrach’s Collection Hiraya Ring Sling [photo: Issay Rodriguez]

To me, my children are my “beloved burden”, a term I borrow from Itie Van Hout’s book on babywearing around the world. As a family, we consider the weight of our options. Bringing our children with us through almost everything,  figuratively and literally, has slowed us down but made us thoroughly think every step we make. It has redirected us from reaching the fruits on top of the trees to removing weeds and sowing the seeds at the bottom. From standing tall to bathe in the blinding heat of the sun, the weight has helped us stoop down to rest in the cool shade of trees. My husband and I always have our children’s best interest in what we do so, together,  we lovingly carry them along the path until they need little help to create their own map.