I wrote this article for the Australian Filipina, but it was never published. In a way, this is a kind of apology for being so masungit to my mum when I had my first child.
‘When are you having kids?’ Its a refrain that many Filipinas are familiar with. Before the ink dries on your marriage contract, family and friends are already anticipating the most rewarding, and most difficult, time in your life. But having children in Australia today is a different experience to what our mothers and grandmothers went through in the Philippines. The average family in Australia has fewer than three children, whereas our parents often grew up in large households with enough siblings to form a basketball team—with a reserve bench. Modern medical care provides more options than home-birthing twelve children, as our grandmothers may have done. Heres a look at some of the differences you—or you daughters—might encounter.
Ante-natal care is no longer just the province of doctors. In the public health system, youre more likely to see your GP or midwives during your pregnancy, with occasional appointments with an obstetrician. Most women will have at least two ultrasounds. Aside from detecting developmental abnormalities, ultrasounds provide the first pictures of your baby. You can find out the sex of your baby, and youll know if youre carrying two or more babies, so youll have time to prepare for their arrival. Some facilities offer 3D ultrasounds, and you can start working out whether your baby has your nose or her fathers mouth before shes even born. During your last trimester, youll be encouraged to attend ante-natal classes to help prepare you for the big day.
Perhaps the biggest difference you, and your mother, will notice is in labour. Here, women are encouraged to labour naturally, if they can, and to be involved in the birthing experience. Partners are allowed into the labour ward and encouraged to actively support you. (Mention this to your dad and hell probably recoil in horror—the thought of fathers participating in labour can be a horrifying concept for him and possibly for your mum, too!) You dont have to deliver your baby on a hospital bed. Your midwife might encourage you to walk around, have a shower, and even labour in the bath. If complications arise, you or your partner will be informed every step of the way so you can decide how you want to proceed. After you give birth—assuming you didnt have a Caesarean section—the first thing youll do is take a shower. Your mum will probably find this shocking—theres a Filipino superstition that says you shouldnt take a shower within twenty-four hours of giving birth or youll get pasma. But after the sweat, the blood and the exhaustion, a warm shower can be a relief.
When you move to the maternity ward, youll probably room in with your baby. Since many public hospitals no longer have a nursery for normal maternity patients, your baby will sleep with you in your room. Your nights will be exhausting, because even though you can page a nurse for help, they may not get to you straight away if there are other patients to look after. If youre lucky enough to be in a single room, you can arrange to have your partner or mother stay overnight to help you. Dads are not only encouraged but are expected to take an active role in caring for their new babies. This is great, because if you teach them how to change nappies, theyll have no excuse to avoid it when you get home!
Once youre home—sometimes as early as two days after delivery—youll really feel the difference, because there are no maids here. Dishes wont magically be done, laundry will pile up, and youll have Pizza Hut on speed dial. Those Sunday family dinners at your parents that used to be a chore will now seem like a godsend as you bring home a weeks worth of leftovers.
The greatest friction youll encounter with your mum will be in parenting your new baby. Were surrounded by information—in books, online, and in parenting groups—all seemingly backed by scientific studies. Its hard to overlook these in favour of our mothers advice. ‘I did it this way and you turned out okay,’ is something you may hear a lot. In Australia, parents are given much leeway to exercise our own choices and decisions without judgement. Its easy to forget that our parents were guided by extended families, based on wisdom that owes less to science than to personal experiences, sometimes painfully learned. We may disagree and do things differently, but that doesnt mean they did a bad job with us.
How wonderful, then, to find our differences fading into the background when you watch your baby trying new things, and see your parents smile and say, ‘When you were her age, you used to do that, too.’
Yes, that’s me in the photo when I was pregnant with twins.