Sunday, July 03, 2011

Mixed blessings

A BABY is a blessing.

Why is that beginning to sound more like an invocation than a statement of fact?

After Andi Eigenmann, 21, was reported as pregnant, two fellow actresses advised her to use the break to become a good mother.

According to an ABS-CBN TV report, Ruffa Gutierrez said, “I’m really sad ‘kasi’ I was really looking forward to working with her. Of course having a baby is a blessing.”

In the same report, actress Eugene Domingo also regretted the setback in Andi’s fast-rising career but predicted she can always catch up. After all, Eugene seconded, “A baby is always a blessing.”

Though no actress, I said the same words when a young woman told me she was in the family way. I can only guess at what was in the minds of Ruffa and Eugene, but I had mixed feelings when I blurted to my young friend, ”a baby is a blessing”.

That’s more than a statement of observation. You don’t say this only after you’ve taken your first epidural-addled look at the wrinkled, preternaturally ancient-looking son seconds after the doctor cuts the cord connecting you to him for the past nine months.

“A baby is a blessing,” my friend told herself when she first knew she was pregnant; weeks later, when she suspected something was wrong; on the day tests confirmed there were several things wrong with her baby; and after she lost the child. “A baby is a blessing.”

More than a dry observation of verifiable facts, “a baby is a blessing” flies in the teeth of what’s naked and threatening. One says and means it even after catching one’s child tell a lie for the first time. Or when you face a sullen stranger you’ve just forbidden from joining his friends.

As the years whittle away the baby fat, exposing a hard and brittle independence of intelligence and will that can set itself fast against you, you might find yourself exclaiming less and less in company but still admitting in your solitude: “a baby is a blessing”.

Then you realize that the trite phrase family and even strangers coo when they tickle the moon-faced innocence gazing back at them is actually more invocation than statement of fact.

“A baby is a blessing,” we invoke and appeal to the listener for good wishes, patience, understanding, steering.

A summon, a plea, a prayer, a protection for all that may be, or not.

Touching the arm of that young mother, I only repeated the universal gesture of reaching out in comfort, in empathy, in kinship.

Wishing Andi the best, Ruffa, mother of two and ancient in the ways of the world, said, “Having a child will really change you in so many ways.”

Though the world insists on dwelling on the moot and irrelevant—judging and probing, why did they do it (as if, by asking, one can undo a child like a mistake)?—motherhood takes a woman into another stage, as sustainer of life.

Whether abandoned or supported by partner and family, a woman expecting a child must start thinking and acting for two: herself and her baby.

For this reason, I think of teenage pregnancy as first an issue of child and maternal health, rather than of morality.

Physically, a young mother may be more fit than an older woman. Emotionally and socially, a minor is less prepared. To abandon her is to condemn not just a person but another generation.

We should make it so a young woman does not have to be drawn into a continuum of mistakes: early marriage, abortion or worse. We must make our society not just child- but mother-friendly: a world that’s going to “promote healthy pregnancies, improve birth outcomes, and reduce infant mortality”.

The pervasive culture that’s rife with images and messages encouraging sexual permissiveness should also give space for stories of those who’ve made it past consequence and repercussion: young mothers balancing classes and feeding schedules, young couples emerging from the limbo between diapers and diploma.

Because, yes, it’s still a beautiful world where a baby is a blessing. Always. 09173226131

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu's July 3, 2011 issue of the "Matamata" Sunday column

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