by Rhea C. Hernando
“ I realized then that a mother’s heart is boundless and bottomless …. I was almost mad with worry and sadness. I blamed myself: It must be because with all the work at the office and at home …. “
I just finished reading “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness” by Alexandra Fuller. I started in July and finished at 2:00 am on September 1. Took me a long time. My fastest read was overnight with “A Memory Keeper’s Daughter” by Kim Edwards, which was searing. Unlike this one: Funny, slow-paced, lazy. And then halfway through, it becomes unapologetic, violent, and indescribably sad. I had to pause to reach out for Aryana, kiss her forehead, and reassure myself that love exists, and my mostly happy life is real.
This book tells the story of an Englishwoman who lived and loved Africa, stuck it out through war upon war, seemingly endless and hopeless drought, almost daily bouts with malaria, and the deaths of three children on African soil. It hit me hard. To lose a child seems unimaginable. Three children and I will die or I would want to die.
In the middle of my reading and crying, Aryana woke up, which was uncharacteristic of her as she has slept through the night by the time she turned three months old. But I was overjoyed. I scooped her up, kissed her all over, and hugged her so tight she squirmed. It was 1:00 am and I was in Africa, but I was so happy to be disturbed.
I have three children. I still remember the first time I saw them, even in my drugged state. Isaac had the reddest of lips and he was a handsome baby. He was my baby until he turned six. I thought then that I would never have another child, I mean, where would I get the love when I poured everything already on Isaac? I didn’t think I had space in my heart for another one. Isaac filled it all.
And then Yesica happened. I have to say this in honest term, Yesica – as with all my other children – was unplanned. She came at a time when my marriage was having problems. It’s tricky, these marital problems, the sheer weight of the problems makes your head explode and your knees buckle so that you think that the only way to get out alive is to get out… and fast. Just as we were looking for the nearest exit doors, Yesica Isabel came.
She – with her thick mop of straight hair and very chubby cheeks and fingers. I was on the lookout for any similarity between her and me, but I could not see past the fat cheeks. Nevertheless, I fell instantly in love with her. She was my doll, my playmate, my best friend. It’s safe to say that for the first two months of her life, I never left her side, save for the occasional trips to the comfort room. I realized then that a mother’s heart is boundless and bottomless.
So we were content with two children, a boy and a girl, every parents’ dream. We went everywhere; the beach was our sanctuary. We would get out of Manila every chance we get, either on a long weekend or when we have extra money, whichever comes first. As Yesica got older, we packed lighter, and it was more fun to get wet and wild. The last trip we had, just the four of us, was our Singapore six-day vacation in May of 2011. We had to buy a stroller for Yesica to prepare for Singapore’s promise that it is a “foot paradise.” I remember thinking that when Yesica turns five, we would go to Hong Kong sans the stroller – oh what fun!
We got home from that trip with the kids so very happy while Pao and I were so very tired. I was vomiting that early morning after we got home. I thought then that we are never going on a six-day trip again. It was just so stressful. I didn’t know that Aryana was with us in Singapore.
Rhea with her children in one of their family trips.
So Aryana Beatrice (again) happened. I was in the middle of a clearer career path when she came. I was just transferred to the the monetary policy research group – the heart of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. We used to call that group “mga panis-laway” because their corner of the world is dead silent except for the buzz of fingers typing away and printers churning out paper without halt. And because I was a little bored and a little stupid, I asked the big boss to put me into the lion’s den.
“Demanding” is too small and inadequate a word to describe our work. I would be on my way to work at 7:00 am and someone would already be calling me because I have “rush” – an instant deadline to add to my many deadlines. I would eat way beyond my stomach’s 11:30 am cutoff and oftentimes find myself eating while working. I would go home at about 7:00 pm pm and wake up at 3:00 am to work some more.
And I was pregnant the entire time I was in the BSP’s monetary policy research group . To add to that, Pao left when I was four months on the way to work in Singapore. To add to that, I have two other school-age kids who I tutored almost everyday. To add to that, we lived in Cavite where queues for colorum vans were long, only to be apprehended in the middle of the road, where full vans and jeepneys and buses pass you by.
I look back and I just shudder. If I have to live my life all over again, I would want that part deleted. It was just too stressful. If I would die of cancer or aneurysm later on in life, I would point to that phase as the culprit.
Anyway, I chose to have Aryana on Friday the 13th of January. Everyone was either amused or alarmed. My dad called me up the night before I was due to give birth. I was already in the hospital, at the time, for some preps as it was my third C-section operation. He was almost begging me to postpone to a later date. But I was adamant. I refused to glorify the myth. Paolo flew in from Singapore on the day itself, since his flight was delayed. The shooting of “Bourne Legacy” in Manila closed some highways, which further delayed his arrival at the hospital.
And so Aryana came. Unlike most mothers, I checked the hair first: yup, straight, good, very good. And then I looked at her and I knew then there is no baby girl prettier than the one I have. I had a less painful or relatively easier C-Section. I was not even groggy after the operation. It would spell of the things to come: Aryana is the easiest baby I have had. She would drink milk and go to sleep pronto. She rarely cries. She was cooing and responding at barely two months old.
I think Aryana owes her level of smart-ness to my work, while I was pregnant. Imagine, Aryana gets to listen to the Governor and the rest of the Advisory Committee team as they discuss inflation and policy rates? Plus my brain cells were alert, alive and enthusiastic at that time. If you ask me now, or anyone else at the research department, no one would have believed I could work that hard or produce good output before the deadline (because I always thought of myself as a mother first and a worker far second). But I did. I felt it was my last hurrah and I wasn’t doing it for anybody, especially because I knew I was leaving soon. I wanted to “break-in” my mental and physical states and see for myself if I can do it even without any incentive. And my boss said that I did a good job. I was ‘over the moon’ about that affirmation.
Oh and so Aryana came. She was perfect. I threw myself into the happy job of mothering, this time practically all alone. It was not hard at all because she was either drinking milk or sleeping. There was just this persistent worry, which made me heartsick. It was found out at birth that she could not hear in her left ear. We repeated the tests in Singapore and at six months, the Ear-Nose-Throat surgeon said that the fluid in the middle ear should have receded already. He ordered a comprehensive hearing test that will determine if Aryana will go through surgery or not.
I was almost mad with worry and sadness. I blamed myself: It must be because with all the work at the office and at home, I sometimes forgot I was pregnant and hence over-exerted myself; or was it something I ate? I couldn’t sleep for a week.
And then d-day came. It was difficult because after weeks of poking, Aryana didn’t tolerate it anymore. I had to literally dance my way to the test so that she was sleeping by the time the doctor conducted the tests. And by God’s miracle, whatever it was that got stuck in her middle ear (water, delivery-related remnants, etc.) was gone and she passed all tests. And today, she could hear the world in full stereo mode – Pao’s explanation why she turned suddenly kulit and likot.
And Aryana is my strength. Being here in Singapore, away from my friends and doing nothing of what I am passionate about (research) and seeing nothing that is cozy-familiar save for family, I feel lonely sometimes. And every time I am on panic mode and that song “What is life to offer me…” pounds my head, I reach out for Aryana, she calms me and reaffirms my heart’s belief: That I didn’t give up anything. How could I, when everyone that I love is here, just a hug away?
Rhea C. Hernando received both her BS in Business Economics and MA in Economics from the University of the Philippines Diliman. She currently resides in Singapore with her family.