Goal setting has always been one of my favorite things to do. Since I belong to a church that encourages it to be done every year, I’ve had goals since I was in high school. Sometimes I accomplish it, other times I don’t. But as a new year starts, my list evolves. The year I got married, I told myself that when we finally have our first child, I will stop being an employee. I wanted to stay at home with my child. No question about it. The desire to give him the best of me was there, and breastfeeding was a natural part of it. I just didn’t think I was to benefit from it as much as he would.
For almost five years, I have worked in the biggest online English School in Japan. I have held many different positions starting from being an editor to a team leader, and finally to a manager. Before I left I was the only Filipino manager in the Philippine office. You can say I was at the peak of my career.
But then I got married. Soon after, I had a child. After a few months, I resigned. Now I am a work-at-home mom, working in the evening while nursing my toddler whenever he likes. That’s the short version of the story. =)
Resigning wasn’t an abrupt decision, really. I have made that decision long before I got in the company, even before I graduated from college (I am a licensed English teacher – I just need to remember where I put that plastic ID to prove it.)
I remember one lunch meeting I had with my Japanese boss (the company’s awesome CEO) when I was just a probationary team leader. It was a nice sunny day and we had a good discussion about how the new team I was leading at work was off to a good start. Back then, I started dating my now gorgeous husband (naks!). He then asked me about my plans. I remember this was how I answered:
“I want to get married in the temple (of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), then have a child. After that, I will resign and will focus on being a mother.”
I can clearly remember what he told me during the elevator ride on our way back to the office. “It’s such a waste of talent.” And I said, “I don’t think so. I believe there’s a lot to learn and discover in motherhood.”. In the silence that followed, I knew we just agreed to disagree.
Fast forward to when I already have my baby (more than 2 years later). I just got back from my already extended maternity leave (I had 3 months instead of 2, since they agreed to use up all my accumulated sick leave. I think we should do something to change this standard length of maternity leave in the Philippines. But that’s a whole new different post) when I had a serious discussion with my boss.
On my first day of working again, I was able to leave barely 4 ounces of pumped breastmilk for my little one. I didn’t have an electric pump yet, just a manual one. I tried hand expressing but I just couldn’t produce enough to have a stash. I was close to being eaten by my worries and sadness. All the while I was thinking, “I’m out of the house and my son could get really hungry and I’m not there to feed him. What kind of a mother am I?”
So I asked my boss if it is possible to work for just 4 hours everyday until I can go back to working full time again. He said yes. More than that, he gave me a book. The title was “Lean In”. It was written by Facebook’s COO, and you guessed it right, she’s a woman. Her name is Sheryl Sandberg. Just as the book promotes, wanted to encourage me to lean in, to express my thoughts and needs so that the company would know how to support my career as a working mom.
I was really blessed to have such an understanding superior. With a newfound courage and hope I thought of staying to try if I could make it work: breastfeeding and working. I requested to be given a pumping break. I also requested to have a pumping station. These are rights mandated by the constitution for nursing mothers who are employees. They were all given to me. And I couldn’t be more grateful.
I learned that breastfeeding can give you that: A sense of courage in defending your cause and your child at all cost. If all nursing mothers would be bold enough to lean in and ask for their basic rights at the office, this society would probably be more aware of those rights. Soon, no one needs to ask because it would already be understood and given.
For a few months I did the best I can to continue breastfeeding my child and still perform my tasks at work. But late November, my son got sick. Doctors could not identify his illness at the onset. Later on doctors said it was a complicated case of pleural effusion caused by pneumonia and primary complex. His lungs got seriously infected that fluid started building up around it. Breathing was difficult because his lungs couldn’t expand well. The fluid had to be taken out twice. Once by a huge injection and next by a minor surgery inserting a tube on his side so the fluid would just flow down.
Back then, my baby was so small. I was breastfeeding him since birth but his weight was at the severely underweight scale. He was so so tiny. Before he was hospitalized I wasn’t bothered by his weight. I knew I should not compare since all babies are different. He was small but he was very active and was achieving every milestone. But that time, he had all those tubes and wires all over his body. And he was so so small (I’m repeating this for emphasis). He could not breathe well. He seemed really weak, having difficulty sleeping and breathing. As a mother, you could imagine my anguish. My husband and I survived with prayers and support from loved ones.
We stayed at the hospital for about three weeks until December. All the while, I was breastfeeding him. At six months, he has just started on solids but because he had difficulty breathing, we were advised to just give him milk then. He never wanted to be carried by anyone else. I had to sneak out to take a bath because he didn’t want me to leave his side. He wanted to feed almost all day and night. I was exhausted and drained physically and emotionally but not spiritually.
BREASTFEEDING HIM WAS THE MOST NATURAL THING TO DO. AND IT WAS THE ONLY THING I COULD DO.
I knew I had no power to relieve him from the pain and stress he was going through but I had my love for him, and I can breastfeed him.
And I knew he felt my love in in every drop of milk, in every lullaby, and in every touch and hug. I knew he loved that I was just there all day for him.
BREASTFEEDING HIM WAS THE ONLY THING I COULD DO, AND IT WAS ENOUGH FOR HIM AND FOR ME.
After all the fluid has been drained, he was discharged and given medication, with hopes of fully recovering. My milk was his source of strength and security. I know without a single doubt that it helped him recover. Right there and then I knew what I had to do. I had to be with my son. I had to feed him directly. I had to stay at home for him.
That was when I finally recalled my goal. I had a budding career. I should have felt proud and strong. I was earning a lot. I was at the top of my game. But somehow, my sense of self was not there. I couldn’t recognize me.
In contrast, when my son was suffering and was yearning for me and my milk and I could give it to him anytime he wanted, that was when I felt strongest. That was when I really knew myself. That was when I felt fulfilled as an individual. It came not with a huge paycheck, but with an overflowing love and gratitude from my son and husband. Together with proper medication, he got well with no other food but my milk.
So I submitted my resignation and explained everything to my boss. I was fortunate that he understood. He recalled my goal too, and acknowledged that this was what I wanted even before. I cried in my last day at the office. But it was not because I will miss my status or pay. It was because I couldn’t contain my happiness from all the good things that had come my way.
After a few months of transition, sleepless nights and drama (you know we do that a lot), I am now a work-at-home mom. I work as an HR in a start-up virtual assistant company. In between emails, my son approaches me, closes my laptop and then says “mommy, dede”. And no matter what it is I am doing, I always stop and breastfeed him.
Now he is a strong and heavy 1 year and 3 month old baby running around having no idea of an existence of a scar on his right side. He changed a lot, but his love for my milk stayed the same.
When I look back I can’t imagine how I could have possibly handled his hospitalization if he wasn’t breastfed. Not that he wouldn’t get better. But I think I couldn’t have stayed as calm and hopeful as I was. Breastfeeding is a bond that made me stronger during my first big exam as a parent (as I’d like to think of it). I’d like to believe it helped me save my son’s life. But more than that, I know it saved me. I knew I was strong a woman, I just didn’t realize I could be that brave and strong.
I am not a breastfeeding expert. But this much I know: My milk and my presence were everything to my son when he was hospitalized. I’d hold my tears and give up everything for him and I’d do it twice over if I need to. Breastfeeding him made me realize how strong of a woman I can be.
This breastfeeding month I am one with all the mothers in the world in wishing and working to give the best to their children through golden milk. It is a life goal worth pursuing, not just for our babies, but also for us. It is part of our divine nature as mothers and no earthly reward can equal its gift to mankind.
I plan to continue breastfeeding my son as long as he wants. And I also plan to do the same with my future children. I am a new mom and I have a lot to learn. Pursuing a career is not out of my goals. In fact I now have more freedom to have varied careers. But I must say it will not be on top of my desire to breastfeed, no matter what.
May all new moms like me discover and keep the strength breastfeeding gives to women. May it all bless all our children’s lives and consequently that of others.
Jenny shares experiencing the One Asia Breastfeeding Forum
Mec insists to do the Math and breastfeed!
Ams, The Passionate Mom says Breastfeed for a Better Future
Cheryl, the Multi-Tasking Mama, tackles maternal health as addressed by breastfeeding
2011 CNN Hero Ibu Robin highlights gentle births and breasfeeding, even in disaster zones
Felyn stresses that Healthy Moms = Healthy Babies
Monique reminds us that there are second chances in breastfeeding
Normi relates how breastfeeding gave her strength and purpose
Em believes breastfeeding is a solution to societal problems
Marge shares what breastfeeding has taught them
Madel relates her breastfeeding saga
Jen of Next9 reminds us to do our research and share what we know
Celerhina Aubrey vows to work on one mother at a time
Grace wants to put an end to stories of toasted coffee and similar stuff over breast milk
Diane shares how she prevailed when things did not go according to plan
Hazel appreciates mommy support groups
Roan combines two passions, breastfeeding and architecture
Rosa shares how the picture she thought of was realized
Sally believes breastfeeding benefits mankind and our planet Earth
Floraine reminds us that breastfeeding helps combat diseases
Crislyn was happy to realize that she improved her own health by breastfeeding
Armi reminds us how breastfeeding during emergencies is crucial
Arvi tells us how breastfeeding made her look at her body a different way
Clarice elaborates on how breastfeeding saves lives and the planet
Giane reminds us that women empowerment can begin by seeing breastfeeding as more than a feeding issue
Liza thought she was only breastfeeding for her child