the breast and body

via ning, i read this and found it disconcerting. i do not doubt that Kate Joester is feminist, and activist. nor that her experience is real and true. but reading about her struggle borne of breastfeeding in the face of the infant formula manufacturers' interpellation of insecurity upon all women didn't ring true for me.

because here i am, the woman who was ready to feed baby with formula the rest of her life, just because she wouldn't feed on me, and technically never did in the traditional way -- what with a nipple shield attached to my breast every feeding to take the place of the bottle's nipple which the baby had gotten used to -- and i wonder if Joester would point a finger at my motherly pride and say that this was wrong. Joester made me ashamed of having fed the baby infant formula at all, early in her life, when it was absolutely impossible for me to feed her. Joester also made me remember.

all those women in the breastfeeding room of the hospital's nursery. who just couldn't get enough milk to feed their babies. i had begun with barely 10ml of milk, when the baby was to be fed 30ml every two hours. i learned to take the pain of the electronic breast pump (which is evil, i tell you!) and after sitting to pump for two hours, three days after delivery, i was still only at 30ml. i was told i had to keep doing it, even with the pain and horror, because the more i did it, the more milk my breasts would generate. but it took forever for the milk to be enough.

it even LOOKS evil!

and so i understood this big filipino-american girl who sat across from me at the breastpumps. and she kept looking up from her breast, lost and frustrated. the other ladies in the room were breastfeeding quite well, and as she caught my eye, she asked if i was getting any milk. and i was. and i thought of boasting about it, as many other women had done in the face of a very insecure breastpumping me.

but the look on her face told me she didn't deserve that. so i told her i wasn't getting much milk. but that i was pretty sure i would, she would, soon enough, even if i didn't know that for sure, for both of us. i told her formula would be fine for now, and for ever, if she really did have a hard time.

because in truth, at that time, i thanked the gods for formula, just because it might have been the only thing that allowed for the baby to survive, or at least live long enough to finally feed from me. and even when i had begun to feed everyday, and let for a whole can of formula to go to waste (you know it smells horrible? you can't believe they imagine that to be "like" breastmilk!), i remained unsure about breastfeeding. and the enemy wasn't formula milk at all.

the enemy was my feminist activist self.

because i have been taught to own my body, and do only what i deemed liberating and democratic to/with it. and breastfeeding was literally having someone feed off of it. i was kept from romanticizing about breastfeeding the way Joester does, when she says:

After 28 years in a culture where women’s bodies belong to pretty much anyone but them, it was only my children that showed me that my body, even mine, belongs to me to give.

because you know, there was nothing at all romantic about owning my body then, but having it battered by what my biology required me to do. to a certain extent, in this country that is conservative Philippines, having one's psyche interpellated into believing that we must breastfeed is as oppressive as being told by the existence of infant formula that we can't breastfeed at all. breastfeeding because it was biologically set-up for us, doesn't quite allow us to own our body and decide to give it away. it pretty much leaves us with no choice.

in this sense, maybe the women who have no milk (because i know those women exist, with no milk, for whatever reason, even psychological ones) or the ones who refuse to breastfeed altogether, just might be more liberated and free. and it has less to do with infant milk manufacturers, as it does with bodies that are less painful, less battered, less somebody else's. and while these women can be seen as proof of the infant milk's success, maybe it should be seen as the success of choice.

because breastfeeding, as with many other things, has become a site of struggle among and for women. and weather we do it or not must be a matter of informed choice. and a sense of our bodies as ours.


the end

maybe it is this that ties us all to ourselves, to the notion of motherhood, even when we insist that this isn't all that our lives are about. because there is no broken heart like a lost child.

because the relationship you build there isn't a conscious decision, not a matter of choosing this or that person. it's not a question of who's more deserving of your love. it's just a matter of chance and fate. which seems easy, yes i imagine, to women who ride with the wind and run away with wolves. but.

to bear a child is to be pushed and shoved into a vulnerable emotional place, that begins the moment your body changes, the moment you miss your period, the moment you gain the first couple of pounds. your hormones become the convenient excuse for everything. but really, the everything's in your head.

and your heart. because it takes heart to go through nine months of uncertainty -- which is what pregnancy always is. and then another day, or two, for delivery. another week or so to recover. and as you do so, you realize you are tied to the life of another being, and there really is nowhere to go. even if you wanted to, even if you could. you wouldn't. because you're made of things that tell you to stay. to savor. to stay.

and when that child is gone, you're also told that you're made of stronger things. that you might wallow, but what for. that you do feel horrible and miserable, but you must get back to your life, the one you had before the full year of motherhood -- from pregnancy to the end.

the end. is where you realize that your heart will never recover. that a piece of it is lost forever. and that this is the only broken heart that's real and true. there are no replacements, no moving on, no getting up from the fall.


Woman as woman

Courage is the everyday word for it, but I really prefer valor. It connotes more a willingness, a determination, a battle, rather than just the luck-of-the-draw reaction to circumstance, to everyday.

I remember when I was younger, having a resentment of the most valiant picture of woman as mother. Why the mother? I asked. Never leader, president, soldier, worker, thinker. This is the 21st century and haven't we any gone further than being different from man because of a collection of reproductive organs? Biology, yes, renders the woman inferior every time, all the time: the monthly periods, the dysmenorrhea that renders one invalid, the risk of pregnancy, the question of abortion, career vs. family. Of these things, man has been spared.

And though I am not naive enough now to discount the un-feeling girl, the in-different woman--the one who will, without question, without second thought discount marriage, homemaking, the one who will say yes without hesitation to abortion--perhaps it is our biggest achievement to be able to carry life within us, to bear the weight and the pain, and to live with them always: the pain and the weight of creation, the nurturing, letting go.

Perhaps the ultimate feminism lies in motherhood, despite decades of fight. This might be our single claim to valor: that we choose to face the consequence, become aware of it, and deal with it to the best of our abilities, all the while knowing that we have no choice but to let go. Perhaps this is why all the stories begin like this: Once there was a child.

For my friend Ina, the most valiant of women.


this is old news

but it seems that i still haven't kicked my old notions of being saved by a knight on a white horse (this is such an old stereotype. i'm not even a damsel in distress.)

twice this week, modes of transportation that i've depended on have broken down on me. and of course i've always wished that i could call someone, who would say "shit, really? where are you? i'll get you." forgetting that in the end if i just sat a bit and waited or really just started walking, i'd get where i had to go.

[i can hear so many of my friends' voices going, duh.] but really i'm slow. i still believe that stupid fairy tale.

and so this is what responsibility feels like. it's not really a weight or a chain or anything really. it's just the belated notion that yes, you actually do have control over your life. no matter how little it may seem, or how undeserved.

i've been a lazy git for some time. ending up in bad situations that would eventually push me to finally get my ass moving, or luckily enough, have friends pull me out.

i think this is also applies to creation. you have to do the work, no matter what. no white knight of divine inspiration can be depended on.

but this claim of sorts doesn't seem to hide the fact that loneliness, that loneliness is.

left to the house

for sunshine, who labels herself taong-bahay.

which doesn't do justice to who she really is.

Ang Kapatid na Babae ng Ilustrado
ni Joi Barrios

(para kay Josefa Rizal)

Siya'y taong-bahay.
Ang kanyang kapatid na lalaki,
ang ilustrado,
ay naglakbay patungong Espanya,
patungong Europa,
palibot sa mundo.

Siya'y taong-bahay.
Ang kanyang kapatid na lalaki,
ang ilustrado,
ay nagdaos ng mga lihim na pulong,
nagsulat ng mga sanaysay,
nagtatag ng La Liga Filipina.

Siya'y taong-bahay.
Walang babaeng naglakbay
para mag-aral ng medisina o batas.

Siya'y taong-bahay.
Marahil, nagbuburda ng mga bulaklak sa sala,
gamit ang sariling buhok bilang sinulid.
Marahil, nagluluto ng masarap na putahe sa kusina,
nagpapakulo ng tuwalya ng baka at dugo ng baboy.

Siya'y taong-bahay.
Ngunit marahil, nang inanyayahan nila siyang
lumahok sa himagsikan
hiniwa niya ang kanyang balat
at sinulat ang kanyang pangalan
nang pulang-pula.

from: Minatamis at Iba Pang Tula ng Pag-ibig. Anvil Publishing, 1998.

barefoot loving

for ning, who always told me that what she wants to be is barefoot and pregnant.

because really, barefoot doesn't quite say nakapaa.

Pagbati sa Pagsinta
ni Joi Barrios

Nakatindig kong babatiin and pagsinta.
Hindi nakahimlay at nahihimbing
na kailangang gisingin ng halik,
hindi nakaupo't naghihintay
na para bang ang kanyang pagdating
ang kabuuan ng buhay,
hindi nakatingkayad o lumilipad
na nakikipaglaro sa hangin at pangarap.
Nakatayo ako't sumasayad
ang paa sa lupa,
pagka't lagi't lagi,
nakayapak ako kung umibig.

from: Minatamis at Iba Pang Tula ng Pag-ibig. Anvil Publishing, 2008.


on arch enemies

who of course are women, too. though we would like to imagine them to be men. but really, whether we admit it or not, we are made to love certain men to bits, even when they're but figments of our imaginations, even when none of it is real. (and we know he isn't real because in our heads, our man is john lloyd cruz. or derek ramsey. or, sige na nga, jon avila.)

and yet feminism teaches us that we are sisters by virtue of being the same. regardless of which feminist we read, we are told to a certain extent about sisterhood. about empathy and sympathy and taking up other women's causes. we take these causes up because we are the educated, the lucky, the one's in the right places of consciousness and power. and to a certain extent, this is easy.

to look at that woman carrying a child in the streets of the city, begging for change. to give the waitress an extra 20 pesos as tip, just because she had smiled, when others wouldn't have. to exchange chismis with the cashier at the grocery, because she had lingered over the showbiz magazine you had bought, and decided to strike up a conversation. we are allowed to imagine that mother who is pregnant with her eleventh child, at a loss, without food, without basic services, and we are allowed to speak for her and fight for the reproductive health bill.

of course more than anything, what we do is cry for all these women. charity after all is the most basic act that we are taught by school and church and television. we are allowed to forget that beneath it is a superiority complex that we've been taught all too well.

what we have yet to be taught though, is how to handle that woman who doesn't need your charity, or sympathy, or empathy. that woman who decides to break your heart, eat you alive, and leave nothing for the birds. she is the one you are in an ongoing contest with, because she is older and you are younger (or vice versa), maybe because she is living the life you thought you would, or you are exactly that person she can only imagine being. this woman can be your closest friend, or that colleague who decides to spread rumors about you. she can be a cousin, an acquaintance, your boss. she can even be your mother.

sometimes, these women are exactly like us -- powerful and educated and intelligent -- and that always makes it more difficult. sometimes though, you know that these women just don't know any better. they are victims of their own miseducation, find power in the imagination of a happily ever after, which in this day and age means materialism and accumulation and commodification of their very own lives. theirs are the lives that pop culture celebrates as independent and perfect and powerful. these images and these women's soundbites create this competition, one that we are part of by virtue of breathing the same air that they do, whether we like it or not.

we aren't taught by feminism how to deal with any of these women and how they are celebrated in our context. we aren't warned about the women who only care for themselves, who have no sense of doing right by other women just because they are women, who don't care that the lives they live -- the successes they have -- happen at the expense of other women.

when we are taught about sisterhood, and sympathy, and empathy, we aren't warned about apathy. the truth is there are women who have no sense of sisterhood. and then there are women like us, who suffer for believing what we've been taught. that sisterhood is a matter of justice.