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Lessons from My Baby Daughter

She’s finally fast asleep, giving me time to attend to other things. Instead I find myself looking at her, delighting at how peaceful and beautiful she looks. Our daughter Mishca Jadynn was born just last May 2, but it seems like she’s been with us forever. In a way, she’s been with me for a long time now. Years before she was born, I tried to envision life as a married woman. The first thing I saw in my mind’s eye was this chinky-eyed baby girl with fine, spiky hair. She was in a pink dress and was learning to crawl in her crib.

She came just 3 weeks after we prayed for a child. My husband Michael and I wanted a long honeymoon before starting a family. Although we both love kids, we wanted time to bond and take adventures together. Two years, 3 continents and countless adventures later, we decided it was the right time. We were in Vancouver then, starting out as new immigrants. We didn’t talk about it but we were separately praying that God would give us a child. After three weeks, I started feeling “different.” I was huffing while taking a shower, and puffing as we ran after the Skytrain on our way to work. Those two activities never bothered me before.

On August 26, a quiet Thursday evening, I was reading my Bible and encountered the story of Hannah who prayed in anguish to be given a child. God heard her and she gave birth to the prophet Samuel who was no ordinary child. Upon reading her story, I immediately I called Michael. “I think God’s telling me that we’re pregnant,” I exclaimed. Together we laid hands on my womb and prayed.

Early the next day Michael went out to buy a pregnancy test kit. After work that evening, two lines appeared within seconds when I had myself tested, confirming our hope. Michael was in tears. You see it was not an easy feat. I’ve had an erratic period for years. Medical experts say that it usually takes an average of five cycles for trying couple to conceive. But God had answered our prayer after just one try. Two days later, after skipping check-up in favor of experiencing Sponge Bob in 4D at the Vancouver Aquarium, we went to our neighborhood health care provider and the doctor confirmed what we already knew. 
It was a happy pregnancy. I never had morning sickness which in itself is an answered prayer. My mom had morning sickness (not just in the morning but day and night!) for 9 months for all her pregnancies! Years before I got married, I had actually begged God to spare me from this. And He did! I was craving different food stuff every day! Mishca had the chance to eat the food of the nations—Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Canadian, American, Italian, Malaysian and the list goes on. Someday she would go to these nations—we told her as we spoke to her in the womb.


We were happy we had a chance to travel in the early months of our pregnancy. I couldn’t stay cooped up in our apartment for a long time. I needed fresh air. The next weekend we decided to go to Seattle on a whim! We made our decision at lunch time and had to rush to the bus station because the bus was leaving at 1:15PM. We barely made it! 

 

Once we were in US territory, we had to look for a place to stay. It was Labor Day weekend and the city hosting two major events. All the hotels and inns that we contacted were full. Desperate, we prayed. Then I closed my eyes and randomly pointed on the list of hotels that I was holding in my hand. My pointing finger landed on Roosevelt Hotel. “The name sounds expensive,” I told my husband. And so we proceeded to call other hotels on a mall payphone, until we ran out of quarters. When Michael called the Roosevelt, he was told that there was indeed a room and it would be ready for us at 11 o’clock that night. We couldn’t believe it. Just to prove how great God is, we went around town to look for a vacancy. We visited budget friendly hostels and even five-star hotels, only to be told that they were all full for the night. We were later told by the gracious staff at the Roosevelt they was also no vacancy that night but a pilot had checked out for an evening flight and they decided to offer the room to us.

It was in Seattle that I bought maternity pants. Only three weeks into the pregnancy, I couldn’t fit into my jeans and shorts anymore. The Filipina store manager who sold me the 3 pairs of pants gave a gift—a big pregnancy t-shirt printed with the words “Labor Day.” It was a promotional gift for patrons who buy on Labor Day weekend. Neither of us could have guessed that I would really be laboring on May 1, Labor Day in the Philippines.

Two weeks after that trip, we decided to go back to the Philippines to be near family. We wanted our baby to have access to her grandparents. Your priorities really change when you have a child. We immediately set a date and got award tickets from Philippine Airlines. However, before we can fly, we had to find a new tenant to continue our apartment rent or else we had to pay for a full-year’s rent! The only interested person got the suite below our floor because the apartment manager failed to show him our unit. It was a surprise to us all–including the apartment manager—when the new tenant came back to check out our place when we explained the error. Even though he was being given a suite with access to the garden, he chose to get our 2nd floor unit. He signed the contract two days before our scheduled flight. It was such a big favor that we gifted him with some of our cherished furniture.

We were really meant to go home. Our mileage points were credited to us just a day before the deadline for payment of our planes tickets, making the two business class tickets virtually free! To avail of them, we had to have a stop-over in Hawaii, giving us time to explore Maui and Honolulu. Maui was a dream honeymoon destination of mine. It was great to be back under tropical skies. Our hotel in Maui was fronting Kihei Beach. Before our flight to Honolulu,I took a morning dip in the ocean to find a huge green turtle swimming near the shore. I chased it underwater, momentarily forgetting that I was pregnant. As I was doing so, I got caught in a huge Hawaii wave that turned me over and swept me against a rock face. Michael was on the shore, worried sick about me and baby. I emerged a few moments later not only with cuts and bruises on my arms and legs but also with a big smile on my face. We had a feeling then that our little one would be adventurous, too.

Once back in the Philippines, I was able to enjoy local fruits and dishes with gusto, ballooning to 36 pounds above my normal weight. We were overwhelmed when we heard baby’s strong heartbeat over the doppler at our OB Gyne’s clinic. We were teary-eyed when we heard the thumping of her chest on the stethoscope that we bought. Eight Days before Christmas, we had a good look at her through an ultrasound machine during her prenatal screening. It was there that we were told of her gender. As she continued to grow in my womb in the last trimester, I could feel her wriggle. She didn’t really kick hard but only stretched a lot and we could see her little toes form shapes on my tummy.

At dawn on May 2, 2011, Mishca gave a hearty cry as she came out of my womb, escalating to a distinct vibrato wail as she was being cleaned up. “Mishca, don’t cry. Daddy’s here. This is Daddy,” Michael consoled her. I was told that she stopped crying momentarily and looked to the direction of that familiar voice who talked to her nightly when she was still in the womb. “Uy, kilala niya ang daddy niya,(Wow, she knows her dad) ” the nurse attending to her exclaimed.

Mishca is just 3 and a half months old as I write this, but she has already brought so much joy to us and some important life lessons–

SMILE. Mishca started smiling on her second day! We were still in the hospital that time. It was nurse Irene who alerted us about this. Fortunately Michael was quick to grab his camera to capture that first smile. Nurse Irene told us later that baby also smiled at a group of them as she was being transported from my hospital room to the neo-natal department for her phototherapy on the third day. I took it with a grain of salt, because we were told that newborn babies have limited vision, seeing things only from 8-15 inches away. However, once we were home, we saw that Mishca was indeed smiling a lot and seemed to see beyond 15 inches. We even have a video of her looking intently at two big kites that we hung from the ceiling of her room. Before this, I didn’t believe that newborns can be that interactive. She’s a sociable child, smiling at everyone, even at her favorite things. Her gift to me last Mother’s Day (her 6th day on earth) was an intent gaze and a loving smile.

Before Mishca turned a month old, Nurse Irene asked for her pictures to show her family that an infant this young can smile and interact. “Hindi naniniwala sa akin yung pamangkin ko. Nakikipaglaro lang daw sa angel. Apat ang anak ko pero wala sa kanila ang ganyan (My niece doesn’t believe me.She said that the baby’s guardian angel must be playing with her. I have four kids but they were not like that,” she voiced her wonder. Nurse Ruby, a pediatric nurse who handled her on night duty, said that babies usually have their first social smile at one month old. “Nosobrahan ata sa folic acid si Mishca (She got an overdose of folic acid),” she joked. Unknown to them, while Mishca was still in the womb, we would pray that she would feel God’s love for her. We prayed for happy and secure baby, but we were still surprised with what we got!

Every day since that first smile, Mishca would wake up grinning from ear to ear. It’s something I have learned to anticipate every morning. Even if she hasn’t have complete sleep, she’ll give us a sweet toothless grin–the kind that makes her eyes crinkle into tiny Chinese slits. She tops that with a couple of excited kicks to show you how happy she is to see you. It’s certainly a trait she didn’t get from me—a night owl who is usually grouchy in the morning.

One time Mishca woke up alone in bed and instead of crying, I saw her smiling, mesmerized by sunlight streaming through the pink curtains of her room. It’s just amazing how she can always wake up like that. It must be her way of thanking God for bringing her into this world. I wonder how many of us greet the world with a smile every morning? This early this baby is challenging the way I think and do things. I want to be like her. I want to always be grateful, to always be passionate about life. I realize that smiling is a form of worship, too. And God must be smiling down on Mishca as she lifts her eyes up to heaven and beams. On a side note, her grandpa threw in this question: “Bakit ang baby kahit walang ipin pag nag-smile maganda? Bakit ang mga matanda pag nakangiti na walang ngipin pangit? (Why do babies look good when smiling even if they have no teeth? How come adults who don’t have teeth look ugly when they smile?”)

MOVE. Stretching is one of Mishca’s favorite activities. She spends a good five minutes lifting her arms and legs every time she wakes up. She makes such a display of this that one day I decided to mimic her moves. And boy, it did feel great. In the busyness of daily life, I’ve forgotten the pure pleasure that stretching can bring. Now when I wake up, I try to take time to stretch. It saves me spa money, and removes the aches and pains associated with nursing a baby. Our bodies are really meant for movement.

Mischa’s collection of toys are slowly piling up as she receives gifts from family and friends. But her favorite remains to be the heart and flower mobile that came with her Graco crib which she got as a gift on her first week. The mobile with its simple “Rock-a-bye Baby” ditty never fails to elicit a smile from her. In fact, she was just smiling at it a while ago, as I wound up the toy for her. Early on, her eyes would track the revolving objects with delight. When she hit her 1st month, we noticed that she would kick her legs in time with the music. It was her workout! The moment the song stops, she would also stop moving her limbs until someone winds the mobile for her again. So this is how an infant stays fit even while staying in bed day and night. No wonder her body is so firm.

I don’t know if Mishca got this habit because I was doing aerobics exercises from the first month until the day I went into labor. (I was even doing high impact aerobics a few days before we discovered I was pregnant!) The exercise routine was supposed to help facilitate her birth. Now that life is back to normal and I’m busy taking care of her without a nanny, I have to remind myself to squeeze in some time for exercise so that I can catch with her when she starts running!

EAT WELL. Mishca latched on to me the very moment she was placed on my chest in the delivery room. That was how we were introduced to each other. And she suckled with all her might! I was taught in childbirth class that newborn babes take several minutes to find the breast to take in their first food. Not so with Mishca, who instinctively found my nipples and was so eager to suck that I ended up with sore and bruised nipples the next day. I tried to express milk using an electric breast pump while at the hospital, but instead of milk, blood came out. (Gory, I know!)

Because of this, I had to stop nursing for a few days, resorting to infant formula until I got well. Eventually we did mix feeding, supplementing with formula as we waited for my milk supply to catch up. Her pediatrician and my OB GYNE were warning me of nipple confusion, common among infants who are introduced to the bottle before they have mastered breastfeeding. These infants eventually favor the bottle since it takes less effort to express milk from it. Although I was eager to breastfeed Mishca exclusively, the belief that I might not have enough milk to nourish my baby made me continue supplementing with infant formula. Mishca, however, never gave up on me. She kept nursing even if she didn’t seem to be getting a lot of milk. She was so patient that it sometimes took us one and a half hours to feed. More so, if given the choice, she would choose my milk over the bottle. There were nights she would cry and reject the formula we offered. Only nursing she quieted her. We noticed that she’s calmer and happier when fed with breastmilk.

Mishca may be too young to reason out or rationalize but she’s already making the right food choices this early. Breastmilk is said to have 100 or so nutrients that are not found in baby formula and cannot be synthesized in a laboratory. Its benefits are too many to count. It is said to curb childhood obesity, gives babies antibodies to fight germs and is an IQ booster. Milk manufacturers simply cannot copy God’s natural provision for babies. The cow’s milk we fed her during the first month was not only less nutritious, it gave her gas pain. It was excruciating to watch her cry because of tummy trouble. I looked at the ingredients and understood why. Aside from artificial sweeteners, vitamins and minerals, I learned that the formula was made of a mix of vegetable oils that even I wouldn’t want to consume.

Upon the pediatrician’s advice, we shifted to a soy-based formula. True enough the gas pain was gone but this time she suffered from constipation, lasting as long as 3 days. This gave me the determination to continue breastfeeding, expressing milk with a manual pump when my nipples were sore or bruised. When Mishca turned two months old, my milk was already more abundant. In a surprise trip to Tagaytay on my birthday, all we brought with us, aside from her clothes and diapers, was one bottle filled, not with formula, but with water.

We are now happily nursing 24/7. Having her sleep in my arms after feeding is a memory that I’ll cherish for a long, long time. As a bonus, it took me less than 3 months to lose 34 lbs. I am now officially back to my pre-pregnancy weight. That was achieved without vigorous exercise.

I have heard of moms whose babies stopped breastfeeding altogether after being introduced to the bottle. It makes me feel grateful that my daughter stuck by me while I was dilly-dollying because of the pain and the wrong belief that my body was not capable of completely feeding my child.

It made me realize how my decisions, big or small, directly impacts the future of the child. That sobered me up! It also made me promise to make healthy food choices every day. I need to be more careful about what I put into my mouth, knowing that everything I ingest goes into my baby. It takes just a moment to decide to down that junk food, instead of, say, the more nutritious salad. The momentary pleasure I get from giving in to a sinful craving is not worth the trade off. For how will these compounding wrong decisions affect my body in the long run? I want to be like my baby daughter. I want to make the right food choices, even if it hurts.

TELL. A trait that we noticed in our daughter is her being a good communicator. Even in her first few days, she’d tell you if she didn’t like something. One thing she doesn’t like is having her head covered while sleeping. We tried to put a bonnet on her to keep her warm, but she would remove it. She’d even shout a loud “Aaaaaah. . .” to communicate her displeasure.

In the early days, we became worried when she’d cry immediately after wetting her diaper. Why sometimes she’d even start crying before she wets the diaper! Mike and I have learned to run for cover whenever that happened. She just didn’t like the cold, damp feeling. It made her consume more diapers during the first month. We asked her pediatrician if this was normal. Instead of saying that we have an overly sensitive baby, Dr. Edna Llido encouraged us. “Ayaw mom nun? Hindi sya magkaka-diaper rash?” (It’s a good thing. She won’t ever get diaper rash). I failed to see it from that angle. True enough she has no need for diaper cream. Now Michael thanks her whenever she tells us she needs to be changed.

When Mishca turned two months old, she learned to use coos to tell me that she needed to eat. She would look me in the eye and plead like a grown-up, using her voice to stress the urgency of her need. She coupled that with a pained expression on her face. It would become a long litany when I failed to read her cues. If I prolong her agony, that’s the time she’d out a cry. The funny thing was I have to let her finish her “sentence” before latching her. She doesn’t want to be interrupted when she’s telling me something.

In the wee hours of the night, Mishca would stir in her cot to indicate that she needs to eat. When she was a newborn, I was so conscious of her every move that I was able to meet her needs right away. Now that she’s bigger, I’m able to relax more. Sleep has become deeper for me and so my daughter taught herself to physically rouse me from sleep. In late July, she began to use her right hand to pat me on my side to wake me up. Sometimes if we’re both fully conscious I am gifted with a sweet smile upon rising and offering milk. Michael is amazed at how in sync we are in this regard.

Mishca is a very transparent child—squealing with delight when she is given attention and breaking into a grin when we sing her favorite songs, which at the moment are ABC, Just the Way You Are and Eensy Weensy Spider. There are two phrases from her daddy that always elicit a happy reaction from Mishca: pretty girl and growth spurt! Of course, like every girl, she likes to be told she’s beautiful. We discovered the other one by accident. One afternoon her dad and I were discussing why she was taking in more milk than usual. “Growth spurt!”we both concluded. We saw her lips form a smile as she heard us say those words. We’ve been repeating those lines ever since.

Just before she turned three months old, Michael and I were joking about something as I was nursing her. Suddenly she stopped suckling and laughed out loud, as if she understood what we were talking about. She kept on laughing, giving us time to take out our video camera to record the moment.

My daughter challenges me to be a better communicator. To stop assuming that people know or can read my mind. To be truthful and transparent—in a good way. How many times have I kept silent hoping to avoid offending someone only to make the situation worse?

Mishca’s sleeping in her cot as I write this. She is growing up so fast. I find myself wanting to stop time sometimes. I’m very grateful I have this special time with her. I’m savoring every moment of it, trying to learn as much as I can from this precocious little blessing.

It’s been a year since we discovered that I was carrying you in the womb, Mishca. We are indeed privileged to have you as our daughter. Happy 1st anniversary!
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