Pregnant and Pinay in America: Giving Birth To My Filipino-American Identity Naturally
I’m almost 8 months pregnant as I write this post. Pregnancy is a special time for women. In many ways when you’re not, you forget how joyous and gravely tedious it is for your body to nourish and sustain life 24/7. I find pregnant women the most beautiful; they exude life force beyond words and they hold true that miracles happen every day with their mere sight.
I’m not sure how it was passed on to me but I knew growing up that aside from the elderly & women with small children, I am to give up my seat to a pregnant woman. One thing common among these groups is that they possess a proof of their specialness. The elderly might not always appear frail, but the wrinkles on their skin or their gingerly walks are proofs; the mother has her children and the sweat on her forehead if you care to look, and the pregnant woman, her bulging stomach and if you move closer to her stance, her breathless demeanor.
All these are repertoire of my experiences growing up from the islands and having been raised by the people I was surrounded with. Pregnant and Pinay in America, I expected that the proof of my specialness need not be spoken for. Meaning, that I expected help to come its way without my asking since the proof was undeniable.
This was not always the case…
I had to travel to Los Angeles by plane for a training a few weeks back. I made sure to compactly pack my things so that checking-in my luggage was unnecessary. This of course meant that my carry-on had some serious weight on it. To us Pinay, this is the only rule that we pay attention to when travelling, the max weight of our luggage before we are charged a fee 😊 . So, as I boarded my plane, I tried to compose myself for I knew I had to lift my weighty luggage up in the overhead compartment. When I found my seat, I quickly muster enough strength to pack away my stuff so that I can be out of people’s way asap. But, despite, hoping I wouldn’t need help from anyone, I struggled… I attempted once, twice and then thrice (uugh!). The overhead was too high up for my Pinay 5’3 “stature. I observed people around me, they were either reading from their phones, or situating themselves to their seats, but obviously oblivious to my pain. Finally, I cleared my throat out of desperation and asked a guy in his 20s, “ Do you mind helping me, please?” And, so he did, I was thankful but not necessarily grateful.
In fact, I was highly irritated. Why, despite what I thought was an obvious proof of my pregnancy struggle, do I have to struggle some more, just to get help?
I lamented to my husband on how Americans don’t readily read non-verbal cues and had to be told or asked what to do just so I can elicit a reaction from them (mind you, my husband is not Fiipino).
Physically in America, Mentally Living in the Islands
A month later, I saw a Pinay colleague at Costco who from afar saw me trying to load up my 24- case of water into my cart. Before she even said, hi, she called out my name & rushed to my rescue, saying, “let me help you with that, sister.”
This was what I was talking about…expecting…hoping for…knew. I was grateful to feel at home with my colleague who knew exactly what I needed without being told.
Until it dawn unto me…
I was expecting Americans to read me like my colleague. An unfair expectation to say the least, negating any help I get as insincere if I had to initiate or ask for it. Who made up that rule anyway? Back home in the islands, teachers are available (uncles, aunts, kuyas, ates & more) to be non-verbal cues interpreters. So, when my Pinay mama gave me the cold shoulder when I could’ve sworn I was in my best behavior, I knew exactly how to appease her. How? More than likely, she had spoken to one of her trusted allies, who in turn, whispered to my ears, the step by step process, on what will bring calm to my mother’s stormy mood. These teachers exist in scarcity with our young Fil-Americans here and yet we expect them to read us like a book; reading between our unspoken lines. As with my experience, our worldview is not contained in our homes but to our fellow human beings around, the so-called Americans we work with, our neighbors, our carpool mates. Indeed, we are living in America but have left other parts of ourselves in the islands.
Giving Birth Naturally
Even if you have a health condition that prevents you from bearing your own children, a woman’s body is meant and built to bear a child. Your health condition does not alter your womanly anatomy, childless or not, you are gifted with it.
Giving birth naturally does not mean painless or even unassisted. It simply means that you can trust your body to do its thing. At the actual birthing process, some women many need C-section surgery despite their best effort to push out their baby. Some other women, may ask for pain medication because why not; its human nature to try to repel any type of pain especially if you someone keeps bugging you if you want it for the nth time.
My transition to fully embracing my Filipino American identity is like giving birth. It brings about discomfort that I naturally want to avoid because its unpleasant, and even painful many times. You might be surrounded by aunties and uncles that offer generous advice on how you can adjust to your American lifestyle successfully, but, you, alone must trek this unfamiliar path to find your way.
Giving birth is as natural as can be. The entire village may be at your bedside for support but the work of pushing out the baby is entirely yours.