[OPINION] Development in the delay: Reflections on being a new mother

Ryza Martinez-Solaña

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[OPINION] Development in the delay: Reflections on being a new mother

Alejandro Edoria/Rappler

'In January this year – a few months away from her third birthday – my husband and I had to receive the difficult news that my daughter has Global Developmental Delay'

Many would agree that being a pandemic baby is difficult, but much also has to be said about how equally challenging it is to be a pandemic parent. Case in point: I had my daughter in 2021, at 30 years old, at a time when COVID vaccines were not yet available to the public, and when everything I ever thought would happen in childbirth did not happen.

For one, it was impossible then to have my husband beside me; instead, I was in a room of PPE-clad health professionals, total strangers witnessing my life’s most momentous occasion after a 21-hour ordeal of “Will we cut her open, or will we not?” (They ended up cutting me open.) I also wanted to see my baby and hold her as soon as she came out; instead, I passed out, resorting to viewing photos hours after, thanks to the kind anesthesiologist who sought my permission to take my phone right before the procedure. Lastly, they asked me what I had wanted to hear in the delivery room; I requested Yo-Yo Ma and his cello, but they played Boyce Avenue covers instead. Indeed, a woman can’t have it all.

I named my daughter Hiraya: a name that already came up in Messenger conversations years before she was even conceived, between me and my then-boyfriend, now husband and father of my child. We already knew deep in our hearts that this was the name we wanted for the child we wanted to have in the far, far future. Sources say that her name is in archaic Filipino, which translates to, “fruition of our heart’s deepest desires.” Her dad and I were also no strangers to a popular TV show which also has her name; it says, “May your wishes be granted!” And she did exactly that.

Being mother to Hiraya has changed me in ways I did not think possible. For one, the pregnancy came as a surprise. I had ambivalence towards being a mother, having claimed that I was okay not to have a child. Having Hiraya was the Universe’s way of telling me that it was a lie and perhaps I was, indeed, meant to be a mother. While motherhood did not come to me naturally right away – especially in the first few weeks of dealing with breastfeeding (Really? It wasn’t just a matter of sticking it out and giving it to my baby?), postpartum blues, nursing my own Cesarean wounds while nursing and rocking my daughter to sleep, and coping with the help of BTS songs and videos – I have learned to embrace it.

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Sometimes I sit with it to talk with it and understand its challenges. I had to fight for who I was – or whoever I thought I was – while also embracing the new reality of being responsible for another human being. I had to accept this new person born out of the person for whom I gave birth – organs displaced and then rearranged to give way to something bigger than myself.

Clearly, neither playbook nor my diplomas could have prepared me for the sheer amount of courage and love I had overnight. I was floored with all the love I suddenly could muster – especially as one who almost always just thought about herself. I also found myself capable of carrying a heavy mental load both at home and at work. Everything I did, in one form or another, became related to her and was made possible because of her: promotions, a new home, and the audacity to have big, big dreams. I made sure to check developmental checklists. I made sure her vaccinations were on time. I made sure she had enough ground to cover as she learned how to walk. I did what I could within my capacity. That said, it can be taxing, but as I read somewhere, “Parenting is hard for the good ones.”

It helps that motherhood in the 21st century has its own set of unique perks. There are a plethora of support pages. On Instagram, there are accounts solely devoted to helping mothers realize that they are not alone and they are not being bad mothers for feeling depleted and delighted at the same time. As I learn to be a mother without my own mother, I can only look back on how it was for me and my Mama; not once did I hear her complain. I did grow up in the ’90s though, rife with its baby commercials that perhaps might have given me the wrong impression that it was easy and peaceful, filled with background music of some angelic nursery rhyme’s orchestral version. As I discover, it is far from that – as it is demanding, noisy, and messy – but never have I felt this kind of fulfillment, too. I dare say that motherhood also made me a better person, a better leader, and a better partner. 

With its many iterations, I have also learned that no form of motherhood is better than the other; no one is easier than the other. It may sound condescending – coming from me, a working mother – but I know it in my heart to be true, holding all mothers in high regard. I know how it is like to wrestle with contradictions and guilt as we long for a semblance of normalcy in the everyday. There are mothers more skilled than I am who are at home, while there are mothers like me working so hard while wishing for more time with their sons and daughters. 

On another important note, today exists the widely contested version of motherhood, with its extended babysitter: The Screen. Parents nowadays are divided with regard to its use, while parents then only had the good old TV with no Cocomelons and Teacher Rachels. We know it: more health professionals have started to correlate the impact of screen time on children’s development. We also know it: being parents is hard enough; we should not judge what others decide to do. The Screen, at least for us, turned out to be a flaw.

In January this year – a few months away from her third birthday – my husband and I had to receive the difficult news that my daughter has Global Developmental Delay. While she is adept in many areas of development (cognitive, adaptive), there are gaps in her speech development. There are also behavioral challenges, such as stranger anxiety, that we had to address.

Suddenly, I found myself booking appointments with an inclusive preschool, an occupational therapist, and a speech therapist. We had to rethink our routines at home. The iPad had to be dead, and tantrums we thought long gone were resurrected. And just like when she was born, new forms of guilt and self-doubt engulfed me as I still tried to hold on to silver linings. I questioned myself if I was responsible for the delay, even if I knew all other related factors. I regretted all the times I gave her a screen just to have a few more minutes of sleep. Did I do this to my child? Should I have stayed at home? There were so many decisions I replayed in my head and for a while, in the midst of frantic search for resources and answers, I still could not be initially consoled by testimonies and pieces of evidence that the interventions do work. Even the developmental pediatrician told us, “Good job kayo” for having the initiative to have her. Did we, really?

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It is good that everything I have shared above – in this essay of motherhood I will continue to write through life – gives me grace to be kind to myself. I have done what I can and I will continue to do what I can, considering I have the best support system. That said, I think of all the mothers who may want to get help, but do not know where to start. I think of all the mothers who had to give up something for their child. I think of all the mothers with no support systems. I think of all the mothers who are raising their child on their own. Without invalidating my own struggles, I think of all the mothers who may have even bigger struggles. 

Because while this era may have its perks, it is also hard to be a parent in a day and age when comparison is too easy due to social media and when there is too much information to digest. It seems so easy for others to take what one said differently or take a quick peek at your feed and feel like they know you even when they don’t. You work – you are questioned; you stay at home – you are questioned. You gain weight – they say you’ve failed to take care of yourself, even as you face the gargantuan task of parenting. I think there is so much more the world can do beyond these erroneous and harsh assumptions; there is so much kindness and strength it needs, especially from mothers who know how to empower others.

For now, what I do know is that there might be some delay in my daughters’ skills, but in the delay, there is a lot of development. I find myself more conscious about how I spend my time with her, given the limited period of time outside work hours and during weekends. I find my husband and I communicating more with each other regarding how best to support our daughter. I find myself more aware, more empathetic, and more open towards the plight of others, especially those whom I might have dismissed so easily when I did not know any better. I find myself less judgmental and more discerning, less impulsive and more patient. 

Because of this delay, we are being developed into even better, more compassionate versions of ourselves; we get to pause and reflect on what is most essential. See, my daughter did that – and I know she can do so much more as we catch up and equip her with the best possible care we can give. And while I may not really have it all, it’s okay, for my daughter has given me so much more. –

Ryza Martinez-Solaña, 33, is a senior manager and school-based administrator for PHINMA Education, a network of schools in the Philippines and in Indonesia.

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