A rose seems to be the most popular of all the flowers. It usually is the bouquet of choice to be given to a woman on memorable events, like Valentine's Day, Graduation Day, or Mother's day.
Together with the rose is its symbol: red for love and passion; yellow for friendship; white for purity, and so on.
A rose comes with different varieties all over the world. There are roses with petals that are bigger than a child's hand. In the Philippines, our native roses have petals smaller than an adult's thumb. But not all flowers are roses. There are other beautiful flowers who are as lovely and should be celebrated just like the rose.
Society tend to box women into its own idea of beauty. It is usually the picture of a flawless model in a magazine cover, or those who possess long-slendered bodies in beauty pagents.
Then there comes the label of a Trophy Wife, the woman with the complete package of beauty, body and brains.
Then the Alpha Mom, the perfect mother who gives birth naturally, breastfeeds her babies, uses all natural products and makes the best decisions for her children.
Or The Supermom, the woman who balances her home, her children, her advocacy and her career like a walk in a park.
Or the Superwoman, sounds redundant, doesn't it? A woman is already super in her own right.
On the other end of the spectrum of these praiseworthy achievers are those who fall short to make it into the above-mentioned categories: women who were born with shorter legs, larger body frame, and less-than-picture-perfect face; women who choose either her career or have a family, but cannot have both; women like me who gave birth via cesarian section, and who once struggled to breastfeed her newborn baby.
When I was pregnant, my husband and I prepared for a normal delivery. With him, I enrolled in a Lamaze class, practiced my breathing exercises, walked, squatted, used evening primroses and did all what my OB-GYNE and Google suggested.
When my due date arrived, all I had were cramps. I exercised more and pushed myself harder so the baby would come out. Nothing.
I labored for more than 36 hours. Like a good student, I used my Lamaze breathing like a pro. But my cervix would not dilate. I had a dry labor for 27 hours until the fetal monitor showed that my baby was in distress.
After all the inhaling and exhaling to relieve the labor pain, I was rushed to the operating room for an emergency cesarian section. I gave up my dream of natural birth to save my baby.
A few hours later, I held him in my arms, but they took him away immediately for observation. He stayed in the neonatal ward for five days. It was not the birth story I imagined.
It pierced my heart when nurses injected antibiotics on him, or when they collected a portion of his blood for another round of tests. Bruises left my baby's hands and feet as needles came in and out of his small body. At the same time, my breasts did not produced milk. So the nurses fed him with other mothers' milk, while he struggled to nurse from me.
My baby latched on me for 24/7, always crying and never sleeping. I was so exhausted. I did not know motherhood was that hard. I certainly did not witness the same from my mother who have five children. My siblings slept well and cried only when hungry, wet or sleepy.
Six weeks after, my baby was weak and lethargic. His skin turned bluish. For six weeks, I decided to breastfeed exclusively, refusing offers from my mothers and in-laws to feed him with formula. I waited for my milk to arrive just like what the experts claimed.
My nipples got sore. Eventually, it cracked and bled, like my confused heart on why milk does not come in huge volumes after frequent feeding. My baby got dehydrated.
My mother could not stand the frail state of her grandson that she, a breastfeeding advocate, immediately bought him formula milk. She quickly made him one and he sucked with all his might. In seconds, he finished a bottle and finally got satisfied. For the first time, he slept soundly. My mother and I cried as we witnessed that event. I questioned myself why my milk did not satisfy him.
When we learned I was pregnant, my husband and I bought books on pregnancy, and motherhood. We equipped ourselved with knowledge. The plan was natural birth and breastfeeding. I felt I was a failure in both.
It did not help when people learned I give birth via C-section, and they asked me why I did not push hard enough. It did not help that most of the mothers I know gave birth naturally and breastfed successfully. In their eyes, I chose the easy way out. They told me that that there are no C-sections in the mountains. Women pushed with all their might till they hear their babies cry. But they did not say that there are also high cases of maternal deaths. I knew someone who died for pushing with all her might, refusing to undergo surgery.
I blamed myself for not trying hard enough. But every time I recalled my labor, I knew in myself I did. I even vomitted black liquid, it looked and tasted bitter like black coffee, but it was not coffee. The medical team induced me a lot of times to force my cervix to open. However, my son was way too high, stuck inside my pelvic bone. He came into this world with an almost pentagon-shaped head.
I cried silently when I received judgments from people for undergoing c-section and failing to breastfeed. I hurt when people begin to look down on me even before they heard my birth story. They did not even bother to ask me how it came to be. And even if some of them listened, they still concluded that I did not try hard enough.
So around them, I hide as I fed my son formula milk. They don't know how I really wanted to feed him breastmilk. Years later, I read an article about a mom who lost her son because she refused to give him formula. He got dehydrated, then days later succumbed to death. That baby could have been my son.
Last week, I asked my husband to take a picture of me. I told him I want a whole body picture. When I checked the photo, I noticed my right shoulder is not equally leveled with my left. I also noticed that when I do a wall stand, there is a huge space from my back to the wall. Standing straight alone perspires me. Then I remembered, I have a lordoscoliosis.
Lordosis is medical condition in which a person's spine has an excessive inward curve, while Scoliosis is a medical condition in which a person's spine has a sideways curve. The curve is usually "S"- or "C"-shaped. Lordoscoliosis is a rare medical condition in which there is a combined backward and lateral curvature of the spine.
I forgot all about it. I thought it would just go away since I had been prayed over for a hundred times.
I was diagnosed during my early twenties; a doctor told me I will have a hard time conceiving a child due to the abnormal curves of my spine, and the complications that came with it. He even added no man would want to marry me if he knew I could not give him a child.
My body frame is deformed; my internal organs are affected. That explains the hardship I went through during childbirth. I realized I am not a rose. But I am still a beautiful flower.
So I can now say I am not less of a woman because I gave birth via cesarian, nor because I struggled to breastfeed.
Depression becomes the number one mental illness in the world today. It could be because society places a very high one-size-fits-all standard for everyone, especially on women. A woman should be this and that. If not, then we are being put down, bashed and bullied to their heart's delight.
So on International Women's Day, I would like women to know that it is ok if we do not fit into the mold society built on what a beautiful woman is or what a woman can do. Just as they cannot limit us into a certain career, place or status, they also cannot neglect us for not reaching the standards they raise fit only for a chosen few.
Our beauty lies on our skin, whether it is brown or black or yellow or red.
Our beauty lies on our hair, whether it is curly or straight or long or short.
Our beauty lies on our posture, whether we are tall or short or fat or skinny..
Our beauty lies on our choice, whether we marry or stay single in our 40s, 50s, 60s and onwards.
Our beauty lies on our ability to give life, whether it is giving birth biologically or through our artworks, careers, ministries, or advocacies.
Our beauty lies on our talents, whether we are disabled, deformed or differently abled.
Our beauty lies on how we carry ourselves, whether we have that a curved spinal cord or straight.
Our beauty lies in our hearts, the summation of our abilities and our kind-natured, nurturing character, whether we are roses or not.
Each of us are products of God's creativity. The world would look dull if there is no diversity in humanity, or if the colors in a rainbow are only green and violet.
It is not fun to be an "outcast". No one should be.
We are a collective group of beautiful flowers from all over the world. We might not fit the mold of what society's definition of a beautiful woman, trophy wife, or alpha mom, it does not diminish our worth and identity as women.
Let us embrace our uniqueness and beauty.
Let us stop apologizing for our skin color, our height, our weight, our civil status, our menstrual cycles and PMS and our birth story or the lack of it.
Let us stop measuring ourselves from the scales of mass media. The world might only be exhalting the roses. Instead, let us bloom as daisies, chrysanthemums, tulips, petunias, irises, lavenders, lilacs, sunflowers, orchids, lilies, dandelions, poppies, edelweises, amaryllises, bellflowers, jasmines, daffodils, buttercups, camellas, marigolds, begonias, carnations, snowbells and so on!
We are flowers that bloom in the plains, up in the mountains, along the rivers, within the rainforests, in the deserts, and under the vast ocean. We complement the roses in the garden of flowers.
Our uniqueness contributes to the lovely mozaic that defines a woman.
Let us celebrate us!
Let us bloom together!
Happy International Women's Day, Sisters!
Quoting the lyrics of a lullaby,
"There is not a single soul who sees the skies the way you see them through your eyes.
I am glad, you should be glad there is no one, no one exactly like you."