When I was a year old, my mother left me and my two month old sister with our dad. We lived in the Philippines and her 21’st birthday was fast approaching. My mom’s family was in the middle of the arduous process of emigrating to the United States. Had she stayed past her 21st birthday, she would no longer be allowed to come under her parents’ visas. There was no knowing of when and if she’d be able to move to the US. So in pursuit of a better life, she left her boyfriend and two very young kids and moved an entire ocean away. Being so young when she left, I don’t remember missing her much. We adored our dad and there was no shortage of relatives who doted on two little girls. “Mama” was an idea and a voice on the other end of the telephone every so often. She came back once when I was four to marry my dad. I have no recollection of this time aside from seeing it on a video tape. I don’t remember anything about my mom before that age of 8 when we were finally reunited with her after emigrating to the US.
This is a story all too familiar in the Filipino community. One parent going abroad in hopes to provide a better life for their family. They’re dubbed “OFW’s” or Oversees Filipino Workers. This is so common that upon meeting my now husband, I learned that we shared the same story. His mother also made the same sacrifice and left him and his two brothers behind with their dad to pursue a nursing career in the US.
Growing up is difficult on its own. Never mind having an absent parent, moving to a foreign country, reuniting with said parent, learning a whole new language and customs… then BAM – adolescent and teenage angst kicks in. Being the first child, I pushed boundaries and constantly tested my parents. I loved my parents but, in retrospect, I was too consumed with the melodramatics of growing up that I don’t think I showed them or told them enough just how truly appreciative I was of them. Specially my mom.
I’m 30 now and had my first child four months ago. From the moment I was aware of his presence in my womb, I’ve been overcome by a love that is almost impossible to describe. I’m consumed with a paradox of emotions not being able to explain how I can be filled with so much hope and fear simultaneously. My every waking thought is of this little boy: is he happy? Is he healthy? Am I doing a good job? Is he ok? Because of my past, I always knew I wanted to stay home for the first few years of my child’s life. I wanted to be able to nurture and tend to him in a way circumstances deprived me of. By the grace of God and hard work on my husband’s part, I’ve been able to do so. For this, I am eternally grateful.
The other night while nursing, I was holding his hand and breathing in the moment. I got to thinking about how truly special being a mother to him was and that I would miss this intimacy with him when he grows. Those thoughts conjured up the image of my mother. I was 1 and my sister was 2 months old when she left. Finally knowing the power of a mother’s love first hand, I cried for her. I cried for the sacrifice she made that I never had the capacity to fully appreciate until now. I cried for the pit in her stomach she must have had in the months preceding her departure from us. I cried for those nights of loneliness she must’ve endured in a foreign land missing her babies. I cried for all the “first’s she missed with us… first laughs, first words, first steps. I cried for the internal turmoil she endured all those years away and not being able to communicate with us very often. Long distance and flying oversees were expensive and FaceTime and Skype were decades away from existence. Most of all, I cried for not being able to recognize the extent of her sacrifice sooner. Had she decided to stay behind in the Philippines, Lord knows what our current situation would be. Some things are for sure: I would never have had the opportunities I’ve been blessed with, I would not have met my husband and I wouldn’t be in this house typing away while this little boy sleeps peacefully next to me.
A mother’s love is amazing in its innate capacity for sacrifice and ultimate wisdom. Mama knew what was best for us and she did it despite the difficulty and hardships of her decision. I love you, ma. I can’t bring back the past. But from this point forward, I can lead a life and raise this little boy to be worthy of your sacrifice.