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The Write Time

It’s been four months since I last wrote an entry to this blog. It’s been four months since I last wrote anything, actually. Prior to giving birth, I had been writing this and that for Radio Republic. When I turned in my coat (not that I have ever worn one or even have one…It’s a pretty bad analogy, come to think of it) for the company to focus on my pregnancy, I picked up my old job of writing web content for Rudolf, my stern Canadian boss with whom I often got into minor tufts with. (The pay was so-so but it was home-based and writing is almost second nature to me so it wasn’t a bed of nails but it wasn’t made of roses, either.)

When Maaya, my little rosebud of a daughter was born, I turned in my c—I took a bow from writing altogether. I said my farewell to Rudolf, wrote a four-part pregnancy story on this blog and shook off writing from my life.

It wasn’t something that I planned, it just happened naturally. My hands were simply too full—figuring out how to use the baby sling, rocking Maaya to sleep at night, checking her forehead for fever, being a mother. I simply lost time for writing, told myself it wasn’t important.

 But it is.

The funny thing about something you love doing but somehow put off doing for one reason or another, is how it starts making its presence known. Gently at first. A little knocking in your heart, maybe. Then it starts becoming more insistent, like an audible echo and you start scratching your head. The next step is usually less inconspicuous . It manifests in reality. You start seeing and hearing signs everywhere. In the book you are reading, from the lips of your husband, in your friend’s email.

And the next move is yours. You either succumb to the call or you drive yourself crazy.

I did both.

I wrote a crazy letter to my neighbor about his dog. You can read about it on my Facebook page. Not that I regret any of it. Caged dogs make me all sad inside. But it was a pretty long letter. I filled up one whole page of my sketchpad, back to back, in my tiny handwriting, single-spaced.  

Yup, it was all those months of suppressed writing, exploding into a deeply heartfelt and lengthy letter to my neighbor about his dog. As I folded the letter neatly into an envelope and sealed it, I knew it was time to get back to writing.

So, hello once again, blog!

I’ve missed you terribly. 

P.S. I’m still waiting to hear from my neighbour (and his dog).


That tricky thing called leap of faith

So why did I take the time to write out my birth story? Am I trying to tell you that you should give natural birth a try?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, because giving birth is a beautiful and natural thing and I think being in control of our bodies as it happens adds to the over-all experience. I also believe that there is a culture of fear in today’s world with regards to giving birth that must be addressed. This stigma of a birth that ‘must be delivered at a hospital’ limits women’s options when it comes to discovering their own bodies and experiencing something out of the ordinary.

Most women that I’ve talked to cannot believe that I gave birth without an epidural. To be honest, after what I’ve gone through, I cannot believe why anyone would.

And no, because I understand that not everybody has the freedom nor the desire to give birth naturally. A myriad of reasons ranging from health to personal can keep a woman from doing so. Like what I’ve said in the beginning of this series, it is not my intention to pass judgment especially on such a personal matter. That is not my job and neither is it my right. All births are beautiful, period.

Before Maaya came into the world, before I became an advocate of natural birth and before I started writing about this experience, all of this was just a big question mark.

Natural birth was something that I wanted I to do, sure. My husband and I talked about it all the time but still, I had some doubts. At the back of my head, there was always that question: Could I really do it? Would I be successful doing it?

I didn’t have the answers. No one could tell me what was going to happen.

I had to go and take a “leap of faith.”

What is a leap of faith? Let us try to examine this often used (and misused) term. Is it reckless? Is it blind?

Let’s put it this way, if you don’t hear God’s voice telling you to do it, if it weighs you down or doesn’t fill you with peace, then yes, it is reckless, it is blind and more often than not, it also is not a leap of faith.

A leap of faith, is taking a step (or a jump, even) out of your comfort zone to do something that you are certain God is calling you to do. The big difference between blind reckless jumping and the latter is…God.

So how do you know if you are in step with God’s plan or if He really is calling you to jump? Here are a few pointers:

1) Keep in constant prayer. Prayer helps clear a muddled head. Prayer weeds out the noise and the extras. Prayer reveals the most honest you.

Now why is this so important? We live in a world where information is constantly being thrown at us from all sides. Sometimes it’s hard to know what is coming from God and what is not. For example, you have been given the gift of drawing or skills in art. You know in your heart that you want to pursue this God-given gift.

However, the world will soon start to discourage you by putting doubts in your head. People will tell you that there is “no money in art” and “Why don’t you get a regular job instead?”

Sometimes, the dreams that you are so passionately praying for are not even your own. They may be the dreams of your boyfriend, of your mother’s or even your friends’. And then you wonder, or worse, even blame God for not giving these dreams to you. Maybe you should be thanking Him instead?

Prayer is important because it keeps you on track, it reminds you of what God wants for you, as expressed and validated by your gifts, your passions, and no other else’s. In a world where everyone is trying to convince you otherwise, prayer helps you to stay true to yourself, and to God.

2) Meditate on the word.  If prayer is your hotline to God, then the Bible is His hotline to you. How blessed are we to have God’s truth at our fingertips, accessible and available, 24/7? Yet why is it that we can’t bring ourselves to open His book and read His word? He is not asking for us to read an entire book. He is not even asking us to read an entire chapter. Sometimes, a verse contains all that He wants to tell us.

Are we afraid that what the Bible says isn’t true? Or are we more afraid of discovering that what it says IS the truth?

After all, truth staring you in the face tells you to change. Truth will tell you to step out of your comfort zone. Truth will tell you that the path you are walking in isn’t the path He had designed for you. We don’t like change. We like what’s comfortable, fuzzy soft and familiar. Truth is hardly comfortable and familiar. Truth is a thorn in your side. It throbs. It lingers. It hurts.

3) Listen to Godly counsel. Talk to people who have a strong faith in God. They will be able to help you when you are uncertain of the path you are taking is aligned with God. Some of you may say that you do not need advice from others, that you can hear from God directly and clearly all by yourself. If that’s the case, then it’s easy to have a distorted sense of self, as well as a bloated sense of ego. It is also very easy to cherry pick verses from the Bible so that it suits what YOU want to hear.

Friends, real friends, will be able to look at your situation from the outside in and with a balanced perception, as compared to you who may be too caught up or even neck-deep in the situation, and therefore can only see so far.

When these three things are aligned, then you know when God is calling you to take a leap of faith.  When it is from Him, it is neither blind nor reckless. It means that when you leap, He will be right there, waiting to catch you.

Think of it this way. He not only catches you but he takes you in His arms, hugs you tight and then puts you right where you need to be, a step forward on your journey.

A leap that is not for God is just bungee jumping. Thrilling, sure. Exciting, yes. But after the leap, you are left dangling on a string. And when you are finally pulled up, you are exactly where you started from. You’ve gone nowhere.

What are you believing God for? A husband? A promotion? Freedom from an addiction?

What if God told you that these are already waiting for you? What if they’ve been there all this time? And what if the only way to them was a big, mighty jump from where you are right now?

Would you jump?

If you knew what was waiting for you….

Would you take that leap of faith?


A drug-free, love-filled birth story (Conclusion)

So was I able to get some sleep at all? Nope. Not a wink. I remember just losing myself in timing each contraction. Let me try to explain. The pain of a contraction isn’t intense right away. Instead, it builds up. The longer it is, the stronger it becomes. Meaning at the start of a contraction, the pain would be manageable. At 14 seconds, I would be bracing myself because The 20th second is when the pain gets really intense and it grows more and more so until it reaches the 60th second. By that time I would be beside myself with pain. And that was how it was for the next five hours or so.

At around 9am, Pammi knocked and greeted us a good morning and cheerfully offered us some breakfast. Breakfast? How can anyone even think of eating at a time like this?

Food, as it turns out, is very important to a woman in labor. You had to keep your strength up, given what your body was doing and would still be doing much later on.  Breakfast consisted of some freshly brewed coffee, homemade wheat bread and scrambled eggs. While Pammi and Dondi ate and chatted happily amidst a marvelous view of Antipolo green landscape, I nibbled on my toast and tried to be as normal as I could. Conversation, fresh air and a beautiful view helped a lot.

For another hour or so, I paced around a general area of Pammi’s house. They said that laying still may be too much but when I combined visualization with prayer, I discovered that it became much more tolerable. If a contraction caught me while on my way to the bathroom, I stopped and swiveled my hips around, a great way to get my mind off the sensation.

Dondi was a real trooper, hugging me, encouraging me, and praying with me every step of the way. the husband aspect in a birth is so important and so natural that I encourage women everywhere to explore ways on how their husbands can become a bigger part of their labor process. We were also waiting for my water bag to break anytime, which may or may have not something to do with the increasing pressure I was feeling on my lower abdomen.

Now at one point, I just remember being bowled—no, rocked—by a particularly strong contraction.  It was so strong that I just told myself, I can’t do this anymore.  I tried holding on to Dondi or to Coco the Shit-zu’s fluffy fur to get me through but even these no longer helped. It was time to let Pammi know.

At 11:30 am, she checked how far along I was dilated. She gave me a look of mild surprise. “Wow, you’re almost there. 9cm.”  If I wasn’t in so much pain, I would have jumped up and celebrated. I was meeting my baby soon.

The ensuing scenes were a flurry.  I remember piling up in Pammi’s blue 4×4 to go back to the birthing center. I had to admit, it was pretty exciting as the curtains were pulled around me and two beautiful midwives popped in front of me, all smiles and jokes. “You’re going to meet your baby soon,” they enthused.

At this point, Dondi called my dad and I could hear him exclaiming joyfully through the phone. That was the last straw and the dam burst, I started crying. It was the first time in my life that I cried like that—out of sheer, unexplainable, overflowing joy. But I couldn’t get too caught up with the drama. It was time to get down to business. It was time to push.

In a medicated birth, the epidural numbs you from waist down so that you do not feel the contractions and therefore you do not feel the urge to push. You rely on your doctor’s instructions on when to move your baby out of your canal. With a natural birth, you know exactly when to push because your body is telling you to do so. All I did was go along with my natural urges and to my midwives’ cheerful and  encouraging words. I also tried different positions while pushing and settled on a reclining one, with Dondi acting as my “chair.”

I kept my eyes on the verse that was painted on the walls of the room: “Magagawa ko ang lahat sa pamamagitan ni Cristo na nagpapalakas sa akin.” –  Filipos 4:13

And because all of the beds in the delivery room faced windows, I also had a beautiful view of the mountains of Antipolo outside.

Someone put on some worship music which really helped me give it my all. In a few minutes, the midvives exclaimed that the baby was almost there, and did I want to see the baby’s head? They assured me that this would really help my pushing so despite finding it weird at first, I agreed.  They held a mirror up for me to see and imagine my delight when I saw a little head full of hair. This was really it.

“Just one big push should do it,” one of the midwives said. I was exhausted at this point from having no sleep and undergoing about 5 hours of intense labor. But my baby wanted out and I wanted to help her.  So I gathered all of the strength that I could muster, every last bit of it…and pushed.

And I felt something slippery come out of me.

And there were exclamations of, “Thank you, Jesus!” and, “It’s a baby girl!” (Dondi and I chose not to find out the baby’s gender beforehand.)

She was born along to “Hosanna” by Hillsong.

They put her on my chest and I remember looking at her hands first and marveling at how long and beautiful they were. She had such thick black hair, such a small crumpled face and the most heartbreaking cry. She went for my breast almost immediately, and I just lay there, stunned, while everyone else continued to bustle around me.

Maaya was born on a Monday, June 24, 2013 at 12:15pm. She was 6.4 lbs and 18.5 inches.

Maaya’s name means “True Design”.

There were no complications. She was healthy, complete and beautiful.

There was no more pain. I was walking around by 2pm and by 6pm that same day, we were able to bring her home.

The delivery went smoothly, beautifully, safely and wonderfully.

As God had designed it.

As God had promised.

No pain, all smiles only a couple hours after delivery. Natural birth rocks.

No pain, all smiles only a couple hours after delivery. Natural birth rocks.


A drug-free, love filled birth story (Part 3)

On June 23, Sunday, 2012, I woke up with an unexplainable urge to clean the house. I was due to give birth anytime now, so with my very pregnant belly, I marched right up to the most disorganized part of the house—the bodega (dum dum de dum).

Like a madwoman, I started clawing at all the stuff of yesteryears that have piled up in that closet. Books, cassette tapes, wires—-lots of wires—CDs, the occasional embarrassing photograph….they all ended up in piles by our feet.

By the time the closet and all its shelves were emptied, dusted and swept, and all of the things inside them organized and kept, it was late in the afternoon. I went into the bathroom and to my surprise; there it was…my bloody show. (To the uninitiated,   bloody show is the coming off of your mucous plug, which is what serves as the “cork” of your cervix during your pregnancy.)

In my opinion, the most exciting thing about giving birth is that no one, not even the most sophisticated means of science can actually predict your due date. Isn’t it amazing that only our Maker knows the exact day of our birthdays? But just so you don’t pop in the middle of say, taking a shower (although I’m sure this has happened before) there are signs to help you know that the hour is fast approaching.

Some of these signs include: 1) Nesting or the sudden strong urge to clean the house 2) A bloody show and 3) the mother-to-be’s intuition.

All three of them happened that day.

Me: Hun. I really think I’m going to give birth tonight.

Dondi: Are you sure, hun? I give it Wednesday at the earliest. Or even Friday.

Me: Nope. It’s tonight.

Dondi: But I’ve got a meeting tomorrow. (Of course, he was kidding.)

Later that night, as we got ready for bed, I suddenly felt like getting a foot massage, something that mothers and pregnant women know to be a strong way to help induce contractions. And something that I never wanted during my entire pregnancy until that night.

Yup. I was almost positive the baby was on its way.

At about 11pm, I felt the first waves of contractions. Very mild, nothing to get excited over. I went back to sleep. At 1am, I woke up to another series, stronger now. Strong enough for me to nudge awake the sleeping figure beside me.

As instructed by Pammi, he switches on the Contractions Application on our phone and started to time them. When they began to reach 30 seconds each, at about five minutes apart, I told Dondi that it was time to go to the birthing center.

In the flurry of activity, I adamantly told Dondi to bring Boopy, my black dog along with us. I don’t know what I was thinking except that his fur looked mightily comforting and that this would surely help when my contractions grew stronger later on. Dondi thought I was crazy but agreed, anything for a laboring wife, I guess. So, with my contractions growing stronger by the minute, I busied myself preparing Boopy’s food and water dish, another mentally questionable side effect of a woman about to welcome a baby into the world.

Of course, we ended up bringing Boopy back home but my contractions pressed on. They were stronger now and unquestionably painful but I could still close my eyes and doze off for a few minutes before the next one began.

At around 4am, we reached Shalom Birthing Center (We left our house at around 3am with Dondi driving intentionally slow). Pammi arrived a few minutes later garbed in hospital scrubs. I felt bad for having to wake her up at such an hour and had to remind myself that nurses were used to this kind of thing. I dragged myself very slowly to one of the delivery beds where they checked how dilated my cervix was.

“Oh, it’s still a long way off. You’re only 3cm dilated. You may not give birth until later today or even tonight.” Said a very cool Pammi.

Not until tonight?  Thinketh I, my eyes probably growing as huge as saucers. I honestly didn’t know if I could handle a full day’s worth of more contractions. Can’t the baby come out now? Obviously, God had other plans. Very uncertainly, I removed myself from the delivery bed and wondered what I would do with myself until my baby was ready to pop out.

Thankfully, Pammi offered for us to stay in her home up until I was ready to give birth. We all piled up in her blue 4×4 and made our way to what was going to be my sanctuary until it was time for the baby to pop. I took note of the two cute shitzus that welcomed as at the door. With Boopy gone, these two looked that they would make good alternatives. Pammi took us to a spare room, gave us new sheets and a blanket. Before closing the door, she popped her head in and smiled, “Now get some sleep, you two.”

Get some sleep?! With my contractions getting longer and coming at even shorter intervals, I couldn’t even think about sleep. Dondi gratefully dove into the bed and left me to fend on my own.

Now is probably a good time to discuss how contractions feel.

It’s been described many different ways by many different women. Accounts vary from feeling like menstrual cramps cranked up to the hundredth power to a ton of bricks falling on you lower abdomen.

I shall try my very best to describe exactly how they felt to me. The most accurate description that I can think of is, at its’ most intense, a train slowly running you over starting from your lower pelvic region all the way to the tip of you upper body. I don’t mean to scare you but, yes, that was how I imagine a train would feel.

Which brings us to the question, but how on earth was I able to take all that pain?

Was I made of iron? Nope.

Instead, I can give you two reasons how I was able to take all that pain.

One, the Bradley Method taught me to visualize what was happening inside of me, that my uterus was contracting itself to push my baby out. Since the uterus is the largest muscle in the body, of course the sensation that it brought about was a very powerful one. Knowing what was happening inside me and knowing that each contraction was actually an ally and not the enemy helped a lot. Each contraction, no matter how long and drawn out they would get, was a step closer to bringing my baby out into the world.

Weird as it may sound but each contraction did not grieve me. Painful as they were, they actually excited me….My baby was coming out.

The second thing that strengthened was prayer. Everytime a contraction hit, I lifted the pain up to the Lord. Lift, lift, lift. I prayed for grace, I prayed for strength, I prayed for the health of my baby. I prayed, prayed and prayed. It was all I could do, really. I can safely say that the power or prayer was severely tested and proven for me that day.


A drug-free, love-filled birth story (Part 2)

“Hindi ka manganganak sa doctor?” (You’re not giving birth with a doctor?) This was my mom’s repeated and incredulous response to my announcement that I was going to go give birth at a birthing center. With midwives.

Her response also pretty much summed up how all of my other friends and acquaintances reacted to the same news. Disbelief, shock and of concern. It was pretty obvious that giving birth naturally has become unheard of, an irresponsible decision even, in this time and age.

Talking to many different people about it, I soon started to see an obvious pattern emerge. It seemed like the first thing to come to a person’s head when you talk about pregnancy or delivery is the fear that something might go wrong.

Fear that the baby was too big or fear that my pelvic bones or hips were too small. Fear that the baby’s heartbeat would stop or slow down or fear that the baby wouldn’t drop when it was time to drop. Fear that the pain would be too much or fear that the equipment wouldn’t be enough…

I could’ve caved in and given in to all this paranoia had I not been so sure of three things. First, that women everywhere had been giving birth for centuries before anesthesia had even been invented. Second, that God had designed our bodies so intricately that it could handle the pain of childbirth.  And third, that God had planned this process so precisely that your baby and your body so harmoniously worked together on their own that medical intervention is (often, not always) unnecessary.

I will be honest. I had moments of self-doubt. Many moments, actually. Could I really handle the pain? What if my umbilical cord wrapped around my baby’s neck? What if my baby was in a breech position? What if….What if…What if?

After all, there was always a story of someone who knew someone who bled to death or whose water wouldn’t break while trying to give birth naturally. Always of something going wrong.  I must admit, these were rather alarming scenarios. And if it could happen to these persons then it could surely happen to me, right?

But then again, I also knew someone who had a water birth and needed no stitches whatsoever. I knew someone who had a very wonderful birth in the comfort of her own home. I personally saw natural births happening before my very eyes at the Abundant Grace of God clinic. They were all fine.

Do you know the tale of the two wolves?

There are two wolves fighting inside of us. One speaks of fear, disappointments, bleakness and all other kinds of negativity. The other one speaks of faith, encouragement, hope and all other kinds of positivity.  At which point, you may wonder and ask, “Which wolf wins?”

The wise answer is, “The wolf that you feed.”

I chose to feed the positive wolf.

I wasn’t going to let good ol’ fear get in the way of a soberly beautiful and natural birth. And I was not going to let worry burden me while I wait for my due date either. Why should I worry about all sorts of unexpected and grim scenarios when my delivery date was still so far away? If and when such complications did arise, wouldn’t Christ provide my midwives and I with the wisdom and the strength to handle them anyway? Besides, if things got really gnarly, my birthing center was 5 minutes away from a hospital.

So, two important points. One, worry keeps us from enjoying the rich, full lives that Christ intends for us (or at least from experiencing something son wonderful and new). And two, in whatever situation we find ourselves in, Christ’s grace is always sufficient.

Did I want to have a safe delivery? Of course. Then I had to believe that God wanted me to have a safe delivery. I had to put my focus on God’s promise and not on the worries.

Freed from the chains of worry, my mind became clear enough to research and learn all that I could about giving birth naturally.  I spent a lot of time online reading the different stories and experiences of women who all had natural deliveries.

Over and over again, the stories proclaimed that it was a wonderful, joyful and life-changing experience and that if anyone was physically able and healthy enough to do it should consider it.

Pammi (nurse and leader at Shalom) lent me a book called the Bradley Method. The book, with its thorough explanation of what goes on inside the body during birth lifted the fear of the unknown. It also contained exercises and visualization techniques so that I could prepare my body and my mind for the task ahead.

There were times when I would recall the warnings of some of my friends who said that in order to have a safe natural delivery, you need to have started preparing months and months before your due date. I was well into my seventh or 8th month when I finally made up my mind that I was going to go natural. But I didn’t back out. My faith is sufficient. God’s grace is more than enough.

Instead, I did the best that I could with the one month that I had left. Diligently, I did the exercises and visualization techniques with my husband. Everything else, I lifted up to the Lord.

Finally, I got the go signal from my  Ob-Gyne from whom I had been getting my pre-natal check-ups from. To be honest, I thought she would talk me out of it. She was the head of the OB-Gynecology department at Medical City after all. Surely, a “doctor”-less birth would be insulting to her profession. Instead, she gave me encouragement and made me laugh while doing so. (“Basta umire ka lang. Yun na yun.”)

So, fears quashed, worries lifted up, preparations made and an approval from my doctor….There was nothing else left in the way.

I was ready to give birth.

(To be continued.)

” I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

That's my baby's heart rate!

That’s my baby’s heart rate!

That's Pammi and my tummy at one of my pre-natal check-ups at Shalom birthing center.

That’s Pammi and my tummy at one of my pre-natal check-ups at Shalom birthing center.

The bed where my husband Dondi is leaning on is where I would give birth less than two weeks later.

The bed where my husband Dondi is leaning on is where I would give birth less than two weeks later.

A baby boy born in Shalom during one of my check-ups.

A baby boy born in Shalom during one of my check-ups.


A drug-free, love-filled birth story (Part 1)

Disclaimer: I have no intention of judging women who choose to give birth with an epidural or other forms of pain killers. Every woman is different, all births are blessings, and every mother is a hero, with or without medication. I just wanted to  share my birth story.

How do you put into words one of the most important days of your life?

Most never do. I guess that is why God equipped humans with memory, or why men invented cameras, so that we never have to.

Oftentimes, words do not live up to the actual experience, even fail you. But I’ve learned that experiences are only valid, only really mean something, when they are shared with others.

So, I’m going to try.

June 24, 2013, a miracle happened to me. She came in the form of a dark-haired, wide-eyed feisty, little baby girl who came out of me screaming and crying into the world. Maybe there are some who are just a bit cynical and would say, “Oh big deal, a baby. You just became another one of the billion mothers in the world. Congratulations.”

I had the same sentiments….before I became pregnant.

I could go into all the little details of what I felt and what it was like to see and hear her inside of me for the very first time…but I won’t. Instead, I pray for that same joy to fill you in all that you are and in all that you do. Even for just one day.

But even that was not the real miracle. The life that formed deep in my womb from nothing into something was not the real miracle.

For me, the real miracle was giving birth not in a hospital as I’ve always imagined it to be.  Free from anesthesia or epidurals or other drugs that induce or sedate. It was feeling my baby move, inch by inch, slowly but surely out of my body and into the outside world. The real miracle for me was being alert and awake for every single, magical second of my child’s birth.

I was already 8 months along when I finally became convinced that I was taking the midwife option. I kept ping-pong-ing between that alternative and giving birth in a hospital. Alternating between feeling brave and then getting scared all over again.

I spent many hours a day poring through forums online, trying to learn as much as I can about giving birth naturally. Again and again, I kept reading the same thing: If you can and your body could, try to give birth without the drugs.

According to what I’ve read, (again, this is according to what I’ve read and could or could not be true) most of those who decided to go natural had richer and fonder memories of their birth while those who took the epidural route had the more traumatic or painful accounts of their birth. Being in control of your own body and your own birth, according to what most of the women said, made all the difference.

So I said go.

My first plan was to travel to Kalinga and give birth at the Abundant Grace of God clinic in Tabuk. But after awhile, the thought of traveling for 13 hours up with my 6 pound tummy and then back down with a newborn wasn’t something I could fully see myself doing. Georgia, the head of the clinic, suggested to connect me to a nurse that she knew here in Manila, who ran a birthing center in Antipolo.  That way I could give birth here and still enjoy the perks of going all natural.

That was how I met Pami Ellis, who is not only a missionary but also a certified nurse. She got in touch with me through email, was very thorough yet kind. She sent me a few links of how to prepare myself for a natural birth and just put me so at ease that I knew I was going to go through with it. That I could go through with it.

Bring it on.

My husband and I met her in a coffee shop the following Sunday. I didn’t know what to expect really, but when a tall and beautiful woman came through the doors and gave us a radiant smile, I have to admit, I was stunned. She definitely was one of God’s angels.

Gorgeous inside and out, missionary nurse Pami Ellis

Gorgeous inside and out and one of the leaders at Shalom, Pami Ellis

Pami told us all about the story of Shalom Christian Bahay-Paanakan in Antipolo. How it was birthing center supported by Action International Ministries.  How it was founded by Mavis Orton, a British missionary nurse called to the Philippines to start her midwifery ministry. How Mavis is now 80 years old and still helps with the births to this very day.

Pami showed us pictures of what a regular day at the clinic was like. On some days, there were so many births that pregnant women literally filled up and spilled over the clinic’s humble space.

Pregnant women, all in a row, leading up to the birthing clinic.

Pregnant women, all in a row, leading up to the birthing clinic.

Mavis, examining all those mothers-to-be!

Mavis, examining all those mothers-to-be!

It's a clinic and a home!

It’s a clinic and a home!

Now was I going to give birth at this clinic? Was I ready to rock it out with the best of these women? Labor on the floor if need be? Call me crazy (I’m usually thought to be), but, yes. I was ready to do so.

But God had a little surprise all planned out. As it turned out, I didn’t have to.

Amazingly, Shalom Bahay-Paanakan was moving to a brand-new and improved 3-level building just around the corner. Thank you to the donations and blessing of those who believed in Mavis’ cause, the little clinic that could would soon transform into a sprawling new space equipped with a lobby, birthing rooms, a laboratory, a recovery area and even a rooftop space. Even more amazingly, Pammi revealed that the new building would open their doors on June 15, 2013, a mere two weeks from my due date. God’s timing, as always, was impeccable.

When God builds....

When God builds….

The beautiful and beaming smiles of the Baby Catchers

The beautiful and beaming smiles of the Baby Catchers

Well, that's not too shabby. The new and improved Shalom with the hardworking staff.

Well, that’s not too shabby. The new and improved Shalom with the blessed and hardworking staff.

With a beautiful and caring nurse to facilitate my birth and a beautiful and brand-new building to give birth in, how else could I ignore the signs? God obviously planned my birth this way and who was I to say nay?

So it was set.

But  hang on for a minute.

Was I ready for the pain of giving birth without an epidural? Could I withstand the hours of actual labor? What was it going to be like to give birth outside of a hospital?  What was it going to be like to feel every single second of childbirth? These thoughts ran through my head every single day as my due date drew near.

Was I nervous? Oh, yes.

Did I have faith? It was all I had.

And as I was about to find out, it was all that I needed.

(End of Part 1.)

(Note: All pictures courtesy of Shalom. To see more of Shalom and what they do, click here.)


Why Ask Why?

(Disclaimer: This is the continuation of ‘See Heaven’s Got a Plan for You’. Sorry, so confusing.)

‘I don’t know what I’m doing here.’ My voice crackled into my old dependable Nokia.

‘Maybe it’s a character-building season.’ On the other end of the line was my twin sister, her voice mingling with the cheerful sounds of my family. It was a Sunday night, I think, and someone’s birthday. I heard my little nephew Iago shriek gleefully in the background. They felt so far away.

‘Yes. Maybe.’  I said, standing up from the ground and almost forgetting to zip up as I squared my shoulders. In the village of Pak-ak, Kalinga, from where I stood, there were only two public ‘restrooms.’ If you had business to do, you kept it in your backyard. Literally.

I stepped back into the home of my gracious host, Linda. She was the head teacher of the village elementary school where I volunteered to teach art to the grade 1 kids. Hers was the only hut in the village that had a television set and so half (or maybe all) of the village kids were piled in there, along with a few teenage boys (and a guitar). The kids were there to watch TV, the boys hoped to have a chat with me. (At least that’s what Linda and her beautiful, traditionally tattooed mother insists).

As it turns out, the ‘chatting’ consisted of a lot of shy looks and laughter from the boys and a lot of drawings and sign languages from me.  The only one in the room who could speak Tagalog was Linda and I think she was grading some papers. I knew but one Butbut (the dialect spoken in Kalinga) phrase—“Ngacha-ngacha nu?”—“What is your name?”), so our after dinner conversation didn’t exactly touch on the meaning of life and so forth.

In the mornings, I would get up from my little corner in the room and get ready for my class. Because the room had other members of Linda’s family slumbering on the floor, I had to be careful making my way around lest I stepped on a sleeping uncle or an aunt.

Then Linda and I would embark on our merry walk to the school, only a few kilometers away from the village. It stood proudly atop a hill, with the Philippine flag hoisted tall on a pole, proudly waving in the wind. In that school, we had a spectacular view of lush green mountains and little brooks that surrounded the building.

The kids would see us walking to the school and would join us, shrieking with laughter as they engaged in rough play, carrying their books, running or riding on some homemade contraption with wheels….The more studious ones inquired about the day’s lesson.

There were no janitors in that school. Rather, everyday, before classes started, the older kids would fetch pails with water and rinse the bathroom, sweep the floors and empty the trash cans. The younger ones would straighten out the chairs and collect chalk from the floor. The naughty ones would be outside, playing.

Linda gave me much leeway on how to handle my class. I think I amused her with my off-key attempt to lead the kiddies with a rousing version of “Shine, Jesus, Shine” so I stuck to art and exercise after that.

On the weekends, I would go “home” to the midwifery clinic, the “Abundant Grace of God”, to touch base with Georgia, Chel and the rest of the midwives. After a stint in Pak-ak, the running water and real beds were a real treat and I always dove in both joyfully.

If you ever get the chance to make friends with a midwife, please do. They are some of the most beautiful and selfless souls in the world.  And we had fun. Right smack in the middle of the mountains, we did.

We would pile up in the war van, off to the market to buy fresh fruit and food to cook for the evening. What else could you expect from a house full of ladies but a kitchen perpetually wafting with the smell of something delicious cooking? We played games, did laundry, played with Harry the dog (who is in doggie heaven now), and on the occasional birthday that popped up, had a few bottles of San Miguel Pale Pilsen together.

These ladies are imprinted in my heart. Georgia, who ran the clinic, who was wise, kind and blessed with two of the cutest boys in the planet, Emmaus and Lucas. (Three now, actually, with the arrival of baby Zion)…Crystal, gentle, funny and had the prettiest eyes hiding behind her glasses. (And to whom I still have to return ‘The Shack’ to. Oops.)

Willow, slim, with long dark hair and moved as if she was always on tiptoes, like a ballerina….Mary, statuesque and elegant, who had the most charming Southern belle drawl….Sarah, blonde, blue-eyed and the tallest of all, who cooked Indian food probably better than some Indians do….And Kayla, whom I was scared of at first, who turned out to be the sweetest of all. Up until this day she sends me handwritten letters from Sierra Leone where she is now based as a midwife.

It was only a month that I stayed in the beautiful, lush green mountains of Kalinga. In the 13 hour bus ride back to Manila, I knew that my friends and family would ask me, bewildered. “But what did you do there?” and “What for?” I had the same questions, on the way there, while at the clinic, and even on my way back.

Little by little, these questions are being answered.

A year later, I would go back to Kalinga with my friends to help repaint and repair the old school building.

Three years later, I would birth naturally, through the hands of midwives, as I had promised myself.

I have a feeling that the journey far from over yet.

But I’ve already learned to stop asking “Why?”

I think I’m just going to enjoy the ride.

With teacher Linda and the Pak-ak Elementary School kids after painting a mural their wall.

With teacher Linda and the Pak-ak Elementary School kids after painting a mural their wall.

The gang during my second trip to Kalinga.

The gang during my second trip to Kalinga.

Me with my baby girl Maaya, only a few hours after giving birth naturally with midwives.

Me with my baby girl Maaya, only a few hours after giving birth naturally with midwives.


What God Wants

I’ve met a lot of people who are under the idea that following God means becoming a slave to someone else’s idea of what your life should be. That you lose all your dreams and desires and become a robot summoned only by “some deity’s” whims.

I am no expert and have a lot to learn myself yet I feel that nothing can be further from the truth.

God never intends you to live short of what you want your life to be. Rather, through a close relationship with Him, you will begin to discover that not only are you able to be all that you dream of becoming, you will also become this person by walking the path that God intended for you, which means you will be blessed with much, much more than you ever thought possible.

You dream of finding your true love? Get in touch with God and let Him reveal to you your future spouse at the right time and under the right circumstances. So not only will you find your true love but you two will also get married, have kids and be equipped both financially and emotionally for it all.

You see yourself working in a certain business sector? Pray to God about it. Be specific about what you see yourself doing, where your office is and even what salary you will be getting. God will put the right people in your path so that you will find your exact prayers answered, all in His precise timing so don’t ever settle.

You pray for peace in your days and joy in your home? God will reveal to you what you need to do exactly, in order to repair your broken relationships. He will guide you gently in reaching out to your family members and your friends and will tell you what to say and when to say it. And you will see that that only then will peace and joy come to your heart and in your home.

Some atheists say that they don’t need God in order to live full and meaningful lives, that they only need to depend on themselves to “captain their own ships” and I say well, and good. I wonder who planted those dreams and desires in their hearts in the first place? See, you don’t need to be faithful to God…He is always faithful to you. Choose to acknowledge Him or not for the way your life is heading, He is still taking care of you.

My twin once wrote that the real adventure of your life begins the moment God steps in and I couldn’t agree more. I thought I lived a pretty exciting life and you only need to go back a couple of years in this blog to see what I mean. But all those years of chasing after what I wanted—-well, what I thought I wanted—- only resulted in frustrated circles (both metaphorically and literally—-under my eyes, that is.)

I needed Him to open up long forgotten dreams in my heart. I needed Him to remind me of the things I once prayed to Him as a child, the things I truly wanted in life, the same desires He had put in my heart before the world snatched them away.

Jesus has put me back on track. He has also put together the broken glass and healed the wounds the shards have made.

It startles me to wake up in the morning and to realize that I am living the life that I have always dreamed of having. He gave it to me all, and even more. Now everything else is just icing on the cake.

Surrendering your life to Jesus may sound dramatic…and to those used to having their own way, maybe even a little traumatic. But it does’t mean having to give up who you are along with your deepest desires and dreams. Rather, God will turn you into the truest version of yourself, with all the interesting and quirky parts intact. Don’t worry about losing yourself when you place your life in the hands of your Maker. At most, He will only want to turn a few loose screws. He made you, after all. He simply wants to enhance you and get you to function even better than before.

So what does God want?

Chances are good that it’s similar to what you want……only a million times better.


See, Heaven’s got a plan for you

And with a small grimace of her dusky features, the slim, raven-haired woman from Tabuk, who also looked like a warrior princess, gave a push and her baby popped out, full of hair, tinted with gray and crying. I felt my eyes sting with tears as the little one’s arrival was met with choruses of “Thank you, Lord” and “Praise God!” Quite frankly, I have never seen anything like it.

This was during one of the early months of 2011, either in January or February. My friend Chel and I took to the mountains as the result of a week-long fast and prayers, which is encouraged by our church (Victory Christian Fellowship). After saying goodbye to our friends and our families, and a 13-hour long freezing cold bus ride to Kalinga, we found ourselves seated in the warm and cozy clinic called “Abundant Grace of God”, run by missionaries under the gracious helm of Georgia Gilliland Macad and her husband Achao.

The clinic provides free birthing services and mobile midwifery to the different areas of Tabuk, the capital of Kalinga as well as its surrounding tribal regions. It is staffed by equal parts midwife interns who come from different parts of the globe as well as licensed midwife locals, all of whom have answered God’s call by dedicating their lives to serving others. Needless to say, it was a blast getting to know these ladies and going on day-to-day adventures with them.

From doing medical missions and ministry up on the magical mountains of Bugnay, to doing “shots” of nganga (betel chew) or to simply curling up in the clinic’s sala to watch DVD’s. We had different ways to pass the time which always seemed to crawl much slower where we were but what I looked forward to most were the moments spent in the kitchen table, lingering long after breakfast or lunch or dinner has been served and put away and eating peanut butter or having coffee with Milo, and just talking, talking, talking about Jesus and how He was working in all of these girls’ lives.

And what a joy to watch these midwives spring to action when, even at the crack of dawn a tricycle would screech to a halt in front of the clinic and amidst Harry the dog’s happy barking, a fully pregnant woman would hop off, accompanied by a husband or mother, ready to welcome their new son or daughter into the world. It wasn’t a clinical, serious or cheerless bustling to action that they did but a joyful, bursting with excitement sort, as they took the pregnant woman’s blood pressure or prepared the bed for birthing. There was real love for what they did and this love filled and warmed the place.

It was sometime during my stay in the Abundant Grace of God that I had this thought, however fleeting, that when the time comes for me to welcome my little one into the world, this was the kind of place that I would like to do it in.

Needless to say, all the apprehensions and fears I had while curled up in the bus going up to the mountains with no other plan but to serve God had melted away. To tell the truth, I had visions of toiling under the hot sun, carrying heavy cartons of medical equipment amidst crying children in a Nairobi desert-like setting.

What I didn’t know was that every single one of these people put there by God had real joy in their hearts to serve, that this joy radiated so much that even if there were challenges and probable pains, the glory of God shone so overwhelmingly and so persistently that everything else was knocked out into oblivion and that I took to calling this place in Kalinga a little piece of heaven on earth.

From that season, I learned a precious, precious lesson. When God tells you to do something, obey. Even if you don’t understand how or why yet. And don’t doubt, don’t be afraid because when He asks you to do things and go places far out of your comfort zone for Him, He is only waiting to reveal to you His glory. (Or at the very least, give you one heck of a learning experience that you will never ever forget.)

Faith, as I learned, can truly take you places further than you can imagine.

When God led us to Kalinga in January of 2011, He didn’t tell us what awaited us there. At the time, it seemed outrageous, impractical and crazy.

But as I cradle my firstborn Maaya in my arms today do I see the connection. This is God’s destiny for me.

And it all began with a “yes”.

(To be continued…..when the bubba sleeps for more than 30 minutes without waking up 😉 )

The whole gang celebrating Kayla's birthday at the clinic.

The whole gang celebrating Kayla’s birthday at the clinic.

To find out more about Abundant Grace of God, follow this link to Georgia’s blog.


People over things, always

People are more important than things. It may seem so obvious and so painstakingly clear…but it’s usually the simple lessons that we so easily forget. Sometimes, we are so focused on ourselves and the things that we own and how “important” we are that we end up blowing up on and hurting the people  that we love. If we are not careful, we can end up focusing on possessions and not people.

The way we value things over people becomes obvious in how we react to certain situations. Have you ever screamed at your little sister for accidentally putting a stain on your “expensive” shirt? Have you ever expressed anger at your friend for dropping your latest and quite expensive gadget? Have you ever lost your temper at your mother for putting a small dent on your laptop? Or have you even hit your little dog for chewing up your wallet?

The funny thing here is that it seems that the more expensive the item is, the angrier and more unforgiving we get.. As if somehow, somewhere along the way, these things have suddenly acquired more value  because we worked “so hard” and that it took “so much” of our precious time to get it that it actually takes precedence over an actual person (or pet for that matter), whom you say you love.

We forget that things can be replaced and people cannot.

That people bring us joy (real joy) while things do not.

Relationships with people are eternal while material things are of this world. They rust, decay and eventually have to be thrown away.

Let us free our minds from the trappings of momentary and fleeting joys. Only when we are unattached to material objects can we be truly free to know what really matters in this world. (Hint: They are not of the world.)

I write these things because we are all human and we all need a gentle reminding every once in a while. Only last night, I blew up at my husband over an eraser. An eraser. I couldn’t believe how readily I hurt his feelings over a 20-peso something that you can get at a bookstore the next day. I had shown, through my actions, that I cared more about an inanimate object…an eraser for crying out loud, than about him or our relationship. Way to go, Karen.

We may have our reasons and our “justifications” for acting the way we do but at the end of the day, these things are just what they are..things.

A thing cannot hug you, kiss you, encourage you or love you….no matter what model or how expensive it is.

Let us choose to choose people over things, all the time, no matter what.



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