This month, October, is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month (PAIL) and today, October 15, is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, when a “Wave of Light” is lit all around the world at 7pm local time to honor and remember our little ones gone too soon. The women of color anthology that my essay about Naima is featured in, What God is Honored Here?, launches today. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, an amazing organization that provides free remembrance portraits for families experiencing the death of a baby, also offers a calendar of 31 ways to honor one’s baby during this month.
It’s a special time of year for me, both painful and lovely, because it gives me a reason to talk more publicly about my daughter, as well as about the two miscarriages that my husband and I suffered after Naima’s death, which were devastating in and of themselves. As a #stillmother, October gives me another way to honor my babies, and elevates my voice in the public conversation about motherhood. As I once told a mom-of-living children who said she had privilege as a “mother” to not have to think about the pain of losing a child (implying that I’m not really a mom since my child died), I am just as much a mother as she is, it’s just that her kid is here and mine is not.
That PAIL awareness month also coincides with the fall season of remembrance–there’s Dia de Los Inocentes / Los Angelitos (honoring children who have died) on November 1 and of course Dia de Los Muertos (Oct 31 – Nov 2) and All Souls Day (Nov 2)–makes it even more powerful. It’s a time of year when Mexicans and many others honor our ancestors and other loved ones who have passed away. This next several weeks, with the days getting shorter and the weather cooler, is a poignant time of transition, a spiritual, magical time of collective remembrance, mourning and celebration.
Since losing my daughter, though, I’ve been a bit torn, since October is also Filipino-American History Month, a time when my community’s accomplishments and historic events are highlighted. There are always events around Fil-Am History Month, such as the Filipino-American Book Festival that took place this past weekend at the San Francisco Library.
To be honest, since losing my Naima, I’m not a big fan of big community events in general. They can be quite draining (meeting new people who don’t know about my loss history is always a bit anxiety-provoking, the “do you have kids?” question comes up more often than people think), and I need to conserve my energy for normal day-to-day activities. But these October Fil-Am History events feel doubly hard. For it’s as if I have to leave the part of me that wants to talk about my babies at home, and then there’s the sadness that MY Filipina child(ren) isn’t here to learn about her history, to join in the kids’ activities, to add her own story to the mix.
All this makes me wonder, why don’t we talk about our grief and the losses of our children as part of Filipino-American History month too? It’s not as if Filipino-American mothers (and fathers, and families in general) have been immune to this type of loss. But living in a patriarchal society (and despite the frequent claims that Filipino and Filipino-American cultures are so matriarchal, I don’t think they really are) means that Herstory / women’s history / women’s stories–which are often about the more intimate, “private” parts of life like family, motherhood, our bodies–are not as important to document or think about or celebrate. Ironically, this year’s Fil-Am History Month theme is “celebrating Filipina American women.” Hmm.
It’s part of why What God is Honored Here? is such an important book, as it makes women of color’s experiences of baby loss visible. There is still such a social taboo about talking about the deaths of children, and especially babies, however, that I’m not holding my breath about having these different threads of my life woven together in a more public, integrated way: baby loss mom, #stillmother, Pinay, woman of color.
So for now, I’ll try to weave them together here, in this blog post, in my other writing and in my social media feeds, where in the first half of the month I tend to post mostly about baby loss stuff in honor of PAIL month, and in the latter half I sometimes shift to talking about Filipino-American history stuff. But this still doesn’t feel integrative or holistic. I long for the day when all of our experiences as Pinays, as women of color can be embraced and talked about, not not shunned or silenced, nor silo-ed and separated away from our public “accomplishments”, cultural heritage or identity/ies. Until then, I’ll just keep talking and writing, as a Filipina-American woman, and keep reminding people that we #stillmothers are mothers too, that our stories need to be told, that our babies mattered, and that they are still loved. So very, very loved.
Thinking of all the other bereaved parents out there on this special day, and remembering your children with you.