Editorial: A family matter-A A +A
Sunday, February 24, 2013
EDUARDO is in that awkward stage: neither a student nor a worker but already a father. (Real names are not used to protect privacy.)
In the middle of the week, when youths like him are in school or men like him are earning to feed their families, he is waiting for his partner and his newborn son to finish their business at the Labangon health center.
The awkwardness of his position is not lost on Eduardo. His partner sits with other mothers and their babies. Although they are talking about health, he feels excluded because he is only one of two males present. Thus, Eduardo is left to hold the umbrella, which he will only unfurl when they walk back home.
The presence of Eduardo and other males during pre-natal and immunization visits at barangay health centers is rare, midwives and barangay health workers (BHWs) will attest. But based on Sun.Star Cebu interviews with health center workers at Basak San Nicolas Brotherhood, Basak-Pardo, Labangon and Tisa, the influence of fathers, even the absentee and the ill-prepared, is life-ranging for their partners and children.
Absent but decisive
It is not just tradition but also economics that decide the passive role played by Filipino fathers in the life of their children. For couples who are married or have been living together for several years and have many children, the men are breadwinners.
For teen couples, their parents assume decisive roles when an unplanned pregnancy interrupts the young lovers’ high school education.
Avelina, 45, accompanies her 18-year-old daughter Desiree and granddaughter Dimples, five months, whenever they leave their home at Basak San Nicolas Brotherhood. Aside from not having anyone who can mind Dimples, Avelina wants to ensure that Desiree resumes her high school studies after Dimples can be weaned. Desiree’s college boyfriend can visit at home but meetings elsewhere are out of the question.
Yet, while it is the women who line up at health centers to have the progress of their pregnancies monitored and their infants immunized or checked for illnesses, it is the men and their decisions that strongly influence the lives of their women and children as the sun determines the rhythms of agricultural life.
The Department of Health’s advocacy of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life is based on sound medical and economic principles: breastmilk is the best nutrition to ensure the child’s physical, mental and psychological health, as well as that of the mother. It is also free and does not entail utensils, sterilized water and preparations.
Yet, Cebu City health center workers observe that many teen mothers prefer to bottlefeed their infants. Either partners or parents or both influence the teens to choose the pricey branded formula milk as a status symbol that they can afford to give the “best” to their baby. This is a fallacy that can be dispelled after just one visit at the health center.
However, most pregnant women belonging to the middle and upper classes consult private practitioners, many of whom prescribe the giving of milk formula and vitamins that cuts short exclusive breastfeeding or eliminates breastfeeding, observe interviewed BHWs.
Along with aspirations for class and prestige, some young mothers are ashamed to bare their breasts in public or are worried that nursing a baby for six months and more may deform their breasts and figures, lowering their chance to hold on to their partners or attract a husband.
Based on testimonials of midwives and BHWs, men who are present with their partners or wives from pregnancy till childbirth to post-natal visits are more considerate of the health and well-being of the women and their children. Aware that it takes ideally two adults working hand in hand to raise a family, such men don’t leave their wives to singlehandedly decide what’s best for their families: from planning the number of children to breastfeeding infants and providing for the family’s long-term well-being.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 25, 2013.