Sunday, October 31, 2010

Faint Phantom Spells

There is a phantom that haunts more women than men.

It triggers feelings of intense sadness, anxiety and weariness. It changes moods, behaviors and to a point, even possesses an entire person.

It is the same phantom that drove Andrea Yates to drown all her five children in the bathtub at her home in Texas, USA in June 2001. About a decade later in Manila, Philippines, the same phantom impelled the mother of Baby George to dump her newborn in the restroom bin of a Gulf Air plane. Both Yates and Baby George’s mother are said to be suffering from postpartum depression and psychosis.

Wikipedia describes Postpartum Depression as:

“a form of clinical depression which can affect women, and less frequently men, after childbirth… occurs in women after they have carried a child, usually in the first few months, and may last up to several months or even a year.”

Postpartum Depression (and its other forms) is commonly attributed to changes in hormones during and after a woman’s pregnancy. However, just like any psychological condition, other causes of postpartum depression are socio-economical. Nurse-midwife researcher Cheryl Tatano Beck, cites a broad range of predictors to postpartum depression, which include smoking, low self esteem, childcare and life stress, low social support, poor marital relationship, single parenthood, low socioeconomic status and unplanned/unwanted pregnancy.

The phantom, however, may not always be as fierce as Yates' or Baby George's mom's. Postpartum depression remains a condition that typical Filipino women won't openly discuss for fear of being labeled baliw (mad woman). For better understanding, postpartum mood changes are classified into three subgroups and are characterized as follows:

1. ‘Baby blues’ – mood swings, feelings of being overwhelmed, tearfulness, impatience, restlessness, anxiety, sadness, low self-esteem, heightened sense of vulnerability (NWHIC)
2. Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders or Postpartum Depression – more intense feelings of sadness, despair, anxiety, and irritability (NWHIC)
3. Postpartum psychosis – extreme form of postpartum depression: losing touch with reality, distorted thinking, delusions, auditory hallucinations, paranoia, hyperactivity, and rapid speech or mania (Phil. Senate)

Given the range of postpartum mood conditions, it's easy to point out that victims do not always end up helpless and powerless against the invisible force. For instance, Brooke Shields and Christine Bersola-Babao openly wrote about their experience in overcoming depression, respectively, in Down Came the Rain and Baby, it's the blues! while model-turned-mom Tweetie de Leon-Gonzales more actively beat her blues with her newfound interest on squash.

These women tell tales of triumph over postpartum depression though many do not share the same stories. A lot of women are not even aware of being possessed by the phantom since it is often hard to tell postpartum blues from an ordinary case of blues.

To make matters worse, treatments do not always come in handy. Being partly driven by socio-economical factors, hormonal treatments are both insufficient and inaccessible to most women. What seems to be really effective is a support group that is conscious of postpartum depression.

Sadly, the Philippines has yet to take a long and mean battle to improve the postnatal conditions of Filipina mothers. Postpartum depression is a condition that may be addressed by the RH Bill through the proposed Reproductive Health Care Program, which is, however, lost in mainstream debates. Again, the RH Bill is not just about contraceptives and what is mistaken to be pro-abortion and "Sex Education." The Bill contains other important provisions that definitely deserve due consideration.

Unless we shed light on these issues, I'm afraid to say that the phantom continues to loom in the dark, just right on our doorsteps.

End Note: I loosely used postpartum depression (PPD) to refer to the postnatal mood changes/conditions for easy reading. Please be guarded by the sub-groups and their classifications.

Sources and More Readings:

Monday, October 25, 2010

My Stand on the RH Bill

UPDATE: See RH Bill: The Lost Equation

This post will not be a petty post. No, this will not be about Carlos Celdran, the CBCP or some famed columnist who's openly expressed his or her stand on the RH Bill. I'm afraid this will not satisfy the appetite of those who are only after the side issues.

My opinion sticks to the RH Bill itself--why it should be passed or not and what are the common misconceptions about it. It will be direct, concise and non-offensive. So if you've been mentally fatigued by the brouhahas of the issue, you might find some sort of respite in reading this blog.

My stand on the RH Bill is, it should be passed.

It is a known fact that the State upholds the rights of each and every individual. And primary to these rights is the individual's freedom to choose; hence, it is the government's responsibility to ensure that this freedom is well taken care of. What the RH Bill seeks to provide are adequate information and services that will enable Filipinos to make informed choices for the best interest of their families.

I must say that in stating my opinion above, I am both for choice and definitely, for life--two things that the RH Bill stands for. Apparently, objections have been improperly hurled against the Bill out of unfounded opinions, which I will discuss one by one in the next few paragraphs.

Myth A - The RH Bill supports abortion. First and foremost, the Bill explicitly states that “abortion remains a crime and is punishable.” Next, although the Bill ensures the provision of care for women seeking post-abortion care, it does not entail that it supports abortion. I believe that by being unbiased and forgiving, the Bill itself is humane and if you may, very Christian. Further, to say that this Bill will eventually allow abortion to be legalized is by no means true on the basis that it declares respect to life as a matter of policy.

Myth B - The RH Bill will result into an aging and thinning population. The RH Bill shall not enforce any restrictions on the number of children that each family should have, as in the case of China's One Child Policy. The RH Bill strives to educate parents to have the right number of children that they can support well physically, mentally and emotionally.

Myth C - The RH Bill destroys the family as an institution. Of course not. It's easy to see that the Bill is created to strengthen the Filipino family simply by reading it. :-)

Myth D - The RH Bill encourages teenage / pre-marital sex through Sex Education. The age-appropriate Reproductive Health Education that will be included in the curriculum of both public and private schools aims to raise children to become informed and responsible parents. Among the key concepts to be covered in the curriculum is “abstinence before marriage.” It is just right to teach these things during the formative years of the individual.

Moving on, the RH Bill must not be reduced to the issue of contraceptives. The Bill goes beyond that. It addresses longstanding issues on gender inequality, violence, STDs and gaps in reproductive healthcare and post-natal care, as well as provides the platform for their execution. It aims to make reproductive healthcare education and services both available and accessible to the marginalized. It seeks to bring people together to ensure improved reproductive health and better families for all.

It particularly interests me that the Bill provides to ensure that employers will not discriminate against women in consideration of their reproductive health rights, and that the Bill also seeks to have reproductive healthcare services included in Collective Bargaining Agreements. (I have indeed heard a firsthand story of a friend who was rejected by the hiring manager of this large and supposedly Corporate Social Responsibility-embracing financial institution with her being a single parent as one of the cited reasons. At this point also, it seems necessary to point out the need to designate clean and private rooms for breastfeeding and expressing milk in offices and public places.)

The Catholic Church is definitely an important institution in the country whose work for the poor has significantly contributed to national development. However, when we talk about policy, the State should supersede the Church being that the latter is just a faction of the population that the State governs.

For years, I have kept my silence on the issue because of having to weigh my convictions. People have asked as it seemed highly unlikely for someone who's written on some women's issues through World of Womanity. I am aware that in breaking my silence, I will be attracting criticisms – some of which may be just as biased and unfounded as the others.

But really, at this point in my life and as a matter of choice, regardless if the RH Bill will be passed or not, I will strive to adhere to my religious principles.

“Fundamentalism flourishes in a context of fear and uncertainty... But such uncertainty does not grant one person the right to impose his or her beliefs on another, especially as such beliefs are so often fear-driven.” - James Hollis, Ph.D., Why Good People Do Bad Things: Understanding Our Darker Selves

Source: Full text of House Bill No. 5043 (Reproductive Health and Population Development Act of 2008)

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