Long before ‘facepalm’ became a meme, I had a conversation with a friend, a young teenage mom about 5 years ago, that made me literally put my palm to my face. We were talking about her baby boy.
Teenage mom: My son is always suffering from diarrhea. I don’t know why.
Me: Are you boiling the water you use for his milk?
Teenage mom: No…am I supposed to?
(insert massive facepalm here)
Common sense parenting isn’t common
For many of us, boiling water for a baby’s milk is standard operating procedure (SOP). Many people won’t even tell you that. You’re just supposed “to know”. The rationale is that babies’ digestive systems are still sensitive to too many pathogens, including “ordinary” free floating bacteria and viruses found in unboiled tap water. It doesn’t matter even if the water has passed through the usual microbiological tests and deemed 98 to 99% “safe”. For most babies, that’s still not clean enough. Having a brand new immune system, much of a baby’s immunity has yet to be developed. Moreover, immunity is acquired through the immune system’s memory cells, whose role is to store information on past pathogens. Babies, being brand new human beings, have not yet been exposed to enough pathogens, and have therefore not developed the required immunity to withstand even drinking water fresh from the tap.
Parental ignorance is not bliss
Contrary to that adage, “ignorance is bliss”, a parent’s lack of information can easily harm the child. Recalling a time when I went with my dad to get rabies shots for a dog bite at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), I overheard a tragic conversation between a doctor and a mother with a young man of about 14.
The young man was brought in for some symptoms which the doctor diagnosed as rabies. The conversation went something like this:
Doctor: So your son was bitten by a dog a few months ago?
Doctor: And you didn’t get him anti-rabies shots?
Doctor: I am sorry but he’s manifesting some advanced stages of rabies infection. We have no other choice but to pray now…
I couldn’t bear to stand and listen to what came next because the mom started to weep while the thin and pale face of the boy took on a resigned look. I don’t even know if he survived.
Parents have no excuse to be ignorant. In this modern age, information is everywhere. Even information on medical and health-related concerns abound. There’s the Internet, Google, and cheap Internet cafes that can be used for as little as Php 10-15 an hour. There are also medical advisories and tips posted in public places and school bulletin boards. One can even opt to ask advice from veteran parents. There are also regular health and medicine-related shows on TV and even medical columns in the newspapers.
And if there’s cause for concern, there are free medical check-ups provided by PCSO, its satellite clinics, and many barangay clinics and hospitals offered by LGUs in their respective areas. There’s even the occasional medical missions organized by many NGOs, medicine retailers, pharma companies, and philanthropic organizations. The bottom line is, parents have little excuse to be actively ignorant. In fact, I would go as far as to say that only parents who are determined to be ignorant stay uninformed, to the possible detriment of their children.
And since parents are parents, they are granted automatic de facto rights, responsibilities, and obligations towards their children. If parental negligence results in a child’s death, parents can be held criminally liable.
Making money from ignorance
Moreover, there are many wolves in sheep’s clothing ready to take advantage of parental ignorance, ignorance that is not solely limited to the lower socio-economic strata. There are companies who leverage on the media machine, money, and advertising savvy to take advantage of the good intentions of even more affluent parents.
One example is this new sound device that purportedly help parents “interact” with babies while these are still in the womb. Other asserted benefits for prenatal babies include babies turning themselves to the proper orientation so that they come out heads first. And a third articulated benefit is helping the unborn baby familiarize himself/herself to the parent’s and grandparent’s voices so as to bond with them.
How the makers of these products came by this “bonding” conclusion is beyond me. Granted, babies may be able to hear the sound in vivo, but the sound that passes through the amniotic fluid (in which the unborn baby is suspended in) is likely to be muffled since sound changes speed in a different medium.
In other words, sound behaves differently in air than it does through amniotic fluid. Moreover, even if the baby does respond to the sound, for example, the baby moves more often, it is doubtful whether this increased movement is caused by babies’ being able to distinguish between a person’s voice from any other sounds they hear. Why? Because babies lack the experience in contextualizing verbal information; they do not yet know what words mean, much less phrases or whole sentences. Thus, baby product companies that make such claims of these sound products are in a very precarious situation just in case someone challenges the company to prove its declarations.
Baby product companies aren’t the sole exploiters of parents’ lack of information. The other major group comprise religious authorities. In the Philippines, a largely Catholic country, separation of church and state is an illusion and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) reigns supreme and uncontested. The CBCP may be “spiritual” fathers to some but this fatherhood is merely metaphorical. The fact that they are not real parents makes one doubt if they can truly empathize with the plight of parents, specifically mothers, as reflected in their consistent antagonistic stance towards the RH bill.
Moreover, in the instance that pedophilic and sexually abusive priests do sire offspring, such a scandal will surely be swept under the rug and denied, including their parental responsibility. Worst, these priests just get shuffled between one country to another, to victimize more children and women in their wake while they exercise, ironically, their spiritual faculties to the faithful.
Despite eleven daily maternal deaths due to birth-related complications in the Philippines, the CBCP have kept to their guns, and they will continue to oppose the passing of the RH bill. And why should they not? Education, a critical component of the RH bill, will not only inform women, but it also has the potential to liberate and empower them from the shackles of religion, dogma, superstition, and ignorance.
The RH Bill connection
Despite the CBCP’s contentions, we direly need the RH bill. And mothers know this best of all. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that families have limited resources, and in the case of poor families, more so. The more children indigent families produce, the more pressure is put on the scarce resources they already have.
One case in point is my teenage friend whom I introduced at the start of this article. While the two of us had our first child almost at the same time, I still only have one child while she now has five children (in the span of nine years), with the last one just turning three years old.
While I am gainfully employed with my freelance consulting work with long-term committed clients, and have a husband who also does paid projects at home, my friend can only occasionally sell ‘kakanin’ (ricecakes) and is married to a construction worker. While I consistently get paid an honorarium month in and month out, the husband of my friend earns only on a contractual basis. He has take-home money only when he is needed for some physical infrastructure project contracted to an agency. Thus, the primary source of family funds for my friend is not secure and seasonal at best. When the father doesn’t earn, my friend is forced to borrow from a “5-6” local agent.
Every time I do get to see her (which is rare nowadays as we have moved far away), she is always complaining about how hard life has become. In fact, life for her has become even more challenging now than when she was still single. Last time I met her, she admitted to eating her neighbor’s dog food out of extreme hunger, just to ensure she produces enough milk for nursing her fourth baby.
My friend’s story, and other women’s similar stories, should convince us to we must push for the passing of the RH bill now. The bottomline is: who will make the final decision here? Will we listen to what the religious authorities who pretend to be our “spiritual parents” say, or do we choose to save the lives of our poor, our children, and our Filipino mothers?
Picture credits (used under Creative Commons)