Jennica Garcia-Uytingco is passionate about taking the most natural approach in child-rearing and parenting when it comes to her and her husband Alwyn Uytingco’s firstborn, Athena Mori, nicknamed Mori. The 26-year-old TV actress, who has been on a hiatus since she got pregnant in late 2014, breastfeeds Mori, who turned 1 year old last July 16, and opts for natural and organic products for her daughter like cloth diaper, or lampin, instead of the disposable variety.
Jennica’s decision to go “pro-natural” began when she was told by her doctor to stop using certain skin products when she was pregnant. “And then I found out the truth about chemicals in products,” she says in our interview. “I got wary of it kasi I realized that 60 percent of what I apply in my skin goes to the baby, e, so I got paranoid and started doing research.”
The first-time mom’s research involved a lot of reading materials on the subject of natural parenting (the philosophy espouses full-term breastfeeding and co-sleeping, among many others) and learning from her own experience with her daughter. In fact, she has actually begun doing seminars for new moms like her called "Natural Mothering," based on her on her own experience with Mori. During Baby Mori’s first year, Jennica practically did everything at home, including washing the cloth diapers by hand. But she recently got a household helper, who works during daytime and goes home at night.
“Mori is starting to walk already, and I feel that when I do household chores at home, nagi-guilty ako...'pag inaantay niya ako. There are so many things that we can do like we can go outside to walk in the park, we can color na, we can do arts and crafts together. But we can’t do it because she’s waiting for me while I wash the dishes. So, sabi ko, I think it’s time [to have a helper]…someone lang will do the laundry and help me with the cooking and cleaning of the house.”
Since Mori was born via normal delivery, Jennica has never left her for more than two hours. “If I’m gonna watch a movie with my husband, she’ll be in the same mall, and then a relative of ours will be there outside the theater. 'Pag bigla siya [Mori] na mabugnot, someone’s waiting for her outside. So, hindi ko pa talaga siya naiiwan, hindi pa. We’re always together.”
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Being together constantly has allowed Jennica to discover more about her baby and how she can become a better mother. For instance, Mori was already potty trained by the time she was 7 months old, the proud mother told us. It happened after she observed several times how her daughter made a certain body movement, and it was followed by her daughter peeing. The next time her daughter made the movement again, Jennica was ready with a tabo and put Mori on top. By 7 months old, Mori was already wearing panties full-time. “At nine months, she knew how to use the toilet already. She does this [other movement] three times, she’s just sleepy. But if she does it more than three times, it means, she needs to potty.”
Jennica, who has her own blog, doesn't get the signs right all the time. “You know, I believe that all babies are nice,” she beams. “All babies are calm. It’s just that sometimes, we are confused. We’re not sure how we should tend to them.” One example she remembered was when Mori was diagnosed at 3 months old.
“One time, I was just so stressed. She’s been crying the whole day. Sobrang nahihiya na ako. Tipong ’yong kapitbahay namin, kumakatok na to ask if I need help. Gano’ng level. ’Tapos, one time, sabi ko nagugutom na ako. Wala na akong energy para magluto, so lumabas ako ng bahay. Pinag-baby wear ko siya. Lumabas ako ng bahay para bumili ng turon ’tsaka spaghetti. Pag labas ko ng bahay, tumahimik siya.
“Apparently, she’s not a colicky baby, after all,” she nods. “She’s just bored, and I just couldn’t read her signs. I realized she wants to see movement; she yearns to imitate kasi. So when I fold clothes, I showed it to her. When I cook, ’yong baby bouncer, inaakyat ko para makita niya ako na I’m peeling and everything. So she grew up to be a very calm baby. She rarely cries.”
Unsurprisingly, Jennica limits Mori's access to electronic gadgets. (Their home does not have a television either, which is surprising given their showbiz background.) “[Mori] is not allowed to hold our gadgets also. We try to explain to her as early as now na gadget is for work, so it’s not for her to play with."
What does Mori play with? Blocks that are made from “small branches that are chopped and sanded so that it will be smooth." She and her mom go to the park often where her mom doesn't mind if she plays in the grass, sand, or mud. Jennica says, "It doesn’t bother me. Sometimes she munches on stones. It shocks me, and, di ba nagagalit [ang baby] kapag tinatanggal mo [ang toy]? So I just get a bigger stone, and let her play with it para she wouldn’t choke.”
Jennica relates that she intends to breastfeed Baby Mori full-term, which means she will only stop breastfeeding when Mori chooses to do so, which can happen any time from 2 to 8 years old. She goes on to explain, “Ang extended breastfeeding is beyond the first year of the child. Full-term breastfeeding is what they do in some countries. Feeling ko, hindi lang talaga siya gano’n kaalam pa dito sa Pilipinas. But in other countries in Africa and in some parts of China, they do that. They allow the child to choose when to stop breastfeeding.
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“And that’s what I plan to do with Mori. Una, I really enjoy it. Second, it’s a really great bond [between mother and child]. It gives a different kind of comfort to my child. And kahit na sabihin mong, ‘Grabe naman hanggang 8 years old. Pa’no kung 8 years old pa niya gustong mag-stop ng breastfeed?’
“Yeah, kasi ang bilis lang no’n. Lalaki na kaagad ’yong anak ko. Magugulat na lang ako, kahit gusto ko pa mag-breastfeed, ayaw na niya. So hangga’t gusto niya at may gatas pa… Sa totoo lang, hindi naman ako mauubusan ng gatas kasi constant siya, e. Ang breast, it will produce milk as long as there is a demand.”
Jennica sees no problem when her next baby comes--and she wants at least four more. “I can do tandem feeding,” she says, grinning. “Oo, okey lang sa akin mag-breastfeed ng dalawang anak. I’m so excited actually sa tandem feeding. I’m looking forward to it!”
Jocelyn Valle is a senior staff writer at YES! Magazine who previously worked as a freelance entertainment writer for various publications including the Philippine Daily Inquirer. If she's not running after celebrities or writing long pieces on entertainment issues and scandals, she practices yoga and defies gravity with aerial hoop.