Cristine Reyes Actress Mom to Amarah, 3 months old
SP: Tell us about that time when you found out you were pregnant.
Cristine: It was a planned pregnancy. [I know it may not sound right] because we’re not yet married but we were really expecting it. [There’s a] love story behind it.
I didn’t have my period in July, so a month later, I took the pregnancy test. [I took it] twice – once in the morning and in the evening. [Since] it was my first time, I wasn’t sure. There were two lines but they were blurry so I didn’t know that it was positive. I told [my partner] Ali [Khatibi]. I asked him to buy a pregnancy kit again, and the results were the same. That’s when I called other people to ask. I also checked online, and that’s how I knew that you don’t really get a clear “2nd line”. Ali and I were so happy, we called our families to share the good news.
When I told my family, they were happy for me because I’ve always told them that I want a baby when I turn 25 (Cristine turned 26 in February). With Ali’s side, they were surprised because he’s very outgoing, he’s into a lot of sports, and they didn’t think he’d plan something so permanent.
SP: What were your thoughts during the time that you were pregnant? Cristine: When reality sank in, I felt fear. I think when you’re pregnant you have a lot to think about – the future, the baby, your family. I would worry a lot. I had mood swings, so I would always pick a fight with Ali. But he was always supportive.
SP: Did you crave for anything in particular while pregnant? Cristine:Wala. I think si Ali 'yung napaglihian ko.
SP: How was your pregnancy like? Cristine: During my first trimester, nag-spotting ako so my OB-Gynecologist’s advice was to be on bedrest, with limited movement. So during the first trimester, besides being on bedrest, I was also nauseous, weak, and palaging may stomachache. People thought I was hiding my pregnancy, but in truth I was advised to stay home the whole time, and I also could not afford to be stressed, I had to take care of myself.
Since I was on bedrest, I read a lot. I downloaded apps that I would need. Ali and I also planned to take Lamaze classes. I was inspired by women who could bear the pain of pregnancy, and for me, motherhood comes with birthing pains so I wanted to experience that. However, I was not allowed to [take Lamaze classes].
During the second trimester, I felt much better. Lahat ng nausea, dizziness, stomachache nawala. That was also when I was allowed to walk, move around. Na-enjoy ko yung second trimester. Ali and I were able to travel pa to Japan. My OB-Gyne gave me clearance to travel, with medication.
That’s also when I moved to Ali’s house because he and his parents were not comfortable at the thought that I was pregnant and living alone. I was so spoiled with food, they said I must eat for the baby. Since I vomited a lot on my first trimester, this was something enjoyable for me.
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SP: Take us to the day when you first realized you were about to give birth. Cristine: I was 7 and a half months pregnant. Nothing unusual, except nu'ng umaga paggising ko, I peed a lot. I would go back to the bathroom to pee every few minutes. I tried to put a towel [on the bed] and it was wet after a few minutes. I thought that when your water breaks, that’s a lot of fluid pero mine was more like pee. I told Ali that we may need to go to the hospital.
When we got there, they did an internal exam. They looked worried when I asked if I was going to give birth already. Naiyak ako. I was so worried. I asked, what’s going to happen to the baby if I give birth now? They said it depends on how strong the baby is. So the doctors tried to keep the baby in for as long as possible. We stayed at the hospital for 10 days.
Nu'ng time na 'yun, we were not sure what was going on and what was going to happen. Saka mo pala mare-realize na anything could happen. Even if you have the best doctors. Ali was there all the way. That was our biggest trial together.
I had to stay put. Kahit maupo, hindi pwede. They would bathe me in bed. Doon na lahat. I was under observation because the dilation increased slowly by the day, so we were very careful. Everytime I moved, water would flow out and we didn’t want that kasi the baby needed that to stay inside my tummy. The doctor said I needed to drink two liters of water and lots of Pocari Sweat kasi madami daw yun vitamins, it would help me hydrate. Every two hours, 24/7 for ten days, my contractions were monitored, the baby’s heartbeat was also on monitor.
Every two hours, a nurse would come to my room to check on me. She would place her hand on my tummy for 20 minutes. And even if I was asleep, gigisingin ka. Twenty minutes, every two hours, round-the-clock for ten days.
SP: What was running through your head at this point? Cristine: I wasn’t really thinking about myself that time. I was really worried. Ali and I were just thinking about the baby. There were times I was ready to give up but Ali would always put things in perspective. Malaking tulong that I had Ali beside me.
On my birthday, February 5, I stayed the whole day sa labor room because the contractions were more frequent. The nurses were surprised that I wasn’t complaining of pain. I think I have a high tolerance for pain. I didn’t give birth that day so I was brought back to the room.
On February 8, I was brought to the labor room again, and this time the pain was really intense. I tried to look for a position that would ease the pain but it was the same kahit ano'ng position. They gave me this medicine that made me feel like sinusunog yung katawan ko. There was one day I was given that for 24 hours (through my IV), I think it was for the baby’s brain. I would just cry. I was thinking, “Is this what hell feels like?”
I was also given steroids for the baby’s lungs. In between, they would extract blood for testing. I felt so weak. When it was time, I wasn’t allowed to be on full epidural because the baby was premature and they needed me to push.
Midway through delivery, I suddenly felt scared, so I stopped pushing. I thought, “hindi ko yata kaya,” but the head was already out so they said to push some more. It was so painful and I was so weak. I was panicking. Unlike in the movies where you can stop at any time, this was real life. I had to push.
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On my final push the baby slid out and I just cried. And then I felt so relieved I was laughing and crying at the same time. I was so emotional. I also didn’t care that there were people and my legs were spread open. I just wanted to see the baby but I couldn’t; they had to bring her to the NICU because she’s premature. On February 8, 2015, I gave birth to my daughter Amarah Khatibi. She weighed only 3.12 pounds.
SP: Were you able to breastfeed Amarah right after? Cristine: No, but they got colostrum from me, and I would go to the nursery every now and then to feed her. It’s a good thing she was able to latch even if she was premature. She was in an incubator for four days. She was also on antibiotics for seven days. When the doctor said we could take Amarah home, we had to ask again, “Are you sure?” She was so small kasi.
SP: How was it like caring for a premature baby? Cristine: Because she was so fragile, we could not entrust her to just anyone, so for two months, we didn’t have a yaya, it was really just me and Ali. It was challenging because it’s our first time. We would clean the bottles, clean the room, disinfect it ourselves. We just stayed in the room the whole time because we knew how delicate Amarah’s condition was. If Ali went out, he would have to take a bath first before he could hold Amarah again. Those who visited had to wear a facemask.
What also made it hard was Amarah would not cry, so we didn’t know when she was hungry or if she needed anything, like a change of diapers. We had to be extra sensitive to her needs. We kept her in a swaddle, and we had to time her feeding to make sure she wouldn’t go hungry. Actually, we were happy whenever she would cry because that’s how we knew she was getting better. Before that, she would have episodes (seizure-like attacks) due to a backflow of milk that would block her airway, so I would suck it out of her nose so she could breathe. Challenging talaga the first two months.
SP: How did you gain your pre-pregnancy body so quickly? Cristine: I gained around 25 pounds when I was pregnant, but maybe it’s because we hardly had any sleep in the first two months, kaya I was able to lose them.
SP: What do you want to tell other first-time moms who have premature babies? Cristine: That I can relate to them, that I know how it feels when people judge them. I know how it feels to worry about the baby, and how you have to take extra care of your child. Alam mo yung complications. Aware ka what a difference a day or a minute makes. Ako kasi, na-experience ko siya. Nakita ko 'yung development niya from the first month, second, third.
My advice is to focus on your baby. I didn’t feel the need to explain myself to anyone. Better not to think about it. Hold on to the people that matter. Hold on to your partner. Have a strong support system so that kahit na anong sabihin ng tao, you can just ignore.
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SP: After everything that you’ve been through, would you want another child in the future? Cristine: Of course! Kahit ang sakit, at sabi ko after I gave birth na ayoko na, pero gusto ko pa din. A baby is a big blessing.
Photos by Lai de Guzman. Hair and makeup by Anne Castaño. Text was edited and translated for brevity.