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Jill Villanueva Palarca

BLAME it all on Sushmita Sen. It was 1994. All the world was glued on the television, especially the Filipinos. The Miss Universe Pageant was being held in Manila. Miss India won the crown with one of the most quotable quotes in pageant history. “The essence of being a woman is being a mother.” Everyone remembers that, right?

I was sixteen years old back then. Little did I know that it would actually shape my perception on womanhood that would eventually lead to my insecurities.

It’s just funny though how a misquote made an impact on my life. Yes, you read it right. Sushmita’s complete answer was “Just being a woman is a gift of God that all of us must appreciate. The origin of a child is a mother, who is a woman. She shows a man what caring, sharing and loving is all about. That’s the essence of being a woman.”

Almost everyone remembers the wrong quote. A Mandela Effect. In other words, a false memory. And it’s a dangerous thing. Because even though the words ‘woman’ and ‘mother’ were in the same paragraph, it was not simply about womanhood equals motherhood.

I was sixteen but I didn’t have my period yet. And if Sushmita was right about the essence of being a woman, then I’m in big trouble. Believing that a working reproductive system is part and parcel of being a true woman, I felt like a freak.

Before I left for college, I started to seek answers to this mystery. It was the ‘90s. Maybe the technology was not yet accurate. But, the doctor’s diagnosis sounded definitive. Uterine Agenesis – the result said, which means “absent womb.”

Medical books describe it as a congenital disorder which occurs when the baby’s reproductive system fails to develop fully in the womb. In short, I don’t have a uterus. Meaning, I can’t bear a child.

The negative mind conditioning has commenced. If I can’t be a mother then I am not a woman. If I’m not a real woman then no man will love me. Forgive my naiveté. I still haven’t met my friend named Feminism at that time.

Then years later while in college, I fell in love with a boy but he broke my heart. He ghosted me even before the term ghosted was invented. I beat myself up – he probably wanted a real woman. I looked at myself on the mirror – I looked like a young girl. My juvenile features cause by delayed puberty did not match the evolutionary female traits that men desire. Shapely hips and an ample bosom in women are linked with fertility and overall health.

What is really wrong with me? I looked up for specialists in Manila. Another diagnosis came out – Infantile Uterus also known as Uterine Hypoplasia. It is when the uterus is as small as that of an infant’s.

From having none to having one small womb. Did my uterus grow? Or was it a misdiagnosis all this time? My flourishing what-ifs were nipped in the bud. The doctor said, “A baby-sized womb can’t carry a baby.” Period.

But my doctor got curious so she had me go through rare bloodwork and imaging tests for hormonal and chromosomal analysis. The results didn’t match any of the known genetic disorders ever printed on medical books.

Instead, I was put on a hormone therapy to trigger menses and avoid early menopause. Great! I haven’t even started but I’m almost at the end. While the hormone therapy helped in making me “feel” like a woman, it also made me into a “real” woman with the intense mood swings.

Although I was glowing up, I still had a womb that denied me of becoming a mother. Sushmita was waving. Pressure. Will a man marry me without the promise of a child?

Marriage is a myth. I started to preach this to my friends when I was in my 20s. While I was seriously studying and advocating Feminist Criticism, deep inside I knew it was more of a coping mechanism for me. Sushmita broke me, indeed.

And perhaps it was serendipity, but the guy who broke my heart and started my whole journey into cancelling marriage was the same one who proposed to me. I debunked my own myth at the age of 30. The feminists are going to kill me now.

He knew about my infertility issues but with good faith and after some years into the marriage, we decided to give medical science a shot. And lo and behold – my uterus grew into normal size. The doctor was dumbfounded.

The caveat was my eggs. The hormones possibly created an imbalance called PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). Infertility was still an issue. We went through the obligatory work-ups but nothing worked.

Almost a decade of being a childless couple, my womb finally showed signs of life, sans assisted reproductive therapy. Unfortunately, we lost that first baby while in my womb. Strike one. A few years later, I got pregnant again. My second child was born with a death sentence. She had a congenital disorder and died seven months due to complications. Strike two.

I blamed my broken womb for my children’s demise. I even blamed my mother for my broken womb. And eventually, I blamed God.

So when I got pregnant the third time, I was so scared. Strike three and I’m out. Why was I ever put in this game, anyway? I got candid with God. I told Him, he can’t mess this up. If it was true that He knit me in my mother’s womb then my story – this saga – should turn into a beautiful tapestry. 

Placenta Accreta – that was the OB’s diagnosis a week before I was due to give birth. It’s when the placenta grows deeply into the uterine wall. This can cause severe blood loss and even death. My family was nervous. I was sad because I might not meet my newborn. But I was also looking forward to see my two angels.

To save me, a hysterectomy had to be done. My womb has gone full circle. I started with none and now it’s gone. In my arms is a memento of that saga.  

Did motherhood made me into a real woman? More than having a womb, becoming a woman was defined more by the many woes in my life. When a woman bleeds, it is not just physical. It is a cry to be seen, to be heard, to be valued.

A woman’s essence is not merely showing a “man” what caring, sharing, and loving is all about but doing that to the entire Humanity instead… and I thank you! Sushmita owes me a crown.


Virgilind “Jill” Palarca graduated with honors at UP Diliman in 1999 and worked as an associate producer for MTV Asia and a writer for television and events before becoming an educator. She teaches Media and Information Literacy at the ADDU Senior High School. She is also a filmmaker and has won Best Screenplay at the 2014 Mindanao Film Festival. 


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