The year is 1975, my mother and I had gone to visit her friend who has just given birth at the Makati Medical Center. I am ten years old any my inquisitive nature has me heading for the hospital nursery. I push the steel doors and peep through the glass that houses the large nursery. I smile and look at all the pretty and good-looking babies, wrapped in pink and blue, sleeping soundly all in a row. The long white hallway where I stand is dimly-lit when my gaze falls on a solitary figure at the far end of the hallway.
I immediately recognize her for she is my mother’s friend and we live on the same street. I want to approach her but I take a step back because I see that she is so sad. I peep into the glass and watch how she longingly looks at her tiny baby inside the incubator, her hand occasionaly touching the glass that separates her from her child. I stand there quietly, and watch her respectfully from a distance.
It is 1975 and the mother by the incubator is Helen Gamboa watching over her baby boy, Vincent Sotto. The scene remained clearly etched in my mind for many years. I remember feeling so bad for her. It was a scene, I would recall again 25 years later, in 1998, as I watched over my 4-year old son, lying in a coma, uncertain as to whether we would ever be able to bring him home again.
Grief can do strange things to you. I will choose to believe this as I read the remarks made by Senator Tito Sotto at the Senate this afternoon. Not coincidentally, August 13, 2012 marks Vincent Sotto’s 37th death anniversary. Any parent who has lost a child will tell you that the day of their child’s passing, no matter how long it has been, is always a day that carries with it the weight of sadness that no words will ever be able to express.
Senator Sotto claims that he is convinced that it was the contraceptives that his wife used that lead to their son’s weak heart condition. I have no idea where the senator got this idea, or whether any of his doctors back in 1975 had ever said anything to him for him to believe that there was some correlation between Vincent’s weak heart and the use of contraceptives. Perhaps his doctor did, as way of giving a grieving father an explanation for his son’s death. There were many things we did not know back in 1975 and we really have no way of verifying whether the doctor did say something to that effect that has lead the senator to believe all these years that Vincent’s passing was in a way, indirectly caused by his parents.
The loss of a child is an event that goes against the natural course of events because after all, parents normally go ahead of their children. I will not dignify the remarks or comments of people who think the senator’s tears were not real. I believe they were. You have to have lost a child to understand the depth of losing one. Today, being his son’s 37th death anniversary was significant to him, a day that once again brought back so many sad and painful memories.
Thus, for the sake of argument, I will assume that the senator does believe in his heart, perhaps due to misinformation given to him in 1975, that he indirectly caused his son’s death.
Parental guilt comes in many forms, every parent who has lost a child knows that so well. You have many “what if’s” and “if only’s” that you carry with you for many years, sometimes even decades. When the loss remains unprocessed and not discussed, the guilt stays with you, and like an unwanted visitor, it comes to live in your heart and mind, every now and then. Thirty-seven years is a lifetime, but the parent who has lost a child never forgets.
Perhaps going against the RH Bill is the senator’s way of purging his guilt over Vincent’s passing, maybe this is the reason why he is very much against it. I want to believe that it was his grief talking today when he said that contraceptives were the reason for his son’s congenital heart defect which eventually lead to his death. After all, what parent in his right mind would use their child’s death to further a cause or an agenda?
To say that I was blown away by this reasoning is an understatement. My initial reaction, like that of everyone else was “Where in heaven’s name did he get his facts!?” Studies have not proven this, and to make such a sweeping statement is highly irresponsible and quite insensitive to all of us who have lost children due to congenital heart disease (CHD). My own son died because of CHD and it had nothing to do with contraception, of that I am sure.
Guilt and regret are two very difficult things to live with. They come and visit you in moments when you are most vulnerable. Perhaps the senator needs to work on those issues separately and in private, not on the senate floor, where his grief overcomes him and he is unable to think straight.
Thich Nacht Hahn wrote “The best that we can do for those who have died is to live in such a way that they continue, beautifully, in us.” I think the senator needs to resolve his guilt over his son’s death and in the process perhaps, find a better appreciation and understanding for the Bill that he is so rabidly against. Being a bereaved parent himself, he may find a renewed compassion for all the women and children who stand to benefit from being given a better chance at life. In so doing, he not only honors Vincent’s memory, but perhaps, after a long journey, he may finally find an even deeper meaning to his loss, one that in his own words, has eluded him all these years.
Photo from The Manila Mommy Blog