I just finished watching this really heartbreakingly real documentary called Motherland on POV/PBS. I started and stopped and started it again about 5 times because I was crying my eyes out.
I’m not exactly sure what to write about but I am feeling compelled to think through writing.
There’s no context or interviews or voiceover. Throughout the documentary we see the labor and delivery room in the hospital where, at times, three Filipinas are laboring on one gurney at a time. Birthing mothers are rushed off to give birth right at the moment of pushing, no sooner. There’s just not enough tables. The postpartum main hall shows two recovering mothers with premature babies (2 or 3) per bed. Many of the mothers practice “KMC” or Kangaroo Mother Care where premature babies are supposed to be skin to skin 24/7. There’s anywhere between 140-150 mothers with their babies at any given time.
The images of Filipinas shown as birthing bodies are overwhelming. Many of them are on their 4th, 5th, 6th or 7th child. As you are overhearing the intake interview with hospital staff, you learn that many of the women have barely a secondary education. None of them have jobs. Neither do most of their husbands. They don’t know how they’ll be paying for the cost of their hospital bill (some of them choosing to leave early because they can’t pay). Some live in urban poor dwellings or “squatters”.
There’s no real discussion of the dereliction of the state. Instead the social workers and nursing are convincing many mothers and fathers to engage in family planning or get tubal ligation or an IUD. Over mounds of paper work, social workers say that the government has “no money”. Into the blank stares of parents, “no money” goes into one ear and out of the other.
Ok, so what’s bothering me?
I think the documentary is compelling. It is a glimpse into what the lives and plight of Filipino women in the Philippines. It gives a clear basis for a disruptive change in Philippine society.
What they need is structural family planning. What they need is more public assistance. What they need is jobs to pay their bills. What they need is prenatal care. What they need are public institutions that work to their benefit and not at the expense of them and their children.
But there’s none of that in the film. You could walk away and think, “Those Filipinas are just irresponsible birthing bodies.” And perhaps from a Westernized gaze, people could see these mothers as unloving and not nurturing. In their eyes, postpartum, isn’t a warm fuzzy gaze of a mother in love with a newborn. Rather, they have a vision of a future that is laden with struggle and want.
Filipino women’s lives are mired in the contradictions of feudalism, bureaucrat capitalist greed and US imperialism. I think this documentary demonstrates that. It just needs a little help in terms of naming the larger societal evils so that people don’t blame the women in the documentary.