• Food has always played such a key role in my life. (EyeEm)Source: EyeEm
Having been raised in a culture where eating could be considered a past time and food plays a central role during every occasion and event, it’s no surprise that it also goes hand in hand with pregnancy.
By
Tania Gomez

7 Jul 2020 - 7:59 AM  UPDATED 17 Jul 2020 - 4:46 PM

When I was experiencing the joys of morning sickness during both my pregnancies and the sight and smell of most foods would bring on waves of nausea, I was grateful for the small pool of foods that I could actually keep down without wanting to run for the nearest bathroom. One of them was my mum’s sinigang. While I was all about the blandest of foods the rest of the time (I pretty much lived on porridge and toast) the sour soup beloved by Filipinos was one flavourful dish that I actually found I desperately wanted to eat, and it quickly became my go-to comfort food.

My mum would often whip up big batches for me and I would eat it with a pile of fluffy white rice and a dash of patis (fish sauce) and would be in heaven. When most foods were off limits for me for months, it was almost fitting that one of my favourite Filipino dishes since I was a child was one of the few things my pregnant body would happily let me eat. 

Having been raised in a culture where eating could be considered a past time and food plays a central role during every occasion and event, it’s no surprise that it also goes hand in hand with pregnancy. Paglilihi is something most Filipinos would be familiar with. Translated into English it means conception, but the concept largely centres around food during pregnancy, most notably food cravings but it can also apply to aversions with food (some believe it can even apply to people!). 

We would actually run out of room in our fridge at home because my mum would often give me a care package of an assortment of takeaway containers filled with food every time I visited.

Providing me with sinigang on tap was something my mum would do because of paglilihi. In fact, I found that throughout my pregnancy I pretty much had licence to ask for almost any kind food I wanted and my parents would happily oblige because it was considered part of the paglilihi process and it was important “to keep the baby happy”.

We would actually run out of room in our fridge at home because my mum would often give me a care package of an assortment of takeaway containers filled with food every time I visited. And once my dad caught wind of the fact that I was craving a particular kind of Filipino salt and vinegar chips, he’d often make regular visits to the local Asian grocer to ensure I was well-stocked. I don’t think I ever ran out the entire time I was pregnant, in fact I was still eating said chips when my son was two months old.

While my Australian in-laws and I would often discuss how I was carrying and what shape my stomach was while I was pregnant, my Filipino aunties preferred to talk food, namely what cravings I was having. I’d often face questions about what food I was wanting and my aunties would listen intently, often peppering me with their theories as to what it could all mean. If I said I was wanting savoury foods, one would exclaim that it was definitely a boy while another would tell me that if I was eating another type of food I’d end up with a girl.

Another aspect of paglilihi is that there are those who believe what a pregnant woman craves can often relate to what traits the baby will have. During my first pregnancy there was a time when all I wanted to eat were Granny Smith apples and oranges, and one of my aunties quickly told me that my child would end up having a very round face. While wanting something sugary would be met with confident declarations that I would end up with a sweet-natured kid. By the time I gave birth, I think I’d had virtually every kind of physical and personality trait my way that I actually didn’t know what to expect. (It’s worth noting that my son did end up with quite a cute round face, and is extremely sweet in nature so maybe there is something to be said for the whole thing.)

Food has always played such a key role in my life that it was only fitting that it should be front and centre during one of the most significant, life-changing experiences I could go through as a woman.

Food has always played such a key role in my life that it was only fitting that it should be front and centre during one of the most significant, life-changing experiences I could go through as a woman.

Even now I often think back to both my pregnancies and am reminded of the different stages I went through according to what I was eating at the time, whether I was battling morning sickness with the help of my mum’s sinigang, or I was devouring green mangoes with bagoong (shrimp paste) in my second trimester, the one constant was that I ended up reverting back to some of my favourite Filipino foods to see me through the experience.

There was something comforting about revisiting the familiar, particularly those associated with memories of growing up in the Philippines that I needed during a time of such dramatic change. And in true Filipino style, food not only helped to get me through pregnancy, but in some ways, it actually helped to define it.

Tania Gomez is a freelance writer.

This article is part of a series on Multicultural Motherhood, exploring diverse experiences of birth and parenting, edited by Saman Shad.

Other articles in the series can be found here:

Upholding the tradition of baby favours for guests
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I practiced confinement after having my babies
It’s a totally different expectation to the West, where women are expected to jump straight back to their pre-birth selves.
I was the tiger cub to my Tiger Parents
"My mum and dad were Tiger Parents Lite, but I was a failed Tiger cub."

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