Eileen Banal takes a moment to relive life before Lilly: Simple, and straightforward. Work, surf, chores, and occasional weekend trips out-of-town. “Pre-Lilly, when there was a swell, we’d surf the whole day. We’d let the dishes and laundry pile up, eat out for meals, until the swell went down.” As homebodies, she and her husband Migs spent much of their time indoors. Normal is a word that can’t be more fitting. Then, it was about solidifying their bond as a couple living and surfing in La Union. When the time came, their plans of conceiving came through seamlessly.
Pregnancy was the next big step, and this is exactly what they’ve been waiting for. However, as a new mom-to-be, Eileen was a human being who had her personal desires.
“When I found out I was pregnant, people told me I should stop surfing,” she begins. “There was this whole you have to put your baby’s health before yourself mentality that I struggled with.” For the first couple of months, getting her doctor’s clearance to surf wasn’t enough to curb the feelings of guilt during her surf sessions, believing that she was putting her baby in harm’s way. “By surfing, I felt I was taking chances with my baby’s safety and health, and I was selfishly putting my interests before my baby’s.” During the moments she held a more positive mindset, she learned to listen to her body more. At the slightest shift of mood, and if she at all felt discomfort, she wouldn’t dare go out. Meanwhile, her husband Migs stepped on the plane with her and volunteered to sit back and give up the water time if she passed on the session.
Eileen was able to surf until she was 5 months pregnant—crushing the notion that surfing is a harmful activity to normal pregnancies. But as her third term caught on, her body changed rapidly. During one of her last surf sessions, she couldn’t catch anything. She was out of breath, and out of balance. “I cried when I felt physically unable to surf anymore,” she noted. As a woman who has been physically active and physically fit her whole life, this is not the most tangible thing to accept.
Pregnancy prompts numerous changes that a woman has to endure. In Eileen’s case, she felt lucky. She lived with her husband by the beach, surrounded by trusted friends, a supportive surf community, as well as experienced mothers. Her pregnancy was uneventful, unchallenging, and easygoing. Up to the 6th month, that is.
By her third term, COVID-19 pandemic lockdown hit right when the couple was preparing for a water birth at home in Manila. Restrictions made monthly prenatal check-ups inaccessible. In the film A Quiet Place, Eileen compares her experience with Emily Blunt’s character, Evelyn. “I monitored my own blood pressure and weight gain. I measured my tummy with a tape measure to see if Lilly was growing. I checked my glucose levels at home, and I counted her kicks after mealtimes to see how she was doing.”
End result? Eileen delivered Lilly a week early. She came out small, but perfectly healthy. “I think that was the hardest thing,” she says. “All my plans surrounding my birth fell through. I felt sorry for myself, but I had to deal with it and get over it.”
Now, as a full-time mom, Eileen can’t dismiss the fact that being a parent essentially means there’s a lot less freedom. From forming an equitable household, splitting chores, all while consciously allowing for personal time, the planning doesn’t end. Today, Eileen and Migs plan out a week’s worth of organized chaos when there’s an incoming swell in the forecast. Seeing that sticking to a routine makes it all easier, doing anything on the fly has become a rarity.
In considering the needs of Lilly, their life has evolved from surfer couple to surfer couple with a baby. “It’s not just the two of us now,” Eileen concludes. Both introverts, the couple have Lilly, an extroverted baby who lights up at the sight of other people. “She gets excited, she starts talking, laughing more, she rarely cries when we’re around other people. So it drives us to be more intentional about taking her out and meeting people, so she can have her socializing fix.”
Behind the adorable photos, Eileen acknowledges that there are notions to how their life is projected from the outside. “A lot goes on behind the IG beach photo,” she says. There’s “a lot of negotiation and planning and preparation.” Now, before a surf session, she makes sure Lilly’s fed and ready for a nap, that the rice is cooking, that lunch is planned and prepped, that Migs has had time to work, among other things. If anything falls between the cracks, the worrying is a baggage she carries in the water.
“When I’m out surfing, I always have one eye on the shore,” she assures, “just in case.” Being a full-time surfer mom also means her body reaches exhaustion, whether it’s from nursing Lilly or from surfing. Admittedly, there are days, she’s simply too tired to paddle in. But she’d never quit, seeing as that surfing allows her to become a happier and healthier mother, holistically.
What truly makes this experience more meaningful for Eileen is being able to commit to this “maternity leave” with her husband Migs. A sole support system, Migs lets her have dibs on surf and adjusts around her session. From surfer couple to surfer couple with a baby, her ideal date nights are the times Migs offers to take care of Lilly while Eileen surfs.
Entering motherhood poses challenges like no other. For Eileen’s case, finding her way to get back into her pre-baby confidence level of surfing is also one of them. At the same time, she’s carefully navigating a path wherein she can unite the different versions of herself into the woman she is truly becoming. With her own process, and in her own timing.
“I’m trying to find a way back into the things I loved (before giving birth),” she shares, “but with Lilly attached to me now. It’s true that becoming a mom means becoming a whole new person, giving birth to not just my child, but also transforming into a new version of me, so I’m on the path of figuring out myself again.”