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Beautifully Arranged: Sol and Liz Ocampo — This Kenyan-Filipino Family is Steeped in a Love That Began as Strangers in Marriage (Part 2 of 2)

Sol and Liz Ocampo with three of their four kids (Photo courtesy the Ocampo family)
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In part 1 of this interview with Solomon and Liz Ocampo, the couple talked about how the first met and went through an arranged marriage. In this part, they talk about Liz’s pregnancies and raising four cross-cultural kids.

“My first [pregnancy] was my worst, compared to what I just had right now, which was my fourth one,” Liz said.

‘Hyperemesis gravidarum’

Liz suffered a condition called “Hyperemesis Gravidarum,” where a woman’s morning sickness is elevated, “your hormones are completely off the chain, off the hook, you can’t smell anything, you can’t afford to smell anything, even water has a smell. So I would just throw up 40 to 50 times a day.

“I was literally skin and bones, and so every three days I would have to go for an IV just to get fluids into my body,” Liz continued. “I was in a wheelchair for the first seven months, I couldn’t walk, he would have to carry me to the restroom, and immediately you know I cannot smell anything, so he has to carry me back and go back and flush. And so he’d have to feed me but I would throw up absolutely everything.”

Sol and Liz with their kids
Sol and Liz Ocampo with three of their four kids (Photo courtesy the Ocampo family)

Liz’s delicate condition during that first pregnancy caused “small things” to irritate her, she said.

“Hearing Tagalog being spoken would just have me throwing up, and so I would be craving Kenyan food, I would be craving snacks and Kenyan smokies, stuff like that, [so when my mother visited], her bag was just full of Kenyan food. Liz’s mother stayed one month and the food she brought ran out. Liz  was crying every day. “So she asked my father to come, so my father comes, again with food, and he’s like, ‘No, we have to take our daughter back.'”

I was literally skin and bones, and so every three days I would have to go for an IV just to get fluids into my body.

Liz Ocampo

So Liz and Sol went back to Nairobi and moved in with her parents so they can nurse her back to health.

“During that time, because Sol had just got to know me for two weeks, I am looking horrible, constantly throwing up, so I’m constantly smelling, I couldn’t take a shower because the water would just make me throw up in the shower and in the bathtub so I’m going for weeks without a bath, I can’t brush my teeth because if I see a toothbrush I would just throw up, and so he dealt with all this smell and stuff,” Liz said with a laugh.

Sol and Liz Ocampo with three of their four kids (Photo courtesy the Ocampo family)
The Ocampos with three of their four kids (Photo courtesy the Ocampo family)

Perseverance leads to love

It was Sol’s perseverance during this time that really won Liz over.

“I’m just like, completely broken,” she says. “Which man would have taken care of me like this? This just had to be God. And he was just patient the entire time, he left everything in the Philippines and came to Kenya, was staring at me 24 hours a day, you know? He was like my 24-hour nurse. And so, the whole night because I had such bad heartburn, he’d hold me up, and we’d just sit up the whole night. During the day [we would] try to catch some sleep but it was just so horrible, the whole pregnancy, I was like an AIDS patient, most people thought I had AIDS, I was just so thin,” she remembers.

Which man would have taken care of me like this? This just had to be God.

Liz Ocampo

“It was very, very difficult, extremely difficult, and we didn’t think we’d do it again [have another child], and here we are six years later with a fourth.”

Liz and Sol with their kids
(Photo courtesy the Ocampo family)

Sol chimes in, “Now that she’s retelling the story, I don’t even remember how it was, I just know that I had a shocking experience, I was just like, this is not what you thought a honeymoon was supposed to be. And again, you’re just strangers and immediately it’s a medical, life-and-death situation. So we were on survival mode.”

The gallant hero?

“I can’t say I was a gallant hero, I was just an angel there, overjoyed doing it all, you know, whistling my way through,” Sol continues. Of course it was sludge, it was dread. It was sleepless nights, I would carry her around upstairs and everything, and it was tough, it was difficult even for me.”

“But I knew I had to do it, yeah to this stranger, she was still a stranger. We hadn’t known each other before this, so I’m just fortunate that I was able to go through it,” he says . “Im not claiming that I was a hero or a pure, good-hearted guy, it was difficult.”

“It was difficult, but I’m just glad that the grace came for me to see [it] through, but looking at someone who was suffering … it was breaking my heart to see … my newly married wife carrying my child … it was not that she partied and drank herself to death it was because of the baby she was carrying for us. But it really broke my heart seeing her go through a near-death experience, so when it was over, we were just overjoyed and I’m proud of her that she pulled through it … because [although] she’s thankful for me being there, she’s the one who suffered through it. So I can never know the pain and suffering that women go through carrying a child, bringing life to the world, so I salute all women and mothers around the whole world.”

Parenting

Once the child was born, “Parenting, it was fun,” Liz laughed. “It was fun in the beginning, having your first child is everything, every milestone, you’re just so celebrating and excited. We went back to the Philippines and so just ready to start over again, and ‘OK, let us press play now.’ The baby is here, we’re a new family, let us start over again, and everyone was excited to see a mixed-race child… The Philippines really likes mixed-race children.”

I can never know the pain and suffering that women go through carrying a child, bringing life to the world, so I salute all women and mothers around the whole world.”

Sol Ocampo

One year to the day after the first child was born, Liz and Sol were pregnant again and back in Kenya.

Liz and Sol with their kids
(Photo courtesy the Ocampo family)

“Exactly the same story,” they both say simultaneously.

(Interestingly enough, they wound up finding out they were pregnant with the second, third and fourth child exactly one year after the previous kid was born. “There’s something about the first birthday,” Liz said with a laugh. “Now we know, the first birthday we will [be in] separate rooms.”

“We’ll be roommates or brothers and sisters in the Lord,” Sol quips with a laugh.)

Getting easier over time

With the first two kids, Liz suffered the same constant morning sickness.

“The third one got better because the smell didn’t affect me as much,” she said. “So I was eating more. And then this fourth one became totally opposite, where [with] the first one I couldn’t eat anything, with the fourth one if I stopped eating I throw up. So I was eating 24 hours. I gained almost 50 pounds. (Laughs) I would lay down in the bed and if I just wake up at night like for two seconds if I didn’t dump food in my mouth I would just go and throw up and throw up so I was constantly chewing. [For] 24 hours, you’d see me anywhere — if I’m in a meeting, if I’m in an interview, constantly just eating my food.”

“We’ve done countless interviews where she was eating,” Sol laughed. “I’d have to tell the producer or editor, ‘Please just edit it out.'”

Despite all the trials of childbearing, it’s still worth it, they said.

“It is a lot of work, since there are now four and they’re all five and under,” according to Liz. “They’re at the age where they really need a lot of attention. So we can’t wait for them to grow up and relax. The older kids help … and thank God in third-world countries its easy to get nannies … so we thank God for that.”

Full-time pastors

While both had plans to be in non-ministry careers — Liz in radio broadcasting and Sol in engineering — they both wound up following in their parents’ footsteps and working as full-time pastors.

“I’d been ordained in 2010 in America,” Liz said. “So yeah, I was doing that but not full-time. Part-time pastor, part-time radio presenter. But when I got married it became too much, because in the media you cant keep coming and going and coming and going. And so that’s what kept happening when I would get pregnant. Because after my first pregnancy then I came back to the media and then I left again [for my] second pregnancy but when I came back, they were like, ‘Ok you’ve been replaced.’ And so I just dived full-time into the ministry.”

Third culture meets cross culture

As for Sol, he had grown up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) as a result of his parents’ missionary work.

He spent his formative years moving within many islands of the Philippines as well as in the United States, Canada and Kenya.

“From age zero, every year was just moving around, even within the Philippines, we never stayed in one city,” he says. “We moved from city to city, province to province. The challenge, you know, was you’d make friends and have best friends and you have to leave them, and then you get new friends, best friends and you feel nostalgic, melancholic of leaving your old neighborhood.

“Then you’d move again, and you’d move again maybe two years, three years, five years, and then we went international, we went to the U.S. when I was lets say 11, 12, 13,” he continued. His family “went to Canada, lived there also for about a year, then came back to the U.S. again and lived there another maybe a year, came back to the Philippines, moved around again everywhere in the Philippines.

“We have three regions so its like going from west coast to east coast, then moved to America again, now to Africa to Nairobi in 2006-2009 then went back to the Philippines again, moved around there again, then back here to Nairobi. So just all over the place,” he said.

Sol and Liz Ocampo with their children (Photo courtesy the Ocampo family)
Sol and Liz Ocampo with three of their four children (Photo courtesy the Ocampo family)

Liz in boarding school

While Liz grew up in Nairobi, she went to a boarding school from age eight until she finished high school.

After that, Liz’s parents sent her to bible school in Dallas, Texas, where she lived until age 21, after which she began pursuing mass communication at one of the universities in Nairobi. “And that was until I was 24, and at 25 I married him. He married me. We were both 25.”

Liz also noted her cross-cultural upbringing, spending holidays in Uganda and Tanzania. “My mother’s from Uganda, so during holidays she would send us to go learn the language. My mother is a princess in Uganda. She’s from the Kingdom of Toro.”

For Sol, living abroad as a kid — as well as an adult — has taught him “to have an open mind. It’s not really just about embracing only your own culture of course, everybody’s culture is wonderful but it doesn’t mean that your culture is superior to others. There are great things about your culture and then there’s some not-so-great things about your own culture. Learn from the other culture and when you combine it, you have a richer, new culture, combined culture or hybrid or whatever you wanna call it — intra culture in your family.”

Understanding identity

Since they now have a biracial family, Sol Ocampo said they do have to talk to their kids about who and what they are.

“As young as they are, fortunately or unfortunately we do have to talk to them about these issues because they get picked on sometimes,” he said. “When they’re in Kenya, they’re not fully Kenyans, and when they’re in the Philippines they don’t look fully Filipino. They’re mixed-race.

“So it’s like their sense of identity, of belonging, they don’t fully belong, so we have had to address it and we continue to address it, definitely those unique challenges to them that maybe other, non-mixed kids wouldn’t have,” he continued. “This is the odd one out of the class, their eyes get picked on.”

“Their nose,” Liz chimed in.

“Their nose, their eyes,” Sol said. “They get called Chinese when they’re not, so we have to tell them no, you’re Kenyan because sometimes they would say, ‘No I’m only Filipino, I’m only from the Philippines’ and we would have to tell them ‘No, you are African, you are Kenyan, and you are Filipino at the same time. Because your father is Filipino, your mother is Kenyan, so you are both.’

“So it takes work,” he continued. “You can’t just do it on autopilot, or parent them the same way you would parent a non-mixed child. Of course then, the usual issues of parenting and growing up are there, but on top of that are those unique issues that mixed-race kids face. “

Check out Liz and Sol’s YouTube channel, WeAreOcampo, as well as their Instagram and Facebook pages.

Liz and Sol Ocampo with their kids (Photo courtesy the Ocampo family)
The Ocampo family (Photo courtesy the Ocampo family)
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