Funny how life works. Funny how some things only make sense later, in hindsight. Funny how waiting for hindsight can provide just enough hope to keep going.
Five years ago, we had it all together. Like with Kaelen, I had everything planned out from childcare to booked postnatal massages, from a ready-to-go e-announcement to her clothes carefully sorted, even the song queued for bringing her home. We merely had to wait to see when it would happen. When she would decide to come out. It was five days past the due date. We had already been to the hospital and were told to go home because I hadn’t dilated enough.
It was time. I had some crazy bouts of shivers and the hospital told us to come in right away. Getting to the hospital immediately was not a challenge at all. Bags were packed and set aside. Cameras were charged and sitting next to the bag. Grandmothers were home to take care of Kaelen. We had our route planned to avoid any trains crossing. We calmly made our way, parked, joked with another couple in the elevator and made ourselves comfortable in the room provided.
The nurse came in, greeted us, and hooked me up to the monitor and started taking our vitals. Soon after, the resident came in remembering us from the night before, having told us to go back home. This time though she looked serious. She kept moving things around. Searching. For hope. For a sign. Karthik and I looked at each other. We knew. It wasn’t OK. She confirmed. Nothing was ok. In fact nothing was exactly what she found when looking for Seray’s vitals.
My body started to numb. My mind started to clear. Emotionless. Frozen. Unreal. I looked at Karthik confused. He looked back, mirroring my state. We politely asked the staff to leave. Alone, still in shock. We burst out crying.
What followed was all part of hindsight. Making quick decisions on what needed to be done. Who needs to be informed? Nik. We need to call Nik to tell him he has to bring Pa to London tomorrow morning, but for a different reason. Then we called the grandmas and I can still hear my mother slapping her forehead in disbelief and despair. Then, when the doctors came in the room asking us to make other important decisions, we asked if we could leave that space to figure things out.
We stepped outside the hospital. Warm, still, night sky. It was quiet. Just the right amount of breeze. Karthik and I were very familiar with this type of a night. Having spent so many such beautiful nights under different starry skies in strange towns, together, we always felt at peace. We stood, looked in each others’ eyes, and achieved clarity. We didn’t have religion to guide us or be our backbone. We knew the strength was to come from our own core, and however we decided to move forward, our faith in ourselves had to be unwavering. This decision was unlike we had ever made. It was time to find out what we were actually made of. It was time to put our own faith in action – the one that came from our years of talking, pontificating, imagining, solidifying. We looked at each other and we knew. We knew what we had to do. We would never see her. We would never hold her. We would never smell her. We would never feel her. We would not call her our daughter, for now. She would be referred to as a fetus. Our senses couldn’t be allowed to develop memories. Otherwise, neither of us could ever imagine managing life.
We went back in and shared our decision with these medical strangers that needed us to decide. What we faced was judgment. Doctors and nurses telling us we needed to change our minds and that we would regret it. We didn’t try to convince them otherwise. We didn’t have it in us and frankly it didn’t matter what they said. They were trying to guide us, but didn’t know us. We knew who we were, and what we needed to survive. Our hearts echoed our unique beats which we could not ignore.
We were moved to the room at the end of the floor. This was the room where tragedies were dealt with. We were there the entire night. Continuously harassed to change our minds. Judged. It didn’t matter. Every time I had a contraction, I felt her head or a body part and thought she moved. Desperate, I would ask the nurse to check for vitals again. At last I accepted. This was truly final. My parents came to see me. I felt their strength course through me as my mother held my hand and my father put his hand on my head. Karthik’s parents came and looked surprised to see me hold it together. I hope they realized how strong their son was. His calm, and belief in us. His need to protect me. His love pouring into my soul, keeping me alive. A husband and a friend I couldn’t survive this night without. I still don’t know if they truly saw his fortitude. I don’t know if they see it even now.
It was time. A sheet was held up so neither of us would witness the delivery. I remember holding my breath so I couldn’t smell anything. They saw and informed us that the damn umbilical cord was the reason for the stillbirth. That which nourished her all this time. It happens. I was relieved to find out it wasn’t me. I couldn’t handle blaming myself at that time. I’d have the rest of my life to dissect what I could have done differently. All our parents sat in a waiting room outside. I don’t know if they saw her. I still haven’t asked. I don’t want to know. Then only the nurse, Karthik and I were left in the room, and I breathed again.
As the morning dawned, I looked out and felt the new day come over us. All I wanted to do was go home. To Kaelen. He was waiting with his favourite uncle Nik, for us to bring his sister home. I wonder how Nik kept it together to play with him without letting him sense the utter pain I had heard in his voice over the phone. Perhaps I should ask him one day.
We got home and while I waited for Kaelen on the sofa to come to me I was wondering if I was ready. We had talked to his teacher Mrs. Pringle who had shared a beautiful idea that she felt would meet him where he was developmentally as a passionate almost-five year old. She guided us on how we could break this to him. We had to tell him a story. One that would make sense to his beautiful heart. It was about a tummy-journey girl.
Kaelen ran and asked where his sister was. I held him and told him…
“Mommy and Daddy had gone to get Seray from the hospital but we couldn’t find her. We looked and looked but she was nowhere to be found. We then realized that in fact, she was a silly, tummy-journey girl. She likes to only travel in tummies and not actually come out and live with people. Can you imagine, Kaelen? That silly thing, that’s all she does. From one tummy to another. She’s happy that way. We didn’t know this of course. But that’s what we found out. And that’s ok.”
My little munchkin was furious from his pain! “I don’t like her!” But we held him. Gave him love. We needed to more than he needed it from us. He was okay. He was going to be okay. That’s all that mattered.
The next chapter of our lives started. We knew it would, but didn’t think it would take this path. From wanting to leave the country and move to one we hadn’t visited yet, to not wanting to move a muscle or get out of bed, the first little while was impossible. I slept like I had never slept before. So peacefully. How? Why? I don’t know for sure, but after a couple of weeks of such deep sleep where I felt I spent time with Seray, I finally felt her leave me. It wasn’t painful. It was right. She had to go do other things. I felt it. She was not mine. She was on her own unique tummy-journey.
It took us a full year to refer to her as our daughter. I still find myself crying in my shower, my favourite place to cry it out. I still feel pain for not having had the chance to experience this love. However in the past five years, even though I feel I’m sleep walking most days, I’m more acutely aware of others’ pain and experience. Respect has become important to me as I’m aware of my own strength, and I can see the strength people don’t realize they too have. Boundaries have become important as well as I can now see my limits to what I want to handle just as I can see when not to push others to bend theirs. Truth and introspection, self love and self respect, and acceptance and hindsight has brought me to a place I didn’t think was possible.
It’s fine. It’s all fine.