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It was Sheeba’s 45th birthday, and she sat peacefully looking out of her window, waiting for her family to arrive. Her mind wandered as she suddenly stood, looking down at a table draped in an ancient table cloth, and touched the framed photographs there, taking her down memory lane. She saw a photograph of her first pregnant self, when she was all of 20 years old, standing hand in hand with her husband, his hand on her tiny bump, glowing with happiness.
Sheeba had married her high school sweetheart at the tender age of 19, an age which is now considered too young to get married by modern standards and definitely too young to have a baby, although she did not think so. Within a month of her wedding, she had abandoned all her birth control and started looking up baby names.
She certainly did not expect to have a hard time getting pregnant. When you are young and reckless, you expect results immediately, but for the first eight months after she started trying, nothing happened. Each month, the thin red line brought on a fresh cycle of tears and self damnation. She did not lose hope.
And then, one day, the two pink lines that she had desperately longed for appeared.
Sheeba was over the moon. Her heart swimming with happiness, she took every care she possibly could of herself and her baby. She gave up caffeine and started taking all her prenatal vitamins. She avoided sex, hot baths, papayas, pineapple and Chinese food. She gave into her cheesy cravings, and splurged on maternity clothes, a crib for her baby and also baby clothes. She was diligent about attending doctors’ appointments and had already picked out names of both genders for her baby, whose sex she did not know yet.
She was cruising along healthily when she went in for her 21 week appointment with the doctor and a routine scan to check on the baby’s development. Lying on that bed, that cold, sticky gel sticking to her belly, the radiologist searched and searched for the sound of the baby’s heartbeat. She panicked when he couldn’t find it, but he reassured her saying that sometimes “babies hide”.
She knew it was going to be a boy. A little boy who would be the spitting image of his father, she mused.
The radiologist was still looking for her baby and his heartbeat. He suddenly saw something on the monitor, drew a step backwards and very quietly spoke the words that would haunt her for the rest of her life.
“I’m very sorry Sheeba, but it looks like your baby does not have a heartbeat.”
Sheeba remembered all too vividly the rising bile in her throat, and how she threw up all over her clothes. Things blurred then. Her husband was called, and she was taken for another scan by a senior radiologist who confirmed the same- her motionless baby in the dark, cold uterine landscape.
Sheeba was 21 weeks pregnant with a baby who was dead.
Things blurred further. She was shuttled from doctor to doctor, from scan to scan, from visits to hospitals to stay in a nursing home, an appetite that waned and tears. Lots and lots of tears and fears.
After a couple of days, Sheeba’s condition stabilized and she was brought to her gynaecologists office, clad in one of her many maternity tops, crying as she thought about her dead baby. Her husband took charge and asked the doctor what was the next step, as Sheeba waited, paralyzed with fear, for either of them to tell her what to do.
The doctor said that the baby had been dead for a while now, but he couldn’t say exactly how long. Maybe a week, maybe two, maybe more. Sheeba sat horrified. How could she not have known? What had she done wrong? But there was no time to ponder. The doctor advised her to get a D&C done as soon as possible to avoid any risk to her health and her life.
Sheeba laughed hysterically. What life was she talking about? One without her baby! But she had to get the D&C done anyways. She had to. There was no choice.
It was as if the Gods knew. She had contractions all that night. She did not want to birth her dead baby! The next day, her face tired and ravaged with all the tears she had shed, her belly swollen with the force of her contractions, she was put in a room with a nurse and an anaesthetist. She went to sleep pregnant.
She woke up with an empty uterus and an empty heart. It was her birthday and the day her baby died.
Sheeba was sent home with her husband the next day. She took to her bed and cried. And cried and cried.
And then cried some more.
Sheeba cried for a long, long time. She cried after her husband stopped crying. She kept crying even after her mother and other family members stopped crying. They all had their own lives, they moved on.
Sheeba packed up all the baby clothes she had bought and all her maternity outfits. She folded away the baby blanket. She put away the half knitted booties that she had started in a fit of excitement one day. She sat alone, day after day, surrounded by things that should have been her baby’s in the house she would have brought him into. And she kept crying.
The others did not give him a name. She did. She gave him a name. And she cried.
Sathwik. She would have called him Sathwik.
People called and comforted her. She had to listen to them say they were sorry. That at least she was young, she could have more children, and this was not meant to be. They said a lot of things.
None of which she wanted to hear. None of which stopped her tears.
Sheeba cried until she thought she had exhausted her crying. That there could be no more crying. And then she cried some more.
There was no internet then. No Facebook, No Social Media, No Online Communities and groups of women talking about child loss and how to heal. There were no resources. If she went to seek assistance she would be termed mad. She did not know anyone else who had experienced the same pain.
She put away her dog eared copy of her pregnancy books- there were no chapters on how to expect this. And she cried.
Eventually life moved on. She stopped crying every hour, and only cried every day, then once every two days, and then once a week. The healing was gradual, but it happened.
And then one day Sheeba got pregnant again. She was terrified the moment she saw those two pink lines again. She couldn’t go through the heart ache a second time around. She was terrified. From the time she realized that she was pregnant to the day she pushed a wailing, breathing, screaming baby boy out of her body, she was terrified.
Her baby soothed her. She found comfort in his thick mop of brown hair, in his gray eyes inherited from his grandmother, his delicious baby smell. He was her medicine to get over her heartache; she took solace in his tears, because that showed her how well and alive he was. There was relief when he spoke his first words, took his first steps.
Sheeba stopped crying about Sathwik and started living and laughing with Arjun. She felt the pain of those awful days dimming some.
But he remained in Sheeba’s heart for her lifetime. Today was her birthday, and his death anniversary as well. The world had forgotten that Sathwik existed. She had three healthy babies after him, two boys and a girl.
There was no tangible reminder of Sathwik, except in her heart, where he would always stay. There was nothing to indicate that he had ever been a part of her life, of her body, of her soul.
There was only one report that remained as proof of Sathwik’s existence. She found it in her medical file when she visited the doctor after he was born.
XY Chromosome. Foetal Foot Length: 23mm.
Foot Length: 23mm.
Sheeba’s baby boy was real in that report, and she shed silent tears as she saw it again today. Her baby boy had tiny feet then, but still had feet. Little toes and fingers. And he was so real to her again. He was then, and he was today. And he will always will be. She had never held him in her own arms, but he was real to her.
Twenty Five years ago Sheeba had had a baby. The world had forgotten him, but she never would.