The following piece of fiction touches on a very sensitive topic, as well as might be slightly graphic in nature. I personally know a few of you who’ve gone through a similar situation before – so please do continue reading only if you want to. If you’d like to know what the story is about before reading it, please reach out to me via PM.
I lie wide awake, partially mesmerised by the dancing shadows of the trees on the ceiling of the bedroom. There is a feeble beep as the digits of the bedside clock chime the hour. Groaning loudly, I sit up on the bed and draw my knees up towards the chest. A sharp pain shoots across my lower abdomen, causing me to clench my teeth tightly. It has been six weeks since the surgery; plenty of time for a normal stitch to heal. But these ones refuse to; much like the wound in my heart.
I slowly get off the bed, and amble up to the window. The thick purple curtains are drawn back, exposing the soft, sheer voile behind them. Moonlight streams in through the laced translucent veil, illuminating the room in a shade of eerie silvery blue. On the other side of the window, I can hear the wind howling as it swiftly whistles through the almost-barren branches of the trees, making them sway to its beats. It almost feels like the world outside is teasing me about my insomnia, while everyone sleeps peacefully.
A sudden inaudible gasp escapes my mouth, as I feel a firm tug on the base of my pyjamas. My lips slowly curl upwards into a smile when I realize the source of this ‘attack’ ; it’s Dusty, our three-week old Golden Retriever puppy. The flapping fabric of my pyjamas seem irresistible to him for some reason. I watch him at work, shaking his tiny round head back and forth, little rolls of fat jiggling under his golden fur, as he tries hard to get a firm bite of my loose pants. For a few moments, his inane antics keep me amused; distracted even, from the memories in my mind, cascading like a turbulent waterfall. In some ways, Dusty is like a little kid – in constant motion, wriggling and jumping. At times, I feel he is a living storehouse of pent-up energy, just waiting for a chance to release itself on the world and everyone in it. Maybe that was why Rajiv had got him for me in the first place; to serve as a diversion from whatever we had gone through in the past. But, as much as I love spending time with Dusty, he will never be able to replace the part of me that I lost that day.
I bend down, taking care not to strain my stitches, and gently try to prise him away from my pants. On a whim, I pick him up and softly tickle him below his ears. Dusty looks at me with his small doggy eyes and licks the side of my face, as if to say everything will be fine. Then, as he starts to fidget in my arms, I release him back onto the tiled floor, where he scampers off in search of his next adventure. I turn around and gaze longingly at the bed that I had lovingly made this morning. It is now a tangled mess of blankets, sheets, pillows and Rajiv – my husband of six years. As I watch the rhythmic rise and fall of his chest, I feel a sense of calm wash over me. Our marriage may have been arranged by our parents, but I sincerely doubt that I could have found a more perfect partner myself. Rajiv is everything that I am not – patient, emotionally strong and practical. But even so, the past few weeks have taken their toll on him too.
As the heartbreaking memories come flooding, I try to fight back the tears that threaten to burst through. It feels like someone is reaching inside me and pulling my guts out with their bare hands. Slowly. Painfully. This is how every night has been. Since that fateful day when Anjali left us.
Anjali. Yes, that was the name we had chosen for her. In a number of ways, she was a gift for us; an offering of sorts. Ever since I had been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, we had almost given up hopes of me falling pregnant naturally. But sometimes, fate is a funny thing. Against all odds, the night before we were to visit our fertility expert to discuss the possibility of an IVF, I discovered I was pregnant. It was one of the happiest days of our lives.
The first few months of my pregnancy almost flew by. Being a trained maternity nurse, I was aware of what to expect and as soon as my 12-week scan was done, we knew we had made it past the turbulent phase. Despite not knowing the sex of the baby, we made many plans. We bought everything for the nursery and imagined what our baby would be like. We decorated everything with gender-neutral colours. Together, we watched my bump grow, and felt our baby kick. Everything was perfect. Or we thought it was.
It was during our 24-week scan, that things started to unravel. Since it was a routine checkup, I had decided to get it done while at work. Dr. Salim, my boss and lead gynaecologist, had offered to do the scan since I was part of his team. I remember noticing the colour drain from his face as he observed the ultrasound results. My ‘perfect’ world collapsed when he told me that he suspected a case of congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) – a genetic condition where an abnormal opening in the diaphragm allows organs from the abdomen to move into the chest cavity, thereby constricting space for the lungs to develop.
I also remember how Rajiv and I tightly held hands, fighting back tears as Dr. Salim explained CDH in detail to us and told us the baby’s chances of survival were less than 20%. But we unanimously vetoed against terminating the pregnancy. We had decided that we were going to give this baby every chance of survival. Dr. Salim thought it would help us relate better if we knew the sex of the baby and revealed that it was a girl. We named her Anjali. Dr. Salim was right. Somehow, giving her a name made us feel like she was a real person, fighting away resolutely inside me.
Months sped by, and we tried to stay positive. Dr. Salim and my colleagues did their best to boost my confidence; but the truth was that no one could say anything until Anjali was born. My labour was nothing short of traumatic – and despite all their best efforts, Dr. Salim had to operate on me to get Anjali out. As I slowly started to pass out due to the excruciating pain and fatigue, I waited to hear what every mother hoped for – the ear-piercing cry of a newborn. But there was none.
Hours later, when I regained consciousness, I found Rajiv next to me. His bloodshot eyes said everything that I needed to know. The doctors were struggling to stabilize Anjali on the ventilator and they thought the chances of survival were very low. I remember my parents coming in and all I could say to them was, ‘My baby is going to die!’.
Later that evening, a very somber-faced Dr. Salim came into my room and told Rajiv and me that there was nothing more they could do. Due to the extent of the CDH, Anjali’s lungs were underdeveloped and had subsequently failed. They had placed her on life-support so that we could say our goodbyes. I remember wailing loudly, as I wept into Rajiv’s shirt. Sometime later, Rajiv wheeled me into the neonatal unit where Anjali was kept.
During my career as a maternity nurse, I’ve seen my share of newborns being placed in the critical care unit. I had always wondered how the parents felt; seeing their new-born offspring lying in that transparent, rectangular box measuring 60 x 40 cms, and attached to numerous different machines by coloured wires of all sorts. That day, I knew how it felt. It was as if your association with the baby was solely through the intermittent noises and beeps that these monstrous machines emitted.
After they had completed the formalities, the duty nurses picked up Anjali’s almost-still body from the unit and placed her into my trembling arms. I remember asking Rajiv to hold my hands so that I wouldn’t drop her. As the nurses disconnected the wires and switched off her life support system, I felt a slight quiver as my darling daughter tried to breathe. Between tears and wails, Rajiv and I hugged Anjali and told her how much we loved her. For a moment, our baby daughter opened her eyelids and we got a glimpse of her dark almost hazel-brown eyes. A brief shudder later, she was gone.
The gentle chime of the alarm clock snaps me back into the present. Inadvertently, I glance at the date – 20th September 2016; 44 days to the date that Anjali left us. It is also the day, that I had promised Dr. Salim that I would rejoin work. But, I don’t think I am ready.
I had always dismissed heartbreak as a myth. But Anjali’s loss proved to me, that it exists. The pain is almost physical; except that there are no visible scars. I feel distraught and like my life has been ripped apart. I try to fight back the tears that have now started to flow freely.
If it were up to me, I would quit work. Somehow, I cannot get myself to go back to the hospital and see new-born babies everywhere. But I promised Rajiv that I would try; that I would make an attempt to get on with my life. ‘That’s what Anjali would want,’ he had said one day, as we lay awake in bed together. Deep down, I knew that nothing would help me cope with her loss. When Anjali left, a piece of me had gone with her. But I owed it to Rajiv to at least try.
At the hospital, a few hours later;
I sit opposite the nurses’ desk, waiting for Dr. Salim to meet me after his rounds. He needs to clear me, before I begin work again. Dressed in my freshly starched uniform, I look every bit the maternity nurse that I used to be. But that’s just on the surface. Inside, I’m an emotional wreck who would rather be anywhere else but here.
I clutch my coffee cup tightly with both hands, my fingers spread around the white Styrofoam like a couple of pale starfishes. My hands are almost numb, but I can feel them slowly adjust to the warmth that seeps into them from the cup. I’ve always found the maternity wing to have a strange combination of excitement and uncertainty. The cacophony of noises – newborns crying, parents celebrating, the staff shouting, the machines whirring – the familiarity of it all was soothing to me. Now, only silence lingers in the air. I’m conscious of everything going on around me, but I feel nothing.
On a whim, I get up from my seat and walk towards the nursery. Giant panes of glass cover length and breadth of this large room. I gently press my nose against the ice-cold panes of this partition. My rapid breathing starts to fog up the glass, and I strain my eyes to catch a glimpse. With the precision of a detective, my eyes scan the length and breadth of the room, taking in row after row of newborns. Infants, of various shapes, sizes and ancestries; all connected by one common thing – that they were all born in this hospital. Just like Anjali.
Living with the past is something that we all do. For the past always has an impact on how our future is shaped, whether we allow it or not. But sometimes, we need to move ahead and out of the shadows that threatens to obscure our present. Sometimes, we just need to move on.
The is a general saying that time heals everything. No matter how severe the pain or large the wound, eventually, time heals it all. I think I may have even said it once or twice to the families who had lost a loved one. I think I used to believe in that. But I don’t anymore. You never actually heal; you just simply learn to accept things, because you have no choice. But you will never ever be the same. Things will never ever be the same.
As tears start to well up in my eyes once again, I slowly walk away.
Although this is a work of fiction, it is inspired by the real tales of many mothers that I’ve gotten to know and have read about over the past few years. This is a tribute to every one of them. The title ‘Begin Again’ is synonymous with re-birth here. Any other resemblance to any personal stories is purely coincidental. I’m also apologising in advance for any inconsistencies in my medical research.
Thank you for taking the time to read this rather long story.