When What Could Be Happens | Marion Ruybalid
One night as I spoke with Tim, my fiancé, over the phone, I sat at my maple desk with a pen in my hand. I scribbled on a piece of notebook paper and my new doddle of flowers and vines bleed into notes for a twentieth-century novel.
Tim asked, “Want to go on a walk?”
I was silent because I was reliving a conversation that I had with my friends on a drive home from our study group. One girl said that she couldn’t wait to see my cafe au lait babies. Another friend asked if I planned to have babies right away. I wanted kids and I knew that Tim wanted them, but he did not know that I could not compromise on certain things. I asked Tim,
“Do you want kids right away?”
“I just figured you would take care of that,” he said.
Tim had planned out every aspect of his life from courting me to homeschooling his future kids. He was not the type to let such an important detail out of his control, or so I thought.
“I’m not sure I want to go on the pill,” I said. My doodling had turned into a scribble; flowers were now closer to a paisley pattern.
He was quiet for a few seconds, but it felt like minutes. Then he asked,
“I just don’t feel comfortable eliminating the possibility of kids before I know if I can even have them,” I told him.
“Okay,” he said.
“I don’t want to mess with my hormones that way,” I said. Tim was a Seventh-day Adventist and valued health. It was important even though using the pill was not considered a sin or unhealthy. We were both Christians and knew plenty of Christians who viewed the pill as a form of good stewardship.
“I always figured the decision was up to you,” Tim said, “I don’t have to be pregnant.”
His voice was soft and gentle. I was not sure what he was actually thinking because I could not see his face over the phone. He freak out at the prospect of having a baby within the first year of marriage. Tim’s parents had done that and they insisted that they should have been more careful.
Everything was fine. Was that possible?
Three years before Tim and I got together, I went to Calcutta. I visited Mother Teresa’s home for unwanted babies. I bonded with a five-pound infant and her small smile with a dimple in her right cheek. Her eyes were so dark her pupils almost disappeared. I whispered, “You are so beautiful,” and she cooed. Instead of arms she had stumps on each side of her torso and her legs were uneven. She kicked and smiled constantly. In awe of her constant state of joy and I wished I could hold her forever. I cried because I could not adopt her; I knew this peaceful moment wouldn’t last.
My birth genes had not stolen my limbs, but everything else was uncertain. Could I actually get pregnant if I went on the pill for a few years? Would it be so bad if I just had babies?
At the time, I was not thinking of children as my only link to my past family, but I did know that I did not want to do anything that could jeopardize having kids. I was drawn to movies like Cheaper by the Dozen because it awoke a part of me that always felt lonely. I wanted a life surrounded by people who were related to me.
I read arguments against using birth control pills and lists of their side effects on the internet. What I could not shake was the feeling that preventing a baby felt like getting rid of one. I knew that the pill was not anything close to that, but I am a child born to parents who did not want her. I viewed the pill as the ultimate rejection of potential children.
My best friend even bought me condoms for my bridal shower, but we never used them. Although they did not impact my hormones, but they would continue to fall in the category of preventing potential children.
After Tim and I were only married for three months, I could tell something was strange. I was filled with unexplained anger every minute of the day. When I was with Tim, I felt helpless for no reason. We were traveling, but that was not enough of a reason to be stressed. I enjoyed visiting my parents. But, I twisted the corner of my childhood duvet wishing I could understand why I did not feel like myself. Tim was worried until I mentioned I was seven days late.
He smiled and offered to get a pregnancy test. We both felt like were ballroom dancing and Tim just caught me and dipped me. I did not want to know, but I did.
The test laid on the counter in the bathroom where I once painted my toenails and flat ironed my hair to look my best. It did not take very long before PREGNANT flashed on the small oval screen. I was not ready for this. I knew I wanted kids, but this moment made me feel like I was sixteen-years-old and completely irresponsible!
We were married for three months. I was our primary earner because my husband was finishing his last year of college.
We did not have a place to live after Tim graduated when I would be eight months pregnant. Tim planned to graduate with a degree in theology, but being hired was complicated because he was Seventh-day Adventist and I was not. To be considered for a posting within the denomination required me to convert. I could have done this, but would it have seemed authentic to those attempting to hire him? I wanted kids more than any career path, I could not remember why I had not tried harder to have our life set up better for any possible baby.
My dreams of decorating a nursery with pale yellow walls, a rocking chair, and a soft fluffy rug were not realistic because buying a home was not possible. With my income, we could afford food, but I never planned to become a working mom. I liked to be organized, but having babies was the one thing in my life that I would allow to happen within chaos.
A middle-class life was my main hope for a future even if our life was not perfectly arranged for a baby. Experiencing pregnancy and knowing that growing a baby was the only thing I had in common with my birth mother. I felt my baby kick and imagined myself in her womb pressing my limbs against her body.
At thirty six weeks and six days, I finished knitting a quilt made out of sea blue, royal blue, and white squares. We recently moved into a small duplex with new everything. The fresh almond colored paint on the wall matched the multi-shade tan carpets. I insisted that we have a washer and dryer and our duplex had a brand-new set. It had two bedrooms and even though I did not get to paint the walls. A friend gave us a gently used crib and changing table that I set up with blue sheets for our son.
As soon I felt like everything was prepared, I felt liquid rushing down my leg. This had to be labor, but I was three weeks early.
My waters broke, but nothing else happened. While in the hospital, I waited twenty-four hours before allowing the doctor to induce labor even though he wanted to do so earlier. At 3:00 am, a nurse injected me with my first dose of Pitocin. Suddenly, an earthquake rumbled throughout my body. I rocked in a chair hoping to counter the earthquake with a gentle, relaxing motion. Tim peacefully slept on the window seat across the room. I wanted to scream at him, but it would not have mattered. When Tim was fast asleep, it was impossible to wake him. I was distracted from my fears of each contraction by the chair’s rocking motion. I felt a downward pain pulsing in-between my legs. I could not breathe. The nurse checked my vitals and decided to call the doctor.
“Don’t push,” my doctor insisted. I had not realized he entered the room. An oxygen mask was placed over my face. I guess that I still was not ten centimeters dilated. I gripped the edge of the bed just to make sure I was still actually alive. It felt like I was in this state for hours, but it was probably only minutes.
“Push,” I finally heard the doctor and nurse say.
I noticed a needle and two nurses held my legs in the air. My body looked as if I was squatting lying down.
“You’re tearing,” exclaimed the doctor.
Snip. Tim held my hand, and I squeezed it as hard as possible, but I felt completely alone.
Something was jammed into my baby’s skull.
“What are you doing,” Tim shouted.
“The heart rate is down,” said the doctor.
My son was born. When my five-pound, four-ounce baby emerged, he had a fetal monitor on his head. The nurse quickly removed it and he was placed on my chest. I looked at his eyes. They were bright blue. I never expected my own baby to have blue eyes.
This tiny life was curled up against my skin. I was haunted by the feeling of being given up by my own birth mother; it circled me the way a hawk flies around its prey. It was as if my birth mother was flying in search of me. I had not thought about her during the birth, but the images of her with me in a less fancy hospital flooded my brain. I felt my own tiny form ripped from her and our bond snipped. I tried to picture her face, but I could not see it. She was gone.
My son’s breath on my naked chest felt like a mini heater. I sniffed his sweet scent from his head. I noticed how his wispy hair looked just like one of the first photos my adopted parents took of me at five weeks old. Tim stood next to the hospital bed and rubbed my arm. He gently put his hand on our son’s head. “Bless you my son, Joel Emmanuel.”
Marion Ruybalid is a mother of eight mix-raced children (3 girls and 5 boys). She was adopted from Dhaka, Bangladesh by British parents when she was five months old. She has an MFA in creative writing from UCR Palm Desert and her work has appeared in Mutha, PANK, Portrait of an Adoption-ChicagoNow, BLUNTmoms, and The Manifestation.
Raising Mothers is a free online literary magazine for femmes and NBPOC parents of color. We center the work of the marginalized in our effort to normalize our stories and existence on the web, and in life. Become a patron