Heba Hayek | 08-12-2021
It was a tiring day at work, so I decided to take a long walk home along Alshuhada Street instead of my usual short cut. The weather was lovely, and I could feel the breeze tenderly touching my face. Every shop, building, sign and car struck me as novel, as though it were the first time I had set foot on the street. As I walked, the questions that continuously provoke me churned in my mind. What will this job do for me? Why did not I seize the opportunities that I was offered to pursue my master’s degree abroad? And the ultimate question of all—Was it a right to start my family in a land that has an unknown future? The long walk helped me pour all the negative thoughts out of my mind.
At the harbor I closed my eyes, stretched my arms, and inhaled a lungful of air. The sun was about to set, and its golden rays spread on the sea like a beautiful girl with long blonde hair falling down her shoulders.
“Oh my god, I’m late!” I made a quick stop at a grocery shop to buy some candy for my children, Hatem and Sadeen. As I was leaving the shop, I felt a sudden dizziness and lost my balance. “That’s strange,” I thought. “I’ve never had this feeling before. As soon as the dizziness was over, I took a taxi home.
“Mama’s back!” I heard Sadeen shout as soon as I entered. She and Hatem ran towards me and hugged me as if they hadn’t seen me in a year. I felt guilty for leaving them at home with their grandmother while I worked as an English trainer and volunteer as a community coordinator. “Look inside,” I said, and handed them the candy bag to earn their hugs and kisses.
“How was your day?” my mother-in-law asked me. “Not bad,” I replied as I took off my jacket and Hijab. “Nothing special, but it was tiring and I got very frustrated.”
“No worries. Better days are yet to come.”
When Mosab and I got married, we decided to live with his parents. My husband was their only son. He has three sisters but being Arabs, we are accustomed to the fact that the son must take care of his parents. However, my in-laws are unique. My father-in-law, may his soul rest in peace, would always take my side whether I was right or wrong. My mother-in-law is very supportive and helpful. She helped me when I had my first child, she watches over my children when I am at work, and she encourages me to pursue my dreams.
Signs that something was different
That night, I was so exhausted that my muscles hurt and I could barely move my feet. I lay down for a nap, and the moment I closed my eyes I fell asleep. I could hear sounds but didn’t know if I was dreaming or not. Images would appear that had no meaning at all. I felt that I should get up, but something kept me in bed.
“I am home,” I suddenly heard Mosab shout. Then the voices of my children, “Papa!” I opened my eyes wide and looked at my phone to check the time. It felt like I had been sleeping forever.
At 8:00 pm my second shift, the “home shift,” started. This is I when we all gather to have dinner and discuss our day. I still felt pain in every bone in my body. Usually, the late nap that I take recharges me with extra power, but this time it didn’t. “Are you okay?” Mosab asked me while helping me to prepare the table. “You did not say a word from the moment I came home, and you look tired.” My husband knows me better than anyone and he knew that something was wrong.
Usually, after we put the children to bed, Mosab and I sit in the living room and have tea, but that night I couldn’t stay up. I tossed and turned all night. I was not feeling well, and both my stomach and my back hurt. When I finally got up from bed, I was dizzy and felt the urge to throw up.
While in the bathroom I realized: these are the symptoms of pregnancy. “Could this be possible?” I said to myself. “There’s only one way to be sure.”
That day at work I felt so sick and fatigued that I asked permission to leave work early. I bought a pregnancy test from the pharmacy, and, as soon as I got home, took the test The first line appeared and, after a few long seconds, the second line did, too. I was over the moon with joy. It was the same feeling I had had when I learned I was pregnant with Hatem and Sadeen.
That night, after we had dinner and Mosab tucked the children in the bed as he always does, he came into our room and started telling me about his day. Suddenly he stopped talking as his eyes focused on the test that I deliberately placed on the bedside table for him to find. He picked it up silently. It took him almost two minute to process what was going on. Then he looked at me with a smile, and we hugged for a very long time. I love that side of him, that he is a very caring husband who had no problem showing his feelings. This is unusual in our society where it is considered inappropriate for men to display tenderness.
From that moment, a new chapter in our family started. A baby was about to join our family, which would mean more responsibility and more financial commitments. The feeling of happiness, mixed with fear of not being able to provide for our children, was overwhelming. There’s a saying in our society, “Every newborn comes, and his or her income comes with.” But I have never believed in it.
I had to quit my job and stop my volunteer work after only one month of pregnancy because of the nausea, dizziness and back pain. I couldn’t focus at all, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to accomplish my tasks properly. I became a fulltime mother, which made Hatem and Sadeen very happy.
Fears supplant the joy
I had a doctor’s appointment every month. They checked my blood pressure, weight, and height and the baby’s progress as well. Everything was normal until I started my second trimester. For the first time I went to my checkup without Mosab, though he called me continuously me while I was there.
The doctor started to check on the baby using a sonogram machine, but rather than explaining what she was seeing and reassuring me that everything was normal, she didn’t say a word. Then she took her gloves off, and said, “We are done. You can step off the examination bed.”
“Is something wrong?” My voice revealed my worry.
“Everything is fine,” she replied in poor Arabic.
My gynecologist is Ukrainian. She met her husband, who is from Gaza, while at college.
“Why did you decide to leave your country?” I once asked her. I was always curious to understand why some people would sacrifice the life they had in their homeland and come to Gaza.
“There are things I found in Gaza that were absent in my country.”
“Such as?” I was quite certain that there could be nothing more valuable here.
“The strong family bonds that you have, children taking care of their parents after they get old, and the unconditional care and support that people have for each other. Those are some of the things that I don’t see back in my country. Of course, there are some things I could criticize and would love to change here, but the strong bonds that people have made me love Gaza.”
“But the baby’s placenta is upside down,” the doctor added.
“Is that something that I should worry about?”
“You have to be very careful not to lift anything heavy. You can conduct your life normally but you have to be careful, because any effort could lead to a miscarriage.”
Maybe this pregnancy was not supposed to happen, and this is a sign, I thought to myself.
“Would you like to know the gender of the baby?” my doctor asked
“If it’s possible—yes, please!”
"It's a girl."
“Were you expecting a boy? Are you sad?” The doctor asked because she knows most of Palestinian families prefer to have boys.
“Not at all! I am going to have two beautiful daughters. Why should I be sad?”
My reaction was quite shocking to my doctor. “You are the first mother I have heard say something like this.”
I sent a text message to Mosab, “We will have another baby girl!” I put two small hearts at the end of the message. I didn’t want to tell him the doctor’s fears through a text message.
I left the clinic with a long list of prescriptions and many recommendations from my doctor.
My life experiences were such that I always assume the worst. So all the way home, I saw dark images of how things would go when I lost my baby. I assumed she wouldn’t survive, and that I would suffer from severe bleeding and then die.
I was lost in dark thoughts until I found myself on the doorstep of my house. My face was pale as I sat down on the closest chair inside the door. My children welcomed me with many questions. “Is it a boy or a girl? When will the baby be born?”
My mother-in-law could tell that there was something wrong. She sat next to me. “What happened? What did the doctor say?”
I didn’t want to cry, so I avoided looking at her eyes as I told her that the baby’s position in the womb was upside down. This position was appropriate for the last month, but not earlier. I told her that the doctor warned me that if I didn’t take good care of myself, I might lose the baby.
“Don’t worry, my child,” she said with a comforting smile. “Things won’t be as bad as you think. Each pregnancy has its own difficulties, but that never means the end of the world.”
My mother-in-law has a very optimistic view on things, despite the fact that she herself lost two of her children when they were little. To make me feel better, she told me stories of women who had similar problems but who went on to have safe pregnancies and gave birth to healthy babies. I was relieved a little bit, but the fear didn’t go away.
Joy supplants the fear
The month seemed to move slowly, and my fear grew bigger. Each night I had nightmares about my delivery and losing my baby or my life. The consent anxiety stole my peace of mind and made me more emotional and fragile. The closer my next doctor’s appointment got, the more anxious I became.
Mosab refused to let me go to see the doctor alone this time. He was filled with guilt for skipping the previous appointment, and he wanted to be reassured that the baby’s situation was better and that there would be no risks to our baby girl. Despite the fact that he had a lot of work, he managed to have an excuse to leave for one hour so that he could be with me at the checkup.
In the examination chair my whole body was shaking.
“Everything seems to be better than the last time,” the doctor said.
A huge burden lifted off my chest. All the tension vanished with these words.
“But you have to remain careful and stick to my instructions and continue to take the vitamins and the medicines I wrote for you last time.”
When we got home, I hugged my children. I was thankful that my unborn baby was safe.
“Mamma we will celebrate Papa’s birthday, right?” Sadeen whispered in my ear when I hugged her.
“Yes, and it will be a surprise.” She wanted to jump from excitement, but she held it in so that her father won’t notice. In every way, the future suddenly looked brighter.
Posted: December 7, 2021
Mentor: Miko Peled