Secret Sorrows

July 21, 2018

By Sanda Rathamone

"Behind this reluctant smile, I hide my pain and sorrow, Behind this devilish look, I hide my tears of sadness, And behind this shattered body, I hide my broken heart."
I am in my aunt's kitchen, sitting on a high chair, eating noodle soup next to my sister. My mom walks by asking, "You have baby yet?" It was loud enough that both of my sisters in the kitchen could hear. She keeps on walking, almost making it to the back door of the kitchen.

I hadn't yet given her my response.

Her question made me pause and my mind searched for an answer. I made this face as if her question was amusing. I jokingly say, "This is my food baby!" 

My belly was packed full of mom's tasty, often missed and craved for cooking.

We laugh.

But inside, I was crying. I wish I could say, "Yes! Matter of fact, I am three months pregnant! Congratulations! You are going to be a grandma for the one-and-a-half time!"

One-and-a-half  because Elijah had died two years ago. My mom wasn't quite yet a grandma the first time. She wasn't ready to be a grandma then, nor has she yet acknowledged Elijah as her grandson.

My mom and youngest sister, along with a couple elders (who I consider older aunts) were visiting from Idaho earlier this week. This recent visit was my mom's second trip to California this year and like the last one, she had asked that same question. 

You have baby yet? 

On my mom's last visit earlier this year, my grandma had also asked that very same question. But instead of asking me directly, she had loudly asked my mom (in our native language) in front of me, as if I wasn't there or hadn't heard. 

Does she have a baby yet?

I know why they're asking. I also know that they don't remember when exactly had Elijah died, but do know that they know it has been awhile since. Obviously, they're wondering about the next baby, but deep down, I know that they're wondering why I haven't fallen pregnant since the stillbirth. 

I haven't told my mom about my struggles to conceive years ago and infertility after loss. I don't think if I told her would she take it seriously. Would she just tell me that at 25, I am still so young and not to worry?

Or, would she advise that I take some herbs, eat more greens, and get some prenatal vitamins? 

When Elijah's second birthday had passed last month, my sister told me that she had mentioned it to Mom. My sister said that all she could say was, "Oh." I'm not sure if this was true; maybe my sister had said this to comfort me - I think we were in the midst of talking about Mom... If this was true, then perhaps that is why she had asked about another baby. 

She wasn't ready to talk about Elijah. 

But that question, "You have baby yet?" stirred up anger inside of me. 

Had she forgotten that Elijah was my baby? 

That question feels and sounds so dismissive. I am not yet to have a baby, I had a baby and he died! He died, but he was a baby!

I also wanted to cry. For two years, I waited for a second child and that question - if I had let it - would have torn me to pieces. The better question was, "Would God ever give us a baby to take home?" 

Shortly after my mom's question, my belly was being rubbed by my aunt and she says in a joking manner, "Another one? Another one?!" 

I was caught off guard and didn't know what to do, so I returned the joke. 

I rubbed her belly, asking, "Another one? Another one?!" (My aunt has two preteens.) She replies ecstatically, "It's coming, it's coming!" If she wasn't joking, oh boy, I don't know how would I feel about another baby being handed to someone in the family, but me. 

Please let the next baby shower announcement come from us. Please. 

Right before Elijah had died, there were four new babies on my side of the family and after there were three new ones on my husband's side of the family. 

I feel left out. 

I feel like the "unlucky" one. 

After that whole baby question party, I went on a errand drive with my sisters. Out of nowhere, my sister suggests that we should take our youngest sister to visit her dad. 

My stepdad was shocked to see the three of us, but more so of seeing his growing sixteen-year-old daughter. He had seen my other sister from time-to-time, but not me. It had been years since I had gotten a good look at his face. 

When he looked at me, he said that I had gotten fat and needed to lose weight. (My new short hair had exposed more of my cheeks.) He had commented on my weight a few times, but all I could think of to end his taunting was to jokingly say that I would give him some of my "fat" because he looked like he needed it. 

He was definitely attacking my weight, like it was his business. Like he was a cat, pawing at a mouse. 

At 60, he was frail of an old man, all skin and bones, with his back beginning to hunch over and looked miserable from the life of fathering children from three different wives, children of which from his first two marriages he had cheated his way out of. His third wife certainly didn't feed him very well. I would say that my mom did a better job and was a much better cook. 

I had wondered why some people are blessed with children, only to abandon them and leave them traumatized and grown up feeling dissatisfied with mommy and daddy issues. 

I didn't know that my stepdad had stalked me on Facebook and knew that I had a son. He asked if I had a baby, in which he had already knew was a boy. I knew that he knew that he had died, but I told him anyway because he had asked, anyway. He was trying to "make conversation" after years of not seeing each other. 

When we got into the car to leave, I was thinking of what I should have said. I told my sisters, "Man! I should have said: Yes, I am fat! Fat because I am three months pregnant!" 

That would have shut him up. 

But that would have been a lie, a lie that would have tortured me day and night because I had wished it was true. 

Yesterday, I woke up from another one of those dreams I have about babies. 

I dreamt that I was caring for a baby girl. I was holding her in this very bright pink blanket. I don't know if she was mine, just knew that it was important that I cared for her. 

I held her (and perhaps fed her), but I had to leave. It seemed as if my time "was up." I had to go. My aunt (my mom's sister-in-law, not the same aunt as the one I mentioned earlier) was laying in bed, waiting for me to hand her over. She was laying in the bed on her side, as if a mother would lay to breastfeed her baby. I gave her the baby girl and watched them, together. 

The baby girl didn't seem to like her very much. She was crying with her feet moving in the air. I could remember watching her little pink-toed socks swimming around, as if they were seeking comfort.

I could feel this sorrow beginning to take place inside of me. I had to leave her, like a mother leaving her child to find work far away. 

My mom did that one time. 

She left us five kids in the care of one of her older sisters, when I was fourteen. As the eldest, I was left to watch over my siblings, like a second mother. My aunt barely did much for us. It was the time that my mom and stepdad had separated and we moved up to Idaho to start a new life. 

My mom later told me that she cried, leaving us alone without her. She would cry because she saw us only on the weekends and brought us grocery shopping or with food to fill the fridge. She cried on her two-hour drive back to where she had temporarily lived for work. She returned home after she found out that I was ditching school; I had made her cry even more. 

Perhaps that is why I had that dream about the baby girl. Maybe that baby was me...

That dream had me feeling empty yesterday. I walked around the lake, watching mothers and fathers pushing strollers and carrying their infant babies. 

I cried under my sunglasses, watching this family of four: a father, a young boy at about three or four-years-old, and a mother with an infant in a baby carrier. 

I had watched how this baby girl had chubby legs, dangling on the sides of her mom. I watched how soft and puffy the bottoms of her feet were. 

I had longed to touch them, as if she were mine, like in the dream. 

For a time, I thought that I was the mother. I watched her so intently, that I forgot that I wasn't her. I wished I was her. I had wished so hard that I literally saw the mother swiftly touch the bottoms of her baby's feet. 

I wished that that family were us. 

My husband and I, with Elijah and a baby girl.

Before my mom drove her way back home, I hugged her. She gave me this unexpected kiss on my cheek that I hadn't felt for a very long time.

I knew then that she had felt a glimpse of my sorrow.

With love,

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