I’m writing this, not for now but for tomorrow, when you are old enough to recognise, to understand, and more importantly, to appreciate the beauty of strength and resilience.
I vow to tell you the whole story. But promise me Ìrètí, promise me that when you read this all you will draw from it is not pity, but strength, and smiles, and memories that will keep you standing strong for when you will have your own struggles too.
I don’t know exactly where this story started from, Ìrètí. Was it that morning I met your father at the ATM queue? Was it that night many years ago, just a year after I saw my first blood, when uncle Sam, the one who called me his wife, lured me into his room and forced my thighs apart with his strong arms and entered inside of me? Was it when mama found out that I had started missing my cycle and almost beat me to death, her rage fueled by my initial reluctance to divulge the identity of the man responsible? How could I have explained to her that it was her own brother who put the seed inside of me? Was it her utter disbelief when I finally conceded to tell her it was him, and she beat me even harder for daring to tell a lie of that magnitude? Was it after our clandestine visit to that doctor, who spread my legs apart and dipped sharp objects inside of me to take the foetus out of me while mama hushed me when I screamed in excruciating agony?
I don’t know, Ìrètí. I don’t know where to begin this tale from, but I know there is a story I have to leave for you. I have to tell it now, for I may not be able to tell it properly if I let it tarry.
LIFE IS HARD ENOUGH, Ìrètí, but for a woman it could be hell. My first encounter with sex was not out of the craving of my body. No. Instead, my body was violently sacrificed at the alter of another man’s needs, and I could not tell because if I did, I would be blamed for it. So I endured the hurt of my mother’s accusatory glares; the one that followed me up to the doctor’s table.
I would suffer many more misfortunes, Ìrètí, and even though everyone would tell me that my eventual fate was not decided by the circumstances of my first pregnancy (and subsequent termination), it is hard not to feel so.
I am not sure what broke me most; was it the initial violation to my body by someone I called family? Was it my mother’s betrayal, or the look of immense satisfaction on her face when the procedure was over and she said “good thing that bastard is out of you”? Do you see the violation of my body by other people? A seed forcibly put inside of me by one and that seed forcibly removed by another?
You may never understand the brokenness I carried around with me for the years that followed, and I hope you don’t, Ìrètí. I hope you don’t, because if you do, that would mean that you yourself have had a taste of the life I had, and I will not let that fate befall you, my dearest Ìrètí.
But I was broken. I crawled through the years that would follow with an infinite suspicion; of all men; as irredeemable monsters, and of all women who would go on to become mothers of endangered children; like I was.
THEN I MET DAVID, your father, on that ATM queue on that warm afternoon when the Lokoja sun was at its fiercest fury.
Although he would be my eventual redemption, our love story has never been a fairy tale, and our eventual marriage has been far, far from a happily ever after. As you grow older, Ìrètí mi, we will tell you tales of our happier days together, but right now I want to tell you about all the difficulties that have punctuated our lives since we exchanged those vows that aligned our forever.
Eleven months after our wedding, I did conceive. The news of the pregnancy changed something inside of me. It brought a new glow to me and I could literally feel myself shedding all that was left of my bitterness like old skin. Not for me alone, but for your father, too. I can never forget the look on his face when the doctor broke the news to us. I had never seen that light in his eyes before. I thought that finally, my redemption was complete.
BUT YOU SEE THE thing with life, sometimes it tosses candies at you just to see the look of exhilaration on your face and then snatches it back from you, just to savour that defeat crawling up into your face, roughening all the sharp edges of your smile.
On that Wednesday morning, just a day after the 16th week of the pregnancy, I would wake up from enduring the severe cramps that gnawed my insides all through the night bleeding. At the hospital the doctor would confirm that I had lost the pregnancy. My baby. I felt all the glows inside of me dying, light by light, until all that was left was a cold, dark hollow. And that was when I found myself in the ignominious depths of depression.
The sunken place is where no one should ever be.
I was there for longer than I could remember. That was when it all started coming back to me, the interminable memories of the past. I simply curled up in that dark hollow, too afraid to come out because I felt like I was being haunted by the ghost of the past.
Ah, Ìrètí mi, your father was my light. But it took from him all of his spirit to pull me out of that depth because I genuinely did not want to get out of it. I wanted to remain there, being consumed limb by limb until the last of me was licked off by the toxic venom of self-deprecation. But David wouldn’t let me. He put me on his shoulder and strode me through that alley. If I never did anything right all my life, ife mi, at least I know that I gave to you a father I never had. Sometimes, I think that if my father had not left us before I knew him, if he had stayed, things would have turned out a lot different.
After the depression came the fear that stood between me and my next pregnancy like an insurmountable Everest. What if somehow, I got pregnant again and somehow the ghost of my past came for my foetus again? What if I wasn’t destined to ever give life to a baby as a recourse for the life I took from the first? What if…? What if…?
It would take two years and your father’s gentle insistence, Ìrètí mi, to get over those fears and agree to try again.
On the 19th week, I lost the issue, yet again.
But this time I had risen above the sunken place. If anything, losing that issue only strengthened my resolve to try again and again till I expire out of exhaustion. So when that evening in the ever so familiar hospital the doctor told me that I had again lost the baby I did not cry. I got home and David made me tea while I watched TV.
A week later I was nudging him at night again; “We are going to try again”, I said to him. He smiled shyly, and we started to try again.
IT TOOK A WHILE, Ìrètí mi, but it eventually came. A year later I conceived again, and this time, for the strangest reasons, I was sure that you had come to stay. This self-assurance was strengthened when you crossed the 25th week. A tiny, pessimistic part of me prepared for the worst, still, yet most part of me was strong in faith.
I would sing for you, ife mi. I would sing for you and I would feel you leap inside of me. How you changed my life and brought back all the colours of joy to me the first time I felt you move inside of me.
Yet, again, life attempted a similar joke on me when on the 29th week of the pregnancy, I slid into a premature labour.
The doctors said something about my uterus being shaped abnormally. Even though they inferred nothing about my earlier procedure, I couldn’t help but fret over the possibility of my uterus being tampered with by the less-than-qualified “doctor” whom my mother dragged me to many years ago. They said to save your life I had to be delivered of you, at least eleven weeks premature. They said that your chances of survival could not be immediately ascertained, even with the availability of the neonatal intensive care unit.
But I knew, Ìrètí, that you had come to stay. I swear I did, and that was why I was not as fazed as your father when I was wheeled into that labour room.
I don’t know for how long I was unconscious, but when I woke up and I only saw David beside me I was a bit shaken. His face was blank so I couldn’t tell what was wrong, but I knew something was not in place.
“Where is my baby?” I asked with all the strength I had. He wouldn’t say anything immediately, and that moment I knew that I had lost you.
BUT I WAS WRONG. How could I have thought so? You, who have come to become the strongest creature I ever met. You, who has defied the odds. You, who is an absolute bundle of amazement. How could I have underestimated your strength before I even set my eyes on you?
“You will be brought to her once you are strong enough”, David said, and I knew I could not wait that long to set my eyes upon you.
Ah, Ìrètí, you are the fairest of us all. You pink little thing, tender as the heart, when I saw you that day I felt all of myself loosening up. Years and years of unsaid strife unravelled itself from my soul and the tears gushed out like a free-flowing spring.
Ah! Ìrètí miiiii!
Yes, you were premature. Yes, you had breathing troubles because your lungs were not fully formed. Yes, you were extra sensitive— prone to infections because your immune system was not fully developed. Yet, Ìrètíoluwa, yet, you pulled through all of these.
Today, it is exactly a year since you did the world the favour of setting your foot down. You have become my bundle of unspeakable joy. I cannot promise you the world, ife mi, but I will give myself wholly to you, and so will your daddy.
Written by Victor Daniel for Tiny Beating Hearts Initiative.
This work of fiction is not to be used for any purpose without the express permission of the author or the organisation.