HOLDING her is one of the greatest feelings in the world. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF UNSPLASH/KELLY SIKKEMA
It’s been five months and six days since my baby sister was born — and I still sometimes wish the circumstances in which she was welcomed into this world had been different. If my mom had been able to hold her for more than a minute, I swear it would have made all the difference.
When I was nine years old, the booming and colorful fireworks the New Year’s Eve revelry welcomed the birth of another sister at home. I was sleeping soundly upstairs at the time my mother was pushing my younger sister out of her womb in our living room. As to how I managed to sleep through all that, I have no idea. But really, nothing could get better than when I woke up a few hours later as a big sister. I might have whispered something to my aunt about my younger sister looking like a naked mole-rat, but hey, that was all in the past now.
I remember having held her tiny hand and thought of never letting go.
Around the same time last year — I was 21 and my younger sister 12 — mom told us that she was pregnant again. All I remember was being so excited to feel that feeling again: to be there at the moment our youngest said hello to the world and to hold her tiny hand.
It was during my mom’s last pregnancy check-up, two days before our youngest sister’s birth, that we found out she was positive for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). Besides the realization that my mother had contracted a very deadly virus, one that had no vaccine at the time, it was also heartbreaking to think that she would be giving birth to our youngest — alone. I knew my mother was headstrong, but there was something so painful about the fact that no one could even tend to her and give her support at the time she desperately needed it.
Hours before giving birth, mom was far from being comfortable. They had to frantically drive around the city looking for a hospital that would admit her, to no avail. It was only when our youngest was three centimeters out that the nurses realized she desperately needed medical attention. From sleeping soundly when my mom gave birth in the living room nine years ago, to having no sleep at all as the anxiety made my heart its home, the births of my younger siblings were unforgettable.
I remembered being so overwhelmed that nothing could ease my thoughts, thinking, “Why is all this happening at the same time?” I had to worry more than my father who couldn’t even be there for my sister’s birth — my dad, who couldn’t even take care of his wife and newborn daughter as much as he would like to because we were still technically under home quarantine.
I remembered being so helpless, just imagining the huge boulder weighing down on my dad’s back every minute that he was not at the hospital with them. I saw how my dad got frustrated at only being able to send in deliveries, cravings and everything my mother needed, to the hospital.
MY mom was able to hold my youngest sister for only five seconds before she was taken away from her.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF UNSPLASH/SEIF EDDIN KHAYAT
My mom held my youngest sister for five seconds before the baby was taken away from her. She told me the doctor might have momentarily forgotten that she was a Covid-19 patient so she got to feel the baby’s warmth on her chest for a brief moment.
I tried not to cry at the sight of my mother on FaceTime, laughing as if it was just any other day and checking up on us as if we were the ones at post-birth. She told us that our youngest had to go to the province, my dad’s hometown, and stay with our grandmother in the meantime.
For a week, all we got were her pictures and videos. We would crowd over the phone and get a glimpse of the baby. For a week, no one in our household even got to hold her after waiting for nine whole months for her arrival. All we could do was talk to them through group video calls. Even our first, complete family picture was a screenshot of us doing a three-way call via Facebook Messenger. She looked like her sister, I refrained from saying the naked mole-rat comment out loud again.
She was so small, a few months back. Now I can’t believe that she is just five months old. Her laugh alone can make me forget about the unfortunate circumstances they had to go through — all traces of anxiety and panic have gone in a blink. When I first held her, so small and fragile in my arms, it was the moment it dawned on me that she was finally home. And that she could get more than five seconds of hugs, kisses and warmth to last her a lifetime.
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