What time? What time was I exactly born, Mamma?
It was around 4:30 in the afternoon. I remember because it was Ramadan, and everyone was fasting in our home. Except for me, of course. So, I went to the hospital, and you were born. Your Nana and Nani came to see you, and then Baba took them all to his office to break fast at sunset while I recovered. Thankfully the office was close to the hospital, so they weren’t far. Your Dada and Dadi were home with your brother and sister and came later that night to see you.
But you had stopped listening already. 4:30 p.m. was all you wanted to hear.
So, I won’t be ten until 4:30 in the afternoon. Not before that.
Give or take, I said to him. It was around 4:30, about an hour before sunset and fast-breaking time. That I do remember.
Ok, so then I’ll make plans for 4:30 p.m.
What plans, I ask you.
I’m going to jump in the pool at 4:30 p.m. It’s going to be epic!
I smile at you, amused at what little it takes to make something epic. How jumping into the water at the approximate time of when you were born is something that seems so cool and monumental to you. How little it takes to bring that rush of excitement to your face. And, how very thoughtful you are, in picking this particular activity, knowing it is something your older brother (and sister) will most likely happily participate in.
I prayed for a girl. This much I remember.
You were my most sought-after third child, the one who was growing in me after two failed pregnancies. After I had given birth to your brother and sister and given the challenges and ongoing struggles that had already entered our lives when your brother was officially diagnosed at the age of three, I never thought that I could have a miscarriage.
I had too many other things to think about. Of course all my pregnancies would go well. But after your sister had turned two and your Baba and I decided that we would indeed go for a third child, I had my first miscarriage at about ten or 11 weeks. It devastated me. How could this be happening to me?
About eight months after that, I was pregnant, but this one ended very early. The shock and pain were just as strong, though. And then, four months after that, I was pregnant yet again — this time it was with you, only I didn’t know it was you yet. I only knew fear – fear that every discomfort I felt was the start of something bad. Or, every momentary cramp I felt and ill feeling would lead to the end of what I so very much wanted.
Those first three months I held my breath as I drove your brother back and forth on 64 to his private autism school. As I picked up your sister from her preschool program near our home.
Please God, please. Please God, please. This was my mantra over and over and over. Once again, I didn’t understand why your Baba was living with relative ease during this time period. He could see my worry, but he did not seem stressed at all. We were even set to go to his friend’s wedding in Atlanta, but he saw my nervousness over cramps, so he changed the plans. I stayed at home with your brother and sister, and he went alone.
Even that angered me – how is leaving me at home with two young children any easier then travelling to a wedding? Sure, your Nana, my dad, came to stay with us, but it wasn’t the same. Frankly there was nothing your Baba could do in those early months that sat right with me.
Don’t worry, Dilshad, he would say to me. I’m fine with whatever happens. What is meant to be will happen.
Fine? I don’t want you to be fine! I want you to ride this roller coaster with me, I said to myself as a seethed inside with a festering mess of worry, resentment and frustration.
At five months , we went in for the ultra sound. Before we headed to the doctor’s office, your Dadima said to me – I’m praying so hard that the baby is a boy. I want Taruj to have the son he always dreamed of.
I smiled at her, said Inshallah (God willing) and pushed down the bubbling anger that threatened to explode out of me. What do you mean the son he always dreamed of? He has a son – D. Just because D is profoundly autistic, just because Taruj isn’t having those typical, classic father-son moments with him doesn’t make him any less of a son.
So, I prayed as deeply and as fervently as I could for you to be a girl, so your brother’s role as a son would be forever preserved and not upstaged by anyone else. I also prayed for you to be a girl because when it comes to autism, boys are more likely to develop it or be born with it than girls. When I became pregnant with your sister, we were months away from diagnosis.
But with you – we knew everything. We were in the thick of things and willingly going for a third child. I felt like fate. So maybe if you were a girl, your chances of becoming autistic like your brother would be less.
I convinced myself that the latter was the main reason I prayed for two X chromosomes. But really, the preservation of D as the son of the house was in my mind. I never wanted him to feel like he was an afterthought in our home. You being a girl would be the best way of making sure of that, I thought.
I realize now, in remembering all this, that I was prescribing to some pretty warped thinking – thinking of everything from the perspective of your brother and sister rather than focusing on you being you. I should have been praying for you to be healthy, no matter boy or girl. I should have been relishing in the miracle that was you. And, I was. But these other thoughts grew and gripped areas of my mind like a stubborn vine.
What can I say? As much as I wanted you and fought to have you, how to manage three children, how to manage three children and autism loomed largely in my mind.
So, I lay on the examining table and felt the cold jelly on my slightly growing belly. The arm of the ultrasound machine pressed close down, trying to find a good picture of you. Ahhhh, there you were.
Do you want to know, asked the technician?
Yes, we both said.
That was the first time I saw your Baba truly excited. I was too, but still wrapped up in warped thoughts about how this was all going to work. Would you be born healthy? Would you grow healthy? Would you hit your developmental milestones on time? Would you usurp your older brother in this old school tradition of the favorite son?
In many conversations since then, your Baba has asked me – why were you so upset initially when we found out we were having a boy?
I didn’t want that son to replace D as a son in our family, I told him.
Well now, that didn’t happen, did it? D is D, and H is H.
There was more I wanted to say to him. More complicated and difficult thoughts I had on that, how absolutely that is true. D’s place in our family is rock solid, but how I still feel twinges of a strange pain when I see your Baba get so excited because for the first time he is taking you to a youth cricket league to learn his favorite sport – that proverbial father-son milestone of playing a sport together.
But, why shouldn’t he enjoy these special things with you? These things that dads like to do with their sons? It doesn’t take away from the love and pride he has for D. We’ve come so far in our family relationships. The love is there, flowing and strong between your Baba and all of you, between me and all of you.
Everything you do – from stomping around our home, acting like a dinosaur, to climbing into my lap still and saying, I love you so much, Mamma, to slogging through your homework with me, to you and I bonding over the books you are reading – these experiences are immeasurably precious and profound to me.
Not because I’m juxtaposing what you and I are sharing (just like what I share with your sister) against all the things I cannot share with your brother. No. In all honestly, there is the bittersweet that creeps in from time to time, but that’s not it. Because, what I share with D is equally and immeasurably precious and profound.
You, H, are so very special to me because it’s you. It’s everything about you. All the silliness that has me laughing, all the forgetfulness that gets me so frustrated, all the tenderness and caring that melts my heart, all the deep and thoughtful questions you pose to me about life between all the random science-y ones, the very real and very honest brotherly relationship I see developing between you and D – I can’t get enough of it. God knew. Of course He knew I needed you.
I want to sit you down and tell you all this. And I will.
But there is no time to talk further. It’s a few minutes past 4:30 p.m. Happy Birthday, H! Come on, you say – time to jump in the pool!