I believe it was her calling in life, to become a mother. She practiced nurturing skills from an early age by feeding the baby goat in the barn, sleeping next to newborn kittens by the fire place, until eventually she was old enough to babysit. Children loved her. I don’t know if it was because of her silliness or vivid imagination to create worlds she had never seen nor had any desire to see, or both. But again, that is just my guess I did not yet know her.
It was a Sunday morning in January, the time of year when ice thickens the lakes and snow packed the ground solid in Sweden. Their 2-bedroom apartment sat on the ground floor in Kungsangen, a northern suburb to Stockholm. Dim afternoon light found its way up the threaded wallpaper in the living room and on any given day the kitchen would be neat and food properly stored in its place. Today however was different. Dirty dishes sat in the sink, and last night’s leftovers sat half wrapped on the kitchen counter as if they put the previous day on pause. They were already miles ahead in their minds. Yes, today was different.
They met eleven years ago at the town’s community dance on a typical Swedish summer evening: chilly and light. She was 18- years old, and he was seven years her senior. It was love at first sight, and even if it wasn’t they would not remember it any other way. They filled one another’s spaces where one often wondered what piece would ever fit there. Nine months later they were engaged.
At first, they didn’t think anything of it. Bad luck perhaps. Plenty of people tried to have children, they just had to be patient. There was still time. But as the years started to pass by of repeatedly losing or never having, they finally had to accept that she was unable to ever carry a child. Life strangely does these things at times, going against your utmost desires and wishes with no logical reason. So, there she was, with a calling so clear and a body so useless it almost broke her.
I can’t speak for how she truly felt. The resentment that lingers like dust against a dark surface, or that enormous amount of love stored ready to break your heart open only to remind you of joy you will never embody. I don’t know what prompts women to keep going, despite the weight of sadness and disappointment. But somehow, she did. Maybe not consciously to begin with, but past the scars beneath her womb something else had already began to stir, a rhythm of sort, fueled by something bigger than she had imagined. She would first start to notice the sound when left in tears. Since there was no music around, she often mistook the sound for her own heartbeat for it had been there for as long as she could recall. A familiar rhythm, like a deep vibration, that lived within.
I was alone amongst hundreds of people, waiting. Passing time in a hospital with no end goal in sight is like waiting to catch the sight of a perfectly shaped cloud. I didn’t say much. I ate when food was given, I didn’t fuss when someone needed to pick me up. Aside from that, there wasn’t anyone to interact with. This had been my home since the day I arrived, a pit-stop in my journey while I was waiting to become more than my name-tag. It was hot and loud around me. The honking outside, the screaming inside. From everywhere noises were piercing and sharp making it hard to find comfort.
The only time I found comfort was when it rained. Although I couldn’t see it, I could hear it cascade down the alleys outside like rivers tearing everything down in its way. Forceful. The sound silenced everything else around. And that’s when I heard it, the rhythm. Whish, whoosh, whish, whoosh. Like the beat of someone else’s heart, a vibration deep and inviting. It entered through my spine, into my chest and traveled to the bottom of my throat where it rested and echoed as if calling. Whish, whoosh, whish, whoosh. Strangely familiar, I had felt it before.
I traveled far that Sunday morning in January when dirty dishes sat in a sink somewhere in an apartment in Sweden. 10,369km to be more exact. Too small to look out the window, I felt the world under me floating like a giant ball in sphere, vast but reassuring. We finally arrived; me on a plane in the arms of a nurse, they in a green Volvo. He stood next to her, grounded like a tree. She, in tears.
It wasn’t her voice. Instead it was the vibration of her pauses and her soft approach of vowels that gave it away. The rhythm. It had once traveled through my spine, into my chest to the bottom of my throat where it now rested, this time without an echo. All along, it was her calling that I had heard. Maybe even before the rivers, before the womb, before the physical body that birthed me. Before the love and the dance, the baby goats and kittens. All those nights of tears had only made her stronger- turning sorrow into kindness, resentment into love. Intention is a unique power. It became clear now. For as long as she had been alive, so had I.
We all create our own stories. Not necessarily to celebrate happy endings, but to find truths we can own. The real story of me coming into this world is less loving, less kind, and less forgiving. There are too many holes and question marks between being a newborn in Djakarta to getting on a flight across the world one month later. Being given up for adoption can both be a noble and awful thing to do, depending on who you ask. Yet, I hold no resentment or judgement. It is not part of my story, nor my truth. But what is the truth we may ask. Is it true that I was left at a hospital for a month where I may or may not have been cared for? Is it true that there was never a good enough reason for my birth mother to keep me? Is it true that you can be the best mother in the world and never have given birth? It all depends on the story we decide to tell.
Just like my mother, I too have a vivid imagination. As I have never questioned her love for me, I wanted to re-create my birth story to include the truth of what any legal document could never have given her: purpose. Because in the end of the day, that is the only story worth telling.