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I didn't realise I was pregnant until sleeping became uncomfortable. I had a feeling, fear consumed my whole being. I took the test and it was positive but I needed confirmation. My doctor confirmed I was 16 weeks pregnant! I had my period once during these 16 weeks and my cycle was so irregular, not getting my monthly period (even up to 4 months) was a normal thing to me.

I was 31 and unmarried. Age was not an issue what was is the fact that I'm Muslim and being an unmarried pregnant lady is taboo and shunned upon. No matter how advanced our society is, 'this' situation is not well received.

When I first saw my baby on the doctor's scan, there was an immediate feeling that enveloped me and gave me goosebumps - for the first time I had clarity, I knew exactly what I wanted, what I needed to do. With that clarity came the dread of telling my parents. I consider my parents, my whole family in fact, as liberal Muslims but no parent wants to hear that their single daughter is pregnant - even at 31 years old!

an unexpected blessing

I didn't wait long to tell my parents, I knew that it would only worsen the situation. I planned to tell them separately, I thought that was the best because I anticipated that their reaction would be different and I didn't want them to argue out their indifference if they were sat together. I would've understood where they were coming from but I couldn't have handled it. I had given them a lot of heartache as it is being in a relationship with the father of my child - I knew I was a disappointment to them for that and this 'new development' would only cement that fact. Nevertheless, I had to tell them and though I hoped for their support, I was prepared to go through it on my own.

I told my mom first since I thought she'd take it the hardest - inside she probably did but her reaction surprised me and she was extremely supportive - it threw me off balance. I felt protected and I will always be forever grateful to my mother who has supported me and my child since day one. My dad on the other hand was mad and upset and he had every right to be.

The next couple of months at home was the most uncomfortable. I had never felt more alone and lonely in those few months I was pregnant - even if I was always surrounded by people. I'd spend long hours in the office as much as I could just to avoid the awkwardness of being home.

At the same time, I was trying to figure out how I was going to raise this child, due to certain reasons marriage was just not an option. My baby's father was basically out of the picture the moment I found out I was pregnant. I had been with him for 8 years and then nothing. I didn't have time to truly process this - I had so many things going on and I was doing this on my own. I had a perpetual lump in my throat holding back tears, sadness, anger, loneliness and fear. Driving home from work I'd cry the whole way but then I didn't want my emotions to affect the baby so I'd think happy thoughts. It was hard but I had to go on, live on and be strong for this baby and for myself.

The only thing that was going right for me was this baby and all the feelings that I had for this unborn child, it was something I've never felt before. When I was told I was having a boy, I was over the moon - I always imagined I'd have boys.

In my 6th month of pregnancy, my dad had in passing mentioned to me that maybe I should start looking for a place to live. I was of course taken aback by his suggestion and it hurt but I understood - in the position I was in and the circumstances that we were living in it was not ideal for me to stay. So I did, I also did some research and knew which hospital I was going to give birth in and naturally I chose to rent an apartment which was 20 minutes away. Financially I was not in the right place but my company agreed to give me a loan and with that, I paid for the rent and started ordering furniture for this new place, just the necessity. I also bought the basic baby stuff - I had time so I bought those little by little. Also, I hadn't bought any pregnancy books and was going to get around to it, in the next month or so.

One Sunday, my colleague drove me to IKEA and we shopped the whole day, it was a nice change in scenery for once. For the first time, I felt excited to be in the moment that I was in - it was that one day that I truly embraced my pregnancy. We came back to my rental and my colleague helped me unload all of what I had bought. After all that, I thanked her and drove back to my parent's place (I was still living with them) which was 40 minutes away. I will always be indebted to my colleague for obliging me that day - I couldn't have done it without her help, truly.

I had work that Monday and since I knew I had to leave the office in the afternoon to wait for my furniture that was arriving at my rental I thought I'd get a headstart at the office. I was experiencing slight cramps before I left the house and my mother caught me wincing whilst holding my belly. She told me to either go to my doctor or call them. I said I was fine and besides, I had work and home things to sort out - it was going to be a busy day.

The furniture arrived in the afternoon in good time and order and once the movers left, I started moving the furniture around to how I wanted it placed. Not a lot because I didn't have that kind of strength but I was shuffling the bed and the sofa around. I was so tired after all that I took a nap on my brand new bed - I woke up around 5.30 pm - I was feeling hungry and thirsty, I realised that I hadn't had anything to eat or drink since morning. I wanted to leave for my parent's place and continue the work in my rental over the weekend.

As I was closing the windows, I felt a sharp pain in my belly - it was excruciating and unbearable I screamed out, and I could barely move. After 10 minutes just when I thought it was a one-time thing and everything was okay, that pain repeated itself and I had to sit myself back down. Now I was terrified. I called a colleague and explained to him and he offered to come get me but with the traffic and all I said thanks and that I'll call him again.

I called my doctor who was delivering another baby so I left a message with the nurse telling her exactly what was happening. After 5 minutes, the doctor calls me back and tells me to come meet her at her clinic in an hour but should I start bleeding go straight to my delivery hospital and she'll meet me there. As soon as that conversation, I left warm liquid - it wasn't my water bottle - I was bleeding, ever so slightly but bleeding.

I was only 29 weeks! Between the pain and the horror that I might just have this child today, I screamed and cried. Why? I kept asking why, what did I do wrong, is he going to be okay, please be okay, I am so sorry for this - I apologised to my unborn child for what was about to happen.

So many emotions and thoughts were going through my mind but I had to focus on getting to the hospital. I was in no condition to drive due to the contractions that was when I called my baby's father just in case, he could find it in his heart to take me to the hospital and his immediate response was he was busy so I did what I had to do. I started my car - the hospital was 20 minutes away and I knew the roads well so as soon as I felt the onset of a contraction, I'd stop by the side of the road until I reached the hospital. Well, I stopped 3 times. On my second stop, I called my mom and told her "I think I'll be having this baby today and I'm on the way to the hospital".

I reached the hospital, and left the car at the front, I almost crawled to the reception but they saw me and put me in a wheelchair. I was in and out of consciousness after that. The nurses were trying to delay the baby - after all, he was only 29- weeks old. I was 4cm dilated. I blacked out for a few hours and woke up in a daze in a dim delivery room at 10.30 pm - the wall clock was right in front of me. I was alone with 2 nurses - between being conscious and unconscious, I saw my mother enter the room, she stroked my forehead gently and left.

The next time I woke up the clock showed 11.00 pm, and my doctor was there. She explained to me that they had tried to reverse the dilation for the past couple of hours and it hadn't been working and basically this baby was not having all that and he was ready to meet me!! Since he was only 29 weeks and his lungs were still developing, he'd be handed over to a paediatrician and pulmonologist as soon as he is born to fully check his condition.

Since my water hadn't broken she had to prick it with a needle and that literally blew up in her face! Once that was out of the way, she started asking me to push, I started pushing but I couldn't feel any contractions, which she said was strange so I asked her if she had given me any epidural or any medications but she hadn't - I just wasn't feeling any pain. The nurse had to watch the machines, hold my belly and tell me when to push - it was the strangest thing. Nothing like that was ever in the movies?!

At 11.32 pm, my beautiful little boy was born at 1.5 kilos - you read right, 1.5 kilos or 3.3 pounds. When they handed him to me, for a brief moment, out of fear, I could've sworn I saw 11 fingers on him - I cried and said it out loud and of course, the doctor told me I was crazy and that he had 10 little perfect fingers! He had to be rushed and handed over to the paediatrician then. When they rushed him out of the room, it hit me that he hadn't cried and as soon as I thought that I heard him cry. At that moment, I knew that everything was going to be okay, he was going to be okay, I was going to be - WE would be okay. I was now a WE.

He had to be in an incubator for obvious reasons and since we were in a private hospital, after two days the bill was getting too high ( I had nothing financially and my dad paid for it and I still owe him...) My doctor had suggested that since he would most probably be spending the next two months in an incubator, it would be better financially to be in a public hospital and though a transfer like that was not easy, she said she'd help me get an incubator for my baby and she did. After two days, we were in an ambulance on the way to a public hospital.

For the first month, I was travelling every day to and from the hospital. For the first few weeks, my mom drove me every single day, an hour's journey each way. After two weeks, I drove myself daily to see this boy - he was so small his diaper came up to his chin. The hospital just didn't have appropriate diapers for premature babies - I hope they do now!

From 1.5 kilos, he went down to 1.2 kilos, according to the doctors and nurses, a reduction in weight was normal due to all the crying but it was worrying to me. I wanted so much to take him home but I was told that he could only go home once his weight reached 2.8 or 3 kilos - it seemed so far away and I didn't know what to do to help. My not being able to produce enough breast milk was not helping either so he was given a special formula and supplemented with my breast milk. But I wasn't going to give up - the nurses thought me how to pump on my own and use the electric pump. I was determined to produce milk, my nipples become not only sore but raw but after a few weeks I was starting to get the hang of it as I started to get a steady flow but it still wasn't enough for me to exclusively breastfeed him.

Going into the second month he was in the hospital, I was required to stay in the hospital with him, he had increased in weight to 1.6 kilos - still not enough to come home but he was getting there. Whilst I was there, they taught me how to bathe him and feed him. He was a small baby so there were specific ways on how to handle him. Every so often, I'd be required to take him to different buildings to get his eyes and ears checked. He was after all premature and his development had to be closely monitored.

The most surprising thing was when I overheard the nurses say that I was under observation by social services since I was an unmarried mother - this just pissed me off. I decided to confront them and true enough I was and that the social services concern is that I'd leave this baby in the hospital and disappear - what??!! Me??!! Who has been in the hospital every single day for the past month and a half?! I didn't understand the logic. My mother had to come in, meet social services and be my guarantor - I honestly couldn't believe what was happening or why the question of whether I'd be responsible. I was insulted and I just wanted to get out of there.

My baby wasn't gaining weight at the rate I wanted him to. At almost 2 months he was only at 2 kilos, we'd have to stay in the hospital for another 2 months to get him to the 2.8 kilos before they can consider releasing him. I vowed that the next time I had a one-on-one with the paediatrician, I was going to argue my case on why it would be beneficial for the baby if I took him home. I listed all my reasons and justifications down and prepared myself for all the questions I thought she would ask. My 2 month check-up came and I think I dazzled the doctor with my determination that she said I could leave with my baby in tow in 5 days!!!! I was ecstatic!!! I had a pre-condition though, they'd only release me and the baby if one of my parents come and signed my release letter - 31-year-old me who just had a baby needs a parent's signature - whatever - as long as we get to go home!

Well fast forward 15 years later, and my baby is now a healthy, funny, smart and extremely good-looking teenager who loves football and video games. That clarity I got when I first laid eyes on him through that scan in the doctor's office was knowing that this would be my destiny - to be a mother; to be HIS mother and I am deeply honoured to be given the opportunity. He has enriched my life in ways I would never have dreamed of and I doubt if he will ever be able to grasp just how much he is truly loved.


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