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Angel in disguise

Midyear we were waiting for our bundle of joy. We were expectant parents, eagerly preparing everything for her coming.

We arranged our small home so her crib and all her clothes, toiletries and other necessities would fit nicely. We bought an air-conditioning unit so she wouldn’t feel the extreme heat in Manila. My sisters pledged to pay our electricity bill so we could have air conditioning 24/7.

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Early on we, her Itay and Inay, planned and filed our leaves of absence from work so we would be there for her in her first months. We even told our toddler-neighbor about her, to wait for her and play with her when she came home. My mother and other family members in the province, especially my nephews and nieces, looked forward to her arrival and made their respective plans. Who’d take care of her when she came home? Who’d play with her? Who’d be her best friend? Who’d go with her to her monthly checkups and her trips to the province?

My officemates were likewise eager to see her. My boss even suggested that I bring her crib to the office, in her space, so I could be with her every day, at all hours. They made plans as to who would tend to her when I attended meetings.

Everyone was ready and excited about her arrival. Every day I was teary-eyed and overwhelmed, thinking how loved she was, how she was one lucky child.

The day my water broke, her Itay and I were highly energetic. It was one of the signs we were waiting for. We immediately went to the hospital, took selfies at every turn, and smiled and laughed like we never did in our entire lives.

This was it. She was finally coming. The ordeal was long but full of anticipation. We were up the entire night, waiting for her. The pain was bearable. Her heartbeat was in the right rhythm and count. She kicked me in between contractions, as if she were so eager to come out and finally see her parents. In my mind, I composed the text of my Facebook post announcing her arrival to the world. It was the longest night of my life, I have to admit. I barely slept, I hummed songs to her like I had been doing every night for nine months.

Waiting for her that night was nothing compared to all the excitement I had felt in my life. It was nothing like my birthday, my graduation from law school, acing taxation law, buying clothes from my first paycheck, being with my true love, and even all of these combined.

She finally arrived at 7:58 the following morning. And stayed for a mere 31 minutes. Quickly she left her Inay and Itay and everyone else who had patiently waited for her. I saw her alive for a few seconds, I didn’t even hear her cry. I will forever remember how curly her hair was, how white her skin was—how she looked at my first glance of her, never thinking that it would also be my last.

I drifted in and out of consciousness, repeatedly asking everyone in the delivery room where she was and if I could see her already. I recall that I didn’t get exact answers. For hours I was hearing “Nabihisan na siya (She has been dressed),” “time of death,” “death certificate,” “Si Doktora na lang ang kakausap sa iyo (The doctor will speak to you),” “revive,” “name of parent”…

In the early afternoon, the doctor told me that she didn’t make it, that she didn’t respond when she was being revived. Her heartbeat dropped and disappeared. Then I saw my husband, distraught, tired, with red eyes and traces of tears on his cheeks. My world stopped.

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In my mind, I was waiting for happy news. That everything was just a dream, a bad dream. That in the next minutes, my baby will be brought to me, rosy cheeks and all. But it never happened. As I was being moved from the delivery room, I saw my siblings and cousins, each with a smile and sad eyes. Instead of awe and amazement at how my baby looked, they were there to comfort me. Instead of her receiving blanket and her new clothes, my baby was wearing a funeral dress. Instead of deciding which car to use to take her home, they were contacting the funeral home and arranging for her trip to Isabela. Instead of taking our baby home with us, we went home alone.

We were happy when we entered the hospital. When we exited, our world had fallen down. We expected to deliver a life who was our everything; we went home with nothing.

It was painful and heartbreaking. You get angry at first, then you try to understand things, and then you get angry again. You wake up every two hours and wonder if it was her feeding time. Milk suddenly drips from your sore breasts, and there is no baby to feed. You refuse to look at any picture of a baby in the Internet because you go on to wonder where is yours. Your once large belly has suddenly become flat, and you ask where is the baby who once grew inside it.

You have so many questions and there are no answers.

On the 16th of June I delivered my baby. On the 20th we buried her next to my grandfather. Every day for weeks her Itay and I spent breakfast with her as she lay in her tomb. We told her stories, we cried, we marveled at how beautiful she was, with her curly black hair just like her Inay’s, her thin lips just like her Itay’s, her nose and eyes just like my siblings’, her thighs and arms just like my overweight nephews’, and then we cried some more. It was the only family bonding for us—my husband and I holding hands, wondering why our baby was buried down there, and she looking at us from the skies, flying above us, with her white wings as pure as our love for her.

Every day I see that three-inch scar on my stomach, and every day I wonder: Where is the reason for that scar? It is our daily reminder of you, my child. We hope to accept things someday, but we will never forget the joy you have brought to our lives. We miss your energetic flying kicks, your happy dance as we munch on your Itay’s pasalubong, our daily bath together, our plans on what you will be someday, our story time, our movie dates, our conversations.

Right now, we have space filled with your things. We have arms longing for your hug. We have hearts overflowing with love and despair as we try to accept this fate.

You are now our guardian angel, my child. I prefer you here at my side, but perhaps God has a different plan. Guide me and your Itay and everyone who loves you as we face each day without you. You will always be our true love and our princess. We miss you every day.

Kotch Agcaoili Agudo, 29, says they named their child and angel Vera Elia.

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