"Baby C" by Clara
The anesthetic finally wore off.
I felt as if I had woken up from a beautiful dream but how wrong I was. My eyelids flitted open and the first word to come from my mouth was, “Where’s my baby?”
She lay fast asleep on a mobile cot on wheels in a single-bedded room in Anderson Hospital. I craved privacy (a decision that I would be thankful for later). Confined to the hospital bed after a cesarean-section, I struggled to get up to reach her. I winced when a streak of pain at the groin area stabbed me. My husband, sleeping on a sofa bed next to mine earlier, gently carried the baby and handed her to me.
Due to her delicate form, I was unsure of how to cradle her. As I gazed upon her angelic face, all the suffering I had gone through dissolved. I traced my finger over her fine eyebrows. Her eyelids flickered before opening to reveal a glint of blue.
“That’s my girl?” I stared in disbelief. “Why are her irises blue?” People could argue that we had European blood in our lineage somewhere up the family tree. But my husband’s family and mine were of Chinese blood through and through. No doubt about it. Hence, the eyes were always brown – a deep shade of Earth brown – from birth to death. I did not notice a pair of enlarged eyes looking at me. My significant other’s. They had fear written in them.
"Who does she resemble?" his question threw me off-balance. My head began to spin. I could not believe that, not too long ago, this baby was an extension of me, our bodies linked by an umbilical cord. Yet which part of me did it resemble?
As I studied the baby, the skin was a shade too pale. I quickly asked my spouse to google ‘albino kids’ on his mobile. No, the baby did not resemble an albino at all. How about ‘Caucasian kids’? The images chilled our hearts. The baby right in front of ours resembled every single one of them – blue irises, white skin, light brown hair.
As I cradled her, I could feel her heart beating in a familiar rhythm. My baby! How could she not belong to me? My instincts heightened, prompting me to protect this tiny being from the treacheries of this world. Yet, a conflicting signal hailed me to distance the baby to protect myself from emotional hurt, in case the baby turned out to be someone else’s.
“She’s special.” I tried to suppress the nagging suspicion in me. I could not resist checking the tag on the baby’s leg. It said: Mother Tan-Mok Yin Yin, Weight 2.85kg, Born 8 Dec 2019. The tag fastened on firmly. No matter how I hard I wrested it, it would not give way.
“Dear, are you thinking what I’m thinking?” asked my husband in a shaky voice.
Both of us were in our late thirties, married for ten years, and could not conceive naturally. After careful deliberation, we decided on In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). Our goal was to raise a biological child of our own. The process was arduous. I had to inject myself with hormones every day for a month. Upon the recommendation of our obstetrician, we placed our trust in the Fertility Centre of Anderson Hospital to handle the IVF process for us. My husband’s semen samples were collected while my eggs were harvested and combined in a petri-dish before implanting back into my womb. Could the hospital have mixed up the samples when IVF samples were taken? What could possibly have gone wrong during the process?
“Look at the baby… just look at her, for goodness sake, she doesn’t resemble us at all. Her blue irises, pale skin… cannot be, just cannot be. Call the head nurse, there must be some mistake!”
Already, the baby’s existence weighed me down. We read about malpractices in the medical field. Never did we suspect such errors would wreak havoc in our lives.
My partner had a glazed expression as he took the baby from me and lay her on the cot. She closed her eyes in peaceful slumber, oblivious to the mounting tension in the room. We were shrouded in a web of uncertainty as we eyed our newborn’s physical features. Something was not right. What would others think when we bring the child out as a couple? I had an affair with a Caucasian? Our child was adopted?
“Quick! Call the head nurse in! Room 304, yes, three-zero-four! ” my husband barked into the phone.
A junior nurse came into the room with a cautious smile on her face. “You asked for the Head Nurse. Is the baby okay?”
I could not wait to blurt out everything but my husband placed his finger over my mouth and shooed her away and snarled, “Go! Call the Head Nurse!”
When the head nurse was walked through the door, she stood upright, her hair was tied into a tight bun. Her nametag said “Daisy Ong”. She studied the anxiety on our faces and checked the baby’s tag.
“Madam Mok Yin Yin? Your baby is lovely! How may I help you?”
That triggered a torrent of tears. “The baby’s not mine! The baby’s not mine!” My voice was two pitches higher than normal.
“Calm down, Mrs. Tan. Tell me what happened.”
“Help? How can you help? We want a biological child of our own and you blotched it!” my husband yelled, unable to stem his rising fury.
This outburst woke the baby up, her cries sharp in staccato.
“Send someone to 304!” the head nurse’s voice tinged with urgency over the phone.
“Better give us a good explanation! Call yourself professionals?”
The baby’s cry had reached a zenith before a nurse entered and was asked to wheel her away.
“Wait! I must take a picture of baby,” my husband insisted. “Use as evidence! Sue the hospital!”
We reiterated that the baby’s complexion was visibly different from ours and demanded a DNA test be done as soon as possible. Nurse Ong noted our request and excused herself. At first, the hospital declined our request. Subsequently, the blood test of our baby was revealed to be blood type B, whereas ours was A and O.
“See!” my husband exclaimed in anguish. “That’s clearly a mistake! The baby’s not ours! We’ll sue you!”
Finally, the hospital admitted that there could possibly be a mix-up in DNA samples but the DNA results would take four to five days to come back. Heavy eyebags marked our sleeplessness as we awaited the results of the DNA test. When the door of my room opened, I could hear mothers’ voices outside making soothing noises to their babies. The unknown identity of the baby drove a wedge between mum and child. I refused to breastfeed the baby. My breasts were swollen from engorgement and the pain was unbearable, but I was beyond caring. However, when the baby was away at the nursery, I started to miss her sorely.
The results were out. After investigation, it was found that my husband’s DNA and another donor’s semen sample were mixed up by the embryologist when he was working at the workstation. Hence, the baby had my DNA and the donor’s DNA. The donor was a Caucasian. I was inconsolable. Our quest for our own biological baby had turned into a nightmare. How could such an outrageous situation ever happen to us? My husband reassured me that he would treat the baby as his own. Although I had his word, would he be able to bear it when others remark on the dissimilar traits between his daughter and himself? What should we tell our child when she grew up?
“Who’s the genetic father?” The child would want to know one day. We badgered the Fertility Centre and eventually, they divulged a name. No matter how hard we searched, the sperm donor remained elusive. Perhaps God had meant it that way.
It was an arduous journey ahead with baby – our baby C.
Editorial comment: Clara’s story is about an IVF mistake and how it, for a moment, completely shatters the world of a couple on the verge of parent-hood. Her fluid language mixed with the right dose of mystery would want you to follow the story until the end.