Home is where the children are...
Updated: Feb 17, 2020
Nita used to think that having a big brood of lively and healthy kids, with a doting husband to boot, was the definition of marital bliss and domestic fulfillment. As a young girl back in her hometown of Pekanbaru in the Riau Province of Indonesia, she had always dreamt of this whilst helping her father in their vegetable allotment.
When she met her husband Ram and eventually moved to Singapore more than twenty years ago, it seemed as though she was on the cusp of realizing that dream. The first few years of Nita’s simple life were idyllic; she and Ram worked feverishly to save for a flat of their own. Nita being a nimble with needle and thread managed to find work making alterations at a small boutique, while Ram worked as a crane operator at a large construction firm. When they found out they were expecting their firstborn, their happiness knew no bounds.
Baby Gerard was ushered into the world on the same day Ram was promoted to assistant foreman at his job site, a sign that the stars were aligned in their favor. Time passed and the couple welcomed two more children in quick succession; they imagined their family was complete.
Then disaster struck when Ram suffered a slipped disc; it proved far more serious as it had affected critical vertebrae in his spine and he was confined to bed. Upon recovery a month later, the specialist advised him to lay off strenuous work altogether, as it could lead to paralysis.
Not wanting to incur workplace injury that would threaten his mobility, Ram tried to negotiate with his boss for lighter duties. However, he was unsuccessful and ended up being retrenched; his firm was downscaling since the construction industry was entering a slump.
Despondent and nursing a bad back, Ram became increasingly moody and withdrawn, leaving Nita to manage their 3 boys, then 10, 6 and 4, single-handedly. An added worry that beset Nita, causing many a sleepless night, was the fact that she was pregnant once more. Though only a few weeks along, Nita recognized all the classic symptoms, particularly a strong craving for hot and spicy food.
Gerard a sensitive boy and the eldest, realized something was amiss when his mother would suddenly rush from table to retch in the back room. Ram however was oblivious to the situation, gripped by his own malaise.
When I met Nita at the polyclinic, she was already 12 weeks pregnant. Attired in a loose smock and being rather petite, she concealed her condition well. She wanly told me that against her better judgement, she had decided on termination. I could see hopelessness etched in her careworn, prematurely lined face. “As a mother I should be protecting my child, but I don’t know what else to do,” she whispered, her breath catching on the last word, she began to sob piteously.
I weighed my response carefully, urging she discuss her decision with Ram. But Nita’s mind was made up, she felt that Ram had enough to bear, was barely coping as it was. She shared that her salary barely put food on the table, and Ram’s compensation package, meagre to say the least, went toward his medical expenses.
Still I entreated her to reconsider. She acquiesced, all the while cradling her belly with both hands, as though warding off an invisible blow to the fetus within. To me, this spoke volumes, presaging how she felt about the abortion.