A love story


Raahi would be five the day after tomorrow. I have been sitting with that thought for more than a few months now. I should be living, talking, walking, running, flying with that reality—her, as a vivacious five-year-old—but, no, all I have is a thought. I run it along the edges of my mind. Once, while walking down the narrow hallway from my bedroom to the kitchen to get a bottle of water, my throat parched from a thirst the seven seas could not quench, I dug for it in the dryness of a desert-like windpipe. I gasped Five, letting out empty hot air, holding on to the walls, nearly crumpling in despair. Air. Empty air. That is all there is. In her place, in place of her name, in the name of her story, in the story of her life.

This is the story of Raahi’s life. A story that is so magical, so larger than life, that her absence dwarfs in comparison, standing merely in stark irony to it. Albeit my love for words, being her storyteller does not come easy to me. I cringe every time various roles are fused into the word mother, in an attempt to define, glorify, celebrate the contributions she makes in raising her child. As Raahi’s mother, I am merely her storyteller. And even when my heart breaks, my tongue stalls, and my fingers go numb, I cannot stop my words from pouring out of me.

The name

Raahi, the explorer. A word in Urdu—not my mother tongue, nor a language I speak—it means a traveler. The word carries within its two syllables the eternity of the journey. Raahi-s don’t settle, the world is their home, its wonders forever unfolding for the wanderer.

The word came to me in the spring of 2006, on an evening I was alone at home. I had had a miscarriage the previous spring, and it had eroded my naïve ability to dream of having a daughter and believe in that dream. Without any context, any backdrop or design, the name Raahi surfaced into the pool of my consciousness that solitary evening, with a suddenness that defied time, and yet with an inevitability that defined it.

Having lived in five countries in three continents until then, my husband and I were travelers at heart. Our daughter would carry that essence in her name.

Seven years later, on another spring evening, a software programmer friend wrote a message to me. I had just texted her and our other friends that Raahi, our daughter, had arrived the previous day. In her congratulatory message, she added that she loved that my children’s names—Aahir and Raahi—form a numeric code of infinity: where one ends, the other begins. I knew they sounded similar, but I was dumbfounded by the revelation. I asked the nurse for a pen and a paper and wrote the letters in a circle.

The letters held hands, never letting go. My eyes filled, and my heart overflowed.

The date: 25th

One night while playing with numbers with our then-three-year-old son, we realized that connecting our birthdays would be an interesting example of numerical patterns. We found that if one subtracted one number in my husband’s birth date from the other, one would get the date of my son’s birthday. The little boy was thrilled. He then said, “But what about Mommy’s birthday?” Pregnant with Raahi at the time, my husband and I smiled. Maybe, just maybe, she would complete the pattern?

Raahi’s jejunal atresia had been detected weeks before, and the doctors had advised a planned c-section at the completion of the 37th week on the 12th of May. We requested them to schedule it for the 14th, since my birth date is the 3rd. Our little math lover giggled when we told him that Mommy’s birthday would now be connected to his little sister’s just like his was with his father’s.

My water broke unexpectedly on the 25th of April while my husband was in a different town, where he lived for his graduate education. That morning, he flew into town and drove straight to the hospital from the airport for his daughter’s birth. He lay his backpack down in my hospital room, walked up to me, and the first thing he said to me with a smile was, “Don’t worry, five minus two is also three.”

The birth

He never missed the night bus. While I worked on my PhD and lived with our son, he would attend classes, work part-time, and take night-long bus rides two nights a week to spend three days with us. On the night of Wednesday, the 24th of April, he called me to say that his night bus had been canceled, and he would take the morning bus, arriving at home in the afternoon of Thursday instead of early morning. My c-section was more than two weeks away, and although I had been to the hospital multiple times for monitoring, there was nothing to worry about.

It was the first time in two years that the night bus had been canceled.

The next morning, I woke up in labor at five. As I frantically tried to contact any friend who could take my son to daycare at nine, my husband booked a flight. No one was available to step in. I waited until my three-year-old woke up, called his daycare, got him ready, and dropped him off. I then drove to the hospital and checked in, four and a half hours into labor, fearing the worst.

Raahi would need surgery the next day, but she was born healthy that afternoon after her Baba arrived.

The presence

All this, this meandering narrative, this dramatic yet languid, coincidental yet eternal, strange yet endearing tale, would be a collection of trivia, but for Raahi’s arresting presence. Her presence strung her story together into one of magical and eternal connections. Her deep gaze was the first thing one noticed about her, even when she was as little as a couple of weeks old. She fixed her beautiful deep eyes upon people, things, even into space, so intently, as though her gaze was a tangible manifestation of a connection she had with the world around her. Nurses avoided her on their “bad days,” worried about “being caught wearing a tough-guy mask.”

At a little over a month old, her neck was strong, and she turned her head when her name was called, looking deep into the eyes of the caller. She sailed through her two surgeries, and while we stayed in the family room for long hours with her, nurses commented on how easy she was, and how strikingly beautiful.

The meaning

Raahi spent all but two days of her twelve-week life in a hospital and two hotels. She came during a time of transition for us, and was in transit with us, in taxis, an airplane, and rented cars. On her eighth day with us, she wandered on, as a Raahi does, leaving us to forever trace her path.

Her magical interconnected name, her interconnected birth date, her heroic birth, and her magnetic infant presence would have constituted a fairytale if Raahi would be here. Her absence makes them tragic and ironic, but not less true.

For a long time, I tried to find meaning in these magical connections. I tried to see a purpose for her arrival on a certain day, for her name to mean and spell a certain way, for her birth to be so eventful. Even when hardly anyone uttered her name, and I was never asked about her birth, I reiterated these facts, too intense for me to be mere coincidences, as if then her bizarre departure would make sense. I clawed on, as if something deep in these connections would help me navigate the darkness of her absence.

The truth

But over the past two months, as I have sat with the thought of my little girl turning five years old, I realized that she is just that—my little girl. She is not symbolic, not abstract, not a purpose or a motivation. She was not a perfect piece of our life’s puzzle, which fit perfectly to make us whole. She was a little girl, a beautiful infant, who did not get to write her own magical story. I realized that these special meanings, in names and dates and eventful births, would all have faded in comparison to her extraordinary life if she had lived it. These may be magical, but they appear special because these are all I have of her.

Raahi came to us because she is our little girl. I tell her story because I am her mother.

As bereaved parents, we hardly ever get asked about our lost babies. And like all parents, we want the world to know about them. Tell us about your babies—your pregnancies with them, their birth, their names, their appearances, the love they brought to you and your family. How would you want us to know them?