A 44% Chance Of Loving You
July 29th, 2021
No child understands what love is.
To a child, love is difficult to describe.
She grew up in a concrete metropolis where the sky was a stranger and the smoke was a closer friend. As a child, this was how people described love to her - difficult to describe. Expectantly, they did not understand what love was either, in a city where the need to be warmed by food overpowered the desire to be held by a pair of metaphorically warm arms. She thinks of her parents as magnets on a surface of concave ice, occasionally spinning to meet each other yet too often finding their negative counterparts repelling themselves away from the other half. She thinks that this is what love is; a mesmerizing dance to be interpreted like a horrible metaphor with no words attached.
Perhaps it’s a behaviour, an instinct, but most of all, it’s a feeling with its own definition, like how one cannot truly describe the taste of umami or the gaminess of uncooked lamb, all foreign words she doesn’t quite understand.
For the first few years of her life, she thinks that people learn to enjoy love because it is easy yet rare. Love didn’t seem to need a dictionary or a thesis to explain it; it didn’t need words at all - if you had the miraculous opportunity to taste it in this wasteland devoid of such a colour, perhaps that was enough to understand it.
And so for these first few years of her life, she thinks that love tasted like fish sauce and undercooked meat, like the meals that were left to her each night at an empty dinner table. She understands that love, at least for now, is unexplainable with words and only understood through taste.
As she grows, she thinks that people learn to enjoy love because it’s hard. Hard to understand, hard to find, and hard to nurture where she lives. She learns that perhaps love DOES need words, convoluted by the complications of the difficult temperament of adulthood and the responsibility of needing to fill stomachs instead of youthful hearts.
Sometimes, in the marketplaces, stalls have little hard drives and scratched disks with moving photographs from what almost seems to be another world. In watching them, she finds that love isn’t just a feeling - it’s encompassed by monologues and saturated filters and emotional bravado that explains these once inexplicable feelings yet making it so much more difficult to comprehend. She thinks the stories people write and the tired lovesickness that people explain only make everything more convoluted. She learns that loving someone hurts.
When she still feels all too young but is deemed of age, she is paired up with a faceless someone from another family. It’s a partnership of mutual exchange. Unlike love, she understands this immediately. Perhaps she understands it because love does not exist in this relationship.
Not even a year later, she wakes up one evening with something otherworldly in her abdomen.
After the remainder of her insides are carelessly spit into an old plastic bag, she is taken by the man she married out of convenience to a white building filled with people whose skin and faces do not look like her’s. A sense of dread fills her as she awaits the results, hoping that the reason her stomach had vomited itself inside out was simply a result of the lacking quality of her diet.
When the sound of a painfully weak heartbeat fills the clinic, her own nearly stops.
Everybody leaves her alone in the room for a bit as she stares down at her stomach, her husband leaving them room to chat with the international doctor in their heavy accents.
She knows well enough that the child, with its heartbeat sounding like a dripping water faucet instead of a loud drum, may not live. In this world, where the globe spins too fast for her, where the working has no cares for the needs of the childbearing, and where birthing is simply for the sake of repopulation, she should not be so generous. If the child lives through the birthing, then the immature cruelness of becoming old will catch up. She still must work to support herself, and she still has to eat the food and drink that she can afford.
And so, just like how her parents did, she chooses not to love the child.
But months later, as she watches the shape of her belly dome and the weight on top of her palm as she supports herself become more and more real, she thinks that she may have decided to stay unattached from this child too quickly.
Sometimes at night, she lays awake counting the beams of light streaming through her moth-eaten curtains as if they were stars and wishes on them. In the cities, constellations are as uncommon as the act of loving, both of which are obscured by the smell and sight of smog. She begins praying over her food too, hoping that she can will strength and nutrition into the meals that do not satiate her.
A month after returning from the temporary hospital, she wakes up to find blood on the sheets. The man she married paces back and forth across their bedroom as veins begin bursting across his skin like bubbles in baking bread. He threatens her when it happens again, telling her that God help her should she be unable to birth the child for him. She decides to pray to this God too, despite not knowing or worshipping them before. She was never a religious person, but she now understands why people turn to faith in their darkest moments of desperation.
When she chose not to love the child, she told herself that it came from the inability to understand what love meant. The two decades that she has spent on this earth have failed to teach her truly what it means to love someone wholeheartedly.
But perhaps there is fear gnawing at the back of her mind as well; the fear of knowing that, while nobody can tell her truly what love is, the pain of losing something you once loved is immeasurable. She chose not to love the child because perhaps deciding to not care for the child would be less painful than loving one that left this world before even uttering its first words.
Yet, the prospect of having something at all to love, is what makes her think twice. She finds comfort in knowing that, if this child was to live and was loved, that they maybe, just maybe, might learn to love her back too. She thinks that the risk of loving something unconditionally only for it to love her is far less intimidating than the risk of deciding to possibly love nothing for the rest of her days.
She’s seven months pregnant when it suddenly begins raining.
The clouds mix with the smoke in the air, and it feels as though the entire sky is leaning in to watch her before it begins crying. Rain hits the top of her head, a tear rolls down her cheek at the pain, and red stains the concrete below her.
There’s so much red.
When she regains her consciousness, she is in a hallway. There are white, hazy figures surrounding her, and she stares at the moving ceiling above her. Bright lights move past her vision like speeding cars.
She wonders if she’s in the afterlife, with all of these phantoms leading her to a bright something at the end of this tunnel.
When she is fully awake, the pain sets in. She feels cold and unfamiliar things hook onto her and cut her skin to keep her heart steady. The push is difficult, everything in the room feels like too much yet not enough at the same time, and the people are eerily quiet.
When the pressure disappears, she expects the sound of fresh, new life to pierce through the empty air. She wants for the babbles, the cries, anything to let her know that perhaps choosing to bet so much love on a losing battle was worth it.
Instead, the doctors shake their heads, mouths frozen as if they expect her to already know the answer to why they aren’t saying anything.
She does know why, and yet she still cries.
The doctors quickly leave the room in a last-ditch attempt to save the child. In their absence, a nurse comforts her and attempts to talk to her despite their different languages, the closest to a display of affection she’s ever felt. The nurse tells her, in his professional voice, that in his country, 44% of children of stillborns can still be saved. When she’s alone, she thinks of the stars on her ceiling, the meals that she made, and the gods that she finally believed in. She prays once more that these attempts at bargaining with divine powers did something to give her child a fighting chance.
Hours later, the doctors finally return, just as quiet as before, and apologize to her as they stare at the bundle of flesh wrapped in cloth in their arms. Their machines and their tools were too old, too few, with not enough hands to use them. She knows that they know that the death of her child could have easily been prevented had she been pregnant in a different world, on their side of the world, with their new machines and new needles and even newer doctors. She does not fault them though.
Instead, she thinks bitterly that perhaps she would have had a chance to love had she decided to stay in that hallway with the bright light at the end of it. Perhaps she could have met her newborn on the way out, and told them how much she cared about them.
When they ask her if she would like to hold the baby, she hesitates for a second before saying yes.
He’s beautiful, she realizes, as she traces her finger across the button nose and plump cheeks that she would never see age.
When people around her passed, she remembered their loved ones recounting memories together, the things that person loved, with photo albums at the ready and treasured stories that gleamed like gold.
She wonders, if her child would have lived, what memories they could have made together, and what photos she could have saved to show people. She wonders what things he would have learned to love. She wonders if he would have loved her back.
The thought pains her, knowing that these fantasies could only exist in a distant reality. Her betting had failed, and her grand plan of going all-in on this skewed game of chess had left her broken. And she expected it.
But even in this moment, she feels happy. The emotion is frail, and she worries that it may slip through her palms so easily like the sand in an hourglass, scrutinizingly measuring time. Here, however, holding her child, she feels as though she has all of the time in the absolute universe. The cruel world stops spinning for a small infinity of seconds, and she feels at peace with the love that she holds painfully to her chest.
To a child, love is difficult to describe.
Perhaps it’s a behaviour, an instinct, but most of all, it’s a feeling with its own definition, like how one cannot truly describe the taste of umami or the gaminess of uncooked lamb, all foreign feelings that she has finally come to understand in her time alive.
Now, she realizes that love is like how it was when she was young, and yet the feeling has grown with her as she has too. Love is difficult, love does fight with you, and perhaps, especially for her, love does hurt. Love is all of the things people told her it was, and she now knew that love, in moments like these, was horrible.
And yet love was still so, so easy.
Because even for its pain and its turmoil and its pickiness, loving was still so easy to choose.
Even if there was only a 44% chance that he lived, choosing to love her child was a choice she would make over and over with 100% certainty.
According to statistics, around 44% of stillborn babies are successfully resuscitated.
A 44% Chance of Loving You follows a woman’s journey with receiving and losing a child. At its heart, the story is about learning to care for something that will potentially never love you back and coping with the loss of losing a loved one at birth. The woman experiences a moment of fear when first finding out about the child, of neglecting the child due to her own experiences when she was young, and finally deciding to love the unborn child for the sake of hoping that, for once in her life, there may be someone who can learn to love her back unconditionally.
While writing the story, I intentionally tried to create a world where the society that the woman lived in was clearly socioeconomically unprivileged, almost dystopian in nature. The story depicts a city where clean air does not exist, people can only focus on the first tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and where women expecting children are forced to work. As I was writing out the story, however, I realized that this setting is quite a close call to the struggles that the developing world faces even in modern times. This story is largely inspired by the experiences of women (and all demographics capable of birthing children) in developing nations. The unprecedentedly high rates of stillborns and perinatal death in developing nations are often due to the lacking healthcare infrastructure for high-quality antenatal and delivery care, which is reflected in the story. Additionally, external factors such as diet, environmental conditions, and emotional stresses can all contribute to the failure of successful childbirth, all of which are greatly exacerbated in lower socioeconomic nations around the world. A 44% Chance of Loving You attempts to shed additional light on this continuously pressing issue while also providing insight into the difficult emotional journey of coming to terms with the loss of an unborn child.
As a disclaimer, I am by no means attempting to speak for the people who have experienced stillborn birth or lost a child during pregnancy, nor do I claim that A 44% Chance of Loving You is an accurate depiction of the experience of a failed pregnancy. The individual experiences of all people who have suffered from such losses are unique and cannot be described in the span of one overarching statement. The writing of this story was largely constructed from personal research into what stillborn births look like globally and the experiences of many different people in how they lost their children during childbirth.