Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Life in a small town Part 5 : How to hide a pregnancy

The last few weeks have seen two cases of abandoned babies in Brunei. Both were dead. One was found in a rubbish dump and the other was found in a box underneath a flyover. It's sad, but even more tragic is the fact that these incidents are not particularly shocking. From memory, there are always a few incidents of abandoned babies every year; more than you would expect for such a small population.

A few Brunei bloggers have commented on it; here is what Pablo and Sher have had to say.

Here's a true story: When I was working in Brunei, one of my colleagues attempted to hide a pregnancy. She wasn't a teenager - she was in her mid-to-late twenties and engaged to be married. Yani* (*made up name, of course) had been to University in the UK; first impressions would be an intelligent and confident young woman.

Looking back now, I can remember clearly the first sign that something was not right. We were always dieting or talking about losing weight, and one day she mentioned that she hadn't been eating much anyway because she had some kind of tummy bug, i.e. vomiting. (Hey, I was only 22 at the time! I didn't know about pregnant women!)

Fast forward a month or two, it's Hari Raya and some of the other women in the office notice that Yani has put on some weight. They suspect that she is pregnant, and the gossiping starts. Apparently, women who have had kids can spot a pregnancy a mile away. I think that they are just being bitchy, and laugh it off saying - oh come on, it's just fat. Too much food over Hari Raya.

Then some of the married men noticed too and suddenly I thought - Yani does look pregnant, she seems to be constantly distracted and she can hardly keep her eyes open in the afternoon.

This went on for months and we were so worried about her. I'm sure that her mother knew what was going on because she used to give Yani herbs "to bring on her period". At one point she used to eat lots of young pineapple every day; the women in the office whispered that eating young pineapple can cause miscarriage. (An old wives tales, I think) All this time, she never admitted that she was pregnant.

It got worse and worse, until we were sure that she must be ready to give birth. At this time, she confided in a few of the older women that she had started bleeding, and they were really alarmed. We tried to persuade her to go to a doctor, but she wouldn't accept any help.

I remember it was a Friday, and we were so worried about her that we wouldn't let her go out for lunch alone. So about seven of us (all women) went out for lunch together, and as we walked back to the office slowly, I said to her - Look, if you could be pregnant, please tell me. We can help you. She kept denying it, until finally I said - Is there any chance, any chance at all, that you could be pregnant? She weakened, and nodded.

That whole day she was obviously in distress. At 5 o'clock, we stood outside the office and watched her clamber into her car. She was in such a state, she couldn't even start the engine for 10 minutes. Then we watched her drive away.

The next day she didn't turn up to work and at mid-morning her father came to see the Boss and the company secretary. Finally, the secret was out.

On Friday night after dinner, Yani went into labour and her family rushed her to hospital. Amazingly, she had kept her pregnancy a secret from her whole family (although personally, I think her mother must have known) so they thought she was suffering from appendicitis, or something similar. As soon as the doctor put his hands on her abdomen, he knew straight away so she was rushed to the labour room where she gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

Her father said that Yani was stupid to keep it a secret as she was engaged anyway. If she had said something, she could have just got married quickly and had the baby quietly at home with a midwife. So why did she try and keep it a secret? Was she denying it even to herself because she was ashamed, and she couldn't face it?

How did Yani keep it a secret from her father and brothers? Well, she spent as little time with them as possible. She would get home from work and eat dinner quickly on her own, then spend the rest of the evening in her room. She didn't attend any family functions, giving the excuse that she was "tired" or "not feeling well".

And if you think that you might not be fooled, consider this - many of the men in the office were completely shocked when they found out. Even one guy who used to sit about 10 metres from her every day didn't have a clue.

So now, whenever I hear about abandoned children I always think of the mothers and how desperate they must be. Personally, I think that in many cases the fathers or other family members must be complicit in the abandonment and thus murder. I can't imagine a woman who has just given birth going to a rubbish dump or driving on the highway to find a convenient flyover. Other people must know about the pregnancy, but for some reason they are not willing to give their support to the mother. Is it shame? Financial reasons? God forbid - rape or even incest? (It's not unknown in Brunei)

Are we, as members of society, part of the problem? If the parents had felt less social pressure, would they have been more likely to at least put the baby up for adoption, or even take a chance to leave the baby somewhere safer?

As for my friend Yani, she has a happy ending. A few months after the birth, she married her fiancee (the baby's father) and as far as I know, they are still living together happily.


Juan Pablo Fernandez said...

Hi. thanks for sharing this story. I guess it's a good reminder for many of us, not only to show compassion but also to be able to communicate well between parents and their children!

in Sher's shoes said...

hi katie-ella.

the story is really touching. thanks for sharing that. i know its been ages but i just came across ur page and thanks for linking me. :)

i like reading you're post too. :) i'll link u soon yeah.