Dear Papa

Papa and I: This day last year

My entire birth plan was mapped out. I was dead set on a natural birth. No intervention. No epidural. C-section: last, last resort.

Little did I know my plan would go up in flames from the moment go, ha! Not ha. It was quite traumatic actually.

They say when your labour begins, you need to think happy things to progress. I look back and I admit that I was anything BUT happy.

Papa was diagnosed with cancer early November 2019.
I was expected to give birth to my baby girl late October 2020.
However, Papa was almost a year into fighting his cancer.

The doctors from the get go had said that the cancer was aggressive and could only be controlled. I discovered my pregnancy not long after his diagnosis. And though I was dead set on finding a solution, somewhere, a countdown had begun.

Come October 2020, I wasn’t just thinking about the pending arrival of my little girl. I was also anxiously witnessing Papa deteriorate. Every day I would listen to him reassure me that he was fine, and the pain was ‘normal’, ‘under control’ but I knew. I knew in my heart that our silent enemy was gaining the upper hand. And I hated it so much. I cried into my pillow almost every night that year. Worrying about Papa. And worrying about my baby and whether those intense emotions were negatively impacting her.

I was desperate for my little one to arrive as soon as possible. The thought of Papa not meeting her broke my absolute heart. His entire fight, the one thing that would bring a genuine smile to his face was the thought of his first grandchild rolling around.

Come October 2020, the sound of the clock started ticking even louder. It was that sound that made it impossible for me to be happy, or anything near calm when my labour began.

Let’s go back to a week before I gave birth to the little human you now know as Aaira Noor.

My labour started 5 days before I actually gave birth. Early labour they call it. You’re expected to stay home, remain active and wait till the contractions get regular. Mine were absent throughout the day and ramped up the most at night (meaning no sleep).

On day 2 of being in early labour, Papa had an appointment with a specialist. 12pm this day (22nd October) will forever be etched in my memory. The professionals held their hands up and said there was nothing more they could do.

I remember holding the phone away from my mouth and choking back tears. My eyes wept as I clamped a hand to my mouth, muffling the painful sound of defeat. My chest felt like it was about to explode with the pressure I was holding back whatever it was rising in me.

I had never felt such pain in my life. Never.

There were two times I cried like that during Papa’s illness. The first time I found out he was diagnosed and… then. The time I found out there was nothing more we could do.

Excruciating.

It was probably a good thing I couldn’t physically make the consultation. I would not have had the strength to give Papa a fake ‘it will all be ok’ smile in that moment.

I had left that hard task to my brother.

Here I was in the middle of giving life and my dear Papa was hearing a deadline to his. I never ever imagined life to throw this curve ball. My contractions had come to a standstill and I felt so incredibly hollow.

I remember the deafening silence on the other end of the phone.

Papa’s face flashed in front of my eyes. And my heart sank even further thinking of how he must be feeling in that moment. Even then I am told by siblings that he smiled, calmly. He smiled at them, to reassure them. I wasn’t to know. I was on the other end of the phone.

Instinct kicked in. I needed him to know we got this. That the strength he had so lovingly poured into our tiny little hearts as children, as adults was there. That the fight we had seen in him for the people he loved, was something he had beautifully fiercely embedded in our heart and soul.

Clearing my throat and shaking the tears out of my voice, I calmly asked the consultant a few more questions. Irrelevant questions. I knew the answers already, but I wanted Papa to hear my steady voice. I wanted him to feel some comfort. If that was at all possible. I wanted him to know that even though it
wasn’t okay, somehow, we would make it okay. He protected us our entire lives, it was now my time to protect him, to make this transition as painless as possible.

The moment that phone call was over, I let myself cry.

With every tear, every heave, the internal strength I had held on to for the entire year fell away – I could no longer push myself to be optimistic. I just couldn’t do it.

Throughout Papa’s entire illness, people close to me would tell me that I was holding up well. And I had done. Outwardly. I would go about my day as normal as possible, but only let myself cave into the crushing emotions when night would fall. When my mind had nothing but thoughts to work with. I had an internal system going and it worked. Friends on social media, they too were not aware of Papa’s illness, until after he passed and that was because part of my coping mechanism was to focus on solutions. Manage. Keep going. Don’t linger. Even though it probably hasn’t done my mind any favours now, it did what it was meant to. It got me through.

That day, I could no longer push myself to be normal. As hard as I tried, my brain did not have the energy, not when every fibre in my body had given up.

But, I knew that wasn’t fair on my little girl.

Once I was all teared out, I wiped my face and told myself and my husband that I needed to focus on getting my baby girl out as soon as possible.

There was no way in hell I was letting my Papa go without meeting her.

No way.

——

If you have got this far, thank you so much for reading. It means a lot to me.

If you have lost a loved one, or are currently working through hard feelings around a loved one being seriously unwell, know that I am thinking of you. You are stronger than you think.

I plan to post the next part soon – it is written up, just finding the strength to press publish. If you would like to be notified when I upload, please click here.

Love,

Lubna x

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