A Child From Grace
by Tuyet Tran, translated by Tea Ho
When I left the maternity ward of Lương Kim Vi hospital, I felt like a lost soul. A hundred worries swarmed my mind as I envisioned the obstacles my family would face in escaping under the H-O refugee program. I frustratedly recalled the doctor’s calm expression after he examined me:
“You’re two weeks pregnant!”
I had panicked, flustered with the news. I had hoped there had been a mistake, but he said it again with certainty:
“You’ve been pregnant for two weeks. Congratulations to you and your husband.”
My husband and I had been waiting for our interview with the American embassy. If everything went smoothly, the road to America would not be far away. Yet here I was: pregnant. Having another child in this moment was not part of the plan.
Khang had parked his motorbike in front of the hospital. He waited for me, cigarette flickering in his hand. He absentmindedly watched the clamor and frenzied activity of Tân Định market. I approached him, silent. Khang noticed me fixed on him and quickly asked:
“Did the doctor find anything?”
I dreaded telling him the truth. I was afraid of sending him into the same shock I was in, so I stayed silent. At the same time, I thought happiness and worries could not exist without each other, so I gingerly answered:
“The doctor says I’ve been pregnant for two weeks.”
Khang brought the cigarette to his lips and inhaled deeply. Its embers glowed brightly. He tossed the rest of it into the street. Khang didn’t say a word. His face was cold, expressionless. My discomfort grew. I didn’t know what my husband thought about bringing this unplanned baby into the world. Maybe Khang was still stuck in shock.
“What do you think?”
“Think about what?” Khang asked curtly as he started the motorbike. I climbed onto the motorbike behind him and wrapped my arms around his waist. I was angry because he wouldn’t say anything more. Losing my temper and overcome with emotion, I choked out:
“What? You’re not worried? It’s almost the day of our interview, and now we’re unlucky enough to be stuck with this pregnancy. I’m worried about the day I sit in that interview chair with this pregnancy burning in my stomach. I’ll have to stay and wait to give birth before we can try to go. Our friends in the H-O program will go and leave us behind while we’re stuck here!“
Khang let the motorbike slow to a stop. He pulled up to a food stall at the front of the market and gently said:
“Baby, eat something. Even if it’s just a bit. To keep up your strength, okay?”
I shook my head. My throat was dry, bitter. My stomach inside, making me want to vomit. I sighed:
“I’m so sick of this! This pregnancy started two or three days ago and all I want to do is throw up.”
“If you can’t eat, just try to eat a little something to keep your strength. Let me order a cup of hot milk for you. Please, darling. I love you.”
Exhausted, I nodded to get it over with. Khang looked at me lovingly. He took my hand and placed it on his chest.
“What are you worried about? Heaven nurtures what heaven bears. If our fate is to go to America, we’ll go sooner or later. To have a child is a blessing. Many couples hope to have a child and can’t. They’d trade everything to have a baby and still not be able to. Please don’t worry. Just try to stay healthy, for you and the baby.”
“But we already have two kids! Men don’t have to get pregnant or give birth, so how would you know what it’s like? Besides, it’ll get in the way of us finally escaping...” I broke into tears.
Just as I worried, when the day came for my interview at the American Embassy, my pregnant belly stuck out, impossible to ignore. Since getting pregnant, I could barely eat, so I looked haggard. After I met with the officials at the embassy, I angrily told my husband:
“Why are the Americans so worried? Back then, my mother was about to give birth and still had to outrun enemy forces. The passage to America is by plane and couldn’t be safer. It wouldn’t affect the fetus at all, so why would they make me stay behind to give birth before I can go? I’m so angry!”
“Please honey, don’t get hung up on the negative stuff – it’s bad for the baby. The time that we have to stay behind and wait for the baby to come will be good for us. Since your mother,
brothers, and sister are all still here, I’ll make sure you get to visit them more often during this time. Before you know it, we’ll be in America, and who knows how long it’ll be before we see them again.”
Looking at my husband’s loving, affectionate eyes, I found my spirit soothed. I felt so small and weak, but felt held in Khang’s caring and protective arms. He whispered:
“We must surrender to God. If we have more children, it is God’s will. In life, there is fortune and misfortune.”
Our friends who were in the same H-O refugee cohort as we were started to prepare for their own flights to the US. Watching our friends’ eagerness and excitement as they waited for their departure made me more and more sad and restless. As the fetus inside me grew larger each day, I grew more tired, heavy, and short-tempered. My close friends would come visit and cluck:
“How miserable! She naively fell for Khang’s ‘seduction’ and that’s why things are the way they are. She should’ve gotten rid of it early in her pregnancy. If she had, she’d have the wings to fly to the US by now with everyone else instead of hanging around like this.”
I didn’t say a word. I completely disagreed but didn’t argue. After all, everyone has their own reasons. Over time, I slowly found peace in my heart and accepted that I would have to wait, our escape delayed. I began a diary for my third child who was about to be welcomed into the world. I felt overcome with love when I thought of the baby growing inside of me: so small and fragile and needing my protection. Khang would place his ears on my belly to hear the baby’s heartbeat. I told my husband:
“We’ll name the baby Thiên Ân.” Grace.
Khang understood what I meant. He was touched to hear I wanted to name our child that. Yes, the child who had arrived, unannounced and unplanned, was thanks to the grace of God. Khang and I would have to take on more challenges to have another child, but we no longer felt worried or hopeless. We believed in God and prayed.
* * *
In the end, our family of five settled in the United States. The day I left for America, my little surprise baby was seven months old. The other families on our flight saw me and must have thought I was so afraid to go on this long journey to America with a baby in one arm and a bag overflowing with baby accessories in the other. And we still had to stay a full week in Thailand in a refugee camp. Khang and I were worried about the oppressive heat of Thailand in the summer. Strange lands and strange things lay ahead, and I still had the health of my children to worry about. My husband comforted me: “When heaven births elephants, heaven provides the grass.”
These days, we live in a small house in a quiet suburb in Northern California. Our family is happy, warm. My children have grown up to be smart, sweet kids. Thiên Ân is thirteen years old now. Despite growing up in America, she still works hard to read, write, and speak Vietnamese. She wants to grow up to be a veterinarian because she loves animals so much.
Watching our cute little girl standing before us, now a young lady of thirteen, I noticed Khang smile and I said:
“We went after two whole cohorts of the H-O program had already left, so I was worried. When we lived under Communist rule, each day was another day of worries. But here we are: everything turned out beautifully. Truly, she was a gift from God to both of us.”
* * *
About the author:
Tuyet Tran is happily retired in the Bay Area, California. She spends her spare time traveling and caring for her grandchildren.
Her daughter, Tea Ho, translated this. Tea lives in Brooklyn, NY where she works as a writer.