By the time my sister was born on a calm June day in 1993, she was the most wanted baby in the world – at least in our dad’s eyes.
Years earlier, he’d missed my birth while pursuing his graduate studies in Canada. More than 7,000 miles away in Chongqing, my mother underwent a C-section; I was fashionably late – by two whole weeks in fact – to my own party, and the doctors could wait no longer. Luckily, the operation went smoothly.
If anything, the pregnancy was harder on my father. In those days, China still relied on snail mail and telegrams. Placing a long-distance call cost over RMB 10 a minute – an exorbitant amount. Dad thought constantly about Mom and the life growing inside her belly. Were we OK? Was she eating properly? Was she resting enough? Would the baby have ten fingers and ten toes?
After I was born, my uncle went to the nearest post office to place a long-distance call to Canada. Back then, you had to fill out a form with your name, the city and country that you were calling, and a RMB 100 deposit – the equivalent of a decent month’s salary. After the form was submitted, an operator would direct you to a room (“Room number 2!”) with a single phone. My dad spoke to my uncle for two or three minutes at most, but that’s all it took to change his life forever.
Years later when my mom got pregnant for the second time, Dad was adamant about being present at the birth. Like me, my sister had given Mom no trouble during the pregnancy; unlike me, she arrived right on time. Our mother approached this second birth with the composure of a five-star general. She had been fully conscious during my delivery, as the doctors in Chongqing had only administered a local anesthetic. When her Canadian doctors expressed surprise at her wanting to do the same for Nancie’s birth, Mom was unruffled. “It’s what I’m used to,” she said.
On the day my sister was due, Dad was beckoned into the delivery room. He wasn’t wearing his glasses at the time and could only make out the outline of operating curtains in the dark. To his horror, they were drawn back to reveal blood all over the hospital bed. Dad started shaking uncontrollably. Cool as a cucumber, Mom asked: “Are you cold?” “Yeah, a little bit,” he replied. Luckily, the C-section was over in 20 to 30 minutes.
When my dad finally held Nancie for the first time, his life changed all over again. My mom had never seriously considered having another child before immigrating to Canada; with the one-child policy in effect, what good would have come of it? My dad, however, had always cherished the idea of a large family. Nancie’s arrival was a blessing, the fulfillment of an implausible but never forgotten dream.
My sister and I might have been born nearly seven years apart in different lands, but the doctors had traced over our mother’s old scar to bring her into the world. For Dad, our family was complete. Is it any surprise that, to this day, my sister and I remain our father’s daughters? (Even if he is still a bit squeamish around blood.)
photos by Sijia Chen
This article originally appeared on p9 of the beijingkids October 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com