My parents had a busy decade from 1970 to 1980, because during this time they succeeded in producing three female children. My sisters and I are very different, very much the same, and bound to each other by blood, history, love, loyalty, joy and pain. We have been there for each other (sometimes sulkily) every step of the way. We have seen each other through the freakish school years, the wild university years, countless friendships, numerous relationships, four engagements, two marriages, one divorce, too many funerals, three miscarriages, three births and yes, even one abortion. Feeling horrified at this casual admission? Why? The decision was not casually made. It is one that has never been forgotten. But it was the right one. It absolutely was.
So yes, we siblings have seen a lot together. And then, just before Christmas, the youngest of us, Macaron, made an announcement that has bound us even closer.
For Macaron, 2016 had been a mixed bag of a year, begun with optimism, she went about her life with her usual intelligence and humour, but let's face it, turning 40 takes the wind out of anyone's sails and for Macaron that fast approaching event was proving more mill stone than milestone.
In early December she Whatsapped our 'sisters' group and said she needed to talk to us. She had pleaded work and been pretty scarce at recent family events so her seriously worded invitation puzzled and rather alarmed my elder sister Coq Au Vin and myself. The look on her face when we got to her cosy apartment did nothing to calm us.
Coq Au: What's going on? You're making us nervous
Me: Are you ill?
Macaron: No.....well, there is an 'ill' element. But that's not permanent
Coq Au: What do you mean?
Me: Stop dithering and start talking!
Macaron: (taking a deep breath) You are both going to be aunts. Well, I know you are already aunts. But you will both be aunts at the same time now.
And, well, I won't be an aunt.
Coq Au and I looked at each other. It dawned on us that this was the most eloquently phrased pregnancy announcement in the world. We looked back at
Macaron. She smiled. We both rushed over to hug her.
While the situation is not unusual in some places, here in Sri Lanka, having a child out of wedlock still tends to cause a stir. The decision to have a baby when you are not married, and furthermore have no intention of marrying the man who fathered the child, is not one that is lightly taken. This is perhaps further complicated when you have reached the age of 40 and might generally be viewed to be 'too sensible' to have found yourself in this sort of 'situation'.
While we have at least three friends who made the decision to have babies minus wedding bands, those children are all in their teens now and their mothers were, frankly, the ballsy, independent and rebellious type (am not making sweeping generalizations here, it is simply a fact among those I know). Macaron doesn't exactly fit the profile. She is marvelous and talented and eccentric and blindingly intelligent, but she is also the softest and sweetest person imaginable. To be honest, of the three of us, if anyone was going to have child on their own steam it should have been me. Am pretty sure the sight of me wandering around, sans ring and with growing belly would have result in an "Ah typical Bouche". But not Macaron.
Coq Au Vin and I had a million questions. When are you due? Early June. How are you feeling? Much better now. Why didn't you tell us sooner? I just wanted to keep it to myself till I was 100% sure. Sure of what? That the baby was here to stay.
The next question of course was about the child's father. Who was he? And would he be in the picture? It turned out that the father to be lived abroad.
The relationship had been fun and they had parted on cordial terms, but with no promises made. He knew about the baby, respected her decision, and would put his name to the birth certificate. Everything else thereafter was still undecided. The fact that she hadn't even introduced us to the man seemed to speak volumes and to our relief Macaron showed no signs of breaking her heart over the fact that he might, in the future, merely be someone who made a small but vital contribution to her life.
"Were you trying to get pregnant?" I asked.
"I wasn't NOT trying" she replied.
Having found herself at a time and place in life where she knew that she wanted a baby, but also that she could no longer wait for the ideal relationship in which to have one (because while there is no real expiry date on finding ones soul mate, there is a very real expiry on one's viable eggs), Macaron had taken a chance.
My next question was "Have you told mother?" While the prospect of raising a child on her own had left Macaron relatively calm, the thought of telling our mother made her definitely nervous. We didn't blame her. Come with me? She pleaded. So we did. We decided we would break it to mother gently, with tact, refinement and even elegance.
The sight of all three of her daughters looking discomfited did much for our mothers' good humour. "It's not my birthday and Christmas isn't for three weeks, so why are you all here? Don't you take it in turns to deal with the termagant that I am"? she asked "What is it? Is one of you ill?"
We assured her we were not. "Bouche have you come to announce your marriage to The Man?" I replied indignantly that I had most certainly not "How disappointing" said mother "You must tell me one day what on earth you are waiting for" She then glared at poor Coq Au "I hope you haven't come to tell me that Oeuf 1 is pregnant!" Stung to the core poor Coq Au couldn't help herself "Of course she isn't!" she cried "Macaron is the one who is pregnant!"
Macaron put her head in her hands. There was a moment of absolute silence.
"Congratulations baby girl" said our mother "Finally. Finally, you will have your hearts' desire"
Then we all cried. Because while we three sisters are strong together, with our mother we are invincible.
We decided Christmas lunch would be a good time to tell the rest of the troop. This included Oeuf 1 and Oeuf 2 (my nieces) and Trou (my son). The children reacted very much in character "Single motherhood? Very cool" said Oeuf 1. "Yay! I can babysit" said Oeuf 2. Trou said "That's super. Congratulations" and went back to enthusiastically emptying out the bottle of Cranberry sauce.
On the way home he asked "So is there a dad? I mean of course there is a dad. She didn't like have a sperm donor....right?" He blushed. I put him out of his misery and explained. "I hope it's a boy" he said "We need more boys".
Things haven't been easy for Macaron. Explaining things at her work place proved more embarrassing and awkward than she anticipated and she was hurt and shamed by the judgmental attitudes of her superiors and of some of the parents of her students.
While close friends have been supportive, she is continuously meeting people whose reactions are less than favorable. Like the acquaintance at the super market who gleefully crowed "Ah! You are getting fat again!" When Macaron explained that she was in fact pregnant she was accused of having not invited the lady in question to her wedding. When informed that there had been no wedding, said lady had widened her eyes in horror and beaten a hasty retreat. "Like immorality might be catching" observed Macaron wryly.
She has been told that she is brave/mad/foolish/right/stupid/shameless/virtuous/selfish/selfless to keep this baby. "People can't seem to decide whether I am Virgin Mary and a slut" said Macaron. She sounded exhausted.
It's like the fact that her deeply personal decision is manifesting in an obvious physical way, has made her wear the equivalent of a sign saying 'hit me', though in her case the sign says 'Judge me' in big bold letters.
While Macaron may be weary, our mother is renewed. It is after all 13 years since her last grandchild arrived. She is also receiving calls and visits from people she hasn't seen in years, most of them wanting to either shame her, listen to her lament, or die of the same thing the cat suffered from. Giving none of these vultures the satisfaction they crave has added at least another five years to our mothers' life.
In some ways Macaron's decision feels like a political statement. When women's rights are under attack, when things we fought so hard to gain are being taken away with the stroke of a pen, when for every step forward we seem to take two back, and decisions about what we can do with our bodies seem to be out of our hands.... my sister couldn't have picked a finer moment for a defiant stand on her right to choose what to do with her life.
I said this to her the other night. She rolled her eyes. "I tell you what" she said "Make me some achcharu with as many veralu as you can find, and I will be any damn political statement you want".
Grab them by the achcharu.
Now there's a slogan we can march with.