She felt cold. So cold. The bright fluorescent white lights of hospital theatre made everything appear so pristine, sterile and incisive. Just like the cut to her womb, they said they needed to do to save her baby. They all dressed in blue and white scrubs. Soft, reassuring voices. She was quickly wheeled in. She heard his heartbeat, loud and strong, but they said, it was dropping.
“I’m here to make you feel comfortable”, the anaesthetist reassured her with a hand to her shoulder.
She did not remember much. The pulling of the green screen curtains shut, the cut of the umbilical cord, her memory was all but hazy.
She distinctly remembered the bright lights. She remembered her baby placed on her chest and as soon as that happened, the nurse whisked him away. She remembered he did not cry, unlike how babies often cry in the movies seconds upon arriving earthside. She remembered feeling cold, very, very, cold. So cold she shivered and jerked constantly and uncontrollably. She remembered she did not have a choice.
The surgery brought home the memory of the day she boarded bus 412 to George Street just days following her arrival in Sydney, Australia. With her backpack and her dangling earphones, she headed to the back of the bus.
“Go back to where you came from”, a soft, ghostly whisper shaped like an echo wafted across.
What the…? She pretended not to hear.
It was the year 2006, in February. Barely two months after the Cronulla Riots.
At the time, she did not understand the significance of those ghastly words. It was only years later that when she reflected on her first bus trip in Sydney did it begin to dawn upon her — that the cold reception of the people whose country she now calls home — was an ominous warning.
When her second child was born, she had moved beyond caring what others thought of her lifestyle choices. They told her that she could not birth her baby naturally and that she needed surgery in case of sudden rupture. Boy, was she lucky she had met a birth centre midwife who supported her choice for a natural birth! With the support of a doula by her side, her daughter entered this world as quickly and as fiery as her temperament has become.
Christmas of 2012 was somewhat uneventful. Consumed by the heat, the buffet of cold prawns and grilled fish in place of the traditional turkey, she remembered little, except her disbelief when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd replaced Julie Gillard six months later. As the year wore on, the Nauru detention centre burnt down following the riots in July 2013.
“Go back to where you came from.” These words came hurtling back, simultaneously haunting the darker corridors of her mind. When reiterated enough, words are ascribed power.
Power to hurt.
Power to change.
Power to heal.
She looked tenderly at her baby girl in her arms. She was just beginning to walk and observe the happenings around her. She looks up to her mother to guide her response. Her brother accidentally pushes her to the ground. How many more accidental pushes before she starts pushing back?
Just like the boats being pushed back to prevent asylum seekers — people — from landing on Australian soil. People who each have stories to tell, trauma to re-live, lives to rebuild, torn apart by the wars waged upon them. They do not have a choice but to flee their homes. That year in 2013, theirs were the stories that shaped some of her earliest memories of living in Australia.
The power we give to words to breathe life into policies that take life away.
This is an excerpt from a six-part fiction piece yet to be fully published.