Unusual Case of Pregnancy

11.05.2017





IT was when she heard about ‘Nong Cayog that Dr. Janet Ypil, an obstetrician, once again felt hopeful that she did not have to stay barren her entire life.
            It was her friend Hanilyn who told her about him. When Hanilyn went to her for an ultrasound, Dr. Ypil could just laugh in disbelief. A year ago, Hanilyn was infertile too and Dr. Ypil’s four years in medical school told her she was not mistaken, but right on the screen was an image of a developing male fetus she was conceiving.
            “I went to ‘Nong Cayog,” said Hanilyn. “He’s an albularyo.”
            “Albularyo?” Dr. Ypil asked.
            She had tried everything. At least everything obstetricians like her do not normally try. She had taken fertility drugs, hoping everything was caused by hormonal problems. She had gone to several chapels kneeling and praying in front of the icons of different saints. She had forced herself to dance during an infertility festival in Obando. But nothing happened. She was still barren. They could’ve opted for Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injections if only it were not too expensive. But she had never consulted an albularyo before.


“I’ve also been kneeling in the chapel for years, Janet,” Hanilyn said. “And I think this came as an answer. ‘Nong Cayog came as an answer, and he did what he could do for my husband and I to have a child.”
            Dr. Ypil was silent, she thought about her husband and what he might tell her again if she failed once more.
            “Give it a try, Janet,” Hanilyn said. “I know you’ve also done everything to be pregnant, so you might as well give it a try. There’s nothing wrong with trying, but there’s always something wrong with not doing anything.”

AS she drove herself home that day, clutching a small piece of paper in her right hand, her thought ricocheted between her husband and Hanilyn. She knew Bernard grew tired of waiting for something to work. They have recently started fighting over small things, expanding issues about misplaced keys, unfixed blankets, uncooked meals, and objects they did not normally argue about in the beginning of their marriage. The fact that she cannot bear a child changed their relationship entirely. Her husband was tired of being stuck in the house alone with her.
            If only there was something that could keep us together, she thought.
            She was a few kilometers from her house when she suddenly made a U-turn and drove faster. She looked at the piece of paper in her hand and examined the address Hanilyn had written there.
            This is the last straw, she told herself.

SITIO Mangga was probably the last place Dr. Ypil would want to visit. It was a one-hour travel from downtown, and when she reached there, she almost regretted that she did what Hanilyn advised.
After minutes of driving around the Sitio, asking villagers for directions, she parked her car under a large mango tree.She went out and stood before a kubo enclosed by a wooden fence that was already falling apart. The dusty ground was bare, save for a hen and its chicks feeding on rice crumbs. From where she was standing, she can make out the kubo’s open door,and hear the loud radio from inside.
            “Ayo!” she called, stretching her neck to catch a glimpse of anyone inside. “Ayo!”
            An old man in a large campaign shirt of a politician, back hunched, hair white and thinning, peered through his open door with a grin so wide it showed his teeth all decayed.
“Mr. Cayog?” Dr. Ypil asked.
He nodded and gestured her to enter.
            The house could’ve been empty if not for the wooden chair and the table where ‘Nong Cayog placed his plate, his utensils, and his loud radio. Dr. Ypil eyed the dried stems and leaves on the amakan wall and the bottles of ointments near the window.
            “Protection from aswang,” ‘NongCayog said, smiling still, pointing at the dried stems. He moved the chair from the table and gestured Dr. Ypil to sit down. “What do you need?”
            “My friend, uh, Hanilyn,” she said, sitting down, “she went to me for, uh, an ultrasound and she told me—”
            “Ah,” the albularyo interrupted. “Lyn-Lyn, that smart lady. How is she? Is it a boy or a girl?”
            “It’s a male,” Dr. Ypil answered.
            “I knew it!” Mr. Cayog exclaimed, laughing, and eventually culminating to a loud cough. He turned his back to her and went towards the sink made of bamboo slats.
            “I, uh, Hanilyn, she told me I could come here for, uh, help,” Dr. Ypil explained, wondering if the albularyo could hear her as he filled his cup with water from the clay pot. “I’m barren.”
            The albularyo stopped and turned to her. His grey eyes stared at Dr. Ypil, his face covered with wrinkles as he grinned. “Very well,” he said as he approached her. “Can you stand up?”
            Dr. Ypil stood up as Mr. Cayog went closer and closer to her so that she can smell the strong odor of his tobacco. When he extended his hands to her abdomen, Dr. Ypil, shocked, immediately backed off.
            “Don’t worry. I’m not a rapist,” the albularyo said with an even intense laughter and coughing. He laid his palm flat on her abdomen, his smile fading. He stared at her squarely, eyebrows furrowed.
            “This is strange,” he said. “You can’t bear a child.”
            “Well, biologically, I’m incapable—”
            “This is difficult,” ‘NongCayog cut her midsentence, rubbing his chin.
            “If you… if you can’t do it, I, uh, might as well just—”
            “No, no, no, no,” he interrupted as Dr. Ypil attempted to leave. “I can. Can you please take a seat?”
            Dr. Ypil sat down, then the albularyo rubbed his palms together, closing his eyes to think.
After a loud ‘Aha!’ he got the cup of water on his table and balanced it on Dr. Ypil’s head, humming together with the song on the radio.
            “Don’t move,” he whispered. After turning down the radio’s volume, he closed his eyes and touched the obstetrician’s head. She slightly turned her head towards the open door, wishing that no one could see her sitting down with a cup on her head and an old man in front of her murmuring words she cannot make out.
            To her surprise, the water started boiling, but it never fell from her head nor did it turn warm. She tried to relax as Mr. Cayog continued his enchantment until the boiling stopped. The albularyo took it and gave it to her.
            “Drink,” he said. Dr. Ypil gave her a questioning look and did not even touch the cup.
            “Don’t worry, it’s just clay pot water, and it will not turn you into a mermaid,” Mr. Cayog joked.
            Dr. Ypil took the cup from him and, in one gulp, downed its tasteless content.
            “Congrats,” Mr. Cayog told her, taking the cup from her, and putting it back on the table.
            “T-that’s it?”
            “Yes,” the albularyo said. “You might want to spend time with your husband tonight,” he added with a silly wink.
            Dr. Ypil, confused, nodded in response. She took the wallet from her pocket but the albularyo shook his head.
            “You see that?” he asked, pointing at the hole in his roof. “If I’m successful, which is highly likely to be the case, give me something that could fix that.”
            Transfixed, it took her a few seconds before saying, “Okay.”
 “T-thank you very much, Mr. Cayog,” she added.
            She turned her back and stroked her belly before leaving the albularyo’s house.

WEEKS after, inside her office, she was staring at the pregnancy test for what seemed like an hour, ignoring even the ringing of her telephone as she thought about Hanilyn, ‘Nong Cayog, and the time she wasted for visiting him, and her husband’s anger after she came home late that night and was not able to cook his favorite adobo.
            It has been around three weeks since she slept with her husband and she was still her normal self: no periods missed, no morning sicknesses, no backaches. She wanted to go back to Mr. Cayog and asked for an explanation, but she did not want to waste another two hours. Her husband was also getting more irritable and impatient recently, so she did not want to argue with him again. She can only imagine short-tempered Bernard shouting at her for seeking help from an albularyo like how they argued after he discovered she danced on an infertility rite in Obando.
            After spacing out in her office, tapping her pen on the table for minutes, hearing nothing but the noise from the air-conditioner, she grabbed her phone and decided to call Hanilyn, but as soon as she opened the phone, her husband’s messages were splashed on the screen. Alarmed and almost jumping out of her seat, she hurriedly contacted him.
            “JANET! WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH THE ADOBO?” Bernard was shouting from the other line even before Dr. Ypil was about to say “Hello.”
            Her lips were trembling in surprise that she cannot utter a word to ask what happened. Minutes after, she drove herself home worrying that they might again argue over a thing so petty like a chicken adobo.

WHEN she arrived, her husband was vomiting on the sink. His coat and pants were draped over the couch where a faint trail of his vomit started.
            “What happened?” she asked, fixing her husband’s necessities.
            “Ask yourself that,” Bernard said, wiping his lips, and walked and sprawled on the couch, closing his eyes in pain.
            “M-maybe you’ve eaten something aside from—”
            “I started vomiting as soon as I arrived at the office, so don’t tell me it’s not the adobo,” he argued as he massaged his forehead.
            “I’m sorry but—”
            “It will never happen again, I know,” Bernard interrupted, starting to raise his voice.
            Dr. Ypil decided to keep silent as usual. She turned her back and uttered, “I’ll just… look for the medicines.” As she walked towards the kitchen, she was already blinking back tears.

“HE just told me that it was strange and, uh, difficult,” Dr. Ypil said as she moved the transducer over Hanilyn’s round belly. Her temples still throbbed from the sleepless nights she spent taking care of her husband who complained of backaches and interrupted their rests as he occasionally went to the restroom to pee. He decided to skip work that day as he again felt extremely sick. She told him to go to the doctor, but he did not listen as always, telling her he can manage the dizziness.
            “Maybe you just, I don’t know, maybe you just have to wait,” Hanilyn said, staring at the screen.
            Dr. Ypil sighed.
            “Look, those were the hands,” she said, pointing at the ultrasound image. Hanilyn examined it carefully and smiled.
            “And you might not believe me, but my husband and I, we, uh, we fought over chicken adobo nights before,” Dr. Ypil shared.
            Hanilyn laughed out loud. She was used to hearing her friend complain about their arguments, and she laughed every time she heard about how petty they were. Dr. Ypil had tons of reasons to leave her husband, but she cannot even get out of the house every time he told her his stomach ached again, or when he started vomiting again. She still worried about him.
            “What’s the problem?” her friend asked when she noticed she was staring into space.
            “I just think that, maybe, it wasn’t really about the adobo. He just wanted to get angry, Han. To me, particularly. He just wanted to show me how upset he was that until now we’re alone together in that lonely house.”
            Hanilyn pressed Dr. Ypil’s hand as her eyes started to fill up with tears.
            “Do you think I should leave him?” Dr. Ypil said after a long moment of silence.

SHE stepped inside her house, computing how much an annulment may cost, when she was welcomed by the strong odor of vinegar from the sala.
            “Bernard?”
            She found him sitting on the couch in front of the television dipping pomelo in a saucer of vinegar.
            “How are you feeling?” she asked, handing him the medicines for his nausea and fatigue.
            “Better,” he answered, his eyes still fixed on the television. “My back still aches, though.”
            She stood there staring at Bernard.
“Did you… have you been monitoring your weight?” she asked out of a sudden.
Bernard gave him a questioning look and sneered. “I know I’ve been eating too much. Don’t rub it in my face.”
 ‘Nong Cayog’s voice echoed inside Dr. Ypil’s head. Hands trembling, she picked something from her shoulder bag, hoping that she was just overthinking.
            “Bernard,” she called.
            When his attention remained to the television, she raised her shaking voice. “Bernard! I think you need this.”
            Bernard turned his head and his jaw dropped in surprise as he stared at the pregnancy test on Dr. Ypil’s hand.

“PUTANG ina!” Bernard complained, his hands clutched around the steering wheel so tightly that Dr. Ypil could see his veins pulsing in anger. They were driving all the way to Sitio Mangga after the pregnancy tests told them Bernard was pregnant. They did it thrice to make sure, only to arrive at the same result.
            Dr. Ypil told her about her visit with Mr. Cayog, and she did not expect it would only make matters worse. He restrained himself from punching her and his fist landed on the wall instead. Dr. Ypil looked at his red knuckles as he drove.
            “I did not mean to—”
            “How many times do I have to tell you we’re hopeless, ha, Janet?”
            “I was just trying to help.”
            “You’re not helping. You made everything worse. Now what are we going to do? Come on, I’m giving you the chance to help. What are we going to do?”
            “That’s why we’ll talk to Mr. Cayog. Maybe… maybe he can do something.”
            “Or maybe I’ll kill him for what he did,” Bernard snapped.
            “Just… just relax, ‘Nard.”
            He looked at her squarely in the face.
            “Relax? How can I relax, ha? How can you sit there and relax when you husband is fucking pregnant? Fuck you!”
            As soon as she heard those words, her tears started to rush down her cheeks even if she tried to stop them. She turned her head to avoid her husband’s stare. She looked at the vehicles whizzing past, but her mind was somewhere else. She wanted to get out of the car, but the same time she wished Mr. Cayog could do something to save her husband.

BY the time they reached the albularyo’s house, her tears had already dried up. His husband stormed inside the house calling the albularyo’s name.
“It has been weeks,” ‘Nong Cayog greeted when they entered. “And I am expecting you to come.”
            “Mr. Cayog—”
            “How is he?” the old man pointed at Bernard, cutting Dr. Ypil midsentence.  “Am I successful?”
            The couple looked at each other. Mr. Ypil inhaled and started to speak.
            “I don’t believe any of this. But the pregnancy test said it’s positive and—”
            “Oh, which means I’m successful. Congratulations, Mister.”
            “Lintik. What are you, fool? I’m pregnant, old man, what are you thinking?” he said at the top of his voice. “I’m not happy! If you’ve caused all of this, then you have to do something!”
            Dr. Ypil hissed at him for yelling at the albularyo.
            “I guess you don’t have to stress yourself. That’s not good for pregnant… well, pregnant men,” said ‘Nong Cayog with his usual laughing and coughing.
            “Can you just shut up and do what you can do—”
            “Mr. Cayog,” Dr. Ypil interrupted. “We need your help. Yes, we will be having a child, but why him? I just don’t understand… I think you can do something.”
            ‘Nong Cayog chuckled. “No. I can’t. That’s final. I said it’s an unusual case. I just want to give you what you needed, like what an albularyo should do. Well, if you don’t want it, you can always end the life of the child inside.”
            “That’s not what I am saying. We want the child, but we want it in… in other ways.”
            “Well, there’s no other way. I’m sorry.”
            “But you’re an albularyo, you can—”
            Bernard already had his hands folded into fists. Dr.Ypil stopped him as soon as he advanced towards the old man.
            “Mr. Cayog. We’re begging. I guess you can find other ways… to… to solve all this,” she pleaded.
            “There is no other way, I repeat. You just have to accept everything. Take care of your husband like how an obstetrician should take care of a pregnant woman. That’s the solution there. Nothing else. Consider it a blessing. That was your wish, right?”
            “Bullshit!” her husband exclaimed. He pulled Dr. Ypil’s hands and dragged her out. “We’re wasting time.”
            Just when they were about to enter the car, Mr. Cayog went out of the house.
            “Remember, you’ve got a roof to fix!” he yelled. “Goodbye!”
            They sat down inside the car and started the engine, leaving without even giving thanks.

“YOU will never get pregnant, Janet. You of all people should know that. You’re an obstetrician,” Bernard said as he drove their way back home.
            Dr. Ypil was tight-lipped, preventing herself from crying.
            “You’re… you’re driving past… past the speed limit,” she cautioned, staring at the speedometer that was now over 120.
            His husband, ignoring her, shifted into high gear instead. “What will I tell my boss, ha? Maternity leave?”
            Dr. Ypil clutched her seatbelt as she felt him drive even faster.
            “This is all your fault! You asked for help from a stranger! You’re too desperate to have a child! You’re barren! You are barren! We can’t have a child, do you understand? You just have to accept it! There’s just the two of us. Nothing more!”
            He swallowed and pressed his hand on his forehead as he squinted. Dr. Ypil knew he was getting nauseated again.
            “Let me drive,” she said, touching Bernard’s arm, but he immediately pushed her hand away.
            “I’ll do whatever I want here. I know what I am doing,” he blurted out, overtaking the bus in front of them.
            He inhaled deeply and just when he was about to rotate the steering wheel, a beeping erupted from in front of them. Bernard immediately pulled to the side of the road to avoid the truck, hitting the brake so that their bodies were flung forward when the car made a full stop.
            Her husband stayed holding the steering wheel, catching his breath. He looked at his shaking hands, feeling its numbness. Then, slowly, he put his hands on his belly. He felt his skin, his flesh, until he seemed to reach what’s inside it.
            He sat there for seconds with his hands on his stomach, not even blinking. He turned his head to look at his wife. He cried, for the first time in their relationship, and hugged her.
            “I felt it,” he said, his voice muffled by his crying. “I felt it.”
            Dr. Ypil, too, cried as she rubbed her husband’s back. At last, it came. A blessing, a thing that could keep them together.
x

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Fiction, Reil Benedict Obinque
Illustration, Mirjam Dalire

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Published alongside Davao Nilngig Film Festival's Panagtagbo zine.
© The Panagtagbo. Base codes by Fearne. Tweaks by AMC