EVEN THOUGH THEY had spent only five full days in the Bahamas, Sam and Emma both felt like their honeymoon had lasted much longer. Every day spent in each other’s company– even working at humdrum OmegaStar — was full of bliss. It was a luxury to be alone together, finally, without any barriers. They could fall asleep in each other’s arms each night and wake up with the giddy realization that they were husband and wife, with a whole delicious future stretched out ahead of them.
They had decided to live in Emma’s condo, since Sam’s tiny studio apartment would have been too cramped for a couple. Fortunately, Margo had already been planning for some time to rent an apartment closer to her work, so she willingly moved out while the couple was on their honeymoon. Now, in the cozy two-bedroom condo with Monty the cat as their only “chaperone,” their married life began in earnest.
“Let’s make Margo’s old bedroom into a home office,” suggested Emma one day. It was over two months since their wedding, and the couple was enjoying a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast.
“Sure,” agreed Sam. “And someday,” he added with a sly smile, “we can convert it into a nursery.”
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Emma’s eyebrows shot up. “Someday,” she said quickly, “but not for a LONG time, right? We have so much traveling to do before we start a family. We’re both so young! And we’d need to save up a lot of money before we even think of having a baby. Kids are expensive.”
“Okay,” said Sam, calmly. “We should wait at least a few years; don’t you think?”
“I’d say five to seven years,” answered Emma with conviction. “I think when I’m in my early thirties I’ll be ready to put my career on hold and raise children.”
“So you’d want to be a stay-at-home mom?” clarified Sam. Emma could hear the relief in his voice. Clearly he had hoped for this answer.
“Yes, I think so,” she answered, after a bit of hesitation. “My mom didn’t work until I was in high school. By then my dad’s travel schedule had slowed down. I never realized, until I was older, how much it meant to me to have her around. She always made me feel so safe and secure. Even when we traveled all over the world, I always felt at home because my mom was there for me. I think moms – or dads– should stay home to raise their small children, if at all possible. Maybe you’d like to be a stay-at-home dad?” she proposed.
Sam laughed. Then he realized she was serious. He stopped mid-chuckle.
“Oh, um, I never thought about it. But, no, I wouldn’t. That’s not what I prepared for, you know. I worked hard to get my degree so I could have a good job.”
“So did I,” she answered, looking him straight in the eye. “I didn’t go to college so I could quit my job and stay home with kids.”
“But you just said you wanted to,” protested Sam.
“I’m willing to because I think it’s best for the children,” she stipulated, “but I’m just as invested in my career as you are.”
“Yes, of course. But women are made to be mothers. They’re the ones with the milk and the nurturing nature.”
“Dads can be nurturing,” she countered. “And milk can be given from a bottle. But anyway, I would be willing to stay at home, if and when we have any children. So you can relax.”
She took a sip of coffee and looked into her mug contemplatively.
“I’m so happy to hear you say that,” gushed Sam. “I would take care of things financially,” he promised, “so that you could focus on our kids and not worry.”
“Well, it will be nice not to worry financially,” agreed Emma, “but you’re also going to be an involved dad, right? I’d want our kids to have a father who plays with them and reads to them, not just someone who brings home a paycheck. And I would still want to pursue my own interests. I couldn’t stand being one of those women who loses her identity to diapers and nonstop episodes of Sesame Street.”
“I’ll definitely be involved,” declared Sam. As an image formed in his mind of a chubby, precious baby with Emma’s clear eyes and his dark hair, he smiled wistfully. Then suddenly he had a vivid flashback. Years ago, Sam had visited Mustafa and Maryem for a month, when their daughter was two and their son a newborn. Sam had seen firsthand the amount of crying, drooling, dirty diapers, mess, and exhaustion that children entailed. He had observed Mustafa’s bloodshot eyes as he tried to cope with his hospital rounds as well as parenting. Sam couldn’t help but notice his sister-in-law’s unusually frazzled and exhausted demeanor as she struggled through each day with two needy children. Sam had felt sorry for them, but also confused. As an eighteen-year-old student who already felt overwhelmed with his job and his studies, Sam couldn’t imagine why on earth anyone would want to further complicate life with children.
Coming out of his reverie, he looked at Emma. “You’re right. Waiting five to seven years is a very good idea.”
“Enough about kids!” she exclaimed vehemently. “How did we even get on that topic? Let’s talk about our next vacation!”
Several cups of coffee later, they had narrowed down their travel list to Indonesia and Malaysia.
“I’ll figure out at work tomorrow when you’ll be eligible for two weeks of vacation,” promised Emma. “I think by next summer you’ll have enough days off for a proper trip.”
But the next morning, Emma was feeling too ill to go to work.
“Probably a stomach bug,” she said to Sam, as he looked at her with concern. “Go on to work. I’ll stay home and rest.”
“Should I stay with you?” he asked with concern. “You look really unwell.”
“No, no. I’ll be okay. Really. I’ll take some ginger, and if things get too bad, I can call my mom.
Now go. You’re already running late.” She blew him a kiss.
“Okay,” he said with hesitation. “If you’re sure you’ll be alright. I’ll call you at lunchtime to check on you. And if you need me, I’ll come home early. Feel better soon.” He blew a kiss back. As he headed out the door, he could hear her retching in the bathroom.
When he walked into the condo again at 5:45 that evening, Sam found Emma sobbing on the couch.
“What’s wrong?!” he asked in alarm, running to her. “What happened?!”
“Sam! What if this isn’t a stomach flu? What if I’m pregnant?” she moaned the question, looking at him with pleading eyes.
He stared at her, his mind too muddled to take it all in. “You can’t be!” he finally said. “You’re taking care of that, right? So it won’t happen?”
“Well, yes,” she agreed, with tears still streaming down her face. “I’m on birth control, but it’s not 100% effective. And . . . “she looked at him sheepishly, “You know how you have to take a pill every single day at roughly the same time and never miss one?”
“No . . .” said Sam, who had no idea how the birth control pill worked.
“Well you do,” answered Emma, annoyed that he didn’t know this basic information. “And I’m not used to taking a pill every single day, and I think I might have forgotten one . . . or two . . . while we were in the Bahamas.”
“Well, surely missing a couple pills couldn’t make that much of a difference,” reasoned Sam.
“It could,” said Emma miserably. She opened her laptop to show him her recent Google search on birth control pills and the likelihood of pregnancy if any pills were missed. Sam skimmed the document and his face fell.
“Come on!” he said bracingly, to comfort himself as much as Emma. “Let’s not jump to conclusions! You probably just have a stomach flu. No one gets pregnant this quickly! We’ve only been married. . what. . two and a half months?”
“They can, and do,” she answered bleakly. “I just have a feeling I’m pregnant. I just know it, somehow. And, Sam . . . it’s NOT what I want!” She dissolved into tears again.
Sam patted her back distractedly as his mind raced. Could this be true? It would certainly throw all their plans off. As Emma had said, they were still quite young and had so much they wanted to accomplish and enjoy. One thing was for sure: a child would mean the end to the honeymoon phase.
Emma endured her nausea for the rest of the week, praying it would go away on its own accord. Since she had no fever, she went back to work, but several times found herself rushing to the restroom to be sick. On top of that, she felt a profound fatigue that weighed her down like a ton of cement. Strong black coffee was not enough to banish the all-consuming tiredness; she was afraid if she closed her eyes for even one second, she would fall asleep at her desk.
So, that weekend, when two blue lines appeared on the pregnancy test she had finally found the courage to buy, Emma was not surprised. She looked at them in resignation and laughed mirthlessly. The visions of backpacking with Sam through glorious Bali were instantly replaced with a terrifying image of herself, disheveled and weary, rocking a wailing baby in an empty, dismal room. Her tears fell silently as she sat on the edge of the toilet, gingerly holding the little white test kit that had just changed her world forever.
When she told Sam the news, he was dumbfounded. “I didn’t know it could happen this easily, this quickly,” he whispered. “I thought we had years before we had to deal with this.”
Emma just looked at him. He’s an intelligent man, she thought, but he can be so naive. Of course it could happen this quickly and easily! Why didn’t men ever seem to realize the possible consequences of sex? Why didn’t they care about birth control? Or help take responsibility for it? Because it’s not their lives that change completely, thought Emma bitterly.
“Well, this changes everything,” observed Sam.
“Understatement of the year,” grumbled Emma as she lay back on couch. She turned her body away from her husband and closed her eyes.
When she awoke from her nap, she could smell something tantalizing. Lately her stomach had been so upset, she’d been unable to hold down anything except crackers and broth. But this fragrance whet her appetite: onions, meat, fried potatoes.
“Cheeseburgers!” she cried enthusiastically, sitting up.
“I thought you might like this,” said Sam, proudly. “I got your favorite, with grilled onions and a big order of fries and a chocolate shake. I didn’t know if your stomach could handle it, but . . . “
“It’s perfect!” she exclaimed. She nearly leapt from the couch. She began to devour the food ravenously and felt only slightly embarrassed as her husband watched her with an amused expression on his face.
“Sorry,” she mumbled through a mouthful of cheeseburger.
“No, don’t be sorry! I’m relieved to see you eat. You’ve hardly eaten anything for a whole week, and I was worried. Maybe you just needed something more appetizing than crackers.”
“No, I couldn’t have eaten this a few days ago, but today it seems just right,” she said gratefully, between swallows. “Thank you! Now, hand me that milkshake.”
“I also brought extra pickles,” he said proudly, holding up a little plastic container. “Pregnant women like pickles, right?”
“That’s old wives’ tale,” she scoffed. But, looking at them, she had second thoughts. “Actually, give me one.”
She bit into the slice of salty, vinegary pickle and closed her eyes in bliss. Who knew pickles could be so delicious?! “Hand them over,” she said, with a smile. They both laughed.
The next morning, Emma felt slightly stronger as she got ready for work. She was applying lip gloss in front of the mirror and praying that her nausea would stay at bay.
“I think I’m going to apply for a new job,” said Sam, overly casually, from the hallway.
“What?” she asked, searching his face.
“If we’re going to have a baby, and if you’re going to stop working for a while, we’ll need a better income. Just last week I heard about a job opening. It would probably pay more than mine. It’s at a really good firm, Tech Solutions. I’ve decided to apply for it.”
“Tech Solutions? I’ve heard of that. It’s a really reputable business. They hardly ever have job openings because they have so little turnover, and a small staff. Their employees are extremely loyal. Wow. Well, our lives are really going in fast-forward, aren’t they?” she commented, a bit dully. “Do you . . . need any help refreshing your resume?”
“That would be great,” answered Sam, gratefully. “I was hoping you’d offer. You are the resume expert. It sounds like a really good job, and I think I might have a chance.”
“Leave it by my briefcase, then. I’ll try to look at it this afternoon.”
“We need to go, hon, or we’ll be late.”
“Sam,” she said suddenly, “I’m going to miss this so much.” She gestured to the space around her, as if to encompass everything, and tears started pooling in her eyes again. She batted her eyes impatiently, trying to stop the flow. She was normally not much of a crier, but lately it seemed like it was all she did. She was annoyed with herself.
“Miss what?” he asked.
“Us, going to work together. Us, having lunch together in the cafeteria. I’m going to be so bored and lonely at home with a baby!” Unable to hold back any longer, she started to sob on her husband’s shoulder.
“Shhh, shhh,” he soothed. “I think you’ll be an amazing mother, and so busy with the baby that you won’t feel bored. Besides, just think of all the tedious work meetings you’ll be able to miss, and the commute during rush hour, and the nine to five workday. You’ll have flexibility! You can sleep in when you want and take the baby to visit your parents and sit and watch TV sometimes. . .”
“You’re joking, right?” remarked Emma fiercely. “Do you realize what an unrealistic scenario that is? Stay-at-home moms don’t sleep in. They wake up whenever their baby wakes up, often several times a night. They don’t really have ‘flexibility’ unless they have a nanny or helper.
And as for watching TV all day, do you think that’s what I want to do with my life?!” Her voice had reached a high pitched note that made Sam take a few steps back.
“Okay, sorry!” he said. “You’re right. It won’t be easy, but I know you can do it!”
“Easy for you to say!” she spat.
“Emma, what do you want me to say?” he nearly shouted. “Nothing I say satisfies you! It’s done! You’re pregnant! We can’t change it, and I wouldn’t want to, even if we could. Aren’t you happy at all that we’re going to have a baby?”
“I wish I were,” she whispered. “I did want to have a baby . . . someday. Just not yet. I can’t help it, Sam. I feel like my life is about to be over.”
Two weeks later, shortly after they had arrived home from work, Sam checked his email. To his delight, there was a message from Tech Solutions, inviting him to interview for the job opening he had applied for. Elated, he immediately went to tell Emma the good news. He found her asleep on the couch, still wearing her work clothes. Monty was curled up next to her and gave Sam a challenging look, as if to say, Don’t even think about waking her up.
Sam looked around and realized that their usually tidy condo was a mess, with styrofoam boxes from last night’s Chinese take-out still on the coffee table, and magazines, water bottles, and clothing strewn everywhere. He started to tidy up, quietly stuffing the boxes into the trash can and tossing clothes into the hamper. He wasn’t sure if all of the garments were actually dirty enough to require washing, but he didn’t have Emma’s patience to inspect each one and hang up the clean-enough items. After ten minutes of effort, the room looked better, but still not up to its usual standards. How does it usually stay so clean? he wondered.
Sam opened a window to let in some fresh air. The noise woke Emma, who looked around confusedly.
“What time is it?” she asked.
“About 6:30,” he said. “You fell asleep on the couch as soon as we got home.”
“Wow. I don’t even remember sitting down,” she said. “This pregnancy is knocking me out.”
“Well, I have good news!” he said, glad to be able to tell her, finally. “I got an email from Tech Solutions! They want me to come in for an interview next Friday!”
“Wow!” she replied, “That’s great! Oh, Sam.” Her face fell. “Friday is my first OBGYN appointment. I was hoping you’d come with me.”
“To the gynecologist?” he asked, unconsciously wrinkling his nose.
“Well, don’t you want to hear our baby’s heartbeat?” she asked.
“We’ll be able to hear its heart?” he asked, excitedly.
“We should be able to,” she answered with a smile.
“What time is the appointment?”
“9:00. I got the earliest one so that I don’t miss a whole work day.”
“Perfect,” he said. “I can go with you and still make the interview at 11:00. I’ll have to take the whole day off. I haven’t taken any sick or personal days yet, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Besides, I know a big shot in Human Resources who can get me out of trouble,” he added with a wink.
“It looks like Friday will be a very exciting day,” she said. “Now let’s think about what to do for dinner. I’m either starving or nauseated; I can’t tell which.”
Friday morning came quickly. Sam had never been to an OBGYN’s office, so he had no idea what to expect. To his relief, he wasn’t the only husband in the waiting room. Several men sat with their wives, either watching the inane daytime talk show on the large screen TV, or talking quietly, as if they were in a library. Finally, after half an hour of waiting, Emma’s name was called.
The OBGYN asked Emma to lie down on an examining table and then turned to a computer monitor next to it. “Let’s see your baby,” she chirped, squirting some gel onto Emma’s abdomen.
“See our baby? Right now?” asked Sam, surprised.
“Yes, I can do a sonogram right here,” answered the doctor.
“Will we see if it’s a boy or a girl?”
“No,” smiled the doctor. According to the date of Emma’s last period, the baby is only two and a half months old. We can’t tell the gender until at least five months. But, you will be able to see your baby and hear its heartbeat.”
Sam and Emma simultaneously breathed “Wow”’ when the tiny fetus appeared on the screen. Even though it was a somewhat grainy black and white picture, the baby’s head and body were clearly distinguishable. A loud and rapid “swoosh, swoosh, swoosh” noise came from a device that the doctor rubbed over Emma’s lower stomach.
“Baby’s heartbeat sounds perfect,” announced the doctor. She took some measurements with the computer and said, “Yes, baby looks two and a half months old. So that makes your due date in late October.”
Sam and Emma just stared at the screen, awe-struck. The doctor spoke so calmly about this miracle: Heartbeat. Perfect. Due date. The full force of reality hit them. Emma was carrying a baby, and it already had a head and a body and a heartbeat. Emma’s eyes, unsurprisingly, filled with tears. This time she didn’t try to stop them. They dripped onto the white paper that was draped over the exam table. Sam felt his heart expand within his chest. He looked at Emma with intense love in his eyes.
“Doctor,” said Sam, a bit hesitantly, “Emma’s been crying a lot lately. Almost every day, in fact. Is that . . . normal?”
The doctor chuckled. “Moodiness is a totally normal symptom of pregnancy. Moms’ hormones are truly on a rollercoaster ride. There are many other common symptoms, like fatigue, swelling, nausea, and heartburn. Actually, since this is your first baby, I’d recommend that you both read up on pregnancy, so you know what to expect. Every woman is different, of course, but there are some typical things you can look out for.”
Sam caught a glimpse of his watch. “Emma, I have to get to the interview,” he said apologetically. “Is there much more to discuss, doctor?”
“No, we’re finished for today. Emma, please make an appointment with me for one month from now. Call the office if you have any questions. And make sure to take a prenatal vitamin every day.”
In the parking lot, as they stood in front of their separate cars so that Sam could head to his interview, the couple embraced. “A baby! OUR baby! I’m so excited!” Sam gushed. Then he looked at his wife, worried. “Do you think you’ll warm up to this idea, Emma? Do you think you’ll get excited, eventually?”
“Seeing our baby today . . . “she said, “I can’t explain it. All my doubt disappeared. I love her already.”
Sam’s smile seemed to stretch from ear to ear. “Her?” he laughed, good naturedly. “Could you see the gender when the doctor couldn’t?”
“No,” smiled Emma. “I just have a feeling. I think we’ll have a daughter. A beautiful little princess.”
“Insha’Allah,” said Sam. “I’d love to have a daughter. Now, I’ve got to run!”
“Good luck! Call me as soon as you can!” she called after him.
“You know I will!”
When he arrived at the front desk at Tech Solutions, Sam informed the receptionist that he had a meeting with Mr. King at 11:00. He was guided to an elegant office with a beautiful view of the city skyline. The plush leather chair behind the impressive desk was empty.
“Mr. King will be here in a few minutes,” said the secretary. “Would you like some coffee or tea while you wait?”
“No, thank you,” answered Sam. He was already keyed up from the momentous doctor visit, plus a case of pre-interview nerves, so he knew caffeine wouldn’t help matters. He mentally rehearsed the talking points that he had refined and practiced with Emma. He tried to imagine what Mr. King would look like. He envisioned another Mr. Barnes: pale, balding, middle-aged, imperious, condescending. So, when a tall, fortyish black man in dress slacks and an impeccably-pressed blue Oxford shirt walked into the room, Sam was surprised. When the same man sat behind the imposing desk and boomed, cheerfully, “Asalaamu alaykum, brother!” Sam was dumbstruck.
“Wa alaykum asalaam,” Sam managed to respond, gathering his wits.
The man laughed warmly, showing deep dimples in his cheeks. “You probably didn’t expect me to be a Muslim. I was born Michael King, but I converted to Islam eighteen years ago. Now I’m Abdul-Malik King.”
Sam nodded silently, still feeling a little discombobulated.
“I chose Abdul-Malik,” continued the man, “To remind myself that although my name is King, He, subhana wa ta’alla,” he intoned, gesturing toward the sky, “is the real King.”
As he waited for Sam to answer, he sat, smiling benignly, completely at ease.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” said Sam.
“And I will enjoy getting to know you, Abdul-Samad,” he said.
“I go by, Sam, actually,” corrected Sam politely.
“I see. Alright, Sam, well, let’s discuss your current position and responsibilities at OmegaStar. Your resume is very impressive. . . “
The interview proceeded as Sam expected, with all the professional questions that he had anticipated. But interspersed with job-related topics, Mr. King asked some questions Sam hadn’t foreseen, about Sam’s interests, interpersonal skills, and long-term ambitions. Mr. King had an extremely warm and paternal demeanor, which put Sam at ease more than he had imagined possible. Ninety minutes flew by, and the men found themselves in the middle of a hearty laugh when the secretary entered to remind Mr. King that he had “an obligation” to attend to.
“Thanks, Susan. SubhanAllah, it’s already 12:30!” exclaimed Mr. King. “Our interview is technically over, Sam, but how would you feel about joining me for a quick lunch before jumuah prayer?”
“I have the rest of the day off, so . . . sure, that would be fine,” answered Sam.
“The masjid is within walking distance,” said Mr. King, “and there’s a delicious halal kebab restaurant around the corner.”
As he followed his potential future boss out of the building, Sam was feeling disoriented. He had never dreamed that he’d be interviewing with a Muslim convert, or eating kebabs before Friday prayer at a masjid. It was bizarre and yet, surprisingly, really comfortable and enjoyable.
Their lunch conversation was a mixture of work and leisure. Mr. King spoke a little more about the open position at his company, but also told funny anecdotes about his teenaged children and the success of a recent mosque fundraiser. He seemed to assume that Sam was a regular mosque-goer. Sam didn’t intend to disappoint him, so he remained silent.
But it was not going to be that easy.
“So, I don’t think I’ve seen you at this masjid. Where do you usually pray?”
Sam suddenly felt like it was his own father, not Mr. King, who was looking at him from across the table. He almost squirmed in his seat like a naughty ten-year-old boy, but he chose to answer honestly.
“I actually haven’t gone to the masjid in a very long time, Mr. King.”
“Well, then today’s going to be a treat,” the older man answered kindly. “The khateeb is excellent. He’s visiting from London.”
Entering the masjid felt like going through a time warp. Even though the décor of the beautiful mosque was unfamiliar, the same feeling of serenity that Sam remembered from mosques back home was evident. The plush, beautiful carpet; the minbar; the chandelier; the Arabic calligraphy; the bearded men sitting side-by-side on the floor: all of it was as familiar and safe as his childhood bedroom. After making wudu in the restroom, Sam removed his shoes and socks and stowed them in a cubby. He joined Mr. King near the front of the musalla, and sat cross-legged amongst his brothers to await the khutba.
This morning he had seen his first child on a sonogram screen, and Sam had felt deeply moved. Sitting in the masjid, listening to the words of the Qur’an being recited in all their melodic glory, Sam once again felt transformed. The words of Surat al Nahl, “The Bees,” washed over him:
And if you should count the Favors of Allah, you could not enumerate them. Indeed, Allah (is) Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
When he placed his forehead to the ground in sujood, Sam was shocked to find himself shedding tears. He felt so profoundly grateful. At the same time, he knew he had been so pathetically ungrateful lately. He owed all of his present happiness — his wife, his unborn child, his career and material comforts — to Allah subhana wa ta’alla. He had been neglecting many of his duties as a Muslim, but he knew with certainty that those days were over. From now on, he would dedicate himself properly to his deen and he would be a better man — a better father — for it.
When jumuah prayers were over, Sam exited the building thoughtfully and somberly. Mr. King walked beside him.
“It feels so good to surrender to God, doesn’t it?” the older man asked gently.
“Yes, it does,” answered Sam sincerely. “Thank you for taking me here today. I’ll be back.”
“I’m sure you will. And I can see that you’d be a great fit at Tech Solutions, if you decide you want the job. I’ll have my secretary e-mail you the details about compensation and benefits. Get back to me when you decide. It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Abdul-Samad.”
Sam smiled at his brother. “The pleasure has been mine,” he said. “I’ll get back to you soon, insha’Allah. Thanks again.”
He turned on his cell phone as he walked back to his car and saw that he had several missed calls from Emma. Of course she had expected to hear from him much sooner — hours ago. She was probably worried.
“Sam?” she asked, as soon as she answered the phone. “I’ve been trying to reach you! Are you still at the interview?”
“No, I’m on my way home now,” he said, “insha’Allah. Emma, I have so much to tell you.”
“Sam!” she said. He suddenly realized she didn’t sound like her normal self. She sounded panicked.
“Sam, I’ve had some spotting, and . . . “
“Spotting? What’s that?”
“Bleeding, Sam. I’ve had a little bleeding, and I’m afraid . . . I’m so afraid . . . that I’m losing our baby!”
“Oh my God, Emma! Where are you?” Sam gripped the steering wheel and prepared to speed to her location.
“I’m in the waiting room of the emergency room. Sam, please hurry!”
To be continued, insha’Allah…