Photo source: sxc.hu; used for illustrative purposes only.) 
"I knew I would be giving death (and) not birth," Malyn Cristobal says of the ordeal she faced. Four days before she went into labor, she learned that her third baby was "life incompatible." That meant that her child would not survive outside her womb.

Like most expectant moms, Malyn had already formed a bond with her baby. "I would talk to her," she says. "When I was in the shower, I would lingeringly soap my tummy ans imagine that she was the one I was soaping." That, however, was the closest she got to actually taking care of her unborn child.

The labor was a struggle. Malyn was fully dilated when she entered the delivery room, but it seemed that the baby just didn't want to be born. Her position shifted as she was being pushed out, causing Malyn to bleed profusely. It was during the four days when Malyn was recovering that her baby passed away. Her son, Niccolo, just three years old at the time, named his baby sister Sabrina.

Malyn couldn't stop crying, especially when her husband and his family started arranging for the baby's funeral. "He was already asking me to decide between cremation and a burial when I was still hoping for a miracle!" Malyn took the loss hard and would often lock herself up in the shower to cry.

Their daughter's death signaled the beginning of the end of her marriage. Malyn felt her husband was not providing the support she needed. "When I cried, he would be uncomfortable," she says. "I expected him to be there for me, just as I was there for him when he was recovering from his drug dependency, but he wasn't."

Not seven months after Sabrina's death, Malyn knew her marriage was not working anymore. She decided to keep busy and pursue her professional interests. "I didn't stay home para magmukmok," she says. Malyn resigned from the counseling center she and her husband had put up together and established her own foundation, one that would provide grief counseling and training for individuals and families. Then she went back to school and finished her two-year diploma course in family counseling. By the following year, the marital strain became so unbearable that Malyn asked her husband to leave the house.

Malyn viewed that year as a year of letting go. "I grieved--for my baby, for my idea of marriage, and the center I put up with my husband--but I succumbed neither to self-pity nor to anger." She says she simply owned up to her emotions. "I knew I couldn't delay or deny my grief. I was real to myself."

Her kids, Niccolo and Inna, offer her plenty of comfort. "Sometimes they could come to me and say, 'Mama, it's going to be okay.'" The three do talk about Sabrina and their father; Malyn doesn't hide anything from them. "I tell them the truth about why I had to ask their father to leave." She also leaves it up her kids to decide whether to see their dad or not. This way, Malyn feels she is teaching her children that they always have a choice. "If a person is causing them pain and they don't want to see him, they can say no."

One way Malyn dealt with her grief was by keeping company with a baby doll, carrying it around the house. This doll has eyes that are perpetually open. Malyn explains: "It comforted me. It gave me a feeling that I had a real baby in my arms. It was weird because after Inna and I bought it, I realized that I didn't see my baby's eyes. When I saw her, her eyes were already closed." The first time Malyn saw Sabrina, she was already inside the coffin.

Slowly, Malyn is moving out of the dark. While she used to feel uneasy when someone else played with the doll or when it would get misplaced, now the attachment has subsided. The doll and its bassinet are still in Malyn's room, but, she says, "I don't hold it as often now. I think I've outgrown it. It's just there. Parang naging part lang sya ng family for a while." Even the clothes that she bought for Sabrina, which she couldn't bear to part with before, she is now slowly giving away.

To this day, Malyn admits the she does not understand why God allowed her child to die, but, she says, "Maybe in time I will." Now a family therapist and a grief counselor, she uses her experience to help others. And even if her question remains unanswered, she has learned to trust that there is a purpose to everything that happens--always.

(First published in Good Housekeeping Magazine, Your Emotional Survival Kit section as "Got Problems?" in August 2003; adapted for use in Female Network)
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