|Dung and her husband before he was killed in an accident. — Photo courtesy of Hoang Kim Dung
by Thu Van
It was a sunny Saturday afternoon when Hoang Kim Dung stepped through the doors of the mortuary at the Thanh Tri Hospital in Ha Noi.
A hospital staff led her to a bed to the right. Gently, he pulled at the white cloth covering a dead body. Dung recognised her beloved husband. He looked like he was sleeping, peacefully.
Dung looked blankly at him. She didn't cry.
The staff left her alone in the room. Half an hour earlier, Dung had received a called from the mortuary, informing her that her husband was dead. The one who called said he'd been hit by a train. She thought it was a bad joke.
When her mother-in-law cried at the top of her lungs: "My son is dead, my son is dead," Dung knew it was not a joke. She did not remember how she got to the mortuary.
She stood motionless beside the bed, too many things running through her head.
She remembered the long period when they had to stay apart because she went to study in France – first a master's degree, then a PhD.
For five years, they were apart. For five years, he had waited patiently for her to come back.
She remembered their day out for wedding photos. She remembered the wedding when all their friends and families had cheered. She remembered the moment she gave birth to their first daughter, and her husband had cried out of happiness. She remembered her husband standing at their room's door just an hour earlier, looking at her.
He was wearing a navy sport pants and a black jacket with red lining on the sleeves. She was playing with their 6-month-old daughter so she could only glance of him. She was about to ask him: "Why are you looking so handsome today?" But when she turned, he'd already gone.
And now, he was really gone.
Dung heard the sound of steps. A doctor came to tell her to leave. She was breastfeeding and should not stay for too long in the mortuary, he said.
She followed the doctor outside. Then, suddenly, she asked the doctor if she could go back for just a second.
She hurried back to the bed where her husband lay. She held his cold hands and whispered to him: "Darling please, let me have another baby with you."
Then she left.
She called some friends to ask if they knew who could help preserve the sperm of deceased people. For the next three hours, many calls were made, many calls received, but all of them were disappointing.
It was around five, about four hours after she had stepped into the mortuary, when Dung's phone rang. A friend said she'd found a doctor who'd agreed to help Dung preserve her husband's sperm. He was on the way to the mortuary.
Dung sensed a warm feeling in her heart. She was calmer than ever. She had too many things to do and crying could not help her now.
It was March 2010.
It was ‘so unfair'
On a recent Friday morning, Dung, a lecturer at the Ha Noi University of Technology, sat down in her small apartment at the Phap Van Residential Quarter with four of her students who'd come to celebrate the good news.
Dung had just given birth to twins - two beautiful baby boys. And yes, the boys were born from their deceased dad's frozen sperm.
Dressed simply in a pair of navy blue pants and a loose blouse, which she said helped her breastfeed easily, Dung had her face and hands covered with a thin layer of saffron extract.
"My mother said it's a traditional way to keep my skin white and intact after giving birth," she said, smiling, holding little Ho Sy Hoang Hai, one of her twins. Her mother held the other baby, Ho Sy Hoang Duc.
Recalling the tragic event that upturned her life three years earlier, Dung said that even now, she could not understand why she was so calm and strong back then.
"I just felt it was so unfair to Ngoc, my husband. He was a sweet, kind-hearted and humorous person who always wanted to make other people happy. In fact, in my eyes, he was a perfect man.
"When I was about to leave the mortuary, I remembered he once said he wanted to have more children."
When she was studying in France, she had read in a magazine that doctors can preserve deceased people's sperm and use it later for in vitro fertilization (IVF). On the spur of the moment, she decided to try and find someone who could help her store Ngoc's sperm. She really wanted to have another baby with him.
Dung had no idea who could do such things in Viet Nam, but one of the friends she'd called on the afternoon of her husband's death accidentally saw the sign of the Andrology and Infertility Hospital of Ha Noi on Tam Trinh Street after she hit a bump on the road.
She called 1080 – a hotline for general information, to ask for the hospital's contact and was given the number of Dr Le Van Ve, the hospital's director, who quickly came and took Ngoc's sperm for storage. He was also the one who conducted the in vitro fertilization for Dung three years later.
"I was on the road back to the hospital after a meeting when I received the call. I had never done it, but I'd done the research and knew how it should go. So I said yes," Ve said.
When Ve arrived at the hospital, it was more than five hours after Ngoc had died.
Late last year, Dung contacted Ve, saying she was ready for the artificial insemination, because her first daughter is now three and a half years old.
Ve said he had never met Dung before their meetings for the IVF in 2012; he had only talked to her on the phone, briefly.
‘A wonderful wife'
"But I feel she's a very intelligent woman," he said, adding, "and a wonderful wife.
"Why? Because of her deep love for her dead husband, and the strong will to carry his children without him beside her. She's young and well educated. She could totally have had a new family for herself, but she has chosen her own way."
Dung said many people have asked her why she chose to make such sacrifices.
"I don't feel that I have had to sacrifice anything. Yes, life would be much harder without my husband, but I did it out of love. Now I can see him everyday in our children. At least, life is not so unfair to him.
"He was too good a man to have gone at such young age. He'd been waiting for me for such a long time, and I could not have wished him to take better care of my parents, my sisters. I need to keep that image of him with me forever. I need to realize his wish," Dung said, as she gave her baby to her father-in-law, Ho Binh, to have a sip of water.
Dung's and her husband's parents all live in Vinh City, Nghe An Province, in central Viet Nam. When she gave birth to the twins, her husband's parents and her mother came to stay with her to help.
Although he looked a bit tired, Ho Binh could not hide the happiness on his face as he looked at his grandchildren. He put one of the boys on a bed in Dung's room, next to the other one.
Over the bed hung a picture of Dung and Ngoc. They both looked young and filled with joy. A couple in love.
Binh placed a blanket on the edge of the bed to keep the babies safe. He then went to another room, sat in a forest-green, old-style hammock and leaned back.
"Hoang Duc takes after his father, while Hoang Hai looks a lot like me," he said, smiling, adding that Duc eats better, just like Ngoc when he was of the same age.
Binh recalled his feelings when Dung talked to him about her intention.
"I told her: ‘You're still young. If you do this, your life will be very hard. I don't encourage you to do this. But if you really wish to, then we owe you.'
"I admire her for her strength and determination. My son is gone and she will have to take care of the children herself, but we will try to be beside her when she needs us."
Tran Thi Hao, Dung's mother, said she understood when her daughter wanted to have another baby with her deceased husband.
"He was a good man. And I know that even if I objected, Dung would still do what she wished to."
Hao, who used to be a soldier and served the Vietnamese army from 1975 to 1979, said she knows her daughter well.
"She is a gentle girl, a secretive one. When she got some awards at high school for outstanding students, she never told us. We only came to know through her friends."
Hao said her daughter takes after her father a lot in how she is committed to what she wants to do.
Dung said: "I think I've learnt a lot from both my husband and my parents. How my husband loved me and how my parents have been faithful and respectful to each other. This is a part of me."
The success of Dung's artificial insemination has provided hope to many others in similar predicament.
Vu Ba Quyet, deputy director of the National Obstetrics and Gynaecology Hospital, said the case has revealed new knowledge on the sperms' ability to stay alive after one's death, on storing cells in frozen conditions and on performing IVF from deceased people's sperms.
"The chance to have children is now open for couples who have not had children or wanted to have more children when one partner passed away," said Dr Ve.
After the twins fell asleep, Dung opened her laptop to look at all the pictures of her and Ngoc. They are smiling in every photo.
Though she knew life was going to be hard ahead without him, she promised herself that for the sake of her children, she will keep smiling like the pictures, everyday. —VNS