The terms have been negotiated; It used to be zero, Now, maybe three, maybe four… A little tribe to call our own, With ten fingers and ten toes. Little walking heartbeats to leave right through the door. One. Everyone is happy. They congratulate me and pat me on the back. “When are you due?” they ask, and I’m not sure what to tell them because I am still ungrounded from the life that is now growing inside of me. Cells that will inevitably become my heart walking outside of my body. They smile and their unwanted stares land upon the region of my body of which I am most insecure. Their hands rub my belly and I shiver. She can sense it too, she jumps as if to say: “Why are they touching me?” I smile and nod during the day, but at night I wonder if I’m fit to be a mother. I was hoping pregnancy wouldn’t come right away, but we were shocked to find out it takes a lot fewer tries. I toss and turn in my sleep. I wake to sweat-drenched sheets. The incessant ache in my head makes me lose my grip on reality. I take a breath to find my lungs. I’ve practiced this before in therapy. I make eye contact with the dim light outside my window. I rub my feet against the thick brown rug, and count “one, two, three…where am I? My room…four, five, six…I’m here…seven, eight, nine…” “If shall have a daughter…” Sarah Kaye’s words bounce around in my head. Shit, I do have a daughter. I know she’s mine and of me, but I don’t know who she is. Her eyes look at me to guide her, but my thoughts are somewhere else. I check the mail to keep myself from doing something I regret. A little distance from myself and this human being that needs me. “I don’t want to pick up my father’s old habits, but I’m starting to think alcohol is the only way to get through this…” “You don’t want to hurt her, you don’t want to hurt her, you don’t want to hurt yourself,” I repeat to myself until I believe it. I close my eyes, but all I see is myself holding a knife with pools of blood all around me. “Is she crying? Oh yes, that’s right, she wants to play…” The doctor prescribes me a new medicine, but it makes me tired. He says it should be safe, but the thought of having to take care of myself makes me more anxious. I can’t remember to eat, why would I take a pill? A playdate sounds like a good idea, someone to entertain the baby, but I’m so tired I fall asleep on the couch. I don’t know how long I’ve been dozing off, but I apologize and explain it’s the meds. I want to escape into someone else—a different version of me. I feel either unsure of myself as a person and who I am or I feel completely outside of my body. Like I’m watching myself from the outside. I can’t decide how I feel as I strap the baby into the stroller for another walk. “This is how we survive,” I think…but I picture myself leaving the stroller for someone else to find. “I love her, she’s mine…” I repeat to myself until I believe it. The hands have touched me all day long; tiny sticky hands on my face, my breast, my neck. I need a minute to myself, but I stare at the mirror and no longer recognize myself. My hair is falling out, the bags under my eyes are darker and more taunting. I want to cry but my cold heart saves the tears for 2 AM. I let the hot shower run over my back as milk leaks down my breast, “this is magic…? why would anyone choose to do this? Oh yeah, it’s supposed to be a bond between mom and baby…I won’t give up…” even though it takes everything I am. I’m the definition of broken— I no longer disguise myself Behind the false pretense of put together. She wakes, I sleep; dead among the living. The sun seems indifferent to my plea. It will take a little long, to heal these broken wounds to gather up the pieces you took inside my womb. I hope it’s not too late to love you, to mold you and to shape you, I hope it’s not too late to love you, To someday start anew. Two. I’m afraid to hold this tiny, squishy breathing creature in my arms. The last time brought so much heartache and pain, and that was a girl…this is a boy. I never wanted a boy. The faint memories of unwanted hands on my body bring with it a type of panic. I'm tangled between labored breaths and racing heartbeats. I come to acknowledge that my skin is no longer my own; Too many unwanted hands have touched it. I thought I made my skin bulletproof, only to find out it bleeds from the digging of fingertips. “He’s definitely my last, I now plan to focus on myself and my career.” I laugh out loud at the thought. “Myself? I don’t have time for that.” “I like this one better than the last…I know I’m not supposed to admit that.” My heart isn’t racing, my face isn’t covered in tears. Perhaps this one will be different. I get an IUD because I’m not having any more.
My body aches and I’m the type of exhausted that echoes in the chest.
I tell my husband that I can sleep till the end of eternity. The concrete pavement looks comfortable as we take a stroll through our neighborhood; the kids run in front of us barely looking back. “Why am I so tired all the time? I think I need to make a doctor's appointment. Maybe I have the flu.”
I stare at my kids bouncing off the chairs in the waiting room. Oblivious to my condition, I ask the doctor for a flu test and to check my thyroid levels. “Let’s do a pregnancy test,” she says, and I nod my shoulders and say alright because I’m positive it will be negative. “I’ll get results to you later today,” she says, and just like that, I’m out in the parking lot contemplating another baby…
“It’s a miracle!” she yells through the phone as I’m trying to pick up leftover snacks off the floor. “There’s a less than .8% chance and you’re it!” Now I’m trying to pick up the leftover pieces of myself.
I use the edge of the sink to keep myself from falling. The room begins to spin and I throw up my lunch. The tears don’t come, again, they wait for the dark.
Everyone is happy. They congratulate me and pat me on the back. “When are you due?” they ask, and I’m not sure what to tell them because I am ungrounded again from the life that is now growing inside of me…again.
The guilt eats away at me as the thought of adoption sways around in my head. “What would my family think of me…they always say that babies are a blessing, but right now it feels more like a sacrifice. A sacrifice of my body, my time, my mind…I can’t do this again…”
“I CAN’T!” I yell at everyone in the room as I lay vulnerable on the table. “You have to!” they yell back and I can’t bring my mind to work with my body. In a daze with my eyes barely open I am aware of the faint small cries at the side of the room, “he’s mine…” I repeat to myself until I believe it.
The yellow chair finds me yet again.
Hours, minutes, seconds…
Missed moments to sit in this chair;
Loss of sleep to sit in this chair.
Sometimes the chair beckons me in the darkness of the night.
Sometimes the chair beckons me in the chaos of the light.
The chair calls to me without expectations.
Leaky breast, messy hair, unshowered.
Doubtful, hopeful, frustrated, in awe…
The chair finds me without limits.
“I can’t” I claim, in yet another round of ache.
“You must” it responds and surely I’m going crazy.
And it is right. I must.
…so I continue to push past myself.
I’m stronger than I think;
I’m stronger than my eyes, lips, aches, and tears seem to say.
So I settle in the chair once again—
My body against the mustard-yellow frayed fabric,
As I begin to sustain the life growing inside of my arms.
There’s a pain they never describe to you when they hand you a baby. The uterus contracts whenever you nurse and it feels like you’re giving birth all over again. The pain is unbearable, “but I must push past it.” I tell myself it’s part of postpartum.
I wrap the tiny five-day-old creature around my husband’s chest with my soft gray silk wrap. The baby sleeps unaware of the way he has distorted my body. “Holy cow this morphine is fantastic. Can I have more of this?” I smile at the thought but the nurse thinks I’m smiling at her as she wheels me through the ER hallway. I feel dirty as blood pools down my leg and into the CT machine.
The doctor tells me he’s never seen a bigger bladder. Labor must have damaged the nerves and fluid has been building up. The bladder is pushing against all of my organs and that’s why I’m in so much pain. He tells me they should have never dismissed me from the labor and delivery ward and now I’m angry, but I don’t know who to be angry at. I feel like I can only be angry at myself. I look at the peaceful sleeping baby and I contemplate adoption again.
I wonder if they’ll need therapy…if they’ll ever think I didn’t love them enough. I wonder if they’ll miss me if I post a sticky note on the kitchen counter that says “I’m sorry, but I had to go.”
I tell my husband I’m giving him my two-week notice because I think after all this time I’m allowed to quit. We laugh and he tells me that if I quit, he’ll quit too. We’ve got enough gray hairs between the two of us to show the job is not an easy one.
The terms have been negotiated
It used to be zero,
now maybe three, maybe four…
A little tribe to call our own,
With ten fingers and ten toes
Little walking heartbeats to leave right through the door.
And I don’t know how we got here—
So complete and somewhat whole.
A little tribe to call our own “to treasure and to hold”.
I see it now, all of that trauma and all of those tears turned out to be the kind of suffering that transforms and leads to resurrected life. I’m no longer myself, but I don’t need to be, I’m someone that holds power against the trials that the darkness grows. The nights fall silent now and I wonder when I will emerge again. A metamorphosis of sorts—from death to life again.