Monday, December 21, 2015

My Little Girl


I wonder if she'll ever write letters to her grandmother; if she'll bake honey wheat bread or cook crock pots of chicken carrot stew, hike mountain trails or design sleeves of tattoos. I wonder if she'll be a sculptress or a painter, a photographer, a surgeon, a soldier, a banker, farmer, teacher or a writer. Will she dance with me in the kitchen even when she's twenty? Will she pick wildflowers and raspberries with me? Plant pumpkins, kale and rosemary? Will she tell me fantastical fibs with the earnestness of a trained actress? Will she weep at the ballads of brilliant street buskers and poetry projectors? Will she blush, howl or condemn crass comedy? Will she sing me silly songs about blue bearded goats and crocodile castle moats? I wonder if she'll wear sparkly frills or fanny packs or black brimmed Annie Hall hats. If she'll insist on climbing the orchard's tallest tree or traveling through war-wrecked countries. Will my worry for her wreck me always? Will she want to have babies in the country like me or live alone in the center of a cement and steel sky-scraping city? Will she love sprinting along the sides of quiet streets, clomping through snow fields on snowshoes or paddling down dark blue rivers in a shiny red canoe? Will she be a politician, a protester, an anarchist? Will she be independent and confident, full of self-made opinions or shy and uncertain? Will she love books and brownies and Charlie Chaplin movies?  Will she hate her body or will I successfully shield her from the impossible, conflicting expectations our society thrusts upon young girls? Will she love swimming in the salt sea water? -I hope we sit on windy beaches, picking sand from our turkey sandwiches, throwing seaweed and chasing seagulls. Will we play cards and Scrabble and basketball? Will she have one love or many lovers? Will she pray? Will she suffer? Will she fight? Will her tears torment me always? Will she stand in her bedroom doorway shouting that she hates me as I once did to my poor mother when I was something like 15-years-old? What if we too are forced by war and weather to flee our home country?  -to become refugees, vagabonding with satchels of cooking pots, water jugs and beef jerky; begging, borrowing, looting. I wonder if Mother Earth's oil will dry up like the coffined deceased, leaving us common folk to our boots and bicycles. Maybe the grocery stores will empty and we'll be fed like prisoners or factory farmed cattle with soy and corn TV dinners. I worry about atomic warfare and suicide bombers with spewing bullets, packed pressure cookers and a desire for bodily destruction and Internet infamy. I fear super bugs and peanut allergies, cancers and bird flues, deer ticks and pesticide residues. I worry about racists, fascists and extremists of all establishments. But I have hope and hope is born of hope and she was born of me and my hope is like my faith in God and the goodness of people, it is embedded in my gut bacteria, my bone marrow and blood. And I believe hope spreads like yawns and laughter. It's found barefooted in a field of soft summer grass; in sheets of morning light between the slow sleepy skin of mother and father; in the glow of birthday candles, joyful singing, wild dancing and silence. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Baby Blood

On our blue floral bedding, which I have mended (scarred) with weaves of white threading, she lays, flailing her pudgy pale limbs, cooing and kicking at the vine tails dangling above her head. Raised scratches cut across her squishy cheeks like red yarn, greased. I retrieve the little nail clippers and sit at her feet. Holding her left hand, I clip the pinky's nail, then that of the ring finger, middle, and pointer. Then I turn over the thumb, make it flat, and align the two silver teeth. Maybe I'm moving too quickly, I can't say really, but the tool bites the tip of her tiny thumb. She stiffens into stillness. Full of anguish and mistrust, she lets loose a beastly bellow from deep below ---a moan so big and bad that her sob goes momentarily silent before the shock shakes wails from her wet wide mouth. Eventually, like a wave receding, she inhales. I pick her up, dizzy in my fright, and look at the dimpled hand. A small drop of blood rises from the round wound. I put the thumb into my mouth and suck, I don't know why ---some instinct that makes me forget the bathroom sink---and I keep it there between my lips, standing between the bed and closet, swaying, waiting for the fit to settle like a fog of flour above the mixing bowl.

And I'm left to wonder: how does a mother survive and not drop and die after her baby's soul abandons body to fly with the black birds of the sky?

My baby barely bled and I nearly fainted.






Thursday, November 26, 2015

O bring back my Bonnie to me.

The raspy recorded notes of the strange, old Scottish folk song, My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean, chime out from the battery-operated player at the corner of my baby's crib.

My Bonnie lies over the ocean,
my Bonnie lies over the sea,
My Bonnie lies over the ocean,
O bring back my Bonnie to me.


One night in early September, a rubber raft of 12 refugees sets out secretly on the salt sea water ---families fleeing rubbled countries for unknowable peoples and their foreign cultures--- and on this night, the waves begin rolling and rising and rocking into the raft and soon after it departs, it capsizes and begins to deflate. But before she flips, the "captain", (a damn coward and a crook, I presume), jumps into the sea, fleeing his ill-fated vessel of rubber, rope and 12 refugees.

O blow ye winds over the ocean,
O blow ye winds over the sea.
O blow ye winds over the ocean,
And bring back my Bonnie to me.

Abdullah holds onto his two little boys and his wife and the sinking boat, because their life vests are useless and how can one possibly swim with frightened children in the scary, stormy dark? He had paid 6,000 euros to smugglers who promised him a 30-minute trip on a motorized fishing boat. He saved and borrowed all that money, and for what? - a disastrous journey in an overcrowded rubber raft that could hardly float. His wife, Rihan (who is 35), Galip (who's 5) and Aylan (who's only 3) all drown that night in the deep blue sea.

Last night as I lay on my pillow,
Last night as I lay on my bed,
Last night as I lay on my pillow,
I dreamed that my Bonnie was dead.


The next day, photographs of Aylan appear in all forms of front page media. It looks as if he's fallen asleep on the shore except his mouth is in the mud and his red t-shirt, his brown soled sneakers and his canvas shorts are soaked from the water that killed him and the waves that carried him.

The winds have blown over the ocean,
The winds have blown over the sea,
The winds have blown over the ocean,
And brought back my Bonnie to me.

I am three months a mother and I get nervous when my baby kicks her feet too excitedly in our plastic baby-sized bathtub and that's with my hands around her arms, my knees on a bath mat, her bum in the curved seat, and the water warm, just a few inches deep.


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Poet and I

November 9, 1953, St. Vincent's Hospital, New York City, the body of a bard blued, more bile than bone after 18 straight whiskies. In photographs, Dylan Thomas is a light-faced European in a tweed suit jacket, wavy hair, sinking eyes, and the whale of a scowl with a cigarette's smoke spiral. He had a wife. He had lovers. He had two sons and one daughter. Dead 30 years before I was born to my mother. Today, I skip and trip maplessly through his circle city, a brined boot tour through hooks and netted metaphor. At 32, I'd like to soak his paper poems in my beef and carrot stew, let them sog, let them sink, a capsized crew. 

Were we to sit in the shallow ditches of a cafe's worn wooden benches, sipping coffees, dipping cookies, he'd see me speaking quickly and grossly optimistically, tipsy from the caffeine of little green beans. Maybe he'd slip nips of whiskey into his cup or scratch poems inside the ring stains on the tabletop....coffins, wombs, weather, salt-footed sea birds, fish fetor... If I overdosed on coffee as he supposedly died from whiskey (18 shots of espresso with milk frothy as carnival candy), I'd chug from my black bottomed mug, words spitting, rambling into a damn near trampling. 

Oh how I'd spin into an ugly oblivian. 

Back in reality, I gather groceries: one dozen eggs, a tin can of soft orange squash, apples, diapers, raspberries, coffee beans, and a carton of heavy whipping cream. I'm making pie for my birthday night. One avocado, organic purple onions, blackberries, breaded chicken breasts, green leaf lettuce. I am no Dylan Thomas, no doomed poet living by the sea from the first half of the 19th century. His death day is my birthday, but I am clean of cigarette soot, free from bottles of ripe scotch or the desire to be some dirty crook. I am happy and sappy and loved and in love and in love with love. My heart harbors no home, bakes no feast for the heaviest, hungriest of fragile beasts. I am simple and plain, obscure as a drop of rain. My problems are as small as the mice in the walls. So why would I ever tease tragedy with 18 straight whiskies?    





Thursday, October 29, 2015

In the Pines


Shingles, weathered by white Winters, sap soaked Springs, and the rains of Summer, hug my roofed room in the woods. The interior glows Gustav Klimt gold with ticker tape vines clinging to the layered paint. Scattered on the floor slats is one threadbare carpetbag; one glass milk bottle; one piano bench with skinny legs; one soapbox and one tin coffee can. There is a porcelain dispenser of rainwater and jars for drinking. There is no toilet or television, but a wood stove that sits huffing like a black hog in the corner. There I am, an aged archaeologist of sorts, sitting at a vast vintage desk in a creaky cushioned chair. I wear striped socks, tattered boots, a sweater of black yarn and my jeans rolled up. My hair is coarse as raw cotton; my skin crinkly as used tissue paper, and the irises of my eyes still shine their inherited blue. (I enjoy decorating my imaginings with rustic excessiveness, so please pardon my fun.) Before me, a plain paned window escorts the morning light onto stacks of stories, photographs and letters, which stand like a paper city skyline, bustling with the people and places of my past. I take my satchel from its nailed hanging place and pluck from its pockets a tiny brass pick and brush. I begin to chip, while the howls of dead folk singers drift from my ancient wired headphones, muffling the tinny clinks. Brush bristles sweep up dust, cobwebs and ghosts. I am digging for artifacts and the pre-arthritic bones of my youth.

Now nearly 32 years old, I feel I must make these relics and plant them in the field, see what survives. 

Since the birth of my baby girl nine weeks ago, it has become an obsession: this daily decision to select the parts of my present to join in my future's past. Compelled to pack the present into trunks and suitcases for the unknowable voyage Time is thrusting me through, I wrap pictures and the sleepy scribbles of 3a.m. feedings into poppies and poppies (the flowers for their scent and symbolism, and the plastic bubble wrap for their fun and protection). However, this worries me. Will these things, one day, just make me whine and pine for the past? Do most people trust their brains with the complex work of memory? Do they really expect that the most important stitches along the hemlines of their lives will droop and catch on every passing zipper and park bench splinter, resurrecting memories like patches of perennials in Springtime? I apologize for the messy piles of metaphors…I’m just trying to understand, is this the better life to lead? One without all the hoarding? I'm not sure.  

From the red carpetbag with its leather latch, I lift a 1947 Remington Typewriter and place it on the maple wood. A page from the past begins to tick. 

October 13, 2015
The woolen sky filters afternoon light as a film camera might. Dogs bark at us, the sidewalk travelers. I wear my baby strapped and buckled to my belly. My arms stretch like the ropes of a barge, while my dog, the 37-pound tugboat, pulls me through wooded waves toward the stink of glistening piss. 

Yesterday's rain failed to empty the atmosphere here. With the umbrella hovering over our heads, rain dripped and then dropped all at once, a herd of wild water shoved from the cliffs of the clouds. The holes in my sneakers invited a soak to my socks; the front of my pants darkened to a deeper gray. Curled into her sack, my dry baby slept with bubbles at her lips.

I remove the paper from the roller, turn it over and insert it once again. There is no electricity in this office among the trees (justifying my imagination's purchase of an antique typewriter). For what is Winter without the writing and typing of it?

The leaves, dangling from the spindle branches of the wide-trunked deciduous trees, delight her. They are withering now, floating, blowing into shifting piles. Humidity is already hibernating. It is October after all. Two days ago, the apartment wore her windows above her knob knees. Now we shield ourselves behind innumerable knit stitches.

"Do you think she'll be a botanist?" Scott asks. 

"Maybe." I say with a smile. Though I think most babies love the sight of leaves sifting light.

We have turned a red hook into the plaster ceiling above her bassinet. From it, a basket spills leaves over its wicker sides. Daily, she stares up at the green vines, speaking her vowel sounds to it. 

Within the shallow walls of a piano bench, I leave coffee-stained copies of the song lyrics I sing her. The most worn of these music pages is one unfinished song for which I bellow both day and nightly in my best Lead Belly.  

My gurrrl, my girl, don'tcha lie to me, 
Tell me where did you sleep last night. 
In the pines. Oh in the pines 
Where the sun don't ever shine, 
Tell me where did you sleep last night. 

Just that first part again and again like some howling lone singer on a scarred vinyl record.  

Inside the glass milk bottle, on the backs of discarded grocery receipts, I write notes like these. 

Sometimes she sobs for milk so suddenly that I am startled and I stumble into sitting. When her mouth grasps my breast, she moans in relief like the dryer ending its cycle. 

Today she spread her fingers wide and held it to my squishy skin as she drank from my body, softening this heart into a sweet sauce.

"Why is she sucking on your body?" My five-year-old niece asks. 
"She's nursing. This is how she gets her milk." I say. I am discrete, but my magic trick is amateur to the eyes of a curious child.

In the soap box stuffed with silk, I lift a picture print and stand it up to speak. Baby's 10 1/2 pound frame lays across my feather-tattooed-forearm on the left side of our silver sink in the apartment where we first live as Momma, Daddy and Baby. Scrawled across the cracked-egg-shell-white photo back is this message: You push your feet into the faucet, pitching your belly up and causing your head to point down. I have to work to keep the suds from engulfing your eyes. You're quiet when I dip you in and submerge you, my little sailboat. Staring up at the white wire of lights, you are calm as dawn, but when I lift you out of the warm womb-like water, you cry from the cold no matter how fast I work to fasten a fresh diaper.

The tin coffee can is heavy with coins no longer in circulation, one for every grin our girl gives her daddy and me, and two less for every time I blurt, "yeah, we're just gonna be broke right now." (referring to my staying home and not working.)

In this place of imagined things, there is no paper bag of fingernail clippings, no wine jug of purple placenta, no velvet ring box with an umbilical cord stump rotting inside, and no baby bottle of sour breast milk to remind me of the tangy stench that sticks to the folds of her infant face. In my shack, there can be no pantry of preserved moments ---no jarred memories to retrieve, revive and relive. Just some old sentences and pictures. Now I am writing and photographing, but mostly I am here with her in this apartment of brick and wood, by the wide river, beneath the great maple tree, in the year 2015.




Thursday, September 24, 2015

Our First Month

"Where is her head?" 

"In the bassinet." He says. 

I sit up like a flicked spring and begin searching the blanket for my baby. "I know her head is in the bassinet, but where is her face?" I beg. 

"Her face is with the rest of her...in the bassinet." Scott says, grabbing my hands. 

"Stop it! Help me!" I shove him off.  

I pick through the covers with careful fingers. I am poor of sleep. He understands. This isn't the first time I've woken -or half-woken- in a panic, thinking her cries mean she's suffocating beneath me or fallen onto the floor. 

"She's in her bassinet." He says again, waiting for me to wake. 

I turn and watch our daughter wiggle in the dark before standing to take her in my arms. 

Hormones host nightly parties for my fears. There is dancing followed by feasts of violent thoughts where accidental injuries, SIDS and sickness poison this fledgling mother's mind. If she's making lots of noises, I worry. If she is silent, I check her chest for breath. During her first week of life, I hear an erratic, spontaneous soundtrack of the noise her floppy body would make if she fell from my hands to the floor. When this happens, I grip her little limbs and sit surrounded by pillows and soft furniture until the falsity fades. This baby's helpless fragile form has transformed our home's floor into a slippery, widespread wooden weapon.  

"Please promise that you'll be really careful on the stairs." I say to Scott who holds the baby in his lap at the computer late one night. I'm sniffling having just witnessed the two of them falling in my calamitous/nasty/uninvited imagination. He has her so that I might sleep, but I can't sleep, not with a flight of stairs between us. 

"I will." He tell me. "Though, I'm not the one who falls down stairs." He teases. [I fell three times last Fall before finally ordering $40 worth of sticky carpet slabs from the Internet.] Scott is strong and agile. He will not drop her, especially now that I have reminded him to be careful. I tell myself before picking up an old, never before read collection of Jane Austen novels. I bought it in Boston years before, but found the first pages too dry to be absorbed. Below in bed, I open the bulky blue binding and begin reading for boredom. Social etiquette, an old man's will, expired class structures and first born sons, I slog through two pages twice before dropping the classic paper stories to follow sleep. 

The second night we are home with baby, my breast milk arrives in bulk. Bouncing from my puckered breasts, unable to latch, she fits for hours. She must be starving. I rock her while her wails pluck dissonance into my heartstrings. 

"Scott." I whimper. 

"What's up?" He asks, sitting out of sleep. 

"Can you call the pediatrician?" It's late, but there is a nurse on call. "She hasn't eaten for hours." I tell him. "I don't know what's wrong." In the kitchen, he stands squinting in the light. The nurse suggests warm compresses to soften me. I stand over the sink, dripping milk and steaming teapot water for twenty minutes. She then successfully nurses, suckling for an hour. I lay her down and quiet falls, seemingly from the walls, as forgotten dreams, cool sheets and relief welcome me.  

When the dog comes home from the kennel, she smells the dirty diaper bag. She brings me her fur face to be pat, while I sit holding the baby who is no longer in my belly. The dog ignores the infant. When we carry Amelia toward her muzzle, she skirts away, scared. Eventually she goes to her, smelling the umbilical cord -the drying meat at her middle- and the diapered waste on her bottom. She whines the first few times and I fear she's going to hump her, but she doesn't and soon the whimpering is replaced by excessive licking, which we allow a little of.   

Birth was wild, violent and raw -a hunt in a hospital room, but now her gummy grins fill me with this fleet of microscopic endorphins that trample all remaining regret with something reminiscent of a revolutionary spirit. My body made a body and now my body feeds that body. She is real, -alive with eyes like the Atlantic, hair feather soft and a beating heart full of blood and soul. She has a little liver, lungs, light brown lashes and creased legs; pink peach skin that pimples when she sweats and miraculous mammalian instincts to root and stretch. She is a brand new person with purple veins, perfect joints and bone, vocal chords and a rounding belly. She needs me, cries and coos for me. My body made her body and for that we are more than love. We are family.   



Thursday, September 17, 2015

Birth


If I have not birthed her by Tuesday they will insert something like a catheter, a midwife explains, with a balloon on the end. The induction tool is then inflated inside my cervix. Labor follows, they hope. I don't want my female insides to swell from some mechanical intervention. I look to the old tales of wives and midwives --to jalapeno peppers, eggplant, raw pineapple; to the application of semen onto my cervix and to bumpy car rides (or pretend ones on the trampolines of neighbors).

Three days before Tuesday, I awake to find my uterus trapped between the molars of a monster. The severe gnashing slows seconds into wincing and near weeping until it releases me and withdraws through the windows of our bedroom. A slobbered sweat stays, a souvenir, until the next fit rumbles and rises from my ruptured core.

"I think it's happening." I whisper, tapping Scott awake.

It is a night of false labor, and it ends curled into the cracks of the couch. The next morning, the storm tip toes back between my pelvis bones and begins stomping, howling. A parade of marching drummers join, toiling until bloody flem falls out. [The release of the mucus plug is just as it sounds.] I go to an appointment at 10 a.m. where a nurse stretches bands across my belly and greases plastic doughnut disks with blue ultrasound gel to track the beats of my baby's heart. Her heart rate is fluctuating. This is good, I'm told.

"Maybe we'll see you again tonight." Sarah the midwife says before leaving the curtained corner.

1:27 p.m.: the first contraction I pen into my red bound notebook
1:39 p.m.: the second

Sunday night, I want sleep to swallow me, but my bed keeps spitting me out. I pace the sidewalk with our black bicycle flashlight lit within the pocket of my blue bathrobe. I have never been more human and yet I probably look like a ghost.

2:17 a.m.: the second to last contraction I record before our departure for the hospital
2:21 a.m.: the last time I write

We drive twenty miles to the sterile sanctuary of western medicine, where the smartest of students save us common folk. I return to the triage room with the cotton curtains, hospital beds and medical machines. Scott helps me strip out of my sweats and pull onto the folded blue johnny.

In another corner, we hear a woman cry, "Please! Help me, please!" Yes, she's driven herself. Yes, she has other children. No, she doesn't know her weight. No, she doesn't know her due date.

"I need some help in here!" A nurse calls out --a shuffling of rubber soled shoes and cotton scrubs. "The membrane has ruptured." She tells the others. The laboring lady cries out. Then we hear a baby cry. Scott and I stare at one another. Shock settles into my soul like a smoke. I submit then to sobbing.

"On a scale of one to ten," Sarah the midwife asks me, "ten being the amputation of a limb, how would you rate your pain?"

I want to say nine. "Eight."

I am 5 centimeters dilated.

"I am not going to ask or bother you about an epidural. If you want one, you need to say it." Sarah tells me. She knows I didn't originally plan to have one, but that I am open to the possibility.

Upstairs in my birthing bed, my toes pitch the sheet into taller and taller tents. The contractions become tidal. I close my eyes to breathe. In the nose. Out the mouth. In nose. Out mouth. In out in out in out...

"I want an epidural." I hear myself say.

I don't like the next minutes. My body betrays me, succumbing to spinal numbness. My mother won't admit it, but there are risks with epidurals. There is an increased chance one will need a vacuum birth, Pitocin and possibly even a Cesarean Section. I know this and yet pain interjects, pleading for relief by a seemingly medicinal miracle. It is a complicated application that requires an I.V., which my inexperienced nurse attempts to jab into my left wrist bone -during a contraction- before giving up and calling a more capable colleague. My punishment, I tell myself.

The anesthesiologist arrives. I sit on the side of the bed.
Have I ever had my wisdom teeth out?

Yes.

Any complications?

No.

He goes to the other side, to where my spine rises like a miniature mountain range. He won't do anything during a contraction, he assures me. And when it's time, he needs me to try really hard to not move. It's too late now, I resign. He is inserting the needle. With an immediacy akin to a hot shower soaking chilled skin, the medicine soothes me into stillness. I lay down. The world seems to quiet. Sarah recommends I rest. She will monitor me from the nurses' station and prepare the midwife who is coming in at 7 a.m. It is just after 6 a.m now. Very soon after she leaves, however, a contraction grips me. She returns, staying to coach me through the contractions that follow. Just before 7a.m., the nurse and my midwife are having me roll onto my left side, no, right, no, left. The machines can't consistently catch the baby's heart rate, I'm told. Sarah decides then that she needs to go in and get the baby's heart rate with something like a tiny cork screw that attaches to the top of the baby's head. It's called Internal Fetal Heart Rate Monitoring. She is calm and so I do not panic, but regret is here now, an enemy as real as dirt. I hate myself, but blindfold my fear and self-loathing with a mask of grit.

"OK, on this next contraction, I need you to bear down and push." Sarah tells me.

I feel trapped by time. There is nowhere to go but through this moment. And so I face it, but tear streaked and scared.

"It's happening." I warn them. I pull on the backs of my thighs and begin to push against the brick wall that is birth.

Sarah calls a code. The baby's heart rate is dipping too much. We have to get the baby out. Suddenly doctors and more nurses stand at the foot of the bed. My eyes are mostly closed, listening to this scene is frightening enough. They have me go on my left side, no, try the right, no onto my knees. The machine cords are tangling and all I can think is, if only I hadn't numbed my legs, I could be standing. A young female doctor is going to perform a vacuum extraction while I push. They can only use the tool three times. After that, well, they don't actually tell me. Sarah is behind the doctors. When I look for her she comes to my side, rubs my leg and offers me her encouragement. The vacuum is attached. I hate this. I really hate this. I hold my husband's hand, but fear I am breaking his slender bones. On the next contraction I need to push, I'm told. The nurse presses the oxygen mask to my mouth. I inhale fast and deep. Get to the baby, breath, get to the baby.

"I'm getting the next contraction." I tell them.

I push then with all of myself. I don't know if anything is happening. Among the doctor discussion, I hear the words, "emergency c-section."

"I'm getting the next contraction." I say then. I am nearly hyperventilating. I might pass out, I tell them, but push anyway. No one tries to stops me. I must push her out. I push. I breathe. I push. I breathe. Push. Push. Push. I feel her head drop from me. Inhale. Push. Her body slides out. Seconds later, she is on on my belly and breathing by herself. She is perfect. She has purple hands and toes and this little coo of a cry. Most of the doctors who helped me birth my baby leave. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and the c-section surgeons leave too when they see her. The placenta is pushed out. Scott calls it an octopus. Sarah shows me this organ my body built to house my fetal marvel and then stitches me up.

Amelia May's eyes are swollen and there is a ring where the vacuum clamped onto her little head. Chubby cheeks. Wet brown hair. Fuzzy ears. My body made her. The relief I feel makes me weightless, despite my weariness. I'll revisit regret later. For now, joy prevails.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

While I am Waiting

I have such a generous uterus, who'd very much like to not make me nervous. So while I sleep, she quietly practices her contracting. But sometimes I awake to her unmistakable quake and wait for the clutching to dull before rolling onto my left hip and folded arm. The bones within my extremities are drowning in blood. "Insurance," my midwife calls it. A reserve of red for my veins to drink from, were they to thirst after I deliver baby from womb to world. How strange to become one again. To lay on my belly and fear falling down the stairs less. To separate. The day she's due moans like a war horn. When will my loins shake her from me? When will I lay her to sleep in a dry bed of sheets, swaddled in printed cotton, while breath circles her mouth? When will I touch the hair on her head, kiss her cheeks, see her? I am not ashamed to make the claim that perhaps these ten months of witnessing the wisdom of my anatomy as it constructs a person, might be the greatest of my little life's work.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Small

My midwife is concerned that I haven't been gaining weight. I blame my lazy summer appetite, but she's afraid it might be something else and she's sending me in for a second ultrasound. I smile, swallowing the hot guilt as it wafts up from my gut. I try not to cry or vomit or...cry vomit.  

Before I am home, I stop for a steak salad with rice, beans and a side of guacamole. Then I eat an entire pint of coconut frozen yogurt.  

Late that night, Scott and I lie in bed laughing. I have propped myself up on three pillows to prevent the passage of tiny acid bubbles from popping against my esophagus, but I am burping coconut steak anyway. My fingers scan my broadened belly in anticipation for my daughter's nightly dance. I wait, but she's quiet as a wallflower. I am in a lighthouse, searching across the uninterrupted line of the horizon. I see no ships. My hands start to sweat as they shine their dim lights across the placid sea.  
Left. 
Right. 
Down. 
Up. 
Right. 
Up. 
Down. 
Left.

I sit up and hang my legs over the side of the bed, ready to run. I need her body to move inside of mine.  

Why isn't she moving? 
Move Baby. 
Move! 

Sobs suddenly drag me into a drowning ---a self-induced hyperventilation that punches the air from between my shaking lungs. 

My gluttony was too late. I have starved her. 

Scott presses one hand around her and I, while the other searches the Internet. Ten movements within two hours is enough, normal. He reads. Then he feels her move. She is awake and jostling. Perhaps the echo of my weeping reached into her dreams or maybe she was just in there intently listening to the laughter of her parents. I can't tell. I don't know. But I am grateful that she has nudged beneath the sky's blue curtain to poke the triangle of her boat into sight once again. I open my mouth and chase the train of my breath until it is caught and even the caboose is swallowed. I lie back down. 

The ultrasound is scheduled for Thursday. Scott has work. I go alone. In the small dim office, I lay on loud paper and lift my shirt. Warm gel is squirted and cloth is tucked in to protect my sweatpants. The wand skates across my skin and white pixels make moving pictures on the black screen. Click, click, clack, tap, tap, tap, the ultrasound tech types. She prints pictures of my baby's profile. She is practice breathing, I am told. There appears to be no problems with the umbilical cord or the fluid. She's on the small side, about 4 pounds 12 ounces, she estimates. But not in the dangerously small zone for my being 35 weeks pregnant. I thank her, take my pictures and place them into my purse. I am light with relief. 

On the small side. That's ok. She's not too small. Not scary small. 
            
However, the next day I get a call. They want me in for weekly ultrasounds. I will eat more! I am eating more! I want this to be enough. It isn't. Guilt returns to steal territory in my stomach, but I feed it ice cream, butter, bacon, and whole milk anyway. 

Two weeks later, I have gained seven pounds and my belly has stretched two centimeters. Keep eating. Three full meals and snacks.

"It's very important at this point that you eat a lot of protein." I'm told. 

I am trying. And baby rewards my efforts by dancing day and night. 

At my next ultrasound, the tech says to Scott and I, "For being on the small side, she's got some chubby cheeks!" 

"She gets that from you." My husband says pointing.

She does. She does get them from me!  






Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Tricks of Time

At night, she ripples my stretched skin from within. A four-limbed fish I will one day size for bathing suits and usher to puddles, lakes and the Atlantic's edge. She sits, splashing salt water, wincing. Waves of brown water fill her rain boots as she stomps down sidewalks. She makes muddy moats with me and pinches her nose as she dunks into the deep-end and leaps from wobbly wooden docks. I take her hiking, breaking on boulders for milk and baby belching. She then curls into my collar bone, sleeping to the sound of steps and the smell of bug spray, sweat and pine. She grasps my fingers to stand and when she is ready to run, I take her to fields of soft grassy ground. She rolls down hills and explores the tops of mountains, staircases, and dusty bookcases. We pick apples and outfits and outings. We follow music and dance to it. I crouch at the bottom of red static slides, catching her beneath the arms. I read her books. I sing her songs. I give her paint and easels of paper. I tie strings of balloons to her doughy wrists and share with her my watermelon, ice cream and stories. She tells me her tales and first fibs and confessions. She asks me her questions and I give her my answers.

I've finished teaching for the moment, leaving the children who ask me daily about the baby in my belly --their little hands reaching to touch the mound in my middle. My days now are mostly solitary and slow. I wait in what feels like the past, worrying time will one day turn on its side and when I see my whole life, years will look thin as inked pages pressed between a worn cardboard binding. When my sister had her baby girl last summer she didn't want to miss anything so she stopped sleeping --not entirely of course, but enough to make you wonder. My sister would stare at her beautiful sleeping creation for hours. I understand it now. From the moment I thrust my biological opus from between my legs and hold her in my hesitant hands, I worry those newborn months will begin to blur and the days will pass not by seconds or minutes, but leap from feedings to changings to rockings --swallowing hours of mid-day nappings-- and lag only during hushed early morning lullabies. 

Many mothers have more than one child. And now I wonder, is it because they hope the repetition will help them to remember? Or perhaps, the second, third, forth times, they will have conquered time, paused it into picnics, printed pictures, lists, recipes, letters and collected cards. Maybe the mothers of many reach middle age with their lives volumes deep, an entire library of minutes, of shiny chronological passages to read when lonesome for the loudness of infant cries, sibling quarrels and the clattering of moments as they pile like dirty dishes in the kitchen sink.



   

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I dream she is born with a full set of teeth.


She is a frightening thing. 

I sit on a curved purple velvet couch with a steep padded back. I wait for her eyes to close before peaking over the upholstered wall. No one notices her or me. And so it is then, inside the mystifying maze of my dream state, that I turn the babe around and begin to send her back in from whence she came, up between my legs --as if she isn't done yet. 

I wake before her head enters. I roll onto my side and sink into the soft pillows of my childhood room. The sun curves around the canary colored walls and warms me. I slide my fingers over the firm fruit that flattens my belly button and wonder if anyone else has ever dreamed that dream. 

The nights are strangest. Most mornings, I wake with a specific expectancy for a flat fetus-free belly. As if she is just air I might fart out. My fear of losing her through sheet flapping and sleepy rollovers extends to my worry of complications; of extended hospital stays where they don't know what's wrong just that something isn't right. During the days, I think about names, diapers and how my folds will hold sweat in July. I still stand naked in the bathroom mirror, staring at the sight of nature making a person inside my person. It is fascinating and weird.         

He gives me grapes, pickles and a fresh flower bouquet for Mother's Day. He writes a card that carves a lump into my throat and causes my lips to land on his. He is so excited to be a father. He wants to be the first to call me a mother. He isn't, but he is the first to weigh and water the word with love. 

Tonight, as I sit wondering, she swims and drinks the watermelon juice I have eaten for supper. I have a cough and a nose that clogs and overflows like an abused toilet. I hope I don't embarrass her too much. 

I wonder what it'll feel like to see her and know that I would never send her back in....even if she is a bit busted looking.     

Saturday, April 18, 2015

"You're not doing fucking family bed."



My mother says in a dismissively demanding way, which makes me laugh and shout. She sees a smothered grand baby and mocks a fictitious future where smelly pre-pubescent children are lodged between our legs. And after years of intimacy deprivation, you and your husband will only then realize the fault in your parenting ways and howl at the deaf moon, 
"WHY OH WHY DIDN'T WE JUST GET A CRIB?" 
Our initial plan was for the shocking transition between warm womb and cold world, I explain. Yes, I am due in August. A baby in bed is for comfort and milk. And I wasn't going to just plop the newborn in between our fidgety forearms, squishy pillows and dog dandered comforter. Goodness! There are special bumpered baby sleepers...sleepers meant, apparently, for teeny tiny parents or king sized beds. We are not this, nor do we have this. We are attached, quite literally, to our unquestionably long limbs and we share a bed sized for a queen. In addition, I am a greedy sheet stealer, while he is a blanket flapper. Whenever the corners of the layered bedding are not aligned perfectly, he whips the cotton into hurricane winds until the hemmed edges are kissing and I am shivering and shrieking to STOP RIGHT NOW OR I WILL DIVORCE YOU! We are not still, small sleepers, but blanket hoarders and wigglers, sliding to the center of our bed where we either join like a sweet set of silver spoons or whine incoherent commands for the re-occupation of what we think is our SIDE OF THE BED! 

Mom and I lay side by side in her bed. I grasp and tuck a sheer sheet of pregnant optimism beneath my chin, while beside me, her 35-year-old quilt of tattered patches warms and protects her. I will buy a blue bathrobe and perfume, I decide. I won't be a good mother otherwise. I don't tell her this, but instead assure her that a friend has offered us her crib. When I finally finish talking, she falls into a light snoring slumber and I make a note of the irony. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Cribs, diapers, bottles and onesies, changing tables, tiny socks and Vaseline.

In September, we decide we aren't going to wait anymore. We are tired of expecting a miracle of money to come along and insure that we can handle caring for a creature we've made. Stability is imaginary anyway. And things bought often break or soon stand in closet shadows wearing fuzzy sheets of dust. It's the night of our 5-year-wedding anniversary. We sit on a steep grassy slope watching the sun plunge beneath the Earth. We are smiling at the other's smile. Now? We really mean now? It is the first time we can agree on when to mark this dash of our timeline. Yes we want a baby now. 

Two months later, we conceive. I don't know it until December, but I have a zygote and it is dividing its cells inside me. Later, an embryonic secret begs for Saltines, stretchy pants, winged sweaters and afternoon naps. We tell our families because we need them to know. If I lose it, I need them. If I can keep it, I need them. I have no secrets from those I love who ask me questions. After 31 years of living, this is something I've learned.  

I am forming a four month old fetus now. The fluttering, I think, has begun. I look at pictures on the Internet to see if I am fat compared to strangers who post pictures of their bare bellies with cutesy signs stating food cravings, discomforts and current countdowns. I take no pictures, but stare at the slopes of my extending curves like a toddler marvels at a large sticky snot plucked from the depths of his nostril. My nurse midwife says if I "look more pregnant at night" that probably just means I'm bloated. I look at scientific drawings of my crowded insides and they fail to convince me that my organs are there, let alone a budding babe. I have strange dreams and financial fears, but I take my prenatal pills and laugh a lot. Somehow this future I'm forming within my brilliantly evolved -and yes, often bloated- body gathers joy closer to me. I hardly have to reach for it now. And aside from avoiding extremely strenuous exercise, I feel powerful. I am building a tiny person after all. 

We don't have a crib. I don't know that we'll ever have one. We are hoping to have our baby sleep beside us. Milk when he needs it. A touch when she calls for it. Unconventional in this country, often criticized and teased, but something we hope to try nonetheless. We're busy and broke and getting most of our child rearing supplies from my in-laws, who have one child and a house with old baby things in the basement. I am happy for these hammy downs. I don't want to be the mother who thinks she needs every gadget made by capitalism's elephant patterned cuteness. We wouldn't have a place for it all anyway. We live in a one-bedroom apartment: he, me, and our brown silly doggy. We don't have that little house we thought we're supposed to have, but we don't mind. We're happy here.   

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Square of Sunlight

While I wait for the yeast to foam and the butter to melt, I stand in a square of sunlight. This winter has been like a monster with low self-esteem, bullying us into buildings and battering the trees. All twenty-five of the degrees today feel like secret messages from Spring. Soon, she says, soon. Tomorrow is March 1st. This old house has cold spots on the floors and a window in the bathroom that invites the winter wind to enter and chill our porcelain throne. So I stand in the center of the sun's affections, flushing away my bleak complexion, while the dog watches. I don't want to be a wife who festers and pesters about money. I vacuum, water the plants and wash the dishes. I eat left overs and a cabbage salad that tires my jaw. Later, I follow snowmobile tracks over hills, into farms and past the frozen river with the wet blue edges. Penny and I think we smell something stinky and I am fairly certain those prints are too big to be from another dog. She pulls and I let her, turning my neck and reaching my eyes around the hood of my coat. From far away, I hope to see a bear. I've never seen a wild one and I'd like to. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Juno's Birds

The wicked wind makes ghosts of the snow, while the fat fearless song birds flutter the floor beneath the feeders. I pull the beige accordion shades down low to let a little light in, and to entertain us, the sniffling husband, the sleepy wife and the restless, playful dog. We, the average citizens, are banned from driving, told to hide from Juno and her Roman goddess wrath. And it makes me wonder, has there ever been a hurricane Hitler? Or a blizzard called the Ku Klux Klan? Sometimes I think we want to forget the horrors of humanity so badly that we pretend everything is better now. I call myself a poor white woman. I am not oppressed, just an artist who feels guilty for the little load life has strapped to the bones of my back. Just look at those brave little birds. Aren't they afraid they'll lose their holes in the maple tree? Perhaps they risk it for seeds and socialization. If we went out for a chat, they'd just fly away. I watch the bush branches waver, while bird feet cling. They look like newscasters standing on a dock while horrendous waves rise up behind them, splashing their yellow slicker hoods and the plastic covers on their camera lenses. A metaphore lost on their ignorant bird brains. I embrace the uncertainty of winter storms, of this submission into soft pajamas and seclusion. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Says the Shirt

I do not have his big brown eyes, but these little blue buttons. I have no beard, dark rimmed glasses or laughter, just this triangular collar and gray stitching. I am not made of hair, freckles and skin, but soft long sleeves and plaid pocketed cotton. He breathes, while I can only flap in the wind. He speaks while my only expression depends on if he folds my cuffs or not. But we are both washable, dependable, warm and comforting. Yet, one day, he might become ill and die, while I'll just tatter before I am bagged and donated. You know, though, whenever he leaves, his things will be your only graspable memory. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Lonely Day


Suddenly the sun is sunk. I put on my boots, coat, mittens and leash the dog. I do not take light and so we meander at the end of the driveway before returning inside.

I should go to the movies. What's playing? I take off my polka dot pajama pants, my stained sweatshirt and inside-out tee. I pull on my jeans, zip and button and put on a clean shirt.  I slip into my new shoes. The ones my godmother mailed me. 

Now it's forty-five minutes before the movie. Wait-a-minute. I've been worrying about money all day and I go to a movie? That's illogical. But I really should see people. I've been alone all day. Eh. A screen is a screen and this little one won't cost me $10 to stare at, I decide, untying my shoes, pulling down my jeans and sliding back into the static cling of soft cotton. I might be going crazy with loneliness. I sing with my guitar for a few minutes, my voice like a small fire, but my fingers like brittle kindling. The singing makes me feel less lonesome. A thought which causes me to compare myself to a lost old lady consoled by her own nonsensical chatter. Bagel with cream cheese, clementines, one soft boiled egg. I put on a movie. It turns out to be horribly depressing. I quit an hour in. I turn on an episode of a television series I enjoy about midwives in London's East End during the 1950s, but a main character nearly dies during childbirth and by the end I am sobbing like a bloodied knee child. When the credits conclude, I turn off the t.v., stand and move from that nauseous sensation --the one provoked by too many hours sitting still.  

I need to be outside. 

I push my bare feet back into my boots, zip up my nylon navy coat, leash the dog, and grab the wool mittens my grandmother made and mailed me. I stretch the head lamp around my hat, double clicking both bulbs. 

On the path beside the river, we run. We don't go so far as the woods because I'm frightened of the psychopaths of horror films and newspapers, as well as hibernating mother bears. We turn back. When we reach the commons, a grassy horseshoe surrounded by gray road, I bend over and flash the dull light over the patch of frozen ground beneath me. Then I snap up my hood, click off the lights and lay down. I look up, out, while Penny rolls in circles around me in spasms of ecstatic back scratching. The moon glows. God's headlamp. Star dots speckle from brilliant to dull uncountable clusters. I imagine a world where the air is too contaminated to breathe. Stuck beneath glass roofed communities where the only precipitation flows from hoses, sprinkler systems and cement fountains. If one day I cannot lay on the Earth's cold floor and inhale winter air, I'd rather not live.