9 months and 6 days ago, I went for my last ultrasound. I was 41 weeks pregnant, so swollen and scared it was hard to walk, or sit, or lie down. I darkly, secretly hoped that some minor thing would be wrong, maybe I would have a little less fluid than they’d like, and they’d tell me to come in for induction. I was so tired of waiting for you. I was standing on the bridge between my old life and the new one, crushed by the weight of air, slumped from the burden of not knowing.
I was angry at my body for not even being able to do this one thing right. Why couldn’t you come on time? The mythology of a 40 week pregnancy held me captive, and made me feel all wrong. I weighed too much, worried too much, moved too little. I should’ve done more yoga, ate fewer scoops of casserole, done more squats. Instead, I sat at the dining room table all day alone. I asked people to send me poems. I collected them into a document called “Poems I Read While Waiting for You to be Born.”
I was lying loose from God. Strange is it not best
Beloved, in the New World, in this skinny life,
Intemperate with chance, my spirit quickens
For the fall’s estate. In India, the half
Hour is the hour, we were like that then—
Jammed wrong & wrong in the diurnal
Mangy chambers of our carnall
Hearts, the rose robes rustling loose as velvet
Curtains at the stage prow, passing
Into the strange salt air of an Indian
Ocean, hoarding kindling, heading
West with hours, later than we might
Have known, counting tins of meats & oil left,
If they should lose or last the night.
-by Lucia Brock-Broido, “Carnivorous”
After my ultrasound, your dad drove me to the indoor mall to pace between a Macy’s and the Gap. The midwife called and told me everything was perfect. I did not feel grateful. I was mad at you for already being stubborn. I sobbed outside the food court into your dad’s shirt.
The next day I got the call I longed for: they were going to induce. The next night I reported to the hospital, where I labored for 50 hours. You wouldn’t be born. At the end of it, they sliced my belly open and uprooted you.
The white light is artificial, and hygienic as heaven.
The microbes cannot survive it.
They are departing in their transparent garments, turned aside
From the scalpels and the rubber hands.
The blood is a sunset. I admire it.
I am up to my elbows in it, red and squeaking.
Still is seeps me up, it is not exhausted.
-by Sylvia Plath, from “The Surgeon At 2 A.M.”
Shaking on that cold stretcher, I tried to meditate to displace the fear. Paralyzed, with all of my insides out, I waited for so long to see your face for the first time in color.
I couldn’t move my arms, so they held your cheek up to mine. I gasped for breath, cried so hard I choked. I had you.
The surgery was a success; they removed my whole heart and handed it to me. We named it Lucy.
Today, you are so much more than a slice of your mother. You have your own moods, your own language.
Everyday I want to scoop you up and hold you right where you used to be, but you don’t like to sit still anymore.
An ache will tighten
but not form.
even this upsurge of crows across our sightline.
The Mayans invented zero so as not to ignore even the gods
who wouldn’t carry their burdens.
Too slippery as prayer, too effortless
-by Rusty Morrison, from “History of sleep”
At first, you were a shock. Feeding you every two hours, you bit down hard until I bled. I stopped sleeping. I kept granola bars next to my bed because I was always starving. I watched hours of TV and held you and hoped that you would stay asleep, or at least not cry. I loved you but I didn’t know what to do with you. I didn’t trust myself. How could I?
Now the weeks fly. You are not delicate.
You crawled quickly, and now you stand. You fall almost constantly, with a loud thud and no concern. You are tough, daring, fearless. You like to open drawers and pluck out their insides, knock down any tower of blocks or old tupperware we build, rip the Pat the Bunny book to shreds, with its old fashioned binding. You hate getting dressed and having your nose wiped. You made your own language, with a word that sounds a lot like “Mama,” which means “oh god please not this.” We have to work on that.
Every day you exhaust me, but every night when you’re asleep I miss you deeply. I look at pictures of you.
Lucy, my love for you has cored me.
Every shred of my body and brain seems now to have been built so it could love you. I don’t know why I had all this physicality before. My hips were never useful until I learned how to perch you on one side, while you pull your knees up and use them to squeeze my middle. Certainly, my breasts never knew real work.
Before I had you, I almost never felt whole. I don’t have time for that kind of sentiment anymore, because my life is so full of you. The existential anguish was extinguished, replaced with the intricacies of your schedule, the feeling of your thin hair in my fingers, inexplicably blond. My mother said that would happen.
Thank you for teaching me about grace.
When the sparrows rise up for no apparent reason
And circle small and high against the pale vast sky,
What makes it so important?
As if my sadness was an endangered species;
As if my mood was a coastal wetlands area
In need of federal protection;
A place never intended for development,
Meant always to be useless.
This is what I left behind when I went forward.
When I feel good-for-nothing now,
I come back here to stand and look at it:
Wet and still like a footprint in the mud;
Hard to see inside the moving browns;
Lying low like an understanding.
-by Tony Hoagland, from “Grammar of Sparrows”