EXCERPT FROM ‘ONE MAN’S LOSS’
What is this movement within me that flutters and turns? What is this rise in my belly, this plump, liquid-filled life, this swishing and twirling, this perfect world of warmth, of muted sounds?
This is my baby-child.
The melancholy in me is growing, as is my unborn child. I withdraw from my husband, not daring to look in his eyes for fear of him seeing the scared and close-fisted person he has married. My child is trapped within me and I am trapped within my life.
I am afraid of this birth; afraid of what I will become; afraid of being ripped open, torn apart, of dying, of disclosure, of screaming long-held secrets.
In the quietness of the hospital room that I share with five other empty beds, my child decides to begin her journey out into the world her mother is so afraid of. The pain is a little more than a ripple, with its rhythmic ebb and flow. As hour upon hour passes, I ride the small waves, alone, and afraid to bother busy nurses.
The night is long, the pain unforgiving. When the squeaky steps of efficiency
enter my room at six a.m. to thrust open the blind in a quick, majestic
sweep, I tell the nurse that I am already in labour.
“I’m not surprised. I’ll let the doctor know.”
She’s not alarmed, so I’m not alarmed; I’m glad I didn’t trouble her earlier.
The gentle-speaking Indian doctor arrives two hours and too many contractions later.
“We’ll induce you anyway, hurry things along, yes?”
I nod. It hurts. Rise and fall, rise and fall.
The labour room is silver and white with a single bed in the middle;
I am surrounded by shiny contraptions, nozzles protruding from walls,
a black oxygen cylinder standing at attention within arm’s reach,
a large poster of a forest feigning calm. The doctor injects a substance
that will relax me and hasten the contractions. My legs are raised and
spread, and my feet hooked into stirrups as he inserts a long hook, then
pulls and tugs until the firm elastic bag of waters that has cocooned
my baby gives way with a gush.
We can’t wait for this child to be born: there are schedules to be met, lives to be started, shifts and sheets that need changing, blinds drawn that need raising. My baby’s luxuriously incubated, gravity-free existence has to end.
The pain continues to rise, faster now, fewer minutes of respite before another thrashing, biting wave. I fight the pain; there is no way I am going to fall, to cry, to ask for help. This pain won’t break me; I won’t give in.
Hour after hour, I fight. Hour after hour, so does my baby.
We watch the heart monitor needle scribble the struggling, fighting life
onto a long strip of paper, when suddenly the Indian doctor declares,
foetal distress! My groggy haze denies me the panic of a clear mind.
As I lie on my side, curled up into a misshapen ball, a green-masked doctor inserts a hair-fine injection into my spinal cord, blocking the pain of contractions. This baby is on its own now; I can’t feel it fight any more, and my own fight has been taken away.
I watch the lights above me flick and flash as I am rushed to the operating
theatre. My husband follows.
The nurse puts up a screen so we can’t see the doctor make the incision into my bulging belly. I see nothing, I feel nothing.
“It’s a girl.”
Looking down from above I see the hurried and swift medical staff, my fainting husband, a swaddled child. I watch, detached, thirsty. I sleep.
The next morning a large-bosomed matron marches into my room and pulls
back the curtains around my bed. I am still groggy, still numb.
“Have you seen your baby?”
Baby? I’ve had a – a baby?
“I’ll get it for you.”
I feel my belly. It is flat. I’ve had a baby.
Nurse Bosom returns, wheeling in a humidicrib, parks it next to my bed and leaves us alone.
Here is my new baby, lying on her belly, her head to one side, eyes wide open, looking straight at me.
My baby, Kate.
We look into each other, into a spiralling whirl of recognition. The rush and current of love is electric, visceral.
I am your mother, and you are my child.
A ferocity of love consumes me. I hold her fast with my eyes.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem