I do not try to touch him. I look at him.
I look at long, dark lashes brushing a curvy cheek. I watch a chest rise and fall with whispery, baby breaths as light as magic. I look at outspread arms where fingers curl then stretch like starfish.
When he sleeps perhaps I care. When he sleeps perhaps I feel the way that all the world expects me to, living in some bliss of love.
But they don’t know the truth. I do.
I know the despair of never-enough sleep. When I do fall and feel the blessed darkness fold around, wrapping me, enveloping me like my own mother’s arm, then the crying starts. And on and on it goes, and on, until I have to fight through fog and climb back up to cold reality. It is dark and bleak and everyone is asleep. No-one is forced awake but me.
He sleeps. That hard, tugging mouth is at rest, for now. Slight workings of his lips make my heavy, soreness tingle. He’ll wake soon.
Too far gone to even put down my head, I sit and stare. And while I look at him with what, perhaps, is love, the anger’s there.
I’m the only one who knows. The certainty of sleep has gone for me. My body has been taken. This soft, painful shell is what I have instead. It does nothing that the real one used to. This soft shell just bleeds and drips and burns.
The other me was taken over, torn apart, with wrenching pain. My life has gone from me.
I want it back.
I can’t do this. How stupid I was to ever think I could.
He shudders now and flails his arms, mouth gaping open, cry and gasp and cry and gasp until I grab him up. He butts my shoulder like some frantic creature. I walk heavily to the chair where I spend those hours. I do the awkward wrestle of positioning, undoing and all the while he screams and flails.
After the jarring silence when that mouth attaches, the pain kicks in and I can’t help but flinch. Which is worse, those shuddering screams or this sharp pain as milk gets dragged through cracks and mixed with blood?
The blood won’t hurt him, so they say. The pain won’t last too long, they say.
It will all be worth it. So they say.
My life has gone. I want it back.
“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