September 2017

That soft, fleshy spot

by Melanie Cheng

 

He weighs less than a 10-cent coin.
He measures three centimetres, about the size of a large bull ant, from his head to his half-formed toes.
He has a functioning brain, heart, liver and kidneys and ten tiny fingernails like grains of salt.

*

The café is an old meatpacking warehouse. The tables are blocks of unpolished wood and naked light bulbs hang from the ceiling. Jamie is smiling at me across the froth of her cappuccino.
“That’s exciting.”
“More scary than anything else.”
“I know. You. A mother.”
I take a sip of my peppermint tea, which looks and tastes like old dishwater.
“But seriously, hon,” she says, putting her cup on the uneven table. “I’m happy for you.”
I watch the desiccated mint leaves dance in the pool of lukewarm tea. A long time ago a woman with a face like a walnut read my future in the leaves of a teacup. Something about beetles and renewal, rabbits and fertility.
“So, how does it feel?” Jamie says as she plays with the frayed edge of a packet of sugar. She is less comfortable with my silences than she used to be.
My hands migrate to the fleshy spot between my bellybutton and the top of my pubic bone. I poke it, making a crescent-shaped dent in the skin with my fingernail.
“That’s the weird thing about it.” I say, surprising myself with the cold evenness of my words. “Because it feels like nothing much at all.”

*

I have a bikini wax before the appointment. Just in case. I’m not sure what examination they will do. When I tell the beautician I am 10 weeks pregnant she says I don’t look it and pulls out a picture of her son. Suddenly it is my turn to smile and ask questions, as if I am interested. But I only mentioned it in case it was of some relevance, to the procedure, or to the choice of wax. I didn’t mean for us to exchange stories. I have no stories, yet, to tell.

*

The receptionist doesn’t ask for my name. She points to a chair and tells me to take a seat. I watch the slideshow of baby photos playing on the plasma TV above the desk. Some photos come with messages of thanks to the doctors and midwives who delivered them. Others are Anne Geddes style portraits of infants sleeping in the soft pink cups of their parents’ hands.

When my husband arrives, ten minutes late, he has pearls of sweat on his upper lip. He sits down next to me.  He jiggles his knees. I can feel the gentle vibration through my feet.

The obstetrician is a lithe woman with a pixie haircut and bright blue Prada glasses. A framed picture of her children stands amongst the crowd of thank-you cards on her desk. She talks about the weather as she squeezes the ultrasound gel, in slug-like clumps, on the skin below my navel. My husband stands at the head of the bed, scowling at the monitor. We see the shadow of a sac and then a small white bean appears across the blinking screen. It is too small, the doctor says, for a 10-week pregnancy. Too still. The bright room is suddenly airless and there is no more talk about the weather. The doctor pushes hard with the probe, so hard that I need to pee. But I don’t. I shut my eyes and clench the starched drape between my fists.

*

They schedule surgery for the end of the week. On Thursday, my day off. In the lift my husband holds my hand. His palm is cool and powdery dry.
“They say it’s common.”
I nod.
“It doesn’t mean –”
The lift doors open and a heavily pregnant woman steps inside. We watch her caress her belly, unthinkingly.

*

My husband waits for me inside the café. On my way to the toilets I pass the pharmacy, which is also a gift store and a florist. I look at the impossibly small mittens and booties hanging in neat pairs from the silver racks. I reach out and touch the foot of a white velveteen jumpsuit with a blue embroidered trim.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” The saleswoman says, having magically appeared at my side. “Is it a gift?”
I feel my hands wander again to the fleshy spot below my navel.
“No.”
The saleswoman smiles and says congratulations.

*

I join the group of nurses, orderlies and patients smoking on the footpath in the mid-morning sun. I lean against the wall of bricks, absorbing their buttery warmth through my air-conditioned fingers. I close my eyes and in the velvety darkness, behind the thin red veils of my eyelids, I see my baby – suspended – a larva trapped in amber. I see him – for I am certain now that it is a boy – hanging from the umbilical cord, an unopened bud on a rosy stem. 

 

© Melanie Cheng

“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.

Share your thoughts

* Gloria Steinem