When you came into my life, the size of a lima bean, I had done everything in my power to prevent you. Working against nature, I had carefully calculated and meticulously pumped my body full of hormones. But still, you were there.
As you grew I found myself wishing you would disappear. You were no more real to me than the rubber figurines at the doctor’s office, or the distorted black and white image of your moving body. I didn’t want this, I thought. I wasn’t ready.
I was unable to feel any differently, and the guilt was a deep cavern I could never claw my way out of. It was never your fault, and it was never mine, we are the product of an existence that will forever place that responsibility into our hands. I wrestled with something that could not be silenced, the compulsion to have everything the way I had planned, and my reluctance to fulfill the obligation that had been assigned to me. By not wanting you I had already failed you, by grieving the death of my life I had pushed yours aside. I had done nothing wrong, but the wrestle pulled my insides apart.
The carefully planned life I had laid out for myself dissipated. When I walked amongst crowds I was keenly aware of the freedom I was about to lose and was instantly ashamed of my own selfishness. Strangers held my gaze, their eyes traveled down and lingered. A beautiful woman with big sunglasses and sleek hair carried her child by the hand and held her coffee in the other. She looked at me with a judgment that could only have come from my own insecurities. I could never be as composed.
I became accustomed to your presence, you were simply the color of my skin that pushed and pulled in every direction and pressed against my ribs. Thick red streaks appeared, long and taut, on my growing belly. I traced their smooth lines with my fingers and tried to rub them away. When we lifted your furniture and hooked in your car seat I maneuvered you around me, the movement took my breath away. The weight caused my muscles to give out. I didn’t want this, I thought. I wasn’t ready.
We picked your name, the great biblical figure, the woman who wished and prayed for a child for twenty-five years. Sarah, who struggled with faith, not believing she would be granted what she desired, but still possessing the humility to accept whatever had been given her. It was my desperate cry, a voice crying in the wilderness, prepare the way.
It took fifty-seven hours, four of which I pushed. You were finally pulled into the world by a vacuum because I was too weak to give any more for you. My shame of never being able to do enough collected into purple and red blooms on your scalp. When they placed you on my chest it wasn’t as magical a moment as they said it would be, I felt only sweet relief to be separated from you. I regarded you with confusion, I watched your wrinkled and fragile hands ball into fists, your dry peeling lips open and close. They said I would love you when I saw you, but I did not understand you.
Regardless of this, I found it impossible to be away from you. People flooded our tiny hospital room in loud bright crowds. They ripped you from my arms and cooed gentle songs into your face. When you screamed they shushed loudly, they squawked like birds and made guesses as to why you cried. I wanted to snatch you away from them, you were the product of my labor, my deeply wounded muscles, the reason I could not walk upright for weeks, the reason blood poured from me and pain knotted my insides. Somehow I found the strength to lift you in my shaking arms. When you cried all night long, I sat and cried with you, held you in my lap while the heaviness of birth fell over me and pressed my body to the earth. A healthy baby, absolutely nothing wrong, they said, and test after test they found no flaw. She’s perfect. For all of the times I had wished you away, you remained unaffected by my failure.
When we brought you home I sat in the back seat with you, and let you curl your hand around my finger. While I watched you sleep I took careful notice of how many times your delicate chest lifted and fell, I studied your porcelain face in wonder.
The blood loss had taken the wind from me, and my breathing was labored for weeks. My left leg remained numb for months. You were a constant presence. When I awoke you were there, and when I lay down to sleep you would cry. When vomit and warm urine covered my arms and traveled up your back, I carried you, naked, while it ran down my legs. You screamed. I screamed with you.
I sang you songs and one day when you heard me you smiled. It consumed your tiny face, followed the ripple of your gums, and filled me with the deep ache of possessive affection. The first time you reached out your hand it was to brush your fingers against my chin.
You awoke every few hours in the night, even still, after I had done everything and more than they said would help you sleep. The shock of your cries reached down my throat and tugged on my chest to wake me. I lay there and listened to your screams for as long as I could, and when I stood I cursed every circumstance that had led to that moment.
When you fell asleep in my arms I held you to my chest. I moved my lips across your soft skin, I kissed the tips of your fingers. When you slept away from me I wandered the empty house and listened for you. I wandered into your room and placed my hand on your back to assure myself that it still rose and fell.
I spilled a bottle of milk when our car hit a pothole. It had taken me hours to pump through my bleeding and cracked nipples. It soaked into my clothes and splattered all over the car. I screamed – you screamed with me. I pounded my fist against the window. I didn’t want this, I thought. I wasn’t ready.
I didn’t want you. But when you came you looked at me, eyes like dark blue stars, as if I were the only person in the world who knew the right way to love you. Some days, even now, when exhaustion and frustration press into my shoulders, I look at your beautiful face and wish that I had been given just a little more time to be better for you. The wrestle has never really left me. It is a part of me as much as you are. It lives inside my belly and presses its handprints against my skin, its feet into my ribs.
Together we press on, through sickness and exhaustion, and each battle conquered leaves us lighter. I hold your hands while you move your shaking feet forward. We pass smiles and giggles, exchange raspberries and clicks of the tongue, speak in our own language of loud noises and babbles. My palm covers the smooth curve of your belly, my cheek fits nowhere else but pressed against yours.
There will always be quiet moments where I will grieve the parts of myself that I have lost, but what I have gained in return is something far greater. You are the love of my life, my companion, when you are happy you run to me, when you are sad you reach for me.
When you are grown maybe I will tell you the inexplicable ways I came to love you. Maybe you will feel them yourself. When you are grown you will be a product of my triumphs and my failures, the ways I lost myself and was found again. The marks on my skin will tell a story I will trace with your fingers. It will be our story.
Felicity Landa is an MFA candidate at UC Riverside Palm Desert. She serves as fiction editor for the online literary magazine, Literary Mama, and nonfiction editor for The Coachella Review. She lives in Santa Barbara with her husband and toddler.
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