Blurring the Lines (A Brief Story of Birth)

Source: USDA (Photo by Peggy Greb)

I wake suddenly on the nineteenth day of May in the year two thousand. A voice that belongs to nobody urges me to go outside. It is still dark and I dutifully rise, loosely belting my ratty terrycloth bathrobe over my pregnant belly. Leaving her father to sleep, we float downstairs, my unborn daughter and I, stopping for a handful cherries, a few for this pocket, the rest for the other pocket. 

I sit on the wet, unmown grass and there’s a hush in the predawn air that smells of dandelions.  There are so many stars I don’t even try to count the nearest ones. All of the stars and the night sky, too, are a gift impossible to wrap your mind around.  Two snakes slither down my peripheral view, leaving behind the constellations that had formed them and rise up at my side, dual witnesses on coiled tails, of the coming birth. 

We sit, the snakes, and my unborn child and I, eating cherries and watching the sunrise. Small cuts on the horizon at first are visible through the planks of the fence. The morning climbs higher into the sky and now large cuts of smoky orange and crimson, and a slow, shimmering bleed of coral.  The snakes slither over my belly, and my child kicks harder than she ever has and ever will. 

The anesthesiologist rolls her eyes in response to my comment that it must be a rude awakening for a baby yanked from a warm, dark world and into a cold operating room, with a thousand bright lights not soft and gauzy like stars, at all.

The nurses have placed a modesty curtain across my torso; they are afraid I will see my intestines, like the tripe of a slaughtered cow, piled next to my body.  I tell them even if I wanted to see — they’re my guts after all —I can’t lift myself because I can’t feel anything from my rib cage, down. 

Doctor Bearg arrives and does yoga in his scrubs. He jokes with the nurses before he makes a little door in my lower belly, to liberate her from the womb of her incarceration. He has brought along his colleague Dr. Cunningham, they’ve delivered five thousand and twenty six babies between them. Now it takes both of them to pry loose my baby, like a foot wiggled out a shoe that’s grown too small, from my textbook case uterus. 

Her father, whose ancestors lived in the Sicilian old country, is given the honor of cutting her umbilical cord. The part he cuts, the part that isn’t knotted and left to heal and become her belly button, drifts like an ash from a campfire, up and into the domed ceiling. It’s the first time I notice the painted angels, there.  

In the recovery room, I’m half-drunk on hormones and snake pheromones. A nurse wearing a stethoscope and lilac-scented smock places a swaddled child on my heart. 

I hold a cherry to my daughter’s impossibly small bow lips and she says in a language only she and I speak, “Mama, I’ve come all the way from Italy to see you.” 

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