My sister gave birth to her first baby last week. Hours later, when we finally connected by phone, I was the one who sniveled, my tears plopping into the bathwater where my children crouched, targeting each other with rubber Cyclopes—bath squirters that mostly eject damp folioles of black mildew from their eyes. My toddler aimed. My daughter squealed. My sister’s voice on the other end of the line was calm, drifting in wavy rapture.
That night, I found myself wandering half naked into a fantasy where that snakebite-in-the-junk procedure I convinced my husband to go through with hadn’t actually worked.
It’s not that I wanted another baby—I do not really want to be in that place.
I know this.
When my third baby was born, my mother arrived and brought me coffee and cheese so that I could stay awake and fatten up. She played in the yard with my kids one morning. Later, she puttered about, used the bathroom, and ambled into the den where I was nursing for the four-hundredth time that day.
“I hate this,” I moaned.
“You’re doing fine,” she reassured me cheerfully.
I looked at the floor, ashamed.
“Eeew. Mom, what’s on your shoe?”
She looked down and gasped.
Bird doo, I thought. She stepped in bird doo and now it’s all over the rug.
She fetched a sponge.
“Gosh, I’m sorry…” she said, and began to blot.
I put the baby down and went to get a glass of orange juice from the kitchen.
“Mom! Take your shoes off! It’s all over the house!”
I followed more prints—around the breakfast table, down the hall, and toward the bathroom—like stick-on dinosaur tracks at the children’s museum. I opened the powder room door and looked down. There was a dead animal—no, wait—who dumped out the strawberry jelly?
“OH MY GOD!” I screamed.
It couldn’t be.
“What is it?” my mom called.
“God, NO!” I yelled back, and then I was laughing so hard my limbs went slack.
Lying before me on the black, marled bath rug was a blood clot the size of my hand, its form merging in and out of the background like an obscene chameleon.
Somewhere between the up and down of my two-minute toilet ritual, I had expelled this thing like a uterine torpedo.
As if all other post-partum indignities weren’t enough, I was convinced I would never have sex again; instead, I’d become a cheddar-powered factory of vagina jelly bombs. My lady parts might as well have been doused with superfluous pepper spray—the kind that warns, stay away, to a vegetarian bear.
That’s all over now.
Two days after her baby was born, my sister called me. This time, she was in tears. Newborn-fueled sleep deprivation is an exquisite form of torture; the whole world feels suddenly fragile, tenuous and green.
I cried with her, offering up reassurances that she was doing everything right, that it would get easier.
In some ways, it does.
At night, my children’s forearms stick way too far out of their pajama tops—their sleeves a far cry from a tailored fit—and I wonder why I haven’t noticed before. I miss their smaller bodies. I roll onward, mostly ignoring irrationalities that might put a stick in my step. That’s what we do. But every now and then, when I stop and listen, I feel myself faintly mourning something in my children that is both lasting and lost, like an insect’s abandoned exoskeleton, still clinging to a grain of wood, its perfect shape quivering in the breeze.