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All we needed was a tent but we didn’t have one, because I was supposed to be “at the library” and she was supposed to be “working later on a Friday than usual.” We only had a blanket, some snacks, and water. It was hot just like all the other summer Fridays we’d spent together, but instead of meeting at her best friend’s apartment we were in one of the many little outposts of Griffith Park, committing our adultery on a blanket.

Grown-Up Words

By Bethany Cox

Essay

blackboard-thinking-of-love

His name was Jeremiah and he was in my preschool class. He was five years old, tall for his age. His parents were divorced and he had an older brother, which meant he knew words like ass and hell. Once he accused me of saying the f word during story time.

“I said fox, Jeremiah.”

“It sure sounded like fuck,” he countered.

Listen, I have blonde hair (when it isn’t gray), blue eyes, and a fair face. I know darn well that my 8 month-old son, with his cappuccino-colored skin, almost-black eyes, and chocolate hair was not created in the spitting image of me. Yes, if you look really close there are resemblances. He nabbed my chin divot. He possibly has my cheeks. And some people say he has my smile. That one makes me happy.

My father’s urologist projected the CAT scan on his computer screen, pointing out the major organs like battle sites on a Civil War map. My father’s body, my homeland. Bladder. Liver. Intestine. Spleen. “Here’s the right kidney,” he said, using his pen to mark the perimeter. “You can see its recognizable shape, a healthy shape and size.” We nodded, my mother, my father, and me. We knew pointing out normalities meant an abnormality was coming. Dr. Petroski inhaled. “And now here’s the left kidney,” he said, moving his pen to a dark area that did not mirror its right-hand counterpart. It was as large as my father’s liver, but misshapen, a bulge in the center like a football. “You see the difference in the shape? That’s a tumor. That’s the problem.”

I knew we weren’t going to get good news, so I turned away. Technically, we hadn’t received any news at all—the ultrasound technician had said perhaps ten words the whole time—but that was its own evidence.

When previous scans had been normal, it had been apparent fairly quickly. Because of liability issues, technicians aren’t supposed to say much, but body language and demeanor say enough. When the technician cheerily points out the baby’s head, its chin, its heartbeat, fears are quickly alleviated.

Our technician didn’t speak and hardly looked at us. She stared straight ahead at the monitor. One hand operated the machine’s controls, and with her other arm, she somehow manipulated the ultrasound’s transducer without looking, almost as if she were an extension of the machine.

I am having my second miscarriage in a row. I am waiting for my body to expel a much wanted pregnancy that in our sense of joy and good fortune, my husband and I had already announced to family and friends. My first miscarriage this spring was very early (5.5 weeks) and I recovered from it with relative ease. But this morning, suddenly no longer pregnant at 7.5 weeks, I was flooded by a tidal wave of rage.

I yelled at my 5-year-old daughter who was impaling a potted plant with her light saber. I tried to pick a fight with my husband, who wasn’t in the mood to oblige.

And then, it hit me.

 

My dog’s ashes are currently in a small silver gift box on my bookshelf. I loved my dog, but I hate that ugly box and its stupid tassel.

When my husband and I decided to cremate Bernie, we thought we would scatter his ashes along one of his favorite hiking trails, but doing so is illegal where we live. I hated the idea of us furtively dumping a baggy of remains in the always-crowded park. It didn’t feel like an appropriately jubilant celebration of his life.

Consider this: I was nineteen years old and I was nineteen weeks pregnant.

I asked myself every day, for every one of those nineteen weeks, if I was doing the right thing. I would usually ask myself this question while I was looking in a mirror, which, right there, should tell you all you need to know about my state of mind.

And just in case it doesn’t, I will tell you now—my state of mind was not good. I did not know what I was doing. I did not know what to think about my boyfriend’s smile—a smile that stretched across his face and around the room—when he knelt before me and cupped my stomach—my stomach that never ended up getting very big at all—and traced the strokes of flat blue veins that radiated from every new swell in my body.

Waiting

By Marissa Landrigan

Essay

Over the course of the past year, the final year of my twenties, many of my closest friends have become mothers. Which is to say, they have come to understand the design of their bodies as evolutionary miracles, capable of withstanding great pressure, change, eruption. The body as engine.

Swallows in Midair

By Meg Worden

Memoir

Watching the towers, like two roman candles all lit up and waiting to take flight, we tense for the whistle, the earsplitting boom. The air is a sweltering buzz of fiberglass and dissonance, it’s full of walls that no longer protect anyone from anything and it clings to my skin. I breathe it in and it singes my lungs. Someone says the words asbestos and attack.

The absurdity of our direction is becoming painfully apparent.

Standing at the top of the pedestrian entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge we are bookended by two very different sorts of skies. One is so black and the other so very, very blue. It’s a glass marble sky. A circular world sky. We are walking forward with the intention of going into Manhattan to check the office, but the way we are pressed into this crowd it’s just too hard to move. This direction is absurd.

Old stone and new people span the bridge from arch to arch, suspension wire to suspension wire, an exodus of phantoms no longer angry at co-workers, spouses, not thinking about the raise, the stockholder’s meeting, the diet, the myriad of ways they fail themselves. They are now The Great Witnesses Of Gravity, a sea-of-faces, marching on solemn feet this way. Not that way.

The sound is an unearthly roaring – internal, tidal, absolute – and the bridge pulls itself taut like a swing at the top of its rise. The-sea-of-faces, masked in white dust and marked with fear, swivel back toward the city in unison like swallows in midair. Swoosh. The collective intake of breath.

Everyone knows someone who is still there. And the marble spins, the sky upends.

A cloud of dust precedes the collapse of the first tower. It crumbles in a sort of slow motion effect. A special effect. A summer blockbuster, alien and unbelievable. It slips and spreads, down and down and down, until it is swallowed by its own insides. Ashes to ashes, and it’s gone. The Manhattan skyline loses a tooth from its iconic grin, and everyone is bleeding. When the faces reappear they have open, screaming mouths. They are all eyes, throats, tongues, tears.

I have a thick handful of Drew’s jacket as we are backed up to the railing and carried into the current off the bridge, where we spill onto the grass, a little under-the-bridge park scattered with sitting and waiting and seeing. Witnesses telling witnesses where they were when the planes hit, how they got out, where they lived, not here in Brooklyn, but in Long Island, New Jersey, Queens, somewhere where they couldn’t reach their family, get their car out of the  garage because there was no more garage, or car.

Drew and me we make nervous jokes about the grassy knoll, under this strange sky with asphalt-gray clouds punctuated by paperwork liberated from files, desks, inboxes. Pavement clouds. World-turned-upside-down clouds. I still have a handful of jacket, his hand rests on my shoe. But we don’t notice these things. We also don’t say the things we usually say. This chaos is sufficiently trumping our own. And maybe we’re just sick of ourselves and our redundant, self-perpetuating problems. Or we’re scared. Yes, we’re definitely scared. I don’t know whether or not we notice these things. Too stunned to cry, too tight to collapse, we laugh about grassy knolls and their cliched connection to American tragedy.

“Where were you when the towers fell?” the interested parties would inquire.

“On the grassy knoll,” we would reply, stifling inappropriate hysterics.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha and we aren’t really as funny as we were hoping. We notice this and become quieter than quiet. Dense quiet. Asphalt cloud quiet. We would have to completely rethink our plan, change direction. Swoosh. Just like that. Swallows in midair.

There is nothing that wouldn’t require a new perspective. The fabric of our reality has been irrevocably unravelled.

“I finally get clean and the world falls apart.” I say, mostly to myself, but loud enough for him to hear. Last night in Brooklyn, in the basement of Grace Church, they were different than before. They asked if my life was unmanageable, which was an entirely different question than, “Are you an addict?” They sat in a circle, drinking the coffee that Hazel I’m an alcoholic made. They were kind of funny. Mostly, they didn’t make me feel like crap and they didn’t annoy the crap out of me.

Swoosh. Just like that.

Hazel with the coffee pot said I should make no major moves, no big changes for the first year. Just don’t use and come back. She said quitting wasn’t the end of the world.

I woke up the next morning to a city on fire.

Drew pretended to ignore my getting clean comment and, instead, was starting a conversation with a man who’s eyebrows hung low over his narrow eyes, who had stopped in front of Drew and I on the grass, set down an armload of books and asked if they were letting anyone into Manhattan. “I have to get in, to school. A test. Important.”

Confusion was pandemic and all directions seemed absurd. Because no one really knows how to go swoosh, just like that. Because we aren’t actually hollow-boned swallows, covered in feathers, light as air. We have bodies, heavy, fleshy, burdened. It takes an act of Congress, God, Terrorists.

We ordered Reubens with extra Russian dressing at a diner a few blocks up on Atlantic Avenue, iced tea to drink. I can see us growing old together, drinking iced tea. Problem solved.

The pastrami sours in my throat when the waitress announces the second collapse. I notice her tired legs in compression stockings, the way her shoulders strain under an invisible burden. I don’t notice her take Drew’s order for a vodka tonic. Worlds ride high on apron strings.

Two days later dust covers unclaimed bicycles and the witnesses wander the streets, chanting the names of the missing and the dead. Two days later, we shield our faces from the smell, sweet and acrid, identified by the Vietnam Vet on the subway as “Burnt flesh, man. I know that smell, I smelled it before and I swear to you it’s burnt flesh.”

Two days later over styrofoam cups of Hazel’s coffee,  someone asks what would you do if you stood between fire and a seventy fifth floor window? Who can imagine a choice like that? To fall or to burn. Opinions split among us, as they were split among the ones that actually had to make that choice. We knew this for certain: too many burned and too many jumped.

And it was two days after the bridge and the grassy knoll and the reuben sandwiches, all of us still trapped under mortar and glass and grief, that I got pregnant. Swoosh. Just like that.

When I began telling people that I was pregnant, people said ominous things like, “Your life will never be the same again,” and “This will change you forever.”  Others (generally parents themselves) took to more back-handedly complimentary, self-satisfied sentiments like “This will make you a better person!”  Or “You’ll find that pregnancy and parenthood are humbling experiences.”

(Wait.  Did you just call yourself a good, humble person for having had kids? I think you did. No. Really. I’m pretty sure you did.)


I think the ominous sentiments are probably inescapably, terrifyingly true. I think the smug sentiments are probably just there to warn me that some of my friends and acquaintances are smug.


Physically, I have escaped relatively unscathed.  No serious complications and so far free and clear of the more common, inconvenient, and uncomfortable but generally harmless physical complaints as well.  No nausea, no frequent headaches, no stretch marks, and no sign of the dreaded FATs, thank you very much.  Fiber, fiber, fiber.


Pregnancy is a fuckin’ breeze.


Or not exactly.  Not the part where I go considerably more insane and become an entirely different person, both in fact and in the perceptions of others.


I’ve quit enjoying music.  And the internet, for some reason.


The only straight man in my office has started treating me differently, cloyingly; he is less trustful of my opinions, less heedful of my warnings and advice.  He pushes back at me where I’m pretty sure, prior to my pregnancy, he found me intimidating and accepted that I was the expert on matters related to my job.

He is seemingly confused about whether the baby is in my uterus or in my brain.  About whether I am  expecting a child or I am the child.


It doesn’t help  that, as Tawni Freeland observed elsewhere, most maternity clothes look like oversized baby clothes themselves.  Lots of ruffles and lace and empire waists and baby-doll lines and floral patterns.  An overwhelming cutesy-feminine-preciousness that is simply not befitting of the fearsome creature I can be.


I’m the she-goat.  I AM YANG.

I AM SETH I AM KALI I AM CHAOS I AM THE COLD AND THE DARKNESS AND I AM HAVING TROUBLE REACHING MY TOES COULD YOU TIE MY SHOES FOR ME PLEASE WHENEVER I BEND OVER I FART AND ALMOST PASS OUT.


You can totally run, and you can probably totally hide, too, since I barely even fit in a restaurant booth these days. Pretty much anywhere you go, if it’s at a pace faster than “shuffle,” I won’t catch you.


I do my best not to wear shirts actually made for pregnant people unless I am entering a situation in which I think it is somehow to my advantage to be perceived, potentially exclusively, as the cute and helpless pregnant girl.  That or a disabled person.  This is not to say there is never such a situation.  But it needs to be strategic decision, not one made for me by the dearth of sane fashion options in maternity sections of the Twin Cities metropolitan area.


A friend of mine related to me that her husband had enjoyed her being pregnant because it seemed to “even out” her temperament.


In my case, my own father said to me today:  “You were mercurial, at best, to begin with; throw this in the mix and…well…It’s okay.  It will be okay.  It will be over soon.”

Thanks, Dad.

But he’s right.  My stubbornness has become inflexibility, my stoicism, iciness.  My frankness has become tactlessness, my willfulness has become belligerence, and my driving, for some reason, has gotten really, really aggressive.


I am largely free of misgivings.  About anything. My will is a juggernaut.  My resolve a bunker.  When I say “I don’t give a shit,” I am startled to realize how sincerely I mean it.  My single-mindedness is staggering, and the power and control people are granting me now fill me with a terrible, addictive euphoria I can’t quite describe.

Makes me feel, maybe, just a little, like a god.

It’s probably not good for people to just do what I say like that.  But if they don’t, I lose my shit.


Standing there in my preppy, pretty khakis and ruffled seersucker blouse, skin glowing, smelling of rose lotion and clean laundry, belly swollen with the miracle of new life, fists coming down hard on top of the washing machine, my makeshift pulpit, my eyes wide enough to look like the balls may just explode from their sockets:

“THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU OR HOW YOU FEEL OR ME BEING OUT TO GET YOU OR WHATEVER THE HELL YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT!  I JUST WANT IT DONE!  DO YOU GET IT?  DONE!!!  THIS ISN’T PERSONAL AND I DON’T GIVE A SHIT HOW! MAKE IT BE DONE!!!!”


A bunker in an lacy empire waist.  A missile silo with pink siding, a window box, and a picket fence.  Venus flytrap.


Sorry baby, but your soft blond mama is a loaded gun.




It’s all so incongruous.  Me.  Pregnancy.  Me. Femininty.  Me.  Nurturing vessel.


I struggle to salvage my Self.

I knew this would happen.


Part of this is hormones, I suppose.  But part of it is an adverse or compensatory reaction to being treated–suddenly–differently.  A reaction to people, even my own father, reaching out to touch my stomach without asking.  People seem to think there is no longer any reason to be afraid.  As a result, something in me is compelled to take up wanton displays of my capacity for sheer, unapologetic force.  To show that I can marshal the peculiar attributes of this “mellowing” condition to make myself even more awesome and terrible.

To show them that “for the better” is relative.  Better at what?  Throwing the viciously crazy quotient of any given situation totally off the charts?

Pregzilla.


Everyone be cool, this is a pregnancy.

Any of you pricks move and I’ll execute every motherfucking last one of you.


My dad spoke to me in baby-talk not long ago.  He said “My wittle girl is having a wittle girl!”  Mere weeks later, having forgotten he said it to me, he tried to tell me my mother said it to him about me.  Maybe she did.  Maybe people go around calling me a “wittle girl” to each other now.  Maybe he just wanted an excuse to say it again.


No one in their right mind would speak to unpregnant Me in baby talk. They would have to have a death wish.  No one should ever speak to any woman in baby talk unless she is actually a baby.


Later he said, “How’s it goin’, Mommy?”

That one I couldn’t let go.


“NO! GodDAMNIT! You don’t do that! Grown men don’t get to call me Mommy!”


This startled him.  My dear old dad is as sweet and lovable and generous and kind and well-intentioned as they come.  But I have grown up a tomboy, his only son, and I was not about to let him infantilize and hyper-feminize me.

My mother frowned at this.  He is approaching 70.  I am his daughter.  I have a daughterly obligation to allow him, in his dotage, to reduce me to an infant.  I am obligated to humor a cooing, high-pitched sentimentality that casts me as the lynch pin of a million-times recycled and fairly sexist Hallmark moment.

Well fuck that.

Mom can frown all she wants.

She knows better.  I’m her daughter.


An unexpected boon to my new-found dispassionate and largely unbending relationship style:  Like a lot of humans, the dog has become incredibly obedient.

Some archetypal energies, I’m tempted to believe, are universal.  Even across species.


I wonder if the birth of my child will cause setbacks in her training.  That is, I mean, if my temperament ever evens out.  If I am ever sane-ish again, I wonder if she will stop respecting me.

I think about her constantly.  Worry about whether or not she’s feeling fulfilled in her essential doggy-ness.  I bawl inconsolably at ASPCA commercials.  The little puppies with crusty eyes and no one who cares enough to wipe the boogers away.

You could show me a thousand videos of human children with distended bellies covered in flies, and I would not react with such abject sorrow and soul-clutching existential despair as I do to one 3-second shot of a dog with matted fur shaking in fear.


My fixation on dogs has been clear and curious.  It is basically harmless, so I’ve felt no need to stifle it.

It’s not unusual, I guess, for pregnant women to develop these kinds of fixations.  I was prone to fixation anyway, so it only stands to reason that this tendency, too, would be amplified.

It’s just that now my fixations are even less interesting to other people than the ones I used to get.


My husband appears slightly concerned that I love the dog more than I love him lately, and I very well might.

I suspect it is some primordial urge driving me towards the most vulnerable, needy thing in my home, commanding me to provide for it, instruct it, protect it, stroke its head, value it above all else.

At all costs, if need be.


Do not fuck with my dog.  Do not say mean things about my dog.  Praise my dog and her incredible good looks constantly.  As far as I’m concerned, compared to my dog, your dog and everyone you know sucks, including all your children, Mozart, and baby Jesus.  So just watch it.



It will be interesting to see what happens when my attention and concern are forcibly split between an infant human and my irrationally beloved Sydney dog.

I expect to feel a great deal of guilt and anxiety, no matter what.


The only other question that remains is whether I should continue trying to fight it or stop kidding myself and just let go.  Just go Full Lunatic right from the outset.  Revel in it.  Roll around in it.  Maybe if I let go, stopped fighting, I would become less, not more, crazy.

But, probably, I would just be different crazy.  Crazy like all those other parents I know, running around bragging about the humbling power of parenthood without even the slightest sense of irony.


I already have plans for a Christmas card that involve, potentially, putting clothing on my dog.

Maybe I’ll get one of those strollers for twins.  Buy matching bonnets, cut ear holes in one of them.


Change?  Yes.

Amelioration?


Let’s just say some small shred enough of Me remains to  have some very, very serious doubts.



It’s 4:35 AM and I’m running around the house like a chicken with its head cut off. Up and down the stairs. Up and down. Up and down. Back and forth. All the while the orchestral “William Tell Overture” by Gioachino Antonio Rossini is playing in my head as if plucked from a scene in a Looney Tunes cartoon when Elmer Fudd is chasing that whaskily wabbit Bugs Bunny through the forest with a double-barrel shotgun.

I shit you not.

Except I have made up impromptu words that go like this:

Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God God God
Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God God God
OH MY GOD… Oh my God God God

Rewind back a few minutes.

4:30 AM: My wife wakes me and informs me she’s in labor.

Not as in I-am-going-to-work-now labor.

Labor.

Child labor.

I-am-getting-ready-to-have-a-baby labor.

The conversation goes a little something like this.

WIFE: I think I’m going into labor.

ME: You?

You, question mark.

This is what my wife later tells me I say when all is calm and we’re sitting opposite one another in our hospital beds.

“You,” as if someone or something else in the room was getting ready to give birth.

My dog Motzie is fixed, so it’s obviously not her.

The television has no genitals, so it’s definitely not it.

I don’t have a vagina, so it’s definitely not me.

I’m pretty sure I would have recognized if it were me anyway. I hadn’t even bought any cute maternity clothing for work. It’s definitely not me.

And I have a penis.

That always makes giving birth difficult.

Unless you’re Thomas Beatie.

So there I am: 4:30 in the morning.

I wasn’t expecting this even though it’s been nine months coming.

Our first child isn’t due for two-and-a-half more weeks on April 27.

It’s April 11.

And the kid has my genes.

I’ve been determined there’s no way this baby is arriving on time if it has my genes. I’m never anywhere on time. I even have this funny scenario in which following my death—whenever that is—at my funeral, I don’t arrive on time.

It plays out like this: Everyone in church is mourning my loss. Tears are flowing. Family, friends – they’re all sobbing and boohooing their eyes out. The preacher stands in the pulpit at the podium or whatever it’s called in church. He looks out into the crying crowd. In walks a guy from the side door dressed in black. He’s holding a note. He walks over to the preacher and hands him the note. The guy walks back toward the side door and out. The preacher clears his throat and addresses the congregation, delivering the following:

“I’m sorry but I’ve just been informed Jeff is running a few minutes late and will arrive shortly. Until then, he has asked that his friends and family join in a hymn together. Please turn to page 368 in your hymnbooks as we sing, “Holiday in Cambodia” by Dead Kennedys, followed by an a capella rendition of “Nervous Breakdown” by Black Flag.

I’m putting this in my will. I’ve told my wife that if I die before she does, this has to play out exactly as I have written. If not, I’m going to come back as a ghost and haunt her. (Not really)

That shit will be hilarious.

Tears go to laughter. Quite the send off. Quite the exit. Just how I want it.

“Oh, that Jeff,” someone will say. “He sure knows how to get a laugh out of someone [pause] — even in death.”

Yet it’s April 11 and my kid is on the move down the birth canal.

I quickly pack a few clothes, toothbrush, toothpaste, clean underdrawers, deodorant, cell phone charger, and my bottle of Citalopram, which I call my chill pills because without my chill pills I’m fucking crazy I tell you. Crazy.

Not really.

I take it for depression. Have since about six months after my dad’s death.

Leukemia. Age 59.

I saw my dad die before my eyes over a two-month span, then held his hand as the machines went beep and his soul ascended.

Two years later I still can’t face the fact my dad’s dead.

And here I am, about to become a dad myself.

I run back downstairs, open up my laptop, and type an e-mail to my boss.

“Not gonna be in this week. Having a baby. Not me. My wife. Some proofs will be coming in if you could take a look at them and sign off. They’re good to go. If you need to make any changes (which you shouldn’t), the InDesign files are located in the Comm. Info folder. Here’s my cell number if you need me but don’t call me for the next couple of hours. In labor. Not me. My wife. Holy crap!”

Rewind back again to me sitting in bed, my wife delivering the news she’s in labor.

“Did you call the hospital yet?” I ask.

“No. I will now.”

She does.

“Come in at 7:30,” they tell her. “Come sooner if your body tells you to.”

Flash forward less than two hours later.

6:20 AM: “I think we need to go now,” my wife tells me as I finish up my e-mail to my boss.

“Oh crap, I haven’t eaten anything yet.”

Yes, that’s right. I’m thinking about food at a time like this.

I have no idea what I’ve done over the past hour-and-a-half. Why the hell have I not eaten?

“We can stop by McDonald’s if you want.”

“We can? Are you sure there’s enough time? I’d rather you get to the hospital than me a chicken sandwich and extra hash browns.”

At this point, my wife is freaking me out with her breathing.

“Breathe in and out like they told us at our child birthing classes,” I say, trying to soothe her. But on the inside, me, I’m hyperventilating. On comes the “William Tell Overture” again. Bugs Bunny shoots down a rabbit hole.

Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God God God
Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God God God
OH MY GOD… Oh my God God God

“Yes. We have time,” she says. “You need to eat.”

See how wonderful wife my wife is? Always looking out for the nourishment of her husband even at times such as this. She continues:

“You can get into a funk when your sugar is low.”

Now the truth comes out.

“I don’t want you in a bad mood with all this about to happen. It could be a long day, a long couple of days in the hospital.”

She’s right. I do get into a funk when I don’t eat on time. And I eat all the time. Like six meals a day. It’s the only way I can balance my sugar. Even when I played basketball in college I was like this. Before the game in the locker room, I’d eat a Snickers and drink a half bottle of orange juice while Coach gave his words of wisdom. At halftime, I’d eat another Snickers and finish off my orange juice. Otherwise, I’d get the shakes – like Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias.

But I’m not diabetic. I’m hypoglycemic.

I put my dog in her crate, tell her to be a good girl, that she’ll have a new best friend soon, and scat.

6:30 AM: We stop by McDonald’s. I pull up to the drive-through window and order a chicken sandwich, two hash browns, and a large Coke.

“$4.29. First window please.”

I pay. Onward to window two.

It’s taking longer than usual to fulfill the order. I’m a very patient person, probably too patient in my day to day life (they say patience is a virtue), but I want to say, “Can you guys please hurry it up? Just this one time. It’s an emergency. My wife is in labor.”

But I imagine the 18-year-old kid who is waiting on me, stop and say rather coldly, “Then why the fuck did you stop for breakfast dickhead?”

And he’d have a point.

A very valid point.

Out comes my combo meal. Peace and chicken grease Mickey Dee’s. We’re off to Martha Jefferson Hospital.

I use this as an excuse to drive like a bat out of a hell down 29, just like in the movies. Then I picture a cop fly up behind me with his siren on to which I stick my arm out of the window and wave for him to pull up along side me. Then I say, “Officer, my wife is having a baby. Can you please escort us to the hospital?”

He nods yes, flashes his lights, and I roll my window back up, turn to my wife and referencing the cop, say, “Sucker.”

We (“we” as in me following behind sucker cop) bolt down the highway, going through red lights like it ain’t nobody’s business. I smile for the asshole traffic camera they just installed at the intersection of Rio Rd. One day I’ll put the photo the Police Department sends me in my baby’s scrapbook.

But none of this happens. Because this isn’t the movies. It’s real life.

But I continue to drive like a bat out of hell, weaving in and out of traffic, beeping my horn at any car in my way and yelling at them, “Get out of the way you slowpoke prick. My wife’s having a baby.” A very cautious, alert bat out of hell I might add. Okay. You got me. You called my bluff. So I’m not really driving like a bat out of hell. I’m going 55 MPH in a 45 (technically, I am breaking the law) and there is hardly anyone on the road. I’m not weaving in and out of traffic. I’m not beeping my horn. I’m not yelling.

6:45 AM: We arrive at Martha Jefferson Hospital on Locust Avenue. I pull up to the Emergency Room entrance. A security guard approaches and opens the door for my wife. He tells her where to go. I tell him where to go (hell) and to stop looking at my wife’s cleavage (she’s pregnant. Her breasts are full of milk, nourishment for my soon-to-be first child, you stinkin’ perv). Actually, I do none of that either. He isn’t even eyeing my wife. He’s very polite like some child’s nice grandpa.

I park the car, strap on all our bags like I’m some oversized coat rack made of pine, and make my way to the Maternity Ward.

It’s Go Time…

Like in a classroom film, I see the mass
of blood cells scything through your membranes, parted
like curtains by an ingénue. They pass
onto the main stage; from there some black-hearted
director flicks them, spinning, at my brain.
I smash the cup, and lose my words again.

Every heart, they told me, has a hole—
mine, enlarged by pregnancy and birth,
just more permissive. Meanwhile, hormones stole
the water from my blood. For what it’s worth
this was coincidence: a mini-stroke,
neither God’s justice nor the Devil’s joke.

Still, I wanted you gone. I wouldn’t join
their long term studies, chose to have them worm
a plastic cap toward you from my groin,
key holed into place, and then closed firm.
By now it should be overgrown with tissue,
and don’t think for one moment that I miss you,

but you belonged to me, unlucky flaw.
I had a gorgeous heart, the surgeon said—
more beautiful, I think, for having your
asymmetry. Now plugged and pulsing red,
you’re blameless, while, although I’m going to live,
love still falls through me like a rusty sieve.

Being pregnant is interesting to you.  But you are not the first person to be pregnant or the first pregnant person anyone has known.  You are not the most important pregnant person anyone has known.  You are not even the only pregnant person in the world, country, state, or city at this exact moment.  You are probably the only pregnant person in your house.  But not necessarily.

Being pregnant is not exceptional.


Metaphorically, a chimera is a bogeyman, monster, or other fanciful mental fabrication comprised of grotesquely disparate parts.

In mythology, Chimera was a fire-breathing monster.  She was a child of Typhon and a sister of Cerberus & Hydra.  She had the body of a goat or ram, the hindquarters of a dragon, and the head of a lion (most depictions show her with the heads of the other two animals as well).  In some genealogies, she was the mother of the Sphinx.  Seeing Chimera was a omen of natural disasters like storms, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.

Chimerism is also a genetic anomaly.

Real-life  genetic chimeras have the DNA of more than one distinct individual, usually just in a handful of organs.  True chimerism results from the fusion of fraternal multiples very early in zygotic development.

A chimeric mother may, for example, have ovaries and a uterus from her fused female fraternal twin.  As such, the DNA in them would not match the DNA that made up the rest of her body, so the children she conceived,  carried, and gave birth to would not technically–at least genetically–be her children.  They would be her nieces & nephews.

Ultimately, you could say, such children would be born by surrogate.  But the whole reproductive system, not just the fertilized eggs, would be tenants in a host body.

It boggles the mind(s).


“How are you feeling?”

I don’t know how many times I’ve asked this question of a pregnant woman and not actually cared what the response was.

Most of the time, while pregnant women obligatorily answer my obligatory question about their health, I scan the room to find someone who can drink alcohol–preferably male–and make plans to escape to his company at once.

I have never fit well with women.  I have no particular allegiance to my gender (at least not for sake of my gender alone), and I don’t generally trust its members.  I consider myself a feminist, but only insofar as feminism is, foremost, a sort of individualism & autonomy advocacy.  It just so happens that it’s especially for females.  Women make me uncomfortable, even more so if they’re beset with a fundamentally female affliction.

There is, I’ve found, a tendency for reproduction to have the general social effect of a middle school dance.  Girls on this side, boys on that side.

It’s my worst nightmare to be isolated among women and left to talk about nothing but women things.  So if I am to talk about pregnancy, we won’t have any of that uterine cult, Red Tent nonsense.

And even where pregnant woman are not being sentimental about their gender, being in the company of most pregnant people is not altogether unlike being in a nursing home, hospital, or hospice center. The primary topics of conversation are medical in nature.  Or if the conversation is not directly medical, it will still call to mind hospitals, medical issues, internal anatomy, and bizarre physiological processes, creating a sort of sickly clinical atmosphere wherever one is, whether at a fancy dinner, innocently trying to grocery shop, or at Disney World.


There you are on some sunshiny Orlando day, maybe in line for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.  Your pregnant friend is chatting away about doula hunting, and suddenly you’re compelled to consider burst blood vessels, blood, mucus, and your best friend shitting the bed in front of God and doctors and family alike.

Later, the gleeful giggle of preschoolers, the whimsical pastels of Main Street, USA, and the spectre of excrement, bodily fluids, and torn sinew hanging over your burger lunch at the Crystal Palace while your friend pokes three fingers into her bulbous stomach, chewing and grimacing as her fetus grinds a heel into her liver.


Everyone’s always trying to cover it up.  Like pregnancy is a spiritual experience rather than a physical one.  It’s the “miracle” of life.  This condition, which human evolution, in 3 million years, has not managed to perfect well enough to keep a woman from vomiting for 3 months straight or wetting herself every time she laughs, is considered a “blessing.”

Pregnancy is supposed to be this sweet, gentle image–soft-focus, vignetted.  But there’s an unspoken, septic quality.  Underneath the euphemisms and precious sentiment, there’s something very Dorian Gray.  The “glow” is a greasy face.   The woman gazes lovingly down upon a creature who is pissing into her belly.  And then inhaling it.


It’s the happiest time of her life.


Except for the excruciatingly painful varicose veins in her rectum that are beginning to bulge out of her butthole.



If everything goes well, she will give birth to both an infant and a slimy two-pound mass of blood, tissue and mucus, which she can then take home and cook up like a haggis, if she is so inclined.


Everything surrounding pregnancy tends to be feminizing, mortalizing, and deceitful.  Each is bad enough on its own; they are especially awful together.

But even worse, in my perception, pregnancy–though I recognize it not to be a disability or weakness, per se–is nevertheless an instance of a person in a compromised state.  I have known only a small handful of pregnant women who did not give off that vibe.

I am acutely aware of not wanting to be perceived of as compromised.

I am even more aware of not wanting to feel compromised.


Intentional though it may have been, my current pregnancy puts me in a weird spot.


I am aware of the implications inherent in what I’m saying, not the least of which is the suggestion that childbearing can compromise a woman’s personality or intellect.  But I am also aware that biology doesn’t give a shit about my feminism or anyone else’s.


Progesterone has natural anti-depressant and anti-anxiety properties.   In excessive doses, it’s a formidable sedative that causes drowsiness and difficulty waking.

I am currently, and all pregnant women are, to some degree, doped.


I’ve found that in the relative absence of anxiety and hyper-vigilance, my intellect has changed.  I am less curious.  I am not compelled to write.  I am less investigative.  I simply don’t care.  Face value will do.  The first answer is the last answer.  Finito.  My madness used to have a method.  Now it’s more of a declaration.

And once the pregnancy is defeated, “mommy brain” is said to persist as long as the children do.


Now whosoever of them did eat the honey-sweet fruit of the lotus, had no more wish to bring tidings nor to come back, but there he chose to abide with the lotus-eaters, ever feeding on the lotus and forgetful of his homeward way.



All to the grim, sneering satisfaction of those who have always wished I were a more docile human being.

I’m sure of it.


If the child were the only one who believed he/she was entitled to dictate a parent’s behavior, that would be one thing.

But reproduction and parenthood, especially for women, brings with it an oppressive expectation of conformity, moderation, and general temperance or softening of character and behavior in addition to a thoroughly more severe and self-righteous community of kibitzing, judgmental busybodies who want, more than anything, for the same things that happened to them to happen to other people and for other people to do the things they have done.  If there is only one way, then that’s the right way.  Validation.

I have found, already, that people suddenly assume they understand my life, my thoughts, and my emotions just because I am pregnant and they or people they know have also been pregnant.  They delight not only in speculating on how I feel and what I think but in telling me how I will feel and think come this time or that time in the future.

Presumed homogeneity of experience.  Unconscious communication and enforcement of norms and acceptable shades of deviation.


I have already been referred to as “a mommy.”

“A.”  Meaning any one among many.

“Mommy.”  The diminutive. Indicating small, non-threatening, less.


This was spoken by another adult.  A male adult.

I have put many different sentences here, attempting to describe the violent emotions that one word caused in me.  But like Lycia, I just burn and burn.


Women are often worse.  A female adult has told me that this will mark my transition into “full” womanhood.

Not only do the insipid platitudes of the sisterhood cause bile to rise in my throat and a greasy-black, acrid cloud of loathing to creep across my soul, I am intellectually allergic to the notion that a woman isn’t a really a woman until she has, under considerable duress, squeezed a watermelon-sized object out of her vagina.

Never mind that I never asked to be a member of whatever mythical club this woman is trying to induct me into.  She just assumes I’ve been on some kind of waiting list.  As if we all aspire to be “full” women.  Whatever the hell that means.

In fact, it is beginning to appear as though not even the smallest of my peeves, principles, neuroticisms, hang-ups, and individual sovereign boundaries will go unmolested during this blessed, miraculous time in my feminine journey, including, many warn me, the boundary where I prefer not to be groped by strangers in public.


There are, I accept, many aspects of reproduction and motherhood that will require me to relinquish significant portions of my Royal Self.

There will also be requests and attempted demands for such relinquishment that I will reject.

Potentially aggressively.


I pity the stranger who reaches for my belly.  I pity the person who side-glances at me as I order my morning–or afternoon–coffee.


I can feel them looking at me already.  Plotting my subsumption.  Putting their eyes on me.

It starts this low, inaudible rumbling.


Maybe I’ll end up in jail.



My pregnancy is not exceptional.

But I am.

Exceptionally what, I won’t presume.



Get your fetal chimera specimens here.



Childbirth is a topic I do not often address in a professional capacity as doing so violates my well-founded resolution against discussing my reproductive organs on the internet, yet now that I am pregnant with my second child, the topic is once again at hand. I underwent a natural, drug-free labor with my first child and now as I prepare once again to do this stupid, terrible thing, I feel it’s my duty to council other young mothers on the hidden benefits of natural birth. (Note that some women find the term “natural” offensive, arguing that all childbirth is “natural” whether accomplished through chemical means or eased by medical interventions, but let’s be clear – after 200,000 years of human development, childbirth is still hideous and unnatural for everyone, epidural or no.)

Midwives, bloggers, and documentary filmmakers are quick to tout the many benefits of unmedicated labor, from faster recovery times to psychotic oxytocin-induced highs. The facts and figures I will leave you to parse on your own, but personally there are no data about the risks of fetal monitoring that will cheer me up when I feel like every bone in my torso is being simultaneously broken from the inside out. Let alone promises of spiritual awakening or a feeling of elemental connectedness with all forms of life.

Why then subject yourself to needless suffering? I offer the four hidden benefits of unmedicated childbirth: Machismo, Spitefulness, Superiority, and Something to Do.

One woman of my acquaintance dismissively suggested that women who refuse to take proffered medical assistance are “just doing it to be macho.” Well, yes. Of course I did it to be macho. Obviously. The last time I got really drunk I challenged my husband (who outweighs me by nearly 100 pounds) to an arm wrestling contest – I am all about macho. And needless, meaningless suffering is the core of machismo. I also happen to have been born with a high pain tolerance and I don’t want to let it go to waste. Bragging about one’s pain tolerance may be immoderate, but it’s really more an inborn physical trait than a finely cultivated element of character. In reality, I’m a coward about every other thing in my life—I have never had the courage to tell off a bully, send back an order, or ask for a raise, but you want to pull out one of my teeth? Bring it.

Of course I didn’t do it entirely out of machismo. I also did it out of spite. In fact I had been somewhat ambivalent about the whole thing until person after person kept telling me I couldn’t do it, that I would crack after an hour and start begging anyone at hand for drugs. Those of you who embark upon the natural childbirth course will soon learn that drug-free labor is one of the few goals in our society that people have no compunctions at all about shooting down instantly and viciously. Conventional politeness would suggest that when someone confesses a personal goal to you, you refrain from immediately scoffing at them: “Medical school? Man, you don’t stand a chance in hell;” “Ask her out? Good luck, buddy.” But tell your best friend, your mother-in-law, or your gynecologist that you’re going to try to have a baby naturally and they’ll laugh right in your face.

Like Marty McFly, there is no better way to get me to do something than to suggest I can’t do it. It’s not mature, it’s not admirable, but spite animates me in a way that courage or compassion could never hope to do. Once my (former) obstetrician had told me that 95% of his patients who claimed they were going to go natural caved, I was hooked – I would have sat right there in the doctor’s office smiling as I tore off my fingernails one by one just to show that smug jerk who was a quitter.

Base machismo and petty spite are joined by the third hidden benefit of unmedicated childbirth, a lifetime of smug superiority. Giving birth naturally means I can now scoff at every other instance of pain in any other person for the rest of my life. My sister has a headache? My coworker has a tooth pulled? Please. My husband could get caught in a bear trap and I’d be there saying, “Pfft! Bear trap? You don’t know pain.”

Of course, I didn’t do this unprepared, and this is the fourth benefit of natural childbirth—it gives you something to do. In my case, that meant a Bradley-style birth class where on eight consecutive Monday evenings we gathered in the desolation-grey conference room of a hospital in downtown Los Angeles and learned how to rock, roll, crawl, and respire our way to calm in the face of crisis. The class was enjoyable largely for the opportunity it afforded me and my husband to make fun of the other couples on the way home, but for those who want to save the $300 allow me to share the secret of the class with you now, for free. The secret is, breathe deeply. No matter what the question, the answer is to breathe. And there is only ever one way to breathe. Deeply. Whether in childbirth or free diving, the answer is never, ever to breathe in shallow, convulsive, hysterical pants.

Even when not in class, I approached pregnancy and labor like I was training for a championship bout. There were stretches, drills, breathing exercises, special teas and tonics to drink. I did Pilates and spinning classes, went running, did squats. I doubt any of these things helped at all, but it gave me a way to combat the gestational blahs and kept me occupied during what is essentially one very long, very slow, very boring opening act. I liked to imagine myself doing all these things as a part of a movie training montage, and when, after months of metaphorically wrapping my knuckles and jumping rope, I walked into the Labor and Delivery room to deliver my first daughter, I had the hard glint in my eye of the down-on-his-luck prizefighter at the end of the last act.

And yes, I nailed it. But rather than rest on my laurels, I went right back out there like a champ and got pregnant again. Now the only question is how to top myself for this next birth. Just skipping the epidural no longer seems like enough. I need to find a way to have it hurt more, last longer – maybe something involving exploratory colon surgery or unnecessary tooth extractions. Whatever it is, though, I can promise you I will spend the rest of my life gloating over it. And that’ll show them.