Birth

Less than two months later the woman learned that she was pregnant and a collective sigh emerged from the breath of all those involved, namely, the woman and her husband. He came home from work early the evening she found out and held her hands tightly and looked at her in the same way he’d looked at her when they were still sweethearts in college. It stirred her heart, this look, and made her love her husband more. She felt proud, like she did when she was a little girl and brought home accolades from school, and her parents beamed but were not too lavish with the praise. They knew too much praise for tiny accomplishments would only lead to a lazy child who expected it.

Now however, the woman felt a strange sense of triumph, that she had somehow overcome an impossible obstacle. She knew nothing of medicine or the mysteries of what made this particular pregnancy possible, but she understood that it had felt like an impossibility for the longest time and now, here she was, sitting in her husband’s tender embrace, the beginnings of their child floating warmly in the womb.

It was not an easy pregnancy. She tossed and turned and suffered violent nausea that rocked her entire frame, which seemed to simultaneously swell up and diminish. How her back ached! How her feet hurt! How her stomach churned and churned! Had she not known any better she might have suspected that she was slowly being poisoned to death, but of course she said none of this to her husband, who although still spent much time away from home, was quite attentive when he returned, always making sure to bring her some sweets or noodles. Often she did not feel like eating, but her mother and her mother in law would tsk tsk and made sure she ate half her weight’s worth of herbal broths and such. They brought over entire chickens cooked in ginger broth, the pale, plucked skins of which sickened her to look at but which she ate dutifully, knowing it was for the baby. She put on twenty, then thirty pounds and by the time it was revealed that the baby was in fact, a girl, the woman could hardly recognize herself in the mirror.

A girl! The girl was safely tucked away in her mother’s belly, unable to see the ensuing disappointment on her parent’s faces, but perhaps she felt something – an intangible but audible rhythm that sprang from the valves of her mother’s pulsing heart, reverberated down the maternal spine and through the uterine wall; a miniscule shockwave, barely detectible except to the thin, translucent membranes of a developing fetus. The baby did not yet know the word “disappointment,” but she felt it early on. It was uncomfortable. In response, she kicked and kicked. The woman winced. A girl! This child would not be easy.

—————–

A mother ought to love her child, regardless of its sex, unconditionally. The woman knew this, but when the girl was born and placed into her arms, she was only exhausted. The labor had been brutal, nearing 32 hours. At one point the doctor had feared the baby would stop breathing and they would have to operate.

“It’s as though she doesn’t want to leave,” the nurse said.

The woman moaned through gritted teeth, “No, no,” she gasped, “She wants to kill me first.”

But both mother and daughter survived and the baby emerged shrieking, a loud, siren-like noise that seemed to belong to a much larger animal.

The woman leaned back into her pillow, relieved that the pressure she had felt for the past day and a half was no longer there, still unaware of the pain and discomfort that lay ahead. Beneath the sheets lay a bloody mess, but at least the baby had all ten fingers and toes. At least she was intact. 

Madame Roulin and her Baby, Vincent van Gogh 1888, Oil on Canvas

Her mother placed her hand on her daughter’s warm forehead, brushing away the matted hair, “She’s a good girl,” the mother said, taking the baby from the woman’s arms, “She looks just like her father.”

The girl’s father was away at the office and would see his daughter a few hours later. He would take the little girl up in his arms and smile a contented smile – true, he had wanted a son, or did he? It wasn’t typical for a man to admit, but he had rather liked the idea of having a daughter – here was a person you could spoil and place upon a pedestal rather than worry if he, a son, could live up to your accomplishments. The man was still a young man at that point but he had foresight – just as he knew he had chosen a suitable and obedient companion in the woman, he knew he would be tremendously successful in his business ventures. It wasn’t a doubt he had ever experienced – he did not have the luxury of doubt. And now he had a daughter upon whom he could shower the spoils of his success. What a princess he held! His princess. His mother in law repeated what she’d said to her daughter and he nodded, looking into what might as well have been a tiny mirror. She did look quite like him.

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