My mother has three children. She said she would’ve stopped after two if the younger of my two older brothers, Miles, had been a girl. Miles was born blue and breathless as my mother flatlined for two minutes on the delivery room bed. Her white male doctor ignored her pleas for an epidural and then watched as something or other burst inside of her, dispelling blood and other fluids from her vagina and stomach and wherever else.
My mother says she saw angels then. A clean, luminous, white light enveloped her as she floated above her own body and looked down at her little boy, both Black and blue. She tells me she remembers feeling just fine. Like she was going home to see her own mother. She watched the nurses push my father out of the room and then immediately attempt to resuscitate my mother and my brother. One nurse sat on my mother’s stomach with a charged defibrillator, another applied careful CPR to Miles’ infant chest as he grew colder and colder. If I were my mother, I would’ve stopped after that.
Earlier in the labor, my father was in the hallway signing papers. In the event that we must either save your wife or the baby, what will you have us do? My mother and father talked about this possibility before having each of their children. Every time, my mother elected to save the child over herself. And so, my father signed forms and waivers saying he understood the situation and was prepared to lose his wife and the mother of his children for a baby he’d never met. Although my brother grew up to be an amicable human being, and my mother recovered to have me eighteen months later, I can neither grasp nor explain this kind of sacrifice. And without this understanding, I don’t think I can or want to be a biological mother—by this I mean a woman who carries an embryo to term for nine months. I do not want to be a pregnant woman. I would elect to save myself every time.
After the trauma of my mother’s second pregnancy, her white male doctor required a cesarean section for her next delivery. I was born on January 1, 2001, and twenty-two years later, you can still see the faint outline of my mother’s c-section scar right below her belly button: a permanent reminder of the suffering I put her through. My mother tells me a c-section is just as bad, if not worse, than a natural birth. They slice you open, she says. Like a piece of meat or a jelly donut. They pick up your bladder and your small intestine and your large intestine and all else and shove them to the side. You watch. They pluck the baby out, spank it on the butt so it cries, then they put your organs back in their proper position and sew you up again. It’s all very Frakenstein’s monster, gothic and womanly, and the closest we’ll ever get to besting God. It’s not as painful, my mother remembers. But I felt it more. They were stripping her for parts, gathering up the stuff that makes her human, and flipping it all inside her, sunny side up. It didn’t hurt. But I understood her when she said she felt it more.
I’m not afraid of raising children. I want to raise children. I think I would be a good mom, just a bad pregnant woman. From what I gather, pregnancy stays with you long after the baby is born. Women feel it in the enlarged state of their feet, noses, and breasts. In the extra skin and stretch marks. In the tear that goes from their anus to their vagina. In the way they feel they must “bounce back.” Nine months out, nine months back in. The faint calling of desirability never ceases. It murmurs in the back of their minds, cooing softly, maniacally, dropping seeds of insecurity where obsession soon grows. Some heed the call. Keto. Raw vegan. Juicing. Eating nothing, binging later. Green tea and turmeric and apple cider vinegar shots. High-fat carnivore. Lean Cuisine and Weight Watchers. All promise to kill the insecurity, to bring back that nebulous desirability. But many get tired of having to “bounce back” and learn to live with the cooing in the back of their mind. They make a home for it, inviting it to stay for as long as it likes. I think I’m too vain for that, too caught up in the physical of it all to do what my mother did. I compare my legs, their length and thickness, to most other women on the street as they walk past me. I don’t have room for any more guests.
I suppose that’s what being a pregnant woman is though—building a home for someone else. Being a vehicle for something else, a vessel, a means to an end. Allowing pirates to take over your ship, squirrels to nest in your attic. It’s being okay with washing away life as you once knew it in hopes that what comes next is better in some way. Being okay with the fact that your partner might not like the way you look after children, that he’ll seek beauty elsewhere even though he’s the one that did this to you. You’ll remember when your organs were on display in the delivery room, your insides bared for everyone to see. He saw your insides. He watched as you bore something out of your body. Someone. And it still wasn’t enough. Admirable, but not enough.