A Tale of Two Births

A Tale of Two Births

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A Tale of Two Births: How the U.S. Fails to Deliver Adequate Postpartum Healthcare

By Mary Widdicks

My daughter was born on a snowy Saturday morning. We were released from the hospital Monday, and as is the case for most new mothers in the U.S., my husband returned to work the very next day, leaving me alone to care for our newborn daughter and our two- and four-year-old sons. At three days postpartum, my bones ached as I stepped out of the car and onto the frozen pavement of the parking lot at my doctor’s office. My deflated uterus contracted under the strain of the baby’s car seat; I braced myself against the car to keep from slipping on the icy ground. For a moment I thought I might not make it the 25 yards from the parking lot to the door. I remembered the hospital’s recommendation not to lift anything heavy for a few weeks, and almost laughed. If only that were possible.

My labor had been induced due to high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia, which hadn’t resolved by the time I left the hospital after the baby was born. Puzzled, the doctor asked me to return to the clinic a few days later to recheck my vitals. When I arrived, my toddler jumped eagerly from the car, beaming with a frenetic energy that my combined six hours of sleep over the last three days couldn’t match. My heart was pounding in my ears as he ran ahead of me in the parking lot of the clinic, my broken body too heavy and tired to keep up with him. I arrived at the nurse’s station gasping and shouting at him between breaths.

Unsurprisingly, my blood pressure had not returned to normal and the nurse asked me to repeat the journey again in two days for yet another checkup. There was talk of bedrest, anti-convulsive medication, and the possibility that I wouldn’t be allowed to continue breastfeeding my three-day-old baby. The nurse looked into my wild, tearful eyes and urged me to get more rest. I laughed out loud this time, hoisted my limp toddler onto one hip, slung the baby carrier over my opposite arm for balance, and dragged our tired bodies out of the exam room so that we didn’t all collapse in a heap on the floor.

I wanted to be angry at my husband for leaving us so soon, angry at the doctors for making me come into the office days after my baby was born, and angry at my own body for betraying me at a time when I needed it to be nothing less than super human. Instead, I sat nursing my squalling infant and watching my son put everything within a ten foot radius in his mouth, and reflected on how different the postpartum experience is in the U.S. compared to the rest of the developed world.

When people find out my first son was born in the United Kingdom, the first question they ask is how was it different giving birth in the UK compared to the United States. While there were a few notable differences in labor and delivery, for me, the most glaring discrepancies are in what happened afterward: the quality and accessibility of postpartum care. Britain’s National Healthcare System provides everyone living in the country with the same level of support, even moms on student visas like I was. Additionally, in the UK and throughout most of Europe, fathers and domestic partners are entitled to at least two weeks of paid parental leave, allowing them time to bond with their newborns and care for their wives as they recover from the harrowing experience of childbirth.

Then again, had my daughter been born in the UK, there would have been no need for me to haul my newborn out in the cold weather, expose her to countless germs, and risk rupturing my own stitches simply to check my blood pressure. For two weeks after my son was born in the UK, he and I were assigned a team of local midwives who would visit us at home whenever we required a checkup. There was no need to book appointments with a pediatrician or schlep a carseat around town every time my son had a rash or a cold. If I had a question about my health or the health of the baby, I could call the midwives 24 hours a day for a phone consultation, or ask them for a home visit during working hours. When I had difficulty breastfeeding my newborn, I simply called the midwives, and a lactation consultant arrived at my home the next morning and stayed for several hours and multiple nursing sessions. I never even had to put on a bra or leave the house.

After two weeks, my husband returned to work and I was discharged from the midwives’ care, but my support system was not entirely disbanded. My son was assigned a specially-trained nurse, called a health visitor, who would look after his well-being for the next five years. At first, his health visitor dropped by our house several times a week, then gradually spaced her visits further apart until she only checked in every few months. However, she was available by phone or text message whenever I had a first-time-mom moment of panic or insecurity.

When my son was six months old, I called her crying because he’d started violently resisting breastfeeding. She knocked on my door two hours later just to check him over and reassure me that he was happy, healthy, and chubby as a cherub. Her words of encouragement put my mind at ease and probably kept me from banging down my pediatrician’s door in a blind panic at 2am. So too studies have shown that when a new mother has adequate support and help during the perinatal period, she is less likely to suffer physical and mental health complications such as postpartum depression.

The stress of trying to “do it all” takes its toll on new mothers, and having a support network built into the medical system relieves some of that pressure. When my daughter was born in the US, the responsibility of caring for three children under five years old, running the household, cooking meals, and getting all four of us to various appointments throughout the week drained me of every ounce of healing energy I had left after labor and delivery. I was drowning, so of course my body was locked in a fight or flight response. I needed help to come to me, and the American healthcare system wasn’t delivering.

Sitting in the waiting room of my OB/GYN’s office that day, surrounded by expecting mothers, I was overwhelmed by the realization that many of them would be forced to return to work after only six weeks or risk losing their jobs. Those who stayed home might wind up so exhausted and isolated from solely caring for their babies that they would succumb to the darkness of postpartum depression. How can we call ourselves a civilized nation if we can’t even do something so basic as to care for mothers after the birth of a child? It’s time for the U.S. to catch up with the rest of the developed world and recognize that it is in everyone’s best interest to raise happy and healthy children, and the first step to achieving that is by giving mothers the time and help they need to heal properly after giving birth.

 

Once a cognitive psychologist in the field of memory, Mary Widdicks now spends the majority of her time trying to remember if she fed all her children each morning. The irony is not lost on her. Mary’s writing has been featured on sites such as The Washington Post, Scary Mommy, and The Huffington Post. In February of 2015 she gave birth to her first daughter and is now happily drowning in a sea of pink. Follow Mary on her blog, Outmanned, or on Facebook.

Pieces of Him

Pieces of Him

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By Sara Tickanen

The apartment felt empty.

It wasn’t that it was empty, per say. It was that any items that spoke of babies had been removed. There was no Winnie the Pooh wallpaper. No toys. No onesies. No crib. Gone.

It was my condition for coming home.

There were, however, brownies: three pans of them. Their pans lined the breakfast bar side by silver side, as if their mere presence could replace what had been lost. Apparently, it was now a custom in America to bring brownies when somebody died. Who knew? What people didn’t understand was that no amount of gooey chocolate was ever going to bring my baby back. It would be better if they stopped trying.

But trying to stop the memories was like trying to stop a torrent of rain—impossible.

 ***

Four in the morning, two days earlier.

There was something wrapped around my arm that felt heavy and completely out of the ordinary. I opened my eyes, but the Ambien they had pumped into me turned everything into a strange purple haze.

“Sorry,” said the nurse, removing a blood pressure cuff I didn’t remember her putting on. “I was trying to be careful.”

I closed my eyes. Sleeping was easier.

“We need to talk about something anyway.”

Curse her; real world be damned. I opened my eyes again.

She asked if we wanted to do an autopsy. I heard the words, and I understood the words at their basic level, but I couldn’t wrap myself around them. An autopsy. Crap. It was too much. I opened my mouth to answer, but no sound would come out.

An autopsy was what you did when somebody died.

I looked across the room. Max—the husband—wasn’t awake. This was on me; we’d put it off as long as we could. I shook my head vehemently.

You can’t cut him up. Not my son.

No.

***

“No.”

Max looked at the stick in my hand and then back at me.

I shook my head and leaned against the doorframe, slapping the test against my hand. I was three months along. Max was right; it was way sooner than we thought we could get pregnant.

“Yes,” I said back. I didn’t think it would happen this quickly either.

“Our marriage isn’t great to begin with. I don’t really know that this will fix that. I don’t know.”

“You don’t want this.” It wasn’t a question.

“Do you? Want this?”

I couldn’t show him how much I did, indeed, want thisThis was a baby. Not a thing. I felt a deep bond already, like the baby belonged to only me. I nodded; silence was the only way I could hold back my emotions.

“Are we ready for this?”

“Who’s ever ready to have a baby?”

Max got up, his eyes locked on mine. His hand slammed into the wall next to my head, and I shrank back. He had just missed, but that was intentional; he was in control and he wanted me to know. “Might be better if it hadn’t happened. If you’d never gotten pregnant at all.”

It. It was a person. I bit the inside of my cheek, trying not to cry. I put my hand over my belly to shield our baby from the harsh words. “The baby can hear you. What if something happens?”

“Whatever.”

He turned back to his computer, signaling the end of the conversation. I left his office, went to the bathroom, and turned the shower on full blast. And then I cried.

****

“Do you want to take a shower?”

The question came from yet another nurse.

Did I want to take a shower? What a ridiculous question. I wanted to curl up in a ball and die. Who needs a shower when they’re about to die? I was going in the ground, in the dirt. I didn’t need to be clean for that. I didn’t need anything at all.

I waited while she buzzed around the room with annoying quickness, gathering up all of the needed supplies. There was a chair in the shower if I wanted to sit down. And there was the chain I should pull if I had an emergency while in the shower. There was the hamper where my dirty clothes would go. And there were my new clothes, including new underwear and a giant pad that looked like an adult diaper.

Diapers.

Fuck.

***

The week before, I was sitting in my car under the church awning after my baby shower, eating a gooey double chocolate brownie and letting my sister and everyone else load up the diapers and other baby goodies into the backseat. The bounty was piled so high that I couldn’t see, and I prayed that I wouldn’t hit anything as I backed the car up into a close parking spot to park while I said goodbye. My friends struggled out the door with fistfuls of balloons, determined to shove them into my backseat with all the other gifts. The balloons were the most adorable things I had ever seen, red and gold with intricate depictions of Winnie the Pooh to match our nursery theme.

I waved my hand to dismiss the balloons; there was no room for them at home. My sister pulled nail scissors out of her purse and clipped the strings, and we watched the balloons sail into the sky. I wondered offhandedly where they might be going. Did balloons fly up to heaven and get stuck there? When we die, are there balloons? Do we see them up in heaven? Too many questions.

***

It was earlier; time was out of order.

My head was out of order.

There were too many questions: did I have allergies, did I have this, did I have that, did I want hospital clergy, did I want family? I tuned it all out; I couldn’t focus. The day was not what I had expected it to be.

I called the husband that day from the OB appointment, and he hadn’t been happy to be disturbed while in his sound engineering studio. But I hadn’t had a choice. One minute I was going in for an ultrasound, and everything was fine.

The next, I learned that my baby’s heart was no longer beating.
There had been no easy way to tell Max. When he showed up at the hospital, he wasn’t speaking to me. I didn’t know why. Granted, I wasn’t speaking either, to anyone. I hadn’t uttered a single word since the phone call. What was the point?

The nurse was giving me a lecture on pain medication, but I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t in labor. Almost. But not quite. She kept insisting that the medication would make me sick without food. Pointing at the menu, she offered to get me something to eat. I looked at the menu, and I wanted to spit on it. People in hospitals weren’t happy, and they certainly weren’t looking for up and coming cuisine. I pointed to a salad and almost threw the menu back at her.

Our son was dead.

Our son was dead, but I still had to go through labor.

Salad came. The lettuce was wilted and sad. I felt sick. I pushed the tray so that it spun out away from the bed, grabbing my phone to play with so that I wouldn’t have to look at the disgusting normalcy that was food.

The nurse was still talking, but I hadn’t heard a word. “The pill that they put inside of you is basically telling your body that it’s time to go into labor. Your water should probably break soon, but if it doesn’t they will break it manually. Things will progress like normal labor.”

Pill? What pill? And normal labor? Nothing here was normal. I should have paid better attention. I was so stupid.

***

Our son was dead, but I still had to go through labor.

 

When Max said to wait on the labor and delivery class, I listened. Now look where I was. I didn’t know what to do. Labor. Having a baby. Jesus. I didn’t even take the class. It was my fault; I was unprepared. The husband wasn’t going to help me. He never did.

Maybe they were wrong. Maybe the baby was still okay in there, and they just couldn’t find him. Maybe it was really important for me to know what to do; everyone else was certain he would be born dead, but I was certain he had to be alive. I was the only one who knew.

It seemed really important to know what to do. Otherwise, what good was I?

***

It was worthless, all of it. So worthless. The contractions were getting closer together— labor was full on, but nothing good was going to come of any of it. I bit down so hard on my lip that the sharp, metallic taste of blood flooded my mouth. Minutes turned into hours. People came in and out. Everything inside me was numb, physically and emotionally, and not from the epidural. There was a television show playing, something about naughty dogs and a woman who was training them towards becoming good doggy citizens.

Max was pecking away at the keys on his laptop, typing quickly. Like little chickens attacking their food. I could almost picture the little chicken heads on his fingers, a side effect of the medication coursing through my system. They pecked away, and the unwanted food delivered by the nurse taunted me from where it had been abandoned on the bedside table. I grabbed the plate and threw the entire thing against the wall; it shattered into an infinite number of pieces and the salad scattered everywhere.

The husband didn’t respond.

***

“Holy cow. Your baby is coming right now.” The nurse was nameless, faceless. The world was whitewashed.

The head was out. His head.

The husband didn’t respond. He never responded.

“I’m so sorry you had to see that.” Nameless told the husband as she helped him sit in a cheap plastic chair. She was hitting buttons on the wall, making everything light up. The room filled with people; they were magic people summoning light-up buttons. I couldn’t think clearly enough to understand what she was doing. Things were happening too fast.

Twenty two hours of labor ended in minutes. There was a flurry of activity at the foot of the bed, and the doctor was holding something in his hands. “Cut it,” he told Nameless.

The cord. Cut the cord. Wasn’t the husband supposed to do that? Where was he? There were too many questions. Did I want to hold the baby? I did. But I wasn’t sure that the words had actually come out of my mouth until the baby was in my arms. He was wrapped up in a blue-for-boy blanket. As Nameless placed him in my arms, I was worried that I wouldn’t know what to do, but when he was settled against my chest it all seemed to come naturally. There was no movement, no breathing no crying. His eyes were closed, and he was really gone. Unnatural.

The room emptied. I lowered my head down until my face was almost buried in the baby, filling myself with his scent. He was still warm; it was almost like he was there, almost like he was alive. I stayed that way until Nameless came back. She had a camera, even though I hadn’t really wanted pictures.

His hands; I had to see his hands. I asked her to help me with the blanket, to help me see his hands, but I again wasn’t sure the words had actually come out until she peeled the blanket back. His fingers were tiny and closed, and one of mine filled his entire fist. His were long though—good cello fingers, or piano—just like mine.

The husband brought the in-laws, and they passed the baby around like some sort of disturbing prize. The numbness was so encompassing that I didn’t realize I was crying until I couldn’t breathe. They were passing him back and forth, and it was totally irrational, but I was afraid that he was going to be scared or cold without me. I just wanted him back in my arms.

***

His fingers were tiny and closed, and one of mine filled his entire fist. His were long though—good cello fingers, or piano—like mine.

 

He was mine. His fingers, and every part of him. Mine.

When I finally had him back, I held him for several minutes, my face pressed against his tiny body. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. He wasn’t breathing; I wasn’t breathing. He was mine; he was me; I was his. He was dead. I was dead.

I wanted time to stop so that I could stay always in that moment, my face hidden in his blanket. But I knew that couldn’t happen. I knew they had to take him then, or I would never let him go.

I would never see him again.

My son was dead.

***

It wasn’t how I thought I’d be bringing our son home. Dead. Who thinks that that’s going to happen to them? I don’t think any parent does. Doctors and nurses said goodbye to us as we prepared to leave the hospital. Friends sent us well wishes.

The day was full of “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“It’ll be okay.”

I wanted to smack someone in the face. And not just one someone. I wanted to smack them all, every last one of them, just to punish them for their happiness.

The valets drove cars in and out of the circular hospital driveway, running back and forth between cars and the hospital entrance. I clutched the box in my hands. It was his life, all that he had of it. Pictures. His outfit. A lock of hair. His entire life fit into one tiny shoebox, and it didn’t seem right. It wasn’t fair.

There was no way I could go home. Not without him

I can’t. Just. Can’t.

***

Apparently, it was now a custom in America to bring brownies when somebody died. Who knew?

 

The box sat on the kitchen counter, right where I had placed it when we got home the day before. There really wasn’t an appropriate place to keep the remains of a life other than next to the brownies. Those damn brownies. The pans were multiplying, and we would never eat them all. They should be donated, given away. When someone dies, you donate their things.

I was dying. I needed to donate my brownies.

Until the brownies left my sight, they were nothing more than memories of his death. Chocolate reminders. I stacked them one on top of the other in the fridge.

***

From what the nurses told me, when a baby dies, it doesn’t go to the morgue. They store it in a fridge before it is taken to the crematorium. A small empty, food-less fridge, like the ordinary kind you would find in a kitchen. With wire racks and white walls.

I don’t know why they told me that; it isn’t fair. Now, whenever I open a fridge, I wonder.

I wonder if he was cold there.

***

Author’s Note: During a pivotal Creative Nonfiction course at University of Wisconsin, Parkside, my undergraduate writing professor, Nick, gave us an assignment: we were to go to the student art galleries, find something that inspired us, and write about it. I chose a work called “Bits and Pieces.” It was constructed using bits of found wood, all rearranged and spliced together to form something that resembled a house when you studied closely. It’s really easy to just look at something and take it for face value, but if you take into account each individual piece, you gain a completely different picture. The art was a perfect parallel to the disconnection that occurs when someone we love dies, and my notes eventually evolved into this essay—a way to honor my son.

Sara Tickanen is a graduate student at The New School, earning her MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Her work has appeared in various publications, including The Rectangle and Gravel. She currently resides in New York with her cat, Polly, who helps craft every essay by draping herself across the computer keyboard.

Artwork by Mary F. Reilly-Riddlebarger.

Return to the September 2015 Issue

Thirteen Windows

Thirteen Windows

By Kristen M. Ploetz

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I’d never actually counted the windows in our house though before we’d left for the hospital.

 

My daughter is the only reason I know we have thirteen windows on the first floor of our house. She didn’t tell me—I had to count for myself, before she was born.

It was hard at first, to make sure I had counted right. Was it twelve or thirteen? Should I count the tiny crank window visible from inside our kitchen but covered up by vinyl siding on the outside? Yes. I’d count that one. It would make it easier for me to relax if I included them all, even the hidden ones.

I wasn’t at home when I was counting. I was in Labor & Delivery. I was laboring to deliver her. It was my last ditch effort at warding off the epidural. Translation: I didn’t want to give up control. If only I had known it was just the beginning of my ceding power where she was involved.

Like my usual pattern of preparing for big moments—particularly monumental tests of mental and physical stamina—I waited until the last possible second to study and strategize. Actually, I didn’t wait. I avoided it wholesale for forty weeks. Other than a cursory weekend course about childbirth offered by the hospital, I neglected to do much else until the very last minute. I even wasted the extra time my daughter gave me when she arrived a week after her due date.

In essence, I thought I could wing an unmedicated childbirth. I convinced myself that I’d have control (or at least good fortune) even after the contractions started. And why not? I had been able to maneuver similar successes in so many other areas of my life. This would surely be no different.

Then the contractions started.

I was never able to get the knack of the exercise ball movements designed to loosen my hips and lower back. All measured breathing ever did for me was induce vertigo. Maybe the New Age music on the cable TV station would force me into a meditative state. But it didn’t. Especially not after my husband fell asleep on the couch while tracking my contractions. By then I was just irritated and uncomfortable.

I must have read or heard somewhere to repetitively and visually count something while in labor in order to gain focus and determination. I’d never actually counted the windows in our house though before we’d left for the hospital.

Turns out, it’s actually really difficult to remember how many windows you have while it feels like your uterus is being turned inside out and clamped repeatedly in a vice.

Starting in the living room. One, two, three, four, five, . . . “Our mothers are wondering how things are going,” interrupted my husband.

One, two, three, . . . “I just want to see if you’ve dilated any more,” interrupted the obstetrician on duty.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, . . . Boy, I’d really like a sandwich right now.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, . . . I’d lost count. I needed to start over. Did I start in the living room or the sun porch? They both face the street. I couldn’t remember.

One, two, three, . . .

Somewhere during those two days of contractions it became clear that my plan was not to be followed through. Too many variables, some within my control and many not, came into play.

Her heartbeat dropping.

My heartbeat racing.

My husband waiting in the hallway while another man crouched behind me and ever so gently traced my spine with his finger.

There was no pain, no fainting. All my fears, unfounded. Is it possible that he used a magic needle?

Legs that were seemingly not my own lay heavy and immobile under the thin hospital blanket.

Let the mothers in. We would all wait together. It didn’t feel quite right, but nothing else was going according to plan, so why not.

I could not do it the way I had set out to do. Yet I mourned the childbirth I didn’t have only for a short while. It’s hard to do otherwise when the ultimate reward—the one you’ve been waiting for—comes into your arms safely all the same.

Now, more than seven years in, I still know that I have thirteen windows on the first floor. I count them when I am struggling through a tough run or clawing my way through a migraine. It seems to work better for these lesser tasks.

I also now know this: I have no control over how deeply I love my daughter, much less how life will ultimately unfold, both for her and for me. Perhaps there really never was any proper preparation for that if only because there are not enough windows to count.

Kristen M. Ploetz lives in Massachusetts with her husband and daughter. Her essays have appeared with Literary Mama, NYT Motherlode, The Humanist, and Mamalode. Read more of her work at www.littlelodestar.com or connect with her on Twitter (@littlelodestar).

Photo: canstock.com

Doing It All Wrong

Doing It All Wrong

By Susan Buttenwieser

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“Excuse me,” a woman approaches as you grip the metal rim of a garbage can on the western edge of Central Park. “Are you in labor?”

“Yes,” you pant, manacles tightening before an all-to-brief break. Your nose is inches from apple cores and plastic baggies filled with dog shit, as you focus on pain management.

The woman looks at you as if you are trespassing through her backyard. She is much more put together than you could ever hope to be. Wearing a business skirt/jacket ensemble with a leather briefcase hanging from her left shoulder, she’s probably the CEO of something.

“Well, I have three children, I’ve given birth three times and I can tell you that the breathing is really important. AND YOU ARE DOING IT ALL WRONG!” Her lips scrunch into an oval of disgust, her pupils black daggers.

You go blank, unable to think of an appropriate response. And then yet another contraction is upon you.

They’ve been coming steadily since early this morning when you first woke up. The thing you’ve been waiting to happen all these months is happening. And it’s happening right now. The baby is a week overdue so you’ve been walking all over the city, as your old-school doctor recommended to help induce labor. It’s one of those crazy beautiful, early fall days and you’ve spent most of the afternoon hauling your heavily pregnant body all over Central Park. A picnic lunch of Italian subs from Lenny’s and potato chips on the Great Lawn. A loop around the reservoir and back down to the lake where you stood looking at the statue of the angel for awhile before going to your doctor’s office.

After confirming that you were indeed definitely in labor, the doctor advised walking as far as you could back to your apartment. You weren’t even close to being ready to deliver, she explained. Stay at home until the pain becomes too much before calling her. Then she’ll meet you at the hospital.

You left her office and headed home, attempting to do the special breathing the way you were instructed in pre-natal birthing class. Inhaling and exhaling at just the right moment. Rhythmically to be able to handle the undulating agony. But you needed something to steady yourself through an extra-painful contraction. You reached for the closet object: a garbage can. That’s when you encountered the woman.

YOU ARE DOING IT ALL WRONG! It’s like the voice from the darkest part of your mind has somehow materialized into the form of this woman on the Upper West Side.

She gives one last sneer before turning on her heels and finally leaving you alone. You keep ambling along Central Park West, breathing in your own inept way. The late afternoon sun filters through fall-foliage tinted leaves. Reds and oranges and yellows spackle the tree-lined streets and avenues in this bucolic neighborhood. Every contraction causes you to buckle over. The pain comes at shorter and shorter intervals, multiplying exponentially, like some sort of sadistic algebra equation as the cervix dilates and the baby drops down into the birth canal.

The baby. A whole, entire, actual, real, live baby is somehow going to come out of an extremely small space in the very near future.

Once you reach your apartment, you remain on the couch, huddled in a ball, breathing and breathing, crazy with the pain. Finally, you can’t take it anymore, phone the doctor and take a taxi to the hospital.

But it turns out that despite your so-called inability to breathe right, you actually can do it just fine. Your daughter is born at three in the morning, healthy and okay. And the most incredible thing you have ever seen in your whole life. You break down when she arrives.

The first day back home, you wake up an hour before she does to stare at her. You walk around your neighborhood carrying her in your arms. “Look at this fucking beautiful baby,” you want to shout at everyone you pass. “She’s mine!”

You forget about worrying if you’re doing it all wrong. The woman’s words seem irrelevant. Being with your tiny, amazing daughter is the only thing that matters now.

Susan Buttenwieser’s writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in the Brooklyn Rail, Teachers & Writers magazine and other publications. She teaches creative writing in New York City public schools and with incarcerated women. 

Photo by Scott Boruchov

Labor Pains

Labor Pains

By Sharon K. Trumpy

appleIn retrospect, I got a little out of control with the idea. Okay, a lot out of control. It’s like this. Have you ever bought a label-maker? You thought you’d label those bins of seasonal clothing in the basement. Pants, 2T. But soon you’re labeling everything. Light switches, kitchen cabinets, canisters of flour. Suddenly labeling seems like the answer to everything.

That’s how it was for Me on Day Six. I’d been tinkering with reproduction since Day Three, when I’d created the seed-bearing plant. But by Day Six, I was tired. When I got to the rabbit, I was just looking for a shortcut. Internal sexual reproduction seemed like the answer. “I can spend eternity creating rabbits,” I thought, “or create a self- perpetuating rabbit and take a day off, like, TOMORROW.”

Easy choice. And when I saw how successful the technique was—the rabbits took to it right away—I started using it on every animal. When I got to man, I was drunk with success. “You know what you need?” I said to him, “A woman. Made in My own likeness.”

Oh, you thought Adam was made in My own likeness? Probably because of the “God the Father” thing. It’s my pen name. I’m no fool—male authors sell more books.

So I made Eve, put ’em both in the Garden, and took a day of rest. Which I’d need, since the humans turned out to cause Me many a sleepless night.

I was proud of them. But they were also … challenging. Spirited. Spunky. No. They were self-absorbed, demanding, and unappreciative. I’d spent half of creation making edibles, apparently for nothing. “Ewww, what’s that green thing?” whined Adam.

“It’s a pear,” I answered.

“I don’t like pears.” Same for peaches, strawberries, peppers, mushrooms. Didn’t taste them, just insisted he didn’t like them.

“Fine then,” I replied, “I guess you’ll be hungry.”

Eve, however, tried everything. A bite of banana, a nibble of walnut. She actually licked a lettuce leaf and dropped it, uneaten, to grab a nearby pineapple. I tried being nice. “Sweetie, you need to finish that lettuce before you …”

“Yuck!” She spit out a mouthful of the pineapple’s prickly outer skin and headed for the apple tree.

“Hold up!” I said, “You can’t eat that one.” Eve gave me a smirk and reached for an apple. “If you eat it, you’ll … die.”

“I’ll DIE?” she gasped. “For real?”

“Uh, yeah,” I replied. “You can eat anything except that because … you’ll die.”

Oh, don’t act so shocked. Remember when your three-year-old threw a tantrum in the grocery store and you hissed that he’d never get ice cream again? You thought no one heard you. But I did.

That’s how I felt when Eve reached for the apple. I couldn’t let her mess up that tree because, well, this is embarrassing, but I was thinking of testing a prototype—apple trees that reproduce like animals. Not exactly like animals but I don’t want to get into details. Trade secrets. Plus, tree penis talk is not for the faint of heart.

Point being, Eve knew not to eat the apples. When I found her hiding with Adam, I knew the score immediately. I was fuming, but I acted casual, like you might when you spot your potty-training toddler straining and red-faced behind the living room sofa. You know what she’s up to but you’re like, “Hey kiddo, whatcha doing back there?” That was Me. “Hey, Adam. Hey, Eve. Whatcha doing behind the boxwood shrub?”

Adam cracked on the spot, “We ate the apples!” he sobbed. “We did! I wasn’t going to—they looked gross—but Eve made me!”

Eve was like, “It was the serpent!” Well, Eve may have been born yesterday, but I wasn’t.

I probably should have scrapped the whole human race at that point—it would have saved Me the trouble of that flood—but I was too angry to see straight. I’m ashamed to admit it, but Eve’s punishment was payback. Honest to Me, eye-for-an-eye sort of stuff. Eve had left Me so stressed out that instead of experimenting with sexual reproduction, I started experimenting with narcotics. And I was going to make sure that sexual reproduction left her wishing for some pain relief too.

Brain, Child (Spring 2012)

Photo: canstock.com