"You think I prayed for this?" -The Handmaid's Tale, Episode 10 'Night'
The first time I wore borrowed clothes. I sat in the company of three women, with two dozen children between them, cautiously asking aloud, “The stretch marks, they go away, right?”
In the uproarious laughter that followed I understood: permanence. These purple lines traced around and out from my belly to my thighs were a part of me I could never erase.
I dropped off the last of my maternity clothes today. Over near a decade of childbearing, I curated via sales and splurges a wardrobe to trick the eye. Ruched seams and skinny jeans best keep the illusions of smooth curves over weary flesh, in case you need to know.
The consigner tallied up the items worth something and handed me a check. It will be enough to buy a nice bottle of wine. I stood there for a moment, rejects in hand, knowing it was time to walk away but froze, mumbling a confession about unexpected feelings. She let out a thin smile offering a handshake and name. I took it. She wasn't the type for hugs and I needed sparing the embarrassment of asking. With a deep breath, I turned around and managed to make it to the car intact.
No one tells you about the heartbreak of fertility. How you’ll count the days each month, and panic at the slightest wave of nausea. Every day late compounds the terror that lives on the fringe of your mind, lurking in the dark, ready to quench any fleshly passion. Oh the guilt you feel for wishing to bleed. It’s a voiceless shameful ingratitude to want your life for once, over another, and another, and another.
Driving away that day, I did not know my own tears. This is uncommon; I’ve worked hard for three years to deliver a soul from the shadow of death; bringing the source of my desires to meet regret. They have kissed each other. Yet these streaking dark lines in blush across my face, were foreign.
I won’t scoff at your question of whether I wanted more; I do, but not of children. The grief of unchangeable past is too familiar to wear another guise. Is it because those dresses and elastic pants hold stories? Do I have some illusion about the next owner understanding the weight of these years? It’s futile to hoard interpretation of that which is given away. So I keep searching.
Maybe its just loss, some friends shrugged. I doubt. I love names too much to let it go.
But I got nothin’. Maybe it’s here to stay.
Yes, I have four beautiful children. Two towheads and two almost brunettes. The last one even has my eyes. People that don’t know either side of the family say they favor my looks. The oldest is a bookworm with dry humor, the second an intense creative who writes business plans and plays, the third a cuddly dramatist obsessed with Spiderman, and last a scheming rascal who knows her own mind. They are my children and they belong to themselves. When I ask if they are “my…?” and state their name. They answer, “No!... I’m my…” and state their name. I did not teach them this.
I’m rounding the bend of not being pregnant, or nursing, for the longest time in my married life. The time I’ve been caring for children in diapers on a daily basis is longer. That would be over fifteen years.
I need a break. I don’t want to miss this. I’m here, I’m drowning. I’m tired and not enough. Can anybody see me?
That's some days, though it feels like more.
I’m present. I’m not actually missing this. I need a break. I’m tired and still enough and I am the one who sees me
That's really all the days, though it feels like less.
So. I drop off the uniform that has shaped my identity as I was born and raised to birth and raise. I let it go far before a menopausal, god-plans-the-family, eggs shriveled up state. No small feat.
A year later and I still wonder, hovering over those tears. Not (just?) for maternity clothes and baby blankets and newborn heads and first giggles and stretch marks and back fat and the night’s watch and labor pains and that sweet cry and mesh underwear and refrigerated Tucks and burp cloths and first Christmases and…
I have a question.
How many women did God ask before Mary said yes? If it’s a real story I wonder if a virgin was the only one fool enough to accept the gift of loss without reason.
“You can be like God” he said.
“You can be liked by God” they said.
“You can birth God” He said.
What’s the difference?
Heads, shoulders, knees, and toes I pushed them out. Head, shoulders, knees and heals she pushed him out. Those purple webbed lines are here to stay. I bless them. But that doesn’t mean I don’t also wish them away. My heart holds enough scars.
So. This void of children amidst children, of God amidst their God, a soul too ready for dust, nameless tears, and the marks that stay.
Does anybody want to know about the pain of fertility? A divine feminine held under the water.