So what’s it like to have a baby? To birth it, I mean. What will that be?
My mother is worried. This has caught me by surprise. The story of my birth, the story of my conception even, has been told me my whole life, and in the telling, it was mythic and powerful. Surges, Ina May’s rushes, while she stood by a window staring at the Tennessee trees. In the trees, she saw a red, white and black woodpecker–huge, two feet tall, more; a rare bird; no one else but she saw it. In her telling, it was power and force and not pain exactly but something else–sensations of great intensity. I was a summer baby born near Summer town, Tennessee. I was two weeks late. I was huge. Almost ten pounds. Though I did not know that was huge. Like most things in my life, I thought my way was the norm and everything else not. Thus, I thought all women were short compared to my mother’s five feet ten inches. I also assumed I would be five feet and ten inches tall too. And I thought my breasts would be the same size as hers. I remember distinctly the day that I realized they were not growing anymore. I was sixteen. I looked down at my little boobs, and went, Huh. I guess this is all I get. Until that moment I’d just been biding my time; sure there was more to come.
Six weeks ago my mother said, “I’m mad at your baby.”
“Why?” I asked, instantly at the babe’s defense.
“Because it’s going to hurt when you give birth.”
I laughed. “But I thought labor was surges of power.”
“Well…it might hurt a little.”
And then we both laughed.
“That’s the first time you’ve ever admitted it.”
Her laugh is more commanding, but when we get going together, we do take over a restaurant.
My mother and I were a team for most hours of most days of most years of my childhood. Before I could even imagine falling all the way in for B., before I had the capacity to contemplate what sharing a life could be; as in way back when I was a teenager, I only ever imagined myself as a single mother. My mother and I used to ride the train twice a year to Illinois to visit family. She always gave me the window seat. At night, they dimmed the lights in the car, and even if they were awake (and we were all awake) everyone got hushed. This was my absolutely favorite time. I’d put my forehead against the cold glass, watching the blurring, on lucky nights there’d be a moon, and I’d watch for the one orange light, the one window lit in the one house in the clump of trees gathered from the wide and flat spaces of the farms. I’d tuck my feet into and under her hips while she shifted and tried to sleep. Sometimes we leaned into each other back to back, the counter pressure keeping us propped and curled, coming as close we could to actual rest. In the mornings, we went to the Women’s Lounge to “freshen up”. My mother stretched and groaned and her silver bangles clinked. Once properly ready, we headed to the dining car for breakfast. While we waited for food, she sipped coffee and I ate strawberry jam out of the packets with the tip of my butter knife. Everything outside would still be flat, but sunny now, sharp and shining, the houses white.
“Do you want to play cards after breakfast?”
Everyone keeps saying, “Your mother must be so excited.” And I’m sure she is, and I’m sure she will be, and i know she’s going to be an epic grandmother, but she’s not a grandmother yet. For now, she’s only a mother and I’m her only daughter.