We polish our big bellies with creams,
we henna Eden vines on them,
we Buddha rub them, as do strangers, for wealth.
In birth class they tell us
your body was made for this. They tell us
your mothers were strapped down and drugged.
We are capable of doing so much more:
of squatting, of controlling our contracting
muscles, of talking to our babies, guiding them out.
Picture your cervix opening, opening
they tell us, and we picture mandalas everywhere—
the circular meditation walk
at the Shrine of St. Theresa spiralling inward,
taking us closer and closer to the centre.
But then we discover—actually we are not made
for this. A midwife shakes her head, retracts
her hands. Another says you’re not allowing yourself to open.
As if this was a psychological block,
as if we were keeping ourselves in pain, doors locked
tight against the arrival of a child. Why are you—?
they ask, and we nearly drown, wondering what’s wrong
with us. Finally, our belly is cracked open
like a stubborn egg, as we lie on the table, passive,
burning with shame, returned to the rooms
of our mothers, who allowed themselves so much abuse.
And then comes the part where we don’t have
enough milk, where the hormones aren’t flooding
like they are supposed to, where we hold the babies and love them,
or sometimes, not (enough) (yet). Where we first face
the failure of our minds and our cervix, the realization
we would have died without this, that natural selection
would have taken us, and we try to get out of our fucked up minds
enough to just hold the baby, and begin mothering,
and smile for all the photos, and try to mold this moment into
what we thought it would be, into what everyone expects
except the midnight shift nurse, who comes in when everyone
has left, who checks our wound, who lets her hand linger,
linger on our misshapen bellies. Who simply says,
you are her mother. You are her mother
and absolutely nothing in this world is perfect.
And for a moment she looks like the wisest prophet
in the world, in her green scrubs, as she recalls you to the way
the real world works. Remember this, you tell yourself,
this is what I will tell my daughter someday.
Emily Wall is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Alaska Southeast. She has been published in a number of literary journals in the U.S. and Canada. She has two books published with Salmon Poetry: Liveaboard (2012) and Freshly Rooted (2007). Emily lives and writes in Juneau, Alaska.