stretch: verb 1. The light through the stained glass windows dances and plays upon the carpet as I sway and bend, hands reaching for the arched ceiling, my body a half arc: reaching, reaching, reaching. 2. My belly swells with life. Thin white marks painted along my sides. 3. My heart. Making room for one more. Carving out space. It expands.
pacifier: noun 1. Before you were born, we bought seven different types just in case. We didn’t know you’d reject them all, leaving you with nothing to do but cry. 2. An object of comfort in times of stress. 3. Do they make these for mothers?
escape: noun/verb 1. Something one looks for when they feel walled in, pinned down, trapped. 2. Fight or flight mode pressing against one another with equal force. Willing myself out of bed each time you cried in the night, rocking and feeding and rocking and rocking. Trying to comfort my own self in your room as a dim street light buzzed outside the window. Fantasies of driving off to California, wondering what you would think of me if I left. Blinking my eyes and extinguishing that thought like two wet fingers sizzling on a burning wick. 3. You are swaddled into a tight bundle, flat on your back in the crib. One tiny finger emerges, then a hand, then an arm explodes out from the cloth binding meant to keep you warm and still and sleepy. But you want out.
noises: noun 1. Acorns pelting the roof, garbage trucks barreling down the street, ambitious tuba playing neighbor honking out a solo, husband forgetting to suppress shouting during a Browns game during your nap send electrical impulses down my arms and legs, my fists gripped like vises. 2. In 2015, an app was created “at the National Taiwan University Hospital Yunlin and can differentiate between four separate crying sounds.” That first month, yours all sound the same to me. 3. Shh—Shh—Shhhhh: The series of whirring noises I read about in books before you arrived. Supposed to mimic the womb or rainfall. To bring calm. But, no matter how many times I repeat it, you wrestle and squirm in my arms.
daughter: noun 1. 1992. Take Your Daughter to Work Day. Operating Room. Metro Hospital. I saw them make an incision. Saw red and purple and scalpel. My mother handed the surgeon a silver instrument. My eyelids flickered. Involuntary mental withdrawal. 2. By 20 weeks in utero, a fetus’s ovaries contain all the eggs she will ever produce. This means that when my mother was pregnant with me, your first cell existed within my tiny body, a glowing glimmer of your future life. One being tucked within another within another. Three generations like nesting dolls of womanhood. 3. They told me to dress you in pink. That way, no one would confuse your gender. But I dress you in blue and green and gray. One woman at the post office bends over your stroller and tells me, “What a cute baby. He looks just like Prince George.”
anxiety: noun 1. Feels like hot coals in my chest. Like escalating drumrolls in my brain. Like I might pop or become unzipped or explode. 2. Things I think might disturb you: me rustling the sheets, turning the doorknob, tiptoeing across your floor. 3. Counting to 247 in rhythmic steps around the dining room table to lull you to sleep. A delicate ballet to ease you down into the swing as your eyes close. Silently backing away. Becoming a statue.
post-partum: adjective 1. The first time I heard this word, I was in second or third grade. It was coupled with the word depression, a whispered phrase. Mom said Aunt Brigid had it. That it made her not want to hold her baby. I remember seeing my newborn cousin in my brain, alone in a corner and thought how wild and selfish my aunt must have been. How heartless. 2. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Most new moms experience postpartum ‘baby blues’ after childbirth, which commonly include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety and difficulty sleeping. Baby Blues typically begins within the first two to three days after delivery, and may last for up to two weeks.” 3. Two years after you were born, my mom and I sat in her screened in porch in May where a warm breeze blew the scent of lilacs through the screen. “Remember how awful it was for you after Maura was born?” I cringed. “I hope she doesn’t have any permanent psychological damage,” she said. Silence and shame snaked around me like a corset.
let down: noun/verb: 1. The reflex in a mother who is breastfeeding that allows the milk to be released into the milk ducts after the nerves send signals to the brain. Can be triggered by a baby’s cry, thought of a baby, or a baby’s scent. 2. Seven months after you were born, I’m kneeling in a wooden church lulled by the vibrations of an organ. December Poinsettias cover the altar and incense circles through the pews and over the casket as a priest holds a copper burner by a chain and moves it around our bowed heads like a pendulum. I have no words of prayer for this lost soul of an old friend suddenly taken, but I feel the let down happen three times in a row, like an offering, like grief. 3. What I must have been to my husband, my family, for not succeeding at this thing called motherhood, for floundering: stuck and unable to wriggle free, my fin flopping in the wet sand.
shedding: verb 1. Scientists also call this process sloughing or molting. Snakes and lizards do this, which allows for further growth. I wonder if it is uncomfortable, if they are aware of the process as it is happening, if they miss their old skin when it’s gone? 2. During pregnancy, a change in hormone levels keep women’s hair from falling out. Once a baby is born and hormone levels shift once more, there is sometimes a sudden loss of hair as the cycle regulates and returns to normal. I notice the abnormal loss of my hair after showers; thick swirls like brown nests in the drain. 3. Tetchy, prickly. Sensations that stirred like tints of blue and fire through my blood for ten months after your birth. What I didn’t know then was that a new skin was growing as an old one was being released. Yet, it wasn’t until I turned around and saw the molted sheath behind me that I understood—translucent and fragile—but no longer a part of me.