The birthing suite is expansive. Like a hotel lobby where they serve breakfast, but with all the tables and chairs taken out. The framed photos on the wall are the same, but in place of railroads and highway signs are flowers and points of light.
They haven’t given me anything. No one has come in and plunged a fat needle into the smooth fat covering my lumbar spine. Even without the drugs, I’m high. Somewhere else. The nurses are like jellyfish floating in the wetness gathering in the corners of my eyes. My husband is a blurred heap of straw atop an armchair, and when he asks me if I need anything, I don’t answer.
I let them do things to me. Monitor my heart rate, put in the IV, give me ice chips. I don’t bite down on them like I’m supposed to. Instead I plunge my hand into the styrofoam cup and roll my fingers around in the ice, reverent, quiet, as if it were holy.
Somewhere at the outer curves of my hearing, the nurse is telling me to push. In her bright pink scrubs, she is like a piece of tasty dollar store candy. I tip my head back and a laugh bubbles out of my mouth. A huge glass ball making its way through my body. Once, it was in my skull, now it is rolling downwards, it has already come through my throat and heart and my stomach, and now it is bearing down on my lower walls. At any moment, it will tumble out of me. The hollow cackle of glass landing on linoleum will horrify everyone, but I’ll smile.
I push. I retire the muscles in my face, arms, and hands. Everyone is anxious, waiting for the baby’s head to show, for its first cries. But it is silent. Maybe we were too late, and it’s past nine. Maybe the powdered eggs and frozen pancakes have already been put away.
I don’t look at anyone’s face. I can’t see anyone, anyway, and I don’t care what they think. The nurse gives me what I have made. It is hard and heavy in my palms. I study the patterns on its back and run my pointer finger, still cold from the ice, along the sharp ridge of its shell. Its feet are thick with little claws curving downwards. When it turns its eyes to me, it opens its pink, toothless mouth, its tiny beak like a baby’s suckling mouth.
The nurse is letting visitors in now. Family members stand near the door, fanning out in a line like a high council. I hear whispers, feel heat rising in my cheeks. My father-in-law is the only one to come near me. He leans down to look at the turtle in my open hands, smelling like his son. He traces the lopsided, rounded squares of yellow and brown on my baby’s shell, holds its sharp little toes on the soft pouch of his thumb.
He whispers into my ear, something low and strong, and I smile.
Nell Johnson is an undergraduate student studying English and Russian at the University of New Mexico. She is an editor for the student-run literary magazine Conceptions Southwest and a lover of late night drives.