Untitled (if y’all have ideas, please share!)

by | Oct 18, 2020 | Dean Cleaning Two | 16 comments

CW: pregnancy loss; traumatic birth

When they cut you open to take the baby out—her heart rate arrested, your cervix permanently stalled out at five centimeters, a pitstop of doctors and nurses and anesthesiologists converge, your body is no longer your body but rather a race car engulfed in flames, and it feels as if they are here to save the driver, not the spent thing with four wrecked wheels and a blown engine—your breasts don’t leak with milk as you always imagined. 

There is no skin-to-skin contact with your newborn daughter. Instead, you float above the OR, watching your Plan B enacted because you are about to crash into the median. You see the wreck before it happens and the only control you can exert is what you say before they wheeled you in here. You lock eyes with your tired, stoned husband and command him—there is no time for asking—to hold her to his bare chest. To avert his eyes from you; to focus on her. To hold her close, no matter what.

Years later, when you re-read the birth plan, you ache for this sweet, deluded woman. The person who thought if she wrote an unmedicated birth down, then it would be so. You want to hold her from behind, link your arms under her breasts, to gently squeeze her ribs and the soft stomach that will never be the same. 

All the times your mother told you how she would take hot showers to relieve her rock-hard breasts. You thought now that I am finally pregnant—a miscarriage, all the failed inseminations, the one hail-Mary cycle of IVF—I can coast. As the pain of this journey retreats, I will glow like a receding taillight on a dark summer evening, into a peaceful distance. 

After the trauma of an emergency C-section, the milk still does not come to you or your baby because your body is in shock, it is still bleeding, so much so when the nurse helps you rock your hips from side to side to replace the bloody sheets beneath you, the look of panic on her face is evident to everyone but you. 

But you are stubborn, and you keep bringing this baby to your breast. You keep telling her who you are, what you hope for her. You supplement with formula until she can latch. You rub soothing ointments on your nipples as if you are a well-oiled machine. And in a way, you are. 

You nurse this child not because you have to, but because you are hell bent to show your body what it can do despite its hardships. You will never produce fountains of milk or stash a deep freeze full of “liquid gold.” You will produce just enough for your child during the three long years you nursed her.

You will set the pace. You won’t win any races but you won’t lose any either. You will not go down in flames.

16 Comments

  1. Clementine Burnley

    Another brilliant piece, Kella. Love it.

    The phrase that pops as a title: body as a race car in flames/ Portrait of a body…

    I have seen whole paragraphs used as titles, which has the added advantage of not adding to the word count:

    When they cut you open to take the baby out your body is no longer your body but rather a race car engulfed in flames.

    You would have to tweak the first paragraph but it might work.

    • Paul Beckman

      Kelle-This was so strong. I’m not sure I drew a breath while reading. Amazing!

      • Kella

        Awww, thanks, Paul. I’m not sure if this is something I want to do anything with other than to have written it. But I’m grateful I finally got my birth story down. We tend to sentimentalize birth and, man, it’s terrifying (or at least was so for me). ~Kella

    • Kella

      Thank you so very much for your generous, helpful feedback, Clementine. I followed you on Twitter because I so want to keep reading your magical poetry and prose. ~Kella

  2. Tommy Dean

    Whoa, this is so vulnerable, such a gift of your experience.

    “a pitstop of doctors and nurses and anesthesiologists converge, your body is no longer your body but rather a race car engulfed in flames, and it feels as if they are here to save the driver, not the spent thing with four wrecked wheels and a blown engine” This is such a new, resonant way to create a metaphor, to put the reader in this moment. To make it pulse with resonance!

    Damn, this is so well-written, so piercing…I’m so sorry…

    “Years later, when you re-read the birth plan, you ache for this sweet, deluded woman. The person who thought if she wrote an unmedicated birth down, then it would be so. You want to hold her from behind, link your arms under her breasts, to gently squeeze her ribs and the soft stomach that will never be the same. ” Whoa

    “I will glow like a receding taillight on a dark summer evening, into a peaceful distance.” oh, this image!

    You will not go down in flames. yes! Hell, yes! This was so affecting!

    • Kella

      Thanks a million, Tommy! I know there’s more to mull over with this piece, but I very much appreciate the chance to think about how to articulate what happened. I think often of what Maggie Nelson wrote about birth in the Argonauts: “You’re either in pain or you’re not. And it isn’t the pain that one forgets. It’s the touching death part. As the baby might say to its mother, we might say to death: I forget you, but you remember me.”
      ~Kella

  3. Constance Malloy

    Kella, This is raw, touching, sad, and in the end triumphant! Comparing a woman’s body in the delivery room to a racecar in the pit is so on target. I’ve only had one child, but I dilated so quickly the room was prepared for 3 different types of delivery within 10 minutes. I can so relate. Luckily, all went fine. I love also how you draw out your need to “be” for your child: “But you are stubborn, and you keep bringing this baby to your breast. You keep telling her who you are, what you hope for her.” Will is a powerful force! This is beautiful.

    • Kella

      Constance, thanks so very much for reading and encouraging me. I appreciate your time and very kind feedback. ~Kella

  4. Roberta Beary

    Kella,

    This sounds so much like my first birthing experience, emergency C-section. Thank you for the gift of giving me back that memory. You paint a vivid picture of both the trauma and subsequent redemption. I like what you write about breast-feeding. So many of us got an failing grade, I know I did. Nice to know I’m not alone. Thanks for that too.

    Title suggestion: Crashing the Median

    It’s up to you as author but I don’t think it needs a CW.

    Powerful writing! I love the sweetness of the ending: You will set the pace. You won’t win any races but you won’t lose any either. You will not go down in flames.

    • Kella

      Roberta, I’m sorry if I revived a hard memory for you, but I think there are many of us out there who did not have a romanticized birthing experience. It always amuses me that people forget that in the not too distant history women consistently died in childbirth. Thank you for the title suggestion too (I love it!). I put the CW there as a woman and writer who struggled with infertility and loss (and also some folks have no desire to read about birth, and I get it, I really do). I just know this essay would not have been something I could’ve stand to read when I wasn’t on the other end of my grief and loss. Thanks so very much for reading and for sharing your feedback!! Thank you, Roberta. ~Kella

  5. Gay Degani

    This is strong, tragic, arrow-straight from the painful stuff. I’m liking the metaphor of a race car track quite a lot. It’s unexpected and original and I understand fully how you must have felt. I also quite like the use of second person. Maybe that’s because I’m a woman. I was there with in that operating room. Really strong writing.

    • Kella

      Thank you, Gay! That means so very much coming from you. You rock, ~Kella

  6. Christina Rosso-Schneider

    Wow, what a heartbreaking piece.

    I love how you use cars as a metaphor throughout this story.

    “your body is no longer your body but rather a race car engulfed in flames, and it feels as if they are here to save the driver, not the spent thing with four wrecked wheels and a blown engine”

    “As the pain of this journey retreats, I will glow like a receding taillight on a dark summer evening, into a peaceful distance.”

    I also think you made the perfect decision using second-person here. It makes the story even more intimate.

    • Kella

      Thank you for reading, Christina! I am leery to use 2nd person, so I’m especially happy to hear that it was a positive experience for you and not an alarming one (lol). Thanks so much for being such a generous and kind reader throughout this weekend. You’re the best, ~Kella

  7. David O'Connor

    Powerful and beautiful writing, thank you for sharing, as for a title, the first line could work… “When they cut you open” or even some of the Smith quotes you mentioned…” It’s the touching death part. or “I forget you, but you remember me.” Thank you for sharing, beautiful work.

    • Kella

      David, thank you so much. I love the idea of using the Nelson line of “It’s the touching death part” as a title. Brilliant. Thank you! I really admire your writing and I look forward to reading more of your layered, gorgeous prose. Mil merci for all of your encouraging and helpful feedback. High fives, ~Kella

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