by Sherri Reed
I pressed the blue paper sheet upward between my legs and carefully lowered my heavy body from the exam table, one foot on the cold floor and then the other. Clean up. I looked around the room but other than hand towels, which looked no softer than the paper drape, there was nothing to clean up with. In my state of shock I thought I should try to hurry, make the room available for the next patient. I pressed up harder, walking toward the sink, my stride widening to accommodate the bulk of the sheet. Where did I set my underwear? The blue drape turned red where it met my flesh. Terrified, I finally
stopped pushing and put the sheet in the trash.
There is defeat where flesh fails the design
Of Spirit, and the groping, tortured brain
Sees glories lost it cannot win again
And wears itself out like effect of wine.
(from “Defeat” by Glenn Ward Dresbach)
Six weeks earlier the obstetrician had stood above me, ultrasound screen at his back. Nothing to see here. “Thirty percent of pregnancies end this way. I’m so sorry.” He’d said he had time that afternoon to dilate the outer orifice of my cervix and sweep the whole universe in my uterus away: D&C. No muss no fuss. I chose to let it happen naturally instead, to loosen my hold slowly. “It’ll be like a heavy period.” I thought of the fetus on the screen floating in its black eye-shaped sac and of the exact place the tiny star of its heart should’ve been winking.
When your fetus ceases living after twenty weeks of pregnancy, it’s called fetal demise. (De•mise: put-away, send.) Prior to twenty weeks the terminated pregnancy is called a miscarriage. (Mis•carry: wrongly-to carry.) Demise gestures to agency without blame, miscarry to blame without agency. I had miscarried my fetus: subject, verb, object. There is a word for women who have never borne any children: nulliparous. (Nulli•para: none-brought forth.) Nothing brought forth. Failed flesh. Silence.
I’m so sorry you lost your (keys) baby. You can have another (donut) baby. A lot of women your age lose their (close vision) babies. Words. It was hard to think of what I’d seen on the ultrasound screen as a baby. More like a ball of wool roving. I grieved, but what was lost? The precise loss I mean. No, precise is abridged, cut off. Let me try this: I could not locate in my mind or body the content of my sorrow. So fascinated with words, why couldn’t I find any?
Everything she wanted to tell her, was unable to tell her, because she was afraid of hearing her own voice come out of her heart and be covered with blood, and then she poured all the blood into these syllables, and she offered it to her to drink like this: ‘You have it.’
(from The Book of Promethea by Héléne Cixous)
Standing in my kitchen not long ago making tea and answering a friend’s question on how I’d come to live in my adopted hometown by the sea, I began to tell him in meticulous detail how this had been so and that had been so and as I was talking I thought of other things miles away from the town and miles away from my kitchen and miles away from my friend like a humming behind the words of a hymn lodged in my mind or no, a lullaby, and I scooped the black leaves into the mesh basket and spooned the sugar into the bottom of the pot and then, because these movements broke the stage direction, I realized something startling. It was a script. I was reading from a script.
Repeated and repeated it had more in common with breathing than with actually saying anything. Yes, I’d been reading not speaking. Did I even have the language to say anything new? Anything true? Cixous says, “We must kill the false woman who is preventing the live one from breathing.”
Genesis (generation, nativity): What’s the scene? The Maker’s voice is creative: let there be light and there is, let the waters gather and they do. Man and Woman are made together and told to multiply. Wait. That take was meant for the cutting room floor. Eleven verses later: Take two: The Maker breathed upon the dust of the earth and created man. The Maker gave the man the power of naming. The Maker put the man to sleep and fashioned a helper from one of the man’s ribs and the man used his power of naming and called her bones his bones and called her flesh his flesh.
So often your mouth feels like the sky
in a dark buttoned up gown. Remember, that female bird
wasn’t built to sing either, in accordance with science.
Take her fibula and tibia, made perfect from perching.
Take the radius and ulna from her clipped wings and replace his
with hers. It should feel like you’ve rebuilt man
from woman’s most essential parts. This must be how God felt
when he wrapped the rest of you around something as small
as a man’s rib and expected it to give you life.
(from “This is How You Beg” by Anna Rose Welch)
Six weeks passed but the roving wool I had wrongly carried did not. My cervix refused to open and let the collapsed gestational galaxy in my uterus sweep out to float, unceremoniously, in the toilet. I woke up in pain. (Poine: retribution, quit-money for spilled blood.) At the hospital I lay in the same room where I’d had my ultrasound, light off now, insufficient oxycodone to pay blood debts while my obstetrician delivered another woman’s baby. One hour. Three hours. Four hours. Alone. This I can carry. It is here in the story now that I tell it off script that grief comes, when I think how I didn’t call anyone, not even my partner, the father (not) to be, not even my mother, not even God. Silence.
They moved me to a large, nearly empty room. The doctor stood close to the bottom edge of the exam table. His belly leaned against it as he put one gloved hand on the outside of each of my knees and looked into my face. The cold palms of the stirrups held my feet aloft as hands in prayer. He spoke but I did not hear. Another contraction. “How long has she been like this?” The wave passed and my back settled into its trough and in the swiftest of moments after all the waiting, he delivered into that quiet room the tiny and now indistinguishable threads – the arms, legs, eyelids, blood vessels – of an unwoven life. “So sorry. You can get cleaned up.”
He and the nurse left the room with what had come forth from me – not a baby. Medical Waste. Clean up. Yes: Get clean.
You’re not supposed to be relieved when it turns out you won’t be having a baby, especially when you were overjoyed when the pregnancy test came back positive, especially when you’d adored being pregnant. To be pregnant is to have clarity of purpose, usefulness. It is to be no longer invisible. It is to be named: Mother. (Mother: a word believed to come from baby talk.) The language of woman as mother doesn’t include words for my manifold losses. What if I didn’t lose just a baby? What if I’d lost what vague understanding I’d had of what it means to be a woman? A childless woman. Maybe what I’m saying now, what I could not say before now, seems exaggerated: Many women don’t have children. But any coherent idea of what woman meant to me was loosed, was lost. I did not know what to name any of this. “Censor the body and you censor breath and speech at the same time.”2 This is what I’d lost. It was I who was the infant. (Infant: one unable to speak.) I thought if I made flesh – made a child – that would be me speaking. Or not that exactly. This: I would no longer be censored. I would be heard.
According to Rowan Williams, we are called into existence when God utters our name.3 It is, he says, our calling to be: subject, verb. We are not called to be something: subject, verb, object. It’s easy to be beguiled by the object, even the objects that never arrive, especially the objects that never arrive. I want to hear God utter my name, feel Voice hum in my body, open my mouth to let Breath through, Voice, the Word.
“[E]ach of us is the midwife of God, each of us. Yes, there, under the dome of your
being, does creation come into existence eternally – through your womb, dear
pilgrim – the sacred womb of your soul.”
(from St. John of the Cross’ Advent Prayer)
I need to get the sequence straight. Flesh made word: My flesh made my word. Name. Proclaim. Confess. Deliver. Things I’ve done, things I’ve left undone, and things I’ve let undo me.
Write myself. This is creation.
Sherri Reed holds a Bachelor’s degree in natural history writing and expects to graduate from Yale Divinity School with a Master’s degree in religion and literature in the spring of 2018. She writes poetry, short fiction, and essays.