Until I was 34 weeks pregnant, I only considered the act of childbirth in blurred, vague terms, and this meant I was unusually impressionable. Hence, the entrée in week 35 of one Ina May Gaskin, legendary midwife, and successful deliverer of eleventy-dillion babies at what definitely didn’t seem like a very creepy commune in the middle of Tennessee. “You must read Ina May,” explained my friend Charlotte (not her real name), who’d recently driven 80 miles across state lines to push out her second child in a midwifery center. “She will make you SO CONFIDENT about what your body can do,” all caps in original. I was intrigued — and, a few hundred pages deep into Spiritual Midwifery and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, equal parts tentative and enamored.
Both books consisted primarily of first-person accounts of sublime natural birthing. “The ecstasy of birth was so wonderful,” wrote one mother, named Kim, after her daughter simply “slipped out.” Another went for a two-hour hike in the middle of labor. “I could feel my baby move me open, and when the intensity of the rushes increased, I just leaned on a tree.” First-time mother Celeste, furthermore, wouldn’t call labor painful — she’d call it “INTENSELY NATURAL,” all caps, once again, in the original. Then there was my favorite, Mary, who “visualized [her] yoni as a big, open cave beneath the surface of the ocean,” and “surrendered over and over to the great, oceanic, engulfing waves. It was really delightful — very orgasmic and invigorating.”
In the early months of my pregnancy, when practical concerns still floated out on a distant horizon, Matt and I talked endlessly about our first official parental duty: Selecting baby names. We understood that whatever name we chose would plant a flag in the soil of our daughter’s life, binding her to a set of associations that would follow her around for the rest of her days. Matt, Matt, the big fat rat, and Paulette Portolette would strive to choose a name that would be nearly impervious to ridicule and would guarantee our child was well liked by her friends.
We tried family names, like Royal, after Matt’s beloved grandfather and Sophie, after my grandmother. We toyed with Summer or Alabama because they seemed cool. Walking around our apartment, we repeated our favorite names, one after the other, to hear what they sounded like coming out of our mouths. Part of what I enjoyed about this game was that it allowed us to jump past the pregnancy to some point in the future when we were already a family of three.
But just after the six-month mark, things went south. We learned the baby girl I was carrying had a rare, life-threatening heart condition, and suddenly our attention jerked sharply from issues of social ease to survival.
From altar boys to inmates, ranches to hotels, the characters in Don Waters’ new collection of short fiction struggle with faith and meaning as much as the landscape of the American Southwest. In this story, “Full of Days,” the protagonist’s antiabortion billboard and surrogate daughter force him to reexamine his controlling behavior and own deep loss, in a city known for sin. Our thanks to Waters and University of Nevada Press for letting us share this story with the Longreads community.
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“So Job died, being old and full of days.” —Book of Job 42:17
Marc Maldonado sensed the Kingdom of God within him on Sundays, driving sun-scorched trash-scattered freeways to his temple of worship, and he felt the emptiness of his own realm whenever he set the table for one, whenever he aligned his socks in the hollow dresser drawer. In this hot, high-voltage city, with its pulsing neon, with its armies of fingers slamming on video poker buttons, he felt the loving kindness, the light ache of breath in his nostrils, and he knew he was necessary.
On that day Marc drove the freeways, analyzing angles for the best possible exposure. The great desert opened to him as he cruised I-15 North-South, I-515 East-West, changing direction where the freeways intersected and formed a concrete cross. Read more…
At BuzzFeed, Laura Turner grapples with losing a child at 13 weeks and learns that miscarriage is more common than she had originally thought: “Women were always talking about it. It’s just that most people weren’t listening.”
When someone you know and love dies, your life changes, and it is the change that fuels your grief. You can’t call them or see them like you used to; you can only smell their cologne on the clothes that still hang in their closet. But when it’s a fetus that has died, or a baby, or whatever you want to call it, your life doesn’t change, and that’s the strange part — because it was supposed to.
Your belly was supposed to grow, but it doesn’t. Your breasts were supposed to get more tender, but they return to their normal size. Your office was supposed to be turned into a nursery, and you resented that, but now the plans for a crib and a changing table are gone and nothing at all needs to change. The sadness is in how things stay the same.
The due date was July 5. I let this day pass like all the others, without even mentioning it to anyone. By this point, a couple of days will go by without my thinking about the baby I would have had, about what all our lives would have been like. It’s a Sunday, and I spend the day watching my daughter play in a tiny pool shaped like a giant turtle. She climbs in and out, in and out.
Advances in assisted reproductive technology (ART) mean that uterus transplants may one day be an option for cis women. Belle Boggs writes in Guernica, exploring what this possibility — no matter how remote or unaccessible — means for trans women who want to be mothers.
For some trans women, like Blessing, this technology—however nascent—is tantalizing, a medical innovation they believe could one day help them achieve their own dreams of pregnancy. Kimball Sargent, a North Carolina-based therapist who specializes in gender identity, says this is a common interest among her trans patients. Many of her trans women patients feel as Blessing does—they long not only for children but also the bodily experience of pregnancy. “If you have a female brain, and estrogen, a female hormone, that probably influences your desire for pregnancy,” Sargent says. “Some of my clients have been surprised by how powerful the feeling of loss was, when they realized they can’t carry a baby. That’s exactly the feeling infertile women go through.”
She notes that many of her patients experience jealousy when their partners become pregnant, as well as deep frustration with the limits of their transition. “Some think, ‘I’m not a real woman because I can’t carry a pregnancy,’” Sargent says. She remembers seeing a gender-variant four-year-old, genetically male, pretend to give birth to a doll. “She put the doll under her shirt and said, ‘Look, I’m pregnant. I have a baby in my belly.’ She took the baby out, wiped it, and rocked it back and forth. It’s very instinctive.”
My son was born in Toronto on September 15, 2010. He had dark, wet hair, and when I cradled him, he was warm and damp, swaddled in a flannel hospital sheet. He smelled just how you would think a newborn baby would smell. He had a pink, thin upper lip and a button nose. His eyes were closed, but the death certificate later said they were brown.
I am used to pausing beside train trestles, tilting my head to watch passing planes, perpetually looking forward to: to the evening, to the weekend, to the next year in a new place. But for the first time I find myself unable to fix my gaze on the horizon; I find my relationship to time and place and days transformed. I do not strike out in discovery but rather roam the same terrain over and over: woods of oaks and maples and beeches; grassy sloping pastures punctuated with dogwood; beds of red clay and teal slate in a creek animated by intermittent waterfalls; rocky, fern-covered hills that rise to open Midwestern sky.
Before gestation, I dominated time in the way I dominated my body. Long runs whittled the latter into sculpted hardness, and the discipline of schedules and fixed points – Saturday, summer, graduation – brought the former into focus as a series of arrows pointing always one towards the next. Time as trajectory, body as tool of the mind. And then this baby began growing and my body expanded into a force to which the “me” of my mind was subjugated, bobbing about unsteady and insignificant as a paper boat in surges of blood and hormones. Time yawned open, a vast canyon I fell into, with the erstwhile tidy arrows echoing off the walls.
But pregnancy is characterized by a total physical and psychological immersion in the present and the body. There is no room for nostalgia, regret, the lingering glance back, because the web of gestation is spun so tight that the past becomes inaccessible, so remote as to belong to another person’s life. The future is equally impossible to conjure: how can one imagine the brand new human built from scratch, the meteoric impact of her arrival? The boundaries of the world shrink to the parenthesis of the belly. There is no hiding the slow stubborn implacability of time and our rootedness in it beneath the decorations of tasks and substances, of retrospect and projection.
At Vela, Sarah Menkedick reflects on presence and the “incomprehensible expanse of time” in this incisive meditation on pregnancy and motherhood.
Some commentators have questioned the implausibility of “million-dollar babies.” I have no expertise in health care costs, but I have a 3-inch thick folder of hospital bills that range from a few dollars and cents to the high six figures (before insurance adjustments). So even though it’s unlikely that AOL directly paid out those sums, I don’t take issue with Tim Armstrong’s number.
I take issue with how he reduced my daughter to a “distressed baby” who cost the company too much money. How he blamed the saving of her life for his decision to scale back employee benefits. How he exposed the most searing experience of our lives, one that my husband and I still struggle to discuss with anyone but each other, for no other purpose than an absurd justification for corporate cost-cutting.