Partum, in Three Vignettes
by Ashley N. Roth
1. My first baby was snared inside me. I didn’t know it was there. I clutched my stomach in pain, while studying Milton and Dante and deciphering punctuation and memorizing literary devices for my tests. I was just constipated, I told myself. No, the doctor said, you’re pregnant. I would never know this baby. Not viable, they kept saying. They told me grotesque tales about tubes rupturing and women dying. I didn’t even know I was pregnant and now we had to kill it.
They did it with methotrexate.
I googled images of a fetus at six weeks. Alien and a kidney bean with smooth black eyes. This pink mass sliding around my Fallopian tubes. Slipping into the toilet. I think I saw something that looked like a baby coagulated in the clumps of dark blood.
I didn’t know I wanted a baby until an injection of methotrexate annihilated the one I didn’t know was there.
2. It’s my third trimester. And he has to get it out of his system. He has to drink, smoke, hit on drunk girls. He’s too young to be a father, he screams at me in the kitchen. I drink orange juice and he fills a pipe, a bag of potato chips crinkled under his arm. It’s my fault and I pay the price for him not being ready. He sneaks away at night, after our childbirth classes, digging into our change jar. I wake up to find it empty, with the exception of two bent bobby pins and useless Francs from my high school trip to France. He takes that change to other women. Women with flat, barren stomachs. They drink two-for-one Pabsts together, while I curl on the bed in the same position as my growing baby.
He goes again. I ask him not to. He comes back and I am bleeding. It’s your fault this time, I tell him. He reeks of stale beer, cigarette ash clings to his clothes.
He drives me to the hospital while blood pools in my lap. He says he’s sorry before complaining how he could get a DUI. He would have to pay a large fine and that would be my fault.
3. Our baby is in a box. A plastic box threaded with wires and monitors and machines. She is wrapped in gauze and we can only touch her through holes carved on the side of the box. I didn’t cry when she was born. I cry now. She eats through tubes forced down her gagging throat and breathes with a robotic attachment. She was born early.
Other babies are in boxes. Some are moved to wooden, open boxes that look like handmade flower beds. Tiny babies grow on top of these. They wear miniature outfits. They’ll go home soon. Our baby stays in her plastic box. My mouth fogs up the plastic to where I can barely see her through the white smudges.
One baby is moved to a different box, one that is sealed. That baby barely weighed a pound, born much too early. The parents are in torn hospital gowns, reaching at the sky and clawing at each other. The priest stands beside them, his head bowed and speaking gibberish.