Waiting for Motherhood

Materialized by Shannan Mann on Thursday, December 21st 2023.

Content warning: pregnancy, child loss

Why have you seen so many women pushing empty strollers this week? You think you see a toddler in a Graco but realize you are looking at a pink wool hat next to a sticky plastic bottle. The woman parks her stroller in front of you in the subway. She looks pregnant. This makes you think that she was one of those women who’d lost her baby and pushed around the stroller in some cruel attempt at healing. You’ve heard of baby-shaped grief dolls. You feel sick. You touch your belly and feel around for her head. She’s pressing against your palm through the coarse band of your stomach skin towards the bottom right, her spine digging into your ribs and intestines, her hands shing through the water like gills gathering breath. She was supposed to be here last week, but she’s late. You also don’t have anywhere to be though you do go places. You walk from Front Street to Bay and catch a streetcar to Chinatown before turning into Kensington for the record store that sells weed and cherry pies. You sit on the curbside on pedestrian Sundays when they don’t allow any vehicles through. You eat a whole cherry pie as big as your entire hand. You feel her dance inside you on Sunday afternoons. She either really likes sugar or she’s protesting. You’re not sure. You wish she could tell you what she likes so you could eat exactly that so she would come out the healthiest human alive. But primarily so she could come out alive. Your mother tells you that your fear of giving birth to a dead baby is irrational. You inch every time she uses that word. You know it’s actually two words. You have a graduate degree from the best university in the country. But you hear this as one word. Deadbaby. You’re not supposed to focus on negativity. But October makes you feel the fragility of things like rain on a naked back. You feel cold and damp and thin as a maple leaf though you’re not thin at all anymore. You like this, however. You strut around like a proud amingo with your belly sticking out and welcome approving looks and helpful hands everywhere you go. You ride the subway and wonder if those tabloid stories of women giving birth in between the opening and closing train doors could be true. You sit on toilets and wonder if the baby could just slip out. You try to imagine tugging at the umbilical cord and rescuing the drowning, wriggling thing. You wonder if you’d wash it rst or be so lled with motherly love that you’d immediately put its slippery, delicate body to your breasts. You have a few dates you’ve circled on your calendar. You still use paper calendars because they feel like a rebellion against the already ephemeral nature of time. You’re not depressed but your midwife warns you might be at risk of developing postpartum depression. She never does it in an obvious way. But you’ve studied psychology and you know the way people talk when they’re trying to tell someone they should get help but don’t want to dissuade or embarrass the person. You don’t exactly disagree. You feel that if you develop postpartum depression you’d be in the company of many mothers. ‘Mothers’ being the important word. Because it means they have something to be depressed about. You don’t think too long about how women who have given birth to dead babies might also have postpartum depression. You don’t think all that much about dead babies anyway. Really, you only think about life. How to keep her alive. How to make sure she will be born in a way best set up for a beautiful life. You want her to have everything beautiful the world can oer. You chew on the jam-lled wheat and rice crust of a cherry pie and feel her twirl against your gut. You imagine her to be a disembodied hand with a ghost balloon clenched in its fingers. You wonder if the balloon has a funny face drawn on it. Or maybe it’s an animal balloon. You’re not sure you want to think of your daughter as something resembling an animal. You hope she is born normal. You hope she isn’t diagnosed with autism like your brother. You do not feel ashamed for thinking this. You are afraid, but all new mothers are. You aren’t a new mother yet. You’re going to be a mother on one of your circled days because your sandalwood and jasmine scented candles are holding a little vigil by your time-prison of a calendar to make this so. But you realize that any of the days would do. Because time is running out. Or time is waiting to begin. It’s been almost 10 months. And you really just want her here so you can stop hearing ‘dead baby’ as ‘deadbaby’. You want to stop thinking about babies altogether. You want to give her a name. You think giving her a name would ensure her survival. But you are unable to think of a name and this scares you all the more. You don’t tell your mother. You’re afraid of her using that word again. You ride the subway and pass by the University of Toronto and wonder if you should go in to see anyone you know. You decide against it and turn towards Museum Station. You see a woman lugging a stroller up the stairs. Doesn’t she know the nearest elevators are at Union? As she lurches by you with her silver and black Nuna Mixx you notice a small little pink thing inside. But by the time you’re underground you can’t quite be sure if what you saw was a baby or something else, a toy bear perhaps, or just nothing, a trick of the eye taking on a pink hue due to the dying sun.

Shannan Mann is the Founding Editor of ONLY POEMS (onlypoems.net). Her poems appear in Poetry Daily, Rattle, Black Warrior Review, Poet Lore, EPOCH, Gulf Coast, and elsewhere. Her essays appear in Tolka Journal and Going Down Swinging. More here: shannanmann.com.