I sit up and look at it lying there. Square between my legs. All brown and wet and sticky. I stare hard and wonder briefly if I hate it. But I can’t. Surely I can’t hate it already? It starts to cry. Quietly at first and then it wails, louder and louder until it’s just one long scream. I look away and the nurse picks it up, cooing and fussing. It’s a girl, she says, a beautiful baby girl. We thought you were never coming out, she tells it. They thought it was never coming out? It was me who had to get it out.
Everyone’s hysterical, crying and laughing, whooping and hollering. She’s got ballet dancer’s legs, piano player’s fingers and a face that’ll break a thousand hearts, they tell me. I look again, wondering if I missed something the first time. My mother says she’s never seen anything more beautiful and I think, is she looking at what I’m looking at?
They clean it up and put it in some clothes. Then they clean me up and put me in some clothes. Twelve stitches, laughs the nurse as she tucks the sheet around me, that’s got to hurt. It does, I think, so why are you laughing? She makes some joke about eating the afterbirth then leaves, chuckling away. I wonder briefly if I hate her too.
My mother is in her element, regaling the midwife with tales of how I was born in the back of a pick-up truck on a dirt road in Zimbabwe. That’s why we came here, she tells her, so my daughter could give birth in a place such as this. The midwife beams — a grateful immigrant. I wince; she always does this. The midwife tells her how her brother married an African; great skin and cooks the best chicken you’ve ever tasted. He used to be a drug addict, now he even goes to church. Where’s she from, I ask? Where’s who from, dear? Your brother’s wife. Oh Africa, she replies, she’s African. Yes, but where in Africa? Do you know, she’s never even mentioned it, I must ask. I’ll give her a ring tonight.
I’ve got a career to think of. A life. All those years in school weren’t for this. I was going to be somebody, make something of myself, change the world not change nappies. My tutors will be so disappointed, I think, my getting pregnant so young. A single mother. A girl all alone. But then I remember that I’m thirty-one and no longer a girl and not alone and that no one will bat an eyelid that I have a child, even if I want them to. And I do want them to. I want them to be shocked, outraged even. To see me how I see myself. But they don’t. Instead they buy me gifts and tell me how proud they are and how exciting it all is. Rollercoasters are exciting, first dates are exciting; this, this is not exciting.
They bring it back. They want me to hold it. I’m not sure, I say, but they insist, thrusting it into my arms. Everyone’s nervous the first time, they say. It starts to cry. I push it away but they push it back. It screams and I almost drop it off the bed. Do you want to feed her, they ask? Feed it? Breast-feed. Do you want to try? No I do not want to try. I want to go home, watch TV in my pajamas, eat pizza and leave all this behind. There’s been a mistake, I say, a terrible mistake. Nonsense, they say, let’s try.
The nurse comes and sits. Tells me she’s got a son. He’s got two daughters, seven and nine, very intelligent. Oldest one is top of her class. They go to a fancy school in the country. They never see them, she says. Occasionally a phone call but never a visit. Worked her fingers to the bone putting him through law school then he married some rich girl, titled and everything. Thinks he’s too good for his own family now and she’s a stuck up cow. Wedding was a nightmare. If she had known this would happen she’d never have bothered. It’s their loss, her husband tells her, but still she’d like to see them. The kids, that is. She’s missed the best years, the baby years. Maybe she can have this one, I think. But it’s never that simple, nothing’s ever that simple.
It’s been six days and there’s piss on my pants and milk on my shirt and the stitches are tight and itching like hell and she still won’t feed. No child of mine is feeding her baby from a bottle, yells my mother. My nipples are killing me and I just want to sleep but persevere, they say. Persevere, you’ll get there in the end. And I look at it hard and I really try to love it. And I want to love it, I really do but I can’t and it just won’t go away.
It’s yours, they say. It’s mine, I say. Fuck.
Lynsey Miller writes short stories and makes short films in the hope of one-day supersizing both. Her stories can be found on websites such as this and her films can be found doing the rounds on the international festival circuit. She has an unhealthy obsession with face paint, dressing up, bluegrass and all things that glitter. One day soon she’ll make a website.