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from the May 2015 issue

“Your Baby”

She felt like laughing. How could she laugh in that position, what would they say about her?

It was the first time she’d ever felt the effects of local anesthesia. She’d heard dozens of stories about it, but she hadn’t expected it to be so ticklish, especially at the base of her spine.

She wanted to search the faces of the doctors looming over her for a trace of forgotten laughter—perhaps the lines around their mouths would reveal some comedy, an excuse if she laughed out loud in such a situation. But she only saw the doctor who spoke English in that dry British accent of hers and the Indian doctor who seemed preoccupied with his implements. She didn’t laugh. The ticklish feeling went away and all that was left was a numbness in her feet and stomach and back, and also in her legs—the anesthetic had paralyzed her below the navel. Even her toenails were numb.

It wasn’t long before the Indian doctor spoke. He’d seen her heartbeat racing on the monitor in the room, and suggested a sedative to help her sleep. She didn’t reply.

Her attention turned to the white sheet in front of her that separated her awareness from her lower half, where the doctor’s scalpel was opening up her flesh. She could see nothing but phantoms. It felt like spiders were crawling all over the lower part of her stomach. There was no awareness of her body, but there was a constant awareness of the passage of time. She was waiting, waiting for a scene from the movies where she’d talk to him. But he was sunk in the depths of life. He was a promise from that South African nurse who’d said: “We’ll open up your womb and take him out. Then you’ll see your baby for the first time.” Her baby. Where was he?

The phantoms behind the white sheet were moving more quickly now. For a moment she felt like she was the metal base of some electric machine, its gears and levers moving left and right. A wave of drowsiness came over her, the effect of the Indian doctor’s sedative, but she resisted it. She’d feel guilty if she missed the moment, missed the madness of nine months of creation. This, quite simply, was what it all came down to: the whole world becomes pregnant and gives birth and humanity keeps on growing by reproduction and mirrors, but her womb was the exception. It was as if all those pregnancies and births, the poetry of which the world knows nothing, had piled up inside of her. Their symptoms and conditions and emotions were all nesting in her nerves. They were all in her. In her heart. In her mind. It was like that throughout the nine months of anticipation, when she could feel a small being clawing her from inside her stomach.

Where was that tiny person?

She waited and waited, afraid the sedative would make its way to her eyelids and she’d lose… She opened her eyes to the sound of crying, but she couldn’t see the source of that tiny voice. Maybe they’d forgotten she was his mother. She didn’t know. She cried out, but the words would not come. She could hear the vague sound of crying, like water coming raspingly out of an old faucet. She knew her son wasn’t some old metal pipe, but she just wanted to make sure, to see him in that moment of absence and awareness.

“Your baby.”

Those words preceded their showing her that dirty naked creature that looked like a human snail, from his wet hair to his wriggling limbs. Except it was a creature that made her cry. Her crying came out in sobs, and in warm tears, too.

It was a crying that bore fear for that creature, a fear of the world she’d leave him as his inheritance. And there was another fear as well: that he’d make her bear the guilt when the time came for that life to experience disappointment in its hopes and dreams. A crying that printed a new wound in the heart, but one that bore the ancient name: love.


“Your Baby” © Asmaa al Ghul. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2015 by Kareem James Abu-Zeid. All rights reserved.

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