The Things She Carried

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I

It was a typical diaper bag: shoulder strap, front pockets top opening roughly 16 inches deep, 5 inches wide, and 8 inches across. It was red. She thought the color might make leaving it somewhere by mistake harder, after leaving the black one on the train that one time.

In the bag was standard gear for a first time mom: 8 diapers, 2 burp cloths, three set of clothes, pacifier, pacifier clip. There were unscented, sensitive skin baby wipes in a slim "travel" case. Full capacity says 25 wipes. This day, three are all that survived. Inside a small Ziploc baggie were "puffs" or rice chews lightly coated in a "natural flavoring" and made into the shape of five pointed stars. There was also one "emergency bottle" with 3 ounces of milk. Folded neatly to one side was a small changing pad, to use with diaper changes between the table/floor/fold out changing station and the baby.

Stashed quickly into the right front pocket was a tube of lip balm, three hair ties, diaper cream, infant sunglasses, sunscreen, and an empty wrapper from a granola bar of days past.

The left front pocket holds a charging cable for her cell phone, a wad of brown recycled-material napkins from the morning coffee shop, a black pen with no cap and an ICE card with contact numbers for those people who should be contacted should she be, inexplicably unable to attend her child or herself...

II

Heavy fruit ready to be plucked at the first indication of free time, in no particular order:

Guilt for bringing that stupid pacifier. If it will give her a few minutes of not holding her sleeping baby so she can use two hands to eat, or two hands to drink her now-cold coffee, or two hands to do whatever she pleases, then it should be a good thing. But pacifiers will "damage her breastfeeding relationship." So what started as a tool she only used in "private" is brought out into the light, because it works.

Packed in tight next to guilt is a leaking wad of embarrassment. She slumps with the unnatural weight. She used to be so sure of herself, she used to be so different. She swore she would be "her old self" but now she is here, and she is just trying to get from one day to the next. The fact that her calendar isn't reminding her of something every hour is proof of two things: 1) she has forgotten her phone somewhere and 2) she is not staying on top of entering her appointments into her agenda. She needs an EA. And a great nanny. Or both... in one person...

Her clothes, her body, her makeup, her hair, her life -- everything was new, but old, and different, and there was no time to be introduced to this person. So everything was off. Uncomfortable yet fiercely protective -- both characterizations that she did not know what to do with.

For a while, maybe even before her baby was born, she noticed a little tug from the side. Whenever she looked back it just seemed like her shadow. Life would happen, and then a shock!

For what seemed like the thousandth time, the baby would wake up at night, and she argued with herself that she should be sleeping through the night by now... zing!

...Body really hasn't rebounded... zing!
...Should be having more sex... zap!
...Should be weaning soon... zing!

These very heavy and very painful expectations were some sort of wicked torture device, but she can't even figure out where they have attached themselves, let alone how to get rid of them.

III

She reaches into her jacket pocket and fingers an old lighter. When asked she says she keeps it in case she needs to light a candle. What a fucking liar. She loves the way it feels in her fingers. She loves the sound it makes when she spins that wheel and sees that spark ignite. It is warm, a little dangerous, and still a secret. She won't ever get rid of it.

IV

If the flicker of that flame kept her thinking about how quickly life changes, then the solid warm stone she carries deep in her gut is terrifying and reassuring in its ability to make her pause.

It is a stone with a chain, who knows how long... It keeps her balanced. It keeps her steady. When her head starts on and on again about the things and the people and the feelings, her stone gets heavy and slows her down. "You have different priorities now," it reminds her.

Some days she doesn't know which is heavier: he stone or the chain. The weight that comes from loving a person who has come from her body, who has been a part of her body, and is now apart from her body almost drowns her with a fast gulp of anxiety. Each day further and further apart stretches that solid cord.

Little human, you keep surprising your mother with the feelings you pull out of her! Her tucked and folded heart, placed carefully into her glass bottle, has secretly been unfurled with a gentle draw from this chain. Did you know you were building a boat to sail through calm and stormy waters? Who is the anchor and who is the ship?

V

There is a particular position a mother puts her body into to ease the weight she holds. To see the pose reminds one of a broken fence: two askew stems veering off to meet unevenly under a leaning trunk.

A perfect letter "k."

And then a step and stretch -- a wider stance, arms outstretched -- "warrior pose" appears. Askew and leaning; firm and planted -- neither better than the other. Both serving their exact purpose well.

VI

With each milestone, holiday, and celebration -- along comes a pain from something at its end. A mother is constantly hoping for the future and tenderly honoring the past. Joy and sorrow in an embrace.

The first feelings of holding your child outside your body means the period of direct connection has ended. The cord is cut. Your body stops being pregnant. Your child starts living independently. It is uncanny. It is uncomfortable.

You are the first person to ever carry your child. You meet them mind-to-mind. Through kicks and flips, you are the world they know.

Perhaps it is 0 weeks, 25 weeks, 32 weeks, 40 weeks, 42 weeks...you carry your child first and always.

A mother's heart has many rooms. As many rooms as it needs to house the children she loves. She carries them there. Her burden and her joy. She carries them there.

VII

Cleaning out the pockets at the end of the day, her little piles grow: things for trash, things to sort and put away, things to go back in her pocket.

A few of the brown recycled-material napkins made there way from the bag. She pulls out a pacifier, a few receipts, a tube of tinted lip balm and a paper clip.

She pulls off a giant coat and hangs it on the back of the chair. Courage, strength, patience have knitted themselves into the lining. Underneath, she waits with a thin blouse of humor and hope. It was a good day... mostly.

She puts the mail away into piles that need attention tomorrow, loads up the dishwasher with the dirty dishes, pans, and resentment, willing it to simply wash away along with the goo. She does the best that she can. She lines up her goals for the next day, she prioritizes her obligations, then settles. Bills and goals. Reality and imagination.

For a few moments she takes it all off, and rubs her shoulders.

She stretches her back.

She revels in the lightness to her step, and listens to light snoring from a piece of her heart resting in the other room.