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Fiction: Somebody's mom – Const Literary (P)review 2014

Fiction: Somebody's mom – Const Literary (P)review 2014

This is the English translation of my text "Somebody's Mom", that was published in the literary magazine (print) CONST Literary (P)review issue 4-5 in 2014. I am the co-editor of the magazine, but this was the first time that I published something that I had written in it. 

 This is from when we won Nöjesguiden's literary award 2013 for our magazine CLP. Me (left) and the other editor Maria Mårsell (right).

This is from when we won Nöjesguiden's literary award 2013 for our magazine CLP. Me (left) and the other editor Maria Mårsell (right).

You can find the Swedish version here. Better yet, download the full swe/eng pdf. It's a lot better than this version, as there is some formatting issues here. The pdf is correct. This isn't!

 

PROLOGUE

I travel to Barcelona for a week as a preparation, to tune in the body. The week after, as soon as I’ve gotten home, it finally happens. What we have been waiting for, for so long. I search everywhere for useful stories about pregnancy, but can’t find anything but mamamagazine-kitsch. Why? I decide to write my own story. This is an excerpt.

*

W 7

I can’t stop thinking about a Bill Hicks-joke: “Stop calling it a miracle. You eat, then you shit it out.” If it was only that simple.

*

W 8

A few weeks after the test we were called to an early ultra sound, to confirm that the embryo has stuck. They saw a small dot, that moved. “Can you see that thing? It’s the baby’s heart.”

*

W 11

The first days of January I travel to Barcelona, again. Need a few rays of sun. It’s not until I get there that I let the happiness reign supreme over the ocean of emotional thunderstorm. Week eleven, the magical twelve weeks has almost passed. On the other side.

*

–You don’t think it’s hard for me, thinking we’re gonna have a baby? That first I have to carry it for nine months and be tired and feel sick all the time, can’t get anything done cause I fall asleep every day at the library – the guy sitting next to me today must have thought I was a narcoleptic since I had to sleep at the desk once an hour. And then the baby arrives and I will breastfeed it for a year, and I still haven’t finished the books that I want to write, what if I won’t manage before the baby gets here and then I’ll sit there and I’ll never be able to write because of some fucking kid and–

–You can’t grow bitter.

–Exactly, that’s what I’m scared of. I fell quiet before I added:

–To become bitter. We were both quiet for a while.

–You mustn’t get like that, bitter.

–You think that’s what I want? I sighed and put my hand on his.

–I know. But this is happening now. And we made it, after all, how crazy is that. He was quiet for a while and he clasped my hand as well, firmly.

–Yes. After all.

*

I start crying over bread crumbs at the kitchen table, a stupid column in the newspaper. “This year everyone’s podding”, I only need to see the headlines to get furious and start weeping while sweating. K holds me without being able to hold back laughter. Comforts me by agreeing, even though deep inside I know it’s not so bad after all. “Yes, it was a crappy text. Really super bad.” * How do you know that it’s still alive, when you can’t feel anything? Friends and family that call and ask me, how is it? How do I know. It is just me, and something. Invisible.

*

I get the idea of eating a big piece of meat, it’s been 13 years since the last time. Unaccustomed I don’t fry it long enough, the middle part is pink. Before I eat it I read online that it’s dangerous for pregnant women, toxoplasmosis can make the baby blind, deaf, stupid. Neurotically worried, I have to fry it until it’s a rubber sole before I try a piece.

*

Something on the radio makes me think of the fear: A broken dam.

*

We don’t have anywhere to live with the child, the flat is a sublet without a contract and when we have a kid they’ll probably kick us out, we’re not sure but don’t dare to take the risk. To move with a newborn seems like too much of a hassle, would be difficult enough now. We’re looking to buy, really can’t afford it but there are no rental apartments. K calls the official waiting list for rentals. –Is there a way you can get ahead of the line if you have a small child?

–No, we have to prioritize people with handicaps or persons living under threat.

–So the fact that I will be homeless with a baby is not a special circumstance?

–No, I can tell you right now on the phone that you don’t even have to bother apply for that.

–How can homeless newborns not be a prioritized group?

–No, there’s a housing crisis in Stockholm… When I get home:

–You have to start threatening me.

*

It is impossible to understand, grasp, the fact that there’s a baby growing inside of me. A tiny life. A body, arms and legs. The fact that I am two. Not even when I am writing it do I understand it. * The fact that I was once inside my own mother.

*

W 16

I gobble down iron supplements, vitamin D, omega 3, my life circles around the low iron levels. “Try blood pudding.” The thought makes me wail. I get a luke warm Big Mac as a Valentine’s day gift, lay around at home and watch TV, K gets overjoyed over the fact that I have been laying down all afternoon. “I don’t think it’s happened since we met, this makes me so happy, you need to rest.” Everyone says “rest”, but who pays the rent when I want to take a break? I stare at the wall. Have no idea how to figure it all out.

*

So many healthy kids that are born, how can everyone do everything right? I was never the kind to know the rules.

*

W 17

A guy in class comes up to me during the lecture break.

“Maybe we can study together, for the test. You seem to know this stuff.”

Something about the way he looks at me makes me think: Is he hitting on me? I get so surprised, partly since I rarely get attention from men, not in Sweden, and partly for the fact that I imagine that you can tell by looking at me, that I am not available. Taken, already with another body inside of mine.

“I…um, maybe. We’ll see, let’s talk.”

“But today is the last class before the test.”

“Right, um. Okay.”

As soon as the lecture is over I sneak out, without talking to him.

*

In a documentary about trafficking that I watch at Doc Lounge a woman who was forced to sell her body tells the story of how the price of her body was doubled when she was pregnant. A body that experiences the cruelty of the world before it even gets to see the world.

*

W 18

I go see Trust at Galeasen Theatre, it’s about the crisis, about the inflexibility of neoliberal capitalism. One line is repeated over and over: “But it was so hard to get everything to be like this. Do we really have to change everything?” If we change this we change everything. I’m thinking about the baby, if it would disappear. Never before have I had that feeling. If this changes, everything changes.

*

In Sumlen I ask the staff where the herring comes from. The friendly guy in his twenties that always works there checks with his red nosed, older, boss, who turns to me: “It’s from the Baltic Sea or around Gothenbourg, either way I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who’s pregnant.” I feel chocked, naked. How did he know? So used to constantly having to explain. Then I look down at the belly that sticks out of the body, battling gravity. The dress is full of patterns and colors, purple, orange, green, blue and the part that sticks out is decorated with something that looks like a purple flower. Around the belly there isn’t much fabric left, the garment has changed its fit completely. From loose to tight, shorter in the front and longer at the back. Suddenly: what’s inside is visible from the outside, like a feeling that has taken shape and molded in your face. Like a teardrop.

*

W 19

This is the week when I fully realize how wonderful it is to be looked at, not just as a woman, someone missing something, someone waiting to be filled. A woman who’s already full. Maybe: Whole.

*

W 20

It is freezing cold outside with some treacherous sun, you think it’s spring but it is almost ten degrees below freezing. I meet my ex on the street. I open my coat, let him feel the belly. “Was that a kick?” He says that he’s happy for me. It feels good to see him. It’s over now, life moves on. The next life.

*

We go for an ultrasound. The baby is healthy and everything looks normal, according to the nurse. The head is big, round, it wags its tiny fingers in the amniotic fluid, takes a drink. You can see the water in its belly, it sends a spark of shimmer. Water in the belly of that which is in the water in my belly. The tiny hands that it stretches like tiny stars, the tiny feet tightly together. It spins around, is energetic and vivacious. As if it can’t wait, wants to come out right away. K smiles at me. “It’s eager like its mom.”

*

W 21

It gets harder to think about anything else, the baby is there, constantly reminding of its existence. K keeps a steady eye on me: “Watch out when you take the stairs, don’t forget to call me when you’re at the station and I’ll help you with the bag.” I say: “You’re so sweet looking out for me”. “I’m just worried something’s gonna happen to my child.” I laugh, even though I know it is true. How strange it must be not carrying the child. To walk around, as usual, even though the world is upside down. * I call the baby “The little rat”, K laughs, pretends to get mad. “But you hate rats.”

*

W 22

I’m going away alone for a week to the cabin. Alone?

*

In the cabin on the west coast it’s quiet and cold. Stockholm has been covered in snow for 120 days in a row, “the longest ever”. No one seems to be able to think of anything else than the winter ending. The vitamin D levels have hit rock bottom and my winter coat is tight around the belly. Hands like crocodile skin, red with white dry stripes in the cold as I walk along the ocean close to the cabin. The headache fits like a crown of thorns around my head, has been going for three days straight. The ocean is still with only small ripples, as if unmoved by the cold. It has already shaken off the worst cold, there are large floes of thick yellowing ice along the edge of the beach. Seagulls are heard in the close distance. It’s just me and two power walking girls on the beach, they’re wearing workout outfits and I’m in my regular boots, still I’m walking faster than them.

I try to sit down and read, bought Måns Wadensjö’s Förlossningen that I finally meant to check out, but it’s too cold, I only get to page eight, about how he’s cleaning the rooms after the delivery is over. “There’s blood everywhere.” I close the book, put it in my coat pocket, tuck my hands in. Forgot the gloves and hat at the library.

I return home, have some coffee and flip through mom’s interior design magazines. Home interior design features, it looks pretty much the same in all the homes. The houses are all large, everything’s got the same look with some “flea market find” and chairs that I soon learn are called Myran and then some other design item, plus “kitchen from Marbodal”. All of the homes have exactly the same poster on the wall, saying “Keep calm and carry on.” I’m thinking about what is tells you about the control freaks that of all interests has chosen just that: how to structure their own homes. “Keep calm and carry on.” The calm, how are you supposed to get it by someone telling you.

I take a walk around the the cabin floor, thinking about the TV-show I saw the night before, an old E.R. rerun, with a pregnant girl bleeding to death. “Keep calm and carry on.” The calm you can force upon someone, but inside, a breathtaking chaos.

*

The baby is kicking more, living its own life inside of mine. It’s hard not to think of Alien when the tiny foot or arm pushes in the belly, an unfinished creature inside of me, is it human? It gets hypochondriac, the constant worry. The apprehension that something might happen, that it exists. My life, and its. Together, but separate.

*

The E.R. again. The doctor’s mom looks at him and smiles. Your talent is God’s gift to you What you do with it, is your gift to God I stare into the wall, can’t make myself write another word, even though I want to. The headache numbs my whole body, makes everything impossible, painful. I get a drink of water. Eat something. Nothing helps.

*

Knausgård wanted three kids, because he liked the idea of the children being in majority against the parents. He carried none of the babies.

*

That week both mine and K’s grandmother dies, within seven days. Life that passes, comes. I accept. * Back in Stockholm I’m finally seeing the flat I’ve bought, unseen. I’m longing to move, to be able to put things up in shelves without constantly risking being chased out, lacking contracts, rights. The freedom, even though the bank will own me.

*

What if there is something lifeless in my belly? Large, almost a kilo of dead body. From giving life to a graveyard, gas chamber. I try to feel it, worried. I imagine feeling something but it might just as well be my own pulse. Then I suddenly feel a kick. Clear, distinct, a hand or foot shoving me from the inside. I made it, this time.

*

I search the library for stories of this period, the limbo, the liminal phase. Nothing. Why? To immersive, impossible to depict? Do women writers not have kids? Maybe: not worth to publish, affects the wrong half of the population.

*

W 24

April arrives. The sun has started to shine even though it’s still below freezing. The subway one Sunday. Short train, everyone’s moving towards the last wagon and there are no seats. I enter, get squashed against a pram with a child that looks at me, wide-eyed. I’m starting to feel tired, dizzy. Everywhere around me people are entering, pushing. No one moves to give to give me a seat. The kid in the pram in front of me is unbelievably beautiful, dark red hair and Asian features, the mother looks South East Asian. He looks at me, wants to stand up in his pram. As if he knew. I’ve got my coat unzipped, it looks as if I’ve put a bike helmet under my shirt. But no one stands to give me a seat, not even to let me grab a handle. Three stops passes until a man stands up and gives me his seat. He doesn’t speak Swedish. I nod and thank him and smile. No one else appear to notice.

*

Grandma’s funeral was beautiful, in the tiny medieval church where my parents got married. I barely cry, she was so old, wanted to die. I am happy for her, that she got to die. She turned into a child during her last days. I smiled at my crying aunt who wanted to touch the belly. She sniveled and smiled. “The natural cycle.” The priest talks about all of us sitting there, in the chapel. How we wouldn’t have existed if grandma hand’t met grandpa that day in Södertälje where she worked as a maid and he worked. As what? I realize that I don’t know, an errand-boy? The things that I don’t know, the things that my child will never know, unless it asks. Grandma and grandpa, the people my child will never meet.

*

We’re planning to travel, then buy a trip on a whim. To Barcelona. The same city, the same hotel, for the third time. It’s important, in a way.

*

W 25

The receptionist recognized me and smiled when I arrived. Here again, as a ritual, in the start of every trimester. The first time, alone for a week the week before I got pregnant, “week one” according to the pregnancy calendar. The second, alone for a week around the three month border. And now, six months and there is no doubt that there is life in my belly. “I brought my man along this time”, I said and smiled. He laughed. “And now you’re pregnant!” What he doesn’t know, what no one on the outside has known, seen. How it’s been here the whole time. What is inside is finally visible on the outside.

*

I see in the newspaper that it’s called “baby moon”. A last vacation together, while it’s still possible. K says: “The last in 18 years.”

*

Sontag writes about how tourism is a passive activity, you put yourself in a spot and expects to be entertained. You don’t need to bring anything to the situation, the environment is charged enough in itself. Me who’ve always hated the passive in the tourism, can’t leave the house without a book, a pen, notebook. Should I let go of it? One day I try going out without a notebook, miss it right away. The fear of getting an insight, that it should disappear without being registered. The thoughts are not always saved, even though you want them to. Seeds to genius ideas are forgotten, drenched in the teeming of pointless thoughts. Everything is not saved, not without help.

*

To expect to be entertained is the opposite of creating.

*

Time and time again we talk about it, the ungraspable fact that we are going to be a family with kids. That someone will talk about us as “their parents”. Even: ancestors. It blows your mind. All the ideas of time, space, are breathtaking. I try different ages. How old am I when it is four years old, seven, ten? When the kid is 4 years old, then I’ll just have turned 32. Are you young when you are just above 30? K looks at me and smiles, squinting in the sun where he has gotten a bit of a sunburn on his nose: “We’ll never die now.”

*

All the possibilities that pull you in all directions, longing after boundaries in the enormous world. The baby there, inside, safe in that it knows its boundaries. The happiness in there, in the belly. The one we’ll always search for. The happiness in a limitation. Knows its goal: “Out.”

*

I read Hustvedt, she quotes a poem by Rod Padgett, one called “Haiku”: That was fast. I mean life.

*

W 26

Back at the university. We’re reading Hirdman in the class about memory. “[T]here are two goals of longing in the human breast: for freedom and symbiosis. They are the foundational paradox within all of human life: on the one hand the adjustment, the answering, the safety, on the other side expansion, uncertainty, the unsafe, free.” The dilemma I think about every day. The longing to be free, to write, to travel. The longing for something safe, something that anchors me in the existence, life. A child.

*

The fear of even thinking the thought that there is a real child, not just an amoeba like foetus, a sexless entity, the nameless that can disappear any minute. But something has happened, did it happen in Barcelona? All the days in the sun when we began visualizing the child, let it crystalize through our words. We conjured up its soft contours, imagined its heroin like baby smell, wonderful toothless baby smile. The danger now, when I have let it exist in my imagination. If something happens. * A classmate says one morning: “Now you’ve entered that time when you get rosy cheeks.” I smile. “It’s rouge, Sunrise from MAC.” He laughs. But at the same time I know, it’s not just the makeup.

*

My parents come to town. Mom says she wants to tell me about a dream, but at first she hesitates, gets embarrassed. Finally she says. How she’s dreamed that I took the baby out of my pregnant belly and gave it to her, and that she took it, carried it for a while inside of her (“I’m not quite sure how it worked, but you know how it is, in dreams”), then gave it back. She’s almost ashamed when she tells me, I kind of got the feeling that she thought she imposed? I thought it was nice. It’s also the traces of her body that are carried on.

*

I try to imagine their love for me. It is the same that I will feel for my child? The never-ending, enormous love that is almost a love for yourself, the future of your own genes. The devotion that goes hand in hand with the total responsibility. The love from parent to child, always different than the one from child to parent. Will my child love me differently than how I love it? The pain when you realize that the child will never love you as much as you love it, a passion forever unrequited. Will the child not understand my love until it gets its own kids? Will I love my child.

*

I’m reading Ronny Ambjörnsson, he talks about how splendid wholesomeness gives birth to enviousness, enviousness stuffiness “and stuffiness probably something worse”. If there is something that I’ve never been, it’s conscientious. But will the child be different, a neat little law student with suit and stockings without the slightest hole in them, smelling of schampoo and perfume? The thought that we have to accept how little we can do to affect our children. No matter how much we want to. K. says:

“The only thing we can do is to be as good as we can, so it’s taught not to be a dick?”

*

On the street, there’s a newborn in a pram, looking like a just opened gift. Crispy white sheets like cellophane. The untouched face, freshly ironed by the world, that stares out into the universe. How does it know what you’re supposed to see, and not? What to filter in, what to filter out. The definition of expectancy. Everything in the world waiting to be explored. All the things that it might never discover, maybe forget that it has even thought about–. Perhaps their conscience is much larger than ours. The newly awakened senses that has heard all the truths of the universe. Sees all the things we have been taught to look away from, interpret away in our giant blind spots. Knows everything.

*

W 28

K awakes me in the morning, a regular Monday. I look up, he says that he needs to go to work. He kisses me and smiles and then he suddenly gets a surprised look. “I forgot you were pregnant.” We laugh and he lifts up my comforter, looks at the belly. “Bye bye to both of you.” I can’t help but smile. “Bye bye.” * If you were blind, held someone in your arms. Got to trust your own senses to know where the other body began, your own ended. How do you know where the line goes, for me: The strands of hair, the skin, the heat that rises from me. Where do I begin? Is the baby a part of me even when I can’t feel its presence?

*

When does another body begin?

*

W 29

Everybody mentions how good I seem to feel. I smile and answer: “I guess I’m made for this…” Me, and every other woman on the planet. The fact the most natural, the very basis of evolution, is the strangest part of it? 

*

W 30 The 30th week, just one week before we move to the new flat. Ours, or the bank’s. How wonderful, to be able to decorate it, with own furniture, things. A place where you get to stay. Live, not just be stored.

*

Pregnancy is one long validation. Time after time women start talking to me, in restaurants, shops. “Oh, I had a baby the other year, I miss being pregnant, how wonderful–” It would be so easy to be buried in your pregnancy, dive into it like a warm cloud of constant excuses if you do something wrong, constant affirmation without having to accomplish anything. I can understand women who’ve never gotten appreciation in other ways, maybe through their career, regular jobs where you are never seen. How you can enter into the pregnancy wholeheartedly, binge on the love you get from all directions because you have accomplished the amazing, but also: the most basic human. How you can enter motherhood, the mother role, greedily keep all of the paid parental leave for yourself, start voicing your opinion about other people’s lives.

As if you knew more. Just because you’ve put in, and then take out.

*

W 31

The expressions they use at the midwife’s controls: “new mothers”, “pregnant again”. Two categories. First, and then again. Pregnant again, it sounds like you are doing it again and again and again. As if it never ended.

*

The fear that I am not getting better with age, just more inhibited. Everything I dared, thought was possible, feels foreign, screened by life’s binary choices. You chose something, say no to something else. I’ve chosen this now. What am I not choosing? Chose safety, meaning, away with freedom.

*

Everything I used to dare. Will I risk it, when the baby exists? Will I even get a choice. There is no turning back, it’s not even born yet but it has already taken over my life.

*

I go to the flat and unlock it. Enter the empty rooms, there are a few ceiling lamps and a dead fly left, and I feel the tears coming. It’s so beautiful, with the greenery outside of the window, a calm area, barely any cars and tons of trees. I want to cry of happiness, it feels silly but it hits me, how long I’ve been stressed over not having a real home, so long that I’ve internalized the stress, let it become a part of my brain. Over a decade without a fixed address, a dozen cities and countries that I’ve called my home. That moment it suddenly lets go of me, the monster that I didn’t even know I carried leaves my body. I sit down on the empty wooden floor and for a moment I feel free.

*

W 32

I barely sleep all week, constantly stressed out. About work, the move, the classes, not a second over. The fear of hurting the baby. The longing for focusing on it, give it everything: my time, energy, thoughts…

*

I think about mom, who’ve had three kids, which means: three pregnancies. Three parental leaves. All of the years of waiting for kids, taking care of kids. Thinking about kids.

*

The first real day in the new flat, we already feel at home. K: “You fit in here.” I sit down in the kitchen sofa and I just smile. Feel so happy over everything, even though the anxiety over work, writing, is grinding over me, a heavy cloud pressing down over everything. I hope I deserve all of this.

*

They say that the baby should really stay in the belly for ten months, but that it wouldn’t be able to get out if that was the case, that the brain would be too big. That it is really unborn until the tenth month, so dependent on its parent – perhaps its mother foremost, because of the nursing. The forth trimester.

*

W 33

The human being must have communicated long before we spoke, I often think about it when I’m at the library. How I’m affected by deep concentration of all the others, how we are all drawn in to the same meditative state, deep down in thoughts. I also think about K and I, and naturally, the baby. Our focus that brings us together, like two dart arrows aiming towards the same midpoint. To share a dream, as if your brains are synced. You don’t need to say anything, he puts his hand on the belly and we know, what is important. It’s not about words.

*

All of those thing the child sees. All the things that are just as much a part of the world, universe, even if we filter it out as “unnecessary”. The child, without filters. What does it see? “A child is an adult with its eyes open.”

*

I go to IKEA, buy diaper changing things, sheets, kitchen utensils, all those thing you don’t miss but you need. Something like every third woman in there is pregnant. What they speak about in the pregnancy newsletters, “nesting”. I’ve frown at it, it sounds so silly. But now, it’s a deep longing. To make the flat look nice, to make it into a safe, good place. A place where I will spend a lot of time, a place where the child must feel comfortable. It’s something primal, like an instinct from the reptilian brain we share with all other animals. This is how it’s supposed to be: a safe place to live. In English: nesting. Make a nest. To build a nest, where your eggs can hatch in peace and quiet. Instead of pretty twigs that creates a nest: thousands of pregnant women buying interior textiles at IKEA. 

*

W 33

I want to cry, the constant stress, worry, money, work, how’s it all going to work out. The shitty life that crawls all the way into your belly.

*

I cry several times during the breastfeeding class. The others are adults, at least 35, looks like they have real jobs, clean expensive clothes without holes in it. We look different, K’s raggedy shirt, my burled, once black jersey dress. The man next to me is checking his work e-mails on his phone under the table. We get to see a film about “the magic hour”, the hour when the baby goes from still wet and almost blue in its face, lying against the mother’s belly with its crunched up Gollum face, to almost being able to crawl up towards the breast, on its own, and start sucking. The human beings similarity to other animals. The tiny newborn puppy who’s looking for its mother’s dugs–.

*

There’s a problem with the vaginal portion of the cervix, it’s too short. The doctor looks at the computer, reads my journal.

“Writer, what does it mean. It can mean many things.”

I smile, palely.

“It’s just that. That it’s so much.”

She said that she could report me sick, but it would take just as much time to find a replacement for all the work I need to do, than just doing it myself. I felt the tears pressing against my cheeks, just wanted to cry, say that I couldn’t do it any longer, that I wanted nothing more than to call in sick. “Freelance writer.” The dream of the entrepreneur, running your own company. If I don’t do it they’ll find someone else who will. Tomorrow I’m forgotten.

*

Many others seem to want time to pass quickly towards the end, I fight against the clock. A book to finish, articles, time for winding down. I have barely bought anything for the kid. Not ready. Or.

*

W 34

In the couch, K:

“I’m so ready to take life to the second level.”

“Soon we’ve taken down the first boss.”

*

The silence in a room where a child has just been born and the mother’s and the baby’s gazes meet.

*

From couple to family–.

*

The borderline between non-mother and mother. The identity crisis, the emptiness in between. The part that don’t exist. Longing.

*

K’s dad: “With a baby everything will be like in a submarine, everything in the immediate reality will become incredibly important.” The tiny thing that becomes enormous.

*

And, all the dangers that exist: the baby falls down from the changing table, stops breathing in the pram, is suffocated by the baby clothes… Sure, it happens rarely, but it happens. What if it happens our child. How will you keep on living?

*

The times it has hit me: imagine, that my parents had a life before me. That they spoke of me before I existed, longing, worrying. The incredible, the bizarre, in that thought. Their lives before they became mother, father. Life before me.

*

W 35

Summer arrives, finally. We drive to a lake with some friends. I get hot in the sun but I don’t dare bathing more than my feet, the water feels so dirty, full of algae, swampy and the rocks at the bottom are so slippery from the algae slime. Tanning the belly, all the new skin that never before has seen the sun. That thing inside of me twisting and turning, unused to the light. I imagine it squinting, blinking, fighting against the light with a tiny baby fist. There are no kicks, just a quiet vibration from the inside, like a cat purring in the belly.

*

When the baby is born: year 0, not just for its own life. Also, for us, for my parents, our friends: the year that the child was born. The month after the child was born. Life’s largest before and after.

*

People ask if we are going to get married. We are not getting married, not as long as the law doesn’t make us, for the simple reason that I don’t want to regard our relationship as a “success”, while if we part ways: a divorce, a failure. A success, because we did the right thing. Paired up, as we should. I rather stay together because it feels good. Rather for us than for something we promised other people, a fear of losing face, risking the facade. Rather no facade.

*

W 36

The ambivalence to the birth, the delivery. At the same time as you long for it, the child, I want it to wait, take forever. Stay inside of me.

*

At night we take a walk around the area. It’s green, quiet, light until late with pink sunsets. It’s wild inside of my belly, routing around squashed in the tight space. I can’t imagine that it’s got a face in there. Feet, legs, arms are one thing. But a face.

*

The birds are twittering outside, a dog barks. It’s sultry but sunny. I’m eating crisp bread with a boiled egg, the butter melts into the bread. I speak to the child in the belly, ask it: Do you want me to be your mother? Does it feel strange that I’m going to be your mother? It doesn’t answer. Just moves quietly so that I can sense a spine against the palm of my hand.

*

It’s only through the eyes of others that we can enjoy “the successful”. Success, the happy marriage, the point where everything is perfect and we are completely happy. The point that doesn’t exist, that only exists in other people’s eyes. They have everything.

*

During the evening walk that we take not to forget it is summer, July, despite working all day, we pass the child care buildings. I think about the parents one will meet, always with the kid as the only common denominator. “Ivar’s mom”, “Sandra’s dad”.

The new identity: Somebody’s mom.

*

When I’m on the subway, sit around cafés, restaurants, in parks. It’s all mine, I’m not questioned anywhere. A young girl, alone, always a question mark. What are you doing here, doing alone? A young girl with a notebook, even more. But now. A pregnant woman, belongs everywhere. It’s not just that you’re “holy”, it’s something more. You’re an adult, have found your way. Or: accepted the way the norm has mapped out. The easy way. It’s never strenuous doing what you should.

*

In Hustvedt's What I loved the narrator’s wife calls the newborn baby “our naked stranger”. during the first week. I’m imagining that’s how it’s going to feel like, a unknown person in the family. Who are you? Who are we, together.

*

The birth is getting closer. How do you even do it? The body’s memory, the body’s knowledge since the beginning of evolution. Women giving birth on the steppe, bites off the placenta and keeps walking with their scythe. The body knows. It has to know, I trust it. I don’t know how to do it.

*

W 37

The difficulty in not giving up, to not become boring. But at the same time not let the kid down. * Slowly I find myself thinking, that there’s probably something special between mother and child, even though it annoys me, politically. Something about nursing, how you can hear the baby, is awakened by every whimper. Share heartbeats.

*

A consciousness inside of me.

*

The body wakes me up at six thirty every morning even though I’ve been awake until three in the morning reading about co-sleeping and sudden infant death. The hottest days of the year, 26 degrees and I feel like fainting in the sun. I cool off by the drink fridge at 7-11.

*

They say that you change when you have a baby, become a new person.

Who will I become?

*

I wake up at night, lie awake and stare at the changing table in the morning light glowing in through the blinders, even though they are pulled down. The empty baby nest, waiting to be filled. All the nights I will lie there, just stare at the baby in wonder. That it is me, a part of me. Stare at it and think: so it’s you that my life will be about from now on.

*

Thinking of how it has to be painful to give birth, that it cannot be too easy. That it would be strange to just bang give birth to something that you’ve been carrying for nine months. Not just a physical effort. To part from a piece of yourself, to acknowledge its independence, accept that it is now outside of your body, your barriers. Your control. The grief to no longer be the same being, to let one become two. The pain in the split, the one that has to be felt. The one that has to hurt.

*

We can cure disease, travel to space. But it takes a woman to give birth to a new human being.

*

The wonder in the first time, that which lacks reference, comparison, in life. Either you’ve experienced it or not. The birth, the delivery. I imagine there being a before and after, not just for the baby but also for you. Near death, near life. What you have to trust: that you can give birth, just like you trust your own body when you helplessly throw yourself into sleep. You know all this, there is nothing to learn.

*

On my way home from the city centre I start feeling a period pain and suddenly I feel sick. Something is happening. I know it, instinctively.

*

July 13th, it’s pushing, feels like the pelvis is letting go, bursting, letting it all out. I was walking along Götgatan and I felt a cut in my uterus so that I had to stop. I know it’s not coming yet. But it’s on its way, like a creaky step in the stairs reminding you its on its getting closer. The funny thing was: I felt ready. Come, the wave, flow over me–.

*

W 38

Got a cold, blowing my nose nonstop. I start crying as I watch the baby being thrown out of the window and bouncing on the firemen’s mat in Curb your enthusiasm, even though the baby makes it.

*

I look at K, say: 

“It’s soon over.” He smiles and hugs me. I find myself, and add:

“Soon–, it begins.”

*

Something is sticking out of my belly. I wrap my hand around it, realize: a foot. The tears are coming, I call K: “Do you understand? I held the baby’s foot in my hand!?” The unbelievable: My baby’s foot.

*

The rituals of life: Puberty, pregnancy. Death. The transitional phase’s space for new ideas, values. Have I changed?

*

The slow steps when I walk. Fifteen kilos heavier than when I began. The weight gets more obvious every day, I have to ask whomever I’m walking with to slow down. Me, who’s usually the one bouncing ahead of power-walkers on my way to the grocery store. The slowness, as if the body told me to change perspectives, speed: turn your gaze towards the inside. Brake, wait. * I don’t have a single piece of porcelain in my cupboard that isn’t chipped. Am I supposed to raise a child?

*

1958 a man called Winnicott described how the woman’s sensitivity in the time around the birth process is similar to a trance like state. He calls it “The primary maternal preoccupation”. Claims that the woman has extreme sensitivity, closer access to unconscious processes. A state that is increasing gradually, lasts until a few weeks after the baby has been born. The preparation to meet the child, to be able to feel its needs. It also applies to the other parent. “You cannot understand new parents if you do not understand the state.” * After the birth comes the “newborn period”. “The forty days”, the time to focus on the child, get to know it, nurse. Nothing else. 40 days, I’m going to try to avoid working. Just focus, familiarize.

Become a mother.

The 40 days, 6 weeks are everywhere. The six weeks most countries let women stay home. The six weeks you are supposed to wait to have sex. The forty days that are almost holy in so many cultures. The forty days when mother and child are supposed to be together, nonstop. The time you need to find peace, the breastfeeding, the attachment. The rhythm, where two beings are supposed to meet, find out how they can live together. The six weeks of fresh love when you are close to psychotic. With a partner. With the child. A soft pink cloud. A drug like experience of being sucked together, unite. Not wanting a second without each other, dizzy from the other person’s smell. The forty days of fresh love. Will I even be able to love, as you supposed to? Who am I if I can’t.

*

W 39

The 39th week? I barely get it, have to check my calendar. July 19th, twelve days left. The bad sleep, the weight as I wobble on. Trying to take time off, sit around at cafés. It says you’re supposed to rest but I don’t want to just lay around at home, I take the subway into the city every day and sit down and have a coffee and read. Work is calming down, the most of it is finishing off. Lying down, sitting, it seems impossible finding a comfortable position. The real baby in the belly, a finished human being. Some more fat, that’s all, but it is ready. Am I? No return.

*

I look out over the kids playing in the yard. For me: just cute, noisy small creatures. For someone else: every child, a grown-up’s everything.

*

To have a child, a sort of unfaithfulness. Someone else who will always be ahead of the one you have previously loved the most, the almost erotic closeness to the little baby. * To have a child. That which never ends, just continues, until death. If it’s happened once, it keeps happening. Every day for the rest of your life: the child.

*

July 21st

Sunday, ten days until the due date, the water breaks. The surprise, we were both completely sure that it would last at least until a few days into August. Not ready, so much work I was supposed to fix that Monday, and now this. “Already?”

*

July 23rd

Suddenly she’s here. How can you be so perfect?

*

They laid her down at my breasts, nude under the unbuttoned hospital gown. A blanket over and hat on. The silence in the room, the time that has never been so unclear, circular, a big bang. She had lain there for never-ending minutes when someone asked if I had checked the sex. I laughed, the thought hadn’t even hit me. I lifted the blanket. A girl. The eyes, my narrow, black ones. Light hair, wide cheeks, a heart shaped face. The perfect tiny button nose, a pouty upper lip. Who are you? K next to me, all the tears of happiness. She was with me for hours, no one knows how long, the time was like water.

There were no words.

*

Her first night. It’s the height of the summer, way too hot i  the hospital room, the sweat is pouring, tears falling. She, so small, so easy to do something wrong. I don’t even dare changing her diaper, barely dare touch her nude hot little three kilo body. The responsibility, the largest ever, my thoughts like a mantra: you will never make it, you will never make it. Still I know, somewhere deep inside of the chatty thoughts of the brain. You have to.

I can.

* July 24th

K leaves, to the world outside of the hospital to pick up more clothes, we have to stay for a few days. Out there, another planet. My world: The sitting room with the tiny babies, worn parents half dressed with dirty hair. The question every moment: Is she breathing, does she really exist, can you be this perfect? The question in my finger tips when I touch her, carefully: Do I love her yet?

*

The mix of blood in my hair, the long sharp nails she claws my breasts with. Her tiny tender strong body. How she reacts at mine and K’s voice. Her tiny noises in her sleep.

*

Midnight, the tears when I’m supposed to fall asleep. The fear to not make it, that I won’t be able to breastfeed her, that I won’t be able to love her, that she won’t love me. That I will hurt her, that she’ll love K more than me.

That I will hurt her.

*

I cry and for a moment it feels like it was her tears, her face. Her hands drying the tears in her eyes. The feeling is tangible, for a moment I am in her body, she is in mine.

Our eyes, the same.

*

I love her, hate her. Her unpredictability. 

We don’t know each other, even though we have shared bodies for so long.

*

The total identification with the child. As if I were gone. I am the baby, who am I? The obliteration.

*

They say that the baby doesn’t know the difference between itself and the mother for the first year. I don’t know the boundary either. Not yet.

The fear for when the division sets in, creates a barrier.

The naked stranger.

*

I, who used to long for you. Can I love you? Love you like, they say that you are supposed to love.

*

K says that she looks exactly like me when she looks at him with a tired gaze.

My tired gaze.

*

July 25th

It’s Thursday afternoon, she has been alive for two days. Alive, when did she start living? She has lived, outside of me, for two days.

*

I happened to say the words that made me completely bewildered: “my daughter.” My daughter? Imagine telling people, that I have a daughter. That I am the sort of person who has a child, a daughter. Imagine looking at her, saying “my daughter”. We, who’ve only just met.

*

Everything’s so complicated, it feels like I am doing everything wrong. How I hold her, carry her. Breastfeed. Why does she want to do this, but not this? Why do I not know what I want, what she wants? K carries her, lifts her, changes diapers like a pro, self-assured and strong. Thump her softly when her belly hurts the whole second night. I trust his confidence, let him take the lead. Can’t manage, is filled by doubt.

*

I touch my face, feel hers.

*

July 26th I find out grandma’s ashes were laid to rest just after lunch, the same day as she was born. At the same time. That which lives on, a memory, of something more. Something before her.

*

I take a walk alone, outside of the maternity ward. She is everywhere. I see her face in a baby rabbit that jumps around in the plant beds. A bird that croaks sounds like her cooing. My face in the mirror of the elevator: I see her features in mine. * The emptiness in my arms when I realize she isn’t lying in them.

*

July 27th I go out, into the world outside. There’s been a thunderstorm that day and the air is still a bit muffled, a mix between summer saturday night and horror movie. The trees feels enormous, the world feels too big, frightening. I look around as if I was in a dark alley at night, not behind a hospital on a light summer evening. I look towards Mälaren, feel the fresh air after the claustrophobic smell of breastmilk, sweat and baby. It will never be just me again. My life, no longer mine.

*

July 31st

The first walk with the pram, in the real world. So difficult to hide the self-consciousness in our looks when we walked from the flat to the centre.

Life since she took over our lives, started dictating everyday life. We are her slaves, we call her the queen. “What has the queen decided we’re doing now?”

*

I’m thinking about next summer, when she’ll be able to play and walk. The summer after that, when she might have started talking. The one after when she can speak differently, feelings and thoughts. Life, from now on just that. Her, we. She pulls, we follow. Look up to her, as if she sat on all of the knowledge of the world. She, the little one. What does she even know. Who does she think she is?

*

She’s just crying when K holds her, he breaks down. “She hates me.” I try to encourage him but secretly enjoy her cry, how it quiets down when I take her. The power of being able to comfort her with my body, the breast that makes her still, relax. The ultimate reciprocated love, the incredible in being number one for the one you love.

*

Aug 1st

Just a week in the world and the feeling in me that I would have a hard time living without her. That and the fear, all the time. If something happens to her, what happens with my life?

*

Who is she? She who I suddenly love more than everything.

*

She. All the books that are supposed to be written, all the work, the whole world, everything. Everything feels unnecessary, unreal, unimportant. What she doesn’t want done doesn’t have to be done, doesn’t need to exist. Her sleeping face, the skin that is different from everything I have felt. There is freedom in that, a never-ending happiness, a sorrow.

This is everything.

****

 

Ida Therén

1985, born in Värnamo and mostly lives in Stockholm but is currently living in Brooklyn. Therén is torn between the urge to write and the feeling that she should give it all up. 

Bokrecension – Sofi Oksanen – Norma SvD 160913

Bokrecension – Sofi Oksanen – Norma SvD 160913

TV: Breaking news med Filip och Fredrik

TV: Breaking news med Filip och Fredrik