By Marni Berger
I scream so loudly when I give birth to Mona that the next day my throat hurts more than my crotch. The first words I say to her—her purple body vibrating, she’s been placed upon my chest, my arms covered with meconium ink-stains—are, “I’m sorry.” Sorry about all the screaming. I think: “I should have had the epidural, so I could be present during the birth.” My head’s a little cloudy.
Things get clearer. She’s two years old. The sky is brown and pouring rain; the atmosphere thick enough to make migraine a verb—I walk around migraining all day—and Mona says, “What a beautiful day!” She tilts her head back, walking up the steps in the late afternoon, the drops sprinkling her face, and begins to giggle. “Tickles!” she says at the raindrops. It’s a new sensation. She can’t stop laughing.
I worry with other moms about whether we’re good at it. Raising another person. We take the responsibility seriously, chatting over dinners out that are meant for relaxing.
Our credo: Support mothers.
I rely on these other mothers for moral support, like, “Yeah I slept for two hours last night, too! And my kid also threw up all over my face at the library!”
One reliable friend sends an invitation to her child’s second birthday party. And then, privately, a panicked text. Her sister wants to bring her girlfriend’s kids, who are from a “VERY broken home.” My friend leaves the definition of “very broken” vague, but I recall how she confided in me once that the children had previously resided with very broken men, the unkind suitors of their mother. Regarding the children, my friend says that she doesn’t know how they will be with “our girls.” I take the texts personally. I think to myself: Broken home? What the fuck does that mean? I am disappointed in my friend. She says, “What should I do?” I pause. I respond: “We will support whatever decision you make.”
My friend is eight months pregnant.
I think Mona might fall down the porch steps if I don’t watch her. I hold her elbow as she grips the wooden railing, in search of “Wormy the Squirm,” which is the name of all worms, ever, found in our yard. We host a worm torture chamber here, and I sometimes wonder how evil we are. Mona makes it down the steps, but it’s a surprisingly unclear balancing act: allowing someone space to learn, and giving someone too much space, all the big world, when they are so small.
I am three years old. My mother has married a formidable man who will say terrible things to her, after divorcing my father who already has. But the home doesn’t feel broken. Though life often feels hard. And the world big, when I am so small. I am resilient. My skin toughens. I grow to enjoy running alone through our large Ohio farm, climbing hay-bales, smelling honeysuckle, and pressing my face against the sweet grain of horse hair, a giant ribcage moving against me, and inside it the beating heart of a powerful animal that can take me away.
What should I do? My friend asks. Whether the children should come to the party, she says, is a “tricky sitch.”
I want to scream: “Just let them in.”
Marni Berger tutors and writes in Portland, Maine. She spends a lot of time pondering the balance between supporting mothers and their children, as well as searching for worms and banging sticks on rocks with her toddler.
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