The baby did not blink as creamy white milk thickened with stomach acid cascaded over her lips and down her bare stomach. The vomit coated her mother’s breast and fell onto the couch as she straightened her elbows. That was when the baby shrieked. She was dangling midair, naked, shivering in her own spit-up. She peed her diaper. Then she stopped crying. She always calmed down after a good pee. The sweet release of pressure in her stomach made her placid. Until the damp made her itch. Then she simply whimpered. Relief of one kind led to discomfort of another degree. And now her stomach, a greedy walnut, echoed across its emptiness. A groan only she could feel. A groan it would take years to put into words.
The mother set her down on the changing table and dangled a toy within her grasp. They both had the motions memorized now: the wet cloth diaper removed and tossed in the diaper bucket, the lid quickly replaced. A wipe gently eased around the babies soft, plump folds. A dry diaper velcroed into place, a tab on each side.
The mother didn’t bother with a fresh onesie and instead swaddled her firmly and put her back to the breast. Left breast, ten minutes. Then right. Then left. Right, left, right. This time the mother would fall asleep, her head angled backward into the couch’s corner, before the baby. Soon the baby would follow, still latched to the left breast. It was the sleep of exhaustion. The kind that controls you. The sleep that has no regard for hour of day or night. When the body stops, sleep takes the mind. Sleep is supposed to allow the mind to process new information and make sense of the world. This sleep cannot rise to that function. This is the sleep of the parent with a newborn. It is the sleep of the body. The body gets to reclaim itself. It is work. There is no rest. Even sleep becomes labor. Even sleep is not solitary. The baby’s sweet pucker is latched to her breast; they are still one body.
The mother remembers her panic when the baby’s cord was cut. Her husband severed her flesh with surgical scissors. She felt nothing as the scissors shut, except her heart skipped a beat in the moment after it was done. They were two. She took a deep breath and gathered the hot, slippery baby to her chest.
Now, months after the birth, the mother’s body is still the source of the baby’s every ounce of nutrition. The mother is fucking growing a human being, even now, outside her body. Yet not outside. Attached. And this connection is terrible. It is fundamental. It is the irrefutable definition of humanity. It is who we are. It is what a woman can do. It is singular. It is universal. It is the beginning. It is the future. It is tiresome. It is one long paragraph that lasts for three solid months, so far.
The mother woke from the pain in her neck and let her head roll to the other side, then down to her chin. She breathed in the air her baby exhaled. The baby made gurgles in her throat. The mother will not wake her. The baby has fallen off the breast, her face gone entirely milk drunk. The mother stared. She reached for her phone and fumbled with one hand to take a photo of this adorable baby. The mystery of her silence, her inert happiness fills the room with a giddy electric buzz. The baby will sleep for a few hours. She can see that now. She eased the baby out of her arms and into the deep cushion of the couch, placing a pillow next to her. She stood and looked at the small bundle, swaddled and serene.
The mother would fix a sandwich, a weak cup of coffee. She might dare take a hot shower, the hottest water good for her milk-heavy breasts. She will wait. And see. And scroll through the hundreds of photos on her phone since the birth. And she will be proud that this baby, her baby, exists. It is almost more than she can bear.