about the author

Dylan Brie Ducey’s work can be found in New Delta Review, Snow Monkey, The Pinch, and Pear Noir! She lives in California.

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The Woman and the Baby

Dylan Brie Ducey

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The woman brought the baby home and right away there were problems. First of all, the baby cried, but there was no nurse to soothe it or change its diaper or understand what the hell it wanted. Second, the morphine drip. The woman didn’t have it anymore, the button to press when the pain came pulsing back, waves of searing pain that left her gasping.

The obstetrician gave the woman Percocet before she left the hospital, and also a prescription for Darvocet. Keep ahead of the pain, the doctor said. She was a Swedish blonde, competent and kind, in a red leather jacket. She had visited the birthing room five times during the early part of her shift, checking the woman for dilation and telling the woman “I can’t feel the baby’s head. The baby hasn’t dropped.” But the woman didn’t understand, she was too tired to understand that her pelvis was too small, the baby was trying to descend to the birth canal but there was simply no room. The baby was stuck. All the woman’s friends had delivered naturally; they expressed a visceral scorn for those who didn’t, or couldn’t. “It’s bad for the baby,” one sniffed. “Studies show that babies delivered by c-section are incapable of forming attachments to humans or pets, and often end up as drug addicts and murderers. So really, natural childbirth is the only way to go.” Something like that anyway. These same friends read What to Expect When You’re Expecting and believed what it said about cravings being a figment of the imagination (or was it morning sickness that was a figment of the imagination?). They also ate organic food, exclusively, and eschewed refined sugar and alcohol, of course. One glass of wine could lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, they said. Duh. Only a bad mother would have a glass of wine.

The woman’s labor went on and on. Reluctantly, the obstetrician gave the woman more Pitocin because after thirty-five hours of labor she still wasn’t dilated. The woman’s body was not cooperating. Then the baby flatlined. There was a prolonged and terrible beeping from the machine, and a squadron of doctors and nurses rushed in and prepped the woman for surgery and hustled her husband into blue scrubs and the woman was wheeled down to an operating room faster than you can say “caesarian section.” The Swedish obstetrician performed the surgery in minutes, and with military precision. The woman trusted the obstetrician but she was frightened and exhausted and her cheeks were wet with tears and there was her husband sitting just next to her and she heard the cry of the baby and a collective sigh of relief from the doctors, nurses, anesthesiologist. Then the obstetrician quickly did the tubal ligation, snip, snip. She ushered in the next surgeon to repair the hernia. That took more than an hour and the feeling of tugging and no sensation anywhere below her breasts but the anesthesiologist stayed next to the woman anyway and asked her every few minutes.

Keep ahead of the pain. Don’t wait too long to take the pills, the doctor had said, and was she ever right because here at home the woman had forgotten. In the rush to feed the baby and answer the telephone and knock over her cup of coffee and clean up the spill she’d forgotten. Now, the waves of pain had started. They appeared first as if from a great distance. Gentle, soft little waves. So far away. But then they came closer and increased in intensity and soon they were great tsunami waves that just kept coming. No sooner had one wave subsided when the next began and the woman was weeping involuntarily and struggling to catch her breath. The woman’s husband scrambled to find the bottle of Percocet and he brought the woman a glass of water. The husband had dark circles under his eyes, and he waited there, watching the woman swallow the little red pill. It would take thirty, maybe forty minutes until the pain would subside.

Now the baby was crying as well, crying with hunger. The woman’s husband collected the baby from the bassinette. Oh, what are you crying about you little baby, he said. He had the baby in one arm and a bottle of formula in the other but the woman objected to this. The baby needs the breast, she said. La Leche League, she said. Breast is best. The baby could be damaged!

The husband took a breath. Then he spoke. You’re going to lie down in bed now and I am going to feed the baby, he said.

But formula is bad for the baby, the woman wept, all the books say.

The husband was getting frustrated now. He led the woman to the bedroom. It’s food, he said. It’s food for the baby. One bottle of formula won’t kill her. She will eat and she won’t be hungry and she’ll stop crying.

The husband pointed to the bed then, and indicated that the woman should get in it. He had the baby in one arm, squalling furiously, and the evil bottle of formula in the other.

The woman lay in the bed wiping her tears and trying to be still, trying not to set off another spasm of pain. She looked at the Van Gogh print on the wall (le Moulin a poivre) and tried to focus on the windmill, no, on the two French flags. She tried to breathe slow deep breaths. The pain would subside soon, she told herself. Instead of thinking about the pain she thought about her baby. Her baby was like any other baby. It wailed in frustration as it waited for the milk to let down. And once the baby had eaten it went right to sleep. That would have been mildly interesting if she, the mother, hadn’t been so fucking tired. The woman watched the flags and thought drowsily of all the times she’d believed she’d been tired before the arrival of this baby: staying up all night having sex, or writing a paper in college, or getting drunk at a bar. My god, that was nothing. Now she was lucky if she could sleep one hour between feedings. It was a hungry baby, it never stopped eating. Only a week old, it couldn’t even see her clearly. It squinted up at her, wrapped tightly in its lavender swaddling blanket.

The flags fluttered, blue, white, red. The woman eased her body further down in the bed and rested her head on a pillow. How did one get to know a baby, really? Was it possible? It seemed amoeba-like, a little cell like all the others. The woman gathered she was supposed to love it already—as if you could truly love someone you’d met only a few days earlier. Her friends loved their babies instantly, gushing about how perfect and cute they were. Definitely, the woman didn’t love her baby yet. She harbored a mild curiosity about it, when she wasn’t washing its tiny sleepers and tiny blankets and tiny sheets, and throwing tiny cloth diapers into the diaper pail and putting Lansinoh on her bleeding nipples (as it turned out, the baby could bite), or easing herself in and out of bed without setting off that searing pain.

The flags shifted and the woman’s eyelids fluttered. The waves of pain would subside. The woman would love the baby. Her incision would heal into a nearly invisible scar. She would love the baby. She would love the baby. She would love the baby.

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