Wandering and Wondering Wombs . . .
In Ancient Greek thought, a woman's womb wandered indiscriminately within her body if it was of child-bearing years and yet not bearing children. It was thought to cause all manner of illnesses, from stomach problems to nervousness and shortness of breath. In my writing, I embrace the negative space of an empty wandering womb. I re-imagine the womb as wondering.
The following is a short personal essay that occurs in the first chapter of my book, Liminal Bodies, Reproductive Health, and Feminist Rhetoric. The essay was written for a graduate nonfiction workshop. I include it in the book and here because it illustrates several points of tension that I take up in my writing.
Marks . . .
I have a ridiculously large stretch mark, if it is just one, spraying up from my navel and dripping beneath it in little silver rivulets. It arrived late in my first pregnancy and it was purple and wide. When I am not pregnant, it puckers into a white worm with several wrinkled tails. Being pregnant now, and largely so, it is stretched to its fullest and I wonder if new fringes of purple will arrive in the next month.
My navel points outward now, but normally it is wide and loose since that first pregnancy. Someone told me once that this particular type of stretch mark occurs a lot with navel piercings. I kept the ring in most of my first pregnancy and now I rarely wear it; it dangles so loosely.
My stomach looks alien: round and hard with occasional undulations from the little creature inside. Without the aid of a mirror, all I can see now is the upper part of the stretch mark, and in the reading light on my desk, it is slick like polished wood. It shines a lighter pink color with a horizontal grain. Or maybe it is more like inlaid mother of pearl shining a flame pattern on my stomach.
Every doctor, even the doctor at my first c-section, has asked if I had stomach surgery there, where the flame is. No. It's just a stretch mark. Sometimes I imagine that my stomach will rip open along that fault line and this baby will come falling out early. Surely it can't stretch much more. At seven months pregnant, I cannot see the actual fault line where they will cut me again to pull this baby into our world. That scar is barely noticeable when I can see it, though it has been opened twice now. A little hidden smile in the curls of hair there. You'd never know I had a c-section. Two c-sections. One c-section more.
The first came after 23 hours of labor, including several hours in the last stage of labor, called the "transitional stage" because this is when the urge to push arrives and you transition from pregnant to mother. It should last 20-30 minutes, they say. I got the urge to push early, and never transitioned. A doctor named Cricket told me my pelvis was "funny-shaped" and I would always need to have c-sections. She transitioned for me.
The second came three weeks early, after a night of labor so light I was convinced it wasn't real labor. At the hospital, my cervix was already dilated nearly as far as it ever got the time before. They quickly shaved me, drugged me, and rushed me to surgery. At home, there was no crib yet. The car seat was not in the car. My mother-in-law had not yet arrived for a week of babysitting duties. Nothing was ready.
The third comes in two months, if the mark holds out.
When I was afraid to wear a two-piece bathing suit the year after my second son was born, my husband told me I should be proud of the mark. But I feel it is an inconvenience I have to explain to anyone who sees. I need to allay their fears that I suffered some traumatic stomach surgery. This is just a mark showing how far I was able to stretch. This far, and no further. This mark shows what my body did to make room for my baby. This other scar no one can see shows what my body could not do.