A Natal Sun–Winner of the MAW Spring Micro-essay Contest
I stared as he kicked and jerked his little legs and arms and let out indecisive cries under the yellow heat lamps. His eyes were big and receptive, the indigo of Space. Helix Nebulas. Or the deepest oceans. They could swallow you up.
I had seen eyes like these before.
“Naked as a jay bird,” my mother might say. Would he cry or not? This six pound, stressed-out baby bird. He turned his damp head more to my cooing voice and blinked, “Are you my mother?” I wasn’t.
He met this world two weeks early and in thick vernix as if smothered in cream cheese. His momma had pushed for fifteen minutes. Tiny head came first, and she didn’t need one stitch.
My own son had been two weeks late, weighed two pounds more. Twenty-three years ago. I was induced, IVed, my liquor amnii broken by a doctor, rushed along. I squirmed through the repair of a lengthy episiotomy. I had grieved the loss of my body. But I remember: as the baby was released from me, the cool cirrus clouds split wide open for a wide ray of sunlight to emanate through the window and hit my eyes, and I was blinded. I was so small. Me and my baby, we would always seem too small.
My grandson’s momma was twenty, and when she was near-to-crazy with pain, lifting and pulling back her freckled shoulders in full labor with her red hair wild in her face, eyes squeezed shut, knees pulled up to her ears, she was utterly gorgeous. Young warrior with teeth. A steal-your-breath lioness.
My son stayed close by her face like he was directing, whispering tiny sentences: “You can do this” and “You are so strong” and “You are amazing.” He didn’t leave her side, even when things were slow, even when she wanted to bite off his nose. I saw his panic rising, the rims of his eyes as a low seawall. He was too small and not enough should something go wrong, not enough to warrant so much pain, to rally such strength, such godly magic, such an explosion in the universe. But he stayed anyway. His hands would shake for days.
As I wondered at my new grandson, my own son stayed at the bed with his fiancé while she was pulled through the afterward — all the pressing on her tummy, an alien ache and emptiness under loose skin, so much blood, all the wiping and washing and rearranging, rebuilding the bed, closing her legs, placing padding beneath her, pulling covers up around her. The prototypal beginning’s end.
She was like a doe, head up, watching from the treeline across a foggy field. Needing. Curious. Hearing her baby’s indecisiveness and having the answer. She shimmered in the sunlight, rays dropping through the Venetians to touch her like they loved her, so familiar a moment. She emanated so much raw biology, so much metaphor. I was blinded still.
Rachel Hartley-Smith lives in South-Central Indiana’s hills and trees with her family. She teaches writing courses online and is also a designer, photographer, and lover of nature. She has an MFA from Inland Northwest Center for Writers as well as degrees in Creative Writing and Digital Storytelling from Ball State University in Muncie, IN.