Two pink lines.
Seven pounds nine ounces.
When Alana thought about the numbers, she was shocked by how small they seemed now. All of them. Nine months? That’s not very long. Seven pounds? A bag of flour is way bigger than that. But the implications of all of them were so heavy she could barely stand up.
She looked at Elliott, lying in his swing, like a tiny pendulum marking off the seconds of his life. He was two months old, and just barely over his birth weight. He looked so fragile. She felt so fragile.
She didn’t want to take her eyes off him for even a second. He was clipped in, blankets away from his face, the cat locked in the furnace room and meowing his head off at the indignity. But she couldn’t handle the thought that he might hurt her baby somehow. She knew someone, or her girlfriend knew someone, whose cat had scratched a baby and the baby had to go on antibiotics. She couldn’t handle the thought of giving her baby antibiotics. She couldn’t even handle giving him formula, even though she had to use it. Stupid useless sacs of fat on her chest.
She couldn’t stand seeing herself in the mirror. She’d taken them all down, and put paper over the one in the bathroom. She only opened the curtains a minute before James came home, and then closed them again as soon as the sun began to set.
She’d found a piece of paper lying on the kitchen counter by the coffee maker. James must have left it there. It was some sort of quiz for postpartum depression, and it had made her so angry, those accusatory words that James had to leave lying around passive-aggressively, that she had screamed out loud. It had woken Elliott, and he’d cried. She’d held him for the rest of the day, and James had given her such a look when he came home and realized that not only had she not dressed or showered or swept the floor, she hadn’t even eaten.
She was fine. Everyone had told her that the first few weeks were hard. She just had to hang in there and it would get better. She didn’t spend much time thinking about the future, though, because probably at some point someone would get her to leave the house, and James would probably want to have a more serious conversation, and maybe even have sex. Sex made her whole body want to shrivel up in revulsion. Sex made babies and babies made hell, and now her body wasn’t her own anymore, even though it didn’t even work properly.
Alana hadn’t even realized she was crying, and that Elliott was crying. She didn’t remember picking him up. She looked down at him in her arms, squirming and flailing and rooting around, still trying to latch even though it wouldn’t do any good, even without a shirt in the way. She could feel her panic mounting as she dashed into the kitchen to mix a bottle. It took so long, and he was already so upset, that it was going to be another disaster feeding, with him throwing up and wasting all that liquid money.
Someone knocked, and she startled so violently she nearly dropped Elliott. She curled up on the floor, shushing him and praying the person would go away. They knocked again, and she whimpered, rocking back and forth over Elliott’s body, both of them crying.
She had an awful moment of clarity, her first in two months. Who was she? What had happened to make her so afraid? Slowly she became aware that her brain was trying to steer her down a terrible, awful path. She shuddered. How could she have come to this place? How did she get so far from the person she imagined herself to be?
The person at the door was gone. Elliott was screaming, his little face red and furious, his little fists flailing. She lurched to her feet and stumbled into the kitchen. She remembered that James had brought home premixed formula, and she’d had yelled at him for spending the extra money. But right now, relief flooded her. She grabbed a tiny bottle out of the fridge and screwed a nipple onto it, then jammed it in Elliott’s mouth. They both went limp as the screaming stopped and was replaced with frantic sucking.
She carried him over to the couch and sat down. She pulled out her phone and dialled James. No answer. She hung up and took a deep breath, looking down at Elliott, gulping his bottle so hard that it would undoubtedly all come right back up again. Her eyes welled up again; he deserved so much better than a mother who was falling apart. She dialled another number. It rang four times, five times, six times. She was about to hang up in despair when the line connected and she heard her mother’s breathless “Hello?”
“Mom?” she whispered, feeling the tears charging back. “Mommy? I’m not okay. I – I need you.”