Baby Alive

an essay by Dana Verdino

I got my first baby when I was nine years old. I named her Sara. I coddled her and I slept with her until my cousin threw her down the stairs and her head popped off. I was so mortified over my baby and its dangling head; I gave up on being a mother and buried Sara, now Baby Dead, next to our brook in the woods. It wasn’t until I met my husband and got married that I started to think about babies again. Babies that are really alive.

I dream that it comes out with a full head of brown hair and my husband calls everyone to tell them the news. I dream about dirty diapers and their rancid smells, the toys strewn about the house, and us around the kitchen table, a little life in a high chair slurping spaghetti. Then I wake up and go to work as a first grade teacher. I laugh with my children. I read them stories. I hold their hands. I wipe their noses.

Four months after our honeymoon I was pregnant.  I ran around the house waving a stick with two red lines. My husband and I, oblivious to the three-month rule, started talking about baby names and over the next few weeks, purchased miscellaneous baby books and told everyone about the baby-to-be. Big mistake. When we went in for my ultrasound, the doctor discovered “it” had stopped growing. He said it happens and there’s nothing I could have done to prevent it. I cried for myself and for my husband and for a tiny bean in my uterus that wasn’t entirely alive.  I cried for what we wanted “it” to become—a real, live, tangible, viable, growing, knowing baby. I cried for lost plans and lost diapers and lost spaghetti on a high chair.

Over the next two years there would be three more. Three more stories that I’d never finish; three more toilet burials. Four altogether. A total of eight months worth of thinking and planning, of imagining our next Christmas card, of browsing through the racks at maternity stores and Baby Gap. And a total of thirteen months in between, these months full of arguing, crying, seeking therapy, charting temperatures, tracking ovulation, and taking Prozac just to get through another month and another mourning.

The truth is, I was embarrassed. Every baby that was built inside me was defective. Not quite a woman, I was a baby-eating monster. Don’t touch me or you might catch it. It was humiliating. I’d lie down on the table, the nurse would slide a big xray wand into me, and we’d look up at the screen at a splattered mass of cells while the wall behind her boasted a collage of healthy looking fetuses. The nurse would say something like “I knew this woman and yadda yadda and then she was fine and now she has three children.” Then I’d go back to work, walk into my boss’s office with my eyes astray, and ask her for more time off.

Now I’m pregnant again and I can’t think straight, only in a snafu of red. There is the sangria red in my underwear, the fire engine red graffiti on the toilet paper, the dusty specs of terra cotta red floating in the toilet under me. There is all the red before too. The lava red on saturated pads, the crimson red on xray wands in nurse’s hands, the clumps of burgundy red careening toward the shower drain. And after, there are the scarlet red vessels in my eyes as I hover over the sink, rinsing my apple red fingertips and scraping the rusty red from my nails.

My mother tells me to have faith. “Do not give up on this one and do not give up on God.” But I don’t know how to have faith when I’m accustomed to the doctors telling me all that’s left inside is a splattered mass of cells.

My father tells me I have a cross to bear but that I’m lucky. One Sunday, over linguine and meatballs, he said, “God loves you so much for he has chosen you to carry this burden and for you to have this special relationship with him. Many are not given such a gift.”

“I rather think God is a bitch and Jesus is a son of a bitch, and they need to knock it off already.”

He cocked his head. “There is for you no knocking off but knocking on. Answer the door!”

During the night I feel twinges in my abdomen, as if a miniature tuba is blowing notes into me, in a happy celebration. But I don’t know—Is my uterus expanding, or shedding? Is it a celebration or a funeral procession? I lie awake and strategize how I will get over this one because I’m sure it will happen again so I must be prepared. I’ll stock my purse with winged pads and have lots of wine when I get home. I can learn some new chicken recipes and buy a new top. I’ll up my dose of Prozac. And then my hormones spasm or else I’m just plain confused, and as quickly as I feel doomed, I feel hopeful. And when I’m hopeful, I’m glad to feel the tuba blowing notes into my pelvis. I’m back to dreaming and planning for the celebration, even after so many funerals.

Dana Verdino is a college writing coach and mother of two. She lives in South Carolina, in a blue house that her husband painted. Her work has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Living With Loss Magazine, Fiction at Work, All Things Girl, and other online and print magazines. She is also still working on a novel.


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