Deirdre Maultsaid

When I was pregnant, I could have eaten a dozen eggs at once, if someone had indulged my greed, and still been hungry for cave woman food: bear fat, mammoth steaks, clay, great handfuls of loamy black dirt. That hunger is an impenetrable mystery women share. Also, too, is the sickness, the nausea that comes from the boiling, beating potency growing within us, the power that thrusts burnt coppery fumes through our throats, the force that demands so much that we can hardly stand from exhaustion.

Despite all of our scientific knowledge about reproduction, the creation of life remains a mystery. The will to reproduce is certainly great. When I've watched salmon spawning - the churning of the bright orange fish as they throw themselves upstream - they've seemed pathetically single-minded. As they float back down the river, they are already losing their proud pink coloring. The greying of their scales signifies the sacrifice demanded by reproduction. The salmon are willing to give themselves up in order to reproduce.

We don't have a way to talk about our resentment towards the heavy requirements of reproduction, which strip us of our proud tangerine coloring. We fear that we will be washed back down the river like salmon who spawn, dull, gray, wasted, rotting.

We don't have a satisfactory language to explain the irrepressible urge to conceive. Think of the way women can't find words vivid enough to describe the great pain of childbirth. Consider how we forget that pain long enough to deliberately become pregnant again. Rather than the patronizing legend that says women crave pickles and ice cream, the primitive hunger really is an unquenchable compulsion the truth of which women cannot name.

In reproduction, so much is unknowable and indescribable: our real reasons for conceiving, the true names of our emotions. There is no question but that people want to make families of their own. In poorer nations, children are a form of wealth. The more offspring a family has, the greater the chance that some will survive malnutrition and disease and make it to adulthood to become extra farm hands or wage earners. In richer nations, families have fewer children. Nevertheless, infertile couples will spend their life savings on all sorts of methods in order to conceive their own biological offspring. Why? The answer must be our desire to see ourselves recreated, immortalized in the delightful, familiar shapes of our children's faces.

We have no merciful public language to account for all those women alone in bathrooms who cry over their pregnancies, who cry for the ruin that will now come of their lives. There is a patronizing legend that says women use abortions unthinkingly, cavalierly, as a form of birth control. In our private mother tongue, we can say we understand the anguish. We can comprehend how some women would risk a coat hanger, or a secret day trip to an urban center, or ignorant judgments, rather than make the sacrifice of birth.

I didn't cry, in my bathroom, when I took the home pregnancy test. But, as I first sat down, I felt a strange, breathless, enchanted dread. How valiant was the black and white pattern of the floor tiles. Thank goodness they were holding me up! Only women know that we end up urinating on our own fingers trying to catch the "midstream" flow. It is a surprising secret that the blue line of the test rises so rapidly and so poignantly. As the blue line holds steady, we suddenly recognize the churning gush of sweet laughter and the private fear we harbor as if we already know that these feminine feelings, however indescribable, however mysterious, will come to us, too, in this intimate place.

The day I found out I was pregnant, I fell into sinkhole of self-doubt. No matter how hot my resentment or how profound my fear, I would have to be willing to be torn asunder to bring forth new life. I wasn't afraid of late-night feedings or the price of college tuition. I was thinking about stillborn babies, and about all the women, through all the centuries, who have died in childbirth. I was thinking of the sacrifice that would be required of me, of the great effort of hurling myself up the river only to have the face, the face that would have immortalized me, gray, gone, floating away.

In my bathroom, looking directly into the mystery of reproduction, I had a moment of true and necessary solitude. It didn't matter that I had taken an accurate reading and that I had tossed the soiled wand into the garbage where it fell under some tissues and couldn't testify for itself anymore. On that day, I had to grapple with my own soul. When I did, some collective wisdom came upon me and reassured me that I could depend on unused sources of strength and stamina when the time came. These doubts and these new strengths are what we women talk about in our own mother tongue. I knew what sacrifice was being asked of me and me alone. I knew that I had to go up that river. However terrifying, however demanding, however unforgivable my own servile willingness, I was spawning. I wouldn't be stopped.

© Deirdre Maultsaid

Deirdre Maultsaid is a Canadian writer who was been published in print in Other Voices and Zygote (Canada), and on the Internet at The Barcelona Review (Spain), The Southern Cross Review (Argentina), The Danforth Review (Canada), and others. She is writing a book of creative essays and revising her novel, The Cold Ashes of Her Shelter. She is an editorial assistant at The Barcelona Review, an electronic literary magazine listed in Writer's Digest "Top 50 Markets." A different version of "Spawning" was published in the Special Women's Issue of the electronic magazine, Conspire.

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