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
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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