For Diane Gilman
And so it comes to pass that there is a woman whose baby refuses to be born. The expected due date comes and goes, and still the baby does not emerge.
The doctors want to induce, but the woman insists that the child should be allowed to come in its own time.
A month goes by. Then two. The baby continues to grow. Its skull hardens. The doctors warn her that they’ll have to cut the baby out now.
But she won’t allow them to force it. “My child isn’t ready,” she says.
Her husband begs her to let the doctors help.
The woman crosses her arms over her swollen belly.
“Don’t you want your body back?” they ask.
“Of course,” she says. “But the child must come in its own time.”
The doctor and her husband exchange looks. She pretends not to notice.
That night, while her husband is asleep, she packs a bag and runs away. She drives to a cabin in the woods, miles away from anyone else.
Over the next few weeks her belly continues to stretch, her spine to elongate. She talks to her baby. Calls him Henry, though she’s not sure it’s a boy. Her organs rearrange themselves to avoid being crushed.
Contrary to expectation, her uterus does not burst; it continues to stretch with the unborn child.
Then one day the child stops growing. It has exhausted the limits of its mother’s body, and there is nowhere left for it to grow to.
But the child is so heavy now she can barely move. To stay alive, she drinks her own breast milk. She can feel her child’s foot hanging down inside her vaginal canal. Its fingers explore her ribs and spine in the night. When she cannot sleep, she stares down at her belly, at the imprint of her child’s face in her flesh. When she sleeps, she has nightmares about her baby clawing its way out of her body. Splitting her in two.
She doesn’t know how much longer this can go on. Tries to coax her baby out by describing all the wonderful things she sees and feels. The sunshine. The warm spring breeze. Bright flowers erupted from black earth. A trembling fawn. From memory, the taste of a mango.
But the child is in no hurry to face the unknown. It has everything it needs: food, oxygen, hydration. A place to rest its head and a mother’s unconditional love.
The woman lives for many years like this.
An earlier draft of this story first appeared in Ugly Babies, Vol. 2 (Jan. 2014, Ed. James Kirk Ward)