A Splitting Open by Alaina Scarano
It’s what new parents call the witching hour, what people without kids call happy hour. I am standing under nearly scalding water, letting it pound against my back and drip down my body, face buried in hands starting to prune. I will stay in here as long as I can, turning the water temperature up until I can feel my skin turning red. Until it almost hurts. My midwife told me to do it like this, the hot water on my back, to get my milk flowing. I take my time, staring at the mildew blooming in the grout between pale yellow subway tiles. Outside the closed door my son is screaming. I wait until I can't take the burning, my son's cries, and my husband is yelling from downstairs, asking when I'll be done because the baby needs to eat, before I turn the shower off.
All hours of the day I am pulled at, needed, called for. I want to say no, enough, but I can't. When I was pregnant, thoughts would dart through my mind like I can't wait to get my body back. Not to any sort of shape someone thinks it should be in, but to have sole possession of the only thing one truly has possession of. To slip a piece of raw fish though my lips, sip a luscious glass of wine, not have my stomach churn at the sign of food I once ate and enjoyed.
When night comes and I climb into bed next to my husband I turn my back to him and hide my body under blankets. I can't stand one more person reaching for me, making demands of my body. If he touches me I will scream, I think. I give him the best I can, which is nothing at all. A whispered goodnight and the unspoken promise that I'll still be here in the morning and when he returns from work each evening.
In the middle of the night when I rock my son, hold him upright for half an hour after each feeding like his pediatrician said, I whisper prayers to no one in the dark. When will I feel like myself again. When will I return. The days are eatsleepburpchange. They are crying alone in the nursery, waiting. For someone to come home. For relief. For help for someone to notice something besides my body for my body to be mine to be used the way I want to use it for it to belong to me.
It's four months before I'm able to stretch and bend myself across a yoga mat. We're on a trip to California, all fish tacos and margaritas and palm trees and sunshine and my son screaming through teething pains each night while we stay at my in-laws. The yoga teacher has known my husband for years and she instructs me to lay flat on my mat, close my eyes. With two fingers on each hand, she gently pushes on my abdomen, then leans so close to me I smell the green tea on her breath and whispers without disturbing savasana. Your abdominal muscles have separated from pregnancy. She takes my hand, unfolds my middle and index finger, and gently plunges them into the space above my belly button, where I feel nothing where there should be something. A gap, a break.
I look this up later, diastasis recti. The splitting in half of the abdominal muscle wall, common during pregnancy, when the body expands to accommodate another body. This is not surprising to me. Birth was a splitting open, my body literally tearing.
Right now I am woman/mother/lover/hand pie waiting to be torn apart, have someone taste my warm and sweet inside. I have not yet figured out how to be all these things at once and instead I feel nothing. I'm sitting on the living room floor clapping my hands along to Elmo and wondering when I will feel alive. When I will feel a spark.
Six weeks, my midwife had said, as if in six weeks I would be more than a body used for other people's needs, but it's been six months and I feel extinguished. Whatever flame I once had is gone and I wonder when it will come back, when I will feel a glimmer of warmth. Like I would feel when I would see him looking at me, noticing me when I slide my jeans down past my hips and kick them across the bedroom floor.
And then it's nine months in and we're at our favorite place, the one that's saved for special nights. There's a babysitter at home and candles lit across the bar where we're sitting and I have on my black dress that makes me feel like a ballerina, that squeezes over my widened hips and cuts low across my breasts. He's sipping a martini and asking do you want to share the tomatoes with vanilla oil and I'm looking at his lips, I'm already tasting vanilla and brine and salt and his skin. Now I remember what it's like for him to touch me, and my taste buds are coming alive and I can feel my pulse quicken and my breath turn shallow and I'm remembering what it feels like to be devoured whole, to be ripped open in a way I want to be. I'm hungry I'm starving I'm placing my hand on his and whispering let's get out of here like it's a black and white movie. and he's shoving a wad of cash in the babysitter’s hand. I'm feeling my way up the stairs and we don't even make it to our bedroom, I'm up against the red wallpaper in the hallway, then on the hardwood floor, his body pushing against mine, and I'm waiting for him to flip me over, to make me his, to yell so loudly I wake the baby.
Alaina Scarano is an emerging writer from Denver, Colorado. She received her B.A. from the University of Colorado. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in The Watershed Review, Litro, and was featured in the anthology Finding Light in Unexpected Places from Palamedes Press.