"Daughter" by Heather Knowles
Pregnancies usually come with an absence of bleeding, but mine always did the opposite. And the doctor would give me a shot to prevent my losing the baby, and then I’d lose the baby anyway. The second time, it was really bad because we didn’t know the baby was dead, and when I got a flu so awful it sent me to the emergency room, they figured out I’d had a — what did they call it? — a septic abortion, I think, but that doesn’t sound right. I didn’t abort anything that time. I went to the doctor for help and he gave me that shot and then I had a dead baby inside me and they had to fix my toxic blood and the dead baby couldn’t stay in there even though babies are supposed to stay in until they’re ready to come out.
So the third time, I didn’t go to the doctor; I let the bleeding come and I hoped for the best and sure enough, my belly kept growing and after a while I could feel the baby moving, kicking, living, and I thought maybe . . . maybe this time the baby will stay in there long enough to come out alive at the end and maybe my swollen breasts will feed it and maybe I’ll give it a name and hold it and raise it and it will be a he or a she, not an it like the others. Maybe he or she will be that bundle of joy I was promised years ago by the midwife, who didn’t know it was my father’s sin she was helping me get rid of, who thought I was just another incautious teenage girl who had let a beau coax her too far. Maybe she will be a little girl and I will dress her up like the doll I used to adore and she will live and her father will love her but never in that wrong way.
I thought all of that, and my husband and I planned and saved and got ready as best we could for new costs and less money coming in when I’d have to stop working, and I tried, honestly, I tried so hard to be happy and think good thoughts and expect the best like they told me to do, but when she came — when she arrived I saw her hair like clear filament it was so blonde and her eyes like liquid turquoise they were so blue and I had never dreamed she would be so beautiful. How could I possibly protect her?
I thought, not in that way, please, please, let him love her but not in that way, and my breasts fed her and I held her and we named her and I tried to see everything as wonderful but when I got home there was dog shit everywhere, I swear I couldn’t see anything but the piles of dog mess in the yard and I started to think I was seeing them in the house too and he started to look at me funny and offer to hold her for me and I wanted to let him I was so tired from no sleep, no sleep, because how could anyone sleep with dog shit everywhere? But he didn’t seem to see it and he wanted to hold her though she was my doll and I worried what he would do to her because he looked sometimes like my father and other times like that doctor who would give the shot, the one that made the babies die instead of live so, no, I wouldn’t let him; no, I wouldn’t let him take her from me.
Somehow, now, there are doctors all around and there is no dog mess, only hallways and beds and hushed conversations and sometimes shouts; sometimes I hear a baby crying but this is not where babies are born. . . . Everyone speaks in long strings of big words but they never say anything I need to know or explain what the pills are for. They bring her to me for feedings and my bursting breasts are grateful and I’m visited by someone who changes from husband to father to doctor and I wait for things to make sense again because who’s to say who’s crazy and who’s sane?
They watch carefully when they bring her to me. Her fussing always quiets instantly when she’s in my arms, my little doll with flaxen hair and liquid eyes, and I wonder what they’re nervous about because even here where I don’t understand anything, I know my daughter is not afraid of me.
Heather Knowles is an Arizona native who has spent the past four years transitioning from noncreative work at various universities to a full-time pursuit of writing and visual art. Most of her writing is reflective and memoir-based, but occasionally a fiction impulse takes over.
Headshot: Heather Knowles
Photo Credit: Staff