We have, somehow, stumbling half-blind through the sleeplessness and the viruses and the heart-torque of fierce love muddled with fearful uncertainty, got here. We have got through twelve months, almost, and so it is time to draw the line that marks the end of your first year, our first year together. It is an arbitrary line, of course – suddenly we re-name your age by years instead of months, we’re told you can drink milk from a cup, and the dosage of painkillers you can have doubles overnight. Really you are on the faltering continuum of childhood development—trending upwards, forwards, but never consistently, some weeks feeling interminably familiar, others racing by and leaving a completely new creature in their wake. But draw the line we must, to add reason to the unreasonable, and provide the end of one life-stage and start of another— which gives me that unique parenting cocktail of feelings: sweet relief, nostalgic grief.
We started, you and I, with a line, a seam, raw, red, freshly cut as the blunt end of a felled flower, and just as fragile, agape in shock. It was a relief for that line to be drawn; I was no longer pregnant, but a mother, again, in a high-ceilinged, white-walled room, aggressively air-conditioned as the hottest day of the year burned outside, so that it felt for all the world like being inside my fridge’s salad drawer. You slept on my chest, the lowest part of me with feeling, and you were as peaceful and improbably undisturbed as a cat curled on the corner of a city street, the lines of your closed eyes perfect parentheses, tilted slightly inwards, so they flicked up at the sides and sent your lashes fanning down like wings.
You had gone so easily from one world to the next, in the end, when they cut that line to haul you out, whilst my body shivered through to its depths in stunned shock at its new state, the work it would now have to do, repairing that line.
They said to take the dressing off the day after I got home, and I couldn’t look – partly because I couldn’t see, pregnant flesh still obscuring my view, but I stood in the shower, and made the dressing warm and wet, and pushed at the corners, like when I try to nudge your sisters’ stickers off the furniture, and eventually it puckered and loosened. But I was terrified, because the line would be now be my responsibility. They’d taken out the things that made the pain disperse, left me with drugs to take – one of these, two of those, every four hours, and I had to put reminders on my phone because time was a syrupy nothingness at that point. The line was out, uncovered, and it felt like I had been cut in half and my support pants were the only thing holding me together.
My line became my tally of time passing, my measure for how far we’d got. It changed weekly, from sickening red to a sturdier brown, and then a reassuringly inert black. It was no longer on fire, with pain, or potential imminent collapse, but still I would peek at it each day, pulling up my flesh to see it in the mirror. You, meanwhile, passed through time with the same lack of concern for its demarcations that you showed upon your entry into the world – late, asleep, unfussed. I obsessed over your new body as I did my own, but I found nothing so ghoulish as my line, only a thousand folds of flesh, perfectly rolled as fresh hotel towels. You were growing gracefully – perfectly, inevitably and unknowingly – whilst I fretted over 5 inches of my own abdomen.
My growth away from the moment we met, away from that operating theatre, felt so clumsy next to yours. My body was also a foreign land, more alien even than after the first time. My stomach was traversed by huge mountain ranges of calcifying muscle, and I thought of those geography diagrams of plates of rock pushing against each other, and creating great ridges in their discordance. That’s what happened to me, two slabs of muscle were set adrift, temporarily, from their proper places, then glued back together, but in a way that could never be as perfect as their original form, and so their edges pushed at one another, tussled for space, leaving strange new landscapes where they settled.
Whilst I was worrying so hard about piecing myself together again, you morphed into another being without my noticing, a cat slipping slyly through an open door. Suddenly, it seemed, your legs untucked themselves from under your body, like an aeroplane preparing to land, and those plumply bundled thighs and calfs span out into a finer thread, like dough into spaghetti. You became an upright baby. I felt conned, and checked my phone’s camera roll to work out how we had got here, to this stage, and how I told myself I wouldn’t miss how the transformation happened this time, but I did. I was the most fanatical student of you and your body and all you did, and still I was taken by surprise. We exist in different time zones, you and I – not different countries but different planets – one mother-year is a thousand baby-years: you’ve transformed yourself entirely in the time it’s taken that line of mine to move through three colors.
There is a fourth color now; now, twelve months out, my line is calmer, almost serene – the pearlescent mauve of a shell still bright from the sea. Its mountain ranges have eroded down to undulating hills, and my muscles have found a way to function. It is a scar now, barely hinting at the violence of its beginnings, like the childhood playground scrapes mottling my knee. It is a marker only of something that once happened to me.
Harriet Bailiss – My love of writing was brought into sharp focus by becoming a mother——writing has helped me to make sense of motherhood, and motherhood has made me determined to write whenever I have a spare thumb to jot notes on my phone. I live with my husband and two daughters in London, UK, where I’ve had pieces published in online blogs and in print anthologies from the BBC and the Mum Poem Press.