In labor with my second son (my first labor without an epidural) I lost all modesty for the first time since my girlhood and went to a place I never knew existed. The pain of the contractions eclipsed everything around me, erased my sense of relatedness, and stranded me in a space of complete I. At the same time, my physical body became a process rather than subject and was not then subject to the rules of feminine propriety or vanity. I was an I without self-consciousness, perspective, language.
For months afterwards I was agitated and disturbed by the experience I felt changed (not only by the monumental arrival of my second child) and yet unable to articulate the exact nature of this change. One day I tried to make sense of the journal entries I wrote in the days and weeks after the labor and ended up with an eight page poem, The Woman in Street Clothes. As the months went by I returned to the poem editing where the writing seemed weak or careless. I ended up with Either all I or None No Matter Is, Is which felt finished. But it bothered me that in the finished poem I had lost so much of the confusion, the frightening shifts of consciousness, the out-of-controlness of the experience. Also lacking was the insatiable desire of a new mother to tell her birthing story which begins almost before the afterbirth is delivered. The poem was at once too clean and too legible. So I went back again to the big mess to exhume a truer version of myself in labor. But by then my son was 10 months old, and I had told and dreamed the story of his birth hundreds of times and long ago fallen in love with him. The attempt to make a narrative out of experience that is stripped of narrative, context, point of view is critical to the process of healing, because it is too frightening to remain in that location of perfect I. Perhaps there is no true version, no adequate representation of such an experience, no right dose of narrative. Still that moment of utter I exists unchanged though buried within me a wound or fissure that compels me toward another telling.
Final note: In Here Happy is No Part of Love I refer to a concept in Jewish mysticism called Tsimsum which attempts to solve the paradox of how God can be everywhere and at the same time have space to create the world. The idea is that creation is made possible when God contracts. I remember thinking, between contractions, about Tsimsum, how in the rendering or rending of human life the self blinks, shudders, for an instant is crushed to almost nothing.
wants to but peels each sanity
And though fear a pure thing is not acceptance.
I swear I say I have no hold myself captive
but would not move.
her hand strongly on the side rail.
presses into [template]
the want to wish to
Now this second son I never dreamed fills something unasked
and I want
and to ask if I am happy is
she is not (in the end) denatured (but begins to)
Someone shouting, (a woman) she
go through circle of fire
I oh no what is that I collect and try I
Organic: I cannot move.
A woman, some screaming they say less screaming breathe! they say she wants to say
but who? and how to with all this screaming
my body opens-in one cannot witness is
At some point I started begging.
Each time in that place thinking I must tell them thinking the difference between saying and thinking is they cant hear me, and would say, I cant do this then would sink again drowning again desperate.
Decisions were made in both places drowning and living and a woman sent out for Demerol. It was long and I went back and back and back to the place I swore I could not go. Before I knew I was there again. It came to me, became me.
And here she was fiddling and fixing the I.V. bitter, chiding, Id used my strength to say enough! We hear you they said, were helping. And a woman was sent for Demerol (it had been fluid). Oh I was faché and told them, told them off but the place came to me and I could say nothing.
No position, no angle, way to manage.
then: the syringe
In snapshots as if a disco ball or strobe light here is the syringe and I.V. suddenly tired snap-shot: hope, rest, I want to... but
betrayal was not a word or thought had no words snapshot: [I will die]
And everywhere an explosion I am inside myself which is molten clear view: there is no help shade overpass. Monumental desert. This I will and die though fear a pure thing is not acceptance.
they said circle of fire so many times it seemed stupid I had no choice but burn and burn and then something ungodly what was that?
someone said, I see it
An explosion that would not move.
No space between from creasepleatwhimper.
Circle of fire, they say.
Something the room shifting -
...get the doctor.
[ ] is faster than I can recount what I saw was strobe again blinking series of frames in their faces and bodies a sudden new weather in the room people moving, pressing a monitor to my side and a woman rushing in in street clothes everyone else in scrubs the room moving alive around me as though they have forgotten I am here dying and no one saying push it is over I think I am finally dying I think...
(get Dr. Mondoni )
and I know this is not the circle of fire.
And the woman: get Dr. Mondoni! someone pushing in a baby warmer I think my husband says the head I must push I must I hear a hot sound inside the body, a moment liquid/vapor Stop Screaming someone says and I realize for the first time I am screaming not pushing I try to scream thinking push I try to push thinking no screaming
you must she says
and the baby slides
The truth is I did not want this baby though beautiful it almost kills me and bleeding waiting I am not safe even my bedroom ipso facto the post partum a nest like a bird with only plastic or glass slivers to build with makes one sit gingerly alive Im not safe here there was I know technology for this for even a woman with one young child married and wealthy who wanted more but not so soon but how can we have everything I thought its not my place to make this absolute fuck you to whomever sperm egg zygote (God?) I can handle this but cannot, barely not, rock/rock and cover my breasts on fire with chilled cabbage leaves these monstrous bosom-rocks with carelessly cut-out holes for these huge bruise-colored nipples...
is not a metaphor for is
My face, survived.
Is he OK? I said a hundred times is he? where is he? why is he? yes, they said he is. He is. They just want to he is, they said. Beautiful, they said. Big! they said. Your husband weeping.
The face of course it is not yours, perhaps the Demerol, but that moment and even after when your husband said whats his name? and only my own name came to mind.
Yourself divided, severed, everyone smiling.
5am, snow, a low mustard light.
dying is better than this I must but someone says in your voice that no one hears
Birthing is no metaphor?
Lest the suckler hunger. Least.
bones under the bedclothes suffer. I every day age three and dont recall
but there is that sharp taste again like the smell of by-products, a released consequence
The smell, the mess, the literal place, on all fours like an animal you remember nothing.
And am I now one with other women? hardly except perhaps my shattered
everything in and out of the room see a body splayed and naked giving up and you?
Im sorry but there is no new place for anyone to touch me.
Bio: Rachel Zucker is the author of Eating in the Underworld, a collection of poems forthcoming from Wesleyan University Press. Her poems have appeared in various journals including APR, Barrow Street, Colorado Review, Fence and Volt as well as in the anthology Best American Poetry 2001. She lives in New York City with her husband and two sons where she edits Boomerang! A Contributors Journal. Either All I or None No Matter Is, Is also appears in Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing and is dedicated to Lynn Chapman, midwife extraordinaire.