The Perfect Mother

The Perfect Mother

Aimee Molloy


Mother’s Day

May 14


I wake, feverish. The skylight above me pulses with rain, and I spider my fingers across the sheets, remembering I’m alone. I close my eyes and find my way back to sleep, until I’m woken again, engulfed by a deep, sudden pain. I’ve been waking with a sick feeling every morning since he left, but I know right away this is different.

Something’s wrong.

It hurts to walk, and I crawl from the bed, across the floor, which is gritty with sand and dust. I find my phone in the living room but I don’t know who to call. He’s the only one I want to speak to. I need to tell him what’s happening and hear him say that everything will be fine. I need to remind him, just one more time, how much I love him.

But he won’t answer. Or worse, he will, and he’ll seethe into the phone, telling me he won’t continue to put up with this, warning me that if I ever call him again, he’ll—

The pain grips my back so hard I can’t breathe. I wait for it to pass, for the moment of reprieve I’ve been promised, but it doesn’t come. This isn’t what the books said would happen, nothing like what the doctor told me to expect. They said it’ll be gradual. That I’ll know what to do. I’ll time things. I’ll sit on the stoop-sale yoga ball I bought. I’ll stay home as long as possible, to avoid the machines, the drugs, all the things they do at the hospital to make a baby come before a body is ready.

I’m not ready. It’s two weeks before my due date, and I’m not ready.

I focus on the phone. It’s not his number I dial, but hers, the doula—a pierced woman named Albany I’ve met just twice.

I’m attending to a birth and cannot take your call. If you are—

I crawl with my laptop to the bathroom and sit on the chilly tiles, a damp washcloth on my neck, the slim computer resting on the bulging outline of my son. I open my e-mail and begin a new message to them, the May Mothers.

I’m wondering if this is normal. My hands tremble as I type. I feel nauseous. The pain is intense. It’s happening too quickly.

They won’t respond. They’re out to dinner, eating something spicy to hasten their own labor, stealing sips from their husbands’ beer, enjoying a quiet evening together, something experienced mothers have warned us never to expect again. They won’t see my e-mail until morning.

My e-mail chimes right away. Sweet Francie. It’s starting! she writes. Time the contractions and have your husband keep steady pressure on your lower back.

How’s it going? Nell writes. Twenty minutes have passed. Still feeling it?

I’m on my side. I have trouble typing. Yes.

The room goes black, and when the light comes—ten minutes later, an hour later, I have no idea—I feel a gray ache blooming from a bump on my forehead. I crawl back to the living room, hearing a noise, an animal howling, before I realize the sound is coming from me. Joshua.

I make it to the couch and rest my back against the cushions. I reach down between my legs. Blood.

I pull a thin rain jacket over my nightgown. Somehow, I make my way down the stairs.

Why haven’t I packed the bag? The May Mothers have all written so much about what to pack in the bag, and yet mine is still in the bedroom closet, empty. No iPod with relaxing music inside, no coconut water, no peppermint oil for the nausea. Not even one printed copy of my birth plan. I cradle my stomach under a misty streetlight until the car service arrives and I climb into the clammy back seat, trying not to notice the troubled look on the driver’s face.

I forgot the going-home outfit I bought for the baby.

At the hospital, someone directs me to the sixth floor, where I’m told to wait in the triage room. “Please,” I finally say to the woman behind the desk. “I feel very cold and dizzy. Can you call my doctor?”

It’s not my doctor’s night. It’s another woman from the practice, one I’ve never met. I’m overcome with fear as I take a seat, where I begin to leak liquid that smells like earth, like the backyard mud my mother and I used to comb for worms when I was six, onto the green plastic chair.

I go into the hallway, determined to keep moving, to stay upright, picturing his face when I told him. He was angry, insisting I’d tricked him. Demanding I get rid of the baby. This will ruin everything, he said. My marriage. My reputation. You can’t do this to me.

I won’t let you.

I didn’t tell him I’d already seen the blinking green light of the heartbeat, that I’d heard the rhythm, a quickly spinning jump rope, emanating from the speakers in the ceiling. I didn’t tell him I’ve never wanted anything as much as I want this baby.

Sturdy wrists lift me from the floor. Grace. That’s what it says on her name tag. Grace leads me to a room, her hands around my waist, and tells me to lie down on the bed. I fight. I don’t want to lie on the bed. I want to know the baby is all right. I want the pain to subside.

“I want the epidural,” I say.

“I’m sorry,” says Grace. “It’s too late.”

I seize her hands, roughed by too much soap and hospital water. “No, please. Too late?”

“For the epidural.” I think I hear footsteps in the hallway, rushing toward my room.

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