By Rhea Wolf
Forgotten already. Absorbed in the mystery.
Into the egg, I come. A mother,
Another one for the
turning, another one for the
wheel, under the ground,
burning waiting resurrecting
falling, singing the long high note and
descending Oh Phoenix oh fire walkers
now I am red and hot inside with
a fractured other,
and a fantastic losing mind.
Thinking those men
think it means enlightenment
but they are still free.
Making big scribbles and smoking sacred cigarettes
losing their minds to art and science,
while they are still free.
And my petals don’t fold out anymore.
Now I’m lost for sure. Who’s mama?
what do I make? a human body out
of a human body
Now it comes
the surrender so I will have to be whole
or alone. Now I will be nothing
or 2 for 1 now I’m a special deal
in the weekly shopper
turning pages turning time.
Hello? Hello out there?
This egg, she’s mine. Don’t look at her.
Don’t talk to her. Leave her alone to be
alive and not yet touched by madness
just the one swimming in her mother’s head
breaking waters screaming drowning
she can be a holy spirit still
as long as she’s inside and no one
talks to her like an object.
You throughout History unburdened,
leaving wet coats and responsibilities at the door,
please pour the water and paint out over
the ledge and leave us to be sovereign
leave us to be holy,
without words or judgments
about me and what my family is.
“There’s a hole, a space, something – they’re not sure what it is. It’s in the baby’s brain.”
All at once, I was a madwoman in the void – right on the edge of breaking. Right on the edge and looking over into oblivion. Numb inside, rocking slightly the way crazy people do in movies. But this wasn’t a movie.
The voice of my midwife still echoed in my head, in the baby’s brain. In a split second, I was back to twelve years ago. I was sitting in the driver’s seat inside my 76 Buick, outside the office of a doctor who will tell me I’m pregnant. But in the moment, I didn’t know, not for sure. I was only suspicious that I might be.
I turned off the ignition finally with a great breath, numb and yet knowing the pain to come. The engine sputtered down while the Smashing Pumpkins tape continued to play, with that guy – who’s his name, yeah Billy Corgan – singing a song: bang bang you’re dead hole in your head bang bang you’re dead hole in your head.
I knew the song was about me in that moment. I knew what the doctor would say. And I knew I would not give birth that baby. That baby who chose a couple of fucked up kids to come to. That baby, whom I loved too, would not be born into that house of violence and selfishness. Bang bang. I felt dead, even as I felt certain about my decision.
My mind snapped back, still on the phone with my midwife Beth telling me they aren’t sure what it was, a hole, a space in the baby’s brain. The Naturopath recommended further pictures with someone else’s more powerful machine, a hospital. She could let me know where to call, if we decided to go that route.
“But let me tell you, Marilyn and I think your baby is healthy,” Beth reassured me.
I was not so sure. I was not sure of anything except that I wanted Gradey, my partner, to be there with me. He was at work while I was taking in this news on the phone, hearing this song from a dream, from a memory hole in your head hole in your head. In my baby’s brain. Please, no not this.
I got off the phone, and the dam broke. I started to cry. This was what it had come to. Maybe it was what pregnancy was all about – my worst fears stared at me in the face: that the baby would be developmentally disabled, that our child would be brain damaged. And that somehow it would be my fault.
Early on in the pregnancy, I had admitted to Gradey this stubborn, turbulent belief that, in a great sword cut of karmic retribution, this baby would leave and choose not to be born. Why? Because I wanted this baby. Even for a witch, the old dichotomy of Right and Wrong butted its head in and screwed with my sense of fairness.
Getting an ultrasound was not something we had planned to do. But I was so freaked out – unmedicated with deep depression and anxiety running high – that Gradey and the midwives thought it would be a good way to allay my fears. I would see what they knew, that everything was fine.
When we were in the Naturopath’s office, a cold wand pressed against the gooey gel and my enormous belly, looking at the most beautiful baby in the world on a fuzzy gray screen, I noticed when he got quiet. I knew he was looking at my baby’s brain. I knew that he was seeing something – or the lack of something.
We were at our pre-natal visit the next week, and the midwives said he had seen something but wasn’t sure. He was checking on it with another, I don’t know, sonogram reader. They didn’t have any more information, what the something was, where the something was. But I knew. I knew it was a problem in my baby’s brain.
The childbirth class teacher told us we would each face our fears in our pregnancy and birth. She differentiated between real fears and false ones. She said the real fears come from things we had personally experienced. I don’t know if I agreed with her, but my fear was deemed real because I had worked as a care provider for adults with severe to moderate developmental disabilities. I worked in a foster home and helped four humans get their needs met. Food. Shelter. Clothing. Exercise. Sleep. I cleaned up shit, vomit, piss. I taught one how to cook their own dinner. I taught another about safe sex. I read stories. I showed them how to stretch their bodies. The work exposed me to many questions about life and liberty. The hard ones. Who deserves to live and die? What kind of life is this for them? And the easy ones. How can someone show so much joy? How can I show these humans that I care about them?
Real or not, fear rocked me back and forth. I wasn’t sure what to do. Gradey got off work soon, but he had a staff meeting an hour later and wouldn’t be home until 8. It was around 4:30 now.
I sat there for an hour, unable to move except for rocking. Unable to make up my mind. I needed Gradey with me. Was this even real?
I got up and woke up our dog, Hazel. “Come on sweetie, let’s go get Gradey.” I drove to the plant nursery where he worked to find him gone already. He went to get dinner. I drove to Pepino’s, certain he was there for a cheap burrito. When he saw me, his face lit up with delight before darkening as he took in my face.
I told him there in a burrito joint full of people looming, eating, laughing. I told him there, thinking I am cruel to be doing this to him. I told him there, and he grabbed my hand. We decided to get out of there. I drove home with Hazel, following Gradey on his bike.
When we got back to our tiny apartment, Gradey was pissed, furious. Not one to ever put much stock in science and medicine, he thought this whole ordeal was bullshit.
“No, we shouldn’t have the extra tests. Why? So, they can tell us to have more tests? So they can draw more inconclusions? What do their machines know?” he said as he paced back and forth, tracing the four steps it took to go from our kitchen through our bedroom to the bathroom over and over again.
I was grateful for his certainty, for his authority. In the moment, I felt guilty that I was carrying this child and not him. Maybe he could love it more fiercely than I. But this was it. This is the crucible I had been building since late July when I stared down at a happy blue line. This is the mysterious reality of growing flesh and bone. I have to face this.
The next day, I thought I’d look in my usual places for guidance. But I was afraid to draw tarot cards, afraid they’d be too vague or not vague enough. I looked to see what’s up in my natal chart. But I was too emotional to read the signs clearly. Maybe this was supposed to be happening. But what do I do about it?
I decided to pray. Although I had often found pure love in her arms, I did not pray to Kali. Although Persephone had been showing up unexpectedly in my dreams since I got pregnant, I did not pray to her. Persephone? The queen of the underworld? Is she really my guide through pregnancy?
I searched my mind, my knowledge of mythology, to find the right presence to give me guidance and support in this desperate time.
Instantly I knew. I knelt down to pray to Kwan Yin, goddess of mercy and compassion.
I cried so much. I’ve never prayed harder. I prayed, please have mercy on my child. please have mercy on my child. please heal my child. please make my child whole. please have mercy on me. please please please. I love this baby I love this baby I love this baby. Have mercy have mercy
I couldn’t see straight enough to know what the answer was. I was drowning in tears, suffocating from crushing fears in my chest, falling backwards into the unknown. But at last, I had to stand up and pull myself together. I had to go teach a class. Shit, 2:30, gotta go. My eyes puffy and my clothes snotty, I headed over to the elementary school where I taught an afterschool drama class. For once, I didn’t care how I looked. For once, I was gentle and unassertive with the rowdy hyperactive 7 and 8-year-olds that bounced inattentively from chair to floor, diving off the stage. For once, I didn’t care that my assistant was late again because she’d been out drinking all night. All I cared about was this baby. Even while I was leading rehearsal, my mind was down underneath the material world, whispering love to my child inside.
On the way home, I got my answer. The day had been giving us a usual Portland winter rain. I was navigating my too large car through the curves and lights of Interstate Avenue, tears still pouring out of my eyes. And suddenly, I looked up in the sky and the clouds broke open. A great crack appeared in the sky, and the sun was pure white with edges of gold. And, for some reason, the vision made me smile. The feathery rain was still floating down from the brutal gray clouds surrounding this crack, but there was this light, this opening. Opening me. Opening me. I smiled, idiotically and wholeheartedly, because I knew that everything was going to be all right. It was ridiculous, right? But I knew it was true.
This was the moment I realized what Persephone, goddess of unwilling and violent adventures, had been telling me in her dreams. This was the moment that my real fears were both crystallized and dispersed all at once. This was when I knew the story I had been telling myself was distorted at best, deadly at worst.
I wanted to watch this baby grow up into adulthood, not level off at 3 and never develop further brain function, further experience. What parent doesn’t want to see their child born healthy, happy, sound of body and mind? But that wasn’t the point.
When it came down to it, I was not afraid of having a baby with a hole in its head, a differently-abled brain.
I was afraid that I would not love him or her.
I was afraid that I would be callous. I was afraid I would play victim and curse cruel Fate for such a circumstance. And here was that possibility, floating by on the strands of reality. What was I going to do?
As the clouds smoothed back together in a blanket of gray and the sun was obscured again, I dug deep and found something quite ordinary: I loved this baby. I found out that I had chosen this baby and his/her path to join with mine, whatever that path may be. I was in the service of this child. This baby’s purpose was unknown to me and in many ways, separate from mine.
That night, Gradey and I made the decision to call our midwives and tell them the news. We wouldn’t be having any more tests done. This baby was ours, as is. What was a test going to tell us? What was another picture going to say? We wanted this child.
The fact is, I didn’t know who this little person growing inside of me was going to be. What a mysterious and awesome and holy thing. Even with more or less tests, perhaps I still wouldn’t know that this child would have problems with his/her brain. Their life was still hidden from me. It was a black shadow. They couldn’t tell what it was. That’s the whole point. They couldn’t tell.
But I could. I could tell that this baby was wanted and loved. This baby was whole and healthy. This baby was gonna rock my world, and I just hoped I could give him or her all the support and love needed to fully unfold their path.
Six more weeks until birth. In the month since the crisis shook me apart, I realized that I needed to start taking care of myself. Having gone off anti-depressants when I got pregnant, I finally got help with balance in other ways. Acupuncture twice a week. Pre-natal yoga. Prayer. Ritual healing from my circle of magical allies and friends.
Did it stop the fear? Yes and no. Sometimes fears cannot be dispelled but can be accepted and then allowed to change. Eventually, they can grow into hope.
Each day, I sang surrender and love to my burgeoning belly. Each day, I thanked the Goddess for providing me with this opportunity. Did I think all this happened to teach me some valuable lesson? Yes and no. The universe is way more complicated than our simplistic human cause and effect. Events are full of mystery and unseen forces. Whatever the reason, it happened. It was happening. But I understood that this was something I needed to go through on the road toward becoming a mother. The hole was inside me. And so was wholeness.
Rhea Wolf is a queer feminist writerly witch mama astrologer who loves the rain, laughing too loud, supporting people in their creativity, her two daughters, and being intense. She’s written about language and metaphor, racism in pagan circles, motherhood and addiction, the politics of witchcraft, and the astrological Moon in zines and literary journals. She currently teaches at the Portland School of Astrology on the land of the Chinook and Kalapuya peoples. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.