0-1 Birth

She was still warm, tucked as she was in the curve of her mother's arm. Her face was sweetly furrowed; she had splotchy pink cheeks, a rosy nose, and a wisp of dark hair curled at the peak of her brow. Her mother caressed the new skin of her arms and legs. She whispered, I love you I love you I love you, over and over again until she was sure those words would never be the same. Nothing could have convinced her that she was capable of loving someone so instantly and so infinitely. Nothing other than the infant curled against her breast. The moment their skins touched something sparked and the universe shifted, and in that moment she understood that the world had changed forever.

She bent over her little girl and left a breath of a kiss on her forehead, on her little bit of hair. She said nothing as she leaned away and watched a quiet pair of gnarled hands sneak themselves around her babe. They pried her child out of her grasp and whisked her away; she hadn't realized she was holding on so tight. Suddenly, she was alone and empty. The emptiness rushed out of her chest and consumed all that she was and all that she would be, dashing the life from her limbs, leaving her raw.

Time passed but she was numb to it. She hadn't moved, her arms still cradled the air. In them she retraced her daughter, dedicating all of her to memory: her perfect plump arms and legs, the strawberry colored birthmark on her belly, her blue toes and fingers - her haunting stillness.

She never knew it possible to miss a person so much; a person who had no name and no voice, a person only of the present, with no real past and no future. A person who had hardly existed at all. But there it was, a destructive force of longing beating on her bones and pulsing like acid in her veins. She was a void and a battlefield all at once. Anger and grief were at war, decimating her from the inside out. She thought she might claw at her face until there was nothing left, if she could only see her daughter's chest rise.

The wood floor beneath her was wet and cold and she could only smell blood and shit. There was an urgent need to vomit, her tongue swelled and her mouth watered, but she swallowed it back. She had to stand. As she pushed herself up, all of her weight on her palms, pain like a molten skewer shot from her middle and into her breast, crippling her for a moment. Determined, she clenched her teeth and waited for the heat to subside. And when it passed she awkwardly got to her feet, ignoring the sloshing in her gut and taking care not to slip in her mess of birth.

She shuffled to stand before her long mirror: unstable, naked, and ugly. Vulnerable. The noon light from an open window was harsh on her body, highlighting every bump and dimple with honest contrast. She studied her once firm and swollen belly with careful eyes. It had deflated somewhat, it hung further over her hips. She ran her fingers along the bright red stripes surrounding her navel. She'd hated them a day before and now she found herself needing those marks, admiring them even, as jagged and unsightly as they were. They were proof. Evidence that said yes, there was a child.

An old, womanly voice crept up behind her, speaking at her from across her room, "I'm s'sorry child, we did everythin' we could."

Liar, she thought - halfheartedly. She wasn't blind; it was rarely a happy tale when an infant entered the world with quiet on their lips.

"It's for the best," came the fragile voice again, unabashed. She waited, listening to their steps fading into silence as they walked away.

Finally, as if a dam had broken, tears coursed down her face and neck, eroding the last of her innocence as they fell. She could hardly breathe between the sobs that knocked her sprawling back onto the floor. She'd done something wrong; she hadn't been strong enough, or maybe she waited too long to push. Something she did had killed her baby, she was sure - her little girl, who had been dancing with such vigor in her belly just a day before. Her child was the only thing she might have ever claimed as hers and hers alone, and she had naively smothered it.

She had only known that unconditional love in the moments she had her child in her arms, and she would feel the loss of it until her dying day. Yet, in spite of the physical destruction and the heartache she knew would always linger, she felt it had all been worth it somehow, just to have held her daughter for however brief a time; to have skimmed the surface of the unwavering love only a mother can know.

She only had to cry out the unfairness of it all first.