By Brittany Michelson
In the stroller, all parts of his body are covered. He stares into a canopy of blue blanket. He remembers the womb, that warm world of fluid and flesh. Being fed through the skin tube that ran from her belly to his. Of her many strange cravings, he liked the sweetness of carrots dipped in chocolate sauce the most. He rejected the bitter green juice, even though it was full of vitamins for his bones and his heart. He couldn’t feel the change in seasons down in there, blocked by a wall of skin, but he could feel when she coughed or sneezed, and the shudder through her body when she received pleasure. When she cried her whole body shook and he floated amongst her sadness, unsure of which organ to cling to.
Out of the birth canal, it was all lights and sounds, beeps and screams and monitors. They took him from her in an instant, something about tests and her need to recuperate. In that instant, his vulnerability belonged to strangers with cold hands and metal tools.
Fourteen hours it took him to fight his way into the world and all of the pain belonged to her. She had pushed and strained, but he’d held back, unsure about this sterile world of stark white and machines and loudness. He’d liked the warmth and quiet and blackness inside the womb—the vibration of breath and echo of heartbeat– the sense of weightlessness. The lights were jarring on eyes accustomed to dark. There was too much noise for new ears—clanking instruments, doctors’ orders, labor pains, the screams of a shock victim. Sounds of birth and death.
He remembers the blue blanket, his first touch of cotton, the way it brushed his cheek, the way it held him. This was the blanket they used to mark his sex. A bracelet marked his name. Other than these markers, he could have belonged to anyone, lying in a tall metal crib in a row with dozens of other newborns in blue and pink blankets, wearing wrist bracelets that indicated to whom they belonged.
He had looked around then, on that first morning in the world, adjusting his eyes to the severe hospital lights. They all looked the same—pink, wrinkled skin, squinting eyes, big heads and balled fists. Some cried and others slept.
The mothers were tired that morning. Some came over and peered into the nursery, pointing with fathers and grandmothers, cooing and tapping the glass as if the newborns were fish in a tank. They had yet to breathe anything but hospital air and their introduction to the great outside came from a puffy painting of sky and cloud tacked to the wall.
Visitors exited the elevator. Two small children were shouting and grabbing each other’s hair, pinching each other’s skin. A man slapped the wrist of the boy and abruptly grabbed the hand of the girl. They got closer. The man and woman pointed and moved their mouths. They seemed to be trying to decide which one they would take home. The newborns could do nothing to decline or to accept– to choose who or who not to belong to. Exposed to blinding lights and strangers pointing fingers at him through glass, the tiny spectator watched, not waiting for a visitor. He watched, not wanting to be claimed.