What We Will Be Expecting
At the last session of the birthing class we learned about all the ways the baby would try to die. As if it hadn’t already been trying its whole gestation. The second you stopped worrying about miscarriage, preterm labor, stillbirth, you could look forward to worrying about SIDS and whooping cough. And with mobility, we were told, came a whole new set of hazards. The twist-off top of a plastic water bottle (choking), steam pipes (scalding), multivitamins in a purse left carelessly on the floor even if the bottle has a childproof seal (iron toxicity + choking again). Hot dogs, balloons, raw carrots, whole grapes, popcorn, quarters, marker caps, stones. A baby could choke on anything, everything.
The baby would try to die all these ways, explained the teacher, a woman named Nan with muscular legs and khaki shorts. She smiled while speaking, which seemed friendly at first but the more she did it, the more I realized that she never didn’t smile, and I’d never seen anyone smile so much, and it must hurt to smile for so long.
Baby death was avoidable, was the message Nan seemed to be promoting, so long as it was actively avoided at all times. I looked around the room full of men and bloated women: we seemed to form our own species when we gathered like this.
One of the future mothers raised her hand to ask about blankets, when it was safe to use one without fear of strangulation.
“Most pediatricians say one year old,” Nan answered, “Although increasingly I’ve heard people advise waiting until age two.”
How could the line just shift? I wondered. Is it even safe for me to use a blanket?
Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, Nan said, but if it did, we could soothe our abraded breasts with a cream made from the oily secretions of a sheep’s glands.
The goal was to avoid a C-section, Nan said, though she never told us why. Then she scanned the room and said that, statistically, a third of us would have one anyway. Not me, we all thought, and a third of us, including me, were wrong.
We practiced CPR on a doll. We pumped its rubber chest but it never came to life.
We passed around an illustrated, laminated sheet of newborn skin conditions, all of which looked very serious and all of which weren’t.
The baby’s nipples would leak milk. The baby would shit black. Neither was concerning.
Afterward I was hungry—I was constantly hungry. The two of us went to a diner because we’re always impressed when we find one that still exists in our accelerating city.
We wondered, between spoons of matzo ball soup, what Nan’s deal was.
“Do you think it’s short for something?” you said. “Fernanda? Or is it just Nan?”
“Nantucket,” I suggested, “Nanobot.”
I took a long drag on my egg cream and poked my stomach, tried to agitate the baby into moving, showing me she was still alive.
Julia LoFaso has published writing in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Conjunctions, Day One, Underwater New York, The Southeast Review, Elm Leaves Journal (forthcoming), and elsewhere. One of her stories was a finalist in The Southeast Review’s 2013 World’s Best Short-Short Story Contest. She received an MFA from Columbia University and lives in Queens.
Cover Photo by Steven Depolo