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A fertile vessel

Beep. Beep. Beep. I could hear heavy, laboured breathing and the sounds of machines working around me. Then I realised it was my own breath, going in and out. My eyes were too heavy to open and I felt disconnected from myself, like a butterfly outside of its chrysalis.

Was I dead?

My whole abdomen pained, like I’d been slashed through the middle. I suddenly needed to cough, and it felt like I was crushing my whole mid-section with each motion. My throat was filled with phlegm so I needed to keep coughing, but it was painful. I opened one eye. I could see the most perfect looking baby on my chest. No blood, no fluid, just a perfect, smooth head and a peaceful little face.

“Why is my throat so phlegmy?” I asked. I couldn’t stop coughing.

“I’m not sure, I think that’s the anaesthetic.” Natalie said, avoiding my gaze.

I was too far gone to be suspicious, but she was definitely keeping uncomfortable truths from me. I wasn’t ready to hear the whole story yet, but she gave it to me in parts.

“Why are you crying?” I was confused.

“It was just a C-section. They do these all the time.” I assured her.

“You don’t get it, Beci. I almost lost you.”

I raised my eyebrows, still under the heavy weight of the anaesthetic.

“You lost two and a half litres of blood. They had to stabilise you. It took a long time. Soren was delivered by forceps and he was fine, but you nearly died.”

“That’s fine, but how was his APGAR score?”

“He was fine. Crying and alert.”

Then it hit me with an overwhelming sense of numbness. I felt like how a person feels when they have had part of their body locally anaesthetised for a procedure. I could see and hear confronting facts being shared around me, but I couldn’t feel it myself. I felt nothing but I knew I was going to feel this later. Part of my numbness was the exhaustion of many hours of labour followed by an anaesthetic, but part of me put defences up, refusing to believe I had just faced my own mortality with a brand-new infant. We didn’t even have a will in place.

The next time I woke up, I was greeted with the ‘it’s-a-boy’ moment I’d been looking forward to, as his nappy was pulled down in my face. Although he was freshly born, the nurse stood him up and he looked like a little president – a name that would stick through his childhood.

Before they took me off to the ward, they wallpapered my insides with fabric to stop the bleeding. I had never felt womanlier in my life, a fertile vessel of blood and guts. Labour had broken me open, but medical science was putting me back together.

The day I discovered my insides, I thought I had boy bits tucked in there.  It made sense because I’d always had this unusual red crease on my skin that started just below my belly button and finished right where my vulva started. It was the same colour as my mother’s caesarean section scar, which she received when she gave birth to my brother. I never paid it much mind until my cousin was born, in 1995. My aunty had given birth to three daughters in quick succession like gunshots and she had finally gotten her son in baby #4. His arrival was much-awaited and much-wanted.

The day we visited him in hospital for the first time, I spent time carefully curating the best bouquet of flowers a five-year-old could manage. By the time they were all tied together, some of them were drooping, their different stages of decay succumbing to gravity to form an unusual exhibit of childish home garden floristry. When I finally saw him, his skin had been bald, red and patchy in different places, kind of ugly but endearing in a weird sort of way –like a baby mouse, squinting and wrinkly. When we arrived at the hospital, my mother could not stop gushing about how vital it was that my aunty had finally gotten a son.

“I was so lucky, I had a pigeon pair straight away,” my mother said, almost condescendingly, as if no other combination of genders would ever be as good as getting one of each. “But if she’d been born a boy, that would have been it.” She nodded at me. In that moment, I wondered if I had been born a boy, but hastily swapped with a surgical procedure. Why else would I have the scar? It was perfectly reasonable for me to think that I had been reassigned at birth and this was just something people didn’t talk about it, if they did it. Why else would I, like a boy, have those fluttery butterfly feelings every time I saw a pretty woman? What other possible explanation could there be? Girls just didn’t like women. It just wasn’t how things were.

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