this piece is from Word Warriors, an anthology of female spoken word artists, edited by Alix Olson.
Miscarriage, by Thea Hillman
I have been a mother many times, but I have never been pregnant.
There was that one child, older than me. I picked her up in a bar. Her apartment was small. She leaned back against her headboard, smug and sexy. Her mouth went slack, eyes soft, when she pulled down the straps of my bra. She made a noise I didn't understand yet.
I am the mother she never had. There have been a few of us in her life, makeshift mothers who fuck away the pain, or cry trying.
It was only moments, but it was no longer just sexy. She buried her head in my chest, arms around me. Surprised, I held her close. Something happened to this girl's mother, my head told me. This girl hasn't had a mother in a long time, my heart told me.
I am only thirty but I have been a mother to many girls. Oh my sweet girls. I haven't saved a one of them yet.
I hold her. Tell her she's beautiful. Hold her and rock her when she's hysterical, heaving sobs harder than any I've ever cried and I wonder, how will I ever hold all those tears, how can I teach her to let them go, that they are part of an ocean, lapping a welcome shore? My mother's heart breaks for a baby that isn't mine and for a child I know I'll have to give up.
I hold many of them longer than nine months. I have never carried any of them to term. It's funny that miscarriage sounds so much like marriage, but without the promise, the ring, or a future.
Poor baby. She is older tahn me, but I see the beatings in her young eyes housed in an ancient face. It's the pictures that kill me, a knife twisting in my mothergut. She shows me pictures. She hands me her hurt like a beloved headless doll, oblivious to what it reveals, each year another scar. The baby eyes in the pictures give way to a hard teenage grin and a glint that makes me wince. Each year a pristine new dress hung off her, and the pictures look progressively wronger than the year before, the boy peeking out from the girl that's getting beaten to death inside there, by her mother, by her.
I fall for the girl who takes refuge in her brother, in boyhood, the girl who sees her survival in a square ass and flat chest. Today my girls wear army fatigues, hooded sweatshirts, and briefs. Their shoulders curve to hide their chests. They get mistaken for boys on the street and in public bathrooms, but I see the little girls, invisible to the others, but unmistakable to me. Bigger than me, they get sirred all the time, but they'll always be my little girls.
I love their little boy bodies. I love their breasts. I put food on the table, I hold down a job, I keep the house clean. Each time I tell myself, this one, she'll be the one, I'm going to save this one. And she lets me in. She lets me touch her. She lets me in and I tell her I love her and I tell her how to keep a job, to feed herself, to succeed in the world. I tell her I believe in you, you have something to offer the world, you have a chance. But motherless girls don't want to be nurtured, they want to be mothered. And they'll do anything to not grow up, and not let go. So with every word of encouragement, I cement her failure. With every hope, every word of support, I build the tower of expectation she's going to fall from. And then with every hurt and disappointment, I seal a future without me in it. For she is motherless, and I will necessarily lose her, she will necessarily grow up without me. I lose another baby. And maybe I will try again, when the bleeding resumes.