The Birth

by Viviana Peña

It was time for Francesca to push, she felt exhausted from being poked and prodded. The repeated questions from the nurse about how she was feeling made her anxious. She wished she could just stand, but she felt the pressure on her back and her belly tighten. Her husband asked, “Who do you want in the room? Your mom or my mom?” Francesca responded as quickly as possible through increasing discomfort, “My mom!” It had been a heated discussion the entire pregnancy. She had expressed how delicate a moment it was, and how a woman in labor had the undoubtable right to choose who witnessed the birth of her child. The mother-in-law came short of creating a powerpoint presentation on why she should be the one to witness the birth. “He’s my first grandchild,” she insisted, reminding all of them that Francesca’s first child, a daughter, could never be her first grandchild. Deep down Francesca knew her mother-in-law would push her way in like she had pushed her way into all their summer vacations: Virginia Beach, Jamaica, Bahamas, their week in Maine.

Francesca closed her eyes as Owen exited the room, she focused on her hardening belly. When it subsided she opened her eyes to find the mother-in-law standing before her— beaming in her Bob Marley shirt. She smiled victoriously as if to say “I told you I’d win.” For a second, Francesca lost her ability to hear. Suddenly she was back in their apartment arguing with Owen about whether his mother would take her daughter to Florida for the summer even though the little girl didn’t want to go. Owen’s mother was selective on when the girl was and wasn’t her grandchild. “She’s going and that’s final,” he’d said.

Francesca heard the nurse say, “Ok, mom, give it all you got.” She was hit with a fervent wave of rage that traveled from her feet to the top of her head. She couldn’t focus, but her son was eager to make his exit. The contraction intensified as if someone were putting her in a really small corset. “On three give us a good one,” said the nurse. The mother-in-law’s close proximity sent chills down Francesca’s back. Francesca noticed her beautiful dark skin against her unsightly blonde wig. Her hand rested on Francesca’s knee, her acrylic nails a vibrant pink. On each index finger a carefully placed acrylic bow. Even without uttering a word, she was the loudest person in the room. Francesca didn’t understand the mother-in-law’s style and knew she never would. Francesca pictured everyone else in the room joking about the wig and the nails afterward.

Hours later the baby was born. He was small and pale compared to her daughter. She was reminded of the conversation she’d had with her cousin Marisol about how to know if the child would darken with time. Marisol said, “If the tops of his ears and his testes are dark, he’ll be brown.” She glanced over at his ears and genitals, he’d soon show signs of his African American roots. Francesca didn’t care what the baby’s complexion would be. She came from a family of both light and dark shades. It felt strange to discuss how dark his skin would become. However, it was extremely important to Owen’s family that he not be as light as her daughter, and they made that very clear during the pregnancy.

She heard the mother-in-law say, “The prince is here!”

Francesca thought how ignorant she sounded, and instantly felt a flush of embarrassment on her face. In that instance, she missed her daughter. She thought of her little hand and her dimples. Francesca felt a lump in her throat and the sting of impending tears forming, it made her wish for her own mother. The mother-in-law took pictures of the baby from afar as the nurses took his weight and prepared him for the hospital nursery. She and Owen hugged and congratulated each other on the newborn’s arrival. Francesca watched from the bed as they joyfully walked out of the room, each of them eager to be the first to relay news about the baby to the rest of the family waiting.

Hours later Francesca’s mother was finally let in to see her. She immediately recognized Francesca’s despondency from looking at her watery eyes. “No te ponga triste mi hija, que dios no desampara,” she said. “Owen wouldn’t allow me in for the birth, but we were all praying.” Francesca asked about her daughter, she was anxious to see her. Her mother assured she’d bring her the following day.

The next morning after the nurse brought the newborn in, she held him up to her breast for the second time and adjusted his small head to feed. He had dark hair that covered a portion of his forehead. She leaned in to kiss his small checks. He squirmed, still trying to find her nipple. The scent of baby powder lingered on his tiny white hospital shirt. She had forgotten how relaxing that smell was. She removed his socks to examine his small feet, lightly passing her index finger on the bottom. He crunched his legs as she did. She chuckled and thought “He’s ticklish!”

Viviana Peña served as co-editor in chief for The Lit in 2022. She is a single mother of two born and raised in New York City. She’s a full-time Creative Writing major at LaGuardia Community College.  She’s a lover of languages and words.  She aspires to continue her education after La Guardia and major in Romance Languages, and eventually travel writing. Her hobbies include hiking and biking, and spending time with her children.

Image credit: “Mother and Child,” Randy Caldwell. Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.