ARE YOU MINE?
It was early evening on the day of the birth of Cara’s second child, Max. Max was born at noon, and at suppertime Cara was still waiting to fall in love with him. She didn’t love him the very instant he was born, as many women say they love their babies, or during pregnancy, as other women do. In fact her inclination all along had been to ignore him entirely so that the changes in her body during pregnancy seemed to her to be just that, changes in her body, not in anyone else’s. She barely thought of the baby at all until the labor began, and then her recognition of him was clouded by pain. By suppertime, she hadn’t forgotten the pain, as women say they do, but she was trying to forget it. Still, she kept hearing someone down hall in the throes of it, screaming, “I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it,” until Cara’s entire body clenched in an agonized, convulsive sympathy, and only on reflection could Cara say to herself, “I did do it, I did do it, I did do it, it’s over.”
Cara’s gown did not fit properly. Either that or she was wearing it wrong, because it didn’t cover her. She couldn’t have cared less. She had license to be half naked, lazy, depraved, steeped in strange, uncommon relief. She was feeling quite pleased with herself, and she was pleased with her baby twitching in sleep on the high, wheeled, glassed-in cart at the foot of her bed, where she could gaze at him as if through a window. He was knobby and pink, unconscious, detached. She hadn’t counted his fingers or toes, as mothers are said to do, but she knew they were all there because the nurses would have said something if they weren’t, and she knew he was breathing. She could see the uneven rhythm of it through the blanket, unless that was his heartbeat, so fierce in so tiny a body. No matter what, he was alive. She had said to Douglas several times since the delivery, “He’s alive, he’s alive,” meaning, “I’m alive, I’m alive.”
Cara had been out of bed just once all day and knew she’d be expected to get out again soon, to go to the bathroom. The nurses insisted she move her bowels. Now that the labor was done, that was what scared her the most. She might split apart, pushing it out. She had stitches where she tore and where they cut her. Besides,she felt shaky even now but nothing like when he was born. Then she’d been afraid to hold him she was shaking so hard, and her breath had thumped under her ribs. She could see that they were holding the baby above her, still wet and unwashed, bloody, with the white, pasty stuff still on him, but it had not occurred to her to take him into her own long arms even when her fingers parted as if to receive him. When the nurses lowered him onto her chest she said to Douglas, “Hold him there, don’t let me hold him.” The baby was warm and wet, and she didn’t welcome the feel of him the way women are said to. It was too distracting. She wanted only the sensation of the pain being shaken off of her, limb by limb.
The New York Times called ARE YOU MINE? “a challenging, convincing, resonant work.”