The baby wiggled her way into my mother’s blood, giving her gestational diabetes and high blood pressure and severe nausea. Mom was put on bedrest but would sneak out while my dad was at work to paint the nursery, perching precariously on a bar stool to hang Noah’s Ark-patterned wallpaper.
She gave my mother Bell’s palsy in her third trimester, an inflammation of facial nerves that left half her face deflated like a stroke victim’s, adding to her already frightening appearance with her house of a belly and swollen, crimson ankles. I watched her cry as she applied medical tape to keep her eye closed so she could sleep.
I knew the baby had come when my grandma woke me up for school.
I didn’t tell anyone about my new sister. I didn’t know where babies came from but I knew it was gross and wet and somehow shameful.
My dad picked me up looking like a ghost of himself and filled me in as best he could. After a sudden and unproductive labor, my sister’s heart rate skyrocketed. The doctors had to slice my mom open in record time to extract her before she killed them both.
My new sibling was an afterthought. I wanted proof that my mom was still herself, that her face had melted back into the one I’d recognize and her blood was hers again.
My sister was in the nursery when we arrived but my mom was there, sweaty hair splayed out on the pillow and a fleck of dried blood on her cheek. When she hugged me, she smelled musty and warm.
My dad turned on the TV while we waited. A slickly stylized Disney logo bounced across the screen and revealed the evening’s lineup: 4/6PM Central: Brink! 6/8PM Central: Brink! 8/10PM Central: N*SYNC – Disney Channel In Concert.
“Brink, Brink, N*Sync. It rhymes,” I noted.
We watched Andy Brinker and his Soul Skaters friends clash with their Team X-Bladz rivals, their rollerblades clicking beneath them in the golden California sun. I was just old enough to feel a hint of fascination with their pubescent bodies.
The Soul Skaters play a prank on Val, the Team X-Bladz’s leader, by putting worms in his sandwich. Their classmates laugh and glistening, half-chewed worms hang out of Val’s mouth.
“That’s so gross!” I squealed, as only an eight-year-old can.
My dad laughed. “You’ve never seen birth.”
A nurse brought the baby in just as Andy takes the controversial offer to sell his soul to skate for Team X-Bladz, a decision nearly as disgusting as the worm sandwich.
“This is Elisabeth,” my dad said as he carefully set her in my arms.
She was insanely small, sort of purple, and precious in a way that I couldn’t comprehend. This? This is the thing that nearly killed my mom? This raisin they are saying is a human? This is the reason I’m watching “Brink!” in a hospital room on the second day of third grade?
Her eyes cracked open, tiny blue beads, and her soft mouth wrinkled around itself at the burden of being alive. In the background, Andy uttered his famous line — “When you woke up this morning, did you say to yourself ‘today I’m gonna talk’, or ‘today I’m gonna skate’?” — and my sister wriggled against me and I felt a love that was sudden and implacable.
Brittney Uecker is a librarian, writer, and Scorpio from Montana. Her work is in HAD, Taco Bell Quarterly, Pile Press, and others. She is @bonesandbeer on the internet.