Afterbirth

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The carob seedling that took two years
to grow two feet was planted over
half of the placenta that took
nine months and eleven days to develop
and forty minutes to birth
into a bucket, so dense with my blood
it looked like crushed raspberries.

There are pieces of me buried all over,
one beneath a pomegranate tree
in a nearby Andalusian garden;
another under an apple tree in a
Norfolk farm – the only one in the orchard
to fruit the first year.

The goodness of meat
that once nourished my babies
before they opened their mouths to eat
the meat that died in the act of birth
now feeds those stalks and leaves,
sipped thoughtfully by xylem and phloem
(words I learned eighteen and a half
years ago, the only ones that have
travelled forward from Science GCSE)
and plumps out fruit that I
shrink from eating lest it be
cannibalism:
my flesh into theirs,
vegan victuals from viscera.

Parts of me are already underground.
The backward-rolling echo of tombs
reaches me half-asleep, feeding
a dozing baby, not knowing if an hour or
ten minutes have passed, the way
the mind dashes forward during prayer
and a third rak’ah feels like a fourth.

Time is plastic when one has already put
an organ into a tiny grave, when one’s footprint there
roots the soul to the soil. It owns me now
in three segments, yearning for the last piece
(currently in my freezer) to join them underneath
an avocado sapling, followed one day
by the rest. Like taproots busy seeking
low lying aquifers there are unseen ligaments
that tie me to the world
so that the hot air balloon of my thoughts
– straining against its ropes –
does not spiral off and be vaporised
by the sharp edge of the atmosphere.

There are parts of me
all over, buried too deep
for dogs and foxes to despoil
deep as the bones of an ‘aqiqah lamb
must be buried too.

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One Week Left

There are elemental
qualities of womanhood
that childbirth likes to elicit.

The quiet of a forest
patient digging of an ant
carrying burdens fifty
times its weight
accepting all without complaint
an oak tree growing
silently from nothing.

An Amazon with gritted teeth
a lioness predating
some roaring creature unafraid
tenacity incarnate
the ferocious crash of a
whale’s tail against water
the indomitable swell of a
tidal wave.

And after,
overflowing tenderness
giving all unthinkingly
the bliss of being more than one
careening from tears to kisses
transformed from child
to mother nature
gratitude that it all
worked out
for the best.

The Sausage and the Dugong

There is another figure in our family bed these days, and it ain’t in nappies.
A friend lent me this long, boomerang-shaped beanbag, known among those of her pregnant friends who have been allowed to sleep with it as ‘The Sausage’. It’s quite good: you can drool on it all night and it won’t complain, or snore, or wake up crying and asking for apple juice. Best of all, it goes under the bump and whatever other protruding bits you might have so you don’t feel quite so dromedary-like.
I need all the help I can get at the moment. I don’t like to complain, much as my English genes instruct me to, but it doesn’t half get complicated when you’ve a rambunctious, 14-kilo, teething toddler on the scene and eight and a bit months of baby doing gymnastics inside your belly.
Bedtime involves me snuggling up with the boy, then remembering I get acid reflux when I do that, and having to contort myself into some strange position so he still feels I’m close by, yet tricking my body into thinking it’s upright. Then I extract myself from the bed, throwing off the torn and scribbled-on picture books that have accumulated on top of me, and swing one leg off the bed to the floor without pulling a muscle in my bum (sounds unlikely but believe me, it’s a right pain in the backside.)
Just as well I have a birth pool awaiting me, beckoning from its cardboard box in the hallway. I realise now why marine mammals are the size they are. A dugong, for example, can happily grow to 300 kilos without worrying about putting pressure on its groin. Although I am struggling to picture where a dugong’s groin might be. All this makes me wish I were a dolphin or a killer whale and didn’t have to bother with gravity so much, even if it did mean having to balance the occasional beach ball on my nose.
The absurd thing is I haven’t put on much weight yet, so with my preposterously protruding bump I remind myself of a watermelon in a tube sock. (Caveman told me the other morning I looked like a torpedo. I laughed so much I nearly went off.)
But life must go on, regardless of the bowling ball secreted in one’s gut. It must be some kind of divine irony that a woman in my situation has to work twice as hard to get things done, simultaneously undoing what the toddler had got up to, with half the energy and about a thousand times the usual levels of hormones.
Cooking with Cavechild is generally narrated thus: ‘No, don’t stick your fingers in the fish eyes! Yuk, don’t put that in your mouth! Hey, stop pulling my trousers down! OK, fine, eat it, just get out of the kitchen. No, bread knives are not for sawing the wall with…”
By the time whatever poor harassed dead animal is put into the oven, probably just as stressed as I am and grateful to be getting out of my way, the kitchen floor is covered in frozen peas and/or broken glass, my leg has been stabbed with pen marks, I am soaked from the bump down in dishwater and ready to burst into loud, despairing wails as soon as Caveman walks in the door.
There’s gravel in my shoes. I have bite marks on my bellybutton. I hear my phone ringing in a mysterious place: it’s been dropped down my top and is hiding in my bra. Shamsie has been given a new, angrammatic name – Smashie.
The good news is that there is always one sure-fire way to erase the stresses of the day and replenish the batteries: chocolate. I read somewhere about a study that found that women who ate dark chocolate every day in pregnancy had babies who smiled more by six months. So if anyone asks – I’m doing it for the kids.